As we end another difficult year, I first want on behalf of the Chamber team to thank you for your continuing support and involvement in our work. While we have all experienced multiple challenges once again, it is very encouraging that during 2021 our membership has grown 65% in comparison to 2020 and is continuing to grow. This is large part a tribute to the work of the Chamber team led by Jadranka and Richard who deserve our congratulations and thanks – and a good rest over the holidays. But it also demonstrates the new opportunities which Serbian and British businesses see in bilateral trade and investment: a real growth opportunity in both directions. And I know that our renewing members – to whom we are especially grateful – also see strong potential ahead of us.
Like all of us, the Chamber has adapted to the new circumstances and it has been good to see many of you at least virtually on our series of webinars. While our online and hybrid events have covered a wide range of key sectors, from infrastructure & real estate to PPP, I was particularly excited that we were able for the first time to bring British and Serbian IT businesses together in a virtual series. Having had the chance to research into the Serbian IT sector, I am convinced that there are significant untapped opportunities for us to explore. We will continue our programme of virtual activities while returning as far as we can to in-person events too. I'm glad that we were able to join the British Embassy's "pop up" in Novi Sad, though disappointed that I couldn’t attend myself.
A bit of “hot off the press” news. We are pleased that in 2022 our member Flora will enter the UK market with its “Mingle” brand of perserves. The BSCC team helped them to promote their products at the International Food Exhibition in September to find a UK distributor. We are currently working to find and support more Serbian companies for IFE in London in March 2022. I’m delighted that this is an opportunity to bring Serbia to the UK in a very tangible way – and we want to see more of it in 2022.
In 2022 we will continue to focus on our key sectors including food and drink, infrastructure, energy, IT & Tech, and other growth enterprises. The team is busy planning events in both countries for 2022 - and we always welcome your suggestions.
The Chamber will also remain committed to supporting our communities. The BSCC and its members have supported several initiatives in 2021 including the “Artlink” event for young musicians and artists, helping a Masters student to find financial support and also assisting Music School Stankovic raise the funds for a new harp for its music students. We are grateful to every member that supported these activities in any way.
The year's big news is of course the new Partnership Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and Serbia, signed in May and now in force. This not only substantially restores the pre-Brexit arrangements from which companies from both countries benefit, but is also a very significant signal of the strength of the relationship between Serbia and Britain and the readiness of both Governments to help make doing business easier. We should view it not as the last word but as the first step towards a new era in which trade and investment between us grow to the higher level we all know is possible. The Chamber will keep engaging with both Governments to press the concerns of our members.
We continue to work closely with both the Serbian Embassy in London and the British Embassy in Belgrade and benefit hugely from their support. I want again to thank Their Excellencies Aleksandra Joksimović and Sian MacLeod and all their staff, especially this year Bojana Arsić who has recently left the British Embassy having made an invaluable contribution to the bilateral economic relationship.
Despite the challenges, we have enjoyed our work this year in helping to strengthen British-Serbian ties. Ultimately it is of course for you – the businesses at the heart of the relationship – who will really make this happen. We value your advice and support and look forward to working with you again in 2022.
In the meantime, my warmest wishes for the Christmas and New Year holidays, whenever you celebrate them,
David Landsman OBE