By Besar Likmeta
As fighting in Libya continues between rebels based in the eastern city of Benghazi and forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, thousands of workers from Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia have returned home.
But although Libya is a significant market for services and weapons from ex-Yugoslav countries, the conflict will have little impact on their economies, economists say.
“I don’t think exports are such a dramatic issue for these countries, although there are issues with people working in construction and maybe with military exports,” said Vladimir Gligorov, Balkans expert at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies.
Trade with Libya “is not a very large share of the region’s economy, so I don’t see it having a very serious impact,” Gligorov added.
According to UN trade statistics, exports to Libya from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia were worth a total of $123 million in 2010.
Ties, political and economic, date back to the era when Yugoslavia commanded a high-profile role in the so-called Third World through its founding role in the Non-Aligned Movement.
The trade collapsed when Yugoslavia itself disintegrated in the 1990s. But it resumed after the Balkans emerged from the wars that led to the creation of several new states, and it intensified after the lifting in 1998 of international sanctions imposed on Libya following the 1994 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Bosnian exports to Libya from 2006 to 2010 increased six-fold from $4.1 million to $24.8 million. Eighteen Bosnian companies, mostly working in construction, medicine or agriculture, have had to cut short operations since the uprising started in Libya in February.
Bosnian officials, businessmen and economic experts have taken a dim view of the US, British and French-led intervention against the Libyan regime, fearing that a change in Tripoli could compromise their business projects.
Serbian officials have been general silent over the conflict, while millions of dollars worth of military and construction contracts with the Libyan regime are at stake.
However, Gligorov says that cozy ties with Gaddafi should not stop trade contacts resuming after a possible change of regime. “Whoever takes over, it will take a while for these contacts to resume,” Gligorov said.
“But even if a new [political] reality is created, earlier dealings with Gaddafi will not matter because the whole world dealt with him,” he noted.