Tirana – The establishment of a common regional market promises increased trade, economic growth, job creation, enhanced mobility, infrastructure advancement, and tighter regional cooperation, bringing myriad benefits to both citizens and businesses in the Western Balkans. At the Berlin Process Leaders’ Summit 2023, the Acting Director of the CEFTA Secretariat, Danijela Gačević, highlighted the commitments made by the Western Balkans’ leaders towards regional cooperation back in 2020.
Addressing the session themed “Integrating the Region into the Single Market and Improving Convergence with the EU”, Gačević said: “Seven remarkably important decisions were agreed upon on expert level and need to be adopted by the CEFTA Joint Committee. They have the potential not only to transform our economies but also to enhance the daily lives of our citizens. These decisions, which range from benefiting micro-enterprises to multinational corporations and from individual households to the wider community, offer growth, prosperity, and expansive opportunities. However, the genuine benefits – the tangible shifts felt in households and marketplaces – are yet to be experienced as these decisions are still pending implementation”.
Gačević emphasized that innovative solutions in areas such as professional mobility, trade facilitation, e-commerce, inter-party parcel delivery services, and customs procedures can only be actualized when regional collaboration shifts from mere words to tangible actions. This is especially crucial in the current climate of rising inflation, which erodes real incomes, dampens consumer and business confidence, leads to higher interest rates, and restricts government fiscal flexibility.
The Berlin Process Leaders’ Summit 2023 served as an opportunity to recap past endeavours and provide an overview of future challenges. The consensus was that the Common Regional Market (CRM) has extensive societal implications in the Western Balkans. Thus, it necessitates a synchronized and consistent approach from all key stakeholders. This is particularly pertinent as decisions have been brought to the point when all conditions are met for these documents to be adopted by Joint Committee, CEFTA’s sole decision-making body. Discussions also touched upon the limited capacities of Western Balkans administrations and potential solutions. All parties were reminded that the CRM Action Plan aligns with EU strategies, rules, standards, and guidelines, serving as a pathway towards European Union integration. An added challenge is the varied needs and priorities each economy has concerning the implementation of this agenda. Yet, its successful execution remains of vast public interest, directly reflecting societal advancement.
“While we have done a lot as a region in terms of trade facilitation and creating trade opportunities, the job is not complete. Continuous development is imperative to truly reap the rewards of these initiatives,” expressed the acting director of the CEFTA Secretariat. CEFTA remains devoted to tackling non-tariff barriers, simplifying goods and services documentation, promoting trade digitalization, and adhering to EU policies and standards. Amplified efforts to enforce the Economic and Investment Plan, along with initiatives like CEFTA-TCT Green Lanes, are set to expedite goods clearance and minimize border waiting times. CEFTA considerably contributed to economic expansion. In 2022, trade in goods soared to 8.8 billion, showcasing an astonishing 112% surge since 2014. The Balkan Barometer reveals that in 2022, 61% of companies benefitted from CEFTA, a marked growth from 37% in 2015.
CEFTA is optimistic that the forthcoming Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, announced by the European Commission, will expedite these processes, thus fast-tracking the region’s socioeconomic alignment with the EU single market.