Serbia plans to limit foreign retailers’ growth

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia has outlined a new trade development strategy signaling more limited access to its market for foreign retailers over the next three to five years, the Belgrade daily Politika reported yesterday. A group of university professors, who prepared a state-sponsored study that could result in a new trade law, said a five-year period would allow local retailers to grow without being exposed to tough foreign competition. «At the start of this transition period, foreign investment in new retail capacity in Serbia should be limited to 15 million euros,» project leader Stipe Lovreta was quoted as saying. He also said foreign companies should not be allowed to build retail space exceeding 1,000 square meters and that restrictions would be phased out as the local market stabilized. Serbia’s outgoing Trade Minister Slobodan Milosavljevic told Reuters that foreign retailers would still be allowed to invest but only with special government authorization. «We want to keep track of incoming foreign investment in the sector. The aim of the strategy is to protect domestic producers and retailers,» Milosavljevic said. The proposed strategy would not affect the French franchiser Cora, whose 200-million-euro hypermarket is due to open in 2004. But German retailer Metro, currently seeking a site for its first Serbian store, would need a permit from the Trade Ministry. «With our permission, they would be able to build a space on 100,000 square meters if they like.» According to the Ministry of Trade, retail trade has grown by a steady 15 percent a year since 2001, when reformers toppled autocrat leader Slobodan Milosevic.