Poland has become Serbia’s 9th biggest economic partner. Energy solutions, aircraft maintenance, real estate, ATM and banking IT, electronic payment systems, as well as food, clothing, furniture, footwear, cosmetics and household chemicals are among many best-selling products and services in Serbia that are provided by Polish companies
Constant progress – these are the words chosen by Polish Ambassador Rafał Paweł Perl to describe bilateral relations between Poland and Serbia. Speaking in this interview for CorD Magazine, he says that the Polish Foreign Trade Office – which is expected to open soon – will provide additional support to Polish investors who are interested not only in Serbia, but the Western Balkans as a whole. The same regional principle will also be applied to the operations of the Polish Institute in Belgrade, which Ambassador Perl sees as a “game changer”. Based in the Serbian capital, the Polish Institute will serve as a platform for cultural and educational cooperation and people-to-people contacts throughout the Western Balkans.
Your Excellency, Serbia welcomed a Polish delegation in late February led by Secretary of State Arkadiusz Mularczyk, who spoke about the intensifying of cooperation between Poland and Serbia. From your own perspective, how would you evaluate the current level of bilateral relations between our two countries?
As I am asked quite frequently about Polish-Serbian bilateral cooperation, I tend to reply that what we see from our perspective is constant progress. On the one hand, this is a good way to focus on what has already been achieved, while on the other hand it serves the necessity to admit that much more has to be done, as both Serbia and Poland are countries on a dynamic growth path. Political meetings and high-level visits are really important and helpful, but the real challenge is the followup. Cooperation between different sectors of our administration and business should be better supported and shaped. We definitely need to increase the number of bilateral agreements, memoranda of understanding and projects, not only in order to create a formal legal framework, but also to get to know each other better.
It strikes me that Poles and Serbs who visit our countries for the first time share the feeling of a positive surprise, which is Ofbased not only on an appreciation for friendliness, hospitality and cultural proximity, but also on discovering how quickly we are both closing the development gap on prosperous Western states and societies. I’m happy to be part of “the Polish offensive in Serbia” (I borrowed this expression from a member of the management of the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), which includes both new elements in our local toolbox (the Honorary Consulate in Niš and the Polish Institute of Culture and Foreign Trade Office in Belgrade), but also mutual interest with regard to direct cooperation between our countries’ ministries and state institutions.
Judging on the basis of high-level bilateral contacts, agreement exists regarding the possibility of improving economic cooperation between our two countries. In which areas do you see the greatest potential?
The pace of the development of the bilateral trade exchange is definitely going beyond our expectations, having last year passed (according to data provided by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia) the threshold of two billion euros (with year-on-year growth exceeding 40%), placing Poland in the position of the 9th biggest economic partner of Serbia. Energy solutions, aircraft maintenance, real estate, ATM and banking IT, electronic payment systems, as well as food, clothing, furniture, footwear, cosmetics and household chemicals are among the many best-selling products or services sold/provided to the Serbian market by Polish companies.
It strikes me that Poles and Serbs who visit our countries for the first time share the feeling of a positive surprise, which is based not only on an appreciation for friendliness, hospitality and cultural proximity, but also on discovering how quickly we are both closing the development gap on prosperous Western states and societies
Poland’s national carrier, PLL LOT, which last year commemorated the 75th anniversary of the establishing of regular direct flights between Warsaw and Belgrade, is the first choice of many Serbs travelling to the United States or Canada, and Warsaw’s Fryderyk Chopin Airport has been receiving great reviews as a “hub” for transfers to destinations in North America and Scandinavia. The agri-food industry, food processing, energy solutions and green technologies are among the most promising areas of further economic cooperation, with a constant focus on strengthening the position of Polish companies and products that are already present on the Serbian market.
Could you tell us about plans to open a Polish Office for Trade Cooperation in Serbia?
In order to offer direct assistance to Polish business abroad, the Polish Investment and Trade Agency (PAIH) is opening its own foreign trade offices. This global network is responsible for providing support to Polish exporters and investors seeking new opportunities abroad. The PAIH offices abroad do not operate under the “diplomatic umbrella” and are registered according to local regulations as limited liability companies that are partly financed through their own commercial activities (due diligence, market analysis and legal advice for Polish business). It is important to emphasise that these PAIH Foreign Trade Offices are opened to cover rapid growth markets, which represent the highest potential for Polish companies and our foreign trade.
The Belgrade Foreign Trade Office, which should be fully operational soon (the process of registering the company is underway), will cover not only Serbia, but also the entire Western Balkan region. Its upcoming opening is the best proof that the dynamically growing Serbian economy and market, which have great prospects (with a high level of public investments, increasing consumption and levels of regional cooperation), are definitely attracting the growing attention of Polish entrepreneurs, particularly given that they have “rediscovered” the Western Balkan region after the Covid-19 pandemic and its well-known impact on the global economy.
There has been lots of talk about Poland in Serbia over recent months, due to the import of milk from your country, which is more competitive than domestic milk in terms of price. Given that this is a very important issue for Serbia’s local farmers, could you say something about the importance of the subsidies and incentives that Polish livestock/ dairy farmers receive from EU funds?
According to the rules of the strategic plan of the EU Common Agricultural Policy for 2023-2027, direct subsidies per dairy cow will reach an average of 94 euros annually. Additional important financial support can be also gained by implementing animal welfare plans, which include, for instance, the obligation of providing and managing regular access to outdoor areas for animals. Dairy production in Poland is definitely a success story, which shows how important our 2004 EU accession proved to be from the perspective of Polish agriculture and Polish farmers. With the constant rise of milk production (up by more than 24% from 2004 to 2020, and still rising), Poland is the EU’s third biggest producer (after France and Germany) and is ranked 12th globally (2% of world milk production). Exports of Polish dairy products reached the level of €2.6 billion in 2021, with a significant year-on-year rise of 13%. It is also noteworthy that total exports of Polish food reached a value of €37.4 billion in 2021.
The recent message to Belgrade from Warsaw is one of support for Serbia’s European integration. Would you assess Serbia or Ukraine as being closer to EU membership today?
As the representative of a country that is known for its steadfast political support for Serbia’s EU integration, I would note with great satisfaction that we try to do our best by using a double-track approach: both bilateral and multilateral. Apart from political support in Brussels, Polish experts share knowledge, best-practices and lessons learned from our accession process with their Serbian colleagues, utilising the framework of EU twinning projects (we’ve been participating in two such projects in the last two years), as well as bilateral initiatives (like the Belgrade Conference of Polish and Serbian experts working on EU-related matters). As a well-known supporter of the EU’s Open-Door policy, Poland has spent many years advocating for the continuation of the process of integrating the Western Balkan states, as well as offering European perspectives to the countries of our Eastern neighbourhood (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia).
Poland’s national carrier, PLL LOT, which last year commemorated the 75th anniversary of the establishing of regular direct flights between Warsaw and Belgrade, is the first choice of many Serbs travelling to the United States or Canada, and Warsaw’s Fryderyk Chopin Airport has been receiving great reviews as a “hub” for transfers to destinations in North America and Scandinavia
It goes without saying that Poland not only welcomed, but also actively paved the way to the European Council decision of June 2022 that granted membership candidate status to Kiev and Chisinau, which unfortunately had to be taken under such dramatic circumstances of Russian aggression against Ukraine. It is clear to me that the accession process, which is extremely complicated and demanding, should not be perceived as a race among candidate states – the history of V4 (Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary) proves that close cooperation and mutual support are effective and efficient when negotiating with Brussels. Knowing about the good cooperation between Belgrade and Tbilisi with regard to the EU integration process, I think Serbia – as a country with ten years’ experience in negotiations that has advanced well in the process (with several opened chapters/clusters) – can also be of great help to the Ukrainian side in the future.
How do you view the current situation in Ukraine? Do you think room exists to bring an end to the conflict or is escalation a more likely scenario?
I don’t know if I should be seen more as a pessimist or realist, but from my point of view, we should be prepared for an enduring conflict, one that will have a major impact on the future of Europe or even world order. As we discuss the possible scenarios for the end of this brutal war, we are understandably focused on political, military and economic factors, on the basis of available data and intelligence reports. However, we should not overlook the issue of bringing justice to the thousands of victims of the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
In an effort to bring into question the very existence of the Ukrainian state, nation or even language, Moscow launched a war that not only violates international law and order, but that also demonstrates, on a daily basis, the Russian state’s disregard and contempt for basic human rights and international obligations. Executions, tortures, brutal interrogations, rapes, plundering, attacks on civilian infrastructure, unlawful mass deportations and abductions of Ukrainian children cannot go unpunished, especially given the fact that they are deliberately used by the Russian side as yet another tool to break the spirit of the Ukrainian nation. Any peace deal has to be based on the notion that the perpetrators (including the highest-level officials) will be brought to justice and made to pay for their crimes.
The recent visit of the Polish delegation mentioned at the start of this interview included discussion of the strengthening of bilateral cooperation in the domain of energy. Are there any specific projects being developed in this regard?
Poland and Serbia both have a coal-based energy mix, which makes us natural partners for discussion and possible cooperation with regard to so-called “green transformation”. We are also one of the EU member states that best understands that this kind of change is extremely challenging and cannot happen overnight, due also to its heavy social impact on mining regions.
Dairy production in Poland is definitely a success story, which shows how important our 2004 EU accession proved to be from the perspective of Polish agriculture and Polish farmers. With the constant rise of milk production (up by more than 24% from 2004 to 2020, and still rising), Poland is the EU’s third biggest producer
Polish companies, which – interestingly – have been present on the Serbian energy market for over fifty years, are able to provide environmentally-oriented bridging solutions. We are also ready to share our knowledge and experience on the use of EU funds in the effective transformation of coal-heavy regions. Renewables, the diversification of energy sources and the development of atomic energy facilities are other topics of common interest that can serve to develop mutually beneficial cooperation between Poland and Serbia.
Local media have reported on the planned opening of a Polish Cultural Institute in Serbia, as well as boosting bilateral cooperation in the field of education. Could you tell us something more about these areas?
In July last year, during his visit to Serbia in his dual capacity as the head of Polish diplomacy and the OSCE Chairman in Office, Minister Zbigniew Rau announced publicly the decision to open the Polish Institute in Belgrade (as the 26th Polish Institute worldwide), the activities of which will cover the entire Western Balkan region. The mission of the Polish Institutes is to reach out to the broadest possible audience of artists, experts and opinion makers in order to build good bilateral contacts and cooperation, as well as shaping the best possible image of Poland abroad. Polish institutes promote our country and its culture, history, science, language and national heritage in such a way that the public in countries with other or similar cultural backgrounds can better understand us – Poles and the Polish cultural code.
I firmly believe that, when it comes to cultural and educational cooperation, and to some extent people-to-people contacts, the establishment of the Polish Institute in Belgrade will be a real “game changer”. By being more active and more visible, but also by increasing the number of cultural, educational, academic and promotional events, we can build our national brand in both Serbia and other Western Balkan states in a more efficient way, but can also explore everything that connects us. After three years resident in Belgrade, I am well aware of how rich and vibrant the Serbian art scene is. And I am thus personally excited to see new opportunities and bilateral cooperation pathways through various cultural endeavours.
Poland and Serbia both have a coal-based energy mix, which makes us natural partners for discussion and possible cooperation with regard to so-called “green transformation”
It is important to emphasise that these PAIH Foreign Trade Offices are opened to cover rapid growth markets, which represent the highest potential for Polish companies and our foreign trade
From my point of view, we should be prepared for an enduring conflict, one that will have a major impact on the future of Europe or even world order