Marijana Milošević Tufegdžić, Economic Counsellor At The Belgian Embassy:

A Satisfied Investor Is The Best Ambassador

Serbia has taken courageous steps to tackle different economic challenges, like reducing the deficit and boosting investment. Progress on EU accession also undoubtedly offers foreign companies reassurances that the business environment will be even more predictable, and increases interest among foreign partners. This is even more important for businesspeople than statistics and figures

Bilateral relations between Belgium and Serbia are good and friendly, especially when it comes to cooperation between armies, police and prosecution services. Businesspeople from the two countries have met several times in recent years, including twice this year, with two more meetings planned by the end of the year. However, the total trade exchange could be much better. Economic cooperation between Belgium and Serbia is very good and is gradually expanding every year, says Marijana Milošević Tufegdžić, Economic Counsellor at the Belgian Embassy.

Where do you see room for the improvement of this cooperation?

– There are around 50 Belgian companies currently active in Serbia, represented in various sectors. Overall foreign trade between the two countries is increasing steadily every year, making Serbia more attractive as a partner for Belgian entrepreneurs. Of course, there is always room for improvement. Belgium is at the leading edge of a whole series of sectors. Some of the most important sectors of the Belgian economy include biotechnology, the environment, the automotive sector, pharmaceuticals, the agri-food sector, ICT, transport and logistics etc. With its relatively small domestic market, Belgium has developed an open, internationally-orientated economy heavily dependent on foreign trade. Our office in Serbia represents the three Belgian regional agencies specialised in foreign trade – Brussels Invest & Export, Wallonia Foreign Trade and Investment Agency and Flanders Investment and Trade. We are supporting Belgian companies on a daily basis by providing them with a variety of information regarding the Serbian market – general information (statistics, information on sectors and industries etc.), information on the potential of local markets. Our goal is to raise the attention of Belgian businesspeople regarding the Serbian market’s advantages.

Belgian companies operating in Serbia are generally satisfied with their activities and investments. Some of them are even very active in promoting Serbia as an interesting business development destination

The bilateral trade exchange in 2016 totalled €564 million, with the balance favouring the Belgian side. Apart from raspberries and cars, what else can Serbia offer the demanding Belgian market?

– It is true that the raspberries, or Serbia’s “red gold”, are one of the most exported products from Serbia to Belgium. Nevertheless, Serbia has great potential in various other areas – sectors like metal processing, industrial machinery, agri-food, energy, the environment and ICT offer numerous opportunities for various types of cooperation between the two countries, as well as possibilities for transfers of knowhow and technology.

More than 50 companies with Belgian capital currently operate in various sectors in Serbia. How satisfied are they with conditions for doing business; and to what extent do their objections differ from those of the majority of foreign investors?

– In general, the difficulties and challenges faced by the Belgian business community present in Serbia don’t differ from the problems of the majority of foreign investors. Belgian companies are generally satisfied with their activities and investments in Serbia; some are even very active in promoting Serbia as an interesting business development destination among other Belgian companies. During recent years the legislative framework has noticeably improved with regard to the general economic environment. Serbia has taken courageous steps to tackle different economic challenges, like reducing the deficit and boosting investment. Also, progress on EU accession undoubtedly offers foreign companies reassurances that the business environment will be even more predictable, and increases interest among foreign partners. This is even more important for businesspeople than statistics and figures. However, there are Belgian companies that have experienced some problems and unpleasant surprises with the regulatory framework when dealing with bureaucratic administration and red tape.

Are there any Belgian investors current interested in investing in Serbia (and in which areas) or are they still most interested in selling finished products (such as machinery and industrial equipment, chemicals and textile products)?

– So far Belgian companies expressed their interest in the Serbian market in terms of investments in various industrial sectors – agriculture, the food industry, ICT, metal processing, renewable energy, real-estate. Of course, positive experiences gained by investors who are already active in the country help to attract others, as a satisfied investor is a country’s best ambassador. It is important to work constantly on the Serbian marketplace’s positive image. At the moment, the real estate sector and various outsourcing possibilities in different industries remain in the main focus of potential Belgian investors.

Food and motor vehicles are currently the most exported products from Serbia to Belgium. In 2016, Serbia was Belgium’s 70th supplier, so there is certainly potential for growth

Belgium is a highly developed industrial country that imports raw materials and semi-finished products, and then exports finished products. With this in mind, are there any finished products from Serbia that have a chance of appearing on the Belgian market?

– The Belgian market is indeed very demanding. As already mentioned, food and motor vehicles are currently the most exported products from Serbia to Belgium. In 2016, Serbia was Belgium’s 70th supplier, so there is certainly potential for growth. The fact that the Serbian Chamber of Commerce has an office in Belgium is of great importance for reinforcing economic cooperation and supporting Serbian companies in their appearance on the Belgian market.

In cooperation with Belgian producers, and with the use of their technologies, Serbian companies could emerge on markets with which Serbia has a privileged status. Do you see an opportunity to improve trade exchange figures in this segment?

– Serbia’s Free Trade Agreements are one of the advantages of the Serbian marketplace. They cover various markets and could also offer interesting business opportunities.

Businesspeople from the two countries have met several times in recent years, including twice this year; with two more meetings expected by the end of the year. Do you have any feedback on how many of these meetings result in contracts signed or cooperation expanded?

– Every year there are various events organised in order to bring the business communities of the two countries closer together. The three regional agencies that we represent annually organise contact days and seminars in order to promote Serbia as an attractive business destination. This allows us to directly meet with Belgian entrepreneurs interested in doing business in Serbia and provide them with regular and timely information on opportunities, potential local partners, local legislation, tenders and fairs. Furthermore, our office regularly organises visits of Belgian business delegations to Serbia, with one delegation expected to visit Serbia in the first half of 2018. During these visits, through B2B meetings, we bring together potential business partners from the two countries. We are pleased that these business encounters often result in signed contracts.