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Promo » Promo | 19 Marko Čadež, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia and chairman of the Western Balkans Chamber Investment Forum Foto: Miša Obadović the signing of six agreements in Tirana, between Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia. What does that look like on the ground? “When it comes toeasingmutual trade, these three countries have, first and foremost, harmonised the working hours of the border services, which now operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Alongside that, the relevant veterinary and phytosanitary services have recognised each other’s documentation that accompanies goods, issued in another country. This means that there’s no longer any need to retain trucks at borders in order to sample products of animal and plant origin.The only exceptions to this are hazardous products, which account for less than seven per cent of the total trade exchange between the three economies.” The three countries have committed to mutually recognising the AEO status of “authorised economic operator” companies acquired in their home country? “Yes. That provides them with priority status in customs clearances and negotiating phytosanitary and veterinary border procedures, or, more precisely, the ability to undertake all necessary procedures at home, submit documentation electronically and cross the border without being subjected to delays. We are also working to establish a fast-track at border crossings for “OpenBalkan” goods, to create conditions formutual electronic exchange, alongside customs clearances andotherdocumentationthat accompanies goods, to reduce various administrative charges and export and import duties etc.” What’s the next step? “The common labourmarket of Serbia, Albania andNorthMacedonia, i.e., the systemof unified work permits, should start functioningby the end of the first quarter. Serbia has already ratified the entire package of agreements from Tirana, including two that relate to free access to the region's labour market and the establishing of the Open Balkan ID number. It is expected that Albania and North Macedonia will soon do the same. Work is currently underway on connecting them, i.e., on the establishing of a unified information system. Both domestic and foreign companies, almost half of which report labour shortages, will gain the opportunity to find suitableworkers and experts in other “OpenBalkan” countries, and to employ them without the need tonavigate bureaucratic procedures that have existed to date. In time, the common labour market will be completedwith themutual recognition of professional qualifications.” Do you expect the remaining economies of the region to join the initiative soon? “Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia have resolved to build a common economic area of 11 million inhabitants, without waiting for others. However, viewed from the perspective of the economy, there’s absolutelyno reasonwhy all six economies shouldn’t jointly build an even larger common market of almost 20 million consumers, with fewer barriers and reduced costs for companies, andwithmore freedom in terms of themovement of people, goods, services and capital. I’m convinced that the results of the three countries that are the first to start building this common market will contribute to the other economies of the region recognising the interest of their companies and joining theOpenBalkan initiative.”