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CEFTA’s role in facilitating trade and regional integration in Southeast Europe

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The Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) continues to play a vital role in fostering trade and regional integration among its signatories, with Serbia highlighting its significant economic partnership within the agreement.

Acting director of the CEFTA Secretariat, Danijela Gačević, emphasized the growing importance of CEFTA as a key trading partner for Serbia, second only to the European Union (EU). In 2022, total trade within CEFTA exceeded 12 billion euros, showcasing a substantial increase in trade volumes over the past decade.

Gačević noted that CEFTA has facilitated a remarkable growth in trade, with exports from CEFTA countries rising by 178 percent between 2012 and 2022. Notably, CEFTA has become Serbia’s largest export market after the EU, accounting for 15.4 percent of its total exports in 2023.

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Apart from goods, CEFTA is increasingly becoming a significant market for services, particularly in sectors such as IT, tourism, and transport, offering new opportunities for economic growth and diversification.

Gačević highlighted CEFTA’s crucial role in advancing the initiative for a common regional market, which aims to enhance economic ties between Western Balkan economies and the EU. CEFTA’s emphasis on trade facilitation and harmonization of regulations creates favorable conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises to expand their business across borders.

Furthermore, Gačević outlined ongoing efforts to strengthen and improve the CEFTA agreement, focusing on initiatives related to customs cooperation, reduction of trade barriers, and the digitalization of procedures. These efforts align with the goal of enhancing trade, introducing EU standards, and fostering a conducive business environment for improved competitiveness.

CEFTA’s significance extends beyond trade in goods, with initiatives aimed at liberalizing trade in services, protecting intellectual property rights, and enhancing cooperation in customs matters. The agreement also plays a vital role in supporting the Western Balkans’ integration into the EU market, as emphasized in the EU’s new Growth Plan for the Western Balkans.

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Despite challenges, including the blockade of new decisions within CEFTA since July 2021, efforts to facilitate trade and economic cooperation persist. Plans for the future include further streamlining trade procedures, connecting CEFTA Green Corridors with the EU, and harmonizing activities complementary to the EU Growth Plan for the Western Balkans.

CEFTA continues to serve as a model for successful regional cooperation, providing tangible benefits for businesses and consumers while promoting economic growth and integration in Southeast Europe.

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