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Stylianos Zakof, President Of The Board Of Directors Of The Hellenic Business Association Of Serbia

New Opportunities For Cooperation

Serbia and Greece have huge potential to advance their economic relations, particularly in the fields of tourism, energy and trade exchanges. The two countries’ readiness to continuously strengthen their bilateral relations and advance cooperation at all levels creates the possibility for new Greek investments in Serbia, as well as additional engagements of Greek companies that are already active in the Serbian market

Over the course of the past year, Serbia and Greece have held meetings at the highest political level, in which they reaffirmed their strategic partnership, at both the economic and political levels, best testifying to which is the recent visit of the Greek Prime Minister to Belgrade and his meeting with the Serbian President, assesses Stylianos Zakof, President of the Board of Directors of the Hellenic Business Association of Serbia.

Greece supports Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, while at the same time providing continuous support to Serbia’s European integration process. It was noted at the meeting that Serbia and Greece have great potential to advance their economic relations in areas such as tourism, energy and trade exchange. Specifically, Prime Minister Mitsotakis spoke about Greece wanting to become an energy hub and to offer various possibilities for energy diversification, including gas interconnection between Serbia and Bulgaria, which will enable Serbia to access gas supplies from the Greek port of Alexandroupolis. The trade exchange between Serbia and Greece is also on the rise and totalled 636 million euros in 2021, while the two countries’ highest officials stated that this positive trend could reach a billion euros in the period ahead.

You had the opportunity to meet with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Konstantinos Fragogiannis, during his visit to Serbia in 2021. What were the main topics of this meeting?

The Hellenic Business Association of Serbia’s board of directors and members had opportunities to meet with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Konstantinos Fragogiannis in April and November, during his official visits to Belgrade. Greek business leaders spoke with the minister about Serbia’s business environment, current issues related to economic and trade relations between Greece and Serbia, as well as possibilities for their development and further advancement. The stable environment for the country’s economic development was confirmed, as well as the fact that the arrival of an increasing number of international companies demonstrates that Serbia’s positive economic climate has also been recognised by investors from different countries. During these discussions, special emphasis was placed on the development of events in the Western Balkan region, but also on the participation of Greek companies in the implementation of the “Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans” in Serbia.

The HBA promotes its members among key actors, such as government institutions and other bilateral associations and chambers, whilst also endeavouring to promote Greek business practices as being successful and socially responsible

How are your members coping with Covid-19?

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the economic activities of all countries, following reduced operating revenues and reduced demand for goods and services, but also aggravated supply chains. When it comes to Greek companies that operate in Serbia, the service sector, and especially the hospitality and hotel sector, have been confronted by the biggest challenges. A gradual recovery was noticed in many sectors during the second half of last year, particularly among companies with operations that aren’t overly dependent on global supply chains. At the same time, small and medium-sized enterprises operating in the service sector are still confronted by the consequences of an altered market and the challenges of creating new business models. Simultaneously, forecasts on the global economic recovery and exit from the pandemic suggest that the Serbian economy will record positive long-term prospects.

How do they perceive the overall macroeconomic situation on the Serbian market, in terms of business prospects?

The Serbian economy has already returned to its pre-pandemic growth level, primarily thanks to rising private consumption and an increase in total investment. At the same time, data on real GDP growth show that such an increase is the result of activities in industry and construction. The Government of Serbia has continued to promote and invest in the modernisation of infrastructure over the next decade, along with the planned construction and modernisation of roads, railways, bridges and ports. Also, it is focused on investing in healthcare, while there are also prospects in agribusiness. It is similarly important to note that Serbia embarked on the path of green transition during the previous year. Alongside this, we should also mention the IT sector, as the fastest growing sector in Serbia.

In which aspects has the HBA supported its members the most?

The Greek business community in Serbia is well networked and we strive to support each other selflessly. The Hellenic Business Association of Serbia aims to bring the Greek and Serbian markets closer and offer members an opportunity to do business in a secure investment environment. It is in this regard that our members primarily expect to receive full support for their operations in Serbia in terms of communication with Serbian and Greek institutions and the protection of their interests. We provide support to our members, but also potential investors, through the provision of information on entrepreneurship in the country and clarifications regarding bureaucracy. Moreover, the HBA promotes its members among key actors, such as government institutions and other bilateral associations and chambers, whilst also endeavouring to promote Greek business practices as being successful and socially responsible.

There are many opportunities to expand cooperation in fast-growing sectors like IT, healthcare, agribusiness and green transition

Where do you see the role of Greek companies in the implementation of the “Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans” in Serbia?

The Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, which encourages the long-term economic recovery of the region based on the pillars of green and digital transition, as well as supporting regional integration, is important to further the development of trade relations, while it also represents a geostrategic contribution to regional stability. Greece actively supports the European integration perspective of the Western Balkan countries and stands ready to contribute to its socio-economic development and accelerate the EU accession process. Alongside this, the presence of Greek investments has been recorded over recent decades in the Western Balkans, particularly in Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia and EU member states Bulgaria and Romania. Under the scope of the National Strategic Extroversion Plan, the Greek government has expressed a clear readiness to actively participate in the Plan for the Western Balkans, given that it envisages numerous Greek activities in the region, based on turning outwards and covering all areas that relate to sustainable development, energy and transport, with an emphasis on interconnection, infrastructure, the natural environment and knowledge sharing.

In which areas of that plan do Greek companies have the best expertise?

The Greek energy sector is undergoing a huge transformation. Greece brought the decision to close its lignite-fired thermal power plants under a very short deadline and shifted to facilities that utilise renewable energy sources. The rise of renewable energy projects, mostly based on solar power and wind energy, simultaneously testifies to the expertise of Greek companies operating in this sector, which could play a significant role in implementing the Green Agenda for Serbia. Additionally, they could also contribute to its application in the circular economy, wastewater treatment, waste management and the protection of nature and biodiversity. Greek companies that are already present in the construction sector could also participate in the implementation of this plan.

CHALLENGES

Among Greek companies that operate in Serbia, those in the hospitality and hotel sector have been confronted by the biggest challenges

EXPERTISE

Greek companies have expertise in transitioning to renewable energy sources and could play a significant role in implementing the Green Agenda for Serbia

OPPORTUNITIES

Greece wants to become an energy hub and to offer various possibilities for energy diversification, including gas interconnection between Serbia and Bulgaria

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