Italian Minister of Entrepreneurship and Made in Italy, Adolfo Urso, is visiting Serbia on the occasion of the opening of the headquarters of the Italian export credit agency SACE. He gave an interview to Tanjug news agency which we are transmitting in full.
What is your assessment of the current economic cooperation between Serbia and Italy? What is the business cooperation between Serbia and Italy like?
Economic cooperation between the two countries rests on solid and established foundations. In fact, in the first six months of 2023, Italy was confirmed as Serbia’s third largest trading partner with 2.26 billion euros worth of bilateral trade and is one of the largest foreign investors in the country. Also, let us not forget that the value of Serbian imports from Italy amounted to 1.32 billion and the value of exports to Italy stood at about 933 million euros. This is a big achievement! However, we still aim to consolidate trade relations, focusing on high-tech sectors. A new phase has already been initiated with the Business and Science Forum, which was held on March 21 and 22 in Belgrade and was attended by more than 150 Italian and over 250 Serbian companies, reflecting the common interest in deepening economic relations while finding new business opportunities.
How many Italian companies operate in Serbia?
To date, there are more than 1,200 companies with Italian shareholding in Serbia, employing a total of 34,000 people. These generate 4.5 percent of Serbia’s GDP. The type of companies is very varied in terms of size, geography and sectors, but we boast a leading position in the insurance and banking sector – to mention Intesa Sanpaolo, the first bank in the Serbian territory, and UniCredit. We have also gained an important space in the textile, chemical substances and products, automotive, machinery and equipment manufacturing, rubber and plastics articles, as well as in the food sector. Our companies and SMEs are present not only in Belgrade but also in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, in Kragujevac, Jagodina, Sabac, Nis and all the way to the south of the country.
What attracts Italian companies to invest in Serbia?
A widespread and already established presence in the area and the prospect of further boosting bilateral relations. Geographical proximity is undoubtedly important, but there are many more benefits. Serbia is indeed seen as a stable country, with a welcoming business environment, developed professionalism and a non-obstructive bureaucracy. First, the pandemic and then the war in Ukraine have highlighted the importance of investing in this nation, thanks to the so-called near-shoring and friend-shoring phenomena.
In which segments is bilateral trade cooperation most developed? Which sectors can further improve in terms of this cooperation?
Definitely in traditional sectors, such as textiles, clothing and footwear production. But in light of market transformations, we must and want to focus on innovative sectors such as digitalization, green and energy transition, agri-tech and smart cities, in line with the country’s new economic direction. In fact, we are gaining more and more space in sectors such as ICT, with about 45 Italian companies already present in Serbia. But this is only a starting point.
Do you expect to establish new business partnerships?
Certainly! There is a great demand for “Made in Italy” products in Serbia, but also a growing interest of Serbian investors in Italy. This new season of business relations with Belgrade was inaugurated by the Trieste Conference in 2023 chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani. Then, after the Business and Science Forum in March, relations intensified even more, and inquiries from our companies, which would like to operate in Serbia, multiplied. Italy has also equipped itself with ad hoc financial instruments to support the internationalization of these companies, with the opening in Belgrade of offices of SIMEST (in June), SACE (which we will inaugurate in these days) and others will follow.
Italy is the largest importer of wheat from Serbia. In light of the events in Ukraine, how much room is there for the placement of Serbian wheat?
The war in Ukraine is also having dramatic repercussions on the global wheat supply. It is a well-known fact that Italy is at the forefront of food security: from July 24 to 26, we hosted the Second United Nations Summit on Sustainable Food Systems and this issue is at the heart of Rome’s bid to host EXPO 2030. Our country was also a partner of the International Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad last May, with as many as 21 companies from our supply chain taking part in the Fair. Fighting the inflationary phenomenon, which has affected this primary commodity, is a common challenge and in light of this, I am confident there is room to boost the trade of wheat and agricultural products in general between our countries.
Do you believe that the economic potential and cooperation between the two countries have been sufficiently utilized under the auspices of the strategic partnership between Serbia and Italy?
I am convinced that there is still ample room for cooperation. The next bilateral events we are working on include Italian participation in Open Balkan’s Wine Vision Fair in November in Belgrade and an Innovation and Start-up Forum in December, also in the capital. We also plan to host the second edition of the Business and Science Forum in Trieste in the spring of 2024. All of these are events that will only cement relations with Serbia even more.
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