Bilateral relations between Serbia and the U.S. are cordial, but not without their downside. Those relations are today driven by complex political issues, often in parallel with topics related to economic development and innovation
The report “Serbia: Background and U.S. Relations”, written by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, provides an interesting overview of recent developments in diplomatic relations between the United States of America and the Republic of Serbia. Although this report covers only a fraction of the 140-year history of diplomatic relations between the two countries – namely, the last two decades – it nonetheless details various twists and turns that have defined our rather dynamic, and productive relations, which have often been charged by important political issues and different interpretations of the outcomes.
The situation is no different today. News reports reveal that the two sides have been discussing Serbia’s stance regarding the Ukraine war, the Belgrade- Priština dialogue, and EU integration, the diversifying of energy sources in Serbia and the Western Balkans, as well as current geopolitical issues. And none of these represent easy questions for discussion or reaching agreement.
Nonetheless, alongside these topics that occupy the front pages of the Serbian press, there are other equally relevant themes with the same underlying tone of U.S. support to the EU integration of the entire Western Balkans, Serbia included.
These themes are to be found in the USAID support programs that have been devised with two long-term goals in mind: Citizen empowerment/democratic governance; and the development of a fully-fledged market economy.
The first group of projects revolve around the themes of improving the rule of law, rooting out corruption and increasing transparency in state budgeting and spending, but also improving media freedom.
U.S. assistance to Serbia focuses on supporting democracy and the rule of law, rooting out corruption, supporting civil society organizations and press independence, and supporting economic development
The second group of projects relate to the empowerment of small business and, increasingly, to innovation programs designed to help Serbia seize the emerging opportunities offered by the knowledge-based economy, through support to startups, improving links between business and academia, and identifying promising areas for innovation.
Among the USAID achievements that often receive AmCham support are those related to improving the business climate at the national and local levels, as well as specific priorit
es related to construction, public procurement and red tape. The focus is now shifting to environmental protection and biodiversity, and the energy sector, especially the use of renewable energy. And yet, even these topics are not immune to politics. Just two years ago, it seemed that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a development finance institution and agency of the United States federal government, was set to build a strong presence in the Western Balkans, but – with the arrival of the new administration in Washington, D.C. – that became “subject to shifting political priorities and budget resources,” without permanent staff in Belgrade.
By the same token, many U.S. investors already present in Serbia report having good conditions to do business here, yet it has been suggested that new investors question whether the current political and economic conditions favor their arrival.