Russian companies to participate in Serbia’s privatization process

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Russian companies are looking for opportunities to invest in Serbia, especially through the privatization of state oil monopoly NIS, Russia’s ambassador to Belgrade said yesterday. «Serbia remains our key partner in the Balkans; there are many projects ahead of us here,» Aleksandar Aleksejev said at a Serb-Russian business forum in Belgrade. «I am convinced that big Russian companies will participate in the further privatization process in Serbia,» he said, noting that the privatization of NIS was of particular interest. Russia’s Lukoil and Gazprom Neft, Romanian Rompetrol, Hungary’s MOL, Austria’s OMV, Poland’s PKN Orlen and Greece’s Hellenic Petroleum have so far expressed interest in NIS. NIS was originally slated for privatization last year, but the move was delayed. Serbia has been through months of political uncertainty with politicians struggling to agree on the formation of a coalition government. Of a record $4.1 billion Serbia received in foreign investments and privatizations last year, only $15.9 million came from Russia. Total investment since 2001 is $550 million. Serbian media have speculated more Russian companies will come in the future, and get preferential treatment in return for Russian support in stalling or blocking a United Nations plan to give independence to Serbia’s breakaway province of Kosovo. Serbia and Russia signed a free trade agreement in August 2000 which allows Serbia to export some goods to Russia with no customs tax. Several Western European companies have set up production units in Serbia to take advantage of the tariff-free status.

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