Western Balkan Economies Seek Faster, Safer Trade Together

BELGRADE, May 16, 2023 -- The six economies of the Western Balkans can become more competitive and grow faster if they deepen trade integration, according to partners at a capacity-building conference hosted in Belgrade today. The conference was convened by the World Bank Group, USAID, and the Swiss government, represented by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which together are supporting Western Balkan economies in strengthening their institutional capacity, protocols, and procedures to make the flow of goods across borders easier, faster, and safer.

"Regional economic integration through trade and connectivity remains a key driver of economic growth and shared prosperity for the Western Balkans,'' said Nicola Pontara, World Bank Country Manager for Serbia. "It can help the region pool national resources, achieve scale economies, and create a more attractive and competitive economic environment. Country-level reforms are important but coordinated investments and reforms across the region will amplify economic gains.''

The support is part of a capacity-building component under the Western Balkans Trade Facilitation Advisory Project, which is designed to facilitate regional trade harmonization and integration. The project supports participating countries to digitize services, improve risk management practices for exporting goods, and establish joint one-stop border controls to accelerate border clearance activities.

"The economic future of the Western Balkans depends on the ability of the respective governments to facilitate seamless trade - thus reducing the time and the cost of moving goods across borders. That is why the U. S. Government supports efforts to harmonize procedures and practices with EU and international standards and that enhance mutual cross-border cooperation,'' US Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill said.

Under the project, support has been coordinated with the World Trade Organization, the World Customs Organization, UNCTAD and the CEFTA Secretariat, whose experts met with members of the National Trade Facilitation Committees at the conference. The regional event offered an opportunity to share best practices and highlight practical tools for the committees to become more efficient in leading efforts to coordinate trade facilitation and reforms.

"Facilitation of trade plays an important role in the process of deeper economic integration. Our government is actively working and implementing activities foreseen in the Action Plan for Common Regional Market and the Open Balkan Initiative, as this is the key for boosting our economic relations as well. I would like to reiterate that regional economic integration is one of its main priorities for the Government of Serbia. After the EU, CEFTA is, traditionally, the second most important foreign trade partner of Serbia, with a share of 10.3% of the total exchange with the world in 2022. Total trade with CEFTA Parties in 2022 was almost 7 billion euros. Exports amounted to almost 4.9 billion euros and imports amounted to almost 2.1 billion euros," said Tomislav Momirović, the Minister of Trade of the Republic of Serbia.

The deeper trade integration of the Western Balkans economies also bolsters the region's aspirations to join the European Union. Enhanced trade opportunities and lower trade transaction costs will result in an improved business climate, attracting new investment and ultimately leading to more jobs, conference organizers said.

"For many years, Switzerland has contributed through various projects to strengthening Serbian capabilities in terms of trade policy and supporting negotiation and implementation of trade agreements. Swiss supported Program on Capacities for Trade Policies (C4TP) offers on-demand targeted support to governments to improve capacities in trade policy making and in conducting trade negotiations," Swiss Ambassador to Serbia Urs Schmid said.

National Trade Facilitation Committees are key platforms for planning and coordinating the national trade facilitation agenda and this conference explored how to further strengthen their role and involve the private sector in negotiating and implementing trade agreements.

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