China, Serbia sign free trade deal

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Serbia and China signed a free trade agreement on Tuesday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said, as Beijing seeks to shore up alliances amid tensions with Western powers.

Vucic hailed the deal with his country’s second-largest foreign trade partner, saying on Instagram that it “opens new perspectives in relations between our countries”.

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“This is a major step forward for us,”he told Serbian reporters in Beijing, where the deal was signed at a forum on the Chinese landmark Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Serbian leader said he hoped the agreement would enter into force by May or June next year.

Details of the agreement were not immediately known, but Vucic said it would notably benefit Serbian producers of fruits, honey as well as winemakers.

Vucic, who travelled to Beijing instead of attending a Balkan summit in the Albanian capital Tirana on Monday, is expected to call early elections in the coming weeks.

Beijing has invested billions in Serbia and neighboring Balkan countries in recent years, hoping to expand its economic footprint in central and eastern Europe.

In September, Belgrade said that Chinese state-owned company Zijin Mining will invest $3.8 billion into the mining complex in the eastern city of Bor.

Serbia, which aspires to join the European Union, has been quick to cash in on China’s interest, with Belgrade seeking to court a range of investors amid the ongoing tug of war between the East and West over influence in the Balkans.

Last year, around a third of foreign investments in Serbia came from Chinese investments, amounting to nearly 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion), according to Belgrade’s figures.

In 2022, China was Serbia’s second largest foreign trade partner, after Germany, with the volume of trade between the two countries totaling $6.15 billion.

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