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NEWS 27 Oct 16

Serbia, Bosnia Open Joint Trade Office in Turkey

Bosnia and Serbia have opened a joint office in Istanbul, Turkey, hoping to stimulate trade between the three countries and Turkish investment.

Eleanor Rose, Milivoje Pantovic
Sarajevo, Belgrade
Rasim Ljajic, Nihat Zeybekci and Mirko Sarovic. Photo: Anadolu

Serbia and Bosnia opened a joint trade and tourism office in Istanbul on Wednesday and promised to update their free-trade agreement as the two countries sought to woo Turkish investors and increase trade. 

Bosnian Minister of Foreign Trade Mirko Sarovic, Serbian Trade Minister Rasim Ljajic and Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci opened the new bureau the same day as making fresh commitments to trade cooperation, including a memorandum of understanding.

Wednesday also saw a trilateral business forum in Istanbul attended by about 150 businessmen from the three countries, including representatives of 19 companies from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Wednesday’s activities gave “a strong positive signal to our entrepreneurs”, Sarovic said after signing the memorandum, according to Republika Srpska-based news agency SRNA.

Sarovic claimed annual trade with Turkey had swelled to US$ 600 million in 2015 [about 550 million euros] but said he would like to see it hit the billion-dollar mark.

Meanwhile, Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said the office itself was a significant development.

“I do not consider it symbolic, but technically a very important step,” he said, according to Turkey's Anadolu Agency.

Zeybekci said the current free-trade agreement between the countries was not wide enough, and the three nations had agreed to update it – perhaps as soon as 2017.

He said Turkey was keen to invest in infrastructure between Bosnia and Serbia, such as railways and highways.

Renewable energy, tourism, agriculture and livestock were also areas of strong interest, he added. 

Serbia's Rasim Ljajic said the joint office would help bring Serbia closer to its trade targets. 

“We are working intensively on modifying the free-trade agreement and our wish is that as many products as possible get on the no-tax regime, so we can enlarge our commercial exchange,” he said in Istanbul, according to the Serbian daily Politika.

Ljajic said that during 2015, trade between Serbia and Turkey was worth more than 745 million euros and that the first eight months of 2016 saw an increase of 11 per cent.

“We are getting to the goal we established two years ago, for one billion [euros'] worth of trade,” Ljajic said.

Economic analyst Igor Gavran said the joint office had been talked about in Bosnia for some time, and the fact that Turkey had been keen to facilitate the venture was indeed significant.

Barriers to investment in Bosnia include the country's complex administration, which is split into entity, cantonal and municipal levels, as well as poor representation abroad, he told BIRN. 

“Economic diplomacy in Bosnian embassies around the world is almost completely worthless,” he said. “This office might benefit Bosnian companies by providing that kind of support and services that normally embassies would provide.” 

Exports from Bosnia to Turkey in the past year were healthy, Gavran added, particularly in the areas of sugar, meat and cooking oil, but he said Turkish investments in Bosnia were “rare” so far. 

Serbia had a bigger market and simpler government system and had done better, he noted, pointing to Turkish investment in Teklas, a car-parts company that will soon employ 1,200 people in Serbia. 

“Since Bosnia is actually more specialized in car parts production than Serbia, this is clear proof of how much better Serbia is in attracting investments, even if they don't have natural advantages in a particular field,” he said. 

The head of the Turkish-Serbian Economic Council, Aleksandar Medjedovic, meanwhile told Anadolu Agency that Turkish investments in Serbia had increased multiple times, and that the situation in Bosnia was also “good”.

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