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Antonio Ventresca, Director, Italian Trade Agency

Resilience Kept Us On Track

We’re here to help Italian and Serbian companies work together and to continue reiterating the business values that they’ve been creating over past decades. Resilience and persistence have helped both of our economies to stay on track and have reinforced our relationship

The pandemic was felt deeply worldwide and our two countries experienced nothing different – says Antonio Ventresca, Director of the Italian Trade Agency (ITA). Following a period of understandable stagnation in 2020, last year showed that economic collaboration between Italy and Serbia is as strong as ever. Italian exports to Serbia in 2021 grew by 20% compared to 2020 and quickly reached pre-pandemic levels, at a value of 2.3 billion euros. The same can be observed when we analyse Serbian exports to Italy, where the annual growth rate stands at almost 30% and looks to be reaching 1.8 billion by the end of this year, explains our interlocutor. “Resilience and persistence have always characterised the entrepreneurs of both countries and the crisis seemed to have reinforced the most stable economic relationships.”

When could we expect a return to the pre-pandemic period in terms of business travel and the organising of full-scale fairs and other events that help to fuel economic exchange?

I believe this time has already come. Our Agency organised business trips for a number of fairs, trade shows and business meetings in the first quarter of 2022: the Verona Agriculture Fair, BEER&FOOD ATTRACTION, Vinitaly, MacFrut, IPACK IMA, MIDO, EuroFlora, Oro Arezzo, to name just a few. We are very happy to see that the economic and business environment has returned to what it was prior to the pandemic. We currently have over a dozen Serbian business representatives residing in Italy, while in the coming months we plan to further strengthen this important channel of communication. One of our most important business events – the Novi Sad Agriculture Fair – will host 24 Italian companies that will represent our excellence in the agriculture sector.

How has the world of trade and investments changed during the two years of the pandemic and how has that impacted on the overall goals of your organisation?

Something has obviously changed, but it wasn’t necessarily negative. The last two years allowed us to gain new experiences, as we used different online and offline tools to enable and maintain business communications. While travelling was banned or hampered, the majority of our partners, in both Italy and Serbia, adapted quickly to online events and companies have been very responsive to this “new normal”.

Our Agency is already deeply oriented towards online services, and we haven’t skipped a beat. I believe that good oldfashioned face-to-face meetings and a physical presence at significant business events will still remain unparalleled in terms of experience. However, I must say that Serbian companies are showing a great deal of flexibility and willingness to embrace the new trends, something that hasn’t been the case in all European countries.

From that perspective, what are the ITA’s main goals in Serbia today?

Our goals remain the same: we are here to help Italian and Serbian companies work together and to continue reiterating the business values that they’ve been creating over past decades. We are focused particularly on certain sectors that we believe can further broaden and reinforce our economic cooperation – namely, the agri-food sector, construction and infrastructure, the environment and apparel.

One of our most important business events – the Novi Sad Agriculture Fair – will host 24 Italian companies that will represent our excellence in the agricultural sector

The ITA takes pride in all the initiatives we organise or participate in as partners, such as the aforementioned Novi Sad Agriculture Fair or the recent Italian Design Day in Belgrade. However, most of the Agency’s activities aren’t perceived on the surface: there are activities that have a strong public projection, but then there are the very specialised activities that aren’t seen from the outside – like constant dialogue with Italian (and Serbian) entrepreneurs, flows of information regarding specialised sectors, laws and procedures, quick or deep market analyses and so on.

Where do you see opportunities to further expand our cooperation?

When it comes to opportunities for further cooperation between Italy and Serbia, I can say that they are as diverse as the current trade data suggests. We obviously remain strongly focused on the food and agriculture sector, particularly wine, but also other typical Italian products that have been in quite high demand in recent years, like olive oil, mozzarella and others. The entire building, interior design and architecture sector, as well as associated sub-sectors, offers plenty of room for cooperation and we plan to promote it wholeheartedly. The clothing and shoes sector is another area that presents opportunities, as well as relatively newer topics like nutraceuticals and the like.

We have been active in promoting collaboration in the renewable energy and environmental protection sectors and I believe that now, more than ever, is the right moment to consider current circumstances in Serbia and around the World and take further steps in that direction.

The ongoing shift to digitalisation has piqued the interest of Italian companies in further investing in Serbia’s ICT Sector. Which other sectors are drawing your attention?

When we speak about the Serbian ICT sector, we aren’t speaking about potential: the companies are already present, the workforce is skilled and educated and the myriad topics being encompassed by the companies are indeed very modern: from AI and machine learning development and implementation to novel blockchain solutions, alongside more traditional sectors like banking, eGovernment, web development and so on. The future will bring us more collaboration between Italian and Serbian companies in the digital sphere and it is our task to facilitate the “business” side of the dialogue and provide a solid and healthy framework for both parties, in order to enable them to present their products to an international audience.

We are also striving to find technological ways to speed up customs procedures and waiting times. ICE Belgrade is also considering the creation of a platform aimed at facilitating dialogue and cooperation among innovative startups from the two countries. We are eager to wager on the expansion of the Serbian IT sector.

MOMENTUM

Italy has a lot to offer in the renewable energy and environmental protection sectors and I believe that now, more than ever, is the right moment to take further steps in that direction

OPPORTUNITY

The future will bring us more collaboration between Italian and Serbian companies in the digital sphere and it is our task to facilitate the “business” side of the dialogue

COLLABORATION

We are very happy to see that the economic and business environment has returned to what it was prior to the pandemic