homepage_name! > Editions > Number 037 > Interview - Kjell-Morten Johnsen


Kjell-Morten Johnsen

The key thing for the FIC is to make it easier to run the business in Serbia for foreign and for Serbian companies. That contributes to economic growth, it increases the profitability of the businesses, and that can also lead to higher tax revenues for the State.

We were honored to talk to Mr. Kjell-Morten Johnsen, President of the Foreign Investors Council (FIC) in Serbia.

Mr. Johnsen, what are the main goals of the Foreign Investors Council? How many members do you have at the time?

We think that work of the FIC is basically in advocacy, to help the Government to formulate the policy that is good for the business, and it’s also good for creating a sustainable economy, which is positive for those who rely on it. That’s the public sector workers, and we also need that for the salaries, and it’s good for investing in public services, public infrastructure, so we think that this is our way, from the companies’ side to participate in the value creation in the country.

The current number of FIC members is 123 companies.

In your opinion, what is the business atmosphere like, regarding foreign investments in Serbia at the present?

I would say that it’s a little bit better now than it was a year ago. Two years ago, when I first arrived here, we were just entering the crisis and everything was going down. It kept getting worse throughout 2009, and people were really wondering where this was going to take us.

That uncertainty is still around us, you see it continuously up to today even in global economy. I think that with unemployment rate of around 20%, the situation for Serbia is very difficult. To make an important contribution, the Government should maintain solid fiscal policy, not to start harvesting any fruit too early, and we see these tendencies on the wage pressures, and it’s still too early to have that. We can also do a lot by simplifying the operating mode for businesses and not only for foreign investors, but for all companies.

The only way to build sustainable economy is stone by stone. There are no shortcuts, not for Serbia, not for any other country. We are starting to develop a more positive economic situation, but it is going to take years before we really see some results, as for example lower unemployment rate. I am by nature an optimist and think that the EU Government would solve fiscal issues during this year. Serbia has to navigate carefully, since when you are outside the EU, a lot of uncertainty is still there, and it is twice as important to make sure that Serbia is on the right path.

What do you think should be changed or corrected in Serbia in order to attract more foreign capital?

I think that we can move faster toward simplifying the things related to business. In my opinion, it would be important that all politicians in Serbia, whether they are inside or outside the Government, decide that promoting a good business environment is crucial to the success of the country.
Let’s try to find the way to speed up the processes of simplifying business related issues. It relates to the title of land, to restitution, to all those parameters that we see in international countries’ comparisons that represent Serbia’s weak positions. They should be addressed hard, quickly, and make some positive movements on it.

It is possible to do it faster. A country that really wants to build a stronger base for wealth needs to be even more determined in making these things happen.

Are you satisfied with cooperation between Serbian Government and FIC?

Let’s put it this way. The “tone of voice”, the discussions and the agreements we make with them are fine. We have a very good dialogue, but we would like things to move faster.
How has global economic crisis affected operations of foreign investors in Serbia? Is the situation improving globally? Are we exiting the crisis?

Things differ from business to business. Some businesses continue to invest – banks, car manufacturing, tobacco industry, telecommunications, etc. and they are the biggest investors in the country.

When I speak to people in different organizations here I still sense some optimism, in terms of getting quite a lot of investment this year. And we are not only talking about the sale of Telekom Srbija, but also about other industries, where there have been new developments. One example is the purchase of the Maxi chain by a Belgian company. The other example is Fiat Serbia who entered the market with long term investment plans, now even higher than initially planned, which will significantly increase the contribution of exports on the overall GDP.

The key point is that someone is investing in this market, and that shows that there is an opportunity to make profitable business in Serbia. And I think there will be investments in agriculture and that is good because Serbia has the opportunity to develop that industry.

If we do things rightly, we will be able to stop these tendencies of well educated, smart, industrious people leaving Serbia instead of staying here. If we get that done, that will be extremely important. To make people attracted to developing their career in their own country. That’s a great thing.

What do foreign investors plan and expect in Serbia until the end of this year?

We want to see progress in making it easier for investors to run business here. It’s also an objective for us to make sure that we have an even more intimate dialogue with the Government. And I am not talking only about having a dialogue with the Prime Minister and the Ministers, I’m talking about the dialogue that our committees and our members have with the different Ministries.

We can work on the important details, preparation of the laws, to propose adjustments of the by-laws and similar things, because if we don’t work actively at that level, it is very hard to make a change. You need to get some system into the process, and then you need to give something, not just to ask. You have to come with proposals and ideas and you have to be willing to defend your ideas. That’s when we can make a change.

How do you feel about your life in Serbia?

I feel relieved because I came from Moscow after spending six years there. I have a young daughter, who is now three years. We lived in the center of Moscow, very nice place in all kinds of ways, but after we had our daughter it was not so convenient. For me personally the experience is very different, because in Moscow I was dealing with ownership issues and we had a very visible conflict that we managed to resolve, and here it’s an operation. To run an operation is much more rewarding in everyday life than to deal only with the ownership issues, which are a little bit abstract sometimes.
So that is big change from the personal side. And then there is the other thing about everyday work, which is completely different.

Entertainment in Belgrade?

Pretty good, with Belgrade being the best party town in Europe. So, they say. I’m not so much of a party man, I have my places where I usually go and that’s important.

There is one big problem with a Belgrade, it’s too far away from the sea and it can’t be fixed. I would like it to be very close to the sea, because I like to spend time on boats. But you can’t have everything.