Serbia's first industrial park will break ground this year with the aim of hosting global companies tapping into central and eastern Europe markets, thanks to China's Belt and Road Initiative, said Nenad Popovic, Serbia's minister responsible for innovation and technology.

The Serbian government and China Road and Bridge Corporation, or CRBC, signed an investment agreement for the industrial park on Wednesday, after more than three years of discussions and negotiations. They will jointly invest in and manage the park, located in the capital city of Belgrade. The park will cover a total of 3.2 square kilometers.

Mainly funded by China, it will include three sub-parks: one for manufacturing and processing industries, one for trade and logistics, and one focused on the high-tech sector.

"Western countries' investment in Serbia usually has strings attached, but China's investment never does," Popovic said.

"The park is the best project in central and eastern Europe. It will become a great platform for overseas companies to enter Serbia and the region. It will also boost Serbia's economy as well as help Serbia attract high-end talents."

Job opportunities

Zou Zexi, representative of CRBC'S Serbia branch, said that the project is estimated to provide about 2,000 to 5,000 jobs for Serbians. It will add up about 5 percent to the country's gross domestic product, and attracts about 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) investment every year.

"During the construction of the project, about 60 to 70 percent of the employees we hire, the materials we use and subcontractors we cooperate with will be from Serbia," he said. "We want to build a platform, through which Chinese companies could seek long-term development in Serbia and then in central and eastern Europe."

CRBC mainly undertakes contracting, investment and infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges, ports and railways, and has operations stretching across more than 60 countries. Prior to the project, it had completed the Zemun-Borca Bridge across the Danube and its approach roads in Belgrade. In central and eastern Europe, it is carrying out projects with a total investment of nearly $2 billion in countries including Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro, Zou said.

Popovic said that the Belt and Road Initiative, which was proposed by China in 2013, aiming to build stronger links among countries across the globe, is a great initiative that advocates win-win approaches.

"Working together with China under the initiative will bring great economic momentum to Serbia and help us develop sectors including infrastructure, innovation and employment," Popovic said.

As China is strong in innovation and high-tech, he also expects to see more cooperation in sectors such as digitalization and big data.

Popovic said that cultural exchanges between the two countries have also become more frequent in recent years. The number of Chinese visitors to Serbia in 2018 was double that of the previous year.

A Chinese culture center is also under construction in Serbia, which will help Serbians learn about Chinese people and Chinese culture, he said.

"China and Chinese people are Serbia's best friends," he added.