Serbia is awaited in June for fresh talks with the IMF on its support for further reforms. Jelena Pavlović, President of the AmCham Board of Governors and President of the Board of Directors of Philip Morris International for Southeast Europe, made the ideal interlocutor to speak about the topic.
From feedback from your members, what are the critical areas in which it is necessary to accelerate reforms, and how will AmCham contribute to that?
– AmCham members point out the grey economy, an ineffective judiciary, and corruption as the key obstacles to new investments and the most concerning issues in the overall business environment in Serbia. These challenges share the same root cause: weak institutions. To move forward our reform agenda effectively and sustainably, we need to strengthen the competence and efficiency of Serbian institutions. AmCham is ready and willing to partner the state in this endeavour.
Since AmCham is a business association of over 200 companies, representing 17 industries and sectors, we have established nine subject-specific committees to structure our work and ensure readiness to provide tangible support to the state. They have just updated the annual agenda, elected new leadership, and are ready to interact with key policymakers and enforcement authorities to pursue our common goal – reforming Serbia and improving its business environment.
We provide constructive feedback on laws and regulations and share real life experiences, which can help the state to address enforcement gaps or trigger necessary changes
Business associations are working increasingly with the government on the improvement of public policies that contribute to improving the business climate. How would you assess the scope of this cooperation, and how evident are the tangible steps towards improving regulations and practises?
– Dialogue, mutual understanding, and collaboration between the government and business sector are at the core of creating a better place to work and live in Serbia. Significant progress in this domain has been achieved, supported and welcomed by the business sector, predominantly in the stabilisation of public finances, e-permitting, labour legislation reform, and the initial stages of e-government. Still, there are certain areas with little or no improvement, such as healthcare, public procurement, state-owned companies, and education. AmCham is looking forward to a continued open dialogue with government, aimed at optimising public policies and regulatory framework and ensuring full compliance. We put forward our resources, our expertise, and vast international and domestic experience.
Following your election, you announced that the focus of AmCham’s activities this year would be on tax system reform and improving the efficiency of the Tax Administration, furthering the fight against the grey economy, encouraging e-government, and improving regulations in the fields of health and environmental protection. In which ways do you utilise the resources of members to address these issues?
– Our network represents the most successful private companies operating in Serbia, both domestic and international. By lever-ageing our scope, our rich collective experience, our knowledge and skill-sets, the state can have access to global best practices and updates and enjoy comprehensive and accurate impact assessments, to strengthen the quality of its decisions.
Last year’s annual survey of AmCham members saw them highlight significant improvements in the stabilisation of public finances, administrative progress related to the issuance of building permits, the reform of labour legislation, and the launch of e-government. From the perspective of your members, how much have these improvements effectively influenced their decisions to invest further and expand activities in Serbia?
– The business community warmly welcomes all these improvements, and they are certainly reflected in our business plans. Let me remind you that our members have invested 14 billion euros in Serbia so far, while our ongoing contribution to the state budget remains strong: in 2016 we paid a total of EUR 3.7 billion in excise and value-added tax, which, together with other taxes, is more than half of the total budget revenue of Serbia.
The continued improvement of the business environment remains a prerequisite for new investment, particularly for domestic private investments, which made up only 9% of GDP last year.
One of the key topics discussed among expert and economic circles is the acceleration of economic growth. Which changes would you single out in the overall environment – and not just the business environment – as being key to the accelerating of economic growth?
– In my view, to accelerate growth but also to ensure its sustainability, Serbia has to enable its private sector to develop and grow.
Education stands out among the areas in which AmCham members have seen room for improvement. In this context, how do you view the introduction of dual education and the inclusion of ICT in the primary school curriculum as contributions to educating future digital citizens? What’s lacking?
– Dual education can help students to acquire, improve and develop competencies following the needs of the labour market, and also enable employers to develop a qualified workforce according to their requirements.
We have to work more on promoting start-up initiatives, digital education starting in elementary schools, and professional development of women engaged in digital industries.
To boost entrepreneur confidence, Serbia’s utmost priority is to strengthen the competence and efficiency of its institutions and consistently adhere to the rule of law
AmCham itself invests heavily in education. What would you single out in particular as the association’s contribution in this area?
– Education plays a crucial role in the development of Serbian society and the economy. We have realised that there is a big gap between academia and the realm of market need, the need to enlarge the number of capable, innovative managers, efficient and effective public administration as well as a special focus on underrepresented groups. That is why we decided to launch a few programs that have a common goal – to bridge and close these gaps. Our landmark professional development programme for empowering and training students for the jobs of the future, AmChamps, was launched in early 2014.
The program provides mentoring for students and access to real business environments, and today it has become a showcase on how academia and the corporate sector should work together. This platform served as a role model for the capacity building programs within the state administration and will become a standard part of the National Academy for Public Servants.
Furthermore, we run the Women in Tech Mentoring Program, a top-flight interpersonal skills development and networking platform that connects successful women from the business and start-up communities, willing to shatter glass ceilings all over the tech and digital industry.
The number of AmCham members in Serbia has continuously grown over the years and currently totals around 200. What is it like to manage such a large and complex group?
– I am very proud to have been elected the President of the Board of Governors and honoured with the opportunity to represent and coordinate activities of the most successful private companies in Serbia. We are a diverse and dynamic group, which make my job exciting. We have immense joint strength and the ability to make an impact and improve the environment for our businesses and Serbia to prosper. This makes my job highly rewarding.
What do you consider as AmCham’s most crucial area of know-how that enables it not only to entice new members but also to retain existing ones?
– As an association, AmCham unites the voices of the most significant part of Serbian private business. In everything we do, we strive to add value to our members and make Serbia a better place to live, do business and invest. We are open to new members, and we invite anyone interested to get in touch, join, and grow with us.
AmCham members point out the grey economy, an ineffective judiciary, and corruption as the key obstacles to new investments and the most striking issues in the overall business environment in Serbia
Dialogue, mutual understanding, and cooperation between the government and the business sector are at the core of making Serbia a better place to work and live
The continued improvement of the business environment remains a prerequisite for new investment, particularly for domestic private investments