TRUE FRIENDSHIP

Kazakhstan 2017 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Tomislav Nikoli, former President of Serbia, on President Nazarbayev's recent trip to the country and the future of bialteral relations.

Tomislav Nikoli
BIOGRAPHY
Tomislav Nikoli was born on February 15, 1952 in Kragujevac. He started his career in 1971 at civil engineering company Žegrap. His first party engagement was in the National Radical Party, where he was soon elected Vice-President. Since 1992, he has been a deputy in the Assembly of Serbia and in 1998 was elected Vice-President of the Government of Serbia. Since August 1999, he has been Vice-President of the Federal Government during the premiership of Momir Bulatovi. In May 2012 he was elected President of the Republic of Serbia. He speaks English and Russian and holds a master’s degree in economics from the Faculty of Economy and Engineering Management at Novi Sad.

President Nazarbayev held his first-ever visit to Serbia in August 2016. How has this event opened a new chapter of diplomatic ties between Serbia and Kazakhstan, and how would you describe bilateral relations today?

Serbia and Kazakhstan have longstanding good and friendly relations. Last year we celebrated 25 years of the independence of Kazakhstan and two decades of bilateral relations. We have had the opportunity to confirm our friendship on many occasions. Serbia highly appreciates Kazakhstan's decision to support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia. We support each other in many international bodies. President Nazarbayev's first official visit to Serbia in summer 2016 played a pivotal role in intensifying our bilateral relations as well as in invigorating ideas for advanced trade and economic cooperation. In 2017, we will have an intensive exchange at the high political level. We plan to establish closer ties in the areas of security, culture, academic exchange, and many other fields. We look forward to Expo 2017 in Astana as an opportunity for our businesses to better explore a wide array of prospects for future cooperation.

President Nazarbayev has previously commented on the great potential for trade between the two countries. In which areas do you particularly see the potential for enhanced trade, and what measures are being taken to reach your full potential?

Our trade is indeed below its potential. Agriculture, construction, pharmaceuticals, transport, and tourism are all areas where we both see prospects for better cooperation. At present, there is much going on at the institutional level. Last May 2016, the supreme council of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) adopted a decision to start negotiations with Serbia on the unification of the trade regime, the result of which will be a mutual free trade zone between all EEU member states and Serbia. Concrete negotiations should start in 2017. We are still awaiting the formal decision regarding the export of Fiat vehicles produced in Serbia. We are also enthusiastic about the opening of direct flights between Belgrade and Astana and Almaty, which are in the interest of both countries and should happen during Expo 2017. This will allow much easier and faster communication, boost tourism on both sides, and offer Kazakhstani travelers other options to fly to the US via Belgrade, using Air Serbia.

What opportunities does Serbia offer to Kazakhstani investors and vice versa?

Kazakhstani investors will find abundant opportunities in Serbia. A Kazakhstani company, ZholZhondeushi, recently purchased ZGOP, a Serbian company involved in the construction, repair, and maintenance of railway lines, from Novi Sad. We hope to see more investors, particularly in the petrochemical sector, gas and oil industry, as well in other sectors where there is an ongoing process of privatization. I would also like to emphasize the potential for the establishment of mutual companies and transfer of know-how in the agriculture, food processing, and pharmaceutical sectors and a joint approach to third markets, particularly China. There is growing interest by Serbian companies in Kazakhstan as well. Some of the most renowned companies such as Tarkett, Energoprojekt, Tigar, Hemopharm, and others have already established themselves in Kazakhstan's competitive market. Having in mind that Kazakhstan has ambitious plans for urban construction, we believe Serbian companies in construction, equipment, and machinery, as well as interior design, are well suited for the job.

How do you foresee future bilateral relations between the two countries evolving in the next five to 10 years?

I am enthusiastic about our prospects to build stronger political and economic ties. Both countries showed strong willingness to nurture these relations, promote dialog, and act as pillars of stability in their respective regions. The EEU is one of the most promising global markets and Kazakhstan itself has an excellent geostrategic position and economic potential for further accelerated growth. Serbia, with its economic, scientific, and cultural potential, as well as unspoiled nature, has proven to be an attractive business partner and a trusted friend.