On October 17th, Minister Wang Wentao of the Ministry of Commerce of China and Minister Momilovic of the Ministry of Domestic and Foreign Trade of Serbia, representing their respective governments, signed the “Free Trade Agreement between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of Serbia”.
This significant treaty marks China’s inaugural free trade agreement (FTA) with a Central and Eastern European (CEE) nation. It also stands as China’s 22nd FTA, making Serbia its 29th free trade partner. The signing of the China-Serbia FTA embodies a pivotal step in actualizing the consensus of the leadership of both countries. It represents a crucial addition to the expanding global network of high-standard free trade zones and emerges as a paramount achievement of the third “Belt and Road” International Cooperation Summit.
I. Negotiations and Implementation
The discussions surrounding the China-Serbia FTA commenced in April 2023 and reached substantive completion by the end of September. Following the signing, both nations will undergo their respective domestic legal review processes to expedite the agreement’s enforcement.
II. Zero Tariff on 90% of Products
The China-Serbia FTA primarily focuses on arrangements concerning goods trade, characterized by:
(1) High Levels of Liberalization: Both China and Serbia have agreed to eliminate tariffs on 90% of the tax items, with over 60% of these tax items seeing an immediate removal of tariffs upon the agreement’s execution. The final proportion of imports under zero tariffs for both nations will hover around 95%.
(2) Broad Product Coverage: Serbia has included products of significant interest to China, such as automobiles, photovoltaic components, lithium batteries, communication equipment, machinery, refractory materials, and selected agricultural and aquatic products into the zero-tariff category. The tariffs on these products, which currently range between 5% to 20%, will gradually decrease to zero. Similarly, China has incorporated products of importance to Serbia, like generators, electric motors, tires, beef, wine, and nuts, into the zero-tariff category, with their tariffs also progressively reduced from 5%-20% to zero.
(3) Effective Facilitation Measures: Both countries will intensify their customs cooperation, bolster information exchange, and streamline communication coordination. Specific provisions are laid down regarding simplifying trade procedures, risk management, transparency, pre-determination, the “certified operator” system, cooperation, and consultations. The introduction of the self-declaration of origin is particularly notable, as it facilitates businesses to avail benefits seamlessly.
III. Mutual Benefits and Enhanced International Competitiveness
Promoting trade liberalization and facilitation between China and Serbia not only amplifies bilateral trade but also fosters investment cooperation and integration of the industrial chain between the two nations. By leveraging their respective comparative advantages, both countries can collaboratively boost their international competitiveness.
The China-Serbia FTA symbolizes more than just an agreement; it underscores the shared vision of both nations to harness globalization’s potential and build a more interconnected and prosperous future.