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Dragan Stokić, President Of The French-Serbian Chamber Of Commerce Industry (CCIFS)

Optimistic With Reason

The trade exchange between Serbia and France is experiencing continuous growth, while the number of French companies and French partners interested in investment in our country is on the rise. These positive trends fill us with optimism and represent inspiration for our work ~ CCIFS President Dragan Stokić

The number of French companies operating in Serbia has been increasing ever since the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union, as has the number of inquiries from French companies interested in launching their operations in Serbia, says Dragan Stokić, president of the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIFS).

These developments have resulted in a threefold increase in the volume of trade between Serbia and France over the last 12 years, with bilateral trade reaching a value of 1.6 billion euros in 2022. And that growth was up 29 per cent compared to the previous year alone.

“Moreover, if we take into consideration the involvement of French companies in capital infrastructure projects in Serbia (Belgrade Airport, waste treatment project in Vinča and the Belgrade metro), we are optimists when it comes to the volume and expansion of bilateral trade and we hope that the value of the total trade exchange will soon exceed the figure of two billion euros,” says our interlocutor.

To what extent are changes on the world market, and the responses of French companies to those changes, relevant to your activities in Serbia?

– Globalisation has contributed to us being networked/interconnected, but also to us being simultaneously dependent on one another, and to changes on the world market influencing changes in individual countries to a certain extent. When it comes to French companies in Serbia, we can say that these changes are limited. They relate more to the initial decision of French companies to start doing business in Serbia generally. French companies are now more cautious when it comes to making such decisions, considering all possible scenarios and not taking lightly the decision to enter any market. On the other hand, it should be noted that those companies that already operate in Serbia continue to conduct their activities without hindrance and are not impacted to a great extent by changes on the world stage and geopolitical challenges.

Given the repositioning of major value chains, how relevant is the Western Balkan market for French companies under these new conditions?

– The fact that the value chain is shifting and that European companies are seeking alternative solutions when it comes to their supply chains is actually beneficial to Serbia, because it positions our country as a potential destination for new FDI. Serbia is recognised as a traditional industrial country with a high-quality workforce, and if we add to this it’s good geographical position, developed transport infrastructure, favourable business climate, and the government’s willingness to accommodate investors through various subsidy programmes, we can say that the repositioning of the value chain can benefit Serbia.

To what extent did the “Bonjour Serbia” campaign help to better acquaint you with Serbia’s potential and to present, in a targeted way, the potential of the local market to French companies?

– Under the scope of the Bonjour Serbia event, we visited Kragujevac, Niš, Kikinda and Zrenjanin. Members of our Chamber had an opportunity to meet with institutional and business partners, and to better acquaint themselves with the operations of companies in these cities.

This campaign helped us to establish significant contacts and familiarise ourselves with local institutions and projects, but also helped us present to our member companies the potential of the region in Serbia. This was one more wonderful way for our members to connect, establish joint cooperation and perhaps decide to take advantage of the potential that regions across Serbia offer to expand their operations.

You stated at this time last year that you respond to challenges with enthusiasm and hard work, and that numerous objective challenges can be overcome with an intelligent combination of measures, the dedication of the business community and good cooperation with the Government of Serbia. How would you rate the current economic juncture from that perspective?

– We entered 2022 optimistically, believing that last year would bring us many more opportunities and fewer challenges to doing business. However, the business world is unpredictable, and we are learning with each year to adapt to new changes and utilise them to make progress.

We are optimists when it comes to the volume and expansion of bilateral trade and hope it will soon exceed the figure of two billion euros

Happenings at the world level and in our country, as well as the uncertainty and unpredictability they bring with them, prompt us to change our business strategies and decisions, to take risks, in order for us to be the best in what we do despite all the tribulations. By encouraging mutual cooperation and the strength of the community, we strive to improve the state of the economy and ease access to the market for French companies.

How does the clear slowdown in Serbia’s economic growth reflect on the operations of French companies in our country?

– Just like other countries in the region and further afield, Serbia is experiencing slower economic growth. The reason for this is largely high inflation, which is reflected in the reduced purchasing power of the population, and that consequently impacts companies’ business revenue. Despite these negative circumstances, the vast majority of French companies in Serbia carry out their activities unhindered. Slow economic growth does influence decisions to invest and expand operations in Serbia. Such situations cause companies to be more cautious with investments and often prompt decisions to delay expansion plans.

Over the past several years, numerous chambers – acting both independently and in unison – have influenced the improvement of the business climate in Serbia. What changes are you focused on today and to what extent are they understood by the Serbian administration?

– These same initiatives remain current at the level of the Chamber. We listen to the needs of our member companies and try – through the good communication that we have with the relevant government bodies – to suggest the consideration of certain economic laws that would primarily help companies carry out their activities unhindered. Our Chamber commends the state bodies on their cooperation; they always happily respond to our invitations to organise meetings with members and respond to every inquiry we make quickly and with precision.

SYNERGY

By encouraging mutual cooperation and the strength of the community, we strive to improve the state of the economy and ease access to the market for French companies

CAUTION

Serbia is facing slower economic growth… Such situations cause companies to be more cautious with investments and often prompt decisions to delay expansion plans

CONNECTING

The “Bonjour Serbia” campaign was a wonderful way for our members to connect, establish joint cooperation and take advantage of the potential for expansion offered by regions across Serbia