Serbia wants to reduce food supply chain disruptions caused by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war by cooperating with South Korea, said Serbian Ambassador to Korea Nemanja Grbic in an interview with The Korea Herald Monday.
Serbia has fertile soil and very favorable climatic features that could make it into a significant supplier of food to Korea, Grbic pointed out, referring to the current supply chain crisis.
He urged South Korea to share its agricultural knowledge and experiences of modern technological solutions with Serbia.
Grbic suggested that South Korean institutions conduct joint research with world-renowned scientific institutions in Serbia on fruit cultivation and other types of agriculture for mutual benefit.
"Serbia ranks among the world's three largest exporters of plums and raspberries, and exports huge amounts of apples,“ said Grbic pointing to the potential need for agricultural cooperation.
"Close to 30 percent of the total amount of corn imported by Korea comes from Serbia,“ Grbic added, highlighting Serbia as one of the largest exporters of agricultural products in Europe.
He stressed the export potential of high-quality Serbian meat products to the Korean market, primarily pork products such as pork belly, widely consumed in South Korea.
The top envoy, however, emphasized the need to overcome some of the existing phytosanitary obstacles and procedures, referring to negotiations for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on agricultural cooperation.
According to Grbic, ICT is the fastest-growing sector of the Serbian economy, having overtaken agriculture in terms of exports and revenue generation in 2021.
ICT recorded export growth of about 45 percent in 2022.
The export growth of the ICT sector has increased by seven times over the last 10 years, he said. The total amount of ICT exports in 2022 was 2.6 billion euros.
He cited the investments of Microsoft, Cisco, Bosch, Rivian, Epic Games and ZF in the ICT sector of the Serbian economy.
"It's the right time for Korean companies,“ said inviting Korea to open software and hardware research and development centers there.
"Serbia is the first country in Southeast Europe that founded the Institute for Artificial Intelligence," Grbic said, introducing his country’s focus on artificial intelligence and seeking potential cooperation with Korea.
For Korean companies, Serbia offers a quality and affordable workforce, stable political and economic conditions along with a duty-free export-friendly FTA network to a market of 1.3 billion people in the EU, the Eurasian Economic Union, the US, Japan, Australia, Southeast Europe and Turkey, according to him, listing reasons the country would be an outstanding investment destination for Korean companies.
He also stressed Serbia's simplified tax and investment incentive measures.
Grbic noted that Serbia was named the world's best destination for greenfield foreign direct investments in 2017 and 2019, and Europe's best in 2020, according to a Financial Times report.
He urged Korean companies to utilize the Serbian government’s generous incentives and policies, such as the lowest tax rates in Europe (corporate tax of 15 percent, personal income tax of 10 percent, value-added tax of 20 percent) and the most favorable prices of electricity for industrial production and office space rent, among others.
Grbic said that for investments over 8.5 million euros in projects that employ more than 100 people, Serbia offers a tax holiday for a period of 10 years.
"Subsidies amounting to 3,000 to 7,000 euros per workplace are foreseen,“ he said.
Official FTA negotiations between Serbia and Korea are expected to begin this year, he added.
Discussing the campaigns of Busan for the 2030 World Expo and of Belgrade for the Specialised Expo 2027/28, he applauded Korea for intensifying international and diplomatic efforts to gain the widest support.
Serbia submitted its application to the Bureau International des Expositions in 2022 to be the organizer of the Specialised Expo in Belgrade in 2027.
The Specialised Expo, also known as an International Recognised Exhibition, is a global event organized to respond to a precise challenge facing humanity.
In 2017, a Specialised Expo was held in Astana, Kazakhstan under the theme, "Future Energy," according to the BIE, the intergovernmental organization that has overseen and regulated world expos since 1931.
Serbian capital Belgrade -- one of 15 different names the city has had throughout its 7,000 years of tumultuous and rich history -- is one of the oldest settlements in Europe.