BELGRADE, 2 December (BelTA) – There is a growing interest in closer ties between Belarus and Serbia, Belarus' Ambassador to Serbia Valery Brylev told reporters, BelTA has learned.
Valery Brylev noted that bilateral cooperation had its ups and downs in the past.
When did bilateral cooperation get a boost and does politics have to do with it?
“The first visits of our business people, the first supplies and joint projects paved the way for quite successful cooperation that went on till the 1999 bombing. The country was in dire straights. Back then we helped the Serbian people every way we could. During the bombing we shipped humanitarian cargo. Our president visited Belgrade in April 1999, which was a very important political event that also helped boost morale,” the ambassador said.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization that launched military action against Yugoslavia, did not guarantee safety to Aleksandr Lukashenko's plane. The Belarusian president arrived in Belgrade virtually to the sounds of bombs. According to the diplomat, many Serbs remember those days and appreciate the support provided by Belarus.
“We both have gone through a lot, we have seen many wars and losses. Therefore, Belarus and Serbia understand each other very well. This can be the reason why we are drawn to each other,” Valery Brylev said.
What was the reason for the setback in Belarus-Serbia cooperation?
In 2001-2012 bilateral cooperation kept losing momentum. The people who rose to power in Serbia did not view Belarus as a major partner. “Our political and economic cooperation went on, but there were no groundbreaking projects. There were no visits, our companies maintained virtually no ties over this period. There were objective reasons for that. We also bore some grudge against Serbia because they often voted against us in various international institutions,” the diplomat explained.
How has cooperation changed in recent years?
The ambassador describes the current stage of relations as favorable. Serbian socialists came to power and they seek to deepen ties not only with the West, but also with their eastern partners. “Our presidents meet regularly, two or three times a year at various events and hold talks. Our political dialogue, our relations are on the rise and the interest in bilateral cooperation is growing,” the diplomat said.
At the same time Valery Brylev admitted that when it comes to economic contacts, Belarus and Serbia are not there yet. “You can find many excuses, but the blame is on us. No one else is to blame for it. The two economic systems differ from each other. It is hard for us to launch some breakthrough, major projects. There were supply agreements – we executed 100% of them (trolleybuses, buses, tractors, joint ventures). However, Serbia has some specific needs. In some cases, we just fell short of the mark when we lost a tender or did something wrong during the application process. If do not take part in a tender, Turks can get a contract to supply a hundred buses.
What can be a boost for bilateral trade?
In 2015 Belarus-Serbia trade reached its all-time high - $250 million. In 2018 it stood at $148 million. “We shipped oil products worth $120-140 million. We do not supply them any more and it is hard to make up for it. However, we still can find something to fill this niche,” Valery Brylev believes.
In his words, the trade in consumer products or foodstuffs is still insignificant. “We trade in such products, but shipments are not regular. We need to open proprietary stores and invest money, but this entails risks. Both Belarus and Serbia are wary of them. When trade in consumer goods takes off, the overall trade between the two countries will rise,” the diplomat noted.
Earlier, the ambassador said that bilateral trade can hit $500 million in the coming years provided all agreements, contracts and deals signed will be implemented.
A reminder, Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko is set to pay an official visit to Serbia on 2-3 December. In Belgrade, Aleksandr Lukashenko is expected to hold talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. The presidents will focus on the prospects to increase trade, initiatives to set up joint companies and launch investment projects.