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Jasmina Vignjević, Chairperson of The Nordic Business Alliance

New Opportunities For Business Cooperation Are Coming

The main objective of the Nordic Business Alliance is to become a one-stop-shop for potential Nordic investors as well as Serbian exporters to Nordic region. According to recent trends in mutual trade and extended investments of Nordic companies in Serbia, we are on a slow but steady path to growth

We spoke with Jasmina Vignjević, Chairperson of the Nordic Business Alliance (NBA), about the possibilities for the further development of business ties between Serbian and Nordic economies.

How close are we today to the figure of one billion dollars in trade between Serbia and Nordic countries?

– According to data provided by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, the value of foreign trade between Serbia and the four Nordic countries amounted to US$ 700 million in 2014, with an upward trend. We still do not have access to data from 2015, but based on this, our expectations are that the value of foreign trade has increased. If the Government continues along the EU path and pushes further reform, I am convinced that the amount of one billion could be reached very soon.

Do you regard the imminent opening of IKEA as symbolic, or is it the opening of real opportunities to increase the linking of partners in the Nordic countries with domestic companies?

– Ikea’s launching in Serbia is a very important event and definitely serves as a symbol that the presence of the Nordic business is becoming stronger in Serbia. Definitely, new opportunities for business cooperation are coming – now Serbian companies will have an opportunity to compete with manufacturers and suppliers from around the world in order to become Ikea’s supplier. Regarding that, Standard Furniture Serbia is a successful example of how a local company can supply Ikea’s global network.

Telenor, which is celebrating 10 years of successful business in Serbia this September, is one of the good examples of Norwegian confidence in Serbia. Telenor’s investment in launching Telenor Banka with initial investments of 40 million EUR underscores this.

Of course, there are other possibilities for making connections between Nordic and Serbian companies. Over 40 Nordic companies are members of the Nordic Business Alliance and when somebody comes to us with the business idea, we are willing to recommend a potential partner among our members.

Which long-standing members of Nordic Business Alliance are seen as the main potential for the expansion of foreign trade and investment in Serbia?

– Serbia is usually perceived as an economy that is traditionally oriented to agriculture, however, it is growing fast in the IT sector in recent years. Nordic investors are mainly long-term oriented, it is not easy to attract them, but once they decide to make investment decisions, they usually stay and invest here for longer periods. From my experience, they really appreciate the recommendations of reliable partners who have already invested in Serbia.

In order to stimulate innovations for which Nordic countries are well known, the Government should adopt laws and regulations that are compatible with the digital era, lose state monopolies and regulate cross-border data traffic transfer as per EU benchmarks

To what extent do the laws in Serbia follow newer business models that are close to companies in Nordic countries?

– We believe that laws and regulations in Serbia should stimulate innovations for which Nordic countries are well known. For example, being in the digital era, it is very important for the new law on electronic commerce to introduce a more flexible and simplified digital signature, so companies can do most contracts and payments online.

Breaking state monopolies on infrastructure, for example, enabling access to fibre to other players, is critical in today’s digital era where we are moving from voice to data world. Monopolies in this area, signalled by the protectionism of state ownership in infrastructure, should be abolished. Something similar happened in Nordic countries when the state opened its infrastructure. And look where they are now – investing in ICT all over the world.

Finally, in order for Serbia to become a part of new regional business models and even potential headquarters for the companies with a regional footprint, cross-border data traffic transfer needs to be regulated as per EU benchmarks. The Government will have this possibility in the new Law on Electronic Communications, which is in the pipeline and in line to be adopted by the end of 2016.