We are always seeking new possibilities to raise our cooperation to a higher level, says Erika Teoman-Brenner, Commercial Counsellor at the Embassy of Austria in Belgrade, in this interview within which we discuss opportunities for, and obstacles against, more investments on the domestic market.
Austria’s economic growth is expected to strengthen slightly in 2017, before expanding at the same pace in 2018. How will this impact on the interests of Austrian investors; and what are their main geographical targets?
– Economic growth firstly creates optimism in the corporate world and, as we all know, psychology plays an important role in the decision- making process when it comes to business. However, of course, when it comes to far-reaching and long-term plans, only hard facts count.
This means that potential investors most often look at an entire region – for example, the Western Balkans – in order to evaluate the investment climate. It is important to note that the criteria they seek differ, of course, depending on the business case.
If the goal is to set up production in Serbia, or any other country, a potential investor from Austria takes into consideration the availability of labour and its costs, infrastructure etc. A service sector company, on the other hand, most often targets the domestic market and therefore looks at a completely different set of parameters. In this case, for instance, it is really important to determine whether there is demand for that service, what the income situation of customer groups is like, what the trends in customer behaviour are etc.
In general, Austrian companies are heavily invested in Germany, as probably expected, but also in the Czech Republic, the U.S., Switzerland and Romania.
We consider environmental industry as one of the most promising for our companies, since Serbia is taking very important steps in that direction, also in light of the EU-accession negotiations
How does Serbia fare on the list of places where Austrian companies seek investment opportunities?
– Serbia currently ranks 24th on the list of countries where Austrian companies are invested, ahead of Belgium and behind Brazil.
What do Austrian companies operating in Serbia value the most in the country; and what do they see as major obstacles needing to be overcome?
– We know from our latest survey, and from our daily contacts with companies both here and in Austria, that their outlook for their future business in Serbia has improved slightly since last year. They have succeeded in adjusting to market conditions and have adapted their business model accordingly.
On a more general level, the firm commitment of the Serbian government to follow the EU integration path definitely reinforces trust and confidence in the future among the members of our business community.
There is still room for improvement when it comes to the rule of law and, more specifically, transparency and the length of administrative and regulatory procedures. Moreover, slow and delayed payments on the part of their Serbian partners or clients are always mentioned by Austrian companies as an obstacle to doing more business in Serbia.
How would you assess the possibilities of Serbian manufacturers becoming suppliers of Austrian companies?
– We see a lot of very successful examples of cooperation between manufacturers in Serbia and Austrian companies, mainly in the field of metallurgy. Serbian companies have a long tradition in this sector and are experienced in working with foreign clients. Actually, our office regularly assists Austrian companies in finding suppliers here, mainly in the sector I just mentioned. Towards that end, we also organise special business meetings, with the next one scheduled for September 2018.
Serbia’s announced focus on digitalisation is a very welcome policy that will definitely introduce new and innovative models of cooperation between the companies of our countries
To what extent are Austrian investors interested in the potential of Serbia’s creative industry?
– This is a sector where we have not, as yet, seen much interest on the part of Austrian companies.
Serbia is slowly tackling environmental issues, in which Austrian companies have strong expertise. To what extent do Austrian companies see this sector as promising, in terms of demand for equipment and knowhow?
– We consider this sector as one of the most promising for our companies since Serbia is taking very important steps to improve environmental protection, and also in light of EU accession negotiations.
Our companies are indeed very experienced in terms of production and engineering. I would like to mention in this context that the very first biogas plants in Serbia were installed by an Austrian company.
We support our companies in finding the right projects. We participate in important trade events, like the annual Ecofair in Belgrade, and regularly consult with state bodies and International Financial Institutions in order to ensure we are up-to-date regarding tendering processes and financing.
In 2018, we are planning stronger participation in trade shows and business conferences, where we would like to see more Austrian involvement, be that in the form of speakers or as experts in discussions
What were ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA’s major activities in supporting closer ties between the Austrian and Serbian business communities during the previous year?
– We had a series of meetings and events that hopefully contributed to enhancing our commercial relations. Apart from our participation in various trade fairs in Serbia, we also invite Serbian companies to trade events in Vienna, for example to MARKETPLACE AUSTRIA FOOD 2017, which is taking place now, in October, or the INTERNATIONAL MACHINERY AND PLANT ENGINEERING FORUM, to be held in Vienna at the end of November.
We also hosted an interesting business conference in Vienna this spring on the environmental industry in the Western Balkans, within the framework of the Austrian Presidency of the OSCE. However, our highlight was definitely our AUSTRIA CONNECT Southeast Europe event in Belgrade – the second event in the ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA regional conference series, following last year’s event in Zagreb.
How would you evaluate the impact of the second AUSTRIA CONNECT conference?
– It is a new concept because we normally work within our host country´s “boundaries”. This conference offered attendees the unique opportunity to get a picture of the whole region, compare economic parameters, find out where strengths and weaknesses lie, but, more importantly, to get to know other companies active in the region and share with the experience and knowledge.
What do businesses expect from the Serbian government’s announced focus on digitisation?
– Digitalisation is naturally also a very important topic in Austria because it will rapidly change the way we are used to working. We know that internet-based businesses have much higher growth potential than other businesses.
ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA, with its worldwide network of offices, sees opening up new business areas for highly innovative Austrian companies as one of its priorities. Serbia’s announced focus on digitisation is a very welcome policy that will definitely introduce new and innovative models of cooperation between companies from our countries.
What are your priorities for 2018?
– In general, we will try to focus even more than to date on highlighting business opportunities in Serbia that come as a result of promising macroeconomic indicators, while at the same time we will continue to provide our well-proven, hands-on and individualised services to our companies.
More specifically, we are planning stronger participation in trade shows and, a somewhat new approach in business conferences, where we would like to see more Austrian involvement – be that in the form of speakers or experts in discussions. Since attracting businesspeople to conferences and seminars is becoming more of a challenge, we will also offer more webinars in the future, to be able to reach a wider audience.