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Majo Mićović President Of The Swiss-Serbian Chamber Of Commerce

Swiss Investments In Serbia Growing

I firmly believe that Serbia is awaited by an increase in the volume of Swiss investments in the period ahead, despite these economically turbulent times. Also testifying to this is the recent visit to Serbia of the director general of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce

The operations of all companies are today dependent to a great extent on how their work was impacted by the pandemic. The sectors hardest hit by Covid-19 were those of the hotel industry, aviation and tourism, while the least negative impact of the pandemic was felt by ICT companies. Swiss-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (SSCC) President Majo Mićović is of the belief that room for optimism today exists.

“After two years, we’re seeing the appearance of a period of recovery and further development for companies, including SSCC member companies. Some of them have also announced new investments, as Nestle has, then leading IT security company Sky Express opened its representative office in Podgorica and will soon also do so in Tirana, and two new factories have also opened: Regent Lighting opened a factory in Svilajnac and Barry Callebaut opened one in Novi Sad, all of which testifies to the positive way they view the local and regional business climate,” says Mićović.

Are your members also confronted by labour shortages and how much does vocational education and training (VET) help in that sense?

The Swiss-Serbian Chamber of Commerce organised three conferences aimed at promoting the importance of dual education and finding adequate labour. Member companies are indeed confronted by labour shortages, but we’re glad that some of them – like Nestle and Standard Furniture Serbia – have entered the dual education system and recognised it as a way to find high-quality workers with competencies that are aligned with the needs of the economy. We are extremely glad that, as a Chamber and as individuals from the Board of Directors, we’ve provided a serious contribution to this topic since dual education was first initiated in Serbia.

What will be the main directions of SSCC activities in the period ahead when it comes to advancing the business climate?

– Geneva Chamber of Commerce Director General Vincent Subilia has just concluded his first visit to Belgrade. I also organised a meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić for this occasion, with that meeting also attended by H.E. Ambassador Schmid. During the meeting, PM Brnabić introduced her interlocutors to the good business climate in Serbia and presented the economic areas favourable to investment, with a special emphasis on digitalisation, artificial intelligence and biotechnology. These are actually the main directions of the chamber’s activities that will contribute significantly to the further improvement of the business climate.

We (SSCC) recently signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Geneva Chamber of Commerce (CCIG) that’s tasked with strengthening awareness and understanding of the investment climate in Serbia among CCIG members

On our side, we familiarised the Prime Minister with the fact that the ICT sector is far and away the most dynamic direction in the development of economic relations between the two countries, but also the fact that the SSCC membership includes the largest percentage of IT companies compared to the total number of member companies. This itself testifies to possible directions of future cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce of the Canton of Geneva.

To what extent has the SSCC’s working methods returned to the pre-Covid period? What would you retain from the working methods utilised during the lockdown period?

– The SSCC closely monitors unfolding events related to the pandemic, with the aim of complying with and implementing health protection measures. Holding webinars remains an integral part of the SSCC’s work, but in-person gatherings among members, as a form of SSCC work, are also becoming more frequent. It could be said that the SSCC combines the advantages of working during both periods – before and during Covid – and in force now is the so-called hybrid model of work, which includes both online events and the staging of live events.

There’s no need to stress the importance of live, direct communication and gathering. That has prompted some members of the Chamber, such as Sky Express with the case of the SSCC Networking Cocktail Party, to organise “live” events as a way of bringing the membership closer together and initiating new ideas and contacts.

As of the end of Q3 2021, the Serbian investments of Swiss residents had a total value of almost 1.7 billion euros (€1,685.3 million). What kind of interest are you recording among investors today, when we once again find ourselves in globally turbulent times economically?

– Business operations under the conditions of the pandemic, but also during the time of the global economic crisis caused by military conflicts, has brought many aggravating circumstances and raised the question of the survival of a large number of companies in almost all industries. The IT industry is one of the few industries to have been barely hit by the crisis. The IT industry is the fastest growing industry in Serbia, which has been recognised by Swiss investors for years and their interest in our ICT sector is fortunately on the rise. The SSCC has a large number of companies operating in the ICT sector among its members, with dozens of Swiss companies having already established a local presence in Serbia through outsourcing and the opening of development centres.

The state administration has succeeded in making digitalisation dynamic with its very good internal policy on the development of e-government via the IT Office, though it is still necessary to speed up the digital transformation of social consciousness even more and develop even stronger coordination among the state, business and science

Company Sky Express, which is part of Swiss investment fund Evolution Equity Partners, is an excellent example of a company that’s been present on the Serbian market for almost 20 years and continues, with the support of Swiss partners, to invest in the IT sector. We (SSCC) recently signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Geneva Chamber of Commerce (CCIG) that’s tasked with strengthening awareness and understanding of the investment climate in Serbia among CCIG members. I firmly believe that Serbia is awaited by an increase in the volume of Swiss investments in the period ahead, despite these economically turbulent times.

Numerous Swiss companies have already established a local presence in Serbia. Looking at the ICT sector alone, how represented are Swiss companies here compared to companies from other countries that are leading investors in Serbia?

– The IT sector has become one of the most important directions of investment in Serbia, alongside services, food and healthcare. Exports of ICT services recorded in January and February this year amounted to 347 million euros (up 42.7% on the same period of last year). There are many factors that influence the decision making of investors, but certainly among the most important are the engineering quality of IT personnel, the level of digitalisation of regional centres, the rate of return on investment, the extent to which certain IT technologies are represented in the country etc. Alongside Switzerland, Germany and the U.S. are leading the way in IT sector investments in Serbia.

How would you rate Serbia’s progress on the creating of institutional preconditions for transitioning to Industry 4.0?

– Energy, business, agriculture, health and education – as the basic pillars of each country’s economic and social development – are areas where the application of Industry 4.0 can shift and improve functioning significantly. Digital technologies, such as cloud computing, the IoT (Internet of Things), robotics, big data and cyber security software solutions are key to implementing the Industry 4.0 concept.

The ICT sector is today Serbia’s largest net export branch, with a greater contribution to GDP than, for example, construction, while it has also surpassed agriculture in terms of exports. I can thus say that Serbia is on the right track for transitioning to Industry 4.0. The state administration has succeeded in making digitalisation dynamic with its very good internal policy on the development of e-government via the IT Office, though it is still necessary to speed up the digital transformation of social consciousness even more and develop even stronger coordination among the state, business and science.

In which areas can Swiss companies provide the best knowhow when it comes to digitisation and the development of e-services in Serbia?

– The Swiss software sector is incomparable to those of Germany or the U.S. in terms of volume of business, but it has its own advantages and expertise: its technical and programming procedures are significantly better than those of others, but so are its quality control systems; excellent innovation and attention to detail, as well as excellent understanding of the needs of users. These are certainly qualities that I’d also like to see represented to a greater extent in Serbia when it comes to businesses that depend on digitalisation, and particularly when it comes to e-services.

DEVELOPMENT

The ICT sector is far and away the most dynamic direction in the development of economic relations and the SSCC membership includes the largest percentage of IT companies compared to the total number of members

PLANS

Digitalisation, artificial intelligence and biotechnology are the main directions of the chamber’s activities that will contribute significantly to the further improvement of the business climate

INVESTMENT

The IT sector has become one of the most important directions of investment in Serbia, alongside services, food and healthcare… Alongside Switzerland, Germany and the U.S. are leading the way in IT sector investments