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Danijela Čabarkapa, Executive Director of the Japanese Business Alliance in Serbia (JBAS)

Steady Growth

In a short period of time, the Japanese Business Alliance in Serbia made a huge difference in the way member companies, as well as Japanese companies interested in Serbia, access valuable information and communicate their views related to the business environment

The Japanese Business Alliance in Serbia (JBAS) was established by, and on the initiative of, Japanese companies already operating in Serbia, meaning that it was not set up as a branch office of the Japanese national chamber – the Japan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (JCCI). However, it was soon recognised as a valuable partner for further strengthening and enhancing bilateral cooperation between Japan and Serbia, and thus joined the JCCI network of international Japanese chambers.

“This was an important step towards strengthening institutional support. Our goals and activities were, from the very beginning, supported by the Embassy of Japan and Japanese government agencies – the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), as the two main Japanese organisations in charge of economic cooperation, which have joined our network as JBAS honorary members,” says JBAS Executive Director Danijela Čabarkapa.

JBAS also strengthened its cooperation with the Serbian Development Agency by signing an MoU, covering cooperation in the SME sector and investment-related areas, and participated in the organising of the business-related segment of Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Serbia, as well as in the organisation of the first supplier day event for Japanese companies in Serbia, organised within the framework of the Japan-Serbia Business Forum.

“Our level of activities has an upward trend in terms of both quantity and quality year after year, which all resulted in us reaching the number of forty-three active members at this moment, and steadily growing,” says Danijela Čabarkapa.

To what extent is your job concentrated on the Japanese business community already operating in Serbia, as opposed to prospective Japanese investors?

– Both segments are equally important and represent the main activities of our association – the main reasons for establishing JBAS were, on one side, to provide support to the Japanese business community already present in Serbia and, on the other side notably increased interest in business opportunities in Serbia by Japanese businesses and the need to provide necessary support.

JBAS has three active industry groups: automotive, healthcare and hi-tech. Two more are to be initiated this year – kaizen and HR group

It is important to emphasise that, before JBAS was established, besides the Embassy of Japan, there were no Japanese institutions providing such services in Serbia directly. Whether support is needed in the field of providing information on business opportunities, current business trends, announced developments and changes in the business environment, education, creating networking and promotional possibilities, resolving potential challenges or providing information about business conditions and opportunities in Serbia and supporting the advancement of Japanese business community in Serbia, JBAS comes into frame.

What are the differences in promoting Serbia’s potential for investments from the perspective of your current job and based on the experience you gained at SIEPA?

– The biggest difference is the focus in terms of country, meaning Japan.

My main responsibility in the field of investment promotion at SIEPA was to promote investment opportunities in Serbia while working on potential investment projects in different industries and providing support to companies from all over the world. I can now say that my mind and heart are somewhat split in two. On one side, as a Serbian, I am always keen to promote my country and, of course, to support an increase in the number of Japanese companies doing business in Serbia.

However, on the other side, I have to be even more strict and critical concerning the business environment in the country, in order to provide the best, tailored support to Japanese companies taking Serbia into consideration as a potential business destination.

Danijela Čabarkapa

Which JBAS services are the most sought after by your members?

– Those would definitely be services related to education, providing information about novelties in areas that influence conditions for doing business, the latest trends and developments in the overall business environment and creating a platform for networking opportunities.

What I would also like to emphasise is the increasing importance of our industry groups, where we are focusing on concrete challenges and recommendations and expertise that Japanese businesses can provide, which should lead to the further improvement of business conditions in Serbia. So far, three JBAS industry groups have been created and are active: automotive, healthcare and hi-tech. Two more are to be initiated this year – kaizen and HR group.

You’ve focused your activities on innovation recently. How important is the sector of R&D for Japanese companies in Serbia?

– The first thing that usually comes to our mind when we think about Japan is the high level of technology, and it is thus no wonder that we are focusing our activities on innovation and why our hi-tech group gathers the largest number of our members. Within our hi-tech group, we are focusing on areas where we can use transfers of Japanese business community knowledge and experience to support the further development of an innovative climate in Serbia and explore potential areas for establishing closer cooperation.

We are keen to attract Japanese companies that are interested in developing and implementing advanced technologies in the country, as well as introducing higher value added activities when it comes to those already present in Serbia

As conditions in the country are becoming more favourable in terms of creating a platform for adding higher value – meaning attaining a more advanced level of technology – we are keen to attract Japanese companies that are interested in developing and implementing advanced technologies in the country, as well as introducing higher value-added activities when it comes to those already present in Serbia.

In November 2019, together with the Embassy of Japan, we organised a business lunch with Innovations and Technological Development Minister Nenad Popović in order to discuss current developments and plans in the innovation environment in Serbia, but also potential areas for cooperation. Further initiatives in this area are planned and are yet to come.

How would you evaluate your cooperation with the Government of Serbia and the ability of JBAS to articulate its initiatives related to the improvement of the business climate?

– It is not a custom for Japanese businesses to impose themselves, but rather to let quality and results, e.g. references, speak for themselves. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we remain silent – when we have something to say/add that can create value and provide a contribution to the improvement of the business climate, we tend to openly share our opinions and ideas.

As already mentioned, three JBAS industry groups have been defined so far as the main channel of focused advocating proposals and recommendations for further business conditions improvement in Serbia by Japanese business society, promotion of Japanese businesses and creation of partnering networks with relevant stakeholders in specific industries. We have already undertaken tangible activities and had a dialogue with the government in the areas of environmental protection, healthcare, IT/innovation and economic cooperation.

We can say that our suggestions are openly accepted and discussed. We are glad to say that we are invited to share our opinions in various fields and are encouraged to be even more active, which we will definitely focus on and implement in the period ahead.