Meanwhile it is important to open perspectives, which disappeared in this crisis.
Once the world economies reopen, the companies who are best prepared will have a big advantage, says Stefanie Ziska, Managing Director of the German-Croatian Chamber of Industry and Commerce. As always, the AHK will remain up to date with how businesses are recovering and continue to provide them any support possible to assist with each step of the recovery process.
The past year, since we have lived in the age of the COVID19 pandemic, has brought many novelties in both thinking and in business. How did AHK adapt to the new circumstances?
The impact of COVID-19 led a dual impact on the German-Croatian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, forcing us to internally adapt our own processes while continuing to satisfy the needs of our members. We had to deal with the situation quickly. Luckily, thanks to technology we did not have any operational difficulties. Our employees worked from home and together we prepared a business plan for this year. Many questions were in front of us. How to support our members, how to work on new event formats and what unforeseen challenges the pandemic will confront us with in the future. As a team we will cross those bridges when we come to them and continue to implement new projects and benefits for our members as we always have in the past. We will not let this pandemic slow us down. We will adapt and overcome.
According to the information available to AHK, how big is the crisis, how big is the decline in investment, production, and business operations in general in both Germany and Croatia? What do the numbers say?
The global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the economy of most countries, including Croatia and Germany. Therefore, countries have had to take several measures to mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic. In the period from January to December 2020, the total export of the Republic of Croatia amounted to 112.0 billion kuna and it was 912.4 million kuna, or 0.8%, lower than in the same period of 2019. In that same timeframe, the total import of the Republic of Croatia amounted to 171.7 billion kuna, which was a decrease of 13.5 billion kuna, or 7.3%, compared to the same period of 2019. In 2020 Germany recorded a 9.3% decrease in exports and a 7.1% decrease in imports, compared with 2019. That was the largest year-over-year decrease in both exports and imports since the financial and economic crisis in 2009. Per the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, in 2020 the largest Croatian foreign trade partner from the EU was Germany which recorded a decrease in exports of 3.6%. A significant decrease was recorded in imports from Germany of 8.5% (share in total import of 15.3%). We can conclude that not only Croatia, but also Germany is facing a path of recovery. Recently, the finance minister Zdravko Marić said that the full recovery from this crisis is not expected before the end of 2022. Major economic research institutes in Germany expect a growth in 2022.
There has been a significant decline in business activity, but in what ways have you, as an institution, helped the business people?
The role of the chamber is to help our members stay up to date with the ever-changing landscape of businesses that impact their industry and provide a conduit to bring likeminded business leaders together for their mutual benefit. In the current climate of the pandemic, we have not only been performing that role but also making sure that our members have the most up-to-date information regarding local, regional, and national impacts of the pandemic. We, as the German- Croatian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, have helped several member companies in the pandemic as a bridge to the Croatian government institutions. We also informed our members in the covid pandemic with a special newsletter including an overview about economic support measures, as well as ever changing border control restrictions. We have created a page with the newest information about COVID-19 and are closely monitoring the situation. Also, we are active on social media where we post the latest updates. In these hard times, the need of a Chamber has never been so important. The German-Croatian Chamber of Industry and Commerce is working tirelessly to provide companies with the latest updates on local conditions and supply chain restrictions to guide them through government regulations. We have access to a large network in a variety of industries and conduct target searches to find suitable contacts for potential partners. We know the ins and outs of the legal and tax situation in our country which is a great value to our members.
What are the most common issues and what are the needs of the businesspeople when they address you? How is the communication with decision makers?
The Croatian bureaucracy is very complex and therefore most businesspeople ask us to help them in the process of a company foundation and tax information. We receive a lot of questions about finding business partners and organizing B2B meetings. The goal of the Business Partner Search is to establish business relationships by arranging productive meetings. Regarding how this is communicated to the decision makers, the German- Croatian Chamber of Industry and Commerce has a productive relationship with them. At the end of the last year, we had a meeting with the Minister of Economy Tomislav Ćorić and we planned meetings with the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and other relevant ministers. The Croatian Chamber of Economy and the German-Croatian Chamber of Industry and Commerce have been partners for many years now, which is shown by the signification of intent in May 2019. Since German business development has a much larger presence abroad, the cooperation between the networks of both countries is now deepened. We are also in a cooperation with the Croatian Employers’ Association as well as the Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts because our focus is finding ways to help our members and the economy overcome this global crisis as soon as possible.
We all switched to digital platforms, online events. How long will that remain a way of communication and business and what do you prefer – online or communication in person?
I think that this crisis has opened many people up to new ways of communicating that they really didn’t consider before the pandemic. I think as we move into the future, we will see more of what is known as hybrid communication. Combining the strengths of both in person and online forms of communication. In the future there will be two ways of holding an event, in person and online. The option to conduct events online is no longer an option, it is a must. So, as we continue into the future, I believe that even once the business world returns to “normal” you will begin to see a much broader acceptance of online events as well as a hybrid combination of in-person events supported with a much greater online presence than we saw prior to the pandemic. Although, many of us want to have all events in person, I believe that the past year has shown us the benefits of online events and will continue to play a greater role in all of our lives from now on. Hopefully with the vaccination there will be more and more live events. We, as a Chamber are preparing in November for our first Gala of the German- Croatian business. Cross your fingers that it will be live.
The year 2021 was supposed to be a year of recovery. When is the recovery expected to begin and what are AHK’s plans for the upcoming period?
It is difficult to make predictions when the situation will be stabilized. But with the vaccination efforts, I hope we are all closer to the end of the pandemic. I believe that the recovery will follow by mid or end of 2022. Meanwhile it is important to open perspectives, which disappeared in this crisis. Once the world economies reopen, the companies who are best prepared will have a big advantage. The Croatian government is helping with the National Recovery and Resilience Plan where Croatia has 24.2 € billion in EU funds at its disposal, including €3.5 million in loans from the Next Generation EU and €12.5 billion from the next seven-year EU budget. As always, the AHK will remain up to date with how businesses are recovering and continue to provide them any support possible to assist with each step of the recovery process.