On the first day of the 11th Sarajevo Business Forum on Panel 1 speakers elaborated possibilities of the economic cooperation of the Western Balkan countries and the potentials of shared economic prosperity. An introductory speech at the beginning of the thematic panel "Economic Recovery after COVID - Opportunity for A Turn?" addressed by Mr. Erwin Bollinger, head of the bilateral economic relations department of Switzerland, stressed the importance of strengthening the ties between Switzerland and the Western Balkan countries, particularly in the context of trade scales and mutual investments.
"The exchange between Switzerland and the Balkan countries, despite the pandemic, increased by 20% in 2019. and 2021. This is an encouraging signal, and there is a growing number of investments towards the Western Balkans and an increasing number of products from the Western Balkans that are being imported into Switzerland. The pandemic has opened up some new possibilities for us. The idea of "nearshoring" brings both cultural and geographical advantage," Mr. Bollinger said. As an example of a good model to overcome the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, Mr. Bollinger cited the example of Swiss companies that have developed their resilience and diversified their production. The Swiss government responded by putting small and medium enterprises in the focus of its measures.
Experts from the region and the world have discussed about economic and social recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as opportunities for a turnaround that can help the region and Bosnia and Herzegovina in future development. Expert opinions, as part of the first panel, were shared by H.E. Stjepan Mesic, former President of the Republic of Croatia, H.E. Zoran Zaev, Former Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia, Mr. Sekib Avdagic, President of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO), Mr. Ahmet Albayrak, Executive Vice-President of the bank Kuveyt Turk, Ms. Sandrine Friscia, Representative of the European Investment Bank for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, H.H. Tunku Zain Al-'Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz, Founder and President of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Relations (IDEAS) from Malaysia, Mr. Orhan Aydin, president of the OSTİM Organized Industrial Zone and chairman of the board of trustees of OSTİM Technical University, member of the Committee of the Ankara Development Agency and member of the TOBB Higher Education Council, member of the OSBÜK High Advisory Committee and member of the Executive Board of ÜSIMP, and Dr. Murat Yülek, founder and rector of Ostim Technical University who also moderated this panel.
H.E. Mesic shared experiences from the region and stressed that the Western Balkan region is dependent on investments from other economies, as well as dependent on joint political and business cooperation.
"Development heading towards the division of the global economy would lead to disaster, and we need to look for opportunities and strengthen economic and political cooperation. More efforts are needed to create strong regional synergies. People in the Balkans appreciate peace, development and cooperation, and that is the only way we will profit," H.E. Mesic said.
“Regional economies need to continue the path of solidarity to overcome global economic consequences”, said H.E. Zoran Zaev in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which along with Russian aggression on Ukraine, was the main theme reflecting on BH and the region.
"These crises are affecting our countries and our partners. I call for regional cooperation to support the process of creating a single market in the Western Balkans. It is time to brand and promote the region in its full potential. The Western Balkans have great potential to create alternative energy sources, we are attractive to large global investors who invest in these projects. In times of crises, strikes and blockades, dialogue is the only solution. Good service, capital and the workforce should have a flow. Individually, Western Balkan countries are small to perform independently, and it is necessary to join forces ", H.E. Zaev said.
Ms. Sandrine Friscia, a representative of the European Investment Bank for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, said that growth in GDP for the Western Balkans was recorded, however, inflation caused by several factors, is still rising.
"In all countries, food prices have increased, and there has been a disruption in trade and new investments. The Western Balkans face new challenges and measures must be taken in the energy sector. However, the economy has seen a 7.1% increase and Bosnia and Herzegovina has low public debt. According to the IMF, GDP growth is expected in the coming years. Accelerating reforms and gaining EU candidate status will attract new investment. Crises also come with opportunities to strengthen ties in the region. We are ready to help Bosnia and Herzegovina in digital transformation and renewable energy sources", Ms. Friscia said.
Mr. Sekib Avdagic, president of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO), said that pandemic affected the economy, but also pointed to shortcomings in the economies and policies of the Western Balkan countries.
"Only countries that have a good socio-economic statute in the world have a good perspective. In the post-covid world "nearshoring" appeared as an alternative. For companies, the most important thing is that they are flexible and adapt to new conditions", Mr. Avdagic said.
Mr. Ahmet Albayrak, executive vice president of the bank Kuveyt Turk, in reference to the pandemic and its impact on the economic crisis, said that additional efforts needed to be made in the social aspects of society.
"These are opportunities in CSR sense. In addition to financial ones, we need to invest in humanitarian efforts and support the society and citizens", Mr. Albayrak said.
H.H. Tunku Zain Al-'Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz, founder and president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Relations (IDEAS) in Malaysia, highlighted the digital evolution that is happening on the ground and its importance on economic recovery after the pandemic. He stressed that the importance of strong domestic institutions is vital.
"The solutions we can offer are large industrial centers with many members. In Turkey, such centres also offer education and health services. I think Sarajevo Business Forum is a good platform and an opportunity to offer common solutions. We want to establish cooperation with the institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we are particularly interested in the metal industry sector, renewable energy solutions, and the development of new technologies." said Mr. Orhan Aydin, a board member of the Ankara Development Agency and a member of the TOBB Higher Education Council.
Sarajevo Business Forum 2022 will continue with its second day on 12th of May 2022, at the Hills Hotel, where thematic panels, sponsor presentations and business B2B meetings as well as promotion of investment projects and business opportunities are planned.