Serbia Newsflash Week 4

Economic aid package, COVID-19 travel measures, trade news, settling prices, river cleanup efforts and a new development agreement - The week in Serbian agriculture

Soya plants with ripe soybeans can be seen in the sunset.
Beeld: ©Liam Michaels
After a 10% rise in cereal prices in the past three weeks, the prices are finally settling. A representative of the Serbian Grains Association commented that the price fluctuations seen in December and January were very unusual.

Simplified travel procedures for businesspeople entering Serbia

Travelers coming to Serbia for business purposes can cross the border following a simpler procedure, different from the rules that apply to other passengers. The Serbian Government has enabled businesspeople to enter the country without negative PCR test if they pre-announce their arrival to the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS). Within 24 hours of entering into the country, business travellers need to get a quick antigen for the coronavirus at the competent labs in Serbia and inform the PKS of the results. The new procedures do not apply to those coming from Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and North Macedonia as they can already enter Serbia with-out a negative PCR test following a recent decision reached by the Serbian government.

New aid package for the economy

The Serbian President announced a set of economic measures worth €2.5 billion, which includes aid for all adult citizens and salaries for employees.  The President stated for the national broadcaster that micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises would receive three payments in the amount of 50% of the minimum wage, noting that there was a dilemma whether to also offer it to the large companies. The  disbursement of payments will start on April 1. Moreover, he announced that the state would set six dates when transport companies should receive €600 per bus. The government will also “expand the guarantee scheme” by another €500 million to preserve the economic sector’s liquidity. He underlined that the economic package would not cause problems for the country and that its public debt would not exceed 61% of GDP. He added that all citizens could apply to receive €30 in May and November, adding that pensioners would also receive another €50.

The announced State assistance will probably be accepted by fewer businesses if it comes with the same conditions as last year – prohibiting the dismissal of employees and dividend payments, reports the Beta news agency, based on assessments by business associations and experts. “State aid in the form of the minimum salary for employees will be accepted by companies that definitely plan to continue their operations,” said Honorary President of the Serbian Association of Employers Mr. Atanackovic. He added that “no one wants to close the company, but economic activity has slowed down a lot.” Coordinator of the Business Support Network Mr Rajic said the number of companies accepting state assistance again this year will be lower as they fear not being able to service new liabilities as they already have accumulated debts. Mainly large companies with high turnover will accept help this year, Rajic concluded.

Cereal prices settling 

Prices of agricultural products: wheat, maize, and soy – are settling down after a rise of cca. 10% in the past three weeks when investment companies got involved in the trade, was explained by Mr Sakovic, a representative of the Serbian Grains Association. He told the news agency that fluctuations in the prices of those grains in late December 2020 and January 2021 were completely unusual, caused by increased demand thanks to investment companies. Namely, they invested in the purchase of those agricultural products because the possibility of investing in other fields was weaker due to the ongoing crisis. “Investment companies are buying wheat, maize, and soy, keeping them for 90 days maximum. Once they assess that the sale will bring a profit, they will sell those grains. That caused the price fluctuations,” Sakovic explained. According to him, wheat prices are up because Russia and Ukraine introduced import quotas to stabilize prices at the domestic market and protect the consumers.

The Serbian Ministry of Agriculture announced that there was an increase in demand and export of Serbian maize but that there was no plan to impose restrictive measures concerning the export of maize or any other grain or to introduce additional export fees. According to the Ministry’s website, data obtained on September 25, 2020, show that the harvested maize areas in Serbia totaled 996.527 hectares. Some 8 million tons of maize was produced, with an average yield of 8.1 tons per hectare. Compared to 2019, the anticipated maize production is 9.6% higher, and compared to the ten-year average (2010-2019), it is 29.4% higher, the Agriculture Ministry announced. It is noted that the production reported in 2020 will cover domestic needs in the marketing year of 2020/2021, with 3.8 million tons available for exports. According to data offered by the Customs Administration, 1.33 million tons of maize was exported in October-December 2020

The price of wheat and maize at the Commodity Exchange in Novi Sad, was €0.2 and €0.17 per kg, respectively.

Chef working in a restaurant kitchen.
Beeld: ©Pixabay
The Serbian government will provide monetary assistance to micro, small and medium level enterprises as well as citizens. The new economic relief package will be worth €2.5 billion.

Phytosanitary cooperation with Iran

Serbia’s Parliamentary Agriculture Committee adopted the Bill on the Confirmation of the Agreement on Cooperation between Serbia and Iran in the Field of Plant Protection and Plant Quarantine. “This agreement removes barriers in trade, allows cooperation between the two countries’ research institutes, and prescribes phytosanitary measures and conditions for the transport of plant consignments with joint control measures. The agreement is a result of Iran’s increased interest in certain goods, primarily seeds of wheat, corn, alfalfa, and mercantile corn,” said Mrs Blagojevic, the State Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture. According to her, agricultural seeds from Serbia account for 17% of Iranian agro imports. President of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture stated that Serbia exported 2.000 tons of seed corn, 190 tons of small grain seeds, and smaller quantities of other seeds to Iran a few years ago. Mr Milosavljevic, the Head of the Serbian Plant Protection Directorate explained that the goal of the agreement with Iran was to achieve exports worth €20 million.

Serbian pork might enter the EU market after 30 years

Last year, as a result of the pandemic and the fact that restaurants and hotels could not work for a long time, the consumption of beef in Serbia dropped by 70% and pork by 20%. The  Minister of Agriculture explained that the Ministry was thus trying to enable exports to new markets. He expects Serbian pork exports to the EU to start before the end of the year, after 30 years of not being available in that market. The EU market was out of the reach for Serbian pork producers due to the vaccination against Classical Swine Fever. This vaccination was a an obstacle for the export and/or transit of fresh pig meat to the EU market. The state stopped the vaccination on Dec 15, 2019 and has prepared contingency plans in the case of the outbreak but if there will be no case of CSF in the period of two years, country will be declared free from CSF and consequently will be able to export/transit via the EU.  For the time being, Serbia can export only thermally processed meat. The Minister also said Serbia had successfully prevented the spread of African swine fever, discovered in domestic and wild pigs in two districts in south Serbia. More about Serbian pig sector here.

Contaminated sesame returned from the border

Serbia’s phytosanitary border inspection sent back a consignment of 17.8 tons of sesame from India due to a higher-than-allowed presence of ethylene oxide, announced the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture. Croatian news agency “HINA” reports that Croatia and other EU member states have been flooded with contaminated sesame imported from India for months. Namely, it contains the carcinogenic pesticide ethylene oxide, which is why many sesame products have been withdrawn from the Croatian and other EU markets. The EU member states and third countries have been tackling the incident with ethylene oxide, used to treat sesame seeds, through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) for quite some time.

Farmers win dispute against Toennies  

The Administrative Court in Novi Sad has again ruled in favor of farmers from Banat that sued the Provincial Secretariat for the second time because of a 30-year land allocation in Municipality of Zrenjanin to the companies Toennies and Food Planet, the daily “Danas” reports. That refers to over 3.000 ha of top-quality state-owned arable land. In 2017, it was planned for German meat processor to get 5.000 ha of agricultural land in several municipalities in Vojvodina. The Administrative Court proposes that the Provincial Secretariat for Agriculture should re-evaluate its decision on the allocation of the land to the investors, as well as the complaint lodged by the Association of Banat Farmers. They are satisfied with the court’s decision because they won the dispute against Toennies and Food Planet. It is now the Provincial Secretariat’s turn to respect the court’s recommendation and farmers complaint.

Regional cooperation for cleaning up of rivers Lim and Drina 

Serbian Environment Protection Minister had an online meeting with her regional counterparts and presented the initiative to work together in order to clean the Lim and Drina rivers of all floating waste. She also suggested to the officials from the counterpart ministries of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro that they should sign a Memorandum of Understanding to base the cleanup efforts on. She said that the three ministries should set up a working group to immediately start clearing up the waste floating on the two rivers and draw up maps of illegal landfills. Serbian Minister said that more than 7.500 cubic meters of waste had gathered at the Potpec dam on the Lim river which flows through all three countries. Montenegrin Ecology Ministry official expressed readiness to draw up a joint project and apply for European Union funding. Bosnia-Herzegovina Foreign Trade Minister said that regional cooperation is crucial, adding that the important thing is that a political decision exists to deal with the pollution on the Lim and Drina rivers through joint efforts.

Agreement marking start of DFC operations in Serbia signed

Serbian Finance Minister and US Ambassador to Serbia signed an inter-governmental agreement on promoting investments – a prerequisite for the start of International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) operations in Serbia . “This agreement is important because we are continuing what we have agreed in Washington in September last year” Serbian Minister said after the signing ceremony. ”We are now opening the door to further cooperation with the US administration”, he noted. The objective is to agree with the DFC a 1 bln dollar guarantee scheme for Serbian micro, small and medium-sized enterprises by the end of Q1 2021 and make it available to them at mid-year, Minister explained. “Not only will these loans be favourable, but we will also be looking to make the repayment periods longer than 10 years,” he said. Agriculture project to be supported by the DFC have been presented to the fund.