Serbia Newsflash Week 38

COVID-19 economic package & travel news, soya harvest, European trade, food waste - The week in Serbian agriculture

Soya plants with ripe soybeans can be seen in the sunset.
Beeld: ©Liam Michaels
The soybean harvest season has started. Soybean prices have reached €0.37/kg, which will likely rise further. Soybean prices later in the season will be set by global trends - And will depend largely on harvest yields in the United States, China and Brazil.

New travel recommendations due to the increase of Covid-19 patients in the EU

A large number of European countries has, in the past week, recorded a record increase in the number of cases. This includes the countries which border Serbia. In multip[le neighboring states, the number of infections is currently considerably higher than in Serbia. The Crisis Team is appealing to the citizens to return to Serbia from their vacations, for as of Friday, September 18th,  at 6 pm a new measure will be introduced: increased surveillance for all the passengers entering Serbia from countries at risk. The measure will last for minimum ten days. For the time being it is estimated that 10 days of increased surveillance will be sufficient, upon return from a country in which the epidemiological situation is unfavorable, so as to prevent the spreading of the infection, the Crisis Team announced. “There will be no quarantine or self-isolation, but rather a surveillance which will imply certain measures and activities so as to diminish the transference of the virus and it’s importing from abroad”, states the announcement. The Ministry of Health appealed to people returning to Serbia from vacations to “show solidarity and reduce their movement in the first seven days upon returning,” reduce their contacts to the minimum or get tested right away. The slight increase of new cases is the consequence of citizens returning from vacations in Montenegro and Croatia, the Health Ministry said.

The EU has not returned Serbia to the list of third countries that are allowed free entry. Although the issue of returning Serbia to the list of countries for which there are no restrictions on entry was raised in the working bodies of the EU Council, the Ambassadors of the Member States removed this topic from the meeting. The prevailing assessment is that the situation "has not stabilized enough", both in Serbia and in the EU, the EU Council unofficially said for Serbian news agency Tanjug. It is added that the latest figures on the epidemiological situation in Serbia, which Brussels has, go "a little over" the EU criteria of 16 infected per 100 thousand inhabitants. The list of third countries for free entry into the EU is revised every two weeks. 

Food waste ends in garbage containers  

Only a fifth of respondents engaged in the health and hospitality sectors in Serbia who were part of a survey on food waste management know what food waste is and how it is properly managed to minimize the harm done to the environment. That was said during an online press conference on the occasion of presenting a project for responsible food waste management implemented by the National Alliance for Local Economic Development (NALED), the German Agency for International Coopera-tion (GIZ), and the company Esotron (a waste collection and treatment company). According to the data from February, 1.8 million out of about seven million people in Serbia live on the edge of poverty, but nevertheless, those who have, throw away 350,000 tonnes of food every year, or 35 tonnes per capita. The hospitality sector usually orders some 120,000 tonnes of food, and one-third ends up in landfills releasing large amounts of harmful gas instead of being used to produce energy or compost, reported NALED at the news conference.

The survey included 50 health institutions with a secondary and tertiary level of health protection, as well as 200 hospitality outlets. A fifth of the respondents throws leftover food directly in municipal waste containers, after which it is taken to a landfill. The second most common thing to happen to food waste is being used as animal feed, composting is third, while generating energy is fourth. The survey shows that hospitality outlets produce some 8 kg of food waste per day, while health institutions in which food is prepared and served produce up to 28 kg every day. About 65% of caterers and employees in health institutions separate waste from food, and 19% of companies and institutions admit that they throw that waste in a container. "Most institutions in which food waste is not adequately disposed of say they need appropriate infrastructure, a binding legal framework, but also some incentive policies that would reward proper waste management - tax reduction or tax-free waste disposal," the Head of NALED's Environmental Protection Unit said. Consortium has drafted a Guide to Proper Food Waste Management as one of the first steps in informing restaurants and other large kitchens about waste disposal. 

The EU is by far the largest and most important trade partner of Serbia 

Total trade between the European Union and Serbia amounted to 24.9 billion euros last year, which is 250% more than in 2009, when the Interim Stabilisation and Association Agreement came into force, announced the EU Delegation. The European Union remained by far the largest and most important trade partner of Serbia in 2019, while according to the data, 63% of the total trade of Serbia was done with the European Union in 2019. The EU exported goods and services worth €13.6 billion to Serbia last year, while Serbia's exports to the EU were worth €11.3 billion. Russia and China are ranked second and third, but at significantly lower trade levels, with amounts of €2.7 billion and €2.4 billion respectively, which is ten times lower than trade between Serbia and the EU, excluding trade with CEFTA members which is actually in second place. In addition to trade with the European Union, regional trade in the Western Balkans is the one that provides the best market opportunity for the Serbian economy, according to the EU Delegation. Last year, the export of Serbian goods to Bosnia and Herzegovina amounted to €1.4 billion, to Russia €0.83 billion, to North Macedonia €0.67 billion and to China €0.27 billion. "These figures show that good neighbourly relations, mutual understanding, elimination of trade barriers and good cooperation are very important for Serbia, and the process of integration into the EU is in its interest. The EU also remains not only Serbia's most important trade partner, but also its largest donor and investor," the EU Delegation said in a statement. 

Depletion of national agro budget

The Association of Serbian Journalists (UNS) is about to start a project “Tracing the budget depletion – journalist will investigate and citizens will be informed about disbursements from national agrarian budget”. The project is supported by UNDP. Students and young journalists will have an opportunity to work together with experienced colleagues and investigate where the money goes and what are the benefits of state subsidies. UNS has an open call for young associates till September 20th

Interest and potential for “mini-Schengen”  

Croatia’s immediate neighbors are expediting the creation of the Balkan “Mini Schengen,” says Zagreb-based  portal, adding that Croatia’s leading companies are closely observing that process and that Croatian businesspeople mostly support the initiative. Serbian Minister of Trade told Index portal that the goal is to remove obstacles in the exchange of goods and services among the countries in the region, as well as the movement of people. That idea should be separated from politics as it has an economic character. We do not want crowded border crossings. Some 30 million hours are wasted at border checkpoints, as well as an economic value of $800 million. One of the areas that would get the most profit with the foundation of “the mini Schengen” would be food industry, because all barriers referring to phytosanitary certificates would be breached and we would have a new space in this market, regardless of its size, Serbian Minister of Agriculture emphasized on Thursday.

Mini Schengen is an initiative proposed by Belgrade officials. Apart from Serbia, it has also been accepted by North Macedonia and Albania. It is recalled that after a recent meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo PM Avdullah Hoti in Washington, Pristina is also expected to join. Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro have so far been reserved, but there are some indications that their attitudes are starting to change, the portal concludes.

Houses and a temple can be seen in a village on the banks of the River Danube in Serbia.
Beeld: ©falco
A village on the banks of the River Danube in Serbia. The new internet infrastructure project by the Ministry of Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications will bring internet connectivity to fifty-five villages in Serbia in its pilot phase.

Food security not an issue in Serbia  

The Minister of Agriculture of Serbia, stated that Serbia is ready for the second wave of coronavirus and that it is absolutely safe in terms of food. "Serbia is ready for the next wave. We have started systematically strengthening the state in terms of strategic resources, not just food," Minister said. He estimated that there were no great losses or dramatic scenarios in the agriculture of Serbia due to the coronavirus. The state reacted and helped the economy and will continue to do so in the future. He stated that the pandemic still has an impact on every segment of trade, that many have closed their markets in the world, which has led to greater concern and demand, but that it is important that Serbia has become increasingly recognisable in the world as a producer of premium goods. Minister told daily Politika that Serbia exported food even in the most difficult moments of the epidemic, when serious world economies had problems with the supply of flour, oil and yeast. 

Serbia’s COVID-19 related economic package is the most generous in the Western Balkans 

According to the latest study published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), working hours in Serbia in the second quarter of this year, decreased by 14.8%, which is equivalent to the loss of 510,000 full-time jobs. However, by offering the most generous and comprehensive economic package among the Western Balkan economies, the Serbian government has slowed the spread of poverty. If the health crisis continues and incentive programmes aimed at preventing job loss are stopped, an employment crisis could occur, the study warns. In the coming months, the workers in following sectors will be most at risk: wholesale and retail trade, housing, food and drink, service activities, transport, forestry and logging, agriculture and livestock. According to estimates, about 700,000 people in these sectors are at immediate risk of losing their jobs, including people who work in the informal economy, self-employed and workers employed in micro-enterprises. Of this workforce, nearly 314,000 are self-employed and over 267,000 are informal workers. Micro-enterprises, which employ more than 735,000 workers, have been the hardest hit by the crisis and more than one in four have closed down. The government provided generous financial assistance in the form of subsidies, which for MSMEs amounted to approximately 65% ​​of total labour costs. 

More info about this here.

Public call for internet connectivity in Serbian villages  

Serbia’s Ministry of Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications has launched the first public call for operators of pilot projects referring to the construction of broadband communications infrastructure in 55 villages. At the Digital 2020 Powered by Huawei regional online conference, dedicated to telecommunications and media trends, State Secretary announced that the second call would be launched in October for another 600 villages, and the project should be finalized by 2025. She noted that by then, there would be no household or a populated area in Serbia without modern Internet access. According to the State Secretary, a survey carried out last year shows that more than 125.000 households have no fixed Internet access, while some 600.000 households have slow broadband speeds of up to 30 Mbps. Ministry wants to change that and improve telecommunication infrastructure in Serbian villages.

Soya harvest season has started

Harvesting season of soya has started. The first quantities of early soya hybrids reached the price of €0.32/kg and the varieties that ripen later were sold for €0.37/kg. As the harvesting season is progressing the price of soya will continue to rise. Similar trends can be observed with  sunflower that reached the price of €0.32/kg at the end of the harvesting season. The final price for soya this year will depend on market developments and yields of the US, China and Brazil. Maize harvest is also in full swing and the estimations are that it will be good maize season regarding the yields and the price. More about soya cultivation in our previous article over here.

New CEO and CFO for Ahold Delhaize Serbia

Jan Willem Dockheer (CEO) and Ester Veninga (CFO) are the new “duo”  that will manage affairs in Ahold Delhaize Serbia in the coming period. The Ambassador with his team met the new management and discussed Ahold-Delhaize’s vision for operations in Serbia, digital innovations, agriculture cooperation and much more.

German initiative for seeking suppliers in Western Balkans

Over thirty German companies and 154 companies from the region (52 of which are in Serbia) are participating in the regional B2B project German Initiative for Finding Suppliers in the Western Balkans, held online this September. The organizers are the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (AHK Serbia), representative offices of the German economy in the Western Balkans (AHK), and Germany’s Association for Materials Management, Import, and Logistics (BME eV), as announced in a statement. In the period September 8 - 22 a total of 340 B2B (business-to-business) meetings will be held. The project is implemented for the sixth year in a row. The aim is for German com-panies to seek producers in economic sectors that are in high demand in Serbia and the rest of the Western Balkans. Interested German companies usually engage in metallurgy, supplying the auto-motive industry, the processing sector, agriculture and the production of plastic materials. The project is realized under the auspices of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy within the Pro-gram for Developing Foreign Markets for German SMEs.

Photo credit:
Cover: Soy by Liam Michaels via Pixabay

Serbia by falco via Pixabay