Speaking in Belgrade earlier today, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić said the Serbian government would not support an increase in exports to Russia to replace blacklisted European Union (EU) products.
The Serbian government stance comes less than 24 hours after Nikolai Fyodorov, Russian Minister of Agriculture, and Serbian Minister of Agriculture and Environment, Snezana Bogosavlevich-Boskovic, met to discuss the prospect of increasing exports of fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy products from Serbia to Russia.
Serbia, which is awaiting accession to the EU, is one of only a few European countries not affected by the since amended August 7 Russian embargo on the import of beef, pork, poultry, fruit, vegetables, cheese and milk from the EU, US, Australia, Canada, and Norway.
It was also among a number of “third and candidate countries” urged last week by the EU to “refrain from measures which are aimed at exploiting new trading opportunities arising from the introduction of these measures’.”
The European Commission (EC) unsurprisingly welcomed today's statement by Prime Minister Vučić.
“We welcome the attention the Serbian government pays to this issue and we appreciate the constructive approach as announced by Prime Minister Vučić,” said Peter Stano, spokesperson for EU Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy commissioner, Štefan Füle.
Vučić's statement seemingly represents a significant U-turn in Serbian policy following the Russian embargo.
After his meeting with Serbian officials yesterday, Russian minister Fyodorov reportedly told waiting journalists that newly-approved Serbian dairies would begin delivering additional cheese to Russia in the next two or three weeks.
“We will be ready to allow delivery of dairy products from Serbia if the country’s veterinary service is ready to provide guarantees,” Fyodorov reportedly said.
The EU exported 257m kg of cheese worth US$1.3bn (€980m) in 2013. With the one-year Russian embargo on Western products including cheese in place, Russia is seeking to fill the void left by products from countries such as the Netherlands.
Serbia meanwhile which shipped around 4.45m kg of cheese worth $19.6m (€14.75) to Russia in 2013.
Earlier this month, Serbian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, Rasim Ljajić, said the country must take advantage of the export opportunities created by the Russian embargo.
He forecast that Serbian agricultural exports to Russia could increase from US$117m (€88.2m) to US$300m (€226m) by the end of the year as a result.
“After Moscow’s official decision of a one-year ban on the import of fruits, vegetables and other foods from the EU, Serbia was given an opportunity to increase its exports of agricultural products and foodstuffs to at least US$300m by the end of 2014, although it could be significantly higher if we used all our manufacturing capacity," said a recent Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications statement.
DairyReporter.com approached the Serbian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications for comment on the country's talks with Russia, but no reply was forthcoming prior to publication.