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Overcoming Barriers And Embracing Opportunities

Slobodan Cvetković, Minister Of Economy Of Serbia

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Investors in the Western Balkans can access a 20-million-strong consumer base and cross-border value chain prospects, thus bolstering the region’s economic attractiveness and EU trade relations

The Western Balkan region has certainly made significant progress on the deepening of regional integration over recent years, but we still face several barriers that hinder economic cooperation. One of the primary challenges is the historical legacy of political tensions and regulatory fragmentation. These issues can sometimes overshadow economic cooperation, making it more difficult to build trust and partnerships ~ says, Serbian Economy Minister Slobodan Cvetković, with whom we discussed the challenges and opportunities of regional economic cooperation and the crucial role of EU support in strengthening ties between the Western Balkans and the European market.

Minister Cvetković believes that the aforementioned barriers can be overcome through joint efforts. “The commitment to the European integration process of all Western Balkan nations serves as a unifying force. By focusing on common goals and shared values, we can work together to address all issues and build a brighter economic future for our region,” explains our interlocutor.

EU support can play a pivotal role in strengthening links between the Western Balkan nations and the European market

In order to further promote economic cooperation, the Western Balkan countries need to continue improving their regulatory environment, reducing trade barriers and enhancing the ease of doing business across the region. Collaboration on infrastructure development, energy projects and the harmonising of regulations can make a significant difference in overcoming these challenges and boosting economic growth.

This includes implementing agreements and initiatives like the Regional Economic Area and CEFTA, which aim of developing the Western Balkans into an area where not only goods and services can move without obstacles, but also investments and skilled workers, adds Cvetković. “This scales up the market available to potential investors in the region: access to almost 20 million consumers from a single base and opportunities to create value chains across borders, which also improves the Western Balkan’s economic attractiveness by taking advantage of trade relations with the EU.”

EU support is invaluable when it comes to strengthening links between the Western Balkan nations (WB6) and the European market. By providing its political, technical and financial help, the EU plays a pivotal role in our efforts to achieve this objective. There are several domains where this support can be particularly beneficial, and I would firstly mention the transport network. Investment in the improvement of transport infrastructure is essential. The EU’s support for modernising road and rail networks, as well as enhancing connectivity through initiatives like the Berlin Process, can significantly boost trade and regional integration. Furthermore, access to European funds – especially through programmes like IPA (Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance) – is crucial to the development of the WB6 nations.

These funds can be directed towards various projects, including infrastructure, environmental sustainability and the development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Another important area relates to energy and the environment. Collaboration on energy projects, such as building interconnections and improving energy efficiency, can enhance energy security and promote sustainable development. Moreover, support for environmental protection and in the meeting of EU standards is essential for accession, particularly in green energy, innovation and technology sectors.

Collaborative efforts aimed at enhancing the regulatory environment and reducing trade barriers are key to stimulating economic growth and regional integration

Furthermore, the digital sector offers substantial growth and innovation potential. EU support to enhance digital infrastructure and foster a digital economy is critical to our region’s competitiveness.

I would also like to stress the important of economic reforms, where the EU can provide technical assistance and expertise in implementing economic reforms, including those that improve the business environment and enhance regulatory frameworks. This can further strengthen our ties with the EU and create an environment more conducive to trade and investment.

One also has to mention education and research, where collaboration on education and research programmes, as well as facilitating academic and student exchanges, can promote innovation and the development of human capital.

EU support across these domains can play a pivotal role in strengthening the links between the Western Balkan nations and the European market, reiterates Cvetković, concluding that this “will not only help us achieve economic convergence, but also bring greater political stability and prosperity to the region”.

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