By Drazen Remikovic
While the governments of Croatia and Serbia have, in recent years, focused largely on politics, businessman from the two countries have been working to boost export-import and business co-operation, resulting in visible economic growth for both countries.
“Not the politicians, but only economically can the two countries can find a solution for the problems plaguing both,” said Milan Jankovic, the president of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, at the chamber’s March 15th meeting in Belgrade.
Milivoje Kocic, president of the Association of Businessmen of Rakovica, said that after the Belgrade meeting, Rakovica firms increased their interest in investments in Croatia. He said the businessmen from Serbia will have a special expo stand at the upcoming Zagreb Fair in April, and noted that similar meetings like the one in Belgrade were announced for the future.
“I notified all my businessmen about business conditions, and can say that plenty are interested. The companies that expressed interest deal with equipment production for babies, electrical materials and hotel services. This kind of co-operation between the two countries will surely be fruitful,” Kocic told SETimes.
Fewer than a dozen small Serbian companies operate in Croatia. However, more than 200 Croatian companies are doing business in Serbia.
Serbian businessmen have been encouraged to launch their goods on the Croatian market by special treatment at trade fairs in Croatia.
Jankovic announced that the chamber will finance numerous Serbian businessmen’s participation at the fair in Zagreb this year.
“They will be offered a better rent price for exhibition space, additional reductions in exposure, and special ticket prices to visit the fair. The number of exhibitors from Serbia in the past period was negligible, while before the 1990 to1995 conflict this number was 15% steadily. We honestly think that this co-operation will be even better in the future, and that this is only the beginning of good results,” Natasa Mrdjen, a fair spokesperson, told SETimes.
Commercial exchange between the two countries resulted in 700,806m euros in 2011 in export-import revenue, 26.7% more than in 2010.
Croatian firms export mostly petroleum oils and oils from bituminous materials, bottles, jars, pots, products and packaging for transportation of goods, and cigars. Croatia imports iron and steel, nonferrous metals, fruits and vegetables, and clothing from Serbia.
One of the largest investors in Serbia, the Croatian Nexe Grupa, has five factories in Serbia that produce bricks, lime, roofing tile and cement. Nexe Grupa invested around 100m euros in Serbia, and currently employs more than 800 workers.
Ivan Ercegovic, the Nexe Grupa CEO, told SETimes that neighbouring countries are the most obvious market for business expansion.
“Lower taxes, lower labour costs, low energy prices — these are the things that make Serbia a favourable investment destination. On the other hand, there are aggravating circumstances in the Serbian market: low purchasing power, the devaluation of the exchange rate and inflation,” Ercegovic said.
He added that political stability is a prerequisite for investment.
“The responsibility is largely with the politicians who make decisions in ensuring political stability and creating an environment with conditions for growth, which stimulates market investment and employment, and guarantees equal conditions for all,” he said.
SETimes correspondents Marko Biocina in Zagreb and Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.