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H.E. Luca Gori, Ambassador Of Italy To Serbia

Entering A New Phase Of Economic Relations

We have a very strong economic presence on this market, particularly in the most traditional sectors. Our core aim now is to focus on more innovative fields: agri-tech, infrastructure, green and energy transition, but also IT, clean-tech and smart mobility ~ Luca Gori

Since arriving in Serbia precisely a year ago, Italian Ambassador Gori has been devoting great attention to what he calls his “top priority”: strengthening economic links between Italy and Serbia. The Italy-Serbia Business and Science Forum that was held in March brought together 400 companies from the two countries, in an effort to encourage them to both cooperate more in traditional sectors of the economy and branch out into new areas. Speaking in this CorD Magazine interview, Ambassador Gori announces an “immediate follow-up” to the forum: a major new event in autumn dedicated to start-ups.

Your Excellency, you stated recently that Serbia holds the place of a strategic partner in Italy’s policy of renewed interest in the Western Balkans. What does that mean specifically?

Italy has always looked at Serbia and the Balkans as a strategic region. The new Italian Government, on the impulse of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Antonio Tajani, has renewed Italian engagement in this area. Italy organised its National Conference on the Balkans in January, while we later hosted a meeting of ministers of foreign affairs from the Balkan region in Rome.

On the bilateral side, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met with President Aleksandar Vučić in both Tirana and Verona. Minister Tajani came to Belgrade twice, once in November, together with Defence Minister Guido Crosetto, and once on the occasion of the Business & Science Forum in March. It was also in March that we received the Minister of University and Research, Anna Maria Bernini. A few weeks ago, Minister of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forests, Francesco Lollobrigida, opened the International Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad. We believe Serbia is the key partner in handling some crucial challenges. Peace and stability in the region, migration flows, growth and economic development, technological innovations: these are the fields where Italy and Serbia are cooperating.

Are you satisfied with the dialogue within the scope of the Business and Science Forum held in Belgrade recently?

Yes, indeed. The Business and Science Forum we held on 21st-22nd March was very successful: we gathered more than 150 Italian companies and 250 Serbian companies; we held more than 450 B2B meetings; we signed 13 agreements. Nevertheless, we consider this event not as an ending point, but rather a starting line.

We are monitoring very closely all the follow-ups that arose from the B&S Forum; the dialogue with the Serbian authorities is continuous and we hope to soon finalise some interesting collaborations. Now is the time to deliver, after having paved the way for our companies to establish stronger business relations in Serbia. Our Credit Export Agencies, SIMEST and SACE, are also about to open their representative offices here.

The Business and Scientific Forum in Belgrade was announced as marking the opening of a new phase in economic relations between Italy and Serbia. What represents the core of this new phase?

The revival of economic relations with Serbia represents a “top priority” for Italy. We have a very strong economic presence on this market, especially in the most traditional sectors. Our core aim is now to focus on more innovative fields, starting from the pillars of the B&S Forum: agri-tech, infrastructure, green and energy transition, but also IT, clean-tech and smart mobility.

In this framework, just to mention a few initiatives: 1) Italy was the Partner Country of the 90th International Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad (20th-26th May), attended by Italian Minister of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forestry Francesco Lollobrigida; 2) We signed three more MoU between the Italian National Research Council (CNR) and, respectively, BioSense, the Institute for Artificial Intelligence of Novi Sad and the University of Belgrade, on the occasion of Italian Research Day; 3) The next session of the Forum, in 2024, will take place in Trieste. We are strongly committed to reinforcing our presence in the B&S Forum’s focus sectors and in order to do that it is important to work in synergy with all actors in so-called “Sistema Italia” in both Serbia and Italy.

You’ve mentioned that the future of economic cooperation is in striding towards areas with “high-tech content”. Do you have any specific industries in mind?

Italy is one of the world’s leading countries in IT and the creative industries. We are working to bring Italian investments to Serbia with increasingly innovative content and high added value, including areas such as artificial intelligence, digitalisation, agri-tech and cleantech. As an immediate follow up, it is our intention to organise a major event this autumn dedicated to startups, which traditionally belong to the aforementioned sectors.

Is the purpose of dedicating one day of the Forum to science linked to the goal of increasing economic relations and cooperation in the high-tech sector?

Indeed, both Italy and Serbia recognise the role of research and innovation in driving sustainable development and socio-economic transformations. A strong academic and research system is key to feeding innovative companies with new ideas, advanced skills and capacities. On the occasion of the Business & Science Forum, we brought together representatives of our main research organisations, at the highest level, to present the national programmes on scientific and technological priorities that we share.

Serbia has been negotiating with the EU for nine years and there is a risk of indulging in the fatalism generated by the accession steps (not always clear to the public) and by the timeframe (objectively long) demanded by the enlargement process

On that occasion, we signed a new cooperation agreement that will provide the framework for long term collaboration between the national R&I initiatives by means of joint research projects, education and mobility schemes. We expect to fund up to 15 new research projects by the end of this year. Meanwhile, five new scientific cooperation agreements have been signed between Italian and Serbian research organisations.

To what extent are economic relations between Italy and Serbia dependent on Serbia’s European integration status?

The EU remains the first trade partner and investor in Serbia. The total exchange between Belgrade and EU Member states in 2022 reached 39,1 billion euros, with growth of +27.7% compared to 2021. Italy, by itself, is the third largest trade partner of Serbia and the second among EU countries. These figures show how integrated and interdependent our markets already are today, and we are working to further strengthen these ties. Economic relations between Italy and Serbia are not dependent on Serbia’s European Integration status. However, on the other hand, there is no doubt that Belgrade’s accession to the common market, without barriers, would boost the trade exchange even more.

As the ambassador of a country that has strongly supported Serbia on its journey to EU membership from the outset, how do you currently view the state of this process?

Italy continues to be a staunch supporter of the European path of Serbia and we appreciate the efforts of the Belgrade authorities to adopt important reforms, starting from the one in the field of justice being implemented during recent months. A lot remains to be done. Serbia has been negotiating with the EU for nine years and there is a risk of indulging in the fatalism generated by the accession steps (not always clear to the public) and by the timeframe (objectively long) demanded by the enlargement process. Italy understands the Serbian public’s frustration and is committed to speeding up the exercise.

When discussing current political events, you insist that the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina represents an important process in ensuring the stability of the region, but is also one of the conditions for progress on EU membership. However, there is a question over how one interprets normalisation: is it, in your opinion, a long-term process or a demand that Serbia recognise Kosovo’s independence?

Normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina remains fundamental for regional stability, in order to preserve peace and create prosperity.

Italy has always supported the Dialogue facilitated by the EU and contributes on the ground by supplying troops to the KFOR and EULEX missions in Kosovo and ALTHEA in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We believe it is up to the two parties to decide the contents and timing of the normalisation agreement.

After the recent agreement reached in Brussels in February, and the implementation annex adopted in Ohrid in March, Belgrade and Pristina are at a decisive juncture. Despite the discouraging outcome of the High-Level meeting between President Vučić and Prime Minister Kurti on 2nd May, both parties still have an obligation to show their full commitment to the process. All agreements must be fully implemented, starting with the establishment – without further delay – of the Community of Serb Municipalities.

Serbian officials often express their gratitude to members of the Italian army serving in Kosovo for their efforts aimed at preserving Serbia’s cultural and religious heritage from attack and destruction. Considering that you hail from a country that pays special attention to cultural heritage, do you think there is sufficient understanding in the EU for appeals to preserve the rich heritage of Serbs, which is imperilled to a great extent?

We are proud of the work carried out by the Italian troops that have, through the years, been ensuring the protection of some of the most important orthodox religious sites, such as the Visoki Dečani Monastery. Italy contributes 900 members to the KFOR international military mission, which is also led by an Italian Commander, and 25 officers to the EULEX mission. Our country has always been very active in the field of the protecting cultural heritage at the multilateral level. The European Union is also committed to safeguarding and enhancing Europe’s cultural heritage through a number of policies and programmes, which Italy supports fully.

You are continuing the tradition of Italian ambassadors who have engaged in promoting Italian cuisine and fashion, as a special form of diplomatic activity. In a world that often seems to be dominated by high politics, how important is this aspect of promoting your country around the world?

I feel really honoured to be in the position to promote Italian culture in Serbia. Italy boasts more World Heritage sites (58) than any other country in the world. Cuisine, fashion and design, cultural heritage and natural beauty are the excellences that made Italy the “Bel Paese” all around the world.

We are the world’s 5th most popular tourism destination. My goal is also to highlight our amazing tradition in science, technology and innovation. The extraordinary results that Italy has achieved in these fields are sometimes underestimated abroad.

Do you think Serbian citizens are a good audience for these topics, considering the popularity enjoyed by Italian brands in Serbia?

I’ve noticed a great passion for Italy in Serbia, and for Italy’s popular brands in fashion and design. Serbian people enjoy visiting Italy, they really appreciate our culture and we share very strong social ties. We would like to present a more complete offer of our tourism destinations in future, as Italy has so many treasures to discover. We have very good cooperation with Air Serbia and the number of direct flights and destinations from Belgrade to Italy has increased significantly.

Both Italy and Serbia recognise the role of research and innovation in driving sustainable development and socio-economic transformations. A strong academic and research system is key to feeding innovative companies with new ideas, advanced skills and capacities

It is now possible to fly directly from Belgrade not just to Rome, Milan, Trieste and Venice, but also to Florence, Naples, Bari, Bologna, Palermo and Catania. Holidaying in Italy is an opportunity to experience a real 360-degree experience, comprising culture, art and, of course, good food and excellent wines. I believe that many Serbian citizens are nowadays increasingly willing to listen to this kind of proposal. Moreover, we launched the initiative “IFIB – Italian Fashion in Belgrade”, which has been a great success among the public, as well as ’Italian Design Day’. And in November we will have the traditional Week of Italian Cuisine… I invite you to stay tuned to find out more about all these social and promotional events. I am sure you will be amazed!

You utilised the promotion of Italian cuisine to discuss the rise in cooperation between our two countries in the agriculture and food sector. Having been a partner at May’s International Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad, what are your impressions of, and plans for, this traditional event?

Italy and Serbia boast a very good exchange in the agri-food sector (our bilateral trade in the sector had a total value of 585 million euros in 2022), a relationship that we intend to strengthen by promoting the excellence of Italian knowhow in a sector that represents over 9% of Serbian GDP. We can work together to guarantee the quality of our products, food safety and supply chain trackability, as well to exchange best practices and promote technology transfers for farm mechanisation.

We do believe there is great room for mutual collaboration in this field. That’s why one of the pillars of the Business and Science Forum was sustainable agriculture and agri-tech, a sector that has significant development potential between our two Countries. On the same occasion, we signed important memoranda on improving cooperation in agriculture, agri-tech and the food industry sectors. Italy was present at this year’s Fair in Novi Sad with 21 companies, in a pavilion covering 5,000m2. Working together will help Serbia better exploit its potential in this fundamental sector.

COOPERATION

Peace and stability in the region, migration flows, growth and economic development, technological innovations: these are the fields where Italy and Serbia are cooperating

TRADE

Italy, by itself, is the third largest trade partner of Serbia and the second among EU countries

INVESTMENTS

We are working to bring to Serbia Italian investments with increasingly innovative content and high added value, including in areas like AI, digitalisation, agri-tech and cleantech

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