There can be no successful European integration for our region if we, as neighbours in the Balkans, don’t first integrate in an economic sense. We are interconnected markets, and we are already seeing that the Open Balkan initiative is showing positive results in the fields of trade exchange and the labour market
The positive effects of linking the countries of the Western Balkans are extremely evident in the domain of the work of the Ministry of Internal and Foreign Trade. “During the short period that this initiative has existed, we have succeeded in abolishing a large number of taxes and certifications, as well as unnecessary administrative procedures at the borders, thereby reducing the operating costs of companies in the region. The results are such that the time required to export or import food products has been reduced by up to 50%, while the direct costs of taxes and charges have been cut by up to 80%, which has resulted in increasing the volume of the trade exchange in the “Open Balkan” region by almost 30%,” explains Serbian Internal and Foreign Trade Minister Tomislav Momirović.
When it comes to connecting in the area of creating a unified labour market, this initiative is expected to yield significant results.
“We are bearing witness to the fact that Serbia and the region are today confronted by a labour shortage and that we are increasingly seeing workers coming from the world’s most distant countries. On the one hand, this is an indicator that our economies have advanced, but it also prompts a question as to how we can overcome these challenges, which we haven’t previously faced,” says Momirović, explaining that the Open Balkan initiative itself is seen as providing a solution to the labour shortage issue.
The market inspection sector conducted 5,345 inspections in 2023, removing goods worth close to 10 million dinars
Minister Momirović announces that we are awaited by a further liberalising of the labour market by the end of summer, when workers from any of the three countries will be able, with “Open Balkan” identification numbers, to gain employment in these countries without any additional administrative barriers. “Our aim is to establish, as soon as possible, a unique identification number for all people on the market of Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania,” says Momirović.
What will be the most important steps you take in your capacity as chairman of the National Coordination Body for Trade Facilitation (NKTOT)?
For me, as a person who hails from the economy, the role of chairman of the National Coordination Body for Trade Facilitation is vitally important and I’ll do everything in the period ahead to ensure we achieve results that will be meaningful to our economy. The Ministry of Trade has placed high on its agenda the topic of reforms aimed at easing companies’ operations and increasing our country’s GDP. The Government of the Republic of Serbia strongly supports all economic and trade processes that target EU accession and strengthening regional economic cooperation. Moreover, negotiations are underway on free trade agreements with China, Egypt, the UAE and the Republic of Korea. We expect these agreements to contribute to further inflows of investments to Serbia.
Where do you see crucial barriers to trade that are hampering the further growth of foreign trade?
Our most important export market is the European Union, and our country also represents an important transit area which partners from the region use to trade with EU member states. For Serbia, long waiting times at borders for trucks transporting goods, particularly at border crossings with EU member states Hungary and Croatia, are an extremely important issue that impacts trade.
I must also underline the unilateral decisions of one of the trade partners in the Western Balkans that are leading to huge problems. Specifically, we have witnessed Priština deliberately making unilateral decisions that are intended to halt the free flow of goods and cause enormous damage to all companies trading in these lands. These kinds of decision are completely at odds with all European principles, which imply the free flow of people, goods, services and capital. The Government of the Republic of Serbia, together with its partners in the Western Balkans, is exerting every effort in an attempt to relax and enable the free flow of people and goods, all with the aim of achieving progress and the economic development of the Republic of Serbia, but also of the entire region. I remain hopeful that our European friends will be able to influence things returning to normal and enabling free trade.
What steps are you taking in order to simplify and reduce formalities related to foreign trade and how do these efforts involve interested members of the business community?
We define activities in close cooperation with representatives of the business community and in order for us to work together to improve conditions and remove obstacles to foreign trade. Representatives of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia, AmCham and the Foreign Investors Council are always present at all sessions of the NKTOT and their voice is always heard.
For me, the role of chairman of the National Coordination Body for Trade Facilitation is vitally important and I’ll do everything to ensure we achieve results that will be meaningful to our economy
We have extremely well-developed professional cooperation with representatives of the business community, at both a high and professional level, and we formulate NKTOT activities on the basis of their initiatives and proposals. Our objective is to reduce formalities, to switch as much as possible to an electronic system of operations for all border inspections, to harmonise the working hours of border inspections with all neighbouring countries and establish, where possible, the integrated management of border crossings, i.e., a so-called ‘one-stop shop’.
What are your plans for the further development of e-commerce?
E-commerce is experiencing dynamic growth in Serbia, and data suggest that around 4.5 million citizens will use these services by 2027. With an awareness of these stats and the fast-growing e-commerce trend in our country, we will take all the necessary steps to respond to all the challenges in this field. We will continue activities that imply raising consumer awareness and trust when it comes to e-commerce and will continue further encouraging cashless payments. We are paying special attention to monitoring trends on the EU market, where we are awaited by significant changes in the legislative field in order to enable our companies to export goods to this market through e-commerce channels.
There can be no successful European integration for our region if we, as neighbours in the Balkans, don’t first integrate in an economic sense
The Ministry of Trade has placed high on its agenda the topic of reforms aimed at easing companies’ operations and increasing our country’s GDP
The “Open Balkan” Initiative has enabled an up to 50% reduction in the time required to export or import food products among member countries