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New trade deal between Serbia and China to be cancelled after Serbia’s EU accession

According to EU Commission spokesman Peter Stano, the Free Trade Agreement signed by Serbia with China on 17 October and so welcomed by Serbian politicians, as well as all other agreements signed on that day, will cease to apply on the day Serbia joins the EU.

Jelena Grubor Stefanović, representative of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, spoke to confirm this statement:

The rule that Serbia will have to exit the trade agreement with China upon joining the EU does not apply exclusively to China but includes all third-party countries.

Jelena Grubor Stefanović she assured that both sides had been aware of this fact even before the negotiations began, which casts doubt on the Serbian government’s benefit from such an agreement.

The benefit to China is much more noticeable. The free trade agreement with Serbia is the first that China has concluded with a Central and Eastern European country, a region with which Beijing has little international co-operation.

Serbia’s EU accession process is not yet finalised: 22 out of 35 chapters are opened so far and only two are tentatively closed. However, during her visit to Belgrade on Tuesday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made it clear that she saw Serbia’s place in the EU. She stated: “We want you to take the next steps to come closer to us, including in foreign policy”, where the EU has exclusive competence on trade agreements with third countries.

We want Serbia to join the EU. Being part of our Union is a unique opportunity, that no one else can match. Serbia should take the next steps to get closer to us, including in foreign policy — Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 31, 2023

Serbia’s new trade agreement with China could boost trade with its second largest trading partner, although this pales in comparison to the EU, which currently accounts for 60.3 per cent of Serbia’s foreign trade, while China’s share is 8.9 per cent.

On October 17, 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić convened in Beijing for the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, during which they celebrated the signing of several pivotal bilateral cooperation documents.

Serbia, as an active participant in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), notes China’s significant engagement, fostering an atmosphere of strategic co-operation and infrastructure development. The Memorandum of Understanding on Joint Promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative (2019) and the Plan for Bilateral Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (2018) consolidate the foundations of this engagement.

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