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Western Balkans

EU trade relations with the Western Balkans. Facts, figures and latest developments.

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Western Balkans
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Trade plays an important role in the EU's efforts to promote peace, stability, freedom and economic prosperity in the Western Balkans.

The Western Balkans consists of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Kosovo*.

Trade picture

For all of the Western Balkan partners, the EU is the leading trade partner, accounting for over two-thirds (67.6%) of the region's total trade; while the region's share of overall EU trade is only 1.5%.

Trade between the EU and the Western Balkans was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, falling by 7.8% compared to 2019, in line with the decline in trade in other markets. However, 2021 saw a substantial recovery, with an increase in trade year-on-year of 28.6%, bringing total trade with the region to €65 billion: its highest level for 10 years. Overall, this trade expansion has been to the benefit of the EU's Western Balkan partners; in the last 10 years, the region increased its exports to the EU by 145% against a more modest increase of EU exports to the region of 81%. 

  • In 2021, the EU's main imports from the Western Balkans were: machinery and appliances (22.7%), base metals (13.8%), mineral products (10.7%) and chemicals (10.7%).
  • The EU's exports to the Western Balkans were mainly: machinery and appliances (20.3%), mineral products (12.1%), chemicals (10.8%), and base metals (10.1%).

The EU and the Western Balkans

All countries of the Western Balkans have a European integration perspective, which was first recognised during the Feira European Council in 2000. This was further confirmed by the Thessaloniki European Council in 2003 and by the Sofia European Council in May 2018. This European perspective is integrated into the Stabilisation and Association Process, which is the EU's policy in relation to the countries of the Western Balkans. Under this process, all Western Balkan countries have a common future as EU Member States.

Since the launch of the Stabilisation and Association Process, the EU has progressively concluded bilateral FTAs – referred to as 'Stabilisation and Association Agreements' (SAAs) – with each of the Western Balkan partners: Albania (2009), North Macedonia (2004), Montenegro (2010), Serbia (2013), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2015) and Kosovo* (2016).

The SAAs are tools which provide for the economic development and political stabilisation of the countries in the region, and for the creation of a close, long-term association between the EU and the Western Balkans. In effect, the SAAs constitute the legal instrument for alignment to the EU acquis and progressive integration into the EU market.

The SAAs established a free-trade area for a transitional period, which has now ended for all but Kosovo* (2026). The Agreements foresee the elimination of duties and non-tariff restrictions on bilateral trade and cover goods in all Chapters of the Harmonised System. Only a few exceptions, concerning some agricultural and fishery products, are not fully liberalised, and are subject to reduced duties and/or preferential quantitative concessions.

In addition, the agreements include provisions concerning competition matters, a high level of protection of intellectual property rights, and strengthened co-operation in customs matters. They also include additional disciplines concerning, notably, government procurement, legislative approximation in many areas including standardisation, and provisions regarding services and establishment.

For more information, see also: Commission Communication on 'Western Balkans: Enhancing the European perspective', and the 2019 Communication on EU Enlargement Policy.

To further develop regional trade and to offer new opportunities for economic operators, a system of diagonal cumulation of origin was set up between the European Union, the Western Balkans participating in the Stabilisation and Association Process, and Turkey. This system allows a participating partner to use materials originating in other partner(s) of the zone under advantageous conditions in the manufacture of final goods which are exported to the European Union, the Western Balkans or Turkey.

Accessing the EU market

Since 2000, the EU has been granting autonomous trade preferences to all the Western Balkan countries.

These preferences, which were renewed for another five years at the end of 2020, allow nearly all exports to enter the EU without customs duties or limits on quantities.

Only sugar, wine, baby beef and certain fisheries products enter the EU under preferential tariff quotas.

Committees and Dialogues

The EU and the Western Balkan countries meet regularly to discuss issues and best practices and oversee the proper functioning of the agreement.

Trading with the Western Balkans

  • Importing into the EU from the Western Balkans
  • Exporting from the EU to the Western Balkans
  • Trade relations are part of the EU's overall political and economic relations with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo*.
  • The EU strongly supports the membership of the Western Balkans states in the World Trade Organization (WTO): Albania (2000), North Macedonia (2003) and Montenegro (2011) are already WTO members. The WTO accession negotiations with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are still ongoing.
  • The Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) is a single Free Trade Agreement (FTA) linking all the Western Balkans and Moldova.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.

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