Bilateral relations between Canada and Serbia are excellent, and continue to grow stronger, says H.E. Kati Csaba, Ambassador of Canada to Serbia. “Canada considers itself to be a friend of Serbia and, as a friend, we wish to support Serbia’s progress, including towards EU integration,” says the ambassador.
“Since presenting my credentials in December 2017, I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of ministers and government officials, to review our existing cooperation and discuss new ways of working together in support of our common goals
“The Canadian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to Europe and the EU, Stéphane Dion, who is also our former Minister of Foreign Affairs, made a one-day visit to Belgrade on 21st May which was an excellent occasion to hear from representatives of the business community and civil society, as well as to meet with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić, to discuss issues of common interest,” notes our interlocutor, before adding that this meeting also served as the opportunity to sign an Air Transport Agreement between Canada and Serbia.
Which of Mr Dion’s messages should the public pay heed to the most?
Of the key messages that emerged from Special Envoy Dion’s recent visit to Serbia and Montenegro, I would single out the following as being the most important. Canada strongly supports Serbia’s EU aspirations. Special Envoy Dion made the point that Serbia can only become an EU member by becoming a fully consolidated liberal democracy, with strong and independent institutions of democratic governance. The EU is not prepared at present to take risks by accepting new members that are anything less than full democracies. He advised that EU conditionality not be regarded as a burden; rather, the Acquis process should serve as an inspiration to Serbia in implementing these important reforms that will benefit Serbia’s citizens.
We see Serbia’s EU integration as being in the best interest of Serbia’s citizens, as well as contributing to regional security and stability
Serbia’s economic progress in recent years has made it an increasingly attractive market
We continue to encourage Serbia to invest in efforts to build constructive relations and continue the reconciliation process with neighbouring countries
Which issues are in the focus of cooperation between the two countries?
Canada’s relations with Serbia are based on cooperation in several areas. In line with our democratic values, we encourage continued democratic reform, including by strengthening the rule of law, combating corruption, and building the institutions and systems required for good governance and transparency. We promote respect for human rights, including gender equality and minority rights, the empowerment of women and girls, and media freedom. Such reforms are an important part of Serbia’s efforts to join the European Union.
How do you see Canada’s role in that process, and how does it support Serbia in that regard?
While Canada is not an EU member state, we strongly support Serbia’s aspiration to become a full-fledged member of the EU. This is because we believe that European integration is the best way to ensure regional security and stability. Of course, we also have a bilateral interest, in that Serbia will, by acceding to the EU, also become a party to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU. This would provide excellent opportunities to strengthen our trade and commercial relations.
We are ready to support Serbia through the means at our disposal, in implementing reforms around the rule of law, democratic governance, freedom of expression and other areas that will improve the lives of citizens, as part of this merit-based accession process.
Which values and approaches of contemporary Canadian politics would be useful if implemented in Serbia?
As a country with a long tradition of liberal democracy, there are many aspects of our contemporary political system that could be applied usefully in Serbia. We have a robust system of independent institutions that serve as important watchdogs over the activities of the government. These include the Auditor General of Canada and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which have independent powers to investigate how our government spends taxpayers’ money.
Before considering important new legislation, public consultations are held across the country, to ensure that our multicultural and diverse population has the opportunity to engage in issues that are important to them. We follow the British tradition of ‘ministerial accountability’, which means that every cabinet minister is responsible for the work of his or her ministry, and can be asked to account for the work of that ministry before Parliament and, if necessary, resign over poor or inappropriate performance.
Canadian ministers can be asked to answer questions from all MPs in our parliament’s daily question period. We have a professional public service, which requires that all public servants behave impartially and offer their best advice to ministers, regardless of their personal or political beliefs.
We have worked for many years to ensure that the public service reflects the diversity of Canada’s citizenry, through actions to ensure that women, visible minorities, disabled and indigenous people are well represented in the government. We have a free media and a strong civil society, which are frequently critical of the work of government – and this is considered a good thing!
While we respect Serbia’s policy of military neutrality, we believe that NATO can contribute positively to stability and security in the region.
How will these topics be promoted during the upcoming Canada Day event?
While Canada Day is a great opportunity to reflect on Canadian values and what we achieved as a country, these are things that should not be left to one day of the year. We exert efforts on a daily basis to promote values like gender equality, tolerance, multiculturalism, respect for inclusion and diversity, and the rule of law, in our engagements with government, parliament, civil society, NGOs, media, independent institutions, political parties, think-tanks and all other stakeholders. We believe that these values make us all stronger.
How much do the Serbian diaspora in Canada and the Canadian community in Serbia contribute to our bilateral relations and better understanding between our two countries?
Our most recent census, in 2016, puts the number of Canadians of Serbian origin at just under 100,000 people, but many estimate that this diaspora is in fact much larger. This vibrant diaspora is a powerful tool for promoting mutual understanding and cooperation, and for contributing to the growth of our bilateral relations in all sectors. There are networks among businesspeople, academics and cultural workers that support these relations. For example, the ArtSalon exhibit that opened in Čačak on 15th May is a show by Serbian-Canadian artists.
Security sector reform is among Canada’s priorities in Serbia and the Western Balkans. How do you assess the situation in the region?
We continue to encourage Serbia to invest in efforts to build constructive relations and continue the reconciliation process with neighbouring countries. Serbia has an important role to play in helping to create stability and security in a region where conflicts and ongoing aggravation continue to feed underlying tensions. It is important to note, however, that while regional stability and development are important, stability does not take precedence over respect for democracy and human rights.
With the EU focusing in recent years more on internal reforms and integration than enlargement, the reduced prospects for EU accession among Western Balkans countries created a vacuum that other players have sought to exploit. In this regard, we welcome the renewed EU commitment to the Western Balkan region, and we encourage the normalisation of Serbia-Kosovo relations through the Brussels Dialogue. And while we respect Serbia’s policy of military neutrality, we believe that NATO can contribute positively to stability and security in the region.
How have increased stability and implemented reforms influenced Canadian business interests in Serbia?
Recent reforms implemented by the Government of Serbia, including as part of the EU accession process, have led to new business-related legislation and a more predictable investment environment. The country’s macroeconomic results, and especially its fiscal position, have improved, and international financial institutions have recognised the government’s role in this. This, in turn, has increased Serbia’s economic credibility in international markets and made it a more attractive destination for investment. This credibility, along with other positive factors like a well-educated and skilled workforce, a good geographic position and industrial infrastructure, as well as a growing high-tech sector, is increasing the interest among Canadian companies looking to do business here. Our Embassy actively promotes Serbia as a destination for Canadian companies.
As a country with a long tradition of liberal democracy, there are many aspects of Canada’s contemporary political system that could be applied usefully in Serbia.
What are the economic issues that occupy your time the most, considering the interests of Canadian companies present in the country?
Canadian companies are looking for business environments which demonstrate respect for the rule of law, stability and predictability, in addition to other key factors like infrastructure and proximity to major markets. The Canadian business portfolio in Serbia is large and expanding.
The mining sector is the front runner of Canada’s economic presence in Serbia. There are a number of Canadian companies engaged in mining exploration, with one – Nevsun Resources – set to reach an important milestone in June, when it will hold a ground-breaking ceremony to launch construction of the Čukaru Peki mine in eastern Serbia. We also have a strong presence in other sectors such, as ICT, agriculture and agri-food, pharmaceuticals and light manufacturing.
Serbia and Canada signed a bilateral Air Transport Agreement yesterday, following years of negotiations. Why did this process take so long and what would be the practical implications of this agreement?
In fact, while it did take some time to negotiate the Air Traffic Agreement, it has been in administrative effect for some years already. The practical implications of this agreement in the future will depend, in part, on Air Serbia’s interest in introducing a direct flight between our two countries. This would benefit the transport of people and goods and would be welcomed by the large Serbian diaspora in Canada.
A number of treaties have been signed-in recent years to strengthen economic relations and benefit individual citizens. Which areas still need policymakers’ attention?
– We have a number of bilateral Canada-Serbia agreements in place that benefit our business relations, as well as individual citizens. These include a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), a Double Taxation Agreement, a Social Security Agreement and, most recently, an Air Transport Agreement.
Beyond treaties and agreements, of course, there are other ways in which our economic relations can be strengthened. These include continued reforms around more efficient settlements of business disputes, respect for property rights, the rule of law, and other aspects of good governance that benefit the business environment.