Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is looking to grow China's trade relations with Europe by first making good on its deals with Serbia. Keqiang arrived Monday in Belgrade to attend the third China-Central and Eastern European (CEE) Summit with 16 other nation leaders. Li said his visit to Serbia would enhance cooperation between China and CEE countries and that those stronger ties could eventually lead to a better working relationship with the European Union, according to Chinese state-run media Xinhua.
The trip marked Li’s first official visit to Serbia, and he is the first premier in 28 years to visit the country. During his stay, he will meet with the Serbian president and prime minister, and is scheduled to attend Thursday a ceremony marking the opening of a Chinese-built bridge across the Danube river. Serbia is China's first strategic partner in the CEE region, and trade between the two countries reached $612 million in 2013, a 19.6 percent year-on-year increase.
Li is also expected to hold talks with Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic to discuss Chinese investments in a high-speed train link, slated for construction in 2017, between Hungary’s and Serbia’s capital cities, Budapest and Belgrade respectively.
The Chinese premier’s visit occurs as Beijing has expressed interest in investing in the region’s energy, agriculture, industry and infrastructure, but is blocked by the EU commission from bidding on its member countries’ public tenders. The EU urged China to join the World Trade Organization's agreement on government project procurement in January 2012, but China refused, saying that developed nations kept raising the bar of expectations from Chinese companies, according to Reuters.
Serbia is not currently an EU member, and is therefore not restricted by the EU from having Chinese companies bid for the construction of its Zemun-Borca bridge. Its foreign ministry has expressed hope that the EU and China would have come to consensus on trade agreements by the time Serbia is ready to join the European bloc.