EBRD and partners boost transport connections in Western Balkans

By Volker Ahlemeyer


Improving strategic transport links key to economic integration and growth 

The Western Balkans Investment Summit brought together at EBRD Headquarters high-level government officials, including all six Prime Ministers, and private sector participants to discuss opportunities and challenges across the region.

Regional transport connectivity featured high among the topics discussed to boost economic growth. It was also the subject of a dedicated discussion panel.

“A good quality transport infrastructure is vital for well-integrated economies, to boost trade with the region and with the EU,” said Sue Barrett, Director for Transport at the EBRD.

To explore how to best achieve this, the panel represented views from all major transport areas – roads, railways, ports and airports.

All panellists stressed, from the start, the importance of regional projects and economic integration, as they bring immediate benefits to both people and economies.

Miodrag Poledica, State Secretary at Serbia’s Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, pointed to the reduced logistics costs for businesses which now have to factor in delays and costs for several border crossings.

Transport corridor Vc served as a key example of a vital artery to connect the Western Balkan markets – among themselves and also with the European Union, the world’s largest market.

“In Bosnia and Herzegovina, 30 per cent of the population live along the motorway and 40 per cent of our GDP is produced there, so it is very important for our economic development,” pointed out Jasmin Buco from FBiH Motorways.

The EBRD signed a Memorandum of Understanding yesterday with the Ministers of Transport and Communications of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and Republika Srpska (RS). This envisages an investment programme of over €700 million for this strategic road link over the next three years.

However, the region has not only high potential for trade in goods, but also for services such as in the tourism sector – and these depend on an adequate infrastructure as well.

Mehmet Kutman, Chairman, Global Investment Holdings, spoke about the Port of Adria, which is expected to attract an increasing amount of cruise ships to Montenegro. At the same time, the port investment also brings new opportunities for inter-regional trade. The EBRD signed yesterday a loan of €20 million to modernise privately owned Port of Adria, which handles over 95 per cent of the country’s maritime freight.

Private investors are not only important to provide funds, but also bring in expertise in areas, such as marketing, stressed, Serkan Kaptan, CEO of global airport operator TAV Airports. He referred to his experience in FYR Macedonia and Croatia, where his company’s involvement helped to attract new airlines, leading to substantial passenger growth.

Agron Thaci, CEO of Infrakos, spoke about the latest investments in the railway sector in Kosovo. He explained that it was crucial to obtain the finance of international financial institutions, such as the EBRD, blended with investment grants and technical cooperation from the European Union and bilateral donors.

While two north-south rail links, connecting Kosovo to Serbia and FYR Macedonia, are the country’s current priority, there are further plans for connections to Montenegro and Albania in the future, he added.

Finally, Alan Ross, President of the International Road Safety Centre, stressed that the number of road fatalities is three times higher in the Western Balkans when compared to Western Europe.

Apart from the tragic personal impact that this has on too many families, it also leads to considerable economic losses of up to US$ 2.8 billion.

A good part of this cost and tragedy could be avoided through road safety programmes, adequate road planning and road safety inspections, he said.