An INDIAN insight into Europe

India-Serbia Relations

4. 05. 2018

The End of the Cold War in 1990 ushered in rapid political changes especially in Europe and in particular in the Balkans which saw the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

The strong relations between both sides have weathered many political storms that transformed international politics after the end of Cold War in 1990. Although India has established diplomatic relations with the other Balkan states, New Delhi’s relations with Serbia, the successor state to Yugoslavia has continued to prosper and grow. In 1998, there was a Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Kosovo (a province in Southern Serbia), however, India did not recognise its independence and has also opposed its entry and membership in international organisations. Subsequently, in 2001, India cosponsored the proposal that led to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) being readmitted to the United Nations. In turn, Serbia has strongly supported India’s candidature in the UN Security Council and in other international bodies such as Re-election to the Council of International Maritime Organization (IMO) in Category B (2015,  Election to the International Law Commission (2017-2021), Re-election to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Election to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) 2017-2026 and Non-Permanent Membership of UNSC (2021-22). Although Serbia is a small country, its support for India’s membership in some of the most prestigious and important committees is not merely a vote, but as sign of championing and a reaffirmation of trust that New Delhi has also acknowledged.

Serbian Prime Minister visited India in January 2017, but beyond the political spectrum, both sides have sought to expand the economic and commercial relations. New Delhi and Belgrade have sought to strengthen the bilateral trade and in October 2016 an MOU was signed on Cooperation in the IT & Electronics sector. In 2016, bilateral trade between India and Serbia amounted to US$ 142.7 million with Indian exports at US$ 133.3 million and imports at US$ 9.4 million (MEA website). India’s exports to Serbia include Pharmaceutical and chemical products cotton yarn & textile, readymade garments & footwear, metals, iron & steel products, and imports include gun powder, cigarettes and tobacco, Industrial machinery and parts. In comparison to January-October 2016, bilateral trade between the two countries grew to USD 157.1 million during corresponding period in 2017 registering an increase of 32.2 per cent.

Serbia offers a gateway to India’s business given its association to CIS countries and Free Trade Agreements with Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. As Serbia negotiates to join the European Union in 2020, it offers Indian businesses the opportunity to invest in the country and benefit from establishing a presence at a lower investment today. In order to enhance connectivity between the two countries, Serbia and India initialled an Air Transport Agreement in October 2016.

In light of these developments, the visit by the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic is noteworthy. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj held talk with him on enhancing cooperation in the key areas of trade, investment, defence, and science and technology, IT, agriculture, civil aviation, pharma, food processing, education and culture. “Expanding a close and historic relationship” is how Swaraj reiterated on Thursday, as New Delhi and Belgrade will celebrate 70 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations next year. Earlier, Serbian Minister Dacic said that his country could learn a lot from initiatives such as Make in India, Start Up India, Smart Cities and Skill India while delivering a lecture at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA). He also emphasised that both sides could enhance trade to include tractor industry, agroindustry, automobile industry, defense industry, pharmaceuticals and filmmaking industry. At the consular level Serbia has recently unilaterally waived a visa requirement for Indians visiting for a short stay not exceeding 30 days as step to boost people to people contacts and business.