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Energy renewable sources and regional cooperation as the key to recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic

On the first day of the 11th Sarajevo Business Forum, economic cooperation between the countries of the Western Balkans and the possibilities of joint economic prosperity were discussed. In the opening speech at the beginning of the thematic panel “Economic recovery after COVID – opportunities for a turnaround?”, Erwin Bollinger, head of the department for bilateral economic relations, spoke on behalf of the Government of Switzerland, who emphasized how important it is to strengthen the ties between Switzerland and the countries of the West Balkans, and in the context of trade scale and mutual investments.

“The exchange between Switzerland and the countries of the Balkans, despite the pandemic, increased by 20% in the period 2019 and 2021. This is an encouraging signal, and an increasing number of investments are directed to the Western Balkans and an increasing number of products from the Western Balkans are imported to Switzerland. The pandemic has opened up some new opportunities for us. The idea of “nearshoring” brings both a cultural and geographic advantage,” said Bollinger. As an example of a good model for overcoming the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, 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-sized enterprises in the focus of its measures.

Experts from the region and the world talked about the economic, economic and social recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the opportunities for a turnaround that can help the region and BiH in future development. Stjepan Mesić, former President of the Republic of Croatia, Zoran Zaev, former Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia, Šekib Avdagić, President of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO), Ahmet Albayrak, Executive Vice President of Kuveyt Turk Bank, Sandrine Friscia, representative, shared their expert opinions as part of the first panel. European Investment Bank for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, Zain Al-‘Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz, founder and president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Relations (IDEAS) from Malaysia, Orhan Aydin, board member of the Ankara Development Agency and member of the Higher Education Council TOBB, member of the High Advisory Board of OSBÜK and member of the executive board of ÜSIMP, and dr. Murat Yülek, founder and rector of Ostim Technical University, who also moderated this panel.

Mesić shared his experiences from the region and emphasized that the Western Balkans region is dependent on investments from other economies, but it is also dependent on joint political and business cooperation.

“Development that goes in the direction of dividing the global economy would lead to disaster, so we need to look for opportunities and strengthen economic and political cooperation. More efforts are needed for countries to create strong regional synergies. People in the Balkans value peace, development and cooperation, and that’s the only way we will win,” said Mesić.

Regional economies need to continue the path of solidarity in order to overcome the global economic consequences. Zoran Zaev said that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, together with the Russian aggression against Ukraine, is one of the main topics that reflects on BiH and the region.

“These crises affect our countries and our partners. I call for regional cooperation, which I put first, that’s why I 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 has great potential for creating alternative sources of energy, we are attractive for large global investors who invest in such projects. In times of crises, strikes and blockades, dialogue is the only solution,” said Zaev.

Good service, capital and labor should flow. The individual countries of the Western Balkans are too small to act independently, so joining forces is necessary.

Sandrine Friscia, representative of the European Investment Bank for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, said that an increase in GDP was recorded in the Western Balkans, but that inflation, caused by a number of factors, is still growing.

“In all countries, food prices have risen, and there have been disruptions in trade and new investments. The Western Balkans is facing new challenges, and measures must be taken in the energy sector. Nevertheless, the economy recorded an increase of 7.1%, and BiH has a low public debt. According to the IMF, GDP growth is expected in the coming years. Accelerating reforms and obtaining candidate status in the EU will attract new investments. With crises come opportunities to strengthen ties in the region. We are ready to help Bosnia and Herzegovina in digital transformation and renewable energy sources,” said Friscia.

Šekib Avdagić, president of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO), said that the pandemic affected the economy, but also pointed out all the shortcomings in the economies and policies of the countries of the Western Balkans.

“Only countries that have a good socio-economic status in the world have a good perspective. In the post-covid world, “nearshoring” has emerged as an alternative. The most important thing for companies is to be flexible and adapt to new conditions,” Avdagić pointed out.

Ahmet Albayrak, Executive Vice President of Kuveyt Turk Bank, speaking about the pandemic and its impact on the economic crisis, stated that it is necessary to invest additional efforts in the social aspects of society.

“These are opportunities in the human sense. In addition to financial ones, we need to invest in humanitarian efforts and to support society and citizens,” said Albayrak.

Zain Al-‘Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz, founder and president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Relations (IDEAS) from Malaysia highlighted the digital evolution happening on the ground and its importance to economic recovery after the pandemic. He emphasized the importance of strong domestic institutions which are vital.

“The solutions we can offer are large industrial centers with a large number of members. In Turkey, such centers also offer education and health services. I believe that the Sarajevo Business Forum is a good platform and an opportunity to offer joint solutions. We want to establish cooperation with institutions in BiH, and we are particularly interested in the wood industry sector, renewable energy solutions, and the development of new technologies,” said Orhan Aydin, board member of the Ankara Development Agency and member of the Council for Higher Education TOBB.

Sarajevo Business Forum 2022 will continue on the second day on May 12 at the Hills Hotel, where thematic panels, sponsor presentations and business b2b meetings and promotion of investment projects and business opportunities nominated for the 11th SBF 2022 are planned.

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