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French-Serbian Economic Cooperation

New French Investments Expected

The visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Serbia marked a turning point in the development of economic relations between the two countries. And new French investments are expected to be concentrated in sectors that are important to the development of Serbian infrastructure, green transition and information and communications technology

Economic ties between France and Serbia are advancing constantly, while the trade exchange between the two countries constantly exceeds the benchmark figure of a billion euros. In 2021 alone, This trade exchanged had a total value of 1.4 billion euros in 2021 alone, while Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić insists that the potential is “at least ten times this amount”.

Among the main events providing an incentive to the further advancement of bilateral cooperation was the 2019 visit of French President Emmanuel Macron and a delegation of French businesspeople that saw the signing of several important agreements, including an agreement between the two countries on the construction of the Belgrade metro system.

It was following Macron’s visit that Air France made its return to Serbia, with the introduction of a direct Belgrade-Paris flight, and the French Development Agency opened its Western Balkan Office in Belgrade.

Investments in the field of the environment, green transition, the construction of wastewater treatment facilities, the expansion of the Belgrade sewage network, the energy sector, but also road and railway infrastructure – particularly when it comes to the building of urban metro systems and railway corridors (projects relating to Pan- European road and rail corridors 10 and 11) – have been identified as having the greatest potential for furthering cooperation between Serbia and France.

Thanks to the investment of French multinational Michelin, vehicle tyres have become (alongside raspberries) the most important Serbian product exported to France, while Serbia mostly imports medicines and cars from France. It is precisely in the area of processed raspberries, blackberries and cherries that Serbian entrepreneurs have identified a great opportunity to boost exports. Serbia is still recording a deficit in the trade exchange with France, as shown by data from the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, though imports are increasingly managing to cover exports. A total of approximately 5,000 companies in Serbia contribute to the foreign trade exchange with France.

According to the Serbian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, French companies are interested in cooperation and investment in the areas of energy, agriculture, transport – particularly based on the public-private partnership model and concessions – and in the fields of the environment and information and communications technology.

The level of French investment in Serbia is growing year on year. According to data from Serbia’s central bank, the National Bank of Serbia, almost a billion euros from France has entered Serbia. Among the biggest investments are the Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport concession, held by French company Vinci, and the public-private partnership to redevelop the Vinča Landfill.

A memorandum of understanding was signed recently by the City of Belgrade and France’s RATP, which expresses the desire for this renowned company to become an “early operator” of the Belgrade metro. The RATP Group is one of the world’s largest public transport systems operators. Among other things, it manages the operations of the Paris Métro and the underground urban rail systems of many other cities around the world. The signing of this memorandum was followed by the start of negotiations on the deal that will form part of the interstate agreement between Serbia and France on the construction of the Belgrade metro.

The trade exchange between the two countries has been growing constantly over the last few years, with the coverage of imports by exports also improving. Opportunities are emerging for Serbian entrepreneurs to export cherries and raspberries to France, but also more sophisticated products

Serbian business leaders believe that strengthening economic cooperation with France will provide Serbian companies with an entrance ticket to the markets of North Africa and the former French colonies of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. They also expect this to improve cooperation between entrepreneurs or specific companies.

Speaking after discussions in Paris with her then French counterpart Jean Castex this February, Serbian PM Brnabić said that “the basic message is that President Macron is personally committed to working further on the advancing of both political and economic relations between France and Serbia, and that he is personally monitoring the numerous French investments that we have in Serbia today”.

The PM also announced that the Michelin Group plans to further expand its investment in Serbia and that French company Egis plans to open its regional engineering hub in Belgrade. She further noted that the AFD Office for the Western Balkans, which opened in Belgrade following the 2019 visit of President Macron, plans to double its budget for projects around the region, and particularly in Serbia.