UPDATE: Aug 02, 2022
All Efforts to Join the EU, Continuing Progress in the Implementation of the Reforms
- The year 2022 marks the 140th anniversary of the Japan-Serbia Friendship. Please tell us about the history of the bilateral relationship and the anniversary events.
The friendship was forged during the time of the rise of nation states in Europe and the opening of Japan to the world. In 1882, Serbian king Milan I Obrenovic informed Japanese emperor Mutsuhito about the renewed independence of the Kingdom of Serbia, to which the Meiji reformer replied “with deepest pleasure” by recognizing its sovereignty and referring to the Serbian king as his ‘Dear Friend’.
Despite the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have managed to jointly produce an anniversary logo, and to focus on events and projects that would bring our people and communities together. Our Embassy has organized or supported a number of lectures, cultural gatherings and initiatives aimed to promote the spirit of solidarity and mutual understanding, as the core of our friendship. Special attention is given to further relations with prefectures and cities around Japan, building on the positive experience from the Tokyo Olympics, but also on existing business and historical ties. We are especially proud that in 2022 the Serbian town of Sabac and Fujimi from Saitama prefecture are celebrating their jubilee, 40 years of sister city relations.
- Serbia’s GDP growth reached 6.5% last year and is expected to reach 4.5% in 2022. What are the reasons for this strong performance and what do you expect from Japan particularly to continue growing?
In 2021, the Republic of Serbia’s growth, measured by the real movement of GDP, reached 7.5 %, compared to 2020, and its gold reserves recorded an all time high. In the years prior to pandemic, Serbia strived to facilitate a stable and peaceful environment suitable for steady economic development and better living standards, with lower public debt, stable inflation rates and foreign exchange rates. This was then followed with three significant packages of measures by the Government to support the economy and its citizens in the crisis caused by the pandemic, to the value of 17.4% of GDP. Macroeconomic and financial stability, economic resilience, responsible policies and growth prospects have led to the confirmation of Serbia’s credit ratings as BB+ and Ba2.
Furthermore, Serbia is actively dedicated to create a stimulative investment and business environment, while adopting and implementing necessary legal frameworks and structural reforms. One such example is the signing of the Convention between Japan and Serbia for the Elimination of Double Taxation, which entered into force on December 5, 2021. This positive environment has led to the increase of FDI which, according to UNCTAD, totaled 15 billion EUR in the period 2016-2020, while in the last 10 years, Serbia has attracted on average 57% of all FDI in the region of South East Europe. We are proud that more and more Japanese companies, especially those in the automotive industry such as Nidec and Toyo Tires, have decided to invest in our industrial zones.
However, Serbia is always looking for additional capacity for the growth, and recognizes the value of new technologies. In 2021, the exports of Serbia in the IT sector of Serbian economy was close to 2 billion EUR, and the surplus around 1 billion EUR. Focus on digitalization is visible in the recent decision to establish the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Serbia as a focal point for advancing innovation and industrial transformation, with AI and bioengineering as its key areas.
- Serbia applied to join the European Union (EU) in 2009 and the negotiations began in January 2014 as a candidate country. Could you please explain what is needed to achieve Serbia’s accession and what will be the specific benefits for Serbia as a member?
Accession to the EU has remained Serbia’s priority, and we are fully committed to the preparations. Our citizens, particularly the youth, highly regard the fundamental values and objectives of the EU such as economic prosperity, rule of law, environmental protection, free travel, and the fight against corruption. Moreover, the EU is by far the biggest investor, biggest trade partner and biggest donor to Serbia. Only joint trade accounts for two-thirds, that is over 60% of Serbia’s total trade. Great incentive for further commitments and reforms towards the EU membership was the opening of four very challenging negotiating chapters in December 2021, organized according to the new enlargement methodologyunder thematic Cluster 4 on the Green Agenda and Sustainable Connectivity.The decision was at the same time a clear signal that Serbia has made significant progress in this area in the previous period. Continuing progress in the implementation of the reforms will allow us to open new accession clusters. One such effort was recently done in the form of a referendum that allowed changing the Constitution in the field of justice.