We continuously promote Serbia as a desirable investment destination for American companies and cooperate with the state in improving the business environment, thus contributing to local development

As one of the most active chapters out of the 44-member network of AmChams in Europe, AmCham Serbia is soon going to host the 2019 annual European Conference. We spoke with Vera Nikolić Dimić, Executive Director of AmCham Serbia, about the forthcoming conference and the work of the association.

How much can this part of Europe be interesting for American companies and their overseas operations?

– AmCham is indeed a unique economic bridge connecting our country with the US. We continuously promote Serbia as a desirable investment destination for American companies, as do our member companies in their HQs.

At the same time, we also believe that the ongoing essential reform of all systems in Serbia is, in fact, the best promotion one could get. Therefore, we are helping the state through our activities, targeting business environment improvements, to enhance the environment for companies already doing business here and sending a powerful message to companies contemplating investment opportunities.

As a country, we are sending out powerful signals whenever we conquer another ‘peak’ in shoring up the rule of law. Good news travels fast, and whenever we adopt another reformist law, take another step towards more effective implementation, or solve one of our economic shortcomings, we are closer to future investments.

AmCham members in Serbia hire more than 95,000 citizens of this country, which is nearly 10% of all private-sector employees. Hence, our part of Europe is very interesting for American companies, and the good news is that year after year we are picking up the pace in attracting investments. However, we are not the only country working to attract them, of course.

With a membership of more than 200 of the most successful American, international, and domestic companies, how well is your voice heard in the business community and in communication with the government?

– We believe that cooperation is the key to development and that good communication is the basis of good cooperation. We listen to each other and have an excellent rapport with the government. The best practices that we have established, and indeed have been implementing through several programs, works on the principle of our mapping the issues and providing specific assistance to the state to deal with them.

For example, the results of our last year’s survey on key priorities for business environment enhancements in Serbia pointed out that as many as 82% of respondents saw the biggest obstacles were in long judicial processes, but also in the lack of adequate knowledge and specialization among judges, so we kicked off a series of panels between industry and the judiciary, together with the Ministry of Justice.

Only the rule of law can guarantee our competitiveness in attracting investments and long-term growth of individual companies

Another example of outstanding and specific cooperation with the state is HResource that we initiated in cooperation with the Office of Prime Minister, which is being implemented under the auspices of the National Academy for Public Administration with a view to build and strengthen public administration capacities. This program, that evinced our readiness to put our knowledge and our members’ experience at the disposal of the state, is currently wrapping up its second cycle.

But that is not all. We have also put together several briefings, panels with other institutions, such as the Ministries of Interior, Finance, Construction, Transportation and Infrastructure, Tourism and Telecommunications, and also with the Tax Administration, Tax Police and Market Inspection.

Which recent initiatives aimed at improving the business climate in Serbia do you see as the most fruitful and the game changers?

– Year after year, AmCham members are increasingly focusing more on institutional reform. Predictability of change and enforcement of regulations are the biggest challenges for as many as 51 per cent of our members, whereas 74 per cent of them believe streamlining the judiciary and strengthening the rule of law are priorities to improve the business environment. It is crystal clear: rule of law is the biggest game-changer.

The economic environment should be changed so we can remain competitive, and only the rule of law can guarantee our competitiveness in attracting investments and long-term growth of individual companies.

Another outstanding example of cooperation is the establishment of the National Coordination Body for Trade Facilitation, happening a little more than one year ago, as well as this body’s present activity in working groups. Competent authorities accepted priority requests from the industry and incorporated those in workgroups’ action plans, to be implemented by the end of 2019.

We have until the end of the year to see the success rate in implementing these requests, but we are certain that their fulfilment will positively reflect on the overall growth of economic activity. Taking down non-tariff barriers is one of AmCham priorities in the field of foreign trade; however, a major export chance for Serbia lies in aligning foreign trade procedures throughout the region. These should be gradually built, together with simplifying import procedure.

Having in mind that the aim of the work of the AmChams in Europe is the exchange of good practices, which practices of your colleagues would you like to see implemented here?

– Strong associations are crucial for the state and industry to cooperate, exchange experiences and fight for common causes. We are a high-level networking platform covering topics relevant to our market, but we also think beyond this. That is why we are an active part of European AmCham and that is why we are bringing them all to Belgrade soon. That is going to be one exciting conference.

The focus of our mid-October meetings with our colleagues from all over Europe will be on exchanging experiences in various fields – human resources, finance, strategies of communicating with the broader public and membership, access to advocacy and many other fields that will enable us to be a better service for our members.

The importance of this event is proven by the fact that AmCham members employ 20 million people in more than 17 thousand companies – which stands for more than $1.1 trillion in investments across the Atlantic.

Our goal is to speak with a single voice. However, even the best of voices needs regular training, development and improvement. Firstly, we would like to hear from our colleagues what the trends are over there since these foreign trends are often multiplied, if not directly transferred, here. Our members represent the healthiest part of the Serbian economy, which is why our association is more obliged to them and the local economy in general.

AmCham Serbia is genuinely renowned and recognized, not only in our country but in the European network as well. Therefore, Belgrade was chosen to host the European conference

Which of your practices would you like to share with others? How does AmCham Serbia stand out in comparison to your colleagues in other countries?

– AmCham Serbia is genuinely renowned and recognized, not only in our country but in the European network as well. This is shown in the fact that Belgrade was chosen to host the European conference. We regularly familiarize our colleagues with innovations and practices that yield results.

I must say that we are most proud of nearly 300 young people who have been part of our youth professional development programs for years, both students and managers. We use the youthful energy to promote synergy between the academic and corporate sectors. This is how we shape the leaders of the future, people who will soon (even sooner than most people think) lead the Serbian business community. We believe this is an excellent model for our colleagues in other countries.

Among other things, you are quite active in supporting the development of the IT sector and startup community. How much are these new parts of the economy interesting for your members coming from traditional sectors?

– Digitalization is a major and important topic for Serbia today. If we skipped a period of accelerated development in the 90s, due to sanctions and isolation, we have a serious task ahead to lead the way. In order to foster the development of the IT sector and startup community, we are focusing the bulk of our work on e-government, e-trade and e-commerce. We can proudly claim we are bridging the gap between the traditional and innovative.

We did not identify digitalization only now, but earlier when we recognized and networked women hailing from the business and start-up communities who are together ready to push the envelope in the technological industry. This was in the context of our Women in Tech Mentoring Program. We believe in the era of digitalization and the fact that the education system must keep pace with innovations. Therefore, we planned for numerous training sessions in the coming period, one of which is a very interesting session about blockchain technology.