Serbia secures free trade agreement and €4bn in infrastructure contracts with China

Serbia secures free trade agreement and €4bn in infrastructure contracts with China
A Serbian delegation led by President Aleksandar Vucic has concluded a free trade agreement and signed several infrastructure contracts during a visit to China to participate in the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews October 18, 2023

A Serbian delegation led by President Aleksandar Vucic had a productive visit to China on October 17, where they concluded a free trade agreement and secured three substantial commercial agreements, collectively valued at €4bn.

In Beijing, Vucic met Chinese President Xi Jinping and participated in the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

In the presence of both leaders, a free trade agreement, which encompasses 10,412 Serbian products and 8,930 Chinese ones, was formally signed, marking a significant milestone in the bilateral relationship.

The agreement was signed by Serbian Minister of Trade Tomislav Momirovic and his Chinese counterpart, Minister of Trade Wang Wentao.

Vucic expressed his delight in an Instagram post, emphasising the positive impact this agreement will have on bilateral relations.

“I am very happy, honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to be in Beijing today. We are proud of our friendship and the results we achieved. The free trade agreement, which we are signing today, opens new vistas in the relations between our countries," Vucic said.

The two sides also signed a memorandum of understanding regarding exchange and collaboration in the realm of economic development policy and an MoU on the joint strengthening of industrial and investment co-operation.

Furthermore, a medium-term action plan was established for the collective implementation of the "Belt and Road" initiative between Serbia and China.

Infrastructure contracts worth €4bn signed

In a parallel development, Serbia signed three commercial agreements with Chinese companies that are set to lead to transformative infrastructure projects, with an estimated value of approximately €4bn.

Serbian Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure Goran Vesic said that these projects are expected to result in the construction of nearly 300 kilometres of new roads in Serbia.

The first contract concerns the high-speed roadway in the northern province of Vojvodina running from Backi Breg to Srpska Crnja with a total length of nearly 200 km.

This road will serve as a crucial link not only within the northern province of Vojvodina, but also connecting Hungary and Romania.

He further stressed that construction of the trunk road is slated to commence in the coming month, with construction permits already issued for the initial 5.5 km.

The second signed contract pertains to the construction of a motorway connecting Belgrade, Zrenjanin and Novi Sad, which will be 105 km in length. The design phase is nearing completion, and construction is anticipated to commence next year.

By connecting to the third motorway in the country, Novi Sad will achieve excellent transportation connectivity, Vesic underlined.

Additionally, the third signed contract involves the acquisition of five high-speed trains from China worth €54mn for the Belgrade-Budapest railway line.

Some of them, he added, will be operational by early 2025.

Meeting with Huawei

Serbian Minister of Information and Telecommunications Mihailo Jovanovic met with Huawei representatives during the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

The discussions primarily focused on enhancing collaboration between Huawei and the Serbian government, with special attention being paid to advancing optical infrastructure in rural areas of Serbia.

Jovanovic, part of the Serbian state delegation, highlighted Serbia's leading position in Southeast Europe in terms of optical coverage development.

He noted that over 75% of households in Serbia have access to high-speed internet. The ministry has initiated a project aiming to provide the remaining 25% of households in the most remote regions of Serbia with high-speed internet by the end of 2025, ensuring a more reliable internet connection, the Serbian government said in a statement.

The minister stressed Serbia's progress in becoming an ICT-driven nation over the last six years, with active efforts towards digitising public administration, bolstering infrastructure, establishing a State Data Centre, and creating a National Platform for Artificial Intelligence with a supercomputer.