Aleksandar Ristic is appointed three months ago as Ambassador of Serbia to Ethiopia. He graduated from University of Belgrade, Faculty of Law. From 2006 to 2010 he was stationed here in Addis Ababa as Deputy Head of Mission and the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Serbia to the African Union. He called Ethiopia as his second home. Aleksandar sat down with Capital to talk about his future plans in connecting the two countries. Excerpts;
How was your previous stay in Addis, as you were stationed here?
Aleksandar Ristic: I was, as a young diplomat, posted in Ethiopia from 2006 to 2010. Coming back as Ambassador this year is not only a great pleasure, but also а responsibility, both toward Serbia and Ethiopia.
My previous stay here was excellent. I enjoyed living here, traveling throughout the country, meeting people and learning about Ethiopia’s great history, culture and diversity. I spent more than four years in Kasanchis, not far from my office, where I was well known in the neighborhood and where everybody helped me and supported me.
Coming back is a real gift.
I am, in a way, back home, but my second home, Addis Ababa and Ethiopia have changed a lot.
I am really happy and honored that I am here again to witness the historical reforms, transformation and modernization of the country.
What is the trade balance between Serbia and Ethiopia now?
Aleksandar Ristic: The trade exchange between Serbia and Ethiopia is, unfortunately, far beyond potentials. In the past, our two countries had very developed trade relations and overall economic cooperation.
Number of important projects in Ethiopia (hospitals, dams, roads etc.) was conducted by companies from my country in the past.
We would like to go to square one on the economic relationship, to the former Yugoslavia time.
At the moment, Ethiopia is a market for Serbian cash registers and certain electrical equipment and components, whereas Serbia imports Ethiopian flowers, shellac, resin and agricultural products – coffee, oilseeds, spices etc.
It is important to say that we want to cooperate on equal terms.
What are the main areas your country wants to involve in?
Aleksandar Ristic: Our political relations are excellent. Serbia and Ethiopia have been friends for decades. Today, our political understanding is full – we support each other in international forа and we are very grateful for Ethiopian principled position on non-recognition of the unilaterally declared independence of “Kosovo”.
We would definitely like to improve our trade relations, but it should not be the only thing. We want to work together with our Ethiopian partners, through technology transfers (like we did while producing tractors together in the past decade).
We believe that there is potential for cooperation especially in agriculture, health, pharmaceutical industry and in water, energy and geology. In the above mentioned fields, Serbia has expertise and we would be very happy to share experience and work together in those sectors.
No need to mention that once very developed cooperation in the field of defense should be revived and improved.
What are your plans as the new Ambassador to boost the trade relation with Ethiopia?
Aleksandar Ristic: My wish is to approach Ethiopian Government and business community and to remind them of the huge potentials that exist in the economic cooperation, as well as to encourage Serbian companies to work more with Ethiopian counterparts.
I am very thankful to „Capital“ for giving me this chance to address the Ethiopian business people as I know your magazine is a valuable source of information for them, too.
Embassy of Serbia is ready to help connecting entrepreneurs from Ethiopia with the Serbian side and our door is open.
You have a similar project in Serbia as the Addis Ababa River Side Project. Do you have plans to cooperate with the city?
Aleksandar Ristic: You are right. There are several similar projects are taking place in Belgrade, the capital of the Republic of Serbia. Belgrade Waterfront – known in Serbian as Belgrade on Water – is the biggest one. It is, just like The Addis Ababa River Project, building emotional bond with the community by delivery of public open spaces, with sports activities and water inspired recreation and leisure. Belgrade Waterfront is an urban renewal development project aimed at improving Belgrade’s cityscape and economy by revitalizing the Sava amphitheater, a neglected stretch of land on the right bank of the Sava river.
Our two capitals have always had special ties. In fact, one of Addis Ababa Mayors lived in Serbia and, just like many other Ethiopians, graduated from University of Belgrade.
Just like in Ethiopia, where The Addis Ababa River Project is strongly supported by Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Belgrade Waterfront is spearheaded by Aleksandar Vucic, President of the Republic of Serbia.
We believe that, having in mind similarities between the two projects our capitals can work together in this field and that the city administrations should exchange views and experience on this issue.
In fact, as Takele Uma, Deputy Mayor of the capital, with whom we had preliminary contacts regarding this idea, has said that Addis Ababa (New Flower) should live up to its name, I also believe the same for Belgrade (White City).
How are you doing with your path towards joining the European Union?
Aleksandar Ristic: Serbia belongs to Europe not only geographically, but also culturally. We share the values that form the European Union and joining this bloc of peace and prosperity is our foreign policy priority.
As you are well aware, Serbia opened the European Union accession negotiations in January 2014. Since then, the process of membership negotiations, of opening and closing negotiating chapters – which has a pace that Serbia cannot be totally satisfied with – has become the primary focus of all state institutions, civil society in its broadest sense, and the majority of the citizens of the Republic of Serbia.
Serbia’s goal is the membership of the European Union in a realistic and, hopefully, the shortest possible period of time.
The Serbian Government is very committed to this process and optimistic about its dynamics in 2019 – we want to remember Romanian and Finnish presidencies as the ones during which Serbia opened the majority of the negotiating chapters. We want to see the problems that we encountered during the course of this process behind us. We want to turn back at the end of this year and see progress in membership negotiations, bilateral political relations with Member States, and in the dialogue with representatives of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government in the southern Serbian Province of Kosovo and Metohija.
However, by joining the European Union Serbia does not plan to cut its ties with its friends around the world. We will continue developing our relations with Russia, China, other Asian, North and Latin American and Caribbean, as well with African states.