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Sanja Ivanić, General Director Of The French-Serbian Chamber Of Commerce And Industry (CCIFS)

Re-Bonjour: Events For New Encounters

If we observe the intensity of business cooperation between our two countries in 2023, we must say that we aren’t dissatisfied when it comes to the arrival of new French companies on the Serbian market, particularly given that we must bear in mind that these results have been achieved in the midst of an ongoing crisis

French companies have positioned themselves as partners on projects that are of strategic importance to Serbia in the areas of infrastructure, energy and the green economy. These are sectors in which French expertise is recognised worldwide, including in Serbia.

Two French companies have signed contracts with JKP Beogradski metro i voz [public utilities company Belgrade Metro and Train] since the start of this year, with RATP Dev (operator of the Paris Metro) having signed a contract for early operator assistance services for the automated metro system and French company Systra, in a consortium with Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, signing a contract for Project Management Construction Management (PMCM), which relates to the establishing of a connection between the “construction” and “systemic” elements of the Belgrade metro project, explains CCIFS General Director Sanja Ivaniæ in this interview. “There are also several smaller projects, predominantly in the retail and services sectors. Considering the current crisis, we’re not dissatisfied,” she adds.

Bilateral trade between our two countries is growing year on year, with the number of French companies opting to launch operations in Serbia on the rise, while the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry continues to cultivate optimism for the years to come, as it has since its inception.

We had the pandemic, followed by a global energy crisis, and now the continuation and complication of that crisis. To what extent have these adverse circumstances impacted on the number of French companies contacting you for advice and support related to FDI?

– Following the abating of the pandemic, we succeeded in fully returning to the previous way of operating, though events at the global level have brought new challenges. The geopolitical situation, as well as the rising inflation that also hit our country, brought a certain degree of uncertainty with regard to future business. However, despite the unenviable situation on the market, the number of inquiries that we receive from French companies enables us to maintain a positive attitude, because we are recording slight growth. French companies from various fields of industry view the Serbian and Balkan markets as an opportunity to expand and launch operations.

We know that French companies in Serbia are particularly interested in the infrastructure and energy sectors, and seemingly also the green economy. How, in this context and from the point of view of potential French FDI, would you assess the legislative amendments and institutional changes in these sectors?

-That’s right, it is precisely in these sectors where French expertise is recognised all over the world, including in Serbia. The best proof of this are the two large projects in Serbia that are being implemented by French companies working in cooperation with the City of Belgrade: Belgrade Airport (Vinci Airports) and the Vinča waste management complex (Veolia).

The excellent cooperation that these two companies have with the City authorities provides a genuine incentive for all those companies considering doing business on our market

The excellent cooperation that these two companies have with the City authorities provides a genuine incentive for all those companies considering doing business on our market. Moreover, the constant aspiration to harmonise Serbia’s legal regulations with the EU acquis representing an important indicator that the Serbian state is urging and encouraging the arrival of new FDI.

French SMEs also started arriving in Serbia a few years ago. How pronounced is this trend today?

– Unlike large companies, small and medium- sized enterprises are significantly more cautious when it comes to approaching the Serbian market. Despite the dose of caution that exists, French SMEs have nonetheless noticed the opportunities offered by our country’s market. We consider state assistance as being extremely important for the SME sector, but also the support of major corporations.

Given that this is a sector that can play a key role in growing the Serbian economy, we endeavour to encourage all our member corporations to improve their cooperation with SMEs. This is one of the ways to increase the number of French SMEs in Serbia and create the best possible conditions for them to do business.

The CCIFS contributes to linking French companies and promoting French culture through a wide variety of activities. What does 2023 bring us when it comes to these CCIFS activities?

– The Chamber had numerous activities during 2022. We held many successful events for our members at which they had opportunities to mutually connect and establish business cooperation. The excellent results that we achieved last year served as an incentive for us to continue organising events for our member companies in 2023 and to offer services to French companies wanting to do business in this region.

We will continue with our regular monthly gatherings in the period ahead, as well as a series of new additions. We are continuing the Bonjour Serbia event, under the scope of which we provide our members with opportunities to attend various events over the course of a single day, through meetings with the local business community and local authorities. As of this year, we are even going a step further and deepening this event through the Re-Bonjour events, within the scope of which we will return to the cities we previously visited and place the expertise and experience of our member companies at the disposal of companies throughout Serbia. We will organise a series of conferences nationwide throughout Serbia at which we will present relevant topics from the business world to local enterprises.

This coming autumn will see the implementing of a new edition of the CSR campaign ‘Do Something Drastic to Make Waste Fantastic. Within the framework of this year’s campaign, primary school pupils will use waste to make structures on the topic of promoting sports and the Olympic Games to be held in Paris next year. The Quest for Net Zero project also remains a priority this year, with numerous roundtable events, publications and CSR activities. We also organised the region’s first Green Gala evening this year, which enjoyed fantastic success. This autumn’s French Week, with its many happenings, will be launched with the Beaujolais Nouveau evening, to be held, according to tradition, on the third Thursday in November.