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South-East Europe Forum

Balkan countries need to band together for stronger market position

Fruit and vegetable companies in South-East Europe are increasingly becoming more and more present in the international market, however, according to many in the industry, there are still some issues that need to be ironed out and many of the decisions made in the early stages of growth could set the tone for the industry in the region.

These issues were addressed during the recent South-East Europe forum, held in Belgrade, Serbia on the 29th of November. The first topic on the agenda for the day was 'Setting the scene: current landscape and 2020 outlook'.

The Balkans are a gateway to Europe, in close proximity to the Middle East and Africa, with the possibility of being able to deliver products from these regions within 1-2 days to any distribution centre in Europe. Another important advantage is its easy and free access to EU markets, enabled by its geographical proximity to major European markets and the free trade agreements that the countries of the region have signed with the EU.

The Middle East has also shown increasing interest in the region. The Gulf is one of the world's largest food importing regions and they have been buying and leasing farmland in developing nations to secure food supplies. For example, a firm based in Abu Dhabi, called Al-Dahra, has agreed to invest $400 mln in a joint venture investment with the Serbian government to develop 9,000 ha of farmland, which is an historical investment for Serbian agriculture.

Goran Damovski from USAID Regional Economic Growth Project (Macedonia).

Speaker, Goran Damovski from USAID (Macedonia), said that it was important that the region shake off the bad image they had gained from some less than ideal situations where some 'bad apples' had failed to follow through on their obligations.

"The region is in growth and transition, but it is vitally important that businesses here do the proper market analysis. In the past they have been faced with big importers and were not prepared for business at that level and were not in the position to provide the consistent supply and quality standards which were necessary."

According to findings from USAID, 'it is extremely important that countries consolidate ag holdings, improve the quality of harvesting, storage and marketing, and develop ag support services, including extension, insurance etc.'

Bostjan Kozole from Evrosad (Slovenia).

Bostjan Kozole from Evrosad said that it is vitally important that companies are able to comply with European standards, stating that Eurogap should be a starting point.

"We need to look at the habits, business practices and differences in each country to become successful. It is important to know what to market in which country. It is also important to make sure that what is sent out for export is of the utmost quality. We need to cooperate with each other in order to get the most out of the new markets. This could be the start of something that will benefit all of us." said Kozole.

"Harmonising our business with the EU is key, and it is important the we look at interregional integration, which would boost production and overall success for all involved. Everyone in the system needs to work together on the value chain. Many in the region have put too much focus on government assistance, who have done a great job, but the government can't do everything. Companies in the region need to also need to look at the opportunities in the private sector. Once this happens, I truly believe that this region has the potential to become one of the larger producers for the EU in the future." concluded Damovski.