Since the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its current leader Aleksandar Vučić came to power in 2012, the cooperation between Serbia and the United Arab Emirates has been a constant topic in the public eye.
The scope of mutual cooperation is continuously growing, and despite numerous announced projects that never came to fruition, such as Mubadala’s chip factory, the Belgrade Waterfront, loans and the purchase of agricultural land by companies from the Emirates were implemented.
These are the biggest business deals that the United Arab Emirates companies concluded in Serbia:
The first deal between Serbia and the UAE was the sale of 49 percent of the shares of the former national air carrier, the JAT Company to Etihad. The deal went through in 2013 and long after it was presented as a project of exceptional importance for our country. In the years that followed, especially when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the UAE’s share in former JAT (now Air Serbia) fell from 49 percent to 18 percent as the airliner performed poorly due to the pandemic.
The Belgrade Waterfront project, a residential and business complex located on the right bank of the Sava River, close to downtown Belgrade, which features a 168-metre-high tower, is the most visible and controversial symbol of this cooperation.
The project was marked by numerous controversies – from the demolition of houses in Hercegovačka Street (the Belgrade Waterfront site), which has been the subject of many protests and received no clarification to date to the fact that Serbian authorities gave free land for the purpose of construction.
In 2014, the public highlighted the problem of inadequate spatial solutions related to the project. Soon after, the authorities changed the General Spatial Plan, which was opposed by civil activists who believe that these changes benefit private capital and harm citizens.
Loans from Abu Dhabi government
In 2014 and 2016, Serbia received a one billion dollar loan from Abu Dhabi for budget support and this year, our country obtained also a one billion euro loan from the UAE, on which we will pay only 3 percent interest. The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, called this loan “practically a gift”, because according to him, “Hungary, like some other EU member countries, get loans with six percent interest.”
Also, in 2013, when Mlađan Dinkić was the Minister of Economy, the Abu Dhabi-based Development Fund invested 400 million euros in water systems in Serbia.
Mercator S, Sberbank, Roda and Idea are all companies that operated under the Fortenova Group, owned by Agrokor. The Group’s official website states that Mercator S, which is active in 80 cities and other locations in Serbia, owns 300 Idea stores and four Idea online stores, 33 Roda supermarkets, two Mercator shopping centres and hypermarkets, four Velpro shopping centres and HoReCa centres. According to the Croatian media, 43.4 percent of the shares of this group were sold a few days ago to an investor from the UAE, Seif Alketbi.
Al Rawefed, Al Dahra, Mubadala, Sinofarm…
In addition to Etihad and Eagle Hills, companies from this wealthy country that operate in Serbia include Al Rawefed, which is engaged in grain production, Al Dahra, engaged in the production and processing of food, as well as Mubadala, a company that was supposed to produce potato chips in Serbia.
The lack of transparency in the UAE’s companies’ business in Serbia is still questioned by both the media and the general public.
According to the Insajder investigative website, only one company (from the UAE) submitted its offer at a tender for the privatization of the Port of Novi Sad, while in 2016, as many as 12 companies applied.
Similarly, when it comes to the privatization of PKB (one of Serbia’s largest agricultural companies), only the Al Dahra Company took part in the relevant tender and subsequently bought PKB for a little more than 105 million euros, although the assessment of PKB’s value in the tender was 104.5 million euros, a part of the company’s total value.
Then there is Sinofarm’s vaccine factory, which was built by China, the UAE and Serbia. The factory was supposed to produce 40 million doses of vaccines per year that would be exported, but the destiny of this project is unknown.
Serbia’s export of weapons to UAE
In the past three years, the UAE has been at the very top of the list of countries in terms of the value of Serbian export of arms and military equipment (NGO), according to data from the Ministry of Trade of Serbia, which is responsible for issuing export licenses.
According to the data published by the Ministry, in 2020, the UAE is Serbia’s biggest weapons client, with the export amounting to 61.56 million US dollars.
Furthermore, in 2013, Serbian arms producer Jugoimport SDPR and the EARTH Company, based in the Emirates, signed a contract on the joint development of the ALAS missile system.
In the meantime, foreign media reported that the export of arms to the Emirates is a controversial issue because of the role that country plays in armed conflicts in its surroundings.
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