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Serbian Foreign Minister Ivan Mrkic was here last week to attend the African Union Assembly where he held talks with different stake holders in areas of bilateral co operations. Captial’s Fitsum Abera sat down with him to talk about his trip. Excerpts;

Capital: How do you like Ethiopia so far?
Ivan Mrkic:
Well it is not my first time in Ethiopia. I came here quite a few times. Before becoming the foreign minister, I was the state minister of my country. I had the pleasure of hosting many visits from your officials in Belgrade. We have strong ties. I like Ethiopia. We have something deeply rooted in our spirits, in our hearts. We remember the times of President Tito and Emperor Hailesilassie. It started then in the 1960’s. The former Yugoslavia used to play an important role in world politics and your country also played an important role.  We as Serbs have always admired the fact that the Ethiopian nation has never been occupied by any outside forces. You are a fortunate exemption. You have sacrificed a lot to keep freedom and liberty with you at all times. I have enjoyed my stay here.
Capital: What similarities and differences have you observed between Serbia and Ethiopia?
Ivan:
Many Similarities. I mentioned history before. We have both gone through difficult times and many challenges and we have remained friends. Nowadays the former Yugoslavia doesn’t exist anymore. Serbia is one of the main successors and we are the ones who cherish all the past and traditions. We are the ones honoring friendships. We are the ones who want to have stronger bonds in accordance with the contemporary needs. We are finding ways and means whenever we are finding your officials like your foreign minister and many others. Nowadays, my interactions are with Prime Minister Hailemariam. You have your contemporary needs and Serbia can be one of those who can supply Ethiopia with some goods or services.
Capital: When you say contemporary needs what are you speaking of?
Ivan:
Modernization in all fields, but at this time you need to develop agriculture. You are basically an agricultural country and Serbia even in the past had some industries which are in good compliance with your needs. Today at the African Union Summit we had a main subject discussed by many: agriculture and food safety. We have our views on that and we can contribute. We made comments which are going to be incorporated into the official document of this year’s meeting.
Capital: What issues were you planning to raise for this year’s African union summit?
Ivan:
We already had several meetings. I have a separate bilateral meeting scheduled with your foreign minister. With the African Union, I am supposed to meet the Deputy Chairperson of the commission, Mwencha. He is the one who visited Serbia. I have brought with me the draft document of the agreement in the field of economy with the African Union. So I will deliver to him the document and after he looks over it Serbia will probably agree with the contents of that contract.
Capital: Does the Serbian business community plan on furthering business relations with Ethiopian entrepreneurs?
Ivan:
We do. I think this year. Because we are in the process of paying off huge portions of debts which occurred in the past, we shall forget all the arrangements which belong in the past. But we need to make new business plans. For that reason we need to dispatch a business delegation composed mostly of the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia and also other associations. Your delegation is supposed to come to Serbia in April this year.  We shall have some talks in the economic field but some state topics shall be on the table as well.
Capital: Please tell me about the memorandum of understanding signed in 2011 between Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who was at the time foreign minister and your predecessor Vic Jeremic concerning the Kosovo issue.
Ivan:
Ethiopia is one of the most influential African countries. We enjoy a friendship with the Ethiopian government. You have very delicate feelings regarding secessionist movements and all sorts of separatists. We have recently faced attempts of getting a portion of our territory, our possession. Giving that away through self-proclamations. We are fighting that of course. We are not in a war with the secessionist Albanian minority. We are discussing things with them. We have been trying to solve it in a political way and we can do that with the support of countries which are seen as respecting international law. The ones we have on our own side (are there) because of the position of the principles that they are observing and respecting. Ethiopia is one of those countries. We are very much grateful for the position of your country. If you look at the world map and see the countries which are not recognizing the secessionist movement, you will see that the great majority is on the side of the Serbians. We are grateful for Ethiopia for recognizing that position and it is as far as we are concerned a necessity and by that we shall more easily come to the good outcome.
Capital: In 2013, Serbia was one of the top ten European countries with a great GDP growth. How did you achieve that?
Ivan:
Listen, we are not very spectacular to speak frankly. We are attempting… we are hoping…we are trying to achieve a growth that is higher than 2.5pct GDP this year. But compared to other European countries we are in a pretty good mood. Our economy is getting a good pace. We really need to pass through some new challenges so we can get a good foundation. We are in a reform. We are trying to adapt new legislations. We are trying to standardize ourselves to some rules which are prevailing in the European Union. By doing that we are creating foundations for a stronger economy.
Capital: How about direct investments? In recent years, direct investments to Serbia have increased dramatically.
Ivan:
We are still a champion as far as Eastern Europe is concerned. We are the ones getting most of the investments coming from a variety of countries. There is now a clear formula. You are getting varied contributions; sometimes they are coming from China, sometimes it is Nordic countries. Most are investing in Serbia for the simplest of reasons. We have very good environment in the sense of legislation. We have a talented nation, population. We are well educated and the salaries are not so high. So all in all we are a good spot for investment compared to some other European countries.
Capital: Are any Serbians coming to invest in the Ethiopian economy?
Ivan:
I think yes. We are especially trying to stoke an interest in those sectors concerned with food processing and especially in the field of the meat industry. We intend to launch the talks in the course of this year.