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Time For Optimism

Almost two-thirds of AmCham members have realized or even exceeded plans for the first quarter of the current year, and as many as 65% of them believe that they will achieve growth in their operations, compared to both 2019 and 2020. In addition to this, 27% of members plan to hire new colleagues. The activities of our members show that the economy is really recovering faster than we expected

I m an optimist despite the pandemic, and my optimism is shared by AmCham members – says Am- Cham Serbia First Vice President Ivan Miletić. This optimism is based on the results of a survey conducted by AmCham among its member companies during April. The optimism of AmCham members for this year is reflected, first and foremost, in the fact that almost two-thirds of them realized or even exceeded their plans for the first quarter of the current year.

The situation is the same when it comes to employment. Optimism is not waning, because 37% of members plan to hire new colleagues, while 57% plan to maintain last year’s level of employment. Additionally, this good news is complemented by the fact that as many as 65% of AmCham member companies believe that they will achieve growth in their operations, compared to both 2019 and 2020.

“Judging by the economic results for the first quarter of 2021, we are awaited by a more successful year, with more favorable growth projections. The economy is recovering faster than we expected. As we know, there are both external and internal reasons for that – from the recovery of the world economy, but also thanks to fiscal and monetary incentives, expressing myself in the spirit of the current European Football Championship, on home soil,” says our interlocutor.

If we continue working seriously to improve the work of institutions, from the efficiency of the state administration to the judiciary, I believe that we will make our economy even more attractive for larger domestic and foreign investments, including American ones. And it is precisely these areas that are in AmCham’s focus

What is different from the previous period in the so-called “new normal”, and what has remained the same?

Apart from ensuring conditions to maintain health, safety and security, with which I mean personal, family and team safety and security, the absolute winner of the “new normal” is flexibility. All of us who recognized that immediately and adjusted quickly, and continue to do so, will maintain our business advantage over the long run.

Of course, nothing can replace the time that we spend together with colleagues, and it could be said that, in this “new normal”, we must take even more care to ensure that team spirit and company culture do not become collateral damage. I hope that the high number of vaccinated people, as well as adherence to basic measures like social distancing and the disinfecting of work areas and surfaces, will enable us all to return to our offices at full capacity as soon as possible. Of course, a lot has changed in the last two years, but those changes also created new space for development, especially in the field of the digitalization of communication and many business processes. At the same time, these changes have various consequences, which is why they need to be analyzed, corrected, improved … abolished.

At the end of the day, what’s good for me and my company isn’t necessarily the right solution for you and yours. And that again brings us back to “flexibility”, which is definitely the key.

How would you rate the work of the Government of Serbia in this extraordinary period – in terms of administration during the pandemic – and in the regular implementing of reforms? When it comes to ushering in the future, what are the most important issues for your members today?

The successful implementation of mass vaccination is crucial for all economies, including ours, because it creates the conditions to do business unhindered, to open borders and enable the movement of people, goods and services. It is highly commendable that our country is working effectively on the mass immunization of the population, in which we are at the top of Europe. That is a very good starting point.

Moreover, with its timely and extensive package of measures, first in 2020 and then in 2021, the State impacted positively on economic results being significantly better than could have been the case. AmCham members consider that assistance should always be directed towards the hardest hit sectors of the economy, and during this period those were tourism, HORECA and export sectors that experienced a major fall in demand, as well as micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

It is also a commendable fact that Serbia’s fiscal stability is sustainable, while it is also positive that high growth of public investments is planned for this year, that awareness of the need to accelerate the digitalization of public administration exists, etc. However, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, regardless of the pandemic!

In order for us to successfully implement our optimistic expectations by the end of the year, an absolute precondition is to continue working on improving the rule of law and the efficiency of the judiciary, while reducing corruption and increasing the transparency of the legislative process, and especially monitoring the implementation of regulations and measuring their effect. Those are also the priorities that our members see in the field of reform policies, along with the improving of the efficiency of public administration through the enabling of electronic communication with all bodies, in the optimizing of procedures and their digitalization, but also in the improving of tax, customs and Forex and health procedures. Combating illicit online trade, improving environmental laws and the labor law are also high on the list of priority reforms to create a better economic environment.

And last but by no means least, there is the synergy between public and private health aimed at achieving better effects in protecting the health of citizens.

How much has Serbia changed, and how much has it remained the same, compared to the time when AmCham Serbia was founded 20 years ago?

We’ve really come a long way in 20 years. We started modestly, with 21 founding members. And today the American Chamber of Commerce in Serbia brings together over 200 American, international and domestic companies that employ approximately 97,000 Serbian citizens and have invested a combined total of 14 billion euros in the country.

The American Chamber of Commerce is the leading independent business association in Serbia today, which bases its activities on improving the business environment, the professional training, education and promotion of its members, as well as on enabling business contacts among members.

But there’s no stopping on the road of development and reform. This year marks the culmination of our second decade of successful operations. As in the previous 20 years, our goal is to continue launching initiatives in cooperation with the Government of Serbia and to contribute to the creation of strategies and policies that improve the regulatory framework for doing business, encourage the growth of the Serbian economy and increase the number of jobs. In the period ahead, AmCham will strive, continuously and with dedication, to identify needs for improvement in all business aspects.

In which areas have AmCham members, as investors and advocates of reform policies, left the most visible mark?

Among the most significant American investments in Serbia are those of companies like – and I will mention only a few – Philip Morris, Coca-Cola, Ball Packaging, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, NCR, Sitel etc. And, in recent years, companies from the automotive industry, such as Johnson Controls and Cooper Tires. I believe that, despite the existing presence of these important names, there is still room for a stronger inflow of U.S. investments in Serbia. If we continue working seriously to improve the work of institutions, from the efficiency of the state administration to the judiciary, I believe that we will make our economy even more attractive for larger domestic and foreign investments, including American ones. And it is precisely these areas that are in AmCham’s focus.

As in the previous 20 years, our goal is to continue launching initiatives in cooperation with the Government of Serbia and to contribute to the creation of strategies and policies that improve the regulatory framework for doing business, encourage the growth of the Serbian economy and increase the number of jobs

Serbia’s Nordeus was sold to American company Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. Do you consider that an exception, or do you see the possibility of American companies starting to pay more attention to monitoring innovative companies in Serbia?

We are aware that Serbia is a small market that is not easy to place on the map of large investor countries like America. At the same time, we are undoubtedly characterized by creativity, breadth of education and business thinking, expertise and the kind of positive attitude that’s essential for success.

That’s why I firmly believe that, even though we are small on the geographical map, we are certainly finding our own place on the map of business ideas and increasingly attractive business environments.

Philip Morris, as the company I come from, actually recognized this potential through StarTech, a project to support small, innovative businesses that will undoubtedly lead to accelerated economic development based on science, creativity and new technologies.

Creativity and new technologies are usually linked to startups. How difficult was it for a large company like Philip Morris to transform from a traditional industry and start applying that conemporary model of doing business?

It is difficult, but is actually the only logical step for a large company that has an ear for the needs of its consumers and plans its business over the long run. We’ve invested huge funds in science, which enabled us to come up with a product that’s less harmful than cigarettes and has already helped almost 20 million smokers around the world choose a better option than continuing to smoke. Thus, with the help of science and technology, we succeeded in simultaneously meeting the needs of our consumers, providing a significant contribution to public health and improving our operations. It is today especially noticeable how visionary this shift towards better options was, due to the pandemic that compelled consumers to think more, reconsider their earlier choices and try to stop or at least reduce the harmfulness of all their bad habits.

What is the place of your cigarette factory in Niš when it comes to the global transformation of Philip Morris?

Under the ideal circumstances, the future without tobacco smoke would begin for us today, and our factory in Niš would switch completely to the production of alternative products. However, we are realistic when we say that people wouldn’t immediately stop smoking if we stopped supplying the market with high-quality cigarettes from our factory, rather they would merely switch to competing products, but also those that are procured on the black market. In order to overcome habits that they’ve had for many years, and in some cases for many decades, smokers need information, encouragement, and support. That’s why we’ve also redirected activities related to the commercialization of traditional products towards the future without tobacco smoke.

SUPPORT

With its timely and extensive package of measures, first in 2020 and then in 2021, the State impacted positively on economic results being significantly better than could have been the case

INNOVATION

At Philip Morris, with the help of science and technology, we succeeded in simultaneously meeting the needs of our consumers, providing a significant contribution to public health and improving our operations

PRIORITIES

Combating illicit online trade, improving environmental laws and the labor law are high on the list of priority reforms to create a better economic environment