H.E. Anthony F. Godfrey, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia: 140 years of diplomatic relations between Serbia and USA

The United States government has invested about $1 billion in economic assistance to Serbia over the past 20 years

The United States and the Republic of Serbia enjoy a partnership that began over 140 years ago when the United States recognized the newly proclaimed independence of the Principality of Serbia and the first U.S. ambassador, Eugene Schuyler, arrived in Belgrade. That friendship has endured throughout the years, and today the USA seeks to reinforce Serbia’s efforts to advance its European aspirations.

This year, we are marking a very significant jubilee – 140 years of diplomatic relations between Serbia and the United States of America. How would you rate the overall relations between our two countries today?

The United States recognizes the importance of building a stronger friendship with Serbia, and I am doing my best every day to ensure that this happens and that we can move this to a level not yet seen in our 140 years of official relations.  Standing shoulder to shoulder in the fight against COVID-19 provided even more proof on why this matters.  We will not forget Serbia’s assistance in returning American citizens who were stranded when air travel was stopped by the pandemic, and we hope renewed American leadership in global health will help not just Serbia, but the entire world to conquer this pandemic as soon as possible.

“U.S. firms now employ about 20,000 Serbians”

The history of our relations must guide our path, not just the successes of World Wars I and II, and now COVID, but also the difficult times.  Our diplomatic ties started with trade — a simple treaty to help with the export of Serbian plums – and has certainly evolved.  U.S. firms now employ about 20,000 Serbians, American companies work with the government on infrastructure projects, and even our elite special forces are training side by side.  Serbia has an excellent Ambassador in Washington who has really injected new energy into the relationship, and I am doing my best to continue to rejuvenate and strengthen a special connection between our two nations.  I am grateful that President Vucic has clearly placed this as a priority in his administration.  We share a belief in the importance of being honest about past challenges, and in realizing that both nations are stronger when we stand together.

What can Serbia expect from the new president Joseph Biden and his team regarding Serbian interests and the continuation of the EU accession process?

President Biden truly understands the importance of a stable, peaceful and prosperous Western Balkans.  During his election campaign, he spoke about the need to continue moving the region forward. This cannot happen without a successful Serbia.  Frankly, he also knows that longterm success and stability cannot happen without a return to the EU-led Dialogue and a lasting agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.  In addition to building on the work of the previous President, I believe you will see a stronger emphasis on cooperation with the European Union.  My Embassy’s top priority continues to be to assist Serbia on its stated strategic goal of joining the EU.  Adding Serbia’s star to the EU flag makes sense – Serbia is a European nation, Serbians share European values, and the EU is the largest and most successful trading bloc in history, with a strong commitment to human rights, rule of law, and innovation.

The new U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, stated that he wanted the relations between Serbia and Kosovo to normalize and for the region to move forward. How important is the stable region for the progress of all Western Balkan countries?

The frozen conflict blocks Serbia’s EU path, and I believe it also chills the entire region.  A free and unified Europe will only be made stronger with the addition of countries of the Western Balkans.  We know from world history that instability and unfinished conflicts in the Balkans are bad not just for the region and for Europe, but the entire world.  The United States wants Serbia to succeed.  We want to give young citizens of Serbia reasons to stay and help build and realize their dreams at home.

What is the current situation in the USA and what are the plans of the US Government relating to the fight against COVID-19 and the ongoing crisis?

The situation remains severe, with more than 540,000 Americans killed by the virus.  But I see strong reasons for hope: President Biden reached his goal of 100 million vaccinated weeks ahead of schedule, schools are starting to reopen, and our Congress just approved a historic economic stimulus package.  Our businesses have proven remarkably resilient, but we are seeing the government take strong actions to ensure our economy continues to rebound as the nation heals.  President Biden’s first initiative was to greatly intensify America’s focus in the fight against COVID-19, including increasing our cooperation with other nations.  The U.S. has made the largest commitments of any nation towards the global vaccine initiative, COVAX, worth roughly $4 billion.

The U.S. and Serbia improved their friendly relations and partnership during the crisis in 2020. The U.S. investors have invested over $3 billion in Serbia so far and Serbia provided transportation for 300 American citizens back to the US. What can we do together to further strengthen our ties?

The Embassy is actively working to expand trade and investment between our nations.  We are also closely engaged with our European partners to continue helping Serbia work on further reforms in its EU accession process.  These reforms might sound abstract — stronger rule of law, more efficient trading procedures, a cleaner environment, a safe and free press – but they will also help attract more business and slow Serbia’s brain drain.

“A free and unified Europe will only be made stronger with the addition of countries of the Western Balkans”

In January, the two countries signed the Investment Incentive Agreement which is a prerequisite for the DFC launching its activities in Serbia. What does this mean for the economy and companies in Serbia?

The United States government has invested about $1 billion in economic assistance to Serbia over the past 20 years.  DFC is a continuation of this commitment to Serbia’s success.  This agency brings a variety of new tools to help increase our economic relations, including access to risk insurance, loan guarantees, and even direct loans and other financing.  We hope DFC will help attract even more American companies to invest in Serbia, as well as help Serbian businesses to grow.

American companies in Serbia employ close to 20,000 people and while the trade between our two countries amounts to about $900 million. What can we do to attract more American companies and investments to Serbia?

When you look at the government’s aggressive and serious approach to providing vaccines and quality medical care, combined with the relative resilience of the economy, Serbia has been doing an excellent job in navigating the uncharted waters of this pandemic.  The conditions for more success are here: Serbia has a talented and hard-working labor force combined with an ideal location near major European markets.  To truly unleash Serbia’s economic potential, however, I believe a normalization agreement is needed: Investors want stability and predictability.

What challenges await us this year, and do you think that inoculation and the introduction of so-called COVID passports is a way out of the pandemic’s vicious circle?

We’re still very much in the middle of the battle with this virus, though, thanks to scientists, we now have a variety of effective vaccines and this will help us win, so long as enough citizens understand the importance of widespread vaccination.  I believe public education on the extreme importance of getting vaccinated is our next major challenge.  At the same time, we need to protect and restore our small businesses, which are the foundation of both the Serbian and American economies.  All businesses have been hit hard by the crisis, but especially the smallest entrepreneurs and family businesses.  We must work to not just protect our bodies, but also our livelihoods.  Restoring safe travel is another key element, both for businesses and for people who deserve a chance to relax and enjoy life a bit.  I hope there is a way to make travel easier for those who make responsible choices and get vaccinated.

“Serbs have a right to be proud of their farmers and their food”

We can’t help but ask you what is your favourite Serbian dish, beverage and restaurant in Belgrade?

Well, that’s not fair. Do you also want to ask me if I have a favorite child?  Belgrade has some excellent restaurants, but I must admit that my preferences are more for traditional Serbian kafana food.  Serbian Southern barbeque is really tough to match, and I have yet to have a bad meal in the countryside.  I think this is a reflection on the quality of your farmers and the Serbian climate: whether we’re talking roast Manguilica pork, homemade kajmak on cevapi, ajvar and corn bread, or sweets like fresh raspberry jam and Bagrem honey.  These are true delicacies.  Serbs have a right to be proud of their farmers and their food and I want to do what I can to help spread the word.  Hopefully, this will also help bring more business and sales, because I know their work is not easy and comes with little reward.  As far as drinks, I also think Serbian wines deserve more attention outside of your borders.  If I can help with this, I am happy to continue with my research.

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