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Dragan Stokić, President of the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, CCIFS

A Chance that Should be Taken

The CCIFS’s main objective is to promote the Serbian market’s potential among French companies. This is essential if the current very good cooperation is to deepen and include more companies

Numerous opportunities are in front of us that should be utilised – to summarise the key message of CCIFS President Dragan Stokić in this interview. And by opportunities he is referring to both the possibilities offered by the initiating of the EU’s Growth Plan for the Western Balkans and to the further strengthening of bilateral cooperation between France and Serbia. It is in this domain that the Chamber sees its key role, says Stokić. The appointing of the new government of the Republic of Serbia, which is expected to have a full mandate to devote to the further encouraging of economic growth, foreign investments and European integration, undoubtedly represents an opportunity to establish strong foundations for further progress. And Serbia’s commitment to digital transformation and developing new technologies also undoubtedly represents a particularly important aspect of this development.

We are witnesses to the fact that the arrival of major French companies has contributed significantly to progress in Serbia in the fields of renewables and smart infrastructure and transport networks, in areas of agriculture, the food industry and information technology, which are recognised as the backbone of future economic growth.

A new Serbian government was recently appointed and is expected, according to all forecasts, to have a full mandate. What do you think should be the government’s key moves if it wants to economic and FDI growth to continue?

— As president of the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, I consider it essential for the new Serbian government to work continuously on a few key issues in order to support the growth of foreign direct investments and the county’s economic development. Firstly, the continuation of reforms is crucial. This includes the further improvement of the business environment through the reducing of bureaucracy, the advancement of legal certainty and transparency, as well as support for the development of the private sector. These reforms would serve to further improve the investment and business environment, which is crucial to attracting FDI. Secondly, accelerating the European integration process is essential to creating a stable regulatory framework harmonised with European standards. This would not only ease business operations, but also further boost investor confidence in the Serbian market.

French companies contribute significantly to Serbia’s technological advancement and the strengthening of economic ties between France and Serbia

Thirdly, the existence of the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans is an opportunity that should be utilised to the max, as it includes our country in the European single market even before we gain EU membership. This plan provides financial support and technology transfers that can contribute significantly to the development of infrastructure, energy, education and other key sectors. The government should cooperate actively with international partners in order to ensure the optimal use of these resources for the purposes of economic growth.

As the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, we are prepared to support all initiatives that will advance Serbia’s business climate and economic development. Our focus remains on strengthening bilateral economic cooperation and attracting new investments that will contribute to both countries’ long-term prosperity.

The period of Prime Minister Ana Brnabić was marked by serious breakthroughs in digitalisation and the strengthening of the IT sector. How important is this area today as the foundation for building a knowledge-based society in Serbia?

— The digitalisation process isn’t just a priority for the Serbian economy’s development, but also represents a great challenge. The Serbian economy is nonetheless successfully taking advantage of the positive aspects of this process, having launched many projects, with a special emphasis on artificial intelligence, and in the next three years, for example, Serbia will have the opportunity to chair the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence.

The applying of digital technologies is now an imperative for the sustainable and successful operations of all businesses, both today and in the future. Together with the initiatives that are supported by the Government of the Republic of Serbia, we will continue strengthening the activities of the CCIFS and its member companies in this direction, thus further advancing the digital economy and the building of a society that relies on knowledge and innovation.

French companies are today increasingly present in Serbia and represent champions of the transfer of technological knowledge. In which sectors in Serbia is their influence most evident?

— The influence of French companies is most clearly seen in the energy and sustainable energy sectors (Schneider Electric, Veolia), where French companies are contributing to the development of renewables and smart grids; infrastructure and transport (Alstom, Vinci airports, RATP Dev), where our member companies once again excel in improving transport infrastructure.

It is great news that Serbia will chair the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence in the next three years

Likewise in the fields of agriculture and the food industry (Lactalis, Savencia), and information technology (Eviden, Axians, Exclusive networks). Through these sectors, French companies contribute significantly to Serbia’s technological advancement and the strengthening of economic ties between France and Serbia.

In the period since our last interview, the world seems to have become even more complex in both economic and political terms. How does this influence the will of French companies when it comes to investing beyond the borders of France and how do they position this part of the world on their risk map?

— I would evaluate the current climate of economic relations between France and Serbia as being good. However, when it comes to improving these relations, an unavoidable segment is the promoting of the potential of the Serbian market among French companies, which is the CCIFS’s main objective. French companies are now more cautious in making such decisions, considering all possible scenarios and not taking the decision to enter any market lightly, precisely due to the global situation being more complex. On the other hand, it should be noted that the companies that already operate in Serbia are continuing to carry out their activities unhindered and haven’t been greatly impacted by changes on the world stage and geopolitical challenges, which is a convincing indicator of a positive business environment.

15 Years of Friendship in Action

We are proud of all we have achieved over the past 15 years, strengthening the ties between the French and Serbian business communities, fostering economic cooperation, and supporting French companies in Serbia. However, our mission is not only about bolstering economic relations between France and Serbia, but also about creating long-term friendships and partnerships. With optimism and determination, we look to the future, ready to continue contributing to the community and achieving new successes.

GROWTH

The CEBAC will work with dedication to advocate for and encourage the implementation of strategies that will strengthen cooperation between Serbia and other European markets

EURO INTEGRATION

It is essential to reduce administrative obstacles that hamper operations in Serbia, such as the continued lengthy procedures for issuing various permits and many unclear laws and regulations

SUPPORT

Our member companies see green transition projects as an opportunity for investment and economic growth through the implementation of new technologies