The Sarajevo-Belgrade Highway Project will connect the regional countries as well as their people, Serbia's Minister of Construction, Transportation and Infrastructure Zorana Mihajlovic has said.
Mihajlovic made the comments while briefing Anadolu Agency (AA) on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Serbia on Oct. 7-8.
She said the project is of great importance. "This is not an ordinary highway project. It is a ring that connects the entire region. We have started the preparation for [building] the ring. This project will not only connect the regional countries but also the people. The official groundbreaking ceremony for the project will take place during Erdoğan's visit," she said.
Mihajlovic added that the first phase of the highway construction will take two-and-a-half years. The project is being carried out by Turkish company Taş Yapı and a group of Serbian companies.
She pointed out that roads mean security, political and economic stability and development and said: "Once completed the highway will reduce travel time to two hours from five or six hours. I expect a lot of benefits. This project is not only about time, but it is also a path of stronger ties between people," she said.
New investments to be discussed with Turkey
Mihajlovic said her Turkish counterpart Mehmet Cahit Turhan will be among the guests during Erdoğan's visit to Serbia and they will discuss new investment opportunities. "There are many Turkish companies in Serbia and [their numbers] have risen considerably in the last few years. This is quite significant and important for us. Turkey is an important investor and gets along well with our people. There's also important cooperation in the area of infrastructure between Turkey and Serbia. Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Mehmet Cahit Turhan will also come during the visit. We will discuss new investment areas with him," said Mihajlovic.
Mihajlovic said Serbia's main focus is "regional stability" and that is also going to be the highlight of Erdoğan's visit.
"I am sure President Erdoğan will give the same message. Without good relations between Turkey and Serbia, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina today, we would not be talking about such a huge project," she said.
In December 2018, Turkey's Taş Yapı signed a contract with the Serbian government for the design and construction of the first of two stretches of the highway. Turkey sees the highway's role as a guarantor for peace in the region. The project was brought up more than two years ago but hit a snag with 16 different routes proposed.
However, the dispute over the routes ended following a meeting in Turkey between Erdoğan, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and former Bosniak Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bakir Izetbegovic. With Erdoğan's support, the proposals of both sides were accepted through building the highway via two different routes.
According to the latest information, the first route will extend through Sarajevo-Zenica-Tuzla-Brcko-Bijelina-Belgrade while the second route will pass through Sarajevo-Visegrad-Pozega-Belgrade.
Ankara's envoy to Belgrade Tanju Bilgiç highlighted that the president's two-day visit to Belgrade is of great importance for the further development of economic and commercial ties with Serbia.
"The bilateral ties between Turkey and Serbia have gained momentum, particularly over the last two years. We have observed the expansion of commercial and economic ties during this period," Bilgiç said.
According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), bilateral trade volume between Turkey and Serbia was at $1.1 billion, of which $867.6 million was in Turkish exports and $326.2 million in Serbian imports.
The ambassador also noted that Turkish investments in Serbia were only around $1 million in 2011 and today the figure has surpassed $200 million. "Several Turkish plants have been opened and six more Turkish factories will be opened during the president's visit while the groundbreaking ceremony will be held for another one," Bilgiç said.