Erich Cossutta, President of Confindustria Serbia

Italian SMEs Help Boost Production in Serbia

As Confindustria Serbia, we are proud to recognise that Italian companies are bringing technological renewal to Serbia. The plants of our member companies implement the latest technological applications, which are also the most efficient way to keep them in global production chains

Italy could easily be dubbed a contributor to Serbia’s industrialisation, not only its re-industrialisation,” says Erich Cossutta, President of Confindustria Serbia. Indeed, Italy has always been a friend and particularly enduring trade and economic partner for Serbia, as demonstrated by the historical collaboration FIAT established with Zastava in the 1960s.

Moving to more recent years, Italy was among the first countries to open up to Serbia, its politics and economy after the tragic ‘90s. As a matter of fact, Italy has been sharing first place with Germany when it comes to FDI volumes, and to some extent, it’s statistically impossible to say that Italy, with its 600 companies present in Serbia, hasn’t contributed to the re-industrialisation of the country.

What kind of experience can Serbia acquire in this way, particularly when it comes to the process of transitioning to a knowledge-based economy?

– What I consider as being most important here is that a knowledge-based economy offers an opportunity to Serbia’s youngest generation. The most challenging aspect that both economic and social actors will have to face in the future is the brain drain that Serbia has been experiencing over the last few years.

The transfer of technology and know-how is one way to keep young, educated people close to home. They represent the added value that permits growth from an economic, social and political point of view.

Confindustria has the mission to establish strong bonds between entrepreneurs and educational institutions. Through different projects, we are striving to foster the idea that production in 2019 is something attractive, a process that sees responsibility at every step and is globally interconnected.

As Confindustria Serbia, we are proud to recognise that Italian companies are bringing technological renewal to this country, primarily for the benefit of its workers

How would you rate conditions today for the arrival of Italian companies, primarily the smaller ones that form the backbone of Italian industry?

– From our point of view, the conditions for the arrival of Italian and other foreign companies are improving annually. There are several reasons to explain this: on the one side, the work carried out by local institutions and, on the other, the improvement of the overall social environment.

As far as the political aspect is concerned, reforms have eased business operations in Serbia and made them more predictable. We think that the digitisation of procedures, such as those involving the tax authority, customs and the one-stop business register, have helped the daily work of our companies. A higher predictability of juridical processes and the incentives that the Serbian state has been providing for SMEs have also helped in keeping even the smallest companies here.

However, more informal aspects have also helped in improving the social environment: the Italian language is taught in three universities in Serbia, whereas Italian culture is valued and well-known among the local population, making it much easier for Italian entrepreneurs to create bonds with local communities, which is a guarantee of their future in Serbia.

Around 80% of Italian companies are family businesses. What would you recommend to young, emerging Serbian companies as a recipe for success?

– Family business is a trademark of the Italian economy, and is something of which Serbian institutions and authorities are aware: Confindustria’s origins also rely on that, and supporting this economic model is part of our mission. Learning on the basis of the experiences of others and exchanges of know-how are of great importance, but I also think that more training programmes should be planned.

Which technologies do Italian companies bring and in which industries is that particularly evident?

– Technological advancements are more visible in the textile industry and its applications. This economic branch has always been mostly seen as a highly work-intensive area, in order to maintain high quality. But what most people don’t actually see is how local companies are connected to global supply and value chains: to acquire technological improvements, globalisation imposes standards and quality control from companies that exert unprecedented pressure on them to be flexible and able to follow the latest trends. For this reason, it is inevitable that companies must invest in new machines and skills for their workers.

The Association of Italian Industrialists – Confindustria – recently organised the first Italian-Serbian forum for a sustainable, green and circular economy. How would you assess the opportunities for Italian investments available in this sector?

– The Italy-Serbia Forum devoted to the circular economy was a pioneering event on this topic in Serbia. I think that the support we received from the Serbian ministries of agriculture and the environment is of utmost importance: Italian companies interested in investing in this sector should interpret this as a strong positive sign from the Serbian state.

Environmental awareness only recently reached the top position in both social and political dialogue in Serbia… This leaves plenty of room for Italian companies and entrepreneurs interested in finding business opportunities in these sectors

The expertise and technological solutions developed by Italian companies in this sector have been recognised, and we feel that it is a Confindustria Serbia goal to keep the issue high on the political agenda of the government and to defend the excellence of Italian companies in this field.

Environmental awareness only recently reached the top position in both social and political dialogue in Serbia, whereas the situation on the ground has more than a couple of critical situations: from water protection to soil quality. This leaves plenty of space for Italian companies and entrepreneurs interested in identifying business opportunities, not only in Serbia but also in the wider region.

Confindustria member companies invest heavily in education. From that perspective, what would you recommend to Serbia when it comes to adapting education to meet the needs of the economy?

– Confindustria Serbia has developed close collaboration with the Ministry of Education of Serbia, especially in introducing ad hoc programmes to secondary schools in three different cities aimed at meeting the needs of our member companies. Given the success we had, the Ministry asked our association to contribute to the creation of a school curriculum aimed at serving the needs of the automotive sector.

I believe that the Serbian Government and institutions will continue in this direction: to include economic actors in dialogue about formal education, in order to provide children, on the one side, with the latest educational programmes, and, on the other, representing a potential opportunity for them to remain in Serbia and contribute to the economy’s further growth.


Conditions for the arrival of Italian and other foreign companies are improving annually


The most challenging aspect that both economic and social actors will have to face in the future is the brain drain that Serbia has been experiencing over the last few years


The fact that the Italian language is taught in three universities in Serbia and that Italian culture is well known among the local population makes it easier for Italian entrepreneurs to create bonds with local communities

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