(Last Updated On: March 28, 2024)

I think that political relations can facilitate and boost economic relationsProactive, good both at presenting technical data and managing it, and someone on whom Belgrade has grown quite strongly, José López Thomás de Carranza has been steering the ship of the Spanish Economic and Commercial Office for the last four years, overseeing its mission of helping companies from both countries ride the wave of the positive political ties and strengthen the economic bonds, as well.

Spanish language, much like the Spanish companies, is not the main foreign presence in Belgrade, but it certainly is on the increase. After having spent more than four years here, are you noticing this boost in the Spanish-Serbian exchange?

One of the things that surprised me upon arrival to Belgrade is that Spanish is not necessarily spoken, but it certainly is understood by a lot of people. I am also witnessing a tremendous increase in the economic and commercial exchange. There is truly spectacular growth there. Only in the last three years, from 2020 to 2022, our bilateral exchange grew by almost 80%. This is unprecedented data. I am very happy to see that our technology and our products are gaining visibility in Serbia. When it comes to investment, some of our best companies are already present in Serbia, like Viscofan in Novi Sad, then the Veterinarski zavod Subotica that was bought by a Spanish company some years ago, and some of our leading companies have participated in different infrastructure projects. For example, on the construction of the Zezelj bridge in Novi Sad, the construction of some sections of Corridor 10, and the supply of most modern trams in the city of Belgrade.

The experience of Spain can be useful to Serbia when it comes to renewable energy

What did you think of the business world here upon your arrival to Belgrade and what changes have you noticed over the last four years?

I arrived here in August 2020, at the peak of the pandemic. The world was closed. Serbia as well. However, Serbia didn’t stop. Serbia moved forward. And in 2020 Serbia was one of the countries with the best economic performance in Europe. This is a country with a very dynamic economy, with spectacular and commendable plans to modernize its infrastructure, to modernize the country. Serbia has shown tremendous progress, for example, in the area of renewable energy, the environmental sector, infrastructure sector in general, and I think that the Spanish companies can find a lot of opportunities in these sectors and contribute to progress in Serbia. From our office, we are letting the companies from Spain know that Serbia is an economy with a very stable macroeconomic framework where they can invest and find interesting opportunities.There is a political framework that Spain and Serbia share and this makes their relationship one of unique proximity. Do you believe that there is space to create such a closely-knit space in the area of economic cooperation as well?

We have excellent political relations, we provide each other support on key topics of the political agenda, but the economic and commercial relations are not on the same level. We are still below our potential, but I think that political relations can facilitate, can boost economic relations, and there has been will from both sides for this to happen, especially in the last few years. 2022 was a historic year when President Vučić visited Madrid in February. In July, Prime Minister Sánchez visited Belgrade. This was the first visit of a Spanish prime minister to Serbia in history. This re-activation of the institutional relations provided a very important boost to the economic relations. In November 2022, we organized a business Serbia-Spain forum, and then again in 2023. During the business forum of 2022, two very important agreements were signed between ministers. Thanks to one of them, Spain is now providing grants to Serbia. There is a line of grants that Spain opened for which Serbia is the only priority country in Europe. So, this shows how important Serbia is to Spain and demonstrates that we are working on intensifying our economic and commercial relations.

There is a line of grants that Spain opened for which Serbia is the only priority country in Europe

What sectors of the Spanish industry can find the best possible port in Serbia and vice versa?

The experience of Spain can be useful to Serbia when it comes to renewable energy. Spain is one of the leading countries in that sector. Secondly, there is railway infrastructure. Spain is also a world leader in the railway sector, especially in high-speed trains and urban transport networks. We are second in the world in terms of kilometers of high-speed railway network. We have the longest interoperable route in Europe, which is the route between Barcelona and Málaga. And the third sector I would like to mention is environmental infrastructure. We can supply water to the largest export agriculture of fresh food and vegetables in the world, we are the first country in Europe in terms of irrigated area and, also, the natural ecosystem that houses the greatest biodiversity in Europe. I also consider that Serbian companies can be very useful in Spain by increasing their presence in different sectors; for example, in manufacturing and automotive. These two industries are strong in Serbia and could find very interesting opportunities in Spain to collaborate on the production of components, vehicle assembly, and product manufacturing. Also, Serbian companies working on the production of machinery, metal products, and chemicals could find interesting prospects in Spain including establishing a partnership with Spanish companies for joint manufacturing. Then, there is information technology and software. This is a tremendously dynamic sector in Serbia. And finally, there is agriculture and food. Serbia has a growing agricultural industry and I think they could look for opportunities to export what the land here offers to the Spanish market taking advantage of the demand for quality products, especially in some niches in which the Spanish companies are less present.

Do you believe that companies in both countries are proactive enough?

I think they are getting to be more and more proactive. The basic problem here is information or rather the flow of information. It is true that Spain and Serbia do not share a common past, and there is a geographical distance, so Spanish companies are not used to doing business in Serbia, and Serbian companies are not used to doing business in Spain. So, I think that the most important thing we can do is to provide, to share information; to bring Spanish business here and vice versa. Once we do that, I think that the companies will be proactive. But first, we need to encourage them to come. And for this to happen, we must attend to a few very important matters. First of all, the establishment of direct flights. This is key. In recent years, we have seen direct flights from Belgrade to Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Valencia, and Palma de Mallorca. This is very important because it encourages the countries to get to know each other better, and the companies to come here and explore the market. Also very important is the participation of our companies in different fairs. From our office, we facilitate the participation of the Spanish companies at the International Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad, Agro Belgrade and we organize different promotional events within the Belgrade Wine Week. Serbian companies are also participating in some fairs in Spain. 2022 was the first year that saw the participation of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce with some companies at the Fruit Attraction. We are seeing a positive trend here.

These are the positives. What about the issues a Spanish company may encounter here or a Serbian company in Spain?

I think that the biggest barrier to our economic exchange is the lack of knowledge. As I mentioned before, the Spanish companies are more used to being present in the other markets, like Latin America or the EU, but not in the Balkans. This is where our office is trying to help. We publish sectoral studies regularly and organize business forums, as well as video conferences in different sectors. Last year, we organized a conference on agricultural technology. We also provide tailor-made services to companies, such as the identification of business partners. When it comes to the opposite direction, we invite every year Serbian companies to Spain for events like Salon Gourmet or Barcelona Wine Week where they have the opportunity to get in touch with Spanish companies.

Spain is also a world leader in the railway sector

What advice would give to a representative of a Spanish company who wants to do business in Serbia and to their Serbian counterpart wanting to go to Spain?

I would say to a representative of a Spanish company that Serbia is a land of opportunities. And I would also tell them that, if they want to do business in Serbia, they need to come to Serbia. It’s not possible to do it from Spain. Come here, open an office, and be present in the market. For a Serbian company, also, go to Spain, and if you want to invest, try to get in touch with ICEX. They can be very useful, especially their Invest in Spain division. And of course, here, at the Economic and Commercial office, we are ready to help Spanish and Serbian companies to do business in both countries.

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