It may seem routine to those in Washington, but when I was invited to attend an international business conference at Georgetown University, it was a great honor for me.

More importantly, it was a first for Serbia – and one more sign of our country’s journey of change, from a socialist state in the war-torn Balkans to a growing economy in the global marketplace.

ADVERTISEMENT

As Serbia makes that historic transformation, a major milestone will be membership in the European Union (EU). Now that membership negotiations have begun, Serbian participation in the EU will signal historic progress towards the Union’s dream of a continental community of free-market democracies, living together in peace with open borders.

While we still have a long way to go, fulfilling that vision will be good for Serbia, good for the Balkans, good for Europe, good for the United States, and good for a watchful world that needs more examples of progress towards peace, prosperity and democracy.

But Serbia needs continuing encouragement from the West, including actions by the administration and Congress to strengthen U.S. political and economic ties with our country.

Congressional visits to Serbia send an important message. As Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Senate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire MORE (D-Conn.), a recent visitor to Serbia and neighboring nations, said: “Belgrade needs to know that the U.S. is leaning into our bilateral relationship, not out of it.”

My own trip to Washington is a small but significant step in this “leaning in.” I was invited to represent Serbia’s largest private employer, Delta Holding, at the fourth Global MBA Career Conference and Expo at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business this week, a first for an Eastern European company.

The invitation symbolizes what Serbia offers the Western nations – and what the West offers Serbia.

For Western Europe and the United States, Serbia offers a significant potential market for goods and services, as well as proximity to growing economies in Eastern Europe, a labor force with strong skills and other important opportunities for investors.

Serbia offers producers as well as consumers. According to the Serbian government, Serbia’s three-million-strong workforce is educated, with about half the population having graduated high school, some six percent having associate degrees and ten percent having bachelors or masters degrees.

These advantages explain why transnational companies including Fiat, Coca Cola, Ball Packaging, Cooper Tires, Nestle, Microsoft and Siemens are making more than $25 billion in foreign direct investments in Serbia.

Meanwhile, Serbian workers, consumers and businesses yearn for the day when we can sell our products across Europe, while being able to buy the best that the world’s economy has to offer.

As a leading example of the Serbian business community’s Western orientation, Delta has partnered with Nike, DuPont, Johnson Chemicals,  Beiersdorf, Ferrero, Fiat, BMW, John Deere, Valmont, and other companies from the US and  EU countries. In January, in collaboration with the Intercontinental Hotels Group, Delta opened the Crowne Plaza Belgrade – a major hotel that recently hosted a meeting of the Trilateral Commission.

Understanding that EU membership requires continued progress toward free enterprise and the rule of law, Serbia is undertaking difficult but necessary political and economic reforms. Among other initiatives,  the government is reducing the budget deficit, privatizing state-owned enterprises, and reducing the licensing and regulation requirements for entrepreneurs starting new businesses, with the eventual goal of “one-stop shopping” for the administrative permits they need.

We would be proud to host more Congressional visitors in Serbia to see this progress first-hand. They can visit Delta’s agricultural production facilities, the best in the Balkans and all of Europe, and even stay in the Crowne Plaza.

In the midst of frozen conflicts and failing economies, the new Serbia and the new Balkans offer new hope to a weary, war-torn world.

Let’s nurture that hope.

Cvetkovic is the vice president for strategy and development of Delta Holding, the leading private employer in Serbia.