Despite veiled warnings from the European Union, Serbia has gone through with the signing of a free-trade agreement with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Balkan Insight reported.
The deal, expected to be signed during a visit by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to Moscow, would replace the existing individual free-trade deals between the Balkan country and Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Serbia does not have any such accords with Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, the two other EAEU members.
The deal provides for “instant savings in customs payments” in trade between Serbia and the bloc’s member states, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s office said in a statement carried by state media.
Serbia’s Trade Ministry has said that the free-trade agreement with the EAEU will allow about 95.5 percent of Serbian products to be exported to the regional grouping free of customs duties.
Last year, trade between Serbia and the EAEU states — a market of more than 180 million people — amounted to $3.4 billion.
Although Serbia aspires to join the European Union, it has kept close ties with Russia, which observers say uses the EES to bolster Moscow’s influence in the former Soviet Union and counter the EU and NATO.
Talks on Serbia’s free-trade agreement with the EES have been ongoing since 2016.
Last week, European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said that the EU was “closely” monitoring the negotiations, telling the news website Euractive.com that Serbia “is expected to progressively align with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.”