The FINANCIAL — President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Sir Suma Chakrabarti, visited Serbia on 31 August-1 September 2016, ending his regional tour of the Western Balkans.
On 30-31 August he visited Bosnia and Herzegovina. In late July, he visited Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro. He is planning to visit FYR Macedonia in the coming months.
During his visit to Serbia the EBRD President met with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and the government, including ministers of transport, finance, energy, economy, public administration, agriculture, EU integration, and the mayor of Belgrade.
He delivered a speech in the country’s parliament, the National Assembly, arguing strongly in favour of internationalist values and continued economic integration, regionally and globally. He emphasised the importance of EU approximation for Serbia and the Western Balkans.
Sir Suma also met with representatives of the diplomatic, financial and business communities, according to EBRD.
In the conversation with Prime Minister Vucic the main topics of discussion were Serbia’s economic progress and EBRD support for the Serbian economy through investments and policy dialogue. The two leaders also discussed the importance of supporting regional and European integration.
Sir Suma said: “This is my fourth visit to Serbia; the country is very important to the EBRD and to me as the President. It is one of our benchmark relationships. Provided that reforms continue, I believe there is potential to increase EBRD investment in Serbia and to make it one of our top five investment destinations.”
The EBRD President noted that Serbia had opened four chapters in its EU accession negotiations, and said the EU dimension and the IMF programme are important anchors for further reform. The EBRD, he said, will continue to work with Serbia to build up infrastructure links with the region and the wider Europe as part of the EU connectivity agenda, and to better leverage EU pre-accession funds.
The President also offered to do more to work with Serbia in terms of improving the investment climate, an area where the EBRD is already cooperating with Serbia through the MOU signed in 2015.
Sir Suma said the Bank wants to expand lending and advice for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and discussed possible donor financing from the Serbian government for SME support programmes. He and Prime Minister Vucic discussed Serbian agribusiness and innovative ways to increase financing to the sector, which traditionally has had insufficient access to bank lending.
The cooperation with the City of Belgrade – already the EBRD’s largest municipal client in all EBRD countries of operations – will grow, President Chakrabarti promised.
A successful privatisation of Komercijalna banka (KB), and further deep reform at the energy provider EPS and the utility Serbia Gas, were named as important positive signals for investors.
At a press conference following the meeting, the Prime Minister praised the successful cooperation with the EBRD and said that he pledged to work with the Bank to speed up disbursements for approved projects. He thanked the EBRD team for the close cooperation with the country.
Sir Suma added that the Serbian leadership played a big role in the regional cooperation dialogue at the prime ministerial level which was started by the EBRD at its Western Balkans Investment Summit in London in 2014.
In conversations with entrepreneurs and representatives of the banking sector, Sir Suma discussed the need to continue structural reforms, develop local capital markets, promote lending in local currency, and increase the competitiveness of local companies, especially in the agribusiness sector. The EBRD is planning to issue its first local currency bond in Serbia within months.
His interview with N1, the CNN affiliate channel, summed up the visit to the country and the region.
To date, the EBRD has invested over € 4.4 billion in 204 projects and provided business advice to over 750 SMEs in Serbia. The Bank has invested over €9.5 billion in the Western Balkans.