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Powerful Development Impetus

Good economic relations with the U.S., alongside regional and European integration, are crucial to attracting new investments and maintaining existing ones, and it is this direction that we want to maintain

The previous year has been marked by intensive communication between the U.S. and Serbian governments in working on important documents aimed at improving cooperation and strengthening the interests of American companies in the Serbian market. “For us, it is crucial that the current U.S. administration provides a strong impetus to the development of economic cooperation with our country,” says AmCham Executive Director Vera Nikolić Dimić.

According to our interlocutor, the American companies already operating in Serbia are very satisfied with their investments, especially those operating in the technology sector, infrastructure and energy, and they are increasingly interested in investing in Serbia. They have invested more than four billion dollars over the last two decades and currently employ more than 30,000 people, while the exchange of services has grown to such a level that the U.S. is now Serbia’s number one partner when it comes to this type of exchange, primarily in the sector of IT services.

“To conclude, good economic relations with the U.S., alongside regional and European integration, are crucial to attracting new investments and maintaining existing ones, and it is this direction that we want to maintain,” explains Nikolić Dimić.

One of the areas of focus at AmCham Serbia is strengthening regional initiatives for the creation of a Balkan single market. What has been achieved on this front and which institutional and logistical shifts are the most important to you in the period ahead?

— Connection through the opening of the region’s borders represents an immeasurable advantage for investment and business development, which enables current and potential investors to access a larger market.

We consider regional integration as being the key driver of economic change and the right path to the European Union. It is for this reason that AmCham is committed to supporting all initiatives to connect the countries of the region in an economic sense, including the Open Balkan initiative, CEFTA and the Berlin Process, with the end goal of the entire region integrating into the European Union. When we add good economic relations with the U.S. to this, we get the real potential to attract new investments and maintain existing ones.

We will focus in the coming period on the reducing of regional trade barriers, alignment with the rules of the EU, the mutual recognition of certificates and the introduction of a “one-stop-shop system” and electronic customs clearances, all of which will facilitate access to the single market and further improve economic cooperation around the region.

You launched the ESG Champions Initiative during the course of last year. What does it mean for your members, and especially for the establishing of these standards in Serbia?

— That’s right, AmCham conducted research among its members on the application of ESG principles, in cooperation with consulting firm Kearney. Our aim was to identify the best results and practices of companies and to also point out discussions of mistakes made in the implementation of ESG strategies.

This is a very important topic for our members, 70% of which are multinationals, while 30% are local companies, with 60% comprising large companies and 40% representing SMEs. The results showed that 85% of survey respondents consider ESG as being key to attracting investments, while 84% have developed their own ESG strategies.

We will focus in the coming period on the reducing of regional trade barriers, which will further improve economic cooperation around the region

Larger companies set stricter requirements for implementing and monitoring of ESG strategies. All regional companies have developed ESG strategies, while the highest number of developed strategies was recorded among mid-sized enterprises (45%). This points to a need to raise awareness of the importance of alignment with EU regulations among SMEs.

One important part of your work relates to gender equality and the empowering of women to enter the IT sector. What would you single out as the greatest successes on this front?

— AmCham has for years been working with dedication to implement the “Women in Technology” mentoring program, primarily in technology companies, which has produced excellent results. However, it is not enough. Education must start much earlier, as early as elementary school, with the aim of overcoming prejudices according to which women can only be teachers, hairdressers or caregivers. They should be encouraged to become entrepreneurs, engineers and leaders.

The current focus is on initiatives to empower women in the business environment. One of the main ways we are launching the “SHE knows” [ONA zna] project, in cooperation with partners such as Impact Hub, ERSTE Bank and the Development Center of the Jablanica and Pčinj Districts. After conducting research among member companies, as well as across Serbia generally, we decided to use a media campaign to additionally direct the attention of the public towards this topic.

There is a visible need for systemic support from companies, society and family, because the careers of women often suffer after they become mothers. It is necessary to raise awareness of this fact and provide full support to working mothers, especially those with young children, in order for them to be supported in the workplace and encouraged to accept important roles without feeling guilty.

Chambers and business associations play an increasingly important role in providing initiatives and in working with the Government of Serbia when it comes to economic growth and digital transition. What are your priorities in these areas?

— AmCham Serbia has, for 22 years already, been cooperating consistently with the Government on the creating of a Serbia that is an attractive investment destination and on the harmonizing of regulations with the EU. Taking into consideration the global crisis, the Serbian economy faces numerous challenges. That’s why it’s important for us to work on improving institutional capacities, such as digitalization and the transformations of public administration, the implementing of the Green Agenda, the improving of the healthcare system, the establishing of a stable fiscal environment and economic connection with a focus on integration into the EU market. These are also defined priorities, and AmCham will continue supporting members in these areas of interest, as it has to date.

AmCham Serbia currently has a record number of member companies, with over 260 American, international and domestic companies that collectively generate a turnover of over 20.2 billion euros and employ 112,000 people. AmCham’s mission is to improve the business climate in partnership with the Government, promote the best business practices and values, and provide a platform for the professional development of members and the improvement of education in accordance with the needs of the business community.