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Euractiv | 3 November 2023
New Serbia-China trade deal violates EU accession rules, but is celebrated anyway
By Jelena Jevtić
The free trade agreement Serbia signed with China on 17 October, which is being hailed by Serbian politicians – along with all other agreements signed that day – will cease to apply on the day Serbia becomes a member of the EU, Commission spokesman Peter Stano said.
This was confirmed by Jelena Grubor Stefanović, the representative of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.
“The rule that Serbia will have to exit the trade agreement with China upon joining the EU does not apply exclusively to China but includes all third-party countries,” Stefanović said.
According to Stefanović, both parties were aware of this fact before the negotiations even began, calling into question what benefit there could have been for Serbia’s government to push for such an agreement in the first place.
The benefit for China, on the other hand, is much clearer.
The Free Trade Agreement with Serbia is the first that China has concluded with a country in central or eastern Europe, a region that is otherwise turning its back on Beijing.
Serbia’s accession process still has a way to go, with 22 out of 35 chapters opened so far and only two provisionally closed.
But during her visit to Belgrade on Tuesday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, while making clear that she sees Serbia’s place in the EU, also told Serbia: “We want you to take the next steps to come closer to us, including in foreign policy”, where the EU has exclusive competence on trade agreements with third countries.
She also referred to sanctions against Russia, which Serbia has refused to enforce so far, being the only European country to do so.
Serbia’s new trade deal with China could lead to increases with its second-largest trading partner, although this pales in comparison to the EU, which currently accounts for 60.3% of Serbia’s foreign trade, compared to China’s current share of 8.9%.