Western Balkan Economies Explore Easier, Faster, And Safer Trade Together

by Cristian Florescu

According to partners at a capacity-building conference hosted in Belgrade, it has been suggested that the six economies of the Western Balkans could enhance their competitiveness and accelerate growth by furthering their trade integration.

The World Bank Group, USAID, and the Swiss government, through the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, have come together to organize a conference aimed at assisting Western Balkan economies in enhancing their institutional capacity, protocols, and procedures. The ultimate goal is to facilitate the movement of goods across borders, making it more efficient, expedient, and secure.

Nicola Pontara, the World Bank Country Manager for Serbia, stated that regional economic integration through trade and connectivity is crucial for promoting economic growth and shared prosperity in the Western Balkans. It has the potential to enable the region to combine its national resources, achieve economies of scale, and establish a more competitive and appealing economic atmosphere. While country-specific reforms are necessary, coordinated investments and reforms across the region will enhance economic benefits.

The support provided is a crucial aspect of the capacity-building component within the Western Balkans Trade Facilitation Advisory Project. The project aims to foster regional trade harmonization and integration. It assists participating countries in the digitization of services, enhancing risk management practices for exporting products, and establishing joint one-stop border controls to expedite border clearance procedures.

According to US Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill, the ability of the respective governments to facilitate seamless trade is crucial for the economic future of the Western Balkans. Therefore, the U.S. Government supports efforts to harmonize procedures and practices with EU and international standards in order to enhance mutual cross-border cooperation and reduce the time and cost of moving goods across borders.

As part of the project, we were fortunate to have the support and collaboration of esteemed organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the World Customs Organization, UNCTAD, and the CEFTA Secretariat. Their experts had the opportunity to meet with members of the National Trade Facilitation Committees at the conference, where they shared valuable insights and practical tools. The regional event served as a platform to highlight best practices and enable the committees to enhance their efficiency in leading trade facilitation and reforms.

The facilitation of trade is an essential aspect of deeper economic integration, and our government is actively implementing measures outlined in the Action Plan for Common Regional Market and the Open Balkan Initiative. We recognize the importance of boosting our economic relations, and regional economic integration is a top priority for the Government of Serbia. In 2022, CEFTA was the second most significant foreign trade partner of Serbia, accounting for 10.3% of our total exchange with the world. Our total trade with CEFTA Parties in 2022 was almost 7 billion euros, with exports amounting to almost 4.9 billion euros and imports to almost 2.1 billion euros. We would like to express our commitment to further strengthening our economic ties with our CEFTA partners. These figures demonstrate the significance we place on our relationship, and we look forward to further collaboration in the future. These were the words of Tomislav Momirović, the Minister of Trade of the Republic of Serbia.

According to the conference organizers, the increased trade integration of the Western Balkans economies will help the region achieve its goal of joining the European Union. This will create better business opportunities and lower trade costs, which in turn will improve the business environment and attract new investments. Ultimately, this will result in the creation of more job opportunities.

Swiss Ambassador to Serbia, Urs Schmid, expressed gratitude for the long-standing partnership between Switzerland and Serbia, highlighting Switzerland’s contribution to various projects aimed at enhancing Serbia’s trade policy capabilities and supporting trade agreement negotiations. He also mentioned the Swiss-supported Program on Capacities for Trade Policies (C4TP), which provides tailored assistance to governments to improve their trade policy-making skills and negotiation abilities.

National Trade Facilitation Committees play a crucial role in planning and coordinating the national trade facilitation agenda. The conference aimed to enhance their effectiveness and explore ways to involve the private sector in the negotiation and implementation of trade agreements.

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