Financial Times: Serbia torn between EU appeal and Chinese ambitions

“Serbia has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Motorways are being built, more funds are being invested in education and new foundations are being laid in the sectors like renewable energy, construction and engineering. Serbia’s ability to attract substantial foreign investments, especially the ones from China, were of vital importance for such transformation. But all of this is now at risk”, says an advisor to Serbian government, Vladimir Krulj in his column for the Financial Times.

“China is bringing new technical expertise and innovation. Yet, rather than embrace a new vision for Europe, the European Union’s scepticism over China threatens to undermine future growth and stability”, Krulj continues.

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“This week the EU also agreed to new rules to guard against lower-priced Chinese imports. All this sets up a potential clash with China’s ambitions in the Balkans, and is likely to have a direct impact on Serbia. Our country Serbia is at the centre of China’s “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure initiative, a transport and trade corridor running from China to Germany, via Greek ports, the Balkans and central Europe. This means money has been poured into building roads and high-speed railways, contributing to a 2.8 per cent rise in Serbia’s economic growth last year. According to data, the total trade volume between China and selected western Balkan economies reached €3.3bn in 2015-16. Serbia accounted for almost half of that total trade volume. Last month, the government also announced that it expects to open 10,000 jobs through a joint €300m project with the China Road and Bridge Corporation for the construction of an industrial park in Belgrade, allowing Serbia to keep its young engineers and develop nanotechnology, biotechnology and IT systems”, Krulj explains.

Krulj believes that Russia and China’s economic influence in the region of the Western Balkans is still not even close to that of the EU because Europe „remains Serbia’s most important foreign trade partner“.  Also, Serbia is firmly fixed on becoming an EU member as reflected in this week’s announcement that five more chapters in its EU membership negotiations will have been opened by the year end, Krulj reminds.

Investments from China have had a positive and immediate impact on Serbia’s transformation, effectively helping it to become a respected political and economic force in the region…. For China, the Balkans clearly represent a gateway to larger European markets. This also presents an opportunity for Europe to embrace the positive contribution China is making to this region, and work with China to develop free-trade networks that will benefit everyone. Particularly with the US and Donald Trump sticking to an “America First”, isolationist policy, the future prosperity of Europe, I believe, depends on it”, Krulj concludes in his column.

(Blic, Financial Times, 10.11.2017)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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