The World Bank is ready to extend up to $200 million for projects that will boost transport and trade links between Western Balkans countries, its chief executive officer Kristalina Georgieva said on Thursday.
"We are ready to fund a trade and transport project to help the countries of the region remove the obstacles that exist today," Georgieva told a high-level economic forum in Sofia.
The World Bank's support plans to streamline border crossings in the region, improve the efficiency of logistics services and deploy modern technologies to improve freight and passenger transport and get goods to customers faster.
"We estimate the benefits to be in the order of $1 billion per year - an important contribution to regional efforts to boost growth and create jobs and opportunities for more people," Georgieva said in a statement.
At a joint news conference Balkan leaders, including the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania, the presidents of Kosovo and Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina's foreign trade minister, agreed on steps towards deeper integration in the Western Balkans and pledged to improve infrastructure and connectivity in the region.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the Balkan countries will also seek financial support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and European Investment Bank for their common projects.
Bulgaria, which will take over the six-month rotating EU presidency in January, said it would push for more infrastructure, energy and other projects to help bring Western Balkan nations closer to the bloc.
The region is still recovering from the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s but Serbia and Montenegro, which have already started EU accession talks, could join the bloc around 2025, EU officials predict.
Albania has to advance with judicial reforms, Macedonia has to resolve a long-running row with Greece over its name, which it shares with a northern Greek province while Bosnia and Kosovo have still to carry out reforms required to secure the status of official candidates for EU membership.