Green light for the export of Serbian apple fruit trees to the EU market

Following an EU regulative change that hindered Serbian apple sappling export to the EU, a wide cooperation was launched to aid the flourishing sector.

A nursery of apple tree sapplings
©Mila Mirkovic
Serbian nurseries produce sapplings sold in many countries in Eastern Europe - Many Dutch companies have also transferred a large part of their production to Serbia.

Serbia has a long tradition in the production of rootstocks and its farmers are well known for their grafting skills. The main markets for Serbian grafted plants are the markets of Eastern European countries, as well as countries of the previous Soviet Union, like Georgia, Azerbaijan etc. This subsector has expanded substantially in the last couple of years. Reasons are numerous. Serbian companies started exporting to the Western European countries, local fruit production became more professional and foreign companies started to open their subsidiaries in Serbia in order to make use of local skillful labor force and favorable trade agreements Serbia has with third markets. Several Dutch fruit tree nurseries recognized the opportunity and transferred partly their production to Serbia. Vast agriculture area that could be used for production of virus-free certified planting material triggered some of the Dutch companies to transfer complete production to Serbia, keeping only R&D in the Netherlands.

Being a country in the accession process to the EU, Serbia is harmonizing its legislation with the EU acquies. Not many realize, the accession process is a “moving target”. The EU also adjusts its regulation to fit the vibrant EU and the global market. Changes in legislation can generate completely new business environment and trade rules. That is exactly what happened two years ago.

The EU Regulation 2016/2031 introduced a concept of "high risk plants, plant products and other objects". The follow up to this legislative document was and implementing regulation adopted in December 2018 that came into force a year later. That legislative act banned import of ”high risk plants” to the EU from third markets. Just one document had put at risk the whole nursery sector in Serbia. An export market worth more than €20 million was swept away, also with consequences for Dutch investments.   

A nursery of apple tree sapplings
©Mila Mirkovic
The cooperation in compiling the "country dossier" involved multiple stakeholders from the business sector, public administration and the international sphere.

An umbrella organization was formed, an expert was hired to assist Serbian authorities in compiling a technical file. The Serbian Plant Protection Directorate provided the scientific guarantees that Serbia has capacity and capability to diminish the risk of certain pests on its territory. All necessary data was gathered and assembled in the “country dossier” which was submitted to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Recently EFSA presented its findings to the European Commission, the Serbian file for export of apple trees to the EU market was approved. After final administrative procedure is done, it is to be expected that Serbian apple fruit trees will be available again at the EU market from this fall onwards.

This is a fine example of the team work and mutual trust among all relevant stakeholders from diplomatic, administrative and business sector. As from the Embassy side, we can testify that we enjoyed working with such professionals and are having the fulfilling emotion to see what our office work can result in.

To further explore the potential and of the fruit tree nursery business in Serbia, in the coming months the Agriculture Department will conduct a market scan of this lucrative sector in order to raise awareness among the Dutch entrepreneurs of this hidden potential.