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Serbia: Where a historic past meets a vibrant future
February 15, 2015, 10:10 am
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His Excellency Vladimir Kohut

Conveying his greetings to the Serbian community in Kuwait on the occasion of the National Day of Serbia on 15 February, and to the leadership and people of Kuwait on the upcoming celebrations of Kuwait’s 54th anniversary of Independence and the 24th anniversary of Liberation, His Excellency Vladimir Kohut Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to the State of Kuwait, said, “The cordial hospitality extended by Kuwait to the Serbian community in this country is a reflection of the deep and long-lasting ties that exist between the two people.” The ambassador was speaking during an exclusive interview that he afforded recently to The Times Kuwait.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to extend my warmest congratulations and best wishes to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on the occasion of the 9th year of accession and for receiving the award of ‘A Humanitarian Leader’ by the United Nations,” said the diplomat. He added, “Serbia has directly experienced the humanitarian leadership of His Highness the Amir and Kuwait’s credentials as a hub of humanitarian activity, when the State of Kuwait was among the first countries to help the people of Serbia during the devastating floods that occurred there in May 2014. Serbian people and the government are deeply grateful and proud in having such a sincere friend as Kuwait.”

Elaborating on the bilateral relations between the two countries, Ambassador Kohut said, “Serbia was among the first countries to recognize the independence of Kuwait and establish diplomatic relations way back in 1963. Since then our bilateral relations in all domains have gone from strength to strength. In the construction field, it was Serbian companies that built Kuwait’s iconic Kuwait Towers which continue to be a proud national symbol to this day. Our substantial bilateral and multilateral relations on international levels are testimony to the rich history of deep understanding, mutual confidence and friendship that exists between our two countries.

“Our excellent relations were further reinforced in 1990, when Serbia refused to accept the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and strongly supported the just and legal cause of Kuwait, its leadership and people. The 1990s were also a dark phase in the history of Serbia; happily all that is behind us now. The experience of those traumatic days helped people in both countries to grow stronger and more committed towards peace and prosperity. Our shared suffering has also brought the two nations together forging our resolve to deepen and diversify existing ties and strengthen overall relations. Serbia is especially looking forward to working with Kuwait in the economic, investment and infrastructure fields, as well as in the sectors of health, tourism and in military cooperation.

“It is my strong belief that there is no substitute for strengthening bilateral relations between countries than through exchange of bilateral visits by people on different levels, including at the highest level. These visits are an important impetus for further cooperation and help to transmit to upcoming generation the value and mutual benefit of existing relations between our two countries and people. There have been several high-profile visits to Kuwait by Serbian delegations in recent years. It is my fondest hope that in the very near future, Serbia will be honored by a visit by Kuwait’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah. This visit will no doubt contribute to further cementing mutual understanding and enhancing development of overall relations.

“The visit by Kuwait’s Foreign Minister is also likely to pave the way for a state visit by the President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic to the State of Kuwait at a later date. Another important visit that we are looking forward to is the proposed official visit by the President of the National Assembly of Serbia to Kuwait. We are also anticipating the scheduled hosting by Kuwait of the next round of our Joint Committee for Economic Cooperation, which hopefully will precede the planned presidential visit.”

It is worth noting that on the economic side Kuwait’s public sector participation in the Serbian economy is headed by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development which has been an active participant in development projects in Serbia. In December 2012, the two sides signed a loan agreement to finance 50 percent of the US$70 million first phase development project of the new main railway station in Belgrade. In recent years, the opportunities for Kuwaiti private sector investments especially in the agriculture, healthcare and tourism sectors are being explored by Kuwaiti businesses.

Agriculture and food processing industry form a large part of the Serbian economy and are very export-oriented. Tourism is also another prospective area where the potential for developments and cooperation, as well as return on investments are very bright. In particular opportunities exist for investments in hotels, resorts, spas and healthcare facilities that cater to the special needs of travelers from the Middle-East region.

Pointing to investment potential of Serbia the envoy said, “We welcome Kuwaiti investments in the Serbian economy, which is on a path of steady growth. I would like to highlight the fact that the Government of Serbia, headed by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, has successfully started the all-inclusive, long-term reforms needed to modernize the Serbian economy and society in preparation for its full membership of European Union. Negotiations towards full membership, which were officially started in January 2014, have seen the country enact several structural and policy reforms that have made the Serbian economy more attractive to foreign investors.

In 2011, Serbia was the top country in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in attracting Foreign Direct Investments, with inflows in excess of US$2.5 billion. As one of Europe’s most favorite investment destinations, Serbia was also one of the countries with the greatest capacity to attract large job-intensive projects, both in terms of number of projects and number of jobs created. Additionally, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), for three consecutive years between 2004 and 2006, Serbia was home to the biggest greenfield projects in South East Europe. Today, some of the biggest multinational companies, including the likes of FIAT, BOSCH, Panasonic, Alcatel, Siemens, Schneider Electric, Microsoft, NCR, Telenor, Michelin, IKEA and Swarovski, as well as more than 500 companies from around the world, are doing business in Serbia.

“Serbia’s strategic location at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe and sharing borders with eight countries enhances our cross-border trade and transport possibilities across Europe. Moreover, the wide availability of highly capable human capital with unique combination of top-quality and low-cost, along with our duty-free access to a combined market of over a billion people in the European Union, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Turkey, South East Europe and European Free Trade Agreement members, make Serbia an attractive manufacturing hub.

To summarize, with our prime location, a thriving real-estate market, widely available healthcare institutions, excellent international schools and wide range of cultural and tourist attractions, Serbia remains one of the best locations in Europe for companies looking to set up business and also for individuals keen to invest in a lucrative growing economy,” said Ambassador Kohut.

Asked about his previous ambassadorial postings, the veteran diplomat, who has represented his country in many world capitals, modestly said that Kuwait was his fifth posting in the Arab world. “Since taking charge as ambassador last year, I have been working to strengthen our relationship, boost mutual ties and cooperation with Kuwait in all fields. In my quest to implement these goals and to achieve common targets, it has been my privilege and pleasure to work with the very cooperative and helpful Kuwaiti officials and other friends in this country.

Summing up his plans for bilateral relations in 2015, the ambassador said, “In short, I can say that 2105 will be a period of common efforts by both sides to enhance our mutual relations in all fields. For an ambassador there is no better and more encouraging environment than to be an active partner in this noble activity of strengthening relations between people of two countries.”

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