The first SSCC Conference, intitled “Swiss-Serbian bilateral relations“, was held on Thursday, October 30, 2014 in the “Hyatt Regency hotel” in Belgrade, gathering more than 80 representatives of public authorities, private sector, business associations and other interest groups, including Swiss Cooperation Office, United Nations Development Programe, Business Incubator of Technical Faculties of Serbia, SIEPA, and Serbian Diaspora, among other. The conference was organized with the aim to facilitate a public-private dialogue and provided an opportunity for direct talks between public officials and business.
The Conference was opened by SSCC Executive Director, Mrs. Ana Grujovic, who announed a series of conferences with the aim of providing an interactive platform for further consultations and discussions with all relevant stakeholders. According to Mrs. Grujovic, all information of SSCC’s activities can be found on the official website, which was launched in September 2014 as an additional tool to strengthening Swiss-Serbian relations. Finally, Mrs. Grujovic emphasized SSCCs work on building a network of strong institutional partners both in Serbia in Switzerland, naming Global Enterprise Switzerland, Economiesuisse and Chamber of Commerce Switzerland-Central Europe as some of the main partners of this Association.
The welcome speech to the participants of the Conference was held by State Secretary at the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, Mr. Stevan Nikcevic, who presented the current bilateral cooperation in economy and trade and expressed his satisfaction that 150 Swiss companies are currently operating in Serbia. The priority of future cooperation should be to increase the presence of Swiss investors in the production and export sectors, as well as to promote mutual trade, both in volume and in terms of its structure.
Machinery and textile industry, tourism, the IT sector, the pharmaceutical industry, the export of fresh vegetables and fruits, meat and meat products have all been highlighted as promising fields of cooperation. In the context of industrial cooperation, opportunities exist in the production of machinery, electronic industry and vehicles, the chemical industry and the agro-food sector.
The importance of holding regular meetings of the Joint Economic Commission between the two countries, as the highest form of institutional cooperation at a national level, has also been highlighted. The next session will be held in March 2015 in Berne together with a business forum, business opportunities in the Serbian market will be presented.
Then, the audience was addressed by the keynote speaker, the Swiss Ambassador in Belgrade, H. E. Jean-Daniel Ruch, who outlined the central themes of Swiss-Serbian bilateral relations, including their political, economic and cultural aspects. Ambassador Ruch emphasized that Switzerland proved to be one of Serbia’s most reliable business partners. Namely, Swiss companies have invested over 500 million Euros over the past 10 years, he said.
Also, Switzerland and Serbia also enjoy intense diplomatic and political relations and the two governments have decided to coordinate their consecutive OSCE chairmanships.
Ambassador Ruch recalled that numerous Serbs live in Swiss diaspora and that this diaspora played an important role for the development of Serbia. It is estimated that the remittances transferred every year from Switzerland to Serbia vary between 300 and 600 million Euros.
Switzerland also earmarked around EUR 6 million for post-flood recovery in Serbia in the wake of the May 2014 deluge.
The address of the Swiss Ambassador was followed by a panel discussion on investment and trade relations between Switzerland and Serbia, which was moderated by Mr. Andreas Ernst, journalist of the “Neue Zurcher Zitung“. Panel participants included Mrs. Jelena Spasic, Assistant to the Minister of Economy of the Republic of Serbia, H.E. Mr. Daniel Ruch, Mr. Ansgar Bornemann, Regional Director of “Nestle Adriatic”, Mr. Claudiu Soare, CEO of “Holcim”, and Mr. Dragan Maksimovic, general manager of “SIKA”.
During the panel discussion, Serbian Assistant Minister of Economy Jelena Spasic said that the current Serbian government has done much to improve the business climate, and that some reform laws have been adopted and the flexibility of the labor market improved.
She said that Serbia’s export-to-import ratio with Switzerland has been improving recently and that she hopes that the level of economic cooperation between the two countries will be even better in the years to come.
Panel participants addressed several important issues for the further improvement of the local business climate, such as administrative procedures, youth employability and public administration institutions, among other subjects. For example, Mr. Maksimovic said that, although “SIKA” was faced with lengthy administrative procedures related to construction permits issuance, the company managed to successfully overcome this obstacle within 24 months. Regarding the ongoing economic forms, panel participants agreed that new laws needed to be well-implemented in order to bring positive results.
Another issue which was addressed referred to the problem of the “brain drain” and lack of adequate skills of local employees. Mr. Claudiu Soare mentioned that “Holcim” worked actively on providing the right skills to the youth in Serbia through the project “Talent Pool”, which provided internship opportunities to young graduates.
During the discussion, it was also confirmed that Swiss companies contributed to the sustainable development of the Serbian society, and Mr. Bornemann mentioned the recent opening of Nestle’s water treatment plant in Surcin.
The participants of the conference concluded that Swiss-Serbian bilateral and economic cooperation has been successful for many years, and the two countries will work towards strengthening those ties further in the time that lies ahead.