Close this search box.

Towards a China-Serbia Free Trade Deal? 

Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic met with Chinese president Xi Jingping on February 5, 2022 during the former’s visit to attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games.  President Xi used the occasion to describe China and Serbia as “ironclad friends,” and applauded numerous Chinese-sponsored investments in Serbia, specifically noting the Serbia-Hungary railway, the Novi Sad-Ruma expressway, the HBIS Smederevo Steel Plant, and the Zijin Bor Copper. 

Vucic, for his part, noted that trade between China and Serbia has increased threefold since Jingping’s visit to Belgrade in June 2016. In fact, despite the pandemic, in 2021 alone bilateral trade between China and Serbia increased 54% over 2020 figures, reaching US$ 3.2 billion.  

Vucic also claimed that Beijing and Belgrade were in talks to establish a free-trade arrangement between the two countries, to be completed during the course of 2022 (although this has yet to be confirmed by Chinese officials).  

Opinions are mixed as to the benefits of Serbia concluding a free-trade deal with China. Some experts have warned that China has more to gain from strictly reciprocal arrangements than Serbia because the total value of Chinese exports to Serbia outweighs the volume to Serbia exports to China by some 4:1, with Serbia’s trade deficit with China standing at US$ 3.7 billion in 2021.  

Supporters of a free-trade deal, on the other hand, argue that it would open the Chinese market for Serbian agricultural and food-processing products, and provide an incentive for European companies to open production facilities in Serbia to take advantage of the country’s more beneficial trade status with the world’s second-largest economy. 

Serbia’s main exports to China are raw materials such as copper ore and its derivatives, while China predominantly exports a variety of consumer goods to Serbia. Critics also warn that a free-trade deal with China will complicate Serbia’s EU accession hopes.  

Over the past several years, China has become Serbia’s third-largest trading partner, following just behind Germany and Italy.