Ambassador Mihailo Brkic

Expressing his happiness at the long and fruitful bilateral relations between the two countries, His Excellency Mihailo Brkic Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to the State of Kuwait, said, “In May, Serbia and Kuwait will mark the 50th anniversary of the start of bilateral diplomatic relations. As we prepare to commemorate this historic event, I would like to congratulate the people of Kuwait and Serbia on fifty glorious years of friendship and cooperation.”The ambassador was speaking to The Times in an exclusive interview during which he detailed the mature and stable ties between the two countries and the potential for development and growth in all domains.

Beginning the interview with a brief outline of his career, the ambassador recounted, “Following my graduation in International Economics and Business Relations, I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where I specialized in Public Finance and State Development Funds. In 2010, I was posted as Resident Ambassador to Kuwait and Non- Resident Ambassador to both, the State of Qatar and the Republic of Yemen. During the three years that I have been representing my country here, I have had the pleasure to experience the genuine warmth of welcome and cordiality expressed by government officials, as well as ordinary citizens.”

Referring to the start of diplomatic relations between Kuwait and Serbia, as represented by the former Yugoslav Republic, more than fifty years ago, the envoy added, “Shortly after Kuwait’s independence, Yugoslavia recognized its sovereignty and the two countries established diplomatic relations on 8 May, 1963. A year later, Kuwait joined the Non-Aligned Movement, of which Yugoslavia was a founder member. This brought our two countries closer together as we shared similar political viewpoints on many international issues of common concern.We opened embassies in each other’s capitals in 1973 and since then bilateral ties have continued to go from strength to strength.”

“The literally concrete symbols of relations between our two countries are embodied in the iconic Kuwait Towers, which was builtin the Seventies by Energoprojekt and Ivan Milutinovic, Belgrade-based engineering companies. The towers are also representative of Kuwait’s international outlook; it was contracted to a Swedish firm, designed by a Danish architect and built by a Yugoslav companies. Engineering and construction companies from the former Yugoslavia were also active inthe Eighties strengthening Kuwait’s shoreline and in other projects around the country. Our excellent relations were further reinforced in 1990, when Yugoslavia refused to accept the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and strongly supported the legal Kuwaiti Government and people of Kuwait.”

Speaking about events planned to mark fifty years of relations, Ambassador Brkic noted “Besides high-level bilateral communiqués we have planned several cultural and social events to mark the Golden Jubilee of our mutual relations. In a recent interview with Serbian Radio and Television, the Foreign Minister of Kuwait, His Excellency Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah underlined the huge strides made in bilateral relations between our two countries and spoke about the potential for further development. The minister, who is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED), emphasized the need for boosting bilateral trade and improving ties in various fields, including in political, economic, development and cultural areas. On a similar line, in Belgrade, Foreign Minister of Serbia His Excellency Ivan Mrkic gave an interview to journalist of Kuwait National Television. “ Also, the ambassador’s counterpart in Belgrade, His Excellency Fawzi Abdulaziz Ahmad Al-Jasem, the Ambassador of the State of Kuwait to Serbia, marked 50 years of mutual relations by meeting with a delegation of the Serbian National Assembly’s Parliamentary Friendship Group with the Gulf States.

On the occasion, the Kuwaiti diplomat expressed his hopes for more intensive cooperation and improvement of parliamentary relations, as the Kuwaiti Parliament has also recently created a Friendship Group with Serbia. Affirming that there was plenty of potential for furthering economic cooperation between the two friendly nations, especially in trade, agriculture, tourism and investment sector, Ambassador Brkic revealed that the last high-level Joint Committee meeting between the two countries was held in Belgrade in April 2011; a follow-up meeting, headed by the Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia His Excellency Rasim Ljajic and His Excellency Mustapha al- Shamali, the Finance Minister of Kuwait, will take place in the second half of this year.

The envoy clarified that bilateral economic engagements were taking place in the private and public sector, “On the government level, KFAED is an active participant in development projects in Serbia; most recently, 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. The opportunities for Kuwaiti public investments in Serbia, under the aegis of the Kuwaiti Investment Agency, the State’s investment arm, are also being considered in the farming and agriculture sectors. In addition, many Kuwaiti businessmen are visiting Serbia to explore the possibilities for cooperation and investments in the country’s food, healthcare and tourism industries.”

Agriculture and food processing industry form a large part of the Serbian economy and are very export-oriented. One-third of raspberries sold around the world come from Serbia and the country is also a leading exporter of frozen fruits.

The ambassador continued, “The volume of trade between our two countries has increased threefold, year on year, during the last three years. Serbian products are increasingly appearing in the Kuwait market, especially food products, confectionaries, bottled water and furniture. The opportunities for Kuwaiti businesses to import farm products and invest in the agriculture industry are very lucrative.” Tourism is another prospective area where the potential for developments and cooperation, as well as return on investments are bright.

With a varied topography, Serbia has plenty of sites of natural beauty. More than a third of Serbia is covered by forest and national parks make up nearly 10 percent of the country’s total area. The Danube, the second largest river in Europe, flows for more than 588 kilometers across Serbia and two of the country’s largest urban centers, Belgrade and NoviSad, are located on its banks.

“The number of business and leisure visitors from the region to Serbia have increased multifold in the last few years, and there is also a growing interest in the region among tour-promoters. This in turn has created opportunities for investments in hotels, resorts, spas and healthcare facilities that cater to the special needs of travelers from this part of the world,”added the ambassador. Serbia has a transitional economy mostly dominated by services, manufacturing and agriculture sectors; the country also has freetrade agreements with the European and Central European Free Trade Associations, a preferential trade regime with the European Union, a Generalized System of Preferences with the United States.

Highlighting other unique advantages to investing in Serbia, the ambassador added, “Goods that are produced with 50 percent added value in Serbia can be exported to the Russian Federation with nominal tariff. We are the only country in the region to have this export advantage with Russia and already many countries in the European Union (EU) are leveraging this feature.

Also, landlocked Serbia is located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe and borders eight countries, so the possibilities for cross-border trade and transport across Europe are substantial.” “In addition, Serbia became an official candidate for EU membership in March, 2012 and the European Commission has recommended opening of EU entry talks by June 2013. Once accession talks are opened, the investment potential of the country will increase manifold and early investors have the possibility of reaping rich rewards.For instance, the Italian automanufacturer, Fiat, has invested over $900 million in a factory in Central Serbia in the City of Kragujevac to produce vehicles for the European and international markets.”

Other companies from around the world are now following Fiat and finding niche investment opportunities across the industrial spectrum in Serbia.

Saying that Kuwaiti businesses looking toinvest in Serbia will find a safe and secure investment climate the diplomat said, “Investment protection mechanisms and legal frameworks similar to those in the EU already exist in Serbia and investors can rest assured their funds and business ventures will be safe and bound by internationally recognized laws and treaties.” Speaking about the relatively small Serbian community in Kuwait, the ambassador clarified that most of his compatriots were employed in three main professions; they were doctors, engineers or sports personnel engaged in coaching and training various teams in Kuwait. “It is a matter of pride for us that, three Kuwaiti national teams — football, shooting and ice-hockey — employ Serbian coaches to train and prepare them for regional and international matches.”

The ambassador, who is in the country accompanied by his wife and five-year old son, expressed his happiness to be in Kuwait and the region in general by saying, “There is so much going around here and the progress and development happening in Kuwait and in this area as a whole, is simply phenomenal. For example, in Qatar, I was amazed about the multi-dimensional cultural project called Katara Cultural Village.

With cutting-edge facilities, including beautiful theatres, concert halls and exhibition galleries, Katara is aiming to become a world leader in multi-cultural activities.” Kuwait has been known as a cosmopolitan country for a long time and once you are familiar with the general layout you can find many interesting and stimulating places to visit here. Moreover, the diplomatic corps in Kuwait is very active and there are a large number of events related to the diplomatic community. My experiences in the country have been profoundly fascinating, both on the professional and popular level. And, I fully appreciate the graciousness and wonderful hospitality of people in Kuwait,” added the ambassador in conclusion.

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