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Serbia hails Korean investors in silver jubilee celebration

For Korean companies looking westward to globalize their business, Serbia offers distinct advantages in economic and cultural attractiveness. Since the democratic revolution of late 2000, the enchanting Balkan country has made itself available to the world as a safe haven for investment.

The Serbian government has recently stepped up its efforts to promote the country’s stable political system, strategic geographic location, low operating costs, lucrative financial incentives, and young and skilled labor force ― buttressed by a treasure trove of bewitching attractions.

“As the largest Balkan state from former Yugoslavia in terms of population and territory, Serbia is open to multinational corporations with its favorable investment climate,” Serbian Ambassador to Korea Zoran Karazovic said in an interview with The Korea Herald last Tuesday at the embassy. Spurred by the economic downturn since 2009, Serbia has put in place a series of serious economic reforms to streamline the bureaucracy and restructure the state-owned enterprises."

Serbian Ambassador Zoran Karazovic (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
Serbian Ambassador Zoran Karazovic (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
At the center of Serbia’s reform agenda is its bid to join the European Union, currently under negotiation. “The idea is to strengthen the private sector and move people from public to private domain,” the ambassador stressed.

To mark 25 years of diplomatic relations between Serbia and Korea, the Serbian government recently issued a commemorative postage stamp. Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and Korean President Park Geun-hye exchanged congratulatory letters on Dec. 27, with both leaders expressing their desires to deepen and broaden bilateral economic cooperation.

The Serbian Embassy said that “Korean investments in Serbia stand at levels below the potentials of the two economies,” which led to “the intention of the Serbian government to radically change this situation for years to come.” Analysts say the general “Europeanization” of the Balkan region through EU membership will lay the groundwork for Korean companies’ smooth operation in the underinvested markets.

The Serbian government issued a commemorative postage stamp in December last year to mark the silver jubilee of bilateral ties between Serbia and Korea. (Serbian Embassy)
The Serbian government issued a commemorative postage stamp in December last year to mark the silver jubilee of bilateral ties between Serbia and Korea. (Serbian Embassy)
As of late 2014, bilateral trade volume stood at $250 million, with Korean investment in Serbia at $60 million. According to the embassy, the energy, infrastructure, manufacturing, electronics, information technology, agriculture and tourism sectors have high potential for further cooperation.

“Korean brands like Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia are well known in Serbia for their high-quality products at reasonable prices,” the embassy said, adding that Serbia could increase its exports of frozen fruits, wines and spirits to Korea.

The Korean automobile parts manufacturer Yura, with help from the Serbian Embassy in Seoul in 2010, opened four factories in Serbia, in which it currently employs over 5,000 locals and produces 125 million euros ($150 million) worth of goods per year.

Serbia’s high unemployment rates ― 20 percent overall and 50 percent for those younger than 30 as of 2013 ― mean that “many are keen to work for international companies with reasonable wage expectations,” according to Serbia Investment and Export Promotion Agency.

Serbia has one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in Europe at 15 percent, and its 13 free industrial zones offer numerous tax benefits. Serbia’s free-trade agreements with Russia, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Belarus would give Korean companies additional access to these markets, the embassy said.

“The double-headed eagle on our national flag symbolizes our openness toward the East and the West,” Karazovic explained. “As descendants of the former Byzantine Empire, we have always been receptive to outside influences while being located at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East.”

Karazovic noted that the growing number of globe-trotting Koreans will be enthralled by Serbia’s hidden gems: medieval monasteries and ancient Roman sites, nightclubs, theaters, the Danube, snow-covered mountains and hot springs. The Exit summer music festival in the city of Novi Sad and the annual Guca trumpet festival in the town of Guca attract international crowds, the ambassador said.

In 2015, the Serbian Embassy plans to host investment seminars for Korean investors as well as tourism promotion events and cultural exhibitions. Fresco replicas from Serbia’s medieval monasteries, designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, will be displayed to the Korean public.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)

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