Remarks at 11th Annual Serbian Economic Summit
October 3, 2011
I want to thank the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Mr. Symeon Tsomokos for all their hard work in organizing and sponsoring this important conference - and for inviting me to speak here today.
The theme of this panel, “Serbia: A Strong Political and Economic Partner in Southeast Europe – Developing New and Valuable Connections,” is a timely one. This annual conference provides us all an opportunity to reflect on some of Serbia’s accomplishments and achievements in 2011, as well as to think about the important work which lies ahead in 2012.
One cannot speak about 2011 without recognizing the tremendous progress that has been made by the Serbian government in a wide variety of important areas – from advancing its European integration agenda to its productive political and economic engagement with other partners in the region.
Serbia should be very proud of its achievements in 2011. I offer my wholehearted congratulations to the Government of Serbia on its accomplishments, several of which I would like to highlight:
I extend my congratulations to the Serbian government for its successful apprehension of the last two remaining fugitives from the Hague Tribunal. This was an important achievement that underscores the government’s commitment to ensuring justice is achieved for all victims of war crimes.
Congratulations, also, for Serbia’s hard work in implementing the comprehensive Action Plan for obtaining a positive “avis” from the European Commission, including the recent adoption of an important new law on restitution.
The newly enacted Law on Restitution will help to redress the injustices of the past and serve as an important milestone in Serbia’s path to the European Union.
I commend the government for its effort in the Restitution Law to arrive at a fair and equitable resolution of the complex issues related to properties confiscated from their rightful owners during the Holocaust.
While the law is not perfect -- I understand that many restitution claimants are not satisfied -- I encourage the Government to continue working with claimants to address their legitimate concerns as the process of restituting property is implemented.
On the economic front, I applaud the National Assembly’s passage of important legislation, including a new Law on Energy, a new Patent Law, and a Law on Optical Discs.
I congratulate the Serbian Government on the successful conclusion of a new Precautionary Stand-By Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund, and for the impressive progress Serbia has made toward membership in the World Trade Organization.
Many of these accomplishments required difficult political decisions. The Government showed courage in making these hard, but necessary choices, and I can assure you that the United States fully supports you in making the tough decisions that will advance Serbia’s path to full integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.
Challenges remain, of course. But looking towards the rest of 2011 and 2012, we have much reason to be optimistic.
Serbia is on the right path. I believe we -- and by “we” I mean the U.S. government, the Serbian government, the EU and all of you assembled here -- are working toward a common goal – a prosperous Serbia that is fully integrated into European and global institutions.
Later this month, the European Commission will take the important step of delivering its formal opinion regarding Serbia’s application for EU membership. The United States has long supported Serbia’s EU aspirations, and we look forward to the EC’s opinion and Serbia’s future progress as it meets the necessary benchmarks for each step forward.
We strongly support the goal of Serbia’s EU membership, because Serbia’s integration into Europe will benefit not only Serbia, but also the entire region and Europe itself.
Now, of course, comes the difficult part: implementing all of the challenging domestic reforms and new laws that were outlined so effectively in the Government’s EU Action Plan. We recognize that this will not be easy. Implementation of new laws and other reforms will require a sustained and dedicated effort. But it is also a path filled with opportunity. And it is the surest way for Serbia to realize its own goals for a better and brighter future.
Serbia can use the benchmarks for EU membership and the models of EU legislation to speed its progress on the path to economic reform and deeper integration, not only into Europe, but also into the global economy and international trading system.
As Serbia and the EU work together on the path forward toward EU membership, they will have the continuing strong support of the United States, both politically and through our assistance programs which have already invested over $810 million in building a better future for Serbia.
Related to EU accession is the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. The United States fully supports the dialogue as a means to advancing peace and stability in southeastern Europe, and we credit the EU and the Governments of Serbia and Kosovo for the progress that has been achieved in the dialogue to date. We encourage the Governments of Serbia and Kosovo to focus on implementing the important agreements that have been reached in the dialogue so far, and to resume the dialogue as soon as possible so as to continue to engage productively to resolve additional issues of practical concern that affect the lives of people in the region.
At the same time as Serbia’s productive engagement with the European Union has grown, the United States’ bilateral relationship with Serbia has deepened since the last Economic Summit.
Over the last year, senior US officials -- including Secretary of State Clinton and a number of Congressional leaders -- have visited Belgrade to discuss a broad range of issues with senior Serbian officials.
More and more senior Serbian officials are traveling to the United States -- including President Tadic and Prime Minister Cvetkovic in recent months. These important visits have deepened our commitment to work together to achieve common goals, in both our political and economic relations.
More high level visits are in the planning stage. I look forward to joining Minister of Economy and Regional Development Ciric on a trade and investment promotion mission to the United States this December.
The mission reflects the joint commitment of American and Serbian officials to work together to strengthen our economic ties and to promote Serbia as an attractive and welcoming destination for American investors.
I am proud that many blue chip American companies have decided to invest in Serbia, and, as my joint mission with Minister Ciric shows, I am committed to working with the Serbian Government to attract even more U.S. investors.
And speaking of U.S. investments, I am happy to inform you that the value of U.S. foreign direct investment in Serbia now exceeds 1.6 billion dollars, about one hundred million dollars more than this time last year. And it continues to grow.
U.S investors in Serbia are active in a wide spectrum of industries -- information technologies and telecommunications, metallurgy, packaging, agriculture, food and beverages, automotive, real estate, and many others. Together, American firms and their subsidiaries directly employ over 8,000 Serbian citizens, and are engines of job creation and growth in many Serbian cities.
A number of American companies currently operating in Serbia have recently expanded their investments, or announced plans to do so.
For example, I joined Minister Ciric, Minister Dulic and other officials recently to celebrate the official opening of Ball Packaging’s second production line, an investment worth about 50 million dollars that created 40 new well-paying jobs.
And more American investors are coming. To cite a few examples:
Johnson Controls has announced that it will open a new factory in Kragujevac to supply automobile seats to the Fiat Zastava plant.
A customer service firm, SITEL, is now hiring for a new customer service call center in New Belgrade that will create at least 350 new jobs.
NCR is also now hiring for a new technical center to serve its customers that will create another 150 or more jobs.
Continental Wind Partners will invest $360 million in the first phase of a large-scale wind energy farm that will ultimately generate 300 megawatts of clean, renewable power. Continental plans to start construction by the end of next year.
Other potential investment projects are currently under discussion, and I am hopeful that we will be able to announce additional significant investments over the coming year.
And the U.S. Government is also investing in Serbia. We are investing $117 million in a new state of the art Embassy, employing hundreds of Serbians in the construction process, so that we will have a modern, environmentally-friendly platform from which to build further our relations.
With respect to bilateral trade, I noted at last year’s Economic Summit that the level of trade between the United States is far below its potential. The Embassy has been working hard over the last year to increase American exports to Serbia in accordance with President Obama’s National Export Initiative. I am very happy to report that we have achieved some significant successes, and I expect that 2011 trade figures will reflect that.
We also welcome more Serbian exports to the United States, and I am equally happy to report that new Serbian exporters, such as Mlekara Sabac, have entered the U.S. market over the last year.
Finally, I have spoken many times about one of my top priorities -- Serbia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Our bilateral WTO negotiations with Serbia have achieved significant progress over the past year and are now at an advanced stage. Multilateral discussions in Geneva on Serbia’s WTO application have also significantly narrowed the list of outstanding issues. I believe that we are finally entering the “end game” for Serbia’s accession, and I hope that we can celebrate Serbia’s WTO membership at next year’s Economic Summit.
The WTO talks address a wide range of issues, but I would like to clarify one important point. There has been a good deal of debate about Serbia’s total ban on imports of agricultural biotechnology products -- commonly called “GMOs.” There is a common misperception that lifting this ban is a bilateral issue between the United States and Serbia. That is not the case. This is a non-negotiable multilateral issue and a matter of aligning Serbian legislation to conform to WTO rules. Those rules prohibit blanket import or export bans on any product, except in very narrowly defined circumstances. Simply put, Serbia must adapt its laws to the rules of the international trading system before it can accede to the WTO.
To conclude, I am confident that we can build on the successes of the last year to achieve even more this coming year. I look forward to working with our partners and friends in the Serbian Government and the private sector -- and with all of you -- to help realize our common vision of a peaceful, prosperous future for Serbia. While there is much work to be done, I am confident that with goodwill and determination -- and perhaps a bit of luck -- we can achieve great things. We remain committed to working with Serbia to help build a better future for this country for the Serbian people, and for this region.
Once again, my sincere thanks for the opportunity to join you today.