BELGRADE - Serbia has offered help to Chinese companies working on projects in the Balkan country after the coronavirus outbreak in China caused a shortage of manpower and supplies, infrastructure minister Zorana Mihajlovic said on Thursday.
China views Serbia and other Balkan countries as part of its ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative to open trade links to Europe.
Over the past decade Chinese companies have bought Serbia's only copper mine and a steel plant while also making infrastructure investments.
However, several China-led projects in Serbia are facing difficulties and delays because of the coronavirus outbreak and resulting travel restrictions.
"We are facing shortages of workers and engineers from China, as well as equipment," the Serbian Infrastructure Ministry quoted Chen Bo, China's ambassador to Belgrade, as saying after meeting Mihajlovic.
Last week the Zijin-owned Bor copper company said it had banned its employees from China’s Hubei province from returning to the mine and smelter in eastern Serbia and quarantined workers from other Chinese regions there.
Mihajlovic said that Belgrade was willing to step in to offset delays.
"We talked about how we could solve problems caused by the epidemic in their country ... to help wherever we can, both through the help of Serbian companies and as the government," the ministry statement quoted Mihajlovic as saying.
The coronavirus outbreak has also halted production at Fiat Chrysler's (FCA) Serbian plant, the first such suspension by an automaker in Europe, because of disruption to component supplies.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic Editing by David Goodman) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +381113044930;))