It’s been ten years since the sixteen countries in East and Southeast Europe concluded the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). How did the formation of a free trade zone, following the conclusion of the agreement, benefit the countries in the Western Balkans, and Serbia in particular?
The numbers show that there have been several benefits for the Serbian economy from the CEFTA. For instance, Bosnia and Herzegovina imports more goods from Serbia than from the US, Russia and China combined. In 2016, the CEFTA countries mostly exported non-alcoholic beverages, crude oil derivatives and wheat-based products, while they mostly imported steel, coal and medication.
“The trade between the CEFTA countries grew over twofold, and they have increased their export to the European Union by 3.6 times. The CEFTA countries are also the second biggest foreign trade partner to Serbia, after the EU”, said Serbian Trade and Telecommunications Minister, Rasim Ljajic.
Of course, there are problems too and they are mainly compounded by regional politics. “Every single time the political rhetoric in the region gets tougher, the politicians should ask themselves how much would that affect the economy, the citizens and new jobs”, says the President of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, Marko Čadež. The current free trade agreement also does not stipulate removal of all non-custom barriers. Although, according to Čadež, some have been removed, the new ones have been put in place.
Ten years ago, Serbia’s trade with the countries signatories of this free trade agreement amounted to 1.8 billion EUR, while today it stands at 2.8 billion EUR. Back then, the trade surplus was 1.1 billion EUR, and today it is 2.1 billion EUR. Serbia has also been selected to chair the CEFTA in 2017.
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