The World Trade Organization has told Serbia it can join by the end of next year and Belgrade plans a series of reforms to meet membership requirements, Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic said.
“Our delegation was told today that Serbia could become a WTO member by the end of 2008,” Dinkic said after meeting WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy in Geneva.
“We have agreed a timetable of activities that need to be completed…These include regulatory changes and a revised list of goods,” he said.
Serbia must improve hygiene standards at border crossings where goods leave the country, strengthen food safety regulations, lift non-customs protection and reduce customs protection from the current average of 6.5%.
Regulatory improvements and other activities will be discussed at a joint working group meeting due in late October.
“These legal changes should be completed by mid-2008. Then, we must embark on a series of bilateral talks with WTO member states to negotiate trading rules for agricultural and industrial goods and services,” he said.
“If we manage to improve the regulatory framework, bilateral talks will become much easier,” he said. “And we will have a transitory period to fully implement the changes.”
Serbia, the only country in the Western Balkans not to have joined the WTO, is expected to open up its services sector and allow foreign banks and insurance companies to open affiliates in the country.
Other requests refer to providing cross-border services, insurance and cross-border payments.
Serbia first applied to join the WTO in January 2001, months after a coalition of pro-Western, reform-oriented parties toppled autocrat president Slobodan Milosevic.
A series of political se-backs, including the murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003 and a lack of political will to speed up reform and enforce dozens of laws, undermined its original plan to join the WTO in late 2004.
Dinkic said WTO membership was “one of the main priorities of our foreign, trade and economic policies.’
Joining the WTO is a key condition for European Union membership. The government hopes to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU by the end of 2007 and secure official candidate status by late 2008. Government officials believe Serbia will be ready to join the EU in 2012. (Reuters)