The Republic of North Macedonia, an EU aspirant country and a NATO member since March 2020, continues to be receptive to U.S. commercial investments. The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted North Macedonia’s economy and ability to absorb foreign investment. Though the government’s efforts to divert manufacturing toward necessities and control prices at the outset of the pandemic are largely over, restrictions over people’s movement and a significant increase in unemployment have limited consumption and slowed the services required to open a business. The pandemic sharply reversed the country’s GDP growth, going from an increase of 3.2 percent in 2019 to a decrease of 4.5 percent in 2020, though in March the government forecasted the economy would grow 4.1 percent in 2021. The virus will likely have extensive, albeit currently unclear, impacts on the economy through 2021 and beyond.
While doing business is generally easy in North Macedonia and the legal framework is largely in line with international standards, corruption is a consistent issue. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked North Macedonia the 17th best place in the world for doing business, down seven spots from the previous year. Fitch Ratings downgraded North Macedonia’s previous credit rating from BB+ with a stable outlook to BB+ with a negative outlook, and Standard & Poor’s affirmed its credit rating at BB- with a stable outlook. Large foreign companies operating in the Technological Industrial Development Zones (TIDZ) generally report positive investment experiences and maintain good relations with government officials. However, the country’s overall regulatory environment remains complex, and frequent regulatory and legislative changes, coupled with inconsistent interpretation of the rules, create an unpredictable business environment conducive to corruption. The government generally enforces laws, but there are numerous reports that some officials remain engaged in corrupt activities. Transparency International ranked North Macedonia 111th out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index in 2020, down 5 spots from the prior year and 13 from the year before that, with a score of 35/100 in absolute terms.
The new government, ratified by parliament on August 30, 2020, has taken steps to improve the investment environment. Ministers without Portfolio, who previously shared the responsibility to attract FDI, were removed, and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs now coordinates government activities related to foreign investments, simplifying the process. Additionally, in an effort to tackle corruption, the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption has opened a number of corruption-related inquiries, including those involving high-level officials.
There are several areas to watch in 2021. In 2020, Embassy Skopje identified ICT as an emerging sector ripe for U.S. investment as the government has recently focused on providing a better environment for technology development. North Macedonia’s location is an advantage as companies consider “near-shoring” their production to be closer to consumption centers in Europe following the pandemic-induced production shortfall in 2020.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||111 of 180|| http://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||17 of 190|| http://www.doingbusiness.org/
|Global Innovation Index||2020||57 of 131|| https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||USD 15|| https://apps.bea.gov/international/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||USD 11.571|| http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The government has made progress adopting reform priorities called for by the EU, NATO, and other bodies, leading to well defined laws, institutional structures, and regulatory legal frameworks. However, laws are not regularly drafted based on data-driven evidence or assessments and, at times, move through parliament using shortened legislative procedures. While laws are in place, enforcement and universal implementation of laws and regulations are generally lacking and can be a problem for businesses and citizens.
North Macedonia has simplified regulations and procedures for large foreign investors operating in the TIDZ. While the country’s overall regulatory environment is complex and not fully transparent, the government is making efforts to improve transparency. The government is implementing reforms designed to avoid frequent regulatory and legislative changes, coupled with inconsistent interpretations of the rules, which create an unpredictable business environment that enables corruption. The current government has published all incentives for businesses operating in North Macedonia, which are standardized and available to domestic and international companies. However, companies worth more than $1 billion that want to invest in North Macedonia can negotiate terms different from the standard incentives. The government can offer customized incentive packages if the investment is of strategic importance.
Rule-making and regulatory authorities reside within government ministries, regulatory agencies, and parliament. Almost all regulations most relevant to foreign businesses are on the national level. Regulations are generally developed in a four-step process. First, the regulatory agency or ministry drafts the proposed regulation. The proposal is then published in the Unique National Electronic Register of Regulations (ENER: https://ener.gov.mk/) for public review and comment. After public comments are considered and properly incorporated into the draft, it is sent to the central government to be reviewed and adopted in an official government session. Once the government has approved the draft law, it is sent to parliament for full debate and adoption. The public consultation process has improved, with businesses, the public, and NGOs having an increasing role in commenting on draft regulations and proposing changes through ENER.
There is no single centralized location which maintains a copy of all regulatory actions. All newly adopted regulations, rules, and government decisions are published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of North Macedonia after they are adopted by the government or parliament, or signed by the corresponding minister or director. Public comments are not published nor made public as part of the regulation, and limited information is available in English.
North Macedonia accepts International Accounting Standards, and the legal, regulatory, and accounting systems used by the government are consistent with international norms. North Macedonia has aligned its national law with EU directives on corporate accounting and auditing.
The government has systems in place to regularly communicate and consult with the business community and other stakeholders before amending and adopting legislation, through ENER. Interested parties, including chambers of commerce, can review the legislation published on ENER. The online platform is intended to facilitate public participation in policymaking, increase public comment, and provide a phase-in period for legal changes to allow enterprises to adapt. Key institutions influencing the business climate publish official and legally-binding instructions for the implementation of laws. These institutions are obliged to publish all relevant laws, by-laws, and internal procedures on their websites, however, some of them do not maintain regular updates. The government makes significant efforts to ensure respect for the principles of transparency, merit, and equitable representation.
In 2018, the government adopted a new Strategy for Public Administration Reform and Action Plan (2018-2022), and the National Plan for Quality Management of Public Administration, which focus on policy creation and coordination, strengthening public service capacities, and increasing accountability and transparency. The government also adopted its Open Data Strategy (2018-2020), which puts forth measures to encourage the release and use of public data as an effective tool for innovation, growth, and transparent governance. With the introduction of the Transparency Strategy (2019-2021), which closely ties to the Open Data Strategy, the government intends to contribute to greater transparency of government central bodies, both at the central and local levels.
Public finances and debt obligations are fairly transparent. The Ministry of Finance publishes budget execution data monthly; public debt figures, including contingent liability, quarterly; and the fiscal strategy is updated annually.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a candidate country for accession to the EU, North Macedonia is gradually harmonizing its legal and regulatory systems with EU standards. As a member of the WTO, North Macedonia regularly notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of proposed amendments to technical regulations concerning trade. North Macedonia ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in July 2015 (Official Gazette 130/2015), becoming the 50th out of 134 members of the WTO to do so. In October 2017, the government formed a National Trade Facilitation Committee, chaired by the Minister of Economy, which includes 22 member institutions. The Committee identified areas which need harmonization with the TFA and is working toward implementation.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
North Macedonia’s legal system is based on the civil law tradition, with increasing adversarial-style elements, and includes an established legal framework for both commercial and contract law. The Constitution established independent courts which rule on commercial and contractual disputes between business entities, and court rulings are legally executed by private enforcement agents. Enforcement actions may be appealed before the court. The enforcement procedure fees were lowered and simplified in 2019. Disputes up to €15,000 ($17,715 per 03/25/2021 exchange rate) require mediation as a precondition to initiating legal action within the courts. Cases involving international elements may be decided using international arbiters. Ratified international instruments prevail over national laws.
Businesses complained that lengthy and costly commercial disputes adjudicated through the court system created legal uncertainty. Businesses, however, are not inclined to use mediation as a swifter and often less costly way to resolve disputes. In December 2020, the government announced a new and improved Mediation Law would address noted deficiencies and was in the final drafting stage. Numerous international reports note rule of law remains a key challenge in North Macedonia, pointing to undue executive, business, and/or political interference in the judiciary, and poor funding for and management of administrative courts as major obstacles. The government continued major reforms, throughout 2020, to improve judicial independence and impartiality, but contract enforcement and perceived non-transparent public procurement practices remain a challenge for businesses.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
There is no single law regulating foreign investments, nor a “one-stop-shop” website which provides all relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. Rather, the legal framework is comprised of several laws including: the Trade Companies Law; the Securities Law; the Profit Tax Law; the Customs Law; the Value Added Tax (VAT) Law; the Law on Trade; the Law on Acquiring Shareholding Companies; the Foreign Exchange Operations Law; the Payment Operations Law; the Law on Foreign Loan Relations; the Law on Privatization of State-owned Capital; the Law on Investment Funds; the Banking Law; the Labor Law; the Law on Financial Discipline; the Law on Financial Support of Investments; and the Law on Technological Industrial Development Zones (free economic zones). An English language version of the consolidated Law on Technological Industrial Development Zones (free economic zones) is available at: https://fez.gov.mk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/law-in-tidz-eng.pdf , and additional information at https://www.worldfzo.org/Portals/0/OpenContent/Files/487/Macedonia_FreeZones.pdf . No other new major laws, regulations, or judicial decisions related to foreign investments were passed during the past year; however, some existing laws were amended slightly.
Competition and Antitrust Laws
The Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) is responsible for enforcing the Law on Protection of Competition. The CPC issues opinions on draft legislation which may impact competition. The CPC reviews the impact on competition of proposed mergers and can prohibit a merger or approve it with or without conditions. The CPC also reviews proposed state aid to private businesses, including foreign investors, under the Law on Control of State Aid (Official Gazette 145/10) and the Law on State Aid (Official Gazette 24/03). The CPC determines whether the state aid gives economic advantage to the recipient, is selective, or adversely influences competition and trade. More information on the CPC’s activities is available at http://kzk.gov.mk/en. There were no significant competition cases during the past year.
Expropriation and Compensation
The Law on Expropriation (http://www.mioa.gov.mk/sites/default/files/pbl_files/documents/legislation/zakon_za_eksproprijacija_konsolidiran_032018.pdf) states the government can seize or limit ownership and real estate property rights to protect the public interest and to build facilities and carry out other activities of public interest. According to the Constitution and the Law on Expropriation, property under foreign ownership is exempt from expropriation except during instances of war or natural disaster, or for reasons of public interest. Under the Law on Expropriation, the state is obliged to pay market value for any expropriated property. If the payment is not made within 15 days of the expropriation, interest will accrue. The government has conducted a number of expropriations, primarily to enable capital projects of public interest, such as highway and railway construction for which the government offered market value compensation. Expropriation procedures have followed strict legal regulations and due process. The government has not undertaken any measures that have been alleged to be, or could be argued to be, indirect expropriation, such as confiscatory tax regimes or regulatory actions that deprive investors of substantial economic benefits from their investments.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
North Macedonia is a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) and the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration. Additionally, North Macedonia has either signed, or has inherited by means of succession from the former Yugoslavia, a number of bilateral and multilateral conventions on arbitration, including the Convention Establishing the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA); the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards; the Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses from 1923; and the Geneva Convention on Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Decisions.
In April 2006, the Law on International Commercial Arbitration came into force in North Macedonia. This law applies exclusively to international commercial arbitration conducted in the country. An arbitration award under this law has the validity of a final judgment and can be enforced without delay. Any arbitration award decision from outside North Macedonia is considered a foreign arbitral award and is recognized and enforced in accordance with the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral awards.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
North Macedonia accepts binding international arbitration in disputes with foreign investors. Foreign arbitration awards are generally recognized and enforceable in the country provided the conditions of enforcement set out in the Convention and the Law on International Private Law (Official Gazette of the Republic of North Macedonia, No. 87/07 and No. 156/2010: ) are met. So far, the country has been involved in six reported investor-state disputes resolved before international arbitration panels. None of those cases involved U.S. citizens or companies. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitration awards issued against the Government of North Macedonia. The country does not have a history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
North Macedonia accepts international arbitration decisions on investment disputes. The country’s Law on International Commercial Arbitration is modeled on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and the judgments of foreign courts. Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are available for settling disputes between two private parties but seldom utilized. A Permanent Court of Arbitration, established in 1993 within the Economic Chamber of Macedonia (a non-government business association), has the authority to administer both domestic and international disputes. North Macedonia requires mediation in disputes between companies up to €15,000 ($17,715 per 03/25/2021 exchange rate) in value before companies can go to court.
There is no tracking system of cases involving State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) involved in investment disputes in North Macedonia, and post is not aware of any examples.
North Macedonia’s bankruptcy law governs the settlement of creditors’ claims against insolvent debtors. Bankruptcy proceedings may be initiated over the property of a debtor, be it a legal entity, an individual, a deceased person, joint property of spouses, or a business. However, bankruptcy proceedings may not be implemented over a public legal entity or property owned by the Republic of North Macedonia. The Government of North Macedonia announced March 31, 2020 bankruptcy proceedings would be forbidden during the COVID-19 crisis as well as for six months thereafter. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked North Macedonia 30th out of 190 countries for resolving insolvency. (As noted in the World Bank’s December 16, 2020 Statement on Doing Business Data Corrections and Findings of Internal Audit, arrangements for publication of the Doing Business 2021 report will be completed in mid-2021.)
The Macedonian Credit Bureau (https://mkb.mk/en/), commercial banks, and the National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia serve as credit monitoring authorities.
North Macedonia has laws intended to counter bribery, abuse of official position, and conflicts-of-interest, and government officials and their close relatives are legally required to disclose their income and assets. However, enforcement of anti-corruption laws has at times been weak and selectively targeted government critics and low-level offenders. There have been credible allegations of corruption in law enforcement, the judiciary, and many other sectors. The current State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (SCPC) (https://www.dksk.mk/index.php?id=home ), appointed in February 2019, resumed its work after the passage of new anticorruption legislation in January 2019 and has been particularly proactive since. The SCPC opened a number of corruption-related inquiries, focused on high-level officials from across the political spectrum for alleged nepotism and conflict of interest. After the Chief Special Prosecutor was indicted on racketeering charges in November 2019 and the mandate of the Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) expired, all SPO cases (which emanated from a massive wiretapping scandal which revealed extensive abuse of office by former public officials and corruption involving public tenders) were transferred to the Public Prosecution Office’s Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecution Office. A few of the high-profile cases were completed in 2020, with defendants receiving prison sentences of up to 12 years. Transparency International ranked North Macedonia 111th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, a drop of 5 places, for a lack of government efforts to combat corruption and conflict of interest in public administration. The resulting public disappointment and pressure over the high index score, in part, triggered the Deputy Prime Minister for Anti-Corruption to introduce a Code of Ethics for members of the government and all other officials appointed by the government, under which they must commit to transparent and responsible work.
To deter corruption, the government uses an automated electronic customs clearance process, which allows businesses to monitor the status of their applications. In order to raise transparency and accountability in public procurement, the Bureau for Public Procurement introduced an electronic system which allows publication of notices from domestic and international institutions, tender documentation previews without registering in the system, e-payments for system use, electronic archiving, and electronic complaint submission (https://www.e-nabavki.gov.mk/PublicAccess/Home.aspx#/home).
The government does not require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct prohibiting bribery of public officials. A number of domestic NGOs focus on anti-corruption and transparency in public finance and tendering procedures. There are frequent reports of nepotism in public tenders. The government does not provide any special protections to NGOs involved in investigating corruption. North Macedonia has ratified the UN Convention against Corruption and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and has signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Many businesses operating in North Macedonia, including some U.S. businesses, identified corruption as a problem in government tenders and in the judiciary. No local firms or non-profit groups provide vetting services of potential local investment partners. Foreign companies often hire local attorneys, who have knowledge of local industrial sectors and access to the Central Registry and business associations, who can provide financial and background information on local businesses and potential partners.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contacts at government agencies responsible for combating corruption:
State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption
Ms. Biljana Ivanovska, President Dame
Gruev 1 1000 Skopje,
+389 2 321 5377
Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecution Office
Ms. Vilma Ruskovska, Chief
Boulevard Krste Misirkov BB, Sudska Palata 1000 Skopje,
+389 2 321 9884
Ministry of Interior Organized Crime and Corruption Department
Mr. Lazo Velkovski, Head of the Department
Dimce Mircev bb 1000 Skopje, Macedonia
+ 389 2 314 3150 + 389 2 314 3150
Transparency International – Macedonia
Ms. Slagjana Taseva, President
Naum Naumovski Borce 58 P.O. Box 270 1000 Skopje,
+389 2 321 7000