Serbia Newsflash Week 5

The Chinese deal, African Swine Fever, agro science investments, environmental protection and GMO regulation - The week in Serbian agriculture

A picture of red apples
Beeld: ©Pixabay
While not yet in line with the regulations of the EU and the WTO, Serbia's strong non-GMO legislative stance is backed by widespread public support.

Companies of the Western Balkans seeking urgent removal of business and economic barriers in the region 

Companies in the Western Balkans have sent a joint appeal to their governments and to political structures of the region to do everything in their power to enable the business sector to operate as smoothly as possible and to turn to the future and joint regional cooperation. The joint message of all the presidents of the chambers of commerce of the Western Balkans to their countries’ governments is: “to do everything to enable businesses to operate in the simplest way possible, turning to the future and regional cooperation”. The message was sent from the session of the Managing Board of the Western Balkans Six Chamber Investment Forum (WB6 CIF), the association which concentrates the chambers of commerce of North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia. The business people are seeking an urgent removal of all business and economic barriers in the region, especially those that are a consequence of the poor political relations between Belgrade, Pristina and Sarajevo. The governments in Sarajevo and Pristina are being asked to mutually abolish visa requirements and all other obstacles concerning the freedom of movement. Mutual recognition of registration plates and vehicle insurance is also requested, because problems related to this, affect the freedom of movement and business operations, which leads to unnecessary costs for companies. They also said an initiative aimed at abolishing PCR testing for traveling within the region (More on this here), adopted at the request of regional chambers of commerce, had had a major effect on the operations of companies.

Protocol signed on the export of Serbian maize and dried sugar beet pulp to China 

The Serbian Ministry of Agriculture and the Chinese General Administration of Customs signed a Protocol on phytosanitary requirements for the export of Serbian maize and dried sugar pulp to China. Serbia, one of the world’s top ten maize exporters, will soon be able to export this commodity to China, the largest maize importer in the world. The Serbian Ministry of Agriculture will oversee the maize cultivation process and supervise companies exporting the crop to China, as well as, all the warehouses storing maize for the Chinese market will have to be registered. The first export of maize to China can be expected from the harvest in the fall 2021. Statistic Office of Serbia announced that a total of 780.554 hectares of various crops were sown in Serbia in the autumn sowing of 2020, which is 1.8% more than at the same time in 2019.

The Serbian Minister of Agriculture said he was pleased because maize and dried sugar beet pulp exports to China could follow beef and lamb exports allowed previously, as well as the matters tackled regarding dairy exports. “China is the big-gest maize importer, and Serbia is among the top ten exporters of high-quality maize in the world. It is an ideal time for Serbia to enter such a great market that can receive large amounts as the sowing of maize starts in a month and a half or two months,” the Minister pointed out, adding that the protocol would be followed by talks about pork exports to China. “A few years ago, there was almost no agricultural trade. In the first 11 months of 2020, it exceeded $50 million. I would like to set a goal – to reach $100 million,” the Minister said in the talk with the Chinese ambassador.

Contaminated sesame prevented from import to Serbia and withdrawn from the sale

Serbia’s agricultural inspection and phytosanitary inspection have so far prevented the import of 35 tons of sesame (more info here), with a possible increased presence of ethylene oxide, while nearly 20 tons of sesame is currently being withdrawn from sale, the Director of the Plant Protection Directorate announced. At a session of Serbia’s parliamentary committee on agriculture, the Director said citizens should not have concerns because of the issues mentioned. According to him, food offered in domestic stores is completely safe. The Director underlined that based on the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), Serbia had been notified about the possible import of Indian sesame containing ethylene oxide. He noted that Serbia was not an active RASFF member but could see information in the system and provide feedback. On February 3rd, the Agriculture Ministry announced that products sampled by the company Ahold Delhaize to meet its obligation under the Food Safety Law contained the sesame with the higher-than-allowed presence of ethylene oxide, imported before the RASFF notification. The sesame was withdrawn from the sale. Ahold Delhaize announced that already bought sesame by customers could be returned to the shops and consumers will be repaid for the purchased product.

Corn plants with ears of corn on the cob.
Beeld: ©Franz W.
The new protocol signed by the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture and the Chinese General Administration of Customs opens a new window for the export of Serbian maize as well as dried sugar beet pulp to China. While Serbia is one of the world's top maize sellers, China is one of the world's largest buyers.

No GMO crops in Serbia

There are no genetically modified organisms (GMO) in Serbia, neither in production nor in sale, stated the Minister of Agriculture for the daily Vecernje Novosti. Serbia has a clear and strict law about GMO. “It is always in the interest of certain business circles to insist on that topic. It is the fact that the area needs to be regulated in order for Serbia to become a member of the World Trade Organization,” the Minister said, answering the question of whether the EU and the US were pressuring Serbia into allowing GMO trade.

Serbia adopted a GMO Act in 2009. This law strictly forbids the import, production or commercial growing of GM crops. The Law also bans import of GMO related products like soybean meal produced from GM crops, which contributes to higher local animal feed prices. At the same time, there is no allowed system in place for non-GMO certification and labelling of local non-GMO products in Serbia, thus not making the visible difference between local produced non GMO food products and imported ones (significant quantities of meat, milk and other animal based products coming from GM fed animals). There is also no official system which would add value to the local production and distinguish from imported GM produced products. This makes local animal keepers which are using local non-GM feed less competitive on the market.

The GMO Law is not in conformity with the EU regulations nor with the rules of the World Trade Organization. In order to become a member of these two organizations, Serbia will need to adjust the current law. There were attempts to amend the Law in order to comply with the EU and WTO  standards, but strong political and public resistance made it impossible. Serbian consumers have a negative attitude towards biotech crops.

African Swine Fever registered in Serbia

African Swine Fever (ASF) was registered in a village of Mozgovo (southern Serbia) in two households, reports agro news portal Agroklub. Eleven animals tested positive and they were harmlessly removed. The veterinary officials were about to euthanize all susceptible animals. Farmers were not content with such approach and requested that animals should be tested first and only positive animals should be euthanized. The agreement was reached and only animals positive on ASF will be killed. Besides the two households where the ASF was initially registered another four individual households were tested positive. All measures are being taken in order to prevent the spreading of the disease by the veterinary authorities. The households with infected animals are small scale backyard farms.  

Construction of a new building of the WUR project partner, the BioSense Institute in Novi Sad, to begin in several weeks 

The European Investment Bank has given approval for the beginning of the construction of a new building of the BioSense Institute in Novi Sad. “Important news! The European Investment Banks has given final approval for the beginning of the construction of a new building of the BioSense Institute in Novi Sad, one of our most important science-technology institutions, relevant on the European level too. It will be a place of development of new technologies, especially in agriculture. I congratulate my associates and everybody who contributed to this project. The works are to begin in several weeks,” wrote the President of the Provincial Government, on his Instagram profile. As announced earlier, the new building will be unique in Serbia, because, thanks to its special ant-vibration characteristics, it will enable the use of state-of-the-art scientific equipment that is necessary for the development of micro- and nanoelectronics, sensors and other devices. This will put a powerful tool at the disposal of Serbian agriculturists, leading to healthier crops and increased yields. For this project, Serbia got a loan of € 11 million from the European Investment Bank (EIB), and under the agreement on financing signed in 2017, the state is to invest €3 million within Phase 2 of the Antares project. Around €4.5 million will be spent on the construction of the building, whereas €9.5 million is planned for modern scientific equipment. 

The BioSense Institute  in Novi Sad is the only Center of Excellence (CoE) in Europe outside of the European Union, with one of its biggest scientific activities being the Horizon 2020 ANTARES project. It is jointly implemented with Wageningen University and Research Center, and DLO from the Netherlands, and supported by the participation of the Serbian Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development. The project aims to support and encourage sustainable economic development in the country and the region by the use of the new technologies and scientific solutions in connecting two of the most prosperous sectors in Serbia, ICT and agriculture, and the combination of the ambition of Serbian farmers, and what the two sectors have to offer will strengthen their competitive positions. More about the potential of IT in agro sector in Serbia can be found here.

Potpec Lake cleaned 

The cleaning of Potpec Lake has been completed, and tens of thousands of cubic metres of waste have been removed. The Environmental Protection Minister acknowledged the efforts of the companies Srbijavode and EPS for their efficiency and successfully done job. Now, as the Minister said, other measures will be implemented to solve the lake’s pollution problem, including building sanitary landfills outside of the blue zones, and closing down existing illegal landfills on the shore of the rivers. She recalled that she had already discussed the problem with authorities from Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, noting that it could not be solved without cooperation. The Minister said she had proposed that the three states sign a Memorandum of Understanding, based on which they would carry out the necessary activities.