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UAE-Serbia talks begin in Dubai as trade speeds up

Tomislav Momirovic, Serbia’s trade minister, with his UAE counterpart Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi at the trade talks WAM
Tomislav Momirovic, Serbia’s trade minister, with his UAE counterpart Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi at the trade talks
  • Cepa negotiations began on Monday
  • Real estate is a key sector for bilateral deals
  • Trade hit $73.4m in 2022, up 42%

“I want to have Dubai as a base for my business and innovation,” says Novak Djokovic. “I love the champion mentality.”

The world tennis number one, arguably Serbia’s most famous son, describes the emirate as his “second home”.

Emirati officials, who launched trade talks with the European country on Monday, will be hoping Djokovic’s compatriots agree.

The negotiations that began in Dubai this week seek to establish a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (Cepa) as UAE-Serbia trade accelerates.

In the first six months of this year, non-oil transactions hit $57 million – more than the total for the whole of 2020. The figure in 2022 was $73.4 million, up 42 percent on the previous year.

More than 5,000 Serbians are now resident in the Emirates, not including tennis stars.

While the UAE is now the third-largest market in the Middle East for Serbian exports, the cornerstone of the two countries’ business relationship is real estate.

Abu Dhabi developer Eagle Hills in 2015 began construction on Belgrade Waterfront, a $3 billion apartment complex on the banks of the River Sava in Serbia’s capital.

So far, 14 buildings have been completed and residents have moved into 3,000 apartments. Three more buildings, containing almost 600 apartments, are scheduled to be finished by the end of this year. 

Vijay Valecha, chief investment officer at Century Financial, told AGBI: “The real estate market in Serbia has been growing, with remarkable growth in condominium residential developments led by Israeli and UAE investors.”

Novak Djokovic in action at the Dubai Tennis Championships. The Serbian champion describes the emirate as his second homeReuters/Amr Alfiky
Novak Djokovic in action at the Dubai Tennis Championships. The Serbian champion describes the emirate as his second home

Another Abu Dhabi developer – Emirates Stallions Group, a subsidiary of International Holding Company – has built a $71 million hotel and mountain resort in the Kopaonik region of Serbia. 

“With 160 snow days a year, Serbia is expected to attract significant tourism from UAE where all year round there is a hot climate,” Valecha added.

The country is an “emerging economy in an increasingly important part of Europe”, according to Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, the UAE’s trade minister, speaking as the Cepa talks began.

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in June made a working visit to Serbia, where he met with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic.

The leaders explored opportunities for further collaboration, especially in renewable energy, agriculture, food security, technology, artificial intelligence and trade.

Trade and investment opportunities have also prompted Dubai International Chamber to establish a Serbian Business Council, which held its first annual general meeting last month.

Abu Dhabi's Eagle Hills is developer of Belgrade Waterfront in SerbiaSupplied
Abu Dhabi’s Eagle Hills is developer of Belgrade Waterfront in Serbia

Mohammad Ali Rashed Lootah, president and CEO of Dubai Chambers, said the council would “build bridges of co-operation” for key sectors of UAE-Serbia trade.

Dubai Chambers said that high-potential sectors for imports from Serbia include cereals, fruits, paper and wood.

The group also pointed to opportunities to increase exports from the UAE of tobacco, optical and medical instruments, aircraft parts and chemicals.

More than 200 Serbian companies are registered with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, 40 of which joined this year.

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