Serbia and Canada: new reasons for optimism

| October 26, 2011 | 0 Comments

Bilateral relations between Serbia and Canada are almost a century old. The first consulate general opened in Montreal in 1922, and the Ottawa legation in 1941; it became an embassy 10 years later.
Relations had their ups and downs with periods of mutual understanding and dynamic development followed by periods of stagnation and visible tensions.
Serbia and Canada were allies in both world wars and since have been developing more fruitful bilateral relations and cooperation. However, there have been hard times. In 1999, the NATO bombing of Belgrade — and Canada’s strong participation in the attack — resulted in the most challenging time in bilateral relations between Serbia and Canada, but after democratic changes began in Serbia in October 2000, relations started to recover.

National Bank of Serbia

National Bank of Serbia

Unfortunately, Canada’s decision in 2008 to recognize the unilateral secession of the Serbian province of Kosovo did not help to hasten a better relationship.
However, as a small country, led by pragmatic necessity to look forward, Serbia is working hard to develop a better image and good relationships with all countries of the world. It aims to recover trust and co-operation with its neighbours, and to continue the process of integration into the European Union and other Euro-Atlantic structures.
Serbia also seeks to continue to develop good relations and mutually beneficial cooperation with Canada, an objective based on the fact that Canada is a member of G8 and NATO with a strong presence over the past 20 years, until recently, in the Balkans region. From Canada, one of the most developed countries, we expect more significant foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Serbian economy. After all, Serbia and Canada enjoy strong people-to-people relationships thanks to an estimated 200,000 people of Serbian origin living in Canada.
Both countries express interest in intensifying high-level political dialogue. Several forthcoming important visits in both directions may stimulate further development of our bilateral cooperation.
At this point, merchandise trade between Serbia and Canada is hardly more than symbolic. In 2010, Canada-Serbia bilateral merchandise trade totaled some US$44 million ($29.4 million in 2009), consisting of $8.85 million ($10.3 million in 2009) in Serbian exports to Canada, and $35.2 million ($19.1 million in 2009) in imports from Canada. Canada is not among major partners of imports for Serbia, nor is it a major export destination.
At the provincial level, exports to Serbia originate mostly from Ontario and Quebec.
Major import products from Canada to Serbia include live animals, energy and related machinery and equipment, pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles and parts, organic chemicals, electrical goods, electronics and vegetables.
Major export products from Serbia to Canada include copper, other metal articles, furniture, prefab buildings, iron goods, steel, fruits and nuts, clothing, apparel, footwear, beverages and spirits.
Canadian capital investments into the Serbian economy amount to only $150 million, but there is a steady and promising increase. These investments are primarily in agriculture ($50 million), in mining ($50 million), in exploration of copper and other minerals and in telecommunications and information technology ($10 million).
There is a strong possibility that the next significant Canadian investment in Serbia will be in construction of electric power stations. As well, a number of Canadian companies are interested in further investments in agriculture and food processing, mining, transportation infrastructure, telecommunications and information technology.
It would be of great value to the Serbian economy if large Canadian companies would recognize opportunities and incentives offered by Serbia for investments in the aviation industry, auto industry and the agriculture machinery industry. Serbia is interested in the Canadian experience in renewable energy sources, commercialization of bio-mass and the rational use of thermo- and hydro-electric power stations.
Further improvement of Serbian business rating at Export Development Canada and Canadian banks will be an additional encouragement to the Canadian business community to consider Serbia and its region as a potential market.
A significant booster to faster development of economic cooperation would be ratification of a few important bilateral agreements, for example, on aviation and social security, which are of particular interest to Canadians of Serbian origin. Some of these Canadians are considering a number of business ventures that will link their Canadian experience with Serbian incentives in new investments.
A few weeks ago, we got assurances from the Canadian side that the agreements on social security and avoidance of double taxation are being prepared for signing. It is now up to both sides to assure a fast-track ratification process.
If we continue with hard work and mutual understanding, there is good reason to look with optimism on the future of bilateral relations between Serbia and Canada. The embassy will do its best to achieve this goal.

Zoran Veljic is Serbia’s ambassador to Canada. Reach him at ambassador@
serbianembassy.ca or 613-233-6289/80.

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