Chinese investment will build Serbia’s first industrial park

Serbia to get its first industrial park later this year and is looking to host global companies that are trying to tap into into central and eastern European markets. The park is being largely funded by China and will form a part of the emerging superpower’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The investment agreement was signed last week between the Serbian government and China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) after three years of negotiations. The industrial park will be jointly managed by the two sides, and will cover an area of 3.2 square kilometres in the capital, Belgrade.

The park will contain three sub-parks: manufacturing and processing, trade and logistics, and high-tech industries.

The move was announced by Serbia’s minister responsible for innovation and technology, Nenad Popović who, on the subject of Chinese investment, said: “Western countries’ investment in Serbia usually has strings attached, but China’s investment never does.”

“The park is the best project in central and eastern Europe. It will become a great platform for overseas companies to enter Serbia and the region. It will also boost Serbia’s economy as well as help Serbia attract high-end talents.”

CRBC has estimated that the project will create 2,000 to 5,000 jobs for people in Serbia adding that it would account for around 5% of the country’s GDP, attracting around €2-billion every year.

Zou Zexi, CRBC’s Serbia branch representative said: “During the construction of the project, about 60 to 70% of the employees we hire, the materials we use and subcontractors we cooperate with will be from Serbia. We want to build a platform, through which Chinese companies could seek long-term development in Serbia and then in central and eastern Europe.”

CRBC mostly undertakes investment, contracting and infrastructure projects, such as roads, ports, bridges and railways. The company has operations in over 60 countries.

The industrial park is just one of three agreements signed by Mr Popović and CRBC. The others included a road in Belgrade and reconstruction of the railways in the country’s south, close to the border with North Macedonia.

The Balkan region, and in particular, Serbia, has become an area of Chinese focus in Europe, in particular with regard to the BRI. Earlier this month, it was announced that Huawei would open an innovation centre in Belgrade. A few weeks earlier, the Chinese car part manufacturer Minth broke ground on a new manufacturing plant in the Lozinca region.

The increased Chinese involvement has concerned some EU member states however. Critics of China’s involvement say that it often leads to unsustainable debts.

Johannes Hahn, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations said: “China never cares how and if a country is able to pay its loans. And if they cannot pay, there is some pressure that things are transferred into their ownership.”

“Europeans might not be the fastest ones, might seem to demand more than the others, but probably at the end of the day we are by far the fairest partners,” he added.