Delegation of the European Union to ASEAN

Serbia and the EU

29/01/2020 - 14:27
EU relations with Country

In October 2000 Serbia took a decisive step to embark on the road of European Integration.


During the Thessaloniki European Council in 2003, Serbia – along with 5 other Western Balkans countries – was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership.

In 2007, the government took credible measures to envigor co-operation with the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

In December 2009, the visa liberalization regime allowed Serbian citizens to travel within the Schengen area without a visa, showing that the process can deliver concrete results directly benefiting citizens. Just a couple of days later, President Tadic delivered to the Swedish presidency Serbia’s application for membership to the EU.

In February 2010, the Interim Agreement on Trade and trade related matters entered into force and in June the unfreezing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) was decided, putting Serbia solidly back on the path towards EU Membership. The SAA between the EU and Serbia entered into force in September 2013.

In March 2012 Serbia was granted EU candidate status.

In line with the decision of the European Council in June 2013 to open accession negotiations with Serbia, the Council adopted in December 2013 the negotiating framework and agreed to hold the 1st Intergovernmental Conference with Serbia in January 2014.

On 21 January 2014, the 1st Intergovernmental Conference took place, signaling the formal start of Serbia’s accession negotiations.

To date Serbia has opened 18 of accession negotiation chapters and provisionally closed 2 of them.

At the Thessaloniki European Council summit, the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) is confirmed as EU policy for the Western Balkan. The process was officially open by the European Council in October of 2004. Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia was signed in 2008. In 2009, the visa requirement was lifted for citizens of Serbia traveling to Schengen countries, while during the same year, Serbia officially applied for EU membership.

In 2010, EU members decided to start the SAA ratification process. In 2012, European Council confirmed Serbia as a candidate country, and a year later endorsed the Commission’s recommendation to open negotiations with Serbia. In 2013, the EU-Serbia Stabilization and Association Agreement entered into force.

First EU-Serbia Intergovernmental Conference was held in January of 2014, while in 2015, the first two of 35 negotiating chapters were opened. As of 2020, 18 negotiating chapters were opened, and Serbian authorities have announced that the process will continue using the new methodology agreed at the beginning of that year.

In 2018, The European Commission adopted a strategy for ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans’. Following this strategy, two summits were held with this topic, during the Presidencies of Bulgaria in 2018 and Croatia in 2020.

Serbia also participates in the INTERREG Cross Border Cooperation programmes. In 2014-2020 period, Serbia takes part in eight cross-border and transnational cooperation programmes: Hungary-Serbia; Romania-Serbia; Bulgaria-Serbia; Croatia-Serbia; Serbia-Bosnia and Herzegovina; Serbia-Montenegro; Adriatic-Ionian transnational programme and Danube transnational programme.

With more than EUR3 billion in non-refundable aid over the past two decades, the European Union is the biggest donor in Serbia and the country’s number one partner in supporting development and ongoing reforms. The long-standing financial assistance has been spent on programmes and projects which fostered development and concrete reforms, thus contributing to the well-being of citizens in many areas.

The history of the partnership dates back to March 2001 through CARDS or Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation Programme. In 2006, the CARDS Programme was replaced by the Instrument for Pre-accession (IPA) which ran until 2013. The IPA was followed by the IPA II which will bring Serbia EUR1.5 billion in grants in the period from 2014-2020 (some EUR200 million per year). The IPA II Programme is focused on the key areas which should facilitate Serbia’s preparation for its membership in the European Union.

Every year, Serbia and the EU sign the IPA financial agreement for projects whose implementation is planned in the coming period. The latest, as the first part of IPA 2020, is worth 70 million euros.

The EU approved assistance worth 93 million euros to Serbia in the fight against the COVID 19 pandemic. Also, the EU role was very important in mitigating the consequences of the 2014 floods. Serbia is the largest recipient of EU donations in the Western Balkans and one of the largest in the world.

Serbian producers exporting duty-free to the EU since 2000

Customs duties for all industrial and agricultural products coming from Serbia into the EU (aside from only a few agricultural products protected by the preferential tariff quotas) were abolished by the EU in 2000 with the application of the Autonomous Trade Measures. This regime was unilaterally granted by the EU to Serbia in 2000 and it represented the most extensive trade concessions regime that was ever granted by the EU to any country or group of countries. This meant that the EU had immediately abolished all customs duties and quantitative restrictions on imports of all industrial and agricultural products, aside from only a few agricultural products that are under the preferential tariff quota regime (sugar, baby beef, wine and a few types of fish).

Serbia gradually removing customs protection since 2009

For Serbia, the reduction of import duties for goods originating in the EU started nine years later in January 2009 when Serbia voluntarily initiated the implementation of the trade-related part of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, called the Interim Agreement. This agreement introduced asymmetric trade liberalisation in favour of Serbia for both industrial and agricultural products. In other words, since 2009, trade liberalisation on the Serbian side has been following a gradual and predictable six years’ liberalisation schedule, reflecting the level of sensitivity of products for Serbian producers. At the same time, a level playing field was being gradually introduced through the implementation of a predictable customs regime, anti-trust, state aid rules as well as the intellectual and industrial property protection regime in Serbia. This gradual trade liberalisation schedule was supposed to enable Serbian producers to progressively prepare for growing competition from the EU.

From January 1, 2014, Serbia and the EU have reached the sixth and final year of the trade liberalisation schedule. However, the most sensitive agricultural products for Serbian farmers will remain protected with customs duties until Serbia’s accession to the EU, notably all kinds of meat, yoghurt, butter, certain types of cheese, honey, certain vegetables and flour, with their tariff protection ranging from 20% to 50% of the most favoured nation (MFN) duty that Serbia applies to the rest of the world.

Entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement

The entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement in September 2013 further reinforced economic benefits of the Interim Agreement. A number of new provisions contributed to improving the business environment in Serbia, including provisions related to the free movement of capital, public procurement, standardisation, rights of establishment and supply of services. These policy changes provide a clearer and safer framework for investors and businesses, thus creating new momentum for the Serbian economy in attracting investments and improving the level playing field. The implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement is supposed to raise standards of doing business for Serbian companies, gradually preparing them to compete with the EU companies on the Single Market and increasing their competitiveness in the long run.

For Serbian citizens, this should generate more variety of choice and decrease the prices of goods. Finally, the gradual opening of the market for public tenders to EU companies should result in more competition in public procurement procedures and is supposed to consequently bring better value for money to Serbian tax payers – better public works, supplies and services with less tax payers’ money.

Benefits from Serbia – EU trade

Serbia has substantially benefited from trade and economic integration with the ​EU. The EU is traditionally Serbia’s key trading partner accounting for nearly 65% of Serbia’s total exports and around 64% of Serbia’s total imports of goods in 2019, with similar percentages persisting over the years. The value of Serbian exports to the EU more than tripled from nearly EUR 3.4 billion in 2009 to almost EUR 11.3 billion in 2019!

Serbia’s exports to the EU have been growing faster than imports from the EU. Furthermore, the coverage of imports by exports on the Serbian side vis-à-vis the EU has been improving; from below 50% in 2009 to over 74% in 2019 (74.3% of imports from the EU were covered by Serbian exports to the EU).

Individual EUMSs traditionally top the list of Serbia’s most important trade partners in goods, notably Italy and Germany, but also Romania as an important export destination and Hungary as important country of origin for Serbian imports. Serbia exported almost 19% of total exports to Italy alone and another 15.1% to Germany in 2019. On the import side, Serbia imported more than 22% of all imports from Germany, with Italy following at 14.9%.

Concerning trade in agricultural and food products, Serbia enjoys a surplus vis-à-vis the EU. The surplus reached its peak in 2016 at more than EUR 440 million. In 2019, trade in agricultural and food products again picked up, in comparison to 2018, with the surplus increasing to EUR 393 million.

The significance of the EU market as an export destination for Serbian agricultural products is considerable, as more than half of Serbia’s agricultural exports are shipped to the EU. In 2019, Serbian agricultural exports to the EU accounted for 51.3% of total agricultural exports. Serbia’s agricultural exports to the EU more than doubled over the past decade, steadily rising from EUR 640 million in 2009 to over EUR 1.6 billion in 2019. At the same time, Serbian imports of agricultural products from the EU increased from EUR 440 million in 2009 to over EUR 1.2 billion in 2019.

The EU Trade helpdesk – your online guide to access the EU market


What is it?

The EU Trade Helpdesk is a free online service created primarily to support interested exporters in third countries. It contains up-to-date essential information regarding all kinds of formalities that exporters need to be aware of to export to the EU market. The online database delivers country- and product-specific data in several languages.

What should every potential exporter to the EU know?

There is no mystery about how to access the EU market. The European Commission put in place a free internet tool including all the essential information the potential exporters may need. It is much more than a tariff database. Companies considering exports to the EU can check in a few clicks:

  • Duties they pay at EU customs.
  • Health, safety, marketing and technical standards their products need to meet.
  • Rules and proofs of origin: how to declare the economic nationality of their product when claiming duty discounts.
  • Internal taxes applied in the importing country.
  • Forms to send with their shipments.
  • Trade statistics related to their products.

The Export Helpdesk website and database are accessible from all around the world free of charge.

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