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13.10.2013. / ree-Akademediasrbija

Serbia is on a positive roll at the moment...three stories caught my eye over the past 24H or so, two which are decidedly upbeat, the other is probably net market neutral, but may need watching.

First, reports that Gazprom might be willing to prefinance the EUR1.7bn cost of investment in the South Stream gas pipeline thru Serbia, which is meant to get under way from 2014, to be completed in 2016. The Russians seem to be talking about providing up front cash, as a pre-payment for as transit fees. Maybe the fact that Serbia is set to get UAE money shortly is making the Russians worries about their own leverage in the country, or maybe they are just being “nice”.

It might also be an angle to send another signal to the Ukrainians that with north/south stream gas pipelines “in the pipeline” as it were, their own strategic importance is declining – not sure I buy that as whatever happens Ukraine will remain a key gas transit/storage hub for Rossiya.

Second, the govt is reported to be pushing ahead with four key reform bulls, including bankruptcy, labour market reform, planning and normalization. The latter are key to pushing thru with the plan to restructure 179 SOEs in 2014, the benchmark for get the World Bank to sign off on the USD500m in budget financing in the pipeline for 2014.

Third, reports y/day that former finance minister (x2) and former central bank governor, Mladjan Dinkic, was questioned by police over the sale of a banks back in the early 2000s. Dep PM Vucic has led an anti-graft campaign, which has been hugely popular with the electorate, if opinion polls are to be believed. Dinkic was seen as a key reform anchor in the coalition govt prior to its reformation back in July, so some might view this as a negative. The fear might be that this might be somewhat comparable to the YT issue in Ukraine, and might see accusations of the selective application of justice.

However, I just don’t really see the West as sticking up for Dinkic as they have for YT, especially given Serbia’s lynchpin position for Balkan security and the desire to ormalize the situation in Kosovo. I guess there is acceptance that fighting graft is a good thing more generally, and required throughout the Balkan region – e.g. the Sanader affair in Croatia.

Actually, a fourth point, and which I saw as quite positive also, were the comments by the PM, Ivica Dacic, warning of job cuts in the 600,000 strong public sector in Serbia. Dacic hails from the Socialist party, and had been seen as foot dragging on key structural reforms, like pension and public sector reform, so his comments are encouraging.

/ Balkans Business News /


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