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Albania

Executive Summary

Albania is an upper middle-income country with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of USD 5,373 (2019 IMF estimate) and a population of approximately 2.9 million people. An estimated 45 percent of the population live in rural areas.  The IMF estimates Albania’s real GDP increased by 2.2 percent in 2019, and that GDP will contract by 5 percent in 2020 because of the November 2019 earthquake and the COVID-19 crisis. The IMF projects the economy will grow by 8 percent in 2021, provided COVID-19 restrictions ease by summer 2020. The rebound is expected to be fueled mostly by increased consumption and a large post-earthquake reconstruction program. During the post-earthquake International Donors Conference in February, international donors pledged close to USD 330 million in grants and approximately USD 940 million in soft loans.

Albania received EU candidate status in June 2014 and, in March 2020, the European Council endorsed the recommendation of the European Commission to open accession talks with Albania.  Prior to the first Intergovernmental Conference, which marks the start of accession negotiations, Albania must implement a number of reforms in the justice sector, adopt changes to its electoral code, advance efforts to support minority rights, reduce unfounded asylum claims in EU member states, and show tangible progress in its fight against organized crime and corruption.

The Albanian legal system ostensibly does not discriminate against foreign investors.  The U.S.-Albanian Bilateral Investment Treaty, which entered into force in 1998, ensures that U.S. investors receive national treatment and most-favored-nation treatment.  The Law on Foreign Investment outlines specific protections for foreign investors and allows 100 percent foreign ownership of companies in all but a few sectors. Albania has been able to attract increasing levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the last decade.

According to the Bank of Albania data, flow of FDI has averaged USD 1.1 billion in the last six years, and stock FDI reached USD 9.5 billion at the end of 2019. Investments are concentrated in the energy sector, extractive industries, banking and insurance, telecommunications, and real estate. Switzerland, The Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Austria, and Greece are the largest sources of FDI.

To attract FDI and promote domestic investment, Albania approved a Law on Strategic Investments in 2015.  The law outlines investment incentives and offers fast-track administrative procedures to strategic foreign and domestic investors through December 31, 2020, depending on the size of the investment and number of jobs created. In 2015, to promote FDI, the government also passed legislation creating Technical Economic Development Areas (TEDAs), like free trade zones. (The government is a member of and an advocate for the Western Balkan Initiative, a regional zone intended to increase connectivity and commercial activity.) The development of the first TEDA has yet to begin after several failed tender attempts.

The government made significant advancements in its Digital Revolution Agenda during 2019. As of January 2020, 61 percent of all public services to citizens and businesses were available online through the E-Albania Portal, up from 15 percent in 2019. The reform is ongoing, and the government states that by December 2020, 91 percent of all public services will be available online. This should help curb corruption by limiting direct contacts with public administration officials.

Despite a sound legal framework and progress on e-reform, foreign investors perceive Albania as a difficult place to do business. They cite corruption, particularly in the judiciary, a lack of transparency in public procurement, and poor enforcement of contracts as continuing problems in Albania. Reports of corruption in government procurement are commonplace. The increasing use of public private partnership (3P) contracts has reduced opportunities for competition, including by foreign investors, in infrastructure and other sectors.  Poor cost-benefit analyses and a lack of technical expertise in drafting and monitoring 3P contracts are ongoing concerns. U.S. investors are challenged by corruption and the perpetuation of informal business practices. Several U.S. investors have faced contentious commercial disputes with both public and private entities, including some that went to international arbitration. In 2019 and 2020, a U.S. company’s attempted investment was allegedly thwarted by several judicial decisions and questionable actions of stakeholders involved in a dispute over the investment.

Property rights continue to be a challenge in Albania because clear title is difficult to obtain.  There have been instances of individuals allegedly manipulating the court system to obtain illegal land titles.  Overlapping property titles is a serious and common issue. The compensation process for land confiscated by the former communist regime continues to be cumbersome, inefficient, and inadequate. Nevertheless, parliament passed a law on registering property claims on April 16, which will provide some relief for title holders.

Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Albania 106th of 180 countries, a drop of seven places from 2018.  Consequently, Albania and North Macedonia are now perceived as the most corrupt countries in the Western Balkans. Albania also fell 19 spots in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business survey, ranking 82nd from 63rd in 2019. Although this change can be partially attributed to the implementation of a new methodology, the country continues to score poorly in the areas of granting construction permits, paying taxes, enforcing contracts, registering property, obtaining electricity, and protecting minority investors.

To address endemic corruption, the Government of Albania (GoA) passed sweeping constitutional amendments to reform the country’s judicial system and improve the rule of law in 2016. The implementation of judicial reform is underway, including the vetting of judges and prosecutors for unexplained wealth.  More than half the judges and prosecutors who have undergone vetting have been dismissed for unexplained wealth or organized crime ties. The EU expects Albania to show progress on prosecuting judges and prosecutors whose vetting revealed possible criminal conduct. The implementation of judicial reform is ongoing, and its completion is expected to improve the investment climate in the country.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 106 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 82 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 83 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 N/A http://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 4,860 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The GoA understands that private sector development and increased levels of foreign investment are critical to support sustainable economic development. Albania maintains a liberal foreign investment regime designed to attract FDI. The Law on Foreign Investment outlines specific protections for foreign investors and allows 100 percent foreign ownership of companies, except in the areas of domestic and international air passenger transport and television broadcasting. Albanian legislation does not distinguish between domestic and foreign investments.

The 2010 amendments to the Law on Foreign Investment introduced criteria specifying when the state would grant special protection to foreign investors involved in property disputes, providing additional guarantees to investors for investments of more than 10 million euros. Amendments in 2017 and 2018 extended state protection to December 31, 2019. The Law on Strategic Investments approved in 2015 offers incentives and fast-track administrative procedures, depending on the size of the investment and number of jobs created, to both foreign and domestic investors who apply before December 31, 2020.

The Albanian Investment Development Agency (AIDA) is the entity responsible for promoting foreign investments in Albania. Potential U.S. investors in Albania should contact AIDA to learn more about services AIDA offers to foreign investors (http://aida.gov.al/ ). The Law on Strategic Investments stipulates that AIDA, as the Secretariat of the Strategic Investment Council, serve as a one-stop-shop for foreign investors, from filing of the application form to granting the status of strategic investment/investor. Despite hospitable legislation, only a few foreign investors have benefited from the “Strategic Investor” status.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic investors have equal rights of ownership of local companies, based on the principle of “national treatment.” According to the World Bank’s “Investing Across Borders” indicator, just three of 33 sectors have restrictions against full foreign ownership, or in the case of the agriculture sector, against foreign land ownership.

  • Domestic and international air passenger transport: foreign interest in airline companies is limited to 49 percent ownership by investors outside the Common European Aviation Zone, for both domestic and international air transportation.
  • Television broadcasting: no entity, foreign or domestic, may own more than 40 percent of a television company.
  • Agriculture: No foreign individual or foreign incorporated company may purchase agricultural land, though land may be leased for up to 99 years.

Albania currently lacks an investment-review mechanism for inbound FDI. However, in 2017, the government introduced a new provision in the Petroleum Law, which allows the government to reject a petroleum-sharing agreement or the sale of shares in a petroleum-sharing agreement to any prospective investor due to national security concerns. Albanian law permits private ownership and establishment of enterprises and property. Foreign investors do not require additional permission or authorization beyond that required of domestic investors. Commercial property may be purchased, but only if the proposed investment is worth three times the price of the land. There are no restrictions on the purchase of private residential property. Foreigners can acquire concession rights on natural resources and resources of the common interest, as defined by the Law on Concessions and Public Private Partnerships.

Foreign and domestic investors have numerous options available for organizing business operations in Albania. The 2008 Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies and Law Establishing the National Registration Center (NRC) allow for the following legal types of business entities to be established through the NRC: sole proprietorship; unlimited partnership; limited partnership; limited liability company; joint stock company; branches and representative offices; and joint ventures.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) completed a Trade Policy Review of Albania in May 2016 (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp437_e.htm ). In November 2017, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) completed the first Investment Policy Review of South-East European (SEE) countries, including Albania (http://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=1884).

Business Facilitation

The National Business Center (NBC) serves as a one-stop shop for business registration. All required procedures and documents are published online (http://www.qkb.gov.al/information-on-procedure/business-registration/). Registration may be done in person or online via the e-Albania portal. Many companies choose to complete the registration process in person, as the online portal requires an authentication process and electronic signature and is only available in the Albanian language. When a business registers in the NBC it is also automatically registered with the Tax Office, Labor Inspectorate, Customs, and the respective municipality. According to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, it takes 4.5 days and five procedures to register a business in Albania.

Outward Investment

Albania neither promotes nor incentivizes outward investment, nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Albania’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems have improved in recent years, but there are still many serious challenges. Endemic corruption, uneven enforcement of legislation, cumbersome bureaucracy, and a lack of transparency all hinder the business community.

Albanian legislation includes rules on disclosure requirements, formation, maintenance, and alteration of firms’ capitalization structures, mergers and divisions, takeover bids, shareholders’ rights, and corporate governance principles. The Competition Authority (http://caa.gov.al ) is an independent agency tasked with ensuring fair and efficient competition in the market.

The Law on Accounting and Financial Statements includes reporting provisions related to international financial reporting standards (IFRS) for large companies, and national financial reporting standards for small and medium enterprises. Albania meets minimum standards on fiscal transparency, and debt obligations are published by the Ministry of Finance and Economy. Albania’s budgets are publicly available, substantially complete, and reliable.

The rulemaking process in Albania meets the minimum requirements of transparency. Ministries and regulatory agencies develop forward regulatory plans that include changes or proposals intended to be adopted within a set timeframe. The law on notification and public consultation requires the GoA to publish draft laws and regulations for public consultation or notification and set clear timeframes for these processes. Such draft laws and regulations are published at the following page: http://www.konsultimipublik.gov.al/  . The business community frequently complains that final versions of laws and regulations fail to address their comments and concerns and that comment periods are not always respected.

Business groups have raised concerns about unfair competition and monopolies, rating the issue as one of the most concerning items damaging the business climate.

All laws, by-laws, regulations, decisions by the Council of Ministers (the government), decrees, and any other regulatory acts are published at the National Publication Center at the following site: https://qbz.gov.al/. 

Independent agencies and bodies, including but not limited to, the Energy Regulatory Entity (ERE), Agency for Electronic and Postal Communication (AKEP), Financial Supervising Authority (FSA), Competition Authority (CA), National Agency of Natural Resources (NARN), and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), oversee transparency and competition in specific sectors.

International Regulatory Considerations

Albania acceded to the WTO in 2000 and the country notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of all draft technical regulations.

Albania signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in 2006; the EU agreed to open accession talks on March 25, 2020. Albania was granted EU candidate status in 2014; it has long been involved in the gradual process of legislation approximation with the EU acquis. This process is expected to accelerate with the opening of accession negotiations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Albanian legal system is a civil law system. The Albanian constitution provides for the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial branches, thereby supporting the independence of the judiciary. The Civil Procedure Code, enacted in 1996, governs civil procedures in Albania. The civil court system consists of district courts, appellate courts, and the High Court (the supreme court), which currently lacks quorum. The district courts are organized in specialized sections according to the subject of the claim, including civil, family, and commercial disputes.

The administrative courts of first instance, the Administrative Court of Appeal, and the Administrative College of the High Court adjudicate administrative disputes. The Constitutional Court, which currently lacks quorum, reviews whether laws or subsidiary legislation comply with the Constitution and, in limited cases, protects and enforces the constitutional rights of citizens and legal entities.

Parties may appeal the judgment of the first-instance courts within 15 days of a decision, while appellate court judgments must be appealed to the High Court within 30 days. A lawsuit against an administrative action is submitted to the administrative court within 45 days from notification and the law stipulates short procedural timeframes, enabling faster adjudication of administrative disputes.

Investors in Albania are entitled to judicial protection of legal rights related to their investments. Foreign investors have the right to submit disputes to an Albanian court. In addition, parties to a dispute may agree to arbitration. Many foreign investors complain that endemic judicial corruption and inefficient court procedures undermine judicial protection in Albania and seek international arbitration to resolve disputes. It is beneficial to U.S. investors to include binding international arbitration clauses in any agreements with Albanian counterparts. Albania is a signatory to the New York Arbitration Convention and foreign arbitration awards are typically recognized by Albania. However, the government initially refused to recognize an injunction from a foreign arbitration court in one high-profile case in 2016. The Albanian Civil Procedure Code outlines provisions regarding domestic and international commercial arbitration.

Albania does not have a specific commercial code but has a series of relevant commercial laws, including the Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies Law, Bankruptcy Law, Public Private Partnership and Concession Law, Competition Law, Foreign Investment Law, Environmental Law, Law on Corporate and Municipal Bonds, Transport Law, Maritime Code, Secured Transactions Law, Employment Law, Taxation Procedures Law, Banking Law, Insurance and Reinsurance Law, Concessions Law, Mining Law, Energy Law, Water Resources Law, Waste Management Law, Excise Law, Oil and Gas Law, Gambling Law, Telecommunications Law, and Value-Added Law.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Law on Foreign Investments seeks to create a hospitable legal climate for foreign investors and stipulates the following:

  • No prior government authorization is needed for an initial investment;
  • Foreign investments may not be expropriated or nationalized directly or indirectly, except for designated special cases, in the interest of public use and as defined by law;
  • Foreign investors enjoy the right to expatriate all funds and contributions in kind from their investments; and
  • Foreign investors receive most favored nation treatment according to international agreements and Albanian law.

There are limited exceptions to this liberal investment regime, most of which apply to the purchase of real estate. Agricultural land cannot be purchased by foreigners and foreign entities but may be leased for up to 99 years. Investors can buy agricultural land if registered as a commercial entity in Albania. Commercial property may be purchased, but only if the proposed investment is worth three times the price of the land. There are no restrictions on the purchase of private residential property.

To boost investments in strategic sectors, the government approved a new law on strategic investments in May 2015. Under the new law, a “strategic investment” may benefit from either “assisted procedure” or “special procedure” assistance from the government to help navigate the permitting and regulatory process. To date, no major foreign investors have taken advantage of the law. Several projects proposed by domestic companies or consortiums of local and foreign partners have been designated as strategic investments, mostly in the tourism sector.

Major laws pertaining to foreign investments include:

  • Law on Strategic Investments: Defines procedures and rules to be observed by government authorities when reviewing, approving, and supporting strategic domestic and foreign investments in Albania;
  • Law on Concessions and Public Private Partnerships, amended in 2019;
  • Law on Foreigners, amended in February 2020;
  • Law on the Foreign Investments, amended by the Law;
  • Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies: Outlines general rules and regulations on the merger of commercial companies;
  • Law on Cross-Border Mergers: Determines rules on mergers when one of the companies involved in the process is a foreign company
  • Law on Protection of Competition: Stipulates provisions for the protection of competition, and the concentration of commercial companies; and
  • Law on Collective Investment Undertakings: Regulates conditions and criteria for the establishment, constitution, and operation of collective investment undertakings and of management companies.

Authorities responsible for mergers, change of control, and transfer of shares include the Albanian Competition Authority (ACA: http://www.caa.gov.al/laws/list/category/1/page/1 ), which monitors the implementation of the competition law and approves mergers and acquisitions when required by the law; and the Albanian Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA: http://www.amf.gov.al/ligje.asp ), which regulates and supervises the securities market and approves the transfer of shares and change of control of companies operating in this sector.

Albania’s tax system does not distinguish between foreign and domestic investors. Informality in the economy, which may be as large as 40 percent of the total economy, presents challenges for tax administration.

Visa requirements to obtain residence or work permits are straightforward and do not pose an undue burden on potential investors. The government amended the Law on Foreigners in February 2020. The amendments remove restrictions on foreign employees and streamline the visa and work permit processes for foreigners and foreign workers by introducing online visa application process, simplifying and accelerating the working permit process, and providing the same access to the labor market for citizens of Western Balkan countries as the United States, EU, and Schengen-country citizens have.

The Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies sets guidelines on the activities of companies and the legal structure under which they may operate. The government adopted the law in 2008 to conform Albanian legislation to the EU’s Acquis Communitaire. The most common type of organization for foreign investors is a limited liability company.

The Law on Public Private Partnerships and Concessions establishes the framework for promoting and facilitating the implementation of privately financed concessionary projects. According to the law, concession projects may be identified by central or local governments or through third party unsolicited proposals. To limit opportunities for corruption, the 2019 amendments prohibited unsolicited bids, beginning in July 2019, on all sectors except for works or services in ports, airports, generation and distribution of electricity, energy for heating, and production and distribution of natural gas. In addition, the 2019 amendments removed the zero to 10 percent bonus points for unsolicited proposals, which gave companies submitting unsolicited bids a competitive advantage over other contenders. Instead, if the party submitting the unsolicited proposal does not win the bid, it will be compensated by the winning company for the cost of the feasibility study, which in no case shall exceed 1 percent of the total cost of the project.

There is no one-stop-shop that lists all legislation, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. However, foreign investors should visit the Albania Investment Development Agency webpage (www.aida.gov.al ), which offers information for foreign investors.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Albanian Competition Authority (http://www.caa.gov.al/?lng=en ) is the agency that reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. The Law on Protection of Competition governs incoming foreign investment whether through mergers, acquisitions, takeovers, or green-field investments, irrespective of industry or sector. In the case of share transfers in insurance and banking industries, the Financial Supervisory Authority (http://amf.gov.al/ ) and the Bank of Albania (https://www.bankofalbania.org/ ) may require additional regulatory approvals. Transactions between parties outside Albania, including foreign-to-foreign transactions, are covered by the competition law, which states that its provisions apply to all activities, domestic or foreign, that directly or indirectly affect the Albanian market.

Expropriation and Compensation

The constitution guarantees the right of private property. According to Article 41, expropriation or limitation on the exercise of a property right can occur only if it serves the public interest and with fair compensation. During the post-communist period, expropriation has been limited to land for public interest, mainly infrastructure projects such as roads, energy infrastructure, water works, airports, and other facilities. Compensation has generally been reported as being below market value and owners have complained that the compensation process is corrupt, slow, and unfair. Civil courts are responsible for resolving such complaints.

Changes in government can also affect foreign investments. Following the 2013 elections and peaceful transition of power, the new government revoked or renegotiated numerous concession agreements, licenses, and contracts signed by the previous government with both domestic and international investors. This practice has occurred in other years as well.

There are many ongoing disputes regarding property confiscated during the communist regime. Identifying ownership is a longstanding problem in Albania that makes restitution for expropriated properties difficult. The restitution and compensation process started in 1993 but has been slow and marred by corruption. Many U.S. citizens of Albanian origin have been in engaged inlong-running restitution disputes. Court cases go on for years without a final decision, causing many to refer their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France. A significant number of applications are pending for consideration before the ECHR. Even after settlement in Strasbourg, enforcement remains slow.

To address the situation, the GoA approved new property compensation legislation in 2015 that aims to resolve pending claims for restitution and compensation. The 2018 law reduces the burden on the state budget by changing the cash compensation formula. The legislation presents three methods of compensation for confiscation claims: restitution; compensation of property with similarly valued land in a different location; or financial compensation. It also set a ten-year timeframe for completion of the process. In February 2020, the Albanian parliament approved a law “On the Finalization of the Transitory Process of Property Deeds in the Republic of Albania,” which aims to finalize land allocation and privatization processes contained in 14 various laws issued between 1991 and 2018.

The GoA has generally not engaged in expropriation actions against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives. There have been limited cases in which the government has revoked licenses, specifically in the mining and energy sectors, based on contract violation claims.

The Law on Strategic Investments, approved in 2015, empowers the government to expropriate private property for the development of private projects deemed special strategic projects. Despite the provision that the government would act when parties fail to reach an agreement, the clause is a source of controversy because it entitles the government to expropriate private property in the interest of another private party. The expropriation procedures are consistent with the law on the expropriation, and the cost for expropriation would be incurred by the strategic investor. The provision has yet to be exercised.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

For an international arbitration award to be recognized locally, the claimant must bring the award before the Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court will not adjudicate the merits of the case and can strike down the award only for the reasons listed in Article V of the New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Albania signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty with United States in 1995, and it entered into force in 1998. It has also ratified the New York Convention, ICSID Convention, and Geneva Convention. According to the Albanian Constitution, these conventions take precedence over domestic legislation. Foreign investors opt to include international arbitration clauses in their contracts with Albanian parties because the court system is not responsive, and the judiciary marked by endemic corruption.

For an international arbitration award to be recognized locally, the claimant must enforce the award before the Court of Appeals. The possibility of bringing an action before the local court to avoid arbitration proceedings is remote. According to provisions in the Albanian Code of Civil Procedure, if a party brings actions before local courts despite the parties’ agreement to arbitrate, the court would, upon motion of the other party, dismiss the case without entertaining its merits. The decision of the court to dismiss the case can be appealed to the Supreme Court, which has 30 days to consider the appeal.

The Albanian Code of Civil Procedure requires the courts to reach a judgment in a reasonable amount of time but does not provide a specific timeline for adjudicating commercial disputes. Reaching a final judgment in commercial litigation can take several years.

Over the past ten years, there have been three investment disputes between the GoA and U.S. companies, two of which resulted in international arbitration. Despite the GoA’s stated desire to attract and support foreign investors, U.S. investors in disputes with the GoA reported a lack of productive dialogue with government officials, who frequently displayed a reluctance to settle the disputes before they were escalated to the level of international arbitration, or before the international community exerted pressure on the government to resolve the issue. U.S. investors in Albania should strongly consider including binding arbitration clauses in any agreements with Albanian counterparts.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

An alternative to dispute settlement via the courts is private arbitration or mediation. Parties can engage in arbitration when they have agreed to such a provision in the original agreement, when there is a separate arbitration agreement, or by agreement at any time when a dispute arises.

Albania does not have a separate law on domestic arbitration. In 2017, Albania repealed all domestic arbitration provisions of the Civil Procedure Code, leaving the country without provisions to govern domestic arbitration. However, parties may engage in domestic arbitration because the Code of Civil Procedure guarantees the enforcement of domestic arbitral awards. Mediation is also available for resolving all civil, commercial, and family disputes and is regulated by the law On Dispute Resolution through Mediation. Arbitral awards are final and enforceable and can be appealed only in cases foreseen in the Code of Civil Procedure. Mediation is final and enforceable in the same way.

The provisions for international arbitration procedures and the recognition and enforcement of foreign awards are stipulated in the Albanian Code of Civil Procedure. Albania does not have a separate law on international arbitration. Although the arbitration chapter of the Code of Civil Procedure stipulates only the rules for domestic arbitration, the country is signatory to the 1958 New York Convention and therefore recognizes the validity of written arbitration agreements and arbitral awards in a contracting state.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Albania maintains adequate bankruptcy legislation, though corrupt and inefficient bankruptcy court proceedings make it difficult for companies to reorganize or discharge debts through bankruptcy.

A law on bankruptcy that entered into force in May 2017 aimed to close loopholes in the insolvency regime, decrease unnecessary market exit procedures, reduce fraud, and ease collateral recovery procedures. The Bankruptcy Law governs the reorganization or liquidation of insolvent businesses. It sets out non-discriminatory and mandatory rules for the repayment of the obligations by a debtor in a bankruptcy procedure. The law establishes statutory time limits for insolvency procedures, professional qualifications for insolvency administrators, and an Agency of Insolvency Supervision to regulate the profession of insolvency administrators.

Debtors and creditors can initiate a bankruptcy procedure and can file for either liquidation or reorganization. Bankruptcy proceedings may be invoked when the debtor is unable to pay the obligations at the maturity date or the value of its liabilities exceeds the value of the assets.

According to the provisions of the Bankruptcy Law, the initiation of bankruptcy proceedings suspends the enforcement of claims by all creditors against the debtor subject to bankruptcy. Creditors of all categories must submit their claims to the bankruptcy administrator. The Bankruptcy Law provides specific treatment for different categories, including secured creditors, preferred creditors, unsecured creditors, and final creditors whose claims would be paid after all other creditors were satisfied. The claims of the secured creditors are to be satisfied by the assets of the debtor, which secure such claims under security agreements. The claims of the unsecured creditors are to be paid out of the bankruptcy estate, excluding the assets used for payment of the secured creditors, following the priority ranking as outlined in the Albanian Civil Code.

Pursuant to the provisions of the Bankruptcy Law, creditors have the right to establish a creditors committee. The creditors committee is appointed by the Commercial Section Courts before the first meeting of the creditor assembly. The creditors committee represents the secured creditors, preferred creditors, and the unsecured creditors. The committee has the right (a) to support and supervise the activities of the insolvency administrator; (b) to request and receive information about the insolvency proceedings; c) to inspect the books and records; and d) to order an examination of the revenues and cash balances.

If the creditors and administrator agree that reorganization is the company’s best option, the bankruptcy administrator prepares a reorganization plan and submits it to the court for authorizing implementation.

According to the insolvency procedures, only creditors whose rights are affected by the proposed reorganization plan enjoy the right to vote, and the dissenting creditors in reorganization receive at least as much as what they would have obtained in a liquidation. Creditors are divided into classes for the purposes of voting on the reorganization plan and each class votes separately. Creditors of the same class are treated equally.

The insolvency framework allows for the continuation of contracts supplying essential goods and services to the debtor, the rejection by the debtor of overly burdensome contracts, the avoidance of preferential or undervalued transactions, and the possibility of the debtor obtaining credit after commencement of insolvency proceedings. No priority is assigned to post-commencement over secured creditors. Post-commencement credit is assigned over ordinary unsecured creditors.

The creditor has the right to object to decisions accepting or rejecting creditors’ claims and to request information from the insolvency representative. The selection and appointment of insolvency representative does not require the approval of the creditor. In addition, the sale of substantial assets of the debtor does not required the approval of the creditor.

According to the law on bankruptcy, foreign creditors have the same rights as domestic creditors with respect to the commencement of, and participation in, a bankruptcy proceeding. The claim is valued as of the date the insolvency proceeding is opened. Claims expressed in foreign currency are converted into Albanian currency according to the official exchange rate applicable to the place of payment at the time of the opening of the proceeding.

The Albanian Criminal Code contains several criminal offenses in bankruptcy, including (i) whether the bankruptcy was provoked intentionally; (ii) concealment of bankruptcy status; (iii) concealment of assets after bankruptcy; and (iv) failure to comply with the obligations arising under bankruptcy proceeding.

According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Albania ranked 39th out of 190 countries in the insolvency index. A referenced analysis of resolving insolvency can be found at the following link: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/255991574747242507/Doing-Business-2020-Comparing-Business-Regulation-in-190-Economies-Economy-Profile-of-Albania 

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Individuals and investors face significant challenges with protection and enforcement of property rights. Despite recent improvements, procedures are cumbersome, and registrants have complained of corruption during the process.  Over the last three decades, the GoA has drafted and passed much, though not all, of its property legislation in a piecemeal and uncoordinated way. According to the EU’s 2019 Progress Report, significant progress has yet to be made toward improving the legal framework for registration, expropriation, and compensation of property. Reform of the sector has yet to incorporate consolidation of property rights or the elimination of legal uncertainties. However, on February 12, 2020, the Albanian parliament approved the Law on the Finalization of the Transitory Process of Property Deeds in the Republic of Albania, which aims to finalize land allocation and privatization processes contained in 14 various laws issued between 1991 and 2018.

The property registration system has improved thanks to international donor assistance, but the process has stalled as Albania still needs to complete the initial registration of property titles in the country. Approximately 10 percent of the properties are registered in digital form, almost entirely in Tirana, in urban and peripheral areas that experience a high turnover a lot of transactions. Another 80 percent of properties have been registered as part of the initial registration process but the plot records for these properties are still only in paper form and often in poor and outdated condition. The remaining 10 percent have still to be registered for the first time, which includes the southern coastal area. The poor state of the data is a risk for title security and a constraint to investment and an effective land market.

Albania has an estimated 440,000 illegal structures, built without permits, and illicit construction continues to be a major impediment to securing property titles. A process that aims to legalize or eliminate such structures started in 2008 but is still not complete.  The situation has led to clashes between squatters and owners of allegedly illegal buildings and the Albanian State Police during the demolition of these structures to make way for public infrastructure projects.

To streamline the property management process, the GoA established in April 2019 the State Cadaster Agency (ASHK), which united several major agencies responsible for property registration, compensation, and legalization, including the Immovable Property Registration Office (IPRO), the Agency of Inventory and Transfer of Public Properties (AITPP), and the Agency for the Legalization and Urbanization of Informal Areas (ALUIZNI).

According to the 2020 World Bank’s “Doing Business Report,” Albania performed poorly in the property registration category, ranking 98th out of 190 countries.  It took an average of 19 days and five procedures to register property, and the associated costs could reach 8.9 percent of the total property value. The civil court system manages property rights disputes, but verdicts can take years, authorities often fail to enforce court decisions, and corruption concerns persist within the judiciary.

Intellectual Property Rights

Albania is not included on the U. S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.  That said, intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement and theft are common due to weak legal structures and poor enforcement.  Counterfeit goods, while decreasing, are present in some local markets, including software, garments, machines, and cigarettes. Albanian law protects copyrights, patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and geographical indications, but enforcement of these laws is wanting.  Regulators are ineffective at collecting fines and prosecutors rarely press charges for IPR theft. U.S. companies should consult an experienced IPR attorney and avoid potential risks by establishing solid commercial relationships and drafting strong contracts. According to the International Property Right Index  (IPRI) published by Property Right Alliance, Albania ranks 106th out of 129 countries evaluated. It ranked 79th in the subcategory of copyright piracy.

A revised 2016 IPR law aimed to strengthen enforcement and address shortcomings so as to harmonize domestic legislation with that of the EU.   In 2019, the Criminal Code was amended to include harsher punishments of up to three years in prison for IPR infringement.

The main institutions responsible for IPR enforcement include the State Inspectorate for Market Surveillance (SIMS), the Albanian Copyright Office (ACO), the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA), the General Directorate of Patents and Trademarks (GDPT), the General Directorate for Customs, the Tax Inspectorate, the Prosecutor’s Office, the State Police, and the courts.  In 2018, the National Council of Copyrights was established as a specialized body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the law and certifying the methodology for establishing the tariffs. Two other important bodies in the protection and administration of IPR are the agencies for the Collective Administration (AAK) and the Copyrights Department within the Ministry of Culture. Four different AAKs have merged in 2017 to provide service into a sole window for the administration of IPR.

The SIMS, established in 2016, is responsible for inspecting, controlling, and enforcing copyright and other related rights.   Despite some improvements, actual law enforcement on copyrights continues to be problematic and copyright violations are persistent.  The number of copyright violation cases brought to court remains low.

While official figures are not available, Customs does report the quantity of counterfeit goods destroyed annually.  In cases of seizures, the rights holder has the burden of proof and so must first inspect the goods to determine if they are infringing.  The rights holder is also responsible for the storage and destruction of the counterfeit goods. Cigarettes were the most common product seized by Customsin 2019.

The GDPT is responsible for registering and administering patents, commercial trademarks and service marks, industrial designs, and geographical indications.  The 2008 law on industrial property was amended in 2014 to more closely align with that of the EU . In 2019, the GDPT received 1,157 applications for national trademarks, 2,664 applications for the international extension of trademark registration according to the Madrid system, and 913 applications for patents.

Albania is party to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Patent Law Treaty, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, and is a member of the European Patent Organization.  The government became party to the London Agreement on the implementation of Article 65 of the European Convention for Patents in 2013. In 2018, Parliament approved the Law 34/2018 on Albania’s adherence to the Vienna Agreement for the International Classification of the Figurative Elements of Marks. In June 2019, Albania joined the Geneva Act of WIPO’s Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at: http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ 

Resources for Rights Holders

Contact at Embassy Tirana on IP issues:
Alex MacFarlane
Economic Officer
Phone: + 355 (0) 4229 3115
E-mail: USALBusiness@state.gov

Country resources:

American Chamber of Commerce
Address: Rr. Deshmoret e shkurtit, Sky Tower, kati 11 Ap 3 Tirana, Albania
Email: info@amcham.com.al
Phone: +355 (0) 4225 9779
Fax: +355 (0) 4223 5350
http://www.amcham.com.al/ 

List of local lawyers: http://tirana.usembassy.gov/list_of_attorneys.html

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government has adopted policies to promote the free flow of financial resources and foreign investment in Albania. The Law on “Foreign Investments” is based on the principles of equal treatment, non-discrimination, and protection of foreign investments. Foreign investors have the right to expatriate all funds and contributions of their investment.  In accordance with IMF Article VIII, the government and Central Bank do not impose any restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions. Despite Albania’s shallow foreign exchange market, banks enjoy enough liquidity to support sizeable positions.  Portfolio investments continue to be a challenge because they remain limited mostly to company shares, government bonds, and real estate.

In the recent years, the high percentage of non-performing loans and the economic slowdown forced commercial banks to tighten lending standards.  However, following a decrease in non-performing loans (NPL) in 2018 the, lending increased by 7 percent year-over-year in 2019.  The credit market is competitive, but interest rates in domestic currency can be high, ranging from 6 percent to 7 percent. Most mortgage and commercial loans are denominated in euros because rate differentials between local and foreign currency average 2.5 percent.  Commercial banks operating in Albania have improved the quality and quantity of services they provide, including a large variety of credit instruments, traditional lines of credit, and bank drafts etc.

Money and Banking System

In the absence of an effective stock market, the country’s banking sector is the main channel for business financing.  The sector is sound, profitable, and well capitalized. The high rate of non-performing loans (NPL)s had been a concern for several years but has declined recently.  The Bank of Albania’s legal measures to address the problem have generated positive results. The banking sector is 100 percent fully privatized.  It has undergone consolidation over the last couple of years, as the number of banks decreased from 16 in 2018 to 12 in 2020. As of December 2019, the Turkish -owned National Commercial Bank remained the largest bank in the market, with 27 percent of the market share, followed by Austrian Raiffeisen Bank, with 15 percent, and Albanian Credins Bank, with 14.8 percent.  The American Investment Bank is the only bank with U.S. shareholders, and it ranks seventh with 5.2 %percent of the banking sector’s total assets, which in 2019 reached $13.5 billion.

Albania’s banking sector weathered the financial crisis better than many of its neighbors, due largely to a limited exposure to international capital markets and lack of a domestic housing bubble.  In December 2019, Albania had 446 bank outlets, down from 474 a year ago and the peak of 552 in 2016. Capital adequacy, at 18.3 percent, remains above Basel requirements and indicates sufficient assets.  At the end of 2019, the return on assets was 1.5 percent. The number of NPLs continued to fall, reaching 8.4 percent at the end of the 2019, down from 11.1 percent in 2018, and significantly below the 2014 level when NPLs peaked at 25 percent. As part of its strategy to stimulate business activity, the Bank of Albania has adopted a plan to ease monetary policy by continuing to persistently keep low interest rates. The most recent reduction was in March 2020, when the interest rate was reduced to the historic low of 0.5 percent, down from a rate of 1 percent in place since June 2018.

Most of the banks operating in Albania are subsidiaries of foreign banks. Only three banks have an ownership structure whose majority shareholders are Albanian.  However, the share of total assets of the banks with majority Albanian shareholders has increased because of the sector’s ongoing consolidation. There are no restrictions for foreigners who wish to establish a bank account. They are not required to prove residency status.  However, U.S. citizens must complete a form allowing for the disclosure of their banking data to the IRS as required under the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Central Bank of Albania (BoA) formulates, adopts, and implements foreign exchange policies and maintains a supervisory role in foreign exchange activities in accordance with the Law on the Bank of Albania No. 8269 and the Banking Law No. 9662.  Foreign exchange is regulated by the 2009 Regulation on Foreign Exchange Activities no. 70 (FX Regulation).

BoA maintains a free -float exchange rate regime for the domestic currency, the Lek. Albanian authorities do not engage in currency arbitrage, nor do they view it as an efficient instrument to achieve competitive advantage.  BoA does not intervene to manipulate the exchange rate unless required to control domestic inflation, in accordance with the Bank’s official mandate of inflation targeting.

Foreign exchange is readily available at banks and exchange bureaus. Preliminary notification is necessary if the currency exchange is several million dollars or more – the law does not specify an amount but provides factors for determining the threshold for large exchanges – as the exchange market in Albania is shallow.  A 2018 campaign launched by the BoA to reduce the domestic use of the euro to improve the effectiveness of domestic economic policies has produced tangible results. The share of foreign currency loans in total loans fell from 60 percent in 2015 to 50 percent in 2019. Foreign currency deposits, which to some extent reflect relatively high remittances, rose to 54.6 percent of total deposits.

Remittance Policies

The Banking Law does not impose restrictions on the purchase, sale, holding, or transfer of monetary foreign exchange.  However, local law authorizes the BoA to temporarily restrict the purchase, sale, holding, or transfer of foreign exchange to preserve the foreign exchange rate or official reserves.  In practice, BoA rarely employs such measures. The last episode was in 2009, when the Bank temporarily tightened supervision rules over liquidity transfers by domestic correspondent banks to foreign banks due to insufficient liquidity in international financial markets.  It also asked banks to halt distribution of dividends and use dividends to increase shareholders’ capital, instead. BoA lifted these restrictions in 2010.

The Law on Foreign Investment guarantees the right to transfer and repatriate funds associated with an investment in Albania into a freely usable currency at a market-clearing rate.  Only licensed entities (banks) may conduct foreign exchange transfers and waiting periods depend on office procedures adopted by the banks. Both Albanian and foreign citizens entering or leaving the country must declare assets in excess of 1,000,000 lek (USD 9,000) in hard currency and/or precious items.  Failure to declare such assets is considered a criminal act, punishable by confiscation of the assets and possible imprisonment.

Although the Foreign Exchange (FX) Regulation provides that residents and non-residents may transfer capital within and into Albania without restriction, capital transfers out of Albania are subject to certain documentation requirements.  Persons must submit a request indicating the reasons for the capital transfer, a certificate of registration from the National Registration Center, and the address to which the capital will be transferred. Such persons must also submit a declaration on the source of the funds to be transferred.  In January 2015, The FX Regulation was amended and the requirement to present the documentation showing the preliminary payment of taxes related to the transaction was removed.

Albania is a member of the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (MONEYVAL), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body.  In February 2020, Albania was included in the category of jurisdictions under increased monitoring, also referred to as the Grey List. Albania had previously been on this list and was taken off in 2015. The 2020 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) placed Albania in the “Major Money Laundering Jurisdictions” category following its inclusion for the first time in 2017. The category implies that financial institutions of the country engage in currency transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Parliament approved a law in October 2019 to establish the Albanian Investment Corporation (AIC). The law entered in force in January 2020. The AIC would develop, manage, and administer state-owned property and assets, invest across all sectors by mobilizing state owned and private domestic and foreign capital, and promote economic and social development by investing in line with government-approved development policies.

The GoA plans to transfer state-owned assets, including state-owned land, to the AIC and provide initial capital to launch the corporation. The IMF Staff Concluding Statement  of November 26, 2019, warned that the law would allow the government to direct individual investment decisions, which could make the AIC an off-budget spending tool that risks eroding fiscal discipline and circumventing public investment management processes.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are defined as legal entities that are entirely state-owned or state-controlled and operate as commercial companies in compliance with the Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies. SOEs operate mostly in the generation, distribution, and transmission of electricity, oil and gas, railways, postal services, ports, and water supply. There is no published list of SOEs.

The law does not discriminate between public and private companies operating in the same sector. The government requires SOEs to submit annual reports and undergo independent audits. SOEs are subject to the same tax levels and procedures and the same domestic accounting and international financial reporting standards as other commercial companies. The High State Audit audits SOE activities. SOEs are also subject to public procurement law.

Albania is yet to become party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) of the WTO but has obtained observer status and is negotiating full accession (see https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/gproc_e/memobs_e.htm).  Private companies can compete openly and under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products and services, and incentives.

SOE operation in Albania is regulated by the Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies, the Law on State Owned Enterprises, and the Law on the Transformation of State-Owned Enterprises into Commercial Companies. The Ministry of Economy and Finance and other relevant ministries, depending on the sector, represent the state as the owner of the SOEs. SOEs are not obligated by law to adhere to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines explicitly. However, basic principles of corporate governance are stipulated in the relevant laws and generally accord with OECD guidelines. The corporate governance structure of SOEs includes the supervisory board and the general director (administrator) in the case of joint stock companies. The supervisory board comprises three to nine members, who are not employed by the SOE. Two-thirds of board members are appointed by the representative of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and one-third by the line ministry, local government unit, or institution to which the company reports. The Supervisory Board is the highest decision-making authority and appoints and dismisses the administrator of the SOE through a two-thirds vote.

Privatization Program

The privatization process in Albania is nearing conclusion, with just a few major privatizations remaining. Entities to be privatized include OSHEE, the state-run electricity distributor; 16 percent of ALBtelecom, the fixed- line telephone company; and state-owned oil company Albpetrol. Other sectors might provide opportunities for privatization in the future.

The bidding process for privatizations is public, and relevant information is published by the Public Procurement Agency at www.app.gov.al . Foreign investors may participate in the privatization program. The Agency has not published timelines for future privatizations.

9. Corruption

Endemic corruption continues to undermine the rule of law and jeopardize economic development. Foreign investors cite corruption, particularly in the judiciary, a lack of transparency in public procurement, and poor enforcement of contracts as some of the biggest problems in Albania.

Corruption perceptions continue to deteriorate, with Albania falling an additional seven positions in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), now ranking 106th out of 180 countries, tied with North Macedonia as the lowest in the Balkans. Despite some improvement in in Albania’s score from 2013 to 2016, progress in tackling corruption has been slow and unsteady. Albania is still one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, according to the CPI and other observers.

The country has a sound legal framework to prevent conflict of interest and to fight corruption of public officials and politicians, including their family members. However, law enforcement is jeopardized by a heavily corrupt judicial system.

The passage of constitutional amendments in July 2016 to reform the judicial system was a major step forward, and reform, once fully implemented, is expected to position the country as a more attractive destination for international investors. Judicial reform has been described as the most significant development in Albania since the end of communism, and nearly one-third of the constitution was rewritten as part of the effort. The reform also entails the passage of laws to ensure implementation of the constitutional amendments. Judicial reform’s vetting process will ensure that prosecutors and judges with unexplained wealth or insufficient training, or those who have issued questionable verdicts, are removed from the system. As of publication, more than half of the judges and prosecutors who have faced vetting have either failed or resigned. The establishment of the Special Prosecution Office Against Corruption and Organized Crime and of the National Investigation Bureau, two new judicial bodies, will step up the fight against corruption and organized crime. Once fully implemented, judicial reform will discourage corruption, promote foreign and domestic investment, and allow Albania to compete more successfully in the global economy.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

The government has ratified several corruption-related international treaties and conventions and is a member of major international organizations and programs dealing with corruption and organized crime. Albania has ratified the Civil Law Convention on Corruption (Council of Europe), the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (Council of Europe), the Additional Protocol to Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (Council of Europe), and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Albania has also ratified several key conventions in the broader field of economic crime, including the Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime (2001) and the Convention on Cybercrime (2002). Albania has been a member of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) since the ratification of the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption in 2001 and is a member of the Stability Pact Anti-Corruption Initiative (SPAI). Albania is not a member of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in international Business Transactions. Albania has also adopted legislation for the protection of whistleblowers.

Resources to Report Corruption

To curb corruption, the government announced a new platform in 2017, “Shqiperia qe Duam”(“The Albania We Want”), which invites citizens to submit complaints and allegations of corruption and misuse of office by government officials. The platform has a dedicated link for businesses. The Integrated Services Delivery Agency (ADISA), a government entity, provides a second online portal to report corruption.

10. Political and Security Environment

While political violence is rare, political protests in 2019 included instances of civil disobedience, low-level violence and damage to property, and the use of tear gas by police. Albania’s June 2017 elections and transition to a new government were peaceful, as were its June 2019 local elections. On January 21, 2011, security forces shot and killed four protesters during a violent political demonstration. In its external relations, Albania has usually encouraged stability in the region and maintains generally friendly relations with neighboring countries.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $15,103 2018 $15,103 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $121 2018 N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 N/A 2018 $0 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 59% 2018 52% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/
DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

*Source for Host Country Data: Bank of Albania (http://www.bankofalbania.org/), Albanian Institute of Statistics (http://www.instat.gov.al/), Albanian Ministry of Finances (http://www.financa.gov.al/)

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (2018)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 7,833 100% Total Outward 563 100%
Switzerland 1,505 19% Kosovo 335 59.5%
Canada 1,139 14.5% Italy 165 29.3%
The Netherlands 1,105 14% United States 21 3.7%
Greece 903 11.5% North Macedonia 13 2.3%
Italy 617 7.9% Greece 8 1.4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars) December 2018
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 846 100% All Countries 36 100% All Countries 810 100%
Turkey 187 22% Turkey 17 47% Turkey 170 21%
Germany 117 13.8% Canada 8 22% Germany 117 14%
Czech 99 11.7% The Netherlands 8 22% Czech 99 12%
France 72 8.5% The Bahamas 2 5.5% France 72 8.9X%
Italy 47 5.5% Country #5 Italy 47 5.8%

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Executive Summary

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is open to foreign investment, but investors must overcome endemic corruption, complex legal and regulatory frameworks and government structures, non-transparent business procedures, insufficient protection of property rights, and a weak judicial system to succeed.  Economic reforms to complete the transition from a socialist past to a market-oriented future have proceeded slowly and the country has a relatively low level of foreign direct investment (FDI).  According to the BiH Central Bank, FDI in BiH in the first nine months of 2019 amounted to  USD 505 million.  Total FDI in 2018 amounted to  USD 458 million. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report, BiH is among the least attractive business environments in Southeast Europe, with a ranking of 90 out of 190 global economies.  The WB report ranks BiH particularly low for its lengthy and arduous processes to start a new business and obtain construction permits, both issues which have impacted American companies.  Before the COVID19 pandemic, BiH’s economic growth was expected to gain speed in 2020 before reaching 4 percent in 2021, backed mainly by consumption and to some extent by public investment.  BiH’s economy expanded by an estimated 3.0 percent in 2019, with domestic demand remaining the dominant growth driver.

U.S. investment in BiH is low due to the small market size, relatively low-income levels, distance from the United States, challenging business climate, and the lack of investment opportunities.  Most U.S. companies in BiH are represented by small sales offices that are concentrated on selling U.S. goods and services, with minimal longer-term investments in BiH. U.S. companies with offices in BiH include major multinational companies and market leaders in their respective sectors, such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Pfizer, McDonalds, Marriott, Caterpillar, Johnson&Johnson, FedEx, UPS, Philip Morris, KPMG, Price WaterHouse Coopers and others.  Nonetheless, BiH offers business opportunities to well-prepared and persistent exporters and investors.  Companies who have managed to overcome the challenges of establishing a presence in BiH have often made a return on their investment over time.  A major U.S. investment fund was able to enter the market with a regional investment in 2014 and exit its majority position in 2019 with a good return.  There is an active international community and many reform efforts to improve the business climate as BiH pursues eventual European Union membership.  The country is open to foreign investment and offers a liberal trade regime and simplified tax structure (17 percent VAT and 10 percent flat income tax).  BiH is actively pursuing World Trade Organization membership and hopes to join that organization in the near future.  It is also richly endowed with natural resources, providing potential opportunities in energy (hydro and thermal power plants), agriculture, timber, and tourism.  The best business opportunities for U.S. exporters to BiH include energy generation and transmission equipment, telecommunication and IT equipment and services, transport infrastructure and equipment, engineering and construction services, medical equipment, and raw materials and chemicals for industrial processing.  In 2019, U.S. exports to BiH totaled USD 394 million, a 3.6 percent increase from 2018, and held a 3.4 percent share of total BiH imports.  BiH exports to the United States in 2019 totaled $30.5 million. U.S. exports to BiH are primarily in the areas of raw materials for industrial processing, food and agricultural products, machinery and transport equipment, and mineral fuels.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 101 of 180 www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 90 of 190 www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 77 of 128 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
home
U.S. FDI in BiH 2019 $9  million  https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/factsheet.cfm
World Bank GNI per capita 2018     $5,740 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Bosnia and Herzegovina struggles to attract foreign investment.  Complex labor and pension laws, the lack of a single economic space, and inadequate judicial and regulatory protections deter investment.  Under the BiH constitution, established through the Dayton Accords that ended the 1990s war, Bosnia and Herzegovina (henceforth “the state”) is divided into two “entities,” the Federation of BiH (the Federation) and the Republika Srpska (RS).  A third, smaller area, the Brčko District, operates under a separate administration.  The Federation is further divided into ten cantons, each with its own government and responsibilities.  There are also 143 municipalities in BiH:  63 in the RS and 80 in the Federation.  As a result, BiH has a multi-tiered legal and regulatory framework that can be duplicative and contradictory, and is not conducive to attracting foreign investors.

Employers bear a heavy burden toward governments.  They must contribute 69 percent on top of wages in the Federation and 52 percent in the RS to the health and pension systems.  The labor and pension laws are also deterrents to investment, though both are being reformed to decrease burdens on employers.  While corporate income taxes in the two entities and Brčko District are now harmonized at 10 percent, entity business registration requirements are not harmonized.  The RS has its own registration requirements, which apply to the entire entity.  Each of the Federation’s ten cantons has different business regulations and administrative procedures affecting companies.  Simplifying and streamlining this framework is essential to improving the investment climate.  The EU Reform Agenda targets changes that should improve the investment climate by clarifying and simplifying regulation and procedures while decreasing fees faced by businesses at the entity, canton, and municipal levels.

Generally, BiH’s legal framework does not discriminate against foreign investors.  However, given the high level of corruption, foreign investors can be at a significant disadvantage in relation to entrenched local companies, especially those with formal or informal backing by BiH’s various levels of government.

The Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA) is a state-level organization mandated by the Council of Ministers to facilitate and support FDI (www.fipa.gov.ba ).  FIPA provides data, analysis, and advice on the business and investment climate to foreign investors.  All FIPA services are free of charge.

BiH does not maintain an ongoing, formal dialogue with foreign investors.  Sporadically, high-ranking government officials give media statements inviting foreign investments in the energy, transportation, and agriculture industries; however, the announcements are rarely supported by tangible, commercially-viable investment opportunities.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

According to the Law on the Policy of FDI, foreign investors are entitled to invest in any sector of the economy in the same form and under the same conditions as those defined for local residents.  There are two exceptions:  the defense industry and some areas of publishing and media where foreign ownership is restricted to 49 percent, and electric power transmission, which is closed to foreign investment.  In practice, additional sectors are dominated by government monopolies (such as airport operation), or characterized by oligopolistic market structures (such as telecommunications and electricity generation), making it difficult for foreign investors to engage.  There have been no significant privatizations of government-owned enterprises in the past few years.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In the past three years, the BiH government has not conducted an investment policy review through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); the World Trade Organization (WTO); or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Business Facilitation

Establishing a business in BiH can be an extremely burdensome and time-consuming process for investors.  The World Bank estimates there are an average of 13 procedures (actual number depends on the type of business), taking a total of 81 days, to register a new business in the capital city of Sarajevo.  Registration in BiH can sometimes be expedited if companies retain a local lawyer to follow up at each step of the process.  The RS established a one-stop shop for business registration in the entity.  On paper, this dramatically reduced the time required to register a business in the RS, bringing the government-reported time to register a company down to an average of 7 to 14 days.  Some businesses, however, report that in practice it can take significantly longer.

The entity, cantonal, and municipal levels of government each establish their own laws and regulations on business operations, creating redundant and inconsistent procedures that enable corruption.  It is often difficult to understand all the laws and rules that might apply to certain business activities, given overlapping jurisdictions and the lack of a central information source.  It is therefore critical that foreign investors obtain local assistance and advice.  Investors in the Federation may register their business as a branch in the RS and vice versa.

The most common U.S. business presence found in BiH are representative offices.  A representative office is not considered to be a legal entity and its activities are limited to market research, contract or investment preparations, technical cooperation, and similar business facilitation activities.  The BiH Law on Foreign Trade Policy governs the establishment of a representative office.  To open a representative office, a company must register with the Registry of Representative Offices, maintained by the BiH Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Affairs (MoFTER) and the appropriate entity’s ministry of trade.

Additional English-language information on the business registration process can be found at:

BiH Ministry of Foreign Trade & Economic Relations (MoFTER):
Ph: +387-33-220-093
www.mvteo.gov.ba 

BiH Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA):
Ph: + 387 33 278 080
www.fipa.gov.ba 

Republika Srpska Company Registration Website:
http://www.investsrpska.net 

Outward Investment

The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  There are no programs to promote or incentivize outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The government has adequate laws to foster competition; however, due to corruption, laws are often not implemented transparently or efficiently.  The multitude of state, entity, cantonal (in the Federation only), and municipal administrations – each with the power to establish laws and regulations affecting business – creates a heavily bureaucratic, non-transparent system.  Ministries and/or regulatory agencies are not typically obligated to publish the text of proposed regulations before they are enacted.  Some local and international companies have expressed frustration with generally limited opportunities to provide input and influence/improve draft legislation that impacts the business community.

Foreign investors have criticized government and public procurement tenders for a lack of openness and transparency.  Dispute resolution is also challenging as the judicial system moves slowly, often does not adhere to existing deadlines, and provides no recourse if the company in question re-registers under a different name.

In an effort to promote the growth of business in its entity, the Republika Srpska government passed a series of amendments in 2013 to create an RS one-stop-shop for business registration.  This institution centralizes the process of registering a business, ostensibly making it easier, faster, and cheaper for new business owners to register their companies in the RS.  The Federation’s announced plans to establish a one-stop-shop have long been delayed.

Businesses are subject to inspections from a number of entity and cantonal/municipal agencies, including the financial police, labor inspectorate, market inspectorate, sanitary inspectorate, health inspectorate, fire-fighting inspectorate, environmental inspectorate, institution for the protection of cultural monuments, tourism and food inspectorate, construction inspectorate, communal inspectorate, and veterinary inspectorate.  Some investors have complained about non-transparent fees levied during inspections, changing rules and regulations, and an ineffective appeals process to protest these fines.

International Regulatory Considerations

BiH is not a part of the EU, the WTO, or a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

BiH has an overloaded court system and it often takes several years for a case to be brought to trial.  Moreover, commercial cases with subject matter that judges do not have experience adjudicating, such as intellectual property rights, are often left unresolved for lengthy periods of time.  Most judges have little to no in-depth knowledge of adjudicating international commercial disputes and require training on applicable international treaties and laws.  Regulations or enforcement actions can be appealed, and appeals are adjudicated in the national court system.

The U.S. government has provided training to judges, trustees, attorneys, and other stakeholders at the state and entity levels to assist in the development of bankruptcy and intellectual property rights laws.  Those laws are now in effect at both the entity and state levels, but have not been fully implemented.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The state-level Law on the Policy of Foreign Direct Investment accords foreign investors the same rights as domestic investors and guarantees foreign investors national treatment, protection against nationalization/expropriation, and the right to dispose of profits and transfer funds.  In practice, most business sectors in Bosnia and Herzegovina are fully open to foreign equity ownership.  Notable exceptions to this general rule are select strategic sectors, such as defense; electric power transmission, which is closed to foreign investment; and some areas of publishing and media, where foreign ownership is restricted to 49 percent (see below).  However, one of the sub-national governments (Federation of BiH, Republika Srpska) may decide that companies normally subject to this limitation are not subject to restrictions.

According to legal amendments adopted in March 2015, foreign investors can now own more than 49 percent of capital business entities dealing with media activities, such as publishing newspapers, magazines and other journals, publishing of periodical publications, production and distribution of television programs, privately owned broadcasting of radio and TV programs, and other forms of daily or periodic publications.  The new law maintains the restriction that foreign investors cannot own more than 49 percent of public television and radio services.  The March 2015 amendments also set conditions to enhance legal security and clarity for foreign direct investment flows.  The Foreign Investment Promotion Agency maintains a list of laws relevant to investors on its website: http://www.fipa.gov.ba/publikacije_materijali/zakoni/default.aspx?id=317&langTag=en-US 

The complex legal environment in BiH underlines the utility of local legal representation for foreign investors.  Bosnian attorneys’ experience base is still limited with respect to legal questions and the issues that arise in a market-oriented economy.  However, local lawyers are quickly gaining experience in working with international organizations and companies operating in BiH.  Companies’ in-house legal counsel should be prepared to oversee their in-country counsel, with explicit explanations and directions regarding objectives.  The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of local lawyers willing to represent U.S. citizens and companies in BiH.  The list can be accessed at https://ba.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

BiH has a Competition Council, designed to be an independent public institution to enforce anti-trust laws, prevent monopolies, and enhance private sector competition.  The Council reviews and approves foreign investments in cases of mergers and acquisitions of local companies by foreign companies.  The Competition Council consists of six members appointed for six-year terms of office with the possibility of one reappointment.  The BiH Council of Ministers appoints three Competition Council members, the Federation Government appoints two members, and the RS Government appoints one member.  From the six-member Competition Council, the BiH Council of Ministers affirms a president of the Council for a one-year term without the possibility of reappointment.

Expropriation and Compensation

BiH investment law forbids expropriation of investments, except in the public interest.  According to Article 16, “Foreign investment shall not be subject to any act of nationalization, expropriation, requisition, or measures that have similar effects, except where the public interest may require otherwise.”  In such cases of public interest, expropriation of investments would be executed in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, be free from discrimination, and include payment of appropriate compensation.  Neither the entity governments nor the state government have expropriated any foreign investments to date.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a signatory of the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”).  Bosnia and Herzegovina is a signatory to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID), also known as the Washington Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Over the last decade, there have been two cases of legal disputes involving U.S. investors and the local government.  While efforts are being made to improve BiH’s commercial court system, its current capacity and practical inefficiencies limit timely resolution of commercial disputes.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

BiH has been a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes since 1997.  BiH does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) or Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United StatesIt accepts international arbitration to settle private investment disputes if the parties outline this option in a contract.

The only domestic arbitration body in BiH, the Arbitration Court of the BiH Foreign Trade Chamber, is an inexperienced institution.  It needs updated and modernized laws and regulations to comply with international norms and standards.  The Arbitration Court would benefit from licensed and trained arbitrators.  Domestic arbitration legislation is encompassed within the Civil Procedure Code and is not currently modeled on internationally-accepted regulations.  As for the legislation, arbitration is generally poorly addressed.  There are few provisions in the entities’ laws that regulate litigation procedures, which are the legal basis for parties in dispute to entrust the dispute to arbitration.  There is no legislation that is modelled on internationally accepted regulations, such as the model law of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNICITRAL).

Bankruptcy Regulations

Both the Federation and Republika Srpska entities have Laws on Bankruptcy.  However, bankruptcy proceedings are not resolved in a timely manner, and there is insufficient emphasis placed on companies’ rehabilitation and/or reorganization.  The entities’ laws define the rights of creditors, equity shareholders, and holders of other financial contracts.  Foreign contract holders enjoy the same rights as local contract holders.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized.  The U.S. government provided recent training to judges on international bankruptcy principles.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked BiH at number 96 out of 190 in the ease of registering property, which takes 7 procedures and an average of 35 days.  Registration of real property titles is generally acknowledged as a significant barrier to the real property and mortgage market development.  The present system consists of separate geodetic administrations for the Federation and the RS, which are responsible for real property cadasters.  Real property cadasters describe and certify the legal object, e.g. land, house, etc.  Separately, the land registry establishes legal ownership and rights for the specific object and is maintained by the municipal courts.  A significant portion of land and real estate property does not have a clear title due to restitution issues.  Foreigners must register a local company to purchase property; the company then makes the purchase and is recorded as the land owner.  The exception to this rule is if the foreigners’ country of citizenship has a reciprocal land ownership agreement with BiH.  In that case, the foreigner may directly own land.

Intellectual Property Rights

Companies should have a comprehensive intellectual property rights (IPR) strategy in BiH since rights must be registered and enforced according to local law.  BiH’s IPR framework consists of seven laws adopted and put into force by the Parliament in 2010.  This legislation is compliant with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and EU legislation.  BiH is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to a number of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty.  Registration of patents and trademarks is on a first-in-time, first-in-right basis, so businesses should consider applying for trademark and patent protection prior to introducing their products or services in the BiH market.  Companies may wish to seek advice from local attorneys who are experts in IPR law.  Although existing legislation provides a basic level of protection, BiH’s civil and criminal enforcement remains weak.

Jurisdiction over IPR investigations is split between customs officials, entity inspectorates, and state and entity law enforcement agencies, none of which have specialized IPR investigation teams.  IPR crimes are prosecuted primarily at the state level.  Cases in which companies are indicted often involve fairly low-level violators.  More significant cases have sometimes languished for years with little action from prosecutors or judges.

Some BiH government entities have been using licensed software for a number of years, such as the state-level government which came into compliance in 2009, a significant step forward in the government’s commitment to IPR protection.  However, some of the Cantonal governments continue using unlicensed software as some officials still do not understand the implications for IPR infringement.

In BiH’s private sector, awareness of IPR, particularly the importance of copyright protection, remains low, though the emergence of a local software development industry is helping to raise awareness.  Curbing business software piracy could significantly improve the local economy by creating new jobs and generating tax revenue.  The failure to recognize the importance of preventing copyright infringement makes software producers and official distributors less competitive and the establishment of a legitimate market more difficult.  Businesses in BiH lose an estimated USD15 million annually from the sale of counterfeit and pirated software, CDs, and DVDs.  According to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the rate of illegal software installed on personal computers in BiH currently remains at 66 percent, which is the regional average.

Collective copyright protection also remains a challenge in BiH.    There is currently no established local representative to collect and distribute royalties for visual artists, filmmakers, and literary authors.  The Association of Composers and Musical Authors is the only licensed collective management organization for music authors in BiH, and it faces enforcement challenges since both musical artists and consumers remain skeptical and unfamiliar with collective management protection.

The U.S. Government, in conjunction with local partners, has made IPR awareness within the BiH enforcement community a priority through judicial engagement and public awareness programs.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not included in the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Capital markets remain underdeveloped in BiH.  Both entities have created their own modern stock market infrastructure with separate stock exchanges in Sarajevo (SASE) and Banja Luka (BLSE), both of which started trading in 2002.  The small size of the markets, lack of privatization, weak shareholder protection, and public mistrust of previous privatization programs has impeded the development of the capital market.  During the global economic crisis, foreign investment dwindled and investors saw previous gains dissipate on both exchanges.  Foreign investment has shown few signs of growth since 2008, shaped not only by the global financial crisis but also by BiH’s lack of political stability and slowdown of reforms.

Both the RS and Federation issued government securities for the first time during 2011, as part of their plans to raise capital in support of their budget deficits during this period of economic stress.  Both entity governments continue to issue government securities in order to fill budget gaps.  These securities are also available for secondary market trading on the stock exchanges.

In April 2020,  The international rating agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P) affirmed the credit rating of Bosnia and Herzegovina as “B” with a stable outlook.  The agency noted that the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina continued to grow despite its longstanding political fragmentation. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Agency forecasts real GDP growth of 2.7 percent over the next four years. Fiscal performance is a major contributor to credit rating, as the general government net debt is expected to remain below 30 percent of GDP and to have a favorable maturity structure.  The quality of banking regulations was also positively evaluated.   Positive reforms, according to analysts’ expectations, could include reducing the labor cost burden on business and enhancing governance of the country’s state-owned enterprise sector.

Money and Banking System

The banking and financial system has been stable with the most significant investments coming from Austria.  As of March 2020, there are 23 commercial banks operating in BiH: 15 with headquarters in the Federation and 8 in the Republika Srpska.  Twenty-two commercial banks are members of a deposit insurance program, which provides for deposit insurance of KM 50,000 (USD 28,000).  The banking sector is divided between the two entities, with entity banking agencies responsible for banking supervision.  The BiH Central Bank defines and controls the implementation of monetary policy (via its currency board) and supports and maintains payment and settlement systems.  It also coordinates the activities of the entity Banking Agencies, which are in charge of bank licensing and supervision. Reforms of the banking sector, mandated by the IMF and performed in conjunction with the IMF and World Bank, are in progress.

BiH passed a state-level framework law in 2010 mandating the use of international accounting standards, and both entities passed legislation that eliminated differences in standards between the entities and Brčko District.  All governments have implemented accounting practices that are fully in line with international norms.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Law on Foreign Direct Investment guarantees the immediate right to transfer and repatriate profits and remittances.  Local and foreign companies may hold accounts in one or more banks authorized to initiate or receive payments in foreign currency.  The implementing laws in both entities include transfer and repatriation rights.  The Central Bank’s adoption of a currency board in 1997 guarantees the local currency, the convertible mark or KM (aka BAM), is fully convertible to the euro with a fixed exchange rate of KM 1.95583 = €1.00.

Remittance Policies

BiH has no remittance policy, although remittances are generally high due to a large diaspora.  Remittances are estimated to range up to 15 percent of total GDP.  Based on the two entities’ Laws on Foreign Currency Exchange, all payments in the country must be in national currency.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

BiH does not have a government-affiliated Sovereign Wealth Fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In BiH, subnational governments own the vast majority of government-owned companies:  the two entities and ten cantons.  Private enterprises can compete with state-owned enterprises (SOEs) under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives.  In practice, however, SOEs have the advantage over private enterprises, especially in sectors such as telecommunications and electricity, where government-owned enterprises have traditionally held near-monopolies and are able to influence regulators and courts in their favor.  Generally, government-owned companies are controlled by political parties, increasing the possibilities for corruption and inefficient company management.  With the exception of SOEs in the telecom,  electricity, and defense sectors, many of the remaining public companies are bankrupt or on the verge of insolvency, and represent a growing liability to the government.

The country is not party to the Government Procurement Agreement within the framework of the WTO.

Privatization Program

There have been no significant privatizations in the past few years.  Privatization offerings are scarce and often require unfavorable terms.  Some formerly successful state-owned enterprises have accrued significant debts from unpaid health and pension contributions, and potential investors are required to assume these debts and maintain the existing workforce.  Under the state-level FDI Law, foreign investors may bid on privatization tenders.  International financial organizations, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are seeking to be engaged on privatization and restructuring efforts across the remaining portfolio of state owned enterprises.  Historically, the privatization process in BiH has resulted in economic loss due to corruption.  From 1999 to 2015, more than 1,000 companies were fully privatized, while around 100 were partially privatized.  Some privatizations led to the loss of value of state property and many of the privatized companies were weakened or ruined in the privatization process.  The history of corrupt privatizations has raised concerns that further privatization would only lead  to additional unemployment and the enrichment of a few politically-connected individuals.  Successful  privatizations and restructurings that improve service delivery, business productivity, and employment would be very beneficial for the BiH economy, could help the image of privatization, and would build support for a long overdue shift away from a government-led economy.

The Federation government is focused on privatizing or restructuring some SOEs based on the Federation Agency for Privatization’s 2019 privatization plan.  The privatization plan includes the fuel retailer Energopetrol dd. Sarajevo, the engineering company Energoinvest, the aluminum smelter Aluminij Mostar and the insurer Sarajevo-Osiguranje.  In 2016, the Federation Government sold its stake in the Sarajevo Tobacco Factory (39.9 percent stake), and BiH’s largest pharmaceutical company, Bosnalijek (19 percent stake).  The remaining companies listed in the privatization plan have posted losses and suffered significant declines in their value, while others have only a small amount of government ownership.  The Federation government rejected media speculation that it plans to privatize the two majority government-owned telecom companies, BH Telecom (90 percent stake) and HT Mostar (50.1 percent stake).  At the same time, it has completed due diligence on the two telecom companies as part of its arrangement with the IMF.

The privatization process in the RS is carried out by the RS Investment Development Bank (IRBRS).  Many prospective companies have been already privatized, and out of 163 not yet privatized companies, many are being liquidated or undergoing bankruptcy.  In 2016, the RS government announced plans to sell its capital in 22 companies but the plan has not been implemented yet.  The plan envisions the privatizations to take place via the sale of government shares on the stock exchange.  Although the RS National Assembly passed a decision that the entity has no plans to privatize the energy sector, the RS government maintains the possibility of joint ventures in the energy sector.

9. Corruption

Corruption remains prevalent in many political and economic institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and raises the costs and risks of doing business.  BiH’s overly complex business registration and licensing process is particularly vulnerable to corruption.  The multitude of state, entity, cantonal, and municipal administrations, each with the power to establish laws and regulations affecting business, creates a system that lacks transparency and opens opportunities for corruption via parafiscal fees.  Paying bribes to obtain necessary business licenses and construction permits, or simply to expedite the approval process, occurs regularly.  Foreign investors have criticized government and public procurement tenders for a lack of openness and transparency.

Transparency International’s (TI) 2019 Corruption Perception Index ranked BiH 101 out of 180 countries.  According to TI, relevant institutions lack the will to actively fight corruption; law enforcement agencies and the judiciary are not effective in the prosecution of corruption cases and are visibly exposed to political pressures; and prosecutors complain that citizens generally do not report instances of corruption and do not want to testify in these cases.  In 2011, BiH established a state level agency to prevent and coordinate efforts to combat corruption; while officially active, the agency has shown limited results.

Corruption has a corrosive impact on both market opportunities overseas for U.S. companies and the broader business climate.  It deters foreign investment, stifles economic growth and development, distorts prices, and undermines the rule of law.  U.S. companies must carefully assess the business climate and develop an effective compliance program and measures to prevent and detect corruption, including foreign bribery.  U.S. individuals and firms should take the time to become familiar with the relevant anticorruption laws of both BiH and the United States in order to properly comply, and where appropriate, seek the advice of legal counsel.

The U.S. government seeks to level the global playing field for U.S. businesses by encouraging other countries to take steps to criminalize their own companies’ acts of corruption, including bribery of foreign public officials, and uphold obligations under relevant international conventions.  A U.S. firm that believes a competitor is seeking to use bribery of a foreign public official to secure a contract should bring this to the attention of appropriate U.S. agencies.

U.S. firms should become familiar with local anticorruption laws, and, where appropriate, seek legal counsel.  While the U.S. Department of Commerce cannot provide legal advice on local laws, the Department’s U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service can provide assistance with navigating the host country’s legal system and obtaining a list of local legal counsel.

The U.S. Department of Commerce offers a number of services to aid U.S. businesses.  For example, the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service can provide services that may assist U.S. companies in conducting due diligence when choosing business partners or agents overseas and provide support for qualified U.S. companies bidding on foreign government contracts.  For a list of U.S. Foreign and Commercial Service offices, please visit the Commercial Service website:  www.trade.gov/cs 

Alleged corruption by foreign governments or competitors can be brought to the attention of appropriate U.S. government officials, including U.S. Embassy personnel or through the Department of Commerce Trade Compliance Center “Report a Trade Barrier” Website at: https://tcc.export.gov/Report_a_Barrier/index.asp 

Contact at government agency or agencies responsible for combating corruption:

BiH Agency for the Prevention of Corruption and Coordination of the Fight against Corruption
Phone: +387 57 322 540
email: kontakt@apik.ba
www.apik.ba 

Contact at “watchdog” organization (international, regional, local or nongovernmental organization operating in the country/economy that monitors corruption):

Transparency International BiH
Phone: +387 51 216928
Fax: +387 51 216369
email: info@ti-bih.org
www.ti-bih.org 

BiH signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in October 2006.  BiH is also party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

10. Political and Security Environment

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended with the Dayton Peace Accords in November 1995.  There have been no attacks targeting foreign investments.  However, there are still risks from occasional, localized political and criminal violence.  In mid-June 2013 and early 2014, large groups of citizens protested the country’s economic stagnation and the government’s apparent inability to improve the situation.  The vast majority of protests were peaceful with relatively small numbers of participants, but some protests in Sarajevo, Mostar, and Tuzla resulted in attacks on government buildings, destruction of government property, and injuries.  There were no reports of foreign investors being directly targeted in the protests.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) N/A N/A 2019 $20.8 billion www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI ($M USD, stock positions)     2019 $250 million (estimate) N/A N/A N/A
FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)          N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Total inbound stock of FDI as %  GDP ($M USD, stock positions)       N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Table 3: Sources of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $8,372 100% Total Outward 512 100%
Austria $1,558 18.6% Croatia 135 26.4%
Croatia $1,343 16% Germany 96 18.6%
Serbia $1,186 14.2% Serbia 48 9.3%
Slovenia $630 7.5% Montenegro 45 8.8%
Netherlands $510 6.1% The Netherlands 40 7.8%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

According to the BiH Central Bank, FDI in BiH in the first nine months of 2019 amounted to USD 505 million. In 2018, total FDI in BiH was USD 458 million.  The all-time high for FDI was USD 2.1 billion in 2007.  Most investments in 2014-2019 came from Croatia, Austria, Russia, Serbia, The Netherlands, UAE, and the United Kingdom.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

Kosovo

Executive Summary

Despite being one of Europe’s youngest and poorest countries, Kosovo has recorded positive economic growth rates, averaging almost four percent, during the last decade.  Kosovo has potential to attract foreign direct investment, but that potential is constrained by failure to address several serious structural issues including: limited regional and global economic integration; political instability and interference in the economy; corruption; an unreliable energy supply; a large informal sector; difficulty establishing property rights, and tenuous rule of law, including a glaring lack of contract enforcement.  The country’s ability to sustain growth relies significantly on international financial support and remittances.

The COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to lead to significant permanent changes in investment policies.  As of April 2020, the government had enacted several emergency relief measures that did not require legislative changes.  These measures are all temporary and focused on maintaining employment levels and helping businesses maintain liquidity.  As such, they do not affect the broader investment policy environment.  The government also announced a package of economic recovery measures, but as of April 2020, it was still working on finalizing the package.

Many international financial institutions have forecasted economic growth rates in Kosovo to fall from a pre-pandemic projection of four percent positive growth to a post-pandemic contraction of up to five percent.  This includes the IMF (-5 percent), World Bank (-4.5 percent) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (-4.5 percent).

In 2019, net flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Kosovo was estimated at USD 292 million, close to the 10-year annual average of USD 296 million.  The stock of portfolio investment in 2019 totaled USD 2.05 billion, with equity securities of USD 1.67 billion, and debt securities of USD 385 million.  Real estate and leasing activities are the largest beneficiaries of FDI, followed by financial services and energy.  The food, IT, infrastructure, and energy sectors are growing and are likely to attract new FDI.

Though justice sector remains weak in implementation, Kosovo’s laws and regulations are consistent with international benchmarks for supporting and protecting investment.  Kosovo has a flat corporate tax of 10 percent.  In 2016, Kosovo ratified a strategic investment law intended to ease market access for investors in key sectors, and the government partnered with USAID and other international donors to launch the Kosovo Credit Guarantee Fund, which improves access to credit.  With USAID assistance, the Government of Kosovo continued a series of business environment reforms which contributed to improving Kosovo’s ranking and score in the World Bank Doing Business Report over the years.  In the 2020 Doing Business Report, Kosovo ranked 57 out of 190 economics surveyed and was recognized as one of the top 20 most improved economies in the world.

Property rights and interests are enforced, but weaknesses in the legal system and difficulties associated with establishing title to real estate, in part due to competing claims arising from the history of conflict with Serbia, can make enforcement difficult.  Kosovo has a good legal framework for protecting intellectual property rights (IPR), but enforcement remains weak, largely due to lack of resources.  While IPR theft occurs in Kosovo, it is not widespread.

All legal, regulatory, and accounting systems in Kosovo are modeled on EU standards and international best practices.  Publicly-listed companies are required to comply with international accounting standards.  Investors should note that despite regulatory requirements for public consultation and establishment of an online platform for public comments (http://konsultimet.rks-gov.net), some business groups complain that regulations are passed with little substantive discussion or stakeholder input.

Recently, the political environment has been characterized by short electoral cycles and prolonged periods of caretaker governments.  (For example, the current government, formed in February 2020 collapsed 50 days later and has been in caretaker status since).  While the environment in the country is growing increasingly politicized, the Embassy is not aware of any damage to commercial projects or installations.

The public consistently ranks Kosovo’s high unemployment rate (officially 25.7 percent in 2019) as among its greatest concerns.  Unemployment levels for first-time job seekers and women are considerably higher than the official rate.  Many experts cite a skills gap and high reservation wage as significant contributing factors.

Despite the challenges, Kosovo has attracted a number of significant investors including several international firms and U.S. franchises.  Some investors have been attracted to Kosovo’s relatively young population, low labor costs, relative proximity to the EU market, and natural resources.  Kosovo does provide preferential access to the EU market through a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA).

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 101 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 57 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 USD 213 Million http://data.imf.org/CDIS
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 4,220 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Kosovo welcomes FDI.  Kosovo’s laws do not discriminate against foreign investors.  The current caretaker government (as the government before it) – including the Prime Minister’s Office; Ministry of Economy, Employment, Trade, Industry, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Investments (MEETIESI); and the Ministry of Finance and Transfers – recognizes the importance of FDI to the expansion of the private sector.

Kosovo Investment Enterprise and Support Agency’s (KIESA)’s mission is to promote and support foreign investments.  The agency is tasked with offering a menu of services, including: assistance and advice on starting a business in Kosovo, assistance with applying for a site in a special economic zone or as a business incubator, facilitation of meetings with different state institutions, and participation in business-to-business meetings and conferences.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The laws and regulations on establishing and owning business enterprises and engaging in all forms of remunerative activity apply equally to foreign and domestic private entities.  Kosovo legislation does not interfere with the establishment, acquisition, expansion, or sale of interests in enterprises by private entities.  Under Kosovo law, foreign firms operating in Kosovo are granted the same privileges as local businesses.  Kosovo does not have an investment screening mechanism.

We have heard no reports of restrictions from U.S. investors.  There are no licensing restrictions particular to foreign investors and no requirement for mandatory domestic partners for joint ventures.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Kosovo is not a member of OECD, WTO, or UNCTAD; there are no investment policy reviews from these organizations.  In February 2017 the Pristina think tank, Group for Legal and Political Studies, published the report, “How ‘friendly’ is Kosovo for Foreign Direct Investments: A Policy Review of Gaps from a Regional Market Perspective ”.

Business Facilitation

The government has taken steps to remove barriers to facilitate businesses’ operations and improve related government services With USAID’s assistance, the Government of Kosovo continued a series of business climate reforms which contributed to Kosovo’s improved ranking in the World Bank Doing Business Index over the years.  Kosovo currently ranks 57 out of 190 economics surveyed and was recognized as one of the top 20 most improved economies in the world.  This was largely due to Kosovo’s high scores in the categories of “ease of registering a business” and “transferring property.”  Per the amended Law on Support to Small and Medium Enterprises, KIESA offers support to both domestic and foreign-owned micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), without any specific eligibility criteria.  Such services include voucher programs for training and advisory services, investment facilitation, assistance to women and young business owners, and the provision of business space with complete infrastructure at industrial parks, at minimal cost.

The Kosovo Business Registration Agency (KBRA), part of the Ministry of Economy, Employment, Trade, Industry, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Investments, registers all new businesses, business closures, and business modifications.  The KBRA website is available in English and can be accessed at arbk.rks-gov.net.  As of April 2020, some steps in the registration process can be completed online.  Successful registrants will receive a business-registration certificate, a fiscal number, and a VAT number.  New businesses must register employees for tax and pension programs with the Tax Administration under the Ministry of Finance and Transfers.  Business registration generally takes one day for an individual business and up to three days for joint ventures.  A notary is not required when opening a new business unless the business registration also involves a transfer of real property.

Outward Investment

Kosovo does not promote or incentivize outward investment.  There are no restrictions on investments abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Kosovo is signatory of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) and has a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union that serves among other things as a free trade agreement.  Kosovo has also signed a trade and cooperation agreement with United Kingdom and a free trade agreement with Turkey.  Kosovo has started the accession process for the European Free Trade Association.

Businesses and the government have often complained about non-tariff barriers in trading with other CEFTA countries and the inability of CEFTA dispute mechanisms to resolve them.  Resolving these disputes bilaterally has proven difficult given that three out of seven CEFTA countries do not recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

The United States does not have a bilateral investment or a taxation treaty with Kosovo.

Kosovo has signed double-taxation treaties with Luxemburg, Austria, Albania, Switzerland, Slovenia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Croatia, North Macedonia and the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Malta.  Older treaties with Hungary, Netherlands, Germany, Finland, and Belgium from the time of the former Yugoslavia are also still in effect.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Law on Public Procurement delegates procurement authority to budgetary units (i.e., ministries, municipalities, and independent agencies) except when the government specifically authorizes the Ministry of Finance’s Central Procurement Agency to procure goods and/or services on its behalf.  All tenders are advertised in Albanian and Serbian, and for the most important projects, also in English.

The Public Procurement Regulatory Commission (PPRC) oversees and supervises all public procurement and ensures that the Law on Public Procurement is fully implemented.  As of 2019, an e-procurement platform is fully operational; all procurements are handled through it, which has greatly enhanced transparency.  The PPRC publishes contract award information on its website (https://e-prokurimi.rks-gov.net/Home/ClanakItemNew.aspx?id=327 ).  The National Audit Office conducts annual procurement audits of the various Kosovo ministries, municipal authorities, and agencies that receive funds from the Kosovo consolidated budget.  The Procurement Review Body, an independent administrative body, is responsible for hearing appeals related to government procurement.

The Kosovo Assembly is responsible for rule-making and regulatory actions, while government ministries and agencies draft and authorize secondary legislation (i.e., implementing regulations).  Municipal assemblies and mayors have regulatory authority at the local level.  The Government of Kosovo is working to align all legal, regulatory, and accounting systems in Kosovo with EU standards and international best practices.  Publicly-listed companies are required to comply with international accounting standards.

The Assembly publishes draft laws on its website (http://www.kuvendikosoves.org/shq/projektligjet-dhe-ligjet/ ).  The relevant committees also hold public hearings on proposed laws, including investment laws.  The 2016 regulation on the Minimum Standards for Public Consultation Process clarifies the standards, principles, and procedures for consultations during the drafting of legislation.  Kosovo’s Better Regulation Strategy 2014-2020 is a government initiative to implement a smart regulatory system with sound implementation and effective communication.  Kosovo has developed an online platform for public comments (http://konsultimet.rks-gov.net/ ) and publishes rules, regulations, and laws in the official Kosovo Gazette (https://gzk.rks-gov.net/ ) and on the Kosovo Assembly’s website.  The Law on Public Financial Management and Accountability requires a detailed impact assessment of any budgetary implications before new regulations can be implemented.  The Ministry of Finance regularly publishes detailed reports on Kosovo’s public finances and debt obligations.

In spite of the strategy and regulatory requirements, some businesses and business associations complain that regulations are passed with little substantive discussion or stakeholder input.

International Regulatory Considerations

Kosovo is a CEFTA member and is pursuing EU integration.  Through its Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, Kosovo is working to harmonize its laws and regulations with EU standards.  Kosovo is not a member of the WTO.

Kosovo is a signatory to the July 2017 Multi-Annual Action Plan for a Regional Economic Area in the Western Balkans Six .  This action plan aims to increase regional integration in the fields of trade, investment policy, labor force mobility, and digitalization.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

In 2016, the Kosovo Assembly amended the constitution to enhance the independence of the judiciary in line with EU requirements.  Despite significant reforms and improvements in court efficiency, backlog, and sentencing procedures, the judiciary lacks sufficient subject-matter expertise to effectively handle complex economic issues.  While complainants have the right to challenge court decisions, regulations, and enforcement actions in the regular court system, as well as the constitutional court, Kosovo’s courts are viewed as politically influenced by the executive branch, with special treatment or “selective justice” for high-profile, well-connected individuals.  While Kosovo court conviction rates generally match regional averages, the rate falls considerably when filtered for high-profile corruption cases.

Significant legislation overhauling the 2004 Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code,  amended in 2018, brought Kosovo’s Criminal Law in compliance with the EU Convention on Human Rights, updating definitions and best practices. The Criminal Code contains penalties for tax evasion, bankruptcy, fraud, intellectual property rights offenses, antitrust, securities fraud, money laundering, and corruption offenses.  The Special Department of the Special Prosecutor of the Republic of Kosovo handles high-level cases of corruption, organized crime, terrorism, etc.

Kosovo’s civil legal system provides for property and contract enforcement.  The Department for Economic Matters within the Basic Court of Pristina has jurisdiction over economic disputes between both legal and natural persons, including reorganization, bankruptcy, and liquidation of economic persons; disputes regarding impingement of competition; and protection of property rights and intellectual property rights across the entire territory of Kosovo.  A similar department within the Court of Appeals holds jurisdiction over “disputes between domestic and foreign economic persons in their commercial affairs” and addresses all appeals coming from the Pristina Basic Court’s Department for Economic Matters.  Department for Economic Matters Commercial cases can take anywhere from six months to three years to resolve.

The Law on Enforcement Procedures permits claimants to utilize bailiffs licensed by the Ministry of Justice to execute court-ordered judgments.  In addition, the Laws on Arbitration and Mediation have helped to address impediments to alternative dispute resolution and to enforcing arbitral awards.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign firms operating in Kosovo are entitled to the same privileges and treatment as local businesses.  Kosovo’s commercial laws are available to the public in English, as well as Kosovo’s official languages (Albanian and Serbian) on the Kosovo Assembly’s website ( http://www.kuvendikosoves.org/shq/projektligjet-dhe-ligjet/ ) and on the Official Gazette website (http://gzk.rks-gov.net/default.aspx ).

Laws of particular relevance include:

  • Law on Foreign Investment: provides  a set of fundamental rights and guarantees to ensure protection and fair treatment treated in strict accordance with the accepted international standards and practices.
  • Law on Business Organizations: regulates the registration and closure of a company and the rights and obligations of shareholders, authorized representatives, and others included in the business management structure.
  • Law on Strategic Investments: authorizes fast-track negotiations between the Government and private companies in targeted sectors and grants the government the option of ceding state-owned real estate for the purpose of developing and executing strategic investment projects.
  • The Law on Late Payments in Commercial Transactions: discourages late payments and regulates the calculation of interest on late payments.
  • The Law on Bankruptcy: regulates all matters related to the insolvency of business organizations; the provisions for the protection, liquidation and distribution of the assets of a bankrupt debtor to its creditors; and the reorganization and discharge of debt for qualified business organizations.
  • The Law on Prevention of Money Laundering and Combating Terrorist Financing: enabled Kosovo to join Egmont Group, an inter-governmental network of 152 Financial Intelligence Units whose members exchange expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
  • The Credit Guarantee Fund Law: increased access to finance for all micro- and SMEs in Kosovo in an effort to increase employment, boost local production, and improve the trade balance.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

There are two main laws that regulate transactions for competition-related concerns:  The Law on Protection of Competition and the Law on Antidumping and Countervailing Measures.  The Competition Authority is responsible for implementing the Law on Protection of Competition, but generally lacks the human resources to conduct thorough investigations.  The Trade Department of the Ministry of Trade and Industry is responsible for the implementation of the Law on Antidumping and Countervailing Measures.  In September 2018, Kosovo Assembly approved the Law on Safeguard Measures on Imports, which allows the Trade Minister to impose a provisional safeguard measure up to 200 days.

Expropriation and Compensation

Articles 7 and 8 of the Foreign Investment Law limit expropriation to cases with a clear public interest and protect foreign investments from unreasonable expropriation, guaranteeing due process and timely compensation payment based on fair-market prices.  The Law on Expropriation of Immovable Property permits expropriation of private property by the government or municipalities when such action is in the public interest.  Articles 5 through 13 of the Law on Expropriation of Immovable Property define expropriation procedures.  An eminent domain clause limits legal recourse in cases arising from the expropriation and sale of property through the privatization of state-owned enterprises.

There is no history of expropriation outside of uncontroversial, undisputed expropriation for works in the public interest, such as roadway construction.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 2009, Kosovo became a party to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention and has incorporated the Convention into national law.  There is no specific legislation providing for the enforcement of the ICSID Convention, but in accordance with the Law on Foreign Investments, investors may contractually agree to arbitration or other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.  Kosovo is not a signatory to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Kosovo’s courts recognize international arbitration awards.  There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

The Commercial Department of Pristina Basic Court has jurisdiction over investment disputes involving SOEs.  There are no records available detailing the frequency with which domestic courts have ruled in SOEs’ favor.

Over the past ten years, three foreign investors have brought publicly-known claims against Kosovo.  Kosovo’s state-owned telecom company lost two cases before the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), one of which involved a foreign investor.  In 2013, the LCIA determined Post & Telecom Kosovo owed an Israeli company USD 9.8 million for breach of contract.  In July 2016, the International Court of Arbitration in Paris awarded an Austrian printing company USD 5.6 million for Kosovo’s illegal termination of a contract to manufacture passports.  In June 2015, a German company brought a case before ICSID related to the failed privatization of Kosovo’s telecom company; the arbitral tribunal ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the dispute.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Foreign Investment Law stipulates that investors may utilize the following alternative dispute resolution mechanisms:

  1. The ICSID Convention if both the foreign investor’s country of citizenship and Kosovo are parties to said convention at the time of the request for arbitration;
  2. The ICSID Additional Facility Rules if the jurisdictional requirements for personal immunities per Article 25 of the ICSID Convention are not fulfilled at the time of the request for arbitration;
  3. The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Rules. In this case, the appointing authority would be the Secretary General of ICSID; or
  4. The International Chamber of Commerce Rules.

Arbitration services are available at arbitral tribunals within the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce and American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo.  Kosovo’s Arbitration Rules are based on model rules derived from the 2010 United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Rules for Commercial Arbitration and are consistent with international best practices.  The Law on Foreign Investment favors the use of arbitration.  To utilize this option, the law requires that the disputed agreement/contract include an arbitration clause.

Foreign arbitral awards and judgments are enforceable in Kosovo.   There has been no instance of voluntary compliance by the Government of Kosovo or other public entities with arbitral awards; all known cases have involved some form of judicial process.

Additionally, in accordance with the Law on Mediation, Kosovo courts recognize mediation centers and one is operated by the American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo.  The Ministry of Justice has adopted the rules leading to the creation of mediation services and has trained and certified a number of mediators.  For more information, visit http://www.kosovo-arbitration.com .

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Law on Bankruptcy regulates bankruptcy and insolvency procedures and specifies provisions for the protection, liquidation, and distribution of the assets of a bankrupt debtor to its creditors and the reorganization and discharge of debt for qualified business organizations.  Under the law, foreign creditors have the same rights as domestic investors and creditors when launching and participating in bankruptcy proceedings.

In early 2006, Kosovo created a credit registry managed by the Central Bank of Kosovo.  It serves as a database for customers’ credit history and aims to help commercial banks and non-banking institutions assess customers’ creditworthiness.  Banks and non-banking institutions are required to report to the Credit Registry of Kosovo, but only authorized banking and non-banking institution personnel can access it.  In addition to the Credit Registry of Kosovo, the Ministry of Trade and Industry offers a Pledge Registry Sector, a mechanism that records data for collateral pledges.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are enforced, but weaknesses in the legal system and difficulties related to establishing title to real estate, in part due to competing claims arising from the history of conflict with Serbia, can make enforcement difficult.  Minority communities, in particular, are frequently unable to fully exercise their property rights.  The country’s legal and regulatory framework is complex, but generally, Kosovo’s de jure property-related laws are well structured and provide for security and transferability of rights.  The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index ranked Kosovo 37 out of 190 economies for ease of registering property.  Government ministries, municipal authorities, and independent agencies jurisdictions often overlap, and the court system is backlogged with property-related cases.  Mortgages and liens are available, but the range of financial products is limited.  Mortgage agreements must be registered in cadastral records by the Kosovo Cadastral Agency, while pledge agreements must be registered with the pledge registry, which is a centralized registry office in the Business Registration Agency.

The Kosovo Property Comparison and Verification Agency (KPCVA) is responsible for receiving, registering, and resolving property claims on private immovable property, including agricultural and commercial property related to the 1998-1999 conflict and post-conflict period.  Decisions of the Kosovo Property Claims Commission within the KPCVA are subject to a right of appeal to the Supreme Court.  The KPCVA has received 42,749 total claims, the vast majority of which relate to agricultural property.  The KPCVA holds the mandate for implementing decisions of the Housing and Property Claims Commission (HPCC) that are pending enforcement.  Current KPCVA leadership is generally perceived to be unqualified and corrupt.

Resolution of residential, agricultural, and commercial property claims remains a serious and contentious issue in Kosovo and limit the development of the formal property market needed for more stable economic growth.  Many property records were destroyed or removed to Serbia by the Serbian government during the 1998-1999 conflict, which can make determining rightful ownership difficult.  The country is in the process of rebuilding the property registry and an EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue includes a component focused on comparing the cadastral records with the records taken by Serbia and resolving any gaps, predicated on Serbian returning the cadastral records to Kosovo.  The KPCVA is charged with carrying out the task of property comparison and verification.

While Article 121.2 of the Constitution states foreign nationals and organizations may acquire ownership rights over real estate in accordance with conditions established by law or international agreement, Kosovo has no specific legislation establishing relevant conditions.  In early 2017, Kosovo launched the national strategy on land and property rights reform, which includes a provision to clarify and codify regulations regarding property ownership by foreign and/or non-resident investors.  Per Article 40 in the Law on Property and Other Real Rights, a proprietary possessor acquires ownership of immovable property after ten years of uninterrupted and uncontested possession.

Intellectual Property Rights

Registration of intellectual property rights (IPR) in Kosovo conforms with regional and international practices.  The trademark registration process takes approximately nine months, while patent approval takes about 18 months.

Public awareness of the importance IPR is low.  A number of counterfeit consumer goods, notably CDs, DVDs, and clothing items, are available for sale and are openly traded.  Evidence suggests there is little domestic production of counterfeit goods in Kosovo, but the importation of counterfeit goods, especially apparel, is a concern.  The government tracks and reports on seizures of counterfeit goods.

The Ministry of Trade and Investment established the Industrial Property Rights Office (IPO) in 2007, which is tasked with IPR protection.  Kosovo’s IPR laws were amended in 2015 to align them with EU standards and strengthen legal remedies for right holders.  Kosovo’s Law on Patents, Law on Trademarks, Law on Industrial Design, and Law on Geographical Indices, together with the relevant Criminal Code and Customs provisions, provide for strong protection of IPR and comply with related international conventions even though Kosovo is not party to the associated international organizations.  Examples of these conventions include the Paris Convention, the Budapest Treaty, the Madrid Protocol, and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).    In 2018, the Assembly approved the Law on Customs Measures for Protection of Intellectual Property Rights in order to harmonize Kosovo law with EU regulations.

To enhance IPR enforcement and increase interagency coordination, the government has adopted an IPR strategy and established the National Intellectual Property Council and a Task Force Against Piracy.  The Council and the Task Force have similar structures and are comprised of the IPO, the Copyright Office, Customs, Kosovo Police Departments for Economic and Cyber Crimes, Market Inspectorate, and the Ministry of Justice.  The Council also includes the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council, judicial courts, and other government and non-governmental institutions.

Kosovo is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.  Kosovo is not a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and there is no WIPO country profile for Kosovo.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Kosovo has an open-market economy and the market determines interest rates.  Individual banks conduct risk analysis and determine credit allocation. Foreign and domestic investors can get credit on the local market.  Access to credit for the private sector is limited but improving.

The country generally has a positive attitude towards foreign portfolio investment.  Kosovo does not have a stock exchange. The regulatory system conforms with EU directives and international standards.  There are no restrictions beyond normal regulatory requirements related to capital sourcing, fit, and properness of the investors.  The CBK has taken all required measures to improve policies for the free flow of financial resources.  Requirements under the SAA with the EU oblige the free flow of capital.  The government respects the IMF’s Article VIII conditions on the flow of capital.

Money and Banking System

Kosovo has 10 commercial banks (of which 8 are foreign) and 20 micro-financial institutions (of which 12 are foreign).  The official currency of Kosovo is the euro, although the country is not a member of the Eurozone.  In the absence of an independent monetary policy, prices are highly responsive to market trends in the larger Eurozone.

Kosovo’s private banking sector remains well capitalized and profitable.  Difficult economic conditions, weak contract enforcement, and a risk-averse posture have limited banks’ lending activities, although marked improvement occurred in the past several years.  In February 2020, the rate of non-performing loans was 2.5 percent, the lowest rate in the last ten years.  The three largest banks own 56.4 percent of the total 4.8 billion euros of assets in the entire banking sector.  Despite positive trends, relatively little lending is directed toward long-term investment activities.  Interest rates have dropped significantly in recent years, from an average of about 12.7 percent in 2012 to an average of 6.3 percent in 2020.  Slower lending is notable in the northern part of Kosovo due to a weak judiciary, informal business activities, and fewer qualified borrowers.

The Central Bank of Kosovo (CBK) is an independent government body responsible for fostering the development of competitive, sound, and transparent practices in the banking and financial sectors.  It supervises and regulates Kosovo’s banking sector, insurance industry, pension funds, and micro-finance institutions.  The CBK also performs other standard central bank tasks, including cash management, transfers, clearing, management of funds deposited by the Ministry of Finance and other public institutions, collection of financial data, and management of a credit register.

Foreign banks and branches can establish operations in the country.  They are subject to the same licensing requirements and regulations as local banks.  The country has not lost any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years and no such relationship is currently in jeopardy.  There are no restrictions on foreigners opening bank accounts; they can do so upon submission of valid identification documentation.

Kosovo is a signatory country to the United States’ Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), aimed at addressing tax evasion by U.S. citizens or permanent residents with foreign bank accounts.  For more information, visit the FATCA website: https://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Corporations/Foreign-Account-Tax-Compliance-Act-FATCA .

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Foreign Investment Law guarantees the unrestricted use of income from foreign investment following payment of taxes and other liabilities.  This guarantee includes the right to transfer funds to other foreign markets or foreign-currency conversions, which must be processed in accordance with EU banking procedures.  Conversions are made at the market rate of exchange. Foreign investors are permitted to open bank accounts in any currency.  Kosovo adopted the euro in 2002, but is not a Eurozone member.  The CBK administers euro exchange rates on a daily basis as referenced by the European Central Bank.

Remittance Policies

Remittances are a significant source of income for Kosovo’s population, representing over 12 percent of GDP (or over USD 925 million) in 2019.  The majority of remittances come from Kosovo’s diaspora in European countries, particularly Germany and Switzerland.  The Central Bank reports that remittances are mainly used for personal consumption, not for investment purposes.

Kosovo does not apply any type of capital controls or limitations on international capital flows.  As such, access to foreign exchange for investment remittances is fully liberalized.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Kosovo does not have any sovereign wealth funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Kosovo has 63 state-owned enterprises (SOEs), 44 of which are municipality managed.  These enterprises are a legacy of the Yugoslav era and include entities involved in telecommunications, waste management, water supply, mining, and transportation.  SOEs are generally governed by government-appointed boards.  The Ministry of Economy, Employment, Trade, Industry, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Investments monitors SOE operations with a light hand.

Private companies can compete with SOEs in terms of market share and other incentives in relevant sectors.  State-owned enterprises are subject to the same tax laws as private companies.  There are no state-owned banks, development banks, or sovereign funds in Kosovo.

The majority of Kosovo’s SOEs are either regulated or operate at a loss and depend on government subsidies for their survival.  SOEs do not receive a larger percentage of government contracts in sectors that are open to foreign competition.  However, the government interprets procurement law in a way that considers SOEs to be public authorities and prevents contracting authorities from procuring goods from other sources if SOEs offer such goods and/or services.  SOEs purchase goods and services from the private sector, including international firms.

Privatization Program

Kosovo has been progressively privatizing SOE assets since the early 2000s.  The Privatization Agency of Kosovo (PAK), an independent agency, is responsible for the disposition of Kosovo’s SOE assets.  PAK plans to finalize all remaining privatizations over the next three to four years, pending legal challenges.  There has been a freeze on privatization of land assets since December 2017.  The privatization process is open to foreign investors and follows Kosovo’s public procurement procedures. PAK provides a live feed of bidding day procedures on its website (http://www.pak-ks.org/ ).  The website also includes bidding information, the results of sales, and other information.

Kosovo adopted the Law on Strategic Investment in 2016 in an effort to boost foreign direct investment.  Through the law, the government can transfer ownership of lands under administration of PAK to the state and offer it to strategic investors.  The law also enables Kosovo to negotiate directly with potential strategic investors without going through tendering procedures in special cases.  The media has criticized some bidding processes as non-transparent and illegal.

9. Corruption

Opinion polls attest to the public perception that corruption is widespread in public procurement and local and international businesses regularly cite corruption, especially in the form of political interference, as one of Kosovo’s largest obstacles to attracting investment.  Kosovo has enacted strong legislation to combat corruption, but the government has thus far been unsuccessful in efforts to investigate, prosecute, jail, and confiscate the assets of corrupt individuals.  The government has enacted other measures to address corruption, including a requirement to conduct all public procurement electronically and to publish the names of contract winners.  The government also recently dismissed the boards of several SOEs, citing mismanagement.

The Kurti government, which started its mandate in February 2020, but fell in March 2020 and as of May 2020 was in caretaker status, took a number of concrete steps to combat corruption and political interference, but given its short tenure was not able to institutionalize all of its measures and change the perception of political interference in public administration and the judicial system.  The Anti-Corruption Agency and the Office of Auditor General are the government agencies mandated to fight corruption.

The Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest and Discharge in Public Function as well as the Law on Declaration, Origin, and Control of Property of Public Officials are intended to combat nepotism.  They require senior public officials and their family members to disclose their property and its origins.  The Criminal Code also punishes bribery and corruption.

The Embassy is unaware of any government activity to encourage private companies to establish internal codes of conduct.  The embassy is also unaware of local industry or non-profit groups that offer services for vetting potential local investment partners.

In 2016, the Kosovo Assembly approved amendments to the Law on Anti-Money Laundering.  The EU-compliant law supported Kosovo’s membership in the Egmont Group, a network of 152 Financial Intelligence Units (FIU) where the members exchange expertise to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.  Money laundering is believed to be most common in the real estate, construction, and gambling sectors.  Kosovo’s FIU is an independent governmental agency that leads Kosovo’s efforts to investigate economic crimes.

U.S. companies operating in Kosovo must adhere to FCPA requirements.  Kosovo participated in 2013 as an observer member in the anti-corruption conference organized by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), and has attended several international conferences on anti-corruption with the support of the Council of Europe and UNDP.  Kosovo’s laws protect NGOs that investigate corruption.

Resources to Report Corruption

Shaip Havolli
Director, Kosovo Anti-Corruption Agency
Nazim Gafurri Street, No. 31, Pristina, Kosovo
+381 38 518 980
Email: shaip.havolli@rks-gov.net

Hilmi Jashari
OMBUDSMAN
The Republic of Kosovo OMBUDSPERSON Institution
Str. “MIGJENI”, no. 21, Pristina, Kosovo
+383 (0) 38 223 782
Email: hilmi.Jashari@oik-rks.org

Ismet Kryeziu
Executive Director
Kosovo Democratic Institute
Bajram Kelmendi Street, n/45, Pristina, Kosovo
+381 38 248 038
Email: ikryeziu@kdi-kosova.org

Jeta Xharra
Executive Director
Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Kosovo
Menza e studenteve, kati i pare, 10000 Prishtine, Kosovo
+ 381 38 22 44 98
Email: jeta@birn.eu.com

10. Political and Security Environment

Recently, the political environment has been characterized by short electoral cycles and prolonged periods of caretaker governments.  While the environment in the country is growing increasingly politicized, the Embassy is not aware of any damage to commercial projects or installations.

The current administration took up its mandate in February 2020, but a motion of no confidence led to its fall 50 days later.  The government formation followed lengthy period of coalition negotiations and certification of the October 2019 election results.  The previous administration succeeded the May 2017, motion of no confidence, and was formed in September 2017 with a one-vote majority (61 out of 120) in the Assembly.  The government lost its majority in the Assembly in October 2018 and found it increasingly difficult to pass legislation through the Assembly.  The prime minister resigned in July 2019, and elections were held in October 2019.

Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations and neighboring Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are among the countries that do not recognize its statehood.  In November 2018, Kosovo imposed a 100 percent tariff on all goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, in part in response to Serbia’s lobbying against Kosovo’s membership in INTERPOL and other international bodies.  The current administration lifted the tariff on raw materials in March 2020 and removed tariffs on all goods in April.  In April, the government also began enforcing an agreement with Serbia on phytosanitary documentation.  Although it warned it would apply additional such “reciprocal measures,” no new measures had been enacted as of May 2020.

Opposition members in the Kosovo Assembly released teargas on March 21, 2018 in protest of the final vote for border demarcation with Montenegro.  The voting session was interrupted on four separate occasions when some MPs released tear gas inside the chamber.  In August 2016, the Assembly building was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.  Opposition party members were tried for the attack, but a conviction was overturned in November 2017 and is pending a retrial. There were no serious injuries reported from these incidents.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 €7.08 billion (approx. $7.69) 2019 $ 8.0 Billion https://www.worldbank.org/
en/country/kosovo/overview
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 213 2018 204 IMF
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 17 2018 15 IMF
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 56% 2018 53%

* Source for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Kosovo, 2020.  https://bqk-kos.org/ 

Data from the CBK is generally consistent with the IMF data.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 4,435 100% Total Outward 464 100%
Germany 563 13% Albania 136 29%
Switzerland 541 12% Germany 54 12%
Turkey 503 11% Montenegro 31 7%
Austria 264 6% North Macedonia 29 6%
Slovenia 240 5% Switzerland 26 6%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 2,049 100% All Countries 1,664 100% All Countries 385 100%
Luxembourg 700 34% Luxembourg 653 39% United States 76 20%
Ireland 581 28% Ireland 550 33% Austria 73 19%
France 417 20% France 403 24% Luxembourg 47 12%
United States 133 6% United States 57 3% Germany 31 8%
Austria 73 4% Germany 1 0.1% Ireland 31 8%

Montenegro

Executive Summary

Since regaining its independence in 2006, Montenegro has adopted a legal framework that encourages privatization, employment, and exports. Implementation, however, lags well behind the legal structure, and the Montenegrin economy continues to flounder on a very narrow tax base and a band of three developing sectors: tourism, energy, and to a lesser extent, agriculture. Montenegro has one of the highest public debt to GDP ratios in the region, currently at 76.9 percent, with a forecast, absent fiscal consolidation, to increase to over 80 percent once the repayment to China’s Ex/Im Bank of a USD 1 billion highway loan begins. One of the Government’s priorities is to continue developing the infrastructure, including the second section of the highway that will better connect the developed southern part of the country with the undeveloped north. The World Bank and the IMF have been assisting the government in implementing measures to control the debt. The economic growth rate in 2019 was one of the highest in Europe at 3.5 percent, while the unemployment rate rose slightly from 15.2 to 15.3 percent. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have a significant economic impact on Montenegro’s economy in 2020. In April 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced an anticipated 9% contraction in the economy, stemming primarily from Montenegro’s overreliance on the tourism sector, which currently accounts for 25% of GDP.  Despite regulatory improvements, official corruption remains a major concern.

As a candidate country on its path to joining the European Union (EU), Montenegro has opened 32 of 33 negotiating chapters, with three provisionally closed. The government hopes to open the final chapter on competition in 2020. Montenegro joined NATO in June 2017.

On January 1, 2019, Montenegro started implementation of its economic citizenship program. The program will last for three years and will be available for up to 2,000 applicants.

Montenegro’s economy centers on three sectors, with the government largely focusing its efforts on developing tourism, energy, and agriculture. Due in large part to its 300 km-long coastline and a spectacular mountainous region in the country’s north, the thriving tourism sector accounts for almost 25 percent of GDP. No one country dominates foreign direct investments, and the most significant investments have come from Italy, Hungary, Russia and Serbia with new interest coming from the United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, China, Turkey and the U.S.

In the energy sector, the government began operation of the recently completed underwater electric transmission cable to Italy in December 2019. In March 2020, Minister of Economy Dragica Sekulic announced the government’s intention to consider importing U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) via the Port of Bar. Additionally, there are several ongoing conventional energy projects around the country, including the controversial Chinese-financed ecological reconstruction of the existing block of the coal-fired thermal plant in Pljevlja and a number of small-scale hydroelectric projects. The Montenegrin government has signed concession agreements for offshore oil and gas exploration with two consortiums: the Italian-Russian consortium Eni/Novatek for four blocks and the Greek-British consortium Energean Oil/Mediterranean Oil and Gas for one block. Exploration is expected to start in 2020, and several more licensing rounds are foreseen during the year for additional exploration blocks.

The Government sees as one of its priorities the development of Montenegro’s digital economy.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index /Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 66 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 50 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 45 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD , stock positions) 2019 NA https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 8,430 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies towards Foreign Direct Investment

Montenegro regained its independence in 2006, and, since then, the country has adopted an investment framework that in principle encourages growth, employment, and exports. Montenegro, however, is still in the process of establishing a liberal business climate that fosters foreign investment and local production. The country remains dependent on imports from neighboring countries despite its significant potential in some areas of agriculture and food production. Although the continuing political transition has not yet eliminated all structural barriers, the government generally recognizes the need to remove impediments in order to remain competitive, reform the business environment, open the economy to foreign investors, and attract further FDI. In general, there are no distinctions made between domestic and foreign-owned companies. Foreign companies can own 100 percent of a domestic company, and profits and dividends can be repatriated without limitations or restrictions.Foreign investors can participate in local privatization processes and can own land in Montenegro generally on the same terms as locals. Expropriation of property can only occur for a “compelling public purpose,” and compensation must be made at fair market value. There has been no known expropriation of foreign investments in Montenegro. International arbitration is allowed in commercial disputes involving foreign investors.

Registration procedures have been simplified to such an extent that it is possible to complete all registration processes online. In addition, bankruptcy laws have been streamlined to make it easier to liquidate a company; accounting standards have been brought up to international norms; and custom regulations have been simplified. There are no mandated performance requirements.

Montenegro has enacted specific legislation outlining guarantees and safeguards for foreign investors. Montenegro has also adopted more than 20 other business-related laws, all in accordance with EU standards and has taken significant steps in both amending investment-related legislation in accordance with global standards and creating necessary institutions for attracting investments. However, as is the case with other transition countries, implementation and enforcement of existing legislation remains weak and inconsistent. While Montenegro has taken steps to make the country more open for foreign investment, some deficiencies still exist. The absence of fully developed legal institutions has fostered corruption and weak controls over conflicts of interest. The judiciary is still slow to adjudicate cases, and court decisions are not always consistently reasoned or enforced. Montenegro’s significant grey economy impacts its open market, negatively affecting businesses operating in accordance with the law.

To better promote investment and foster economic development, the government adopted in December 2019 a new Law on Public Private Partnerships and established the Montenegrin Investment Agency (MIA), merging the Montenegrin Investment Promotion Agency (MIPA) and the Secretariat for Development Projects. The MIA seeks to promote Montenegro as a competitive investment destination by facilitating investment projects in the country. Together with the Privatization and Capital Investment Council, MIA will promote investment opportunities in various sectors of the Montenegrin economy, primarily focusing on the tourism, energy, technology, and agricultural sectors. These two institutions will maintain an ongoing dialogue with investors already present in Montenegro and, at the same time, seek to promote future projects and attract new investors to do business in Montenegro.

Inquiries on investment opportunities in Montenegro can be directed to: Dejan Mandic, Director Montenegrin Investment Agency (MIA)
Kralja Nikole 2781000 Podgorica, Montenegro
Tel/fax: (+382 20) 203 140, 203 141, 202 910
Website: http://www.mia.gov.me ; E-mail: info@mia.gov.me

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Montenegro’s Foreign Investment Law, which was adopted by the Parliament in 2011, establishes the framework for investment in Montenegro. The law eliminates previous investment restrictions, extends national treatment to foreign investors, allows for the transfer and repatriation of profits and dividends, provides guarantees against expropriation, and allows for customs duty waivers for equipment imported as capital-in-kind.

There are limits neither on foreign control and right to private ownership nor in establishing companies in Montenegro. There are no institutional barriers against foreign investors, including U.S. businesses, and there is no screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In the past three years, the government has not undergone any third-party investment-policy reviews through a multilateral organization.

Business Facilitation

The Central Register of the Commercial Court (CRPS) is responsible for business registration procedures (www.crps.me ). The court maintains an electronic database of registered business entities, and contracts on financial leasing and pledges. The process to register a business in Montenegro takes an average of 4-5 working days. The minimum financial requirement for a Limited Liability Company (LLC) is just EUR 1 (USD 1.10), and three documents are required: a founding decision, bylaws, and a copy of the passport (if an individual is founding a company) or a registration form for the specific type of company. Samples of all documents are available for download at the CRPS website.

Outward Investment

While the Montenegrin government is very active in attracting and inviting foreign investors to do business in Montenegro, the government is not as dedicated to promoting outward investments.

There are no government restrictions to domestic investors for their investments abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Montenegro has signed the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) in July 2007. The agreement has been signed by seven countries (Albania, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, UNMIK/Kosovo, Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina). A free trade agreement was signed with Turkey in 2008 and has been in force since March 2010. Montenegro had a free trade agreement with Russia, but the agreement is not currently in force. Free trade agreements with Kazakhstan and Belarus, which formed a customs union together with Russia, are also currently not in force. A free e trade agreement between Montenegro and Ukraine was signed in November 2011.

A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein) was signed in November 2011.  Although the four EFTA countries are small, they are the world leaders in several sectors vital to the global economy. Liechtenstein and Switzerland are internationally renowned financial centers and hosts to major companies and multinationals, while Iceland and Norway have highly developed fish production, metal production, and maritime transport sectors.

Montenegro has not signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States.

The United States restored Normal Trade Relations (Most-Favored Nation status) to Montenegro in December 2003.  This status provides improved access to the U.S. market for goods exported from Montenegro.  Montenegro has also been designated as a beneficiary developing country under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, which provides duty-free access to the U.S. market in various eligible categories, including jewelry, ores, stones, and various agricultural products. The GSP program expired on December 31, 2017, however, on March 23, 2018, President Trump signed the legislation reauthorizing the GSP program through December 31, 2020. GSP-eligible products may enter the United States duty-free on and after April 22, 2018.  Because the GSP program’s reauthorization is retroactive, importers may seek refunds of duties paid during the lapse of GSP authorization.  (http://www.mek.gov.me/en/WTO/LIBRARY/free_trade?alphabet=lat )

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

Montenegro does not have a double taxation treaty with the United States.

The country has signed 46 taxation treaties with various countries on income and property, which regulate double taxation. Presently, 44 of those treaties are in force, specifically with Albania, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, India, Korea, Kuwait, Latvia, Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldova, Malta, Holland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. Treaties with Spain and Qatar are pending.

On March 1, 2018, Montenegro’s Parliament approved the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) agreement between the governments of Montenegro and the United States. Implementation of FATCA will help the countries better track and report tax evasion.

Investment treaties seek to ensure a stable framework for investment and better use of economic resources. They define the conditions for investments, allowing free transfer of funds, the right of subrogation, compensation in the event of expropriation and settlement of disputes between investors and countries, including the settlement of disputes between the countries themselves.

Montenegro has 23 BITs in force with the following countries: Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Denmark, Malta, France, Germany, Poland, Greece, Netherlands, Spain, Cyprus, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, the Republic of Serbia, Qatar, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates, Moldova, Israel, and Switzerland. Additional information can be found at the link below: (http://www.mek.gov.me/sto/biblioteka/ts_ostali/sporazumi_o_zastiti )

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The main law governing foreign investment, the Montenegrin Law on Foreign Investment, is based on the national treatment principle, which is a basic principle of GATT/WTO that prohibits discrimination between imported and domestically produced goods with respect to internal taxation or other government regulation.

All proposed laws and regulations put forth by the government are published in draft form and open for public comment, generally for a 30-day period.Regulations are often applied inconsistently, particularly at the municipal level. Many regulations are in conflict with other regulations, or are ambiguous, creating confusion for investors. As noted in the American Chamber of Commerce’s (AmCham) biannual Business Climate Survey conducted in 2018, many municipalities lack adequate detailed urban plans, making the planned investments more complex. Some municipalities have made efforts to speed up procedures in order to improve the business environment for investors. While at the national level there are fewer obstacles for investments and other activities, many larger-scale projects involve both local and national authorities, and it is often necessary to work with both administrations in order to complete a project. AmCham members are dissatisfied with the duration of the court proceedings (76%) and unequal implementation of the laws (61%). At the same time, 73% of AmCham member companies believe that conditions for doing business when it comes to the duration of the court proceedings and unequal implementation of the laws have not changed in the past two years. Foreign investors are subject to the same conditions as domestic investors when it comes to establishing a company and making an investment. There are no other regulations in place which might deprive a foreign investor of any rights or limit the investor’s ability to do business in Montenegro. The Law of Foreign Investments is currently fully harmonized with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.In 2004, the Parliament established an Energy Regulatory Agency, which maintains authority over the electricity, gas, oil, and heating energy sectors. Its main tasks include approving pricing, developing a model for determining allowable business costs for energy sector entities, issuing operating licenses for energy companies and for construction in the energy sector, and monitoring public tenders.

The Agency for Electronic Communication and Postal Services was established by the government in 2001. It is an independent regulatory body whose primary purpose is to design and implement a regulatory framework and to encourage private investment in the sector.

While there is a full legal and regulatory infrastructure in place to conduct public procurement, U.S. companies have complained in numerous cases about irregularities in the procurement process at the national level, and maintain there is an inability to meaningfully challenge decisions they believe were erroneously taken through the procurement apparatus. In other cases, the system delivers appropriate outcomes, though in a complex and time-consuming way.

Public procurement is conducted jointly by the Public Procurement Directorate, the Ministry of Finance (as the main line ministry for the procurement area), and the State Commission for Control of Public Procurement Procedures in the protection of rights area. The Public Procurement Directorate began operations in 2007 while the State Commission for the Control of Public Procurement Procedures Control was established in 2011. The State Commission takes decisions in the form of written orders and conclusions made at its meetings. The decisions are made by a majority of present members. The State Commission’s Rules of Procedure specify the method for this work. The Administrative Court oversees cases involving public procurement procedures.

The Montenegro State Audit Institution (SAI) is an independent supreme audit institution for verification of the entire government’s financial statements, including state-owned enterprises.  The audits are made publicly available on the SAI’s website .  Accounting standards implemented in Montenegro are transparent and consistent with international norms. In addition, there are various international companies that conduct accounting and auditing procedures are present in the country.

International Regulatory Considerations

Montenegro is a candidate country for membership to the EU, with accession negotiations launched on June 29, 2012. Out of 33 chapters, three are provisionally closed, 32 are opened, and it is expected that the final one on competition will be opened during 2020. Montenegro is currently taking steps to harmonize its regulations and accepted best practices with those of the EU, as part of the negotiation process.

The government has not notified the WTO of any measures that are inconsistent with the WTO’s Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMs), nor have there been any independent allegations that the government maintains any such measures.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Montenegro’s legal system is of a civil, continental type based on Roman law.  It includes the legal heritage of the former Yugoslavia, and State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.  As of 2006, when the country regained its independence, Montenegrin codes and criminal justice institutions were applicable and operational.  Montenegro’s Law on Courts defines a judicial system consisting of three levels of courts: Basic, High, and the Supreme Court.  Montenegro established the Appellate Court and the Administrative Court in 2005 for the appellate jurisdiction in criminal and commercial matters, and specialized jurisdiction in administrative matters.  The specialized Commercial Court has first instance jurisdiction in commercial matters. Apart from those, there are also specialized Misdemeanors Courts.

The Basic Courts have first instance jurisdiction in civil cases and criminal cases in which a prison sentence of up to 10 years is possible.  There are 15 Basic Courts for Montenegro’s 23 municipalities.  Two High Courts in Podgorica and Bijelo Polje have appellate review of municipal court decisions.  The High Courts also decide on jurisdictional conflicts between the municipal courts.  They are also first instance courts for serious crimes where prison sentence of more than 10 years is specified.  The Podgorica High Court has specialized judges and departments who deal with organized crime, corruption, war crimes, money laundering, and terrorism cases.According to the Law on Courts, there is just one Commercial Court based in Podgorica.  The Commercial Court has jurisdiction in the following matters: all civil disputes between legal entities, shipping, navigation, aircraft (except passenger transport), and disputes related to registration of commercial entities, competition law, intellectual property rights (IPR), bankruptcy, and unfair trade practices.  The High Court hears appeals of Basic Court decisions, and High Courts’ first instance decision may be appealed to the Appellate Court which is also a second instance court for decisions of the Commercial Courts. The Supreme Court is the third (and final) instance court for all decisions.  The Supreme Court is the court of final judgment for all civil, criminal, commercial, and administrative cases, and it acts only upon irregular (i.e. extraordinary legal remedies).  There is also the Constitutional Court of Montenegro, which checks constitutionality and legality of legal acts and acts upon constitutional complaints in relation to human rights violations.  The Commercial Court system faces challenges, including weak implementation of legislation and confusion over numerous changes to existing laws; development of a new system of operations, including electronic communication with clients; and limited capacity and expertise among the judges as well as a general backlog in cases. Over the last several years, the adoption of 20 new business laws has significantly changed and clarified the legislative environment. Recently adopted legislative reforms are expected to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of court proceedings, a trend which is already visible through the introduction of the Public Enforcement Agents.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

In order to attract foreign investment, the government established the Montenegrin Investment Agency (MIA) (www.mia.gov.me ) and the Privatization and Capital Investment Council (www.savjetzaprivatizaciju.me/en ). These organizations aim to promote Montenegro’s investment climate and opportunities in the local economy, with particular regard for the tourism, energy, infrastructure, and agriculture sectors.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

In 2013, the Agency for Protection of Competition was established as a functionally independent entity with the entry into force of the Law on Protection of Competition and following its registration with the Central Register of Economic Entities. The area of free market competition, regulated by the law, represents the area that has direct and significant impact on economic development and investment activity, by raising the level of the quality of goods and services, thus creating the conditions for lower prices and creation of a modern, open market economy. This, in turn, provides Montenegro with the possibility to participate in the single market of the EU and in other international markets.

Expropriation and Compensation

Montenegro provides legal safeguards against expropriation with protections codified in several laws adopted by the government. There have been no cases of expropriation of foreign investments in Montenegro. However, Montenegro has outstanding claims related to property nationalized under the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. A number of unresolved restitution cases involve the U.S. citizens. The cases are in various stages of adjudication and have languished for over a decade.

At the end of 2007, Parliament passed the new Law on Restitution, which supersedes the 2004 Act. In line with the law, three review commissions have been formed: one in Bar (covering the coastal region); one in Podgorica (for the central region of Montenegro); and one in Bijelo Polje (for the northern region of Montenegro). The basic restitution policy in Montenegro is restitution in kind, when possible, and cash compensation or substitution of other state land when physical return is not possible.

In addition, Montenegro provides safeguards from expropriation actions through its Foreign Investment Law. The law states that the government cannot expropriate property from a foreign investor unless there is a “compelling public purpose” established by law or on the basis of the law. If an expropriation is executed, compensation must be provided at fair market value plus one basis point above the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rate for the period between the expropriation and the date of payment of compensation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Montenegro ratified its ICSID Convention membership in April 2013, and the country fully enforces the Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

There are a number of individual American investors involved in public procurement and construction cases that are in various stages of dispute resolution with the government.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Dispute resolution is under the authority of national courts, but it can also fall under the authority of international courts if the contract so designates. Accordingly, Montenegro allows for the possibility of international arbitration. Various foreign companies have other bilateral and multilateral organizations providing risk insurance against war, expropriation, nationalization, confiscation, inconvertibility of profit and dividends, and inability to transfer currency.

Montenegro has taken steps to improve court-system inefficiencies, which frequently result in long and drawn-out trials. Procedural laws have been amended in the last few years to improve efficiency of the proceedings in line with the standards of the European Convention of Human Rights. It should be noted that most complaints that go to the European Court of Human Rights against Montenegro concern Article 6 of the Convention – the right to a fair trial in a reasonable time. Civil appellate procedures have been simplified as part of an effort to eliminate the possibility of long appellate procedures, which was common in the past. In addition, Montenegro has passed the Law on the Protection of the Right to a Fair Trial in a Reasonable Time, which enables the court to award compensation for an excessively long trial and introduces a series of controlling mechanisms during the trial itself.

In 2014, Montenegro adopted the Law on Public Bailiffs, which subsequently improved the procedure to enforce civil judgments.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Bankruptcy Law, adopted in 2011, mandates that debtors are designated insolvent if they cannot meet financial obligations within 45 days of the date of maturity of any debt obligation. However, the law still offers some latitude for restrictive measures and discretionary government interference. Bankruptcy is criminalized in Montenegro and a responsible officer in a business entity who caused the bankruptcy and damage to another person by irrational spending of assets or their bargain selling, excessive borrowing, undertaking disproportionate obligations, recklessly concluding contracts with insolvent entities, omitting to collect claims in time, destroying or concealing property or other acts which are not in compliance with  prudent business practices shall be punished by a prison term from six months to five years.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

In 2002 Montenegro enacted the Law on Secured Transactions and established a collateral registry at the Commercial Court in 2003. The registry’s operational guidelines have been drafted and approved by the Commercial Court. The main goal of the Law on Secured Transactions is to establish a clear and transparent framework for property transactions. In 2004, Montenegro adopted a new Law on Mortgages by which immovable property may be encumbered by security interest (mortgage) to secure a claim for the benefit of a creditor who is authorized, in the manner prescribed by the law, to demand satisfaction of the claim by foreclosing the mortgaged property with priority over creditors who do not have a mortgage created on that particular property, as well as over any subsequently registered mortgage, regardless of a change in the owner of the encumbered immovable property. The Real Estate Administration has taken progressive steps over the last few years to improve the quality and service provided in the registry, though additional improvements are needed. The World Bank’s Doing Business Report ranked Montenegro 50th out of 190 on the ease of registering property.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

The acquisition and disposition of IPR are protected by the Law on the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, which entered into force in 2006. The law provides for fines for legal entities of up to EUR 30,000 (approximately USD 37,000) for selling pirated and/or counterfeited goods. It also provides ex officio authority for market inspectors in the areas mentioned above. Amendments to the existing Law on the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights were adopted over the last several years (beginning in 2006) and are in line with EU regulations, and these changes are expected to bring efficiency and a multifunctional approach to implementing and enforcing IPR. In 2005, the Montenegrin Parliament adopted the Regulation on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Border Measures that provides ex officio powers to customs authorities to suspend customs procedures and seize pirated and counterfeit goods. Statistics on seizures of counterfeit goods is published by the Customs Administration and available on their webpage: www.upravacarina.gov.me .Montenegro’s Penal Code penalizes IPR violations, allows ex officio prosecution, and provides for strict criminal penalties. However, copyright violations are a significant problem in the outerwear and apparel market, and unlicensed software can be easily found. The Law on Optical Disks was adopted in 2006, and it requires the registration of business activity when reproducing optical disks for commercial purposes and provides for surveillance of optical disk and polycarbonates imports and exports.

The Montenegrin Intellectual Property Office is the competent authority within the state administration system for the activities related to industrial property rights, copyrights, and related rights. The Intellectual Property Office was established under the Regulation on Organization and Manner of Work of the State Administration in 2007, and has been operational since 2008.Montenegro is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List. However, the sale of pirated optical media (DVDs, CDs, software) and counterfeit trademarked goods, particularly sneakers and clothing, is widespread. According to the 2017 joint survey of the Business Software Alliance and the International Data Corporation (IDC), the software piracy rate in Montenegro is among the highest in Europe at 74 percent of the market, two percentage points below the 2015 study. Enforcement is slowly improving as customs, police, and judicial authorities obtain the necessary tools, but institutional capacity and public awareness is still limited.

Montenegro became a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2006 and is party to the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. More information is available on the WIPO’s website: http://www.wipo.int/members/en/details.jsp?country_id=193 

Resources for Rights Holders

Contact at the U.S. Embassy in Montenegro:
Kyle Hatcher
Political and Economic Deputy Chief
+382 20 410 500
HatcherBK@State.gov

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The banking sector in Montenegro is fully privatized with 13 privately owned banks operating in the country. The banking sector operates under market terms. Foreign investors are able to get credit on the local market, and they have access to a variety of credit instruments since the majority of the banks in Montenegro belong to international banking chains. The largest foreign investor-banks are OTP (Hungary) operating as CKB in Montenegro, Erste Bank (Austria) and NLB (Slovenia). The remaining, smaller foreign banks do not belong to large international groups.

A new set of banking laws have been adopted and some of the existing laws have been amended to improve regulation of the banking sector, provide a higher level of depositor safety, and increase trust in the banking sector itself. The Law on the Protection of Deposits has been adopted to bring local legislation on protecting deposits up to European standards. In accordance with the law, a fund for protecting deposits has been established and deposits are guaranteed up to the amount of EUR 50,000 (approximately USD 55,556).

The Government of Montenegro has close cooperation with the IMF (primarily focused on the country’s fiscal consolidation), and it respects IMF guidelines on restrictions on payments and transfers of current international transactions.

Until 2010, Montenegro had two stock exchanges. After a successful merger (in 2010), only one stock exchange operates on the capital market under the name of Montenegro Stock Exchange (MSE). In December 2013, the Istanbul Stock Exchange purchased 24.38 percent of the MSE (www.montenegroberza.com ). Three types of securities are traded: shares of companies, shares of investment funds, and bonds (old currency savings bonds, pension fund bonds, and bonds from restitution.)

Money and Banking System

The Montenegrin banking sector in 2019 was marked by a growth of basic monetary aggregates. The growth of deposits and capital continued with a mild recovery of credit activity. According to Central Bank of Montenegro, the banking sector remained solvent and liquid, with a share of 4.7 percent of non-performing loans. In 2019, lending activity grew by 4.5 percent in relation to the end of 2018 while the interest rate dropped to 6 percent as a result of increased competition.

Montenegro is one of a few countries that does not belong to the Euro zone but uses the Euro as its official currency (without any formal agreement). Since its authority is limited in monetary policies, the Central Bank, in its role as the state’s fiscal agent, has focused on control of the banking system and maintenance of the payment system. The Central Bank also regulates the process for establishing a bank. A bank can be founded as a joint-stock company and acquire the status of a legal entity by registering in the court register. An application for registration in the court register must be submitted 60 days from when the bank is first licensed.

On March 1, 2018, Montenegro’s Parliament approved the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) agreement between the governments of Montenegro and the United States.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

The Foreign Investment Law guarantees the right to transfer and repatriate profits in Montenegro. Montenegro uses the Euro as its domestic currency. There are no other limitations placed on the transfer of foreign currency.

Remittance Policies

There are no difficulties in the free transfer of funds exercised on the basis of profit, repayment of resources, or residual assets. The Central Bank of Montenegro publishes statistics on remittances as a proportion of GDP, with the latest data available indicating that in 2018 remittances accounted for approximately 10 percent of GDP.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

There are no sovereign wealth funds in Montenegro.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Since the beginning of the privatization process in 1999, nearly 90 percent of formerly state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have been privatized. The most prominent SOEs still in operation include the Port of Bar, Montenegro Railways, Montenegro Airlines, Airports of Montenegro, Plantaze Vineyards, and several companies in the tourism industry, including Ulcinjska and Budvanska Rivijera. All of these companies are registered as joint-stock companies, with the government appointing one or more representatives to each board based on the ownership structure. All SOEs must provide an annual report to the government and are subject to independent audits. In addition, SOEs are listed and have publicly available auditing accounts on the Montenegrin Securities Commission’s website www.scmn.me . Political affiliation has been known to play a role in job placement in SOEs.

Privatization Program

The privatization process in Montenegro is currently in its final phase. The majority of companies that have not yet been privatized are of strategic importance to the Montenegrin economy and operate in such fields as energy, transport, and tourism. Further privatization of SOEs should contribute to better economic performance, increase the competitiveness of the country, and enable the government to generate higher revenues (while lowering its outlays), which will enhance capital investments and reduce debts.

The Montenegrin government is the main institution responsible for the privatization process. The Privatization and Capital Investment Council was established in 1996 to manage, control, and implement the privatization process as well as to propose and coordinate all activities necessary for the non-discriminatory and transparent application process for capital projects in Montenegro. The prime minister of Montenegro is the president of the Privatization and Capital Investment Council. More information about the council, the privatization process, and the actual privatization plan is available on the council’s website http://www.savjetzaprivatizaciju.me 

9. Corruption

Corruption and the perception of corruption are significant problems in Montenegro’s public and private sectors.  Corruption routinely places high on the list of citizen concerns in opinion polls, in addition to risks cited by foreign investors.  Montenegro placed 66th out of 180 countries in the Transparency International (TI) 2019 Corruption Perception Index list.

An improved legal framework to help combat corruption and organized crime has been in force since the adoption of the Law on Prevention of Corruption in 2014 and the Law on the Special State Prosecution in 2015.  At that time, the government took substantial steps to strengthen the Rule of Law, including the establishment of a special police unit focused on corruption and organized crime, the creation of an Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, the creation of a new independent Office of the Special State Prosecutor that handles major cases including organized crime and corruption, and the appointment of the Chief Special State Prosecutor.  In line with these laws, the Special Prosecution, the Special Police Team, the Agency for Prevention of Corruption became operational in 2015 and 2016.  In 2016, Montenegro’s Parliament adopted the Law on the Confiscation of Proceeds from Criminal Activities, which provides for expanded procedures for the freezing, seizure, and confiscation of illicit proceeds.  It also authorizes the creation of multi-disciplinary Financial Investigation Teams.

In February 2019, a multi-institutional Operational Team for fight against Commercial Crime was founded. A Head of Crime Police presides over the team, and it consists of representatives of police, Customs Authority, Tax Authority, and Administration for Inspection Affairs. A focus of the team’s work is on prevention, investigation and fight against misuse in commercial activity.  The Parliament also adopted the Law on the Center for Training of the Judiciary and State Prosecutor’s Office which created a new independent judicial training institute, with greatly expanded powers and autonomy.

The government encourages state institutions and the private sector to establish internal codes of conduct.  They are encouraged to have ethical codes, as well as obliged to have preventive integrity plans.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Montenegro is a signatory to the UN Anti-Corruption Convention. It also succeeded to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery, formally signed by the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro prior to Montenegro’s independence. To date, no foreign firms have lodged complaints against the government under any of these agreements. A number of U.S. firms have specifically noted corruption as an obstacle to direct investment in Montenegro, and corruption is seen as one of the typical hurdles to be overcome when doing business in the country. Corruption is most pervasive in Montenegro in the government procurement sector. The purchase and sale of government property takes place in a non-transparent environment with frequent allegations of bribery and cronyism.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agencies responsible for combating corruption:

Milivoje Katnic
Chief Special Prosecutor for Fighting Organized Crime, Corruption, War Crimes and Terrorism
Office of the Special State Prosecutor
Slobode 20, 81000 Podgorica, Montenegro
+382 20 230 624
vdtcg@tuzilastvo.me

Savo Milasinovic
Acting Director, Agency for the Prevention of Corruption
Kralja Nikole 27/V, 81000 Podgorica, Montenegro
+382 20 447 702
kabinet@antikorupcija.me

10. Political and Security Environment

Montenegro has a multi-party political system with a mixed parliamentary and presidential system.  As a candidate country on its path to join the EU, Montenegro has opened 32 out of 33 chapters, while three are provisionally closed.  It is expected that the final chapter on competition will be opened during 2020.

Montenegro joined NATO in June 2017.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (M USD ) N/A N/A 2018 USD 5,504 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD , stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at
http://bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data.htm
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD , stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at
http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_data.htm
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 5 2018 6.1 UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 5,297 100% Total Outward N/A N/A
Italy 563 10.7% N/A
Russian Federation 562 10.6%
Cyprus 302 8.5%
Republic of Serbia 287 5.4%
United Arab Emirates 284 5.2%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

North Macedonia

Executive Summary

The Republic of North Macedonia is now a NATO member and has been invited to begin EU accession negotiations, which will foster increased foreign direct investment and economic growth. After signing the Prespa Agreement on June 17, 2018, resolving a decades-long name dispute with Greece and unlocking the country’s path to joining NATO and the EU, North Macedonia and Greece signed additional bilateral agreements on defense, energy, civil aviation, and technology in April 2019. On March 27, 2020, North Macedonia deposited its North Atlantic Treaty instrument of accession with the United States, making North Macedonia the 30th NATO member state. Meanwhile, the Council of the European Union decided to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia on March 25, 2020, which the European Council endorsed the following day. The work North Macedonia did to achieve NATO membership and make progress on its EU accession bid resulted in positive economic growth, as evidenced by its strong GDP growth of 3.6 percent in 2019.

Attracting FDI is one of the government’s main pillars for economic growth and job creation. North Macedonia maintains a relatively permissive regulatory framework, and its institutions provide equal treatment of foreign investors and domestic business interests under similar circumstances. In 2019, a number of countries and foreign companies announced investments in North Macedonia and new operations in the free economic zones knows as Technological Industrial Development Zones (TIDZ). In the past, North Macedonia’s competitive labor costs, proximity to European automobile manufacturers, and cooperative government assistance attracted foreign auto parts companies. The government’s attitude towards FDI, coupled with its regulatory and institutional framework, remain attractive to U.S. investment, and consequently a number of U.S. companies successfully operate in North Macedonia.

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 upgraded North Macedonia’s previous credit rating from BB to BB+ with a stable outlook, and Standard & Poor’s affirmed its credit rating at BB- with a stable outlook. Transparency International ranked North Macedonia 106th out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perception Index in 2019, down 13 spots from the prior year.

North Macedonia’s legal framework for foreign investors is largely in line with international standards and foreign investors are generally treated the same as domestic investors under similar circumstances. North Macedonia maintains a simplified regulatory framework for large foreign investors operating in the TIDZ. Large foreign companies operating in the zones 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. Some NGOs assess the VMRO-DMPNE-led government’s dominant role in the economy created opportunities for corruption, while the SDSM-led government, which took office in 2017 and pledged to enhance transparency and rule of law, managed to transfer some power from political parties to judicial institutions.

These economic achievements notwithstanding, the social and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 will have deep impacts on North Macedonia’s economy and ability to absorb foreign investments. While updating this year’s report, businesses were laying off employees, manufacturing was diverted toward necessities, and the government began to institute restrictions to combat COVID-19’s economic effects, including price controls and restrictions over people’s movement. The virus will likely have extensive, albeit currently unclear, impacts on the economy through 2020 and beyond.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 106 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank Doing Business Report 2020 17 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 59 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 USD 54 http://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 5,450 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Attracting FDI is one of the government’s main pillars of economic growth and job creation. There are no laws or practices that discriminate against foreign investors. In March 2018 the government passed its “Plan for Economic Growth” (http://vlada.mk/PlanEkonomskiRast ), which provides substantial incentives to foreign companies operating in the 15 free economic zones. The incentives include a variety of measures including job creation subsidies, capital investment subsidies, and financial support to exporters. Also, North Macedonia is a signatory to multilateral conventions protecting foreign investors and is party to a number of bilateral investment protection treaties, though none with the United States.

Three government ministers and multiple agencies promote North Macedonia as an investment destination. Invest North Macedonia – the Agency for Foreign Investments and Export Promotion, http://www.investinmacedonia.com , is the primary government institution in charge of facilitating foreign investments. It works directly with potential foreign investors, provides detailed explanations and guidance for registering a business in North Macedonia, provides analysis on potential industries and sectors for investing, provides information on business regulations, and publishes reports about the domestic market. The North Macedonia Free Zones Authority, http://fez.gov.mk/ , a governmental managing body responsible for developing free economic zones throughout the country, also assists foreign investors interested in operating in the zones. It manages all administrative affairs of the free economic zones and assists foreign investors to identify appropriate investment locations and facilities. North Macedonia does not maintain a “one-stop-shop” for FDI, requiring investors to navigate through several bureaucratic institutions to implement their investments.

The government maintains contact with large foreign investors through frequent meetings and formal surveys to solicit feedback. Large foreign investors have direct and easy access to government leaders, whom they can contact for assistance to resolve issues. The Foreign Investors Council, http://fic.mk/ , advocates for foreign investors and suggests ways to improve the business environment.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investors can invest directly in all industry and business sectors except those limited by law. For instance, investment in the production of weapons and narcotics remains subject to government approval, while investors in sectors such as banking, financial services, insurance, and energy, must meet certain licensing requirements that apply equally to both domestic and foreign investors. Foreign investment may be in the form of money, equipment, or raw materials. Under the law, if assets are nationalized, foreign investors have the right to receive the full value of their investment. This provision does not apply to national investors.

Invest North Macedonia conducts screening and due diligence reviews of foreign direct investments in a non-public procedure on an ad-hoc basis. The main purpose of the screening is to ensure economic benefit for the country and to protect national security. The process does not disadvantage foreign investors. More information about the screening process is available directly from Invest North Macedonia, at http://www.investinmacedonia.com . U.S. investors are not disadvantaged or singled out by any of the ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

There have been no third-party reviews of the government’s investment policy in the past four years. The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) last review of North Macedonia’s trade policy published in 2019 is available at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s390_e.pdf . The most recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) investment policy review on North Macedonia, from March 2012, is available at: https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/diaepcb2011d3_en.pdf . A 2017 regional investment policy review of South-East Europe covering seven economies including North Macedonia is available at: https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/diaepcb2017d6_en.pdf. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have assessed aspects of the government’s policies for attracting foreign investment in their regular country reports but have not provided specific policy recommendations.

Business Facilitation

All legal entities in the country must register with the Central Registry of the Republic of North Macedonia (Central Registry). Foreign businesses may register a limited liability company, single-member limited liability company, joint venture, joint stock company, as well as branches and representative offices. There is a one-stop-shop system that enables investors to register their businesses within a day by visiting one office, obtaining the information from a single place, and addressing one employee. Once the company is registered with the Central Registry it is valid for all other agencies. In addition to registering, some businesses must obtain additional working licenses or permits for their activities from relevant authorities. More information on business registration documentation and procedures is available at the Central Registry’s website, http://www.crm.com.mk . All investors may register a company online at http://e-submit.crm.com.mk/eFiling/en/home.aspx . Applications must be submitted by an authorized registration agent. The online business registration process is clear and complete, and available for use by foreign companies. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report put North Macedonia 78th in the world for ease of starting a business, 31 spots down from 2019.

Outward Investment

The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad, but it does not promote or provide incentives for outward investments. Publicly reported total outward investments are small, worth approximately $71 million, the majority of which are in the Balkan region and the Netherlands.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The government 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 are frequently moved through Parliament using shortened legislative procedures. Universal implementation of laws and regulations can also be a problem.

North Macedonia has simplified regulations and procedures for large foreign investors operating in the TIDZ. However, the country’s overall regulatory environment is complex and not fully transparent. Frequent regulatory and legislative changes, coupled with inconsistent interpretations of the rules, 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. Businesses, the public, and NGOs play a limited role in the legislative and regulatory development process. Regulations are generally developed in a four-step process. First, the regulatory agency or ministry drafts the proposed regulations. 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.

There is no one centralized location that 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. However, North Macedonia has not yet 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.

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.

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

North Macedonia is not a part of any regional economic bloc. As a candidate country for accession to the EU, it is gradually harmonizing its legal and regulatory system 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 that need harmonization with TFA and is working toward implementation.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

North Macedonia’s legal system is based on the civil law tradition, with adversarial-style elements, and includes an established legal framework for both commercial and contract law. The Constitution established independent courts that rule on commercial and contractual disputes between business entities, and court rulings are legally executed by private enforcement agents. Enforcement actions are may be appealed before the court. The enforcement procedure fees were lowered and simplified in 2019. Disputes up to €15,000 ($16,541 per 03/30/2020 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 through the court system creates legal uncertainty. Numerous international reports note that rule of law remains a key challenge in North Macedonia, pointing to undue executive control over the judiciary and poor funding for administrative courts as major obstacles. The government throughout 2019 initiated major reforms to improve judicial independence and impartiality, but enforcing contracts remains 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 that 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://www.worldfzo.org/Portals/0/OpenContent/Files/487/Macedonia_FreeZones.pdf . No other new major laws, regulations, or judicial decisions related to foreign investment were passed during the past year, however some existing laws were amended slightly.

Competition and Anti-Trust 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 that 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 fair 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.

Dispute Settlement

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 on to, 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; http://www.slvesnik.com.mk/besplatni-izdanija.nspx?pYear=2010 ) are met. So far, the country has been involved in three reported investor-state disputes resolved in front of international arbitration panels with three more cases pending. 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 ($16,541 per 03/30/2020 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.

Bankruptcy Regulations

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.

The Macedonian Credit Bureau (https://mkb.mk/en/ ) serves as a credit monitoring authority in addition to commercial banks and the National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia serving as credit monitoring authorities..

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Laws protect ownership of both movable and real property, but implementation of these laws remains inconsistent. Mortgages and liens are regularly utilized, and the recording system is reliable. Highly centralized control of government owned “construction land,” the lack of coordinated local and regional zoning plans, and the lack of an efficient construction permitting system continues to impede business and investments. Over the past few years, however, the government has improved the cadaster system, which has increased the security and speed of real estate transactions. Over 97 percent of real estate records are digitized. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked North Macedonia 48th out of 190 for the ease of registering property, two places up from 2018, and 15th for the ease of dealing with construction permits.

Land leased or acquired by foreign and/or non-resident investors is regulated by the Law on Ownership and Other Real Rights. EU and OECD residents have the same rights as local residents in lease or acquisition of construction land or property, whereas non-EU and non-OECD residents’ property ownership is regulated under terms of reciprocity. Foreign residents cannot acquire agricultural land in North Macedonia. Foreign investors may acquire property rights for buildings used in their business activities, as well as full ownership rights over construction land through a locally registered company. If a foreign company registers a local company in any form (subsidiary, local partner, or joint venture representation office), it can acquire land with full ownership rights similar to a domestic company.

Purchased land belongs to the owner and even if it remains unoccupied, cannot revert to other owners such as squatters. The exception to this is agricultural land granted by government as concessions. If the consignee does not use the land per the agreement, then the government can cancel the concession and take back possession of the land.

Intellectual Property Rights

Responsibility for safeguarding intellectual property rights (IPR) is distributed among numerous institutions. The State Office of Industrial Property governs patents, trademarks, service marks, designs, models, and samples. A very small unit within the Ministry of Culture administers the protection of authors’ rights and other related rights (e.g., music, film, television). The State Market Inspectorate is responsible for monitoring markets and preventing the sale of counterfeit and pirated goods. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for IPR-related crimes committed on the Internet. The Customs Administration has the right to seize suspect goods to prevent their distribution pending confirmation from the rights holder of the authenticity of the goods. The National Coordination Body for Intellectual Property periodically organizes interagency raids to seize counterfeit products usually focused on small sellers in open-air markets.  Measures taken by the coordination body are rare and mostly target trademark infringements.

As North Macedonia begins to open EU accession negotiations, it will need to harmonize its IPR laws and regulations with EU standards and demonstrate adequate enforcement of those laws. The European Commission’s 2019 report on North Macedonia confirmed the country’s legislative framework was sufficiently aligned with the EU acquis and acknowledged some progress had been made to raise awareness about the threats of counterfeit goods to health, but noted a need for further improvement of North Macedonia’s royalty fee collection system. The report recommended North Macedonia increase its efforts in the following areas: to investigate and prosecute IPR infringement, particularly in the area of industrial property and misuse of trademarks; improve its legal framework on copyright and related rights; and improve coordination among law enforcement institutions by establishing an information platform to exchange IPR-related data. The business community frequently complains the State Office for Industrial Property does not register patents or take enforcement actions in a timely manner.

While North Macedonia has many laws in place to protect IPR, infringement is frequent and the court system should be improved. Prosecutors and judges for both civil and criminal cases are aware of IPR but lack adequate experience due to the small number of IPR cases. There are no specialized courts to handle IPR cases. Many rights holders do not pursue legal action since IPR violators usually lack the financial resources to pay damages. Courts are sometimes reluctant to find accused IPR violators guilty due to stiff mandatory minimum sentences for small distributors of counterfeit goods. The penalties for IPR infringement range from 30 to 60 days closure of businesses, monetary fines of up to €5,000 ($5,624), or a prison sentence of up to five years. North Macedonia does not track and report cumulative statistics on IPR infringement or seizures of counterfeit goods, and therefore lacks a credible enforcement record. North Macedonia is not included in the U.S. Trade Representative Special 301 Report or the Notorious Market List. However, for over 10 years, the government has used unlicensed Microsoft software products and, in early 2018, the government initiated talks to resolve the issue. As of March 2020, the government continued to use unlicensed software throughout its institutions.

North Macedonia is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to a number of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government openly welcomes foreign portfolio investors. The establishment of the Macedonian Stock Exchange (MSE) in 1995 made it possible to regulate portfolio investments. North Macedonia’s capital market is modest in turnover and capitalization. Market capitalization in 2019 was $3.4 billion, a 14.3 percent rise from the previous year. The main index, MBI10, increased by 34 percent, reaching 4,649 points at year-end. Foreign portfolio investors accounted for an average of 22.3 percent of total MSE turnover, 8.8 percentage points higher than in 2018. The current regulatory framework does not appear to discriminate against foreign portfolio investments.

There is an effective regulatory system for portfolio investments, and North Macedonia’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) licenses all MSE members to trade in securities and regulates the market. In 2019, the total number of listed companies was 106, one more than in 2018, but total turnover dropped by 26.1 percent. Compared to international standards, overall liquidity of the market is modest for entering and/or exiting sizeable positions. Individuals generally trade at the MSE as individuals, rather than through investment funds, which have been present since 2007.

There are no legal barriers to the free flow of financial resources into the products and factor markets. The National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia (NBRNM) respects IMF Article VIII and does not impose restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. A variety of credit instruments are provided at market rates to both domestic and foreign companies.

Money and Banking System

In its regular report on Article IV consultations, published January 2020, the International Monetary Fund assessed that North Macedonia’s banking sector is healthy, well-capitalized, liquid, and profitable; and banks comfortably meet capital adequacy requirements, but efforts are needed to further mitigate credit risk. Domestic companies secure financing primarily from their own cash flow and bank loans, due to the lack of corporate bonds and other securities as credit instruments.

Financial resources are almost entirely managed through North Macedonia’s banking system, consisting of 15 banks and a central bank, the NBRNM. It is a highly concentrated system, with the three of the largest banks controlling 56.6 percent of the banking sector’s total assets of about $9.6 billion and collecting 69.2 percent of total household deposits. The largest commercial bank in the country has estimated total assets of about $2.2 billion, and the second largest of about $1.8 billion. The 10 smallest banks, which have individual market shares of less than 6 percent, account for 25.3 percent of total banking sector assets. Out of them, the five smallest banks hold a combined market share of just 7.2 percent. Foreign banks or branches are allowed to establish operations in the country at equal terms as domestic operators, subject to licensing and prudent supervision from the NBRNM. In 2019, foreign capital remained present in 14 of North Macedonia’s 15 banks, and was dominant in 11 banks, controlling 71.8 percent of total banking sector assets, 80.3 percent of total loans, and 70.2 percent of total deposits.

According to the NBRNM, the banking sector’s non-performing loans at the end of 2019 (latest available data) were 4.8 percent of total loans, dropping by 0.4 percentage points on an annual basis. Total profits in 2019 reached $122 million, which was 20 percent less than in 2018.

Banks’ liquid assets at the end of 2019 were 32.4 percent of total assets, 1.8 percentage points higher compared to the same period of 2018, remaining comfortably high. In 2019 NBRNM conducted different stress-test scenarios on the banking sector’s sensitivity to increased credit risk, liquidity shocks, and insolvency shocks, all of which showed that the banking sector is healthy and resilient to shocks, with a capital adequacy ratio remaining above the legally required minimum of eight percent. The actual capital adequacy ratio of the banking sector at the end 2019 was 16.3 percent, 0.2 percent lower compared to the end of 2018, with all banks maintaining a ratio above the required minimum.

There are no restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account. All commercial banks and the NBRNM have established and maintain correspondent banking relationships with foreign banks. The banking sector did not lose any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years, nor were there any indications that any current correspondent banking relationships were in jeopardy. There is no intention to implement or allow the implementation of blockchain technologies in banking transactions in North Macedonia. Also, alternative financial services do not exist in the economy—the transaction settlement mechanism is solely through the banking sector.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The constitution provides for free transfer, conversion, and repatriation of investment capital and profits by foreign investors. Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into other currencies. Conversion of most foreign currencies is possible at market terms on the official foreign exchange market. In addition to banks and savings houses, numerous authorized exchange offices also provide exchange services. The NBRNM operates the foreign exchange market, but participates on an equal basis with other entities. There are no restrictions on the purchase of foreign currency.

Parallel foreign exchange markets do not exist in the country, largely due to the long-term stability of the national currency, the Denar (MKD). The Denar is convertible domestically, but is not convertible on foreign exchange markets. The NBRNM is pursuing a strategy of pegging the Denar to the Euro and has successfully kept it at the same level since 1997. Required foreign currency reserves are spelled out in the banking law.

Remittance Policies

There were no changes in investment remittance policies, and there are no immediate plans for changes to the regulations. By law, foreign investors are entitled to transfer profits and income without being subject to a transfer tax. All types of investment returns are generally remitted within three working days. There are no legal limitations on private financial transfers to and from North Macedonia. Remittances from workers in the diaspora represent a significant source of income for Republic of North Macedonia’s households. In 2019, net private transfers amounted to $1.9 billion, accounting for 15 percent of GDP.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

North Macedonia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are about 120 State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in North Macedonia, the majority of which are public utilities in which the central government is the majority shareholder, though the 81 local governments also own local public utility enterprises. Тhe government estimated that about 8,600 people are employed in SOEs. SOEs operate in several sectors of the economy including energy, transportation, and media. There are also industries such as arms production and narcotics in which private enterprises may not operate without government approval. SOEs are governed by boards of directors consisting of members appointed by the government. All SOEs are subject to the same tax policies as private sector companies. SOEs are allowed to purchase or supply goods or services from the private sector and are not given advantages that are not market-based, such as preferential access to land and raw materials.

There is no published registry with complete information on all SOEs in the country.

Following media reports that SOEs continued to employ party members and their relatives in 2019, the government announced it would review SOE hiring decisions and implement broader public administration reform, which is yet to be completed. North Macedonia is not a signatory to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs. In February 2018 the government sent its bid to the World Trade Organization to upgrade its status from observer to a fully-fledged member of the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). The negotiation process is still ongoing.

Privatization Program

North Macedonia’s privatization process is almost complete, and private capital is dominant in the market. The government is trying to resolve the status of one remaining state-owned loss-making company in a non-discriminatory process through an international tender. Foreign and domestic investors have equal opportunity to participate in the privatization of the remaining state-owned assets through an easily understandable, non-discriminatory, and transparent public bidding process. Neither the central government nor any local government has announced plans to fully or partially privatize any of the utility companies or SOEs in their ownership.

9. Corruption

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 State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (SCPC) (https://www.dksk.mk/index.php?id=home ), established in 2002 to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest, did not function for a year between March 2018 and February 2019 due to the resignation of its members after media revealed excessive and fraudulent travel invoicing. Following the passage of new anticorruption legislation in January 2019 and the appointment of new commissioners in February 2019, the commission restarted its work. The appointment of the new SCPC commissioners was done in a more transparent manner than before, and in the past year the SCPC has been more proactive in fighting corruption. The Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) was established in 2015 to investigate cases linked to a wiretapping scandal that revealed extensive abuse of office by public officials, including alleged corruption in public tenders. After the Chief Special Prosecutor was indicted in a corruption scandal in November 2019, all cases were transferred to the Public Prosecution Office’s Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecution Office . Transparency International ranked North Macedonia 106th out of 180 countries on the 2019 Corruption Perception Index, a drop of 13 places, following the SPO corruption scandal.

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 that allows publication of notices from domestic and international institutions, tender documentation previews without registration 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 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (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, and can provide financial and background information on local businesses and potential partners.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contacts at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:

State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption
Ms. Biljana Ivanovska, President
Dame Gruev 1
1000 Skopje, North Macedonia
+389 2 321 5377
dksk@dksk.org.mk

Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecution Office
Ms. Vilma Ruskovska, Chief
Boulevard Krste Misirkov BB, Sudska Palata
1000 Skopje, North Macedonia
+389 2 321 9884
ruskovska@jorm.gov.mk

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, North Macedonia
+389 2 321 7000
info@transparency.mk

10. Political and Security Environment

North Macedonia generally has been free from political violence over the past decade, although interethnic relations have been strained at times. Public protests, demonstrations, and strikes occur sporadically, and often result in traffic jams, particularly near the center of Skopje.

After the 2016 elections resulted in a change of government and the subsequent parliamentary majority elected Talat Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian, as speaker, an organized group of protestors leveraged ongoing protests and stormed the parliament building on April 27, 2017. More than 100 people were injured, including several members of government and seven MPs. On March 18, 2019, 16 individuals were convicted and given lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in the attacks, including the former head of the Public Security Bureau (who had previously served as Minister of Interior) and former security officers. The trial against the suspected organizers, including former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, the former parliament speaker, two former ministers, and a former director of the Department of Security and Counterintelligence, is ongoing.

There is neither widespread anti-American nor anti-Western sentiment in North Macedonia. There have been no incidents in recent years involving politically motivated damage to projects or installations. Violent crime against U.S. citizens is rare. Theft and other petty street crimes do occur, particularly in areas where tourists and foreigners congregate.

North Macedonia formally deposited its instrument of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty and was formally accepted as NATO’s 30th member March 27, 2020. On March 22, 2004, the country submitted its application for EU membership and, on March 25, 2020, the General Affairs Council of the European Union decided to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia, which was endorsed by the European Council the following day.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $12,694 2018 $12,672 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $123 2018 $54 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $0.03 2018 $-1 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 50.7% 2018 47.1% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data: State Statistical Office (SSO) publishes data estimates on GDP; National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia (NBRNM) publishes data on FDI. Data is publicly available online, and is published immediately upon processing with a lag of less than one quarter. End-year data for previous year is usually published in March of current year.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 6,079 100% Total Outward 71 100%
United Kingdom 847 13.9% Serbia 72 102.3%
Austria 787 12.9% Netherlands 30 42.1%
Greece 559 9.2% Slovenia 27 38.5%
Netherlands 488 8.0% Bosnia & Herzegovina 14 20.2%
Slovenia 416 6.8% Kosovo 8 10.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 417 100% All Countries 384 100% All Countries 33 100%
United States 286 68.6% United States 286 74.5% Austria 13 39.4%
Germany 55 13.2% Germany 55 14.3% Turkey 3 9.1%
France 15 3.6% France 15 3.9% Netherlands 3 9.1%
Austria 14 3.4% Switzerland 7 1.8% Spain 3 9.1%
Switzerland 7 1.7% International Organizations 6 1.6% Italy 3 9.1%

The results from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are consistent with host country data. Sources of portfolio investments are not tax heavens.

Serbia

Executive Summary

Serbia’s investment climate has been modestly improving in recent years, driven by macroeconomic reforms, greater financial stability, improved fiscal discipline, and a European Union (EU) accession process that provides impetus for legal changes that improve the business environment. The government successfully completed a three-year Stand-by Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the government exceeding all its fiscal targets in 2018. The government signed a new 30-month Policy Coordination Instrument with the IMF in mid-2018. Serbia improved four places in 2020 on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index and is now ranked 44th globally in ease of doing business. Attracting foreign investment remains an important priority for the Serbian government. U.S. investors in Serbia are generally positive, highlighting the country’s strategic location, well-educated and affordable labor force, excellent English language skills, investment incentives, and free-trade arrangements with key markets, particularly the EU. Generally, U.S. investors enjoy a level playing field with their Serbian and foreign competitors. The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade often assists investors when issues arise, and Serbian leaders are responsive to our concerns.

Despite notable progress in Serbia, challenges remain, particularly with regard to bureaucratic delays and corruption. Other risks to the investment climate include unresolved loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs), a large informal economy, and an inefficient judiciary. Political influence on the decisions of nominally independent regulatory agencies is also a concern.

Serbian companies faced temporary export restrictions on certain agricultural products and on all medicines in March and April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Serbian government lifted the export restriction on medicines on April 24 and lifted restrictions on all other affected goods on May 7.

The Serbian government has identified economic growth and job creation as its top economic priorities and has committed itself to resolving several long-standing issues related to the country’s slow transition to market-driven capitalism. On the legislative front, the government has passed significant reforms to labor law, construction permitting, inspections, public procurement, and privatization that have helped improve the business environment. Both companies and officials have noted that the adoption of reforms has sometimes outpaced thorough implementation of these reforms. Digitizing certain functions (e.g., construction permitting, tax administration, e-signatures, and removing the previously ubiquitous requirement for ink stamps) has not yet brought a dramatic improvement in processing times and may not be consistently implemented.

The government is slowly making progress on resolving the fate of troubled SOEs. Where possible, this has been achieved through bankruptcy or privatization actions. For example, bankruptcy protections were removed for 17 SOEs in May 2016, and the situation of most of these companies has been resolved. The government is also slowly decreasing Serbia’s bloated public-sector workforce, mainly through attrition and hiring freezes, which continued through 2018.

If the government delivers on promised reforms during its EU accession process, business opportunities could continue to grow in the coming years. Sectors that stand to benefit include agriculture and agro-processing, solid waste management, sewage, environmental protection, information and communications technology (ICT), renewable energy, health care, mining, and manufacturing.

Women in Serbia generally enjoy equal treatment in business, and the government offers various programs to support women’s businesses. One program that started in 2017 provides approximately USD 1 million from the Serbian government budget to support women’s innovative entrepreneurship in the form of small grants.

Investors should monitor the government’s implementation of reforms as well as the government’s changing investment incentive programs.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 91 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 44 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 57 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 145 million http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 7,234 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Serbia is open to FDI, and attracting FDI is a priority for the government. Even during its socialist past, Serbia prioritized international commerce and attracted a sizeable international business community. This trend continues, and the Law on Investments extends national treatment to and eliminates discriminatory practices against foreign investors. The law also allows the repatriation of profits and dividends, provides guarantees against expropriation, allows customs duty waivers for equipment imported as capital in kind, and enables foreign investors to qualify for government incentives.

The Government’s investment promotion authority is the Development Agency of Serbia (Razvojna agencija Srbije – RAS: http://ras.gov.rs/ ). RAS offers a wide range of services, including support of direct investments, export promotion, and coordinating the implementation of investment projects. RAS serves as a one-stop-shop for both domestic and international companies. The government maintains a dialogue with businesses through associations such as the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, American Chamber of Commerce in Serbia, Foreign Investors’ Council (FIC), and Serbian Association of Managers (SAM).

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own businesses, and to engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

For some business activities, licenses are required, e.g., financial institutions must be licensed by the National Bank of Serbia prior to registration. Licensing limitations apply to both domestic and foreign companies active in finance, energy, mining, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, tobacco, arms and military equipment, road transportation, customs processing, land development, electronic communications, auditing, waste management, and production and trade of hazardous chemicals.

Serbian citizens and foreign investors enjoy full private-property ownership rights. Private entities can freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises. By law, private companies compete equally with public enterprises in the market and for access to credit, supplies, licenses, and other aspects of doing business. Serbia does not maintain investment screening or approval mechanisms for inbound foreign investment. U.S. investors are not disadvantaged or singled out by any rules or regulations.

Agribusiness: Foreign citizens and foreign companies are prohibited from owning agricultural land in Serbia. However, foreign ownership restrictions on farmland do not apply to companies registered in Serbia, even if the company is foreign-owned. Unofficial estimates suggest that Serbian subsidiaries of foreign companies own some 20,000 hectares of farmland in the country. EU citizens are exempt from this ban, as of 2017, although they may only buy up to two hectares of agricultural land under certain conditions. They must permanently reside in the municipality where the land is located for at least 10 years, practice farming on the land in question for at least three years, and own adequate agriculture machinery and equipment.

Defense: The Law on Investments adopted in 2015 ended discriminatory practices that prevented foreign companies from establishing companies in the production and trade of arms (for example, the defense industry) or in specific areas of the country. Further liberalization of investment in the defense industry continued via a new Law on the Production and Trade of Arms and Ammunition, adopted in May 2018. The law enables total foreign ownership of up to 49 percent in seven SOEs, collectively referred to as the “Defense Industry of Serbia,” so long as no single foreign shareholder exceeds 15 percent ownership. The law also cancels limitations on foreign ownership for arms and ammunition manufacturers.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Serbia underwent formal reviews by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Labour Market and Social Policies in 2008 and by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on competition policy in 2011.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index, it takes seven procedures and seven days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company in Serbia. This is fewer days but more procedures than the average for Europe and Central Asia. In addition to the procedures required of a domestic company, a foreign parent company establishing a subsidiary in Serbia must translate its corporate documents into Serbian.

Under the Business Registration Law, the Serbian Business Registers Agency (SBRA) oversees company registration. SBRA’s website is available in English at www.apr.gov.rs/home.1435.html . All entities applying for incorporation with SBRA can use a single application form and are not required to have signatures notarized.

Companies in Serbia can open and maintain bank accounts in foreign currency, although they must also have an account in Serbian dinars (RSD). The minimum capital requirement is symbolic at RSD 100 (less than USD 1) for limited liability companies, rising to RSD 3 million (approximately USD 27,500) for a joint stock company. A single-window registration process enables companies that register with SBRA to obtain a tax registration number (poreski identifikacioni broj – PIB) and health insurance number concurrently with registration. In addition, companies must register employees with the Pension Fund at the Fund’s premises. Since December 2017, the Labor Law requires employers to register new employees before they start their first day at work; previously, the deadline was registration within 15 days of employment. These amendments represent an attempt by the government to decrease the grey labor market by allowing labor inspectors to penalize employers if they find unregistered workers.

Pursuant to the Law on Accounting, companies in Serbia are classified as micro, small, medium, and large, depending on the number of employees, operating revenues, and value of assets.

RAS supports direct investment and promotes exports. It also implements projects aimed at improving competitiveness, supporting economic development, and supporting small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs. More information is available at http://ras.gov.rs .

Serbia’s business-facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of both men and women when a registering company, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index. The government has declared 2017-2027 a Decade of Entrepreneurship, with special programs to support entrepreneurship by women.

Outward Investment

The Serbian government neither promotes nor restricts outward direct investment. Restrictions on short-term capital transactions—i.e., portfolio investments—were lifted in April 2018 through amendments to the Law on Foreign Exchange Operations. Prior to this, residents of Serbia were not allowed to purchase foreign short-term securities, and foreigners were not allowed to purchase short-term securities in Serbia. There are no restrictions on payments related to long-term securities.

Capital markets are not fully liberalized for individuals. Citizens of Serbia are not allowed to have currency accounts abroad, or to keep accounts abroad, except in exceptional situations listed in the Law on Foreign Exchange Operations (such situations may include work or study abroad).

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Serbia is undertaking an extensive legislative amendment process aimed at harmonizing its laws with those of the European Union’s acquis communautaire. Harmonization of Serbian law with the acquis has created a legal and regulatory environment more consistent with international norms.

The government, ministries, and regulatory agencies develop, maintain, and publish a plan online of all anticipated legislation and regulations, as well as deadlines for their enactment. Serbian law requires that the text of proposed legislation and regulations be made available for public comment and debate if the law would significantly affect the legal regime in a specific field, or if the subject matter is an issue of a particular interest to the public. The website of Serbia’s unicameral legislature, called the National Assembly (www.parlament.gov.rs ), provides a list of both proposed and adopted legislation. There is no minimum period of time set by law for the text of proposed legislation or regulations to be publicly available.

In recent years, Serbia’s National Assembly has adopted many laws through an “urgent procedure”. By law, an urgent procedure can be used only “under unforeseeable circumstances,” to protect human life and health, and to harmonize legislation with the EU acquis. Bills proposed under an urgent procedure may be introduced with less than 24 hours’ notice, thus limiting public consideration and parliamentary debate. The European Commission’s 2019 Staff Working Document for Serbia stated that “continued frequent use of the urgent procedure for the adoption of laws limits the effective inclusion of civil society in the law-making process” and that such parliamentary practices have also “led to a deterioration in legislative debate and scrutiny[.]” The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) echoed concerns regarding the lack of transparency in the legislative process.

International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are required for publicly listed companies and financial institutions, as well as for the following large legal entities, regardless of whether their securities trade in a public market: insurance companies, financial leasing lessors, voluntary pension funds and their management companies, investment funds and their management companies, stock exchanges, securities brokerages, and factoring companies. Additionally, IFRS standards are required for all foreign companies whose securities trade is in any public market.

Although there are no informal regulatory processes managed by NGOs or the private sector, several Serbian organizations publish recommendations for government action to improve the transparency and efficiency of business regulations. The Foreign Investors Council publishes an annual White Book (http://www.fic.org.rs/projects/white-book/white-book.html ), the National Alliance for Local Economic Development (NALED) publishes a recommendations titled Eliminating Administrative Barriers to Doing Business in Serbia (https://www.slideshare.net/NALED/grey-book-10-recommendations-for-eliminating-administrative-obstacles-to-doing-business-in-serbia ), and the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) publishes similar materials on its website (www.amcham.rs ).

In 2018, Serbia enacted a Law on Ultimate Beneficial Owners Central Registry (“Law”). This Law was adopted to harmonize domestic legislation with international standards and to improve the existing system of detecting and preventing money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The Law on Ultimate Beneficial Owners Central Registry introduced a single, public, online electronic database maintained by the Serbian Business Registers Agency (www.apr.gov.rs), containing information on natural persons which are the ultimate beneficial owners of the companies (“Register”). Companies incorporated before December 31, 2018, are obliged to prepare and keep documentation regarding their ultimate beneficial owners at their offices, while new companies are obliged to register this information with the Register within 15 days of their incorporation. All companies were required to be registered accordingly in 2019.

In February 2018, Serbia joined the OECD Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS), which aims to address tax avoidance strategies that exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules to artificially shift profits to low or no-tax locations. Under the framework, 112 countries and jurisdictions are collaborating to implement measures against BEPS.

Regulatory inspections in Serbia are numerous and decentralized. Nationally, there are 37 different inspectorates, operating within the competence of 12 different ministries. They operate without any significant cooperation or coordination, there is overlapping and duplication of functions among inspectorates, and there is a lack of consistency even within individual inspectorates, which represents a source of additional burdens and difficulties for business operation. Administrative courts are the legal entities that consider appeals from inspection decisions.

Serbia’s public finances are relatively transparent as it regularly publishes draft and adopted budgets, as well as budget revisions. The Serbian government has also published and Parliament adopted all of the end-of-year budgets from 2002 through 2018. The Serbian government regularly publishes information related to public debt on the website www.javnidug.gov.rs . This information is updated daily and is generally considered accurate.

International Regulatory Considerations

Serbia is not a member of the World Trade Organization or the EU. Serbia obtained EU candidate country status in 2012 and opened formal accession negotiations. The WTO accepted Serbia’s application for accession on February 15, 2005, and Serbia currently has observer status. No accession dates have been set for Serbia’s membership in either the EU or WTO.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Serbia has a civil law system. The National Assembly codifies laws; the courts have sole authority to interpret legislation. Although judicial precedent is not a source of law, written judgments have the non-binding effect of helping to harmonize court practices. Serbia has a written law on contracts and commercial law.

In general, contract enforcement is weak, and the courts responsible for enforcing property rights remain overburdened. When negotiating contracts, the parties may agree on the manner in which to resolve disputes. Most often for domestic entities, contract dispute resolution is left to the courts and can be pursued through civil litigation. Under Serbian commercial law, the Law on Obligations regulates contractual relations (also known as the Law on Contracts and Torts). Civil Procedure Law, which details the procedure in commercial disputes, governs contract-related disputes. Parties to a contract are free to decide which substantive law will govern the contract. The law of Serbia need not be the governing law of a contract entered into in Serbia. Foreign courts’ judgments are enforceable in Serbia only if Serbian courts recognize them. Jurisdiction over recognition of foreign judgments rests with the Commercial Courts and Higher Courts. The Law on Resolution of Disputes with the Regulations of Other Countries, as well as by bilateral agreements, regulates the procedures for recognition of foreign court decisions.

The organization of the court system and jurisdiction of courts in Serbia are regulated by statute. The court system consists of the Constitutional Court, courts of general jurisdiction, and courts of special jurisdiction. Basic courts are courts of first instance and cover one or more municipalities. Higher courts cover the territory of one or more basic courts and are also courts of first instance, while acting as courts of second instance over basic courts. Commercial courts adjudicate commercial matters, with the Commercial Appeal Court being the second-instance court for such matters. Appellate courts are second instance courts to both basic and higher courts, except when higher courts act as second instance courts to basic courts. The Constitutional Court decides on the constitutionality and legality of laws and bylaws, and protects human and minority rights and freedoms. The Supreme Cassation Court is the highest court in Serbia and is competent to decide on extraordinary judiciary remedies and conflicts of jurisdiction. Regulations and regulatory enforcement actions are appealable within the national court system.

There is a distinction in Serbia between Commercial Courts and courts of general jurisdiction. Commercial Courts have original jurisdiction over disputes arising from commercial activities, including disputes involving business organizations, business contracts, foreign investment, foreign trade, maritime law, aeronautical law, bankruptcy, civil economic offenses, intellectual property rights, and misdemeanors committed by commercial legal entities. Their jurisdiction extends to both legal and natural persons engaged in commercial activities, in cases where both parties are economic operators. When only one of the parties is an economic operator and the other is not, such disputes are decided by courts of general civil jurisdiction and not by Commercial Courts. As an exception, in bankruptcy and reorganization proceedings, Commercial Courts have jurisdiction over all disputes where an economic operator is in bankruptcy in relation to other economic or non-economic operators.

Jurisdiction over civil commercial disputes is organized on two levels: Commercial Courts hear first instance cases; and the Appellate Commercial Court decides on appeals against lower court decisions. Commercial courts have broad jurisdiction. There are 16 trial-level Commercial Courts in Serbia. They handle disputes between legal entities, those between domestic and foreign companies; disputes concerning intellectual property and related rights; those arising under the application of Serbia’s Company Law and its regulation; and those relating to privatization and securities; relating to foreign investments, ships and aircraft, navigation at sea and on inland waters, and involving maritime and aviation law. Commercial courts also conduct bankruptcy and reorganization proceedings.

Congestion rates in the Commercial Courts are high. The time to case disposition in commercial litigation is in line with EU averages. However, there is inconsistent application of the law across Serbia, including in Commercial Courts.

According to the Constitution, Serbia’s judicial system is legally independent of the executive branch; but in practice, significant obstacles remain to true judicial independence. The European Commission’s 2019 Staff Working Document for Serbia observes that the current constitutional and legislative framework leaves room for undue political influence over the judiciary, and that political pressure on the judiciary remains high. Serbia has proposed draft constitutional amendments aimed at strengthening the independence of the judiciary, but those amendments have not yet been adopted or ratified.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Significant laws for investment, business activities, and foreign companies in Serbia include the Law on Investments, the Law on Foreign Trade, the Law on Foreign Exchange Operations, the Law on Markets of Securities and other Financial Instruments, the Company Law, the Law on Registration of Commercial Entities, the Law on Banks and Other Financial Institutions, Regulations on Conditions for Establishing and Operation of Foreign Representative Offices in Serbia, the Law on Construction and Planning, the Law on Financial Leasing, the Law on Concessions, the Customs Law, and the Law on Privatization. These statutes set out the basic rules foreign companies must follow if they wish to establish subsidiaries in Serbia, invest in local companies, open representative offices in Serbia, enter into agency agreements for representation by local companies, acquire concessions, or participate in a privatization process in Serbia. Other relevant laws include:

  • The Law on Value Added Tax, Law on Income Tax, Law on Corporate Profit Tax, Law on Real Estate Tax, and the Law on Mandatory Social Contributions. .
  • Laws and regulations related to business operations can be found on the Economy Ministry’s website at .
  • Laws and regulations on portfolio investments are on the Securities Commission’s website at .
  • Laws and regulations related to payment operations can be found on the National Bank of Serbia’s website at

In 2019, Serbia undertook major anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism regime (AML/CFT) legislative reforms, following the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) February 2018 finding that Serbia had strategic deficiencies in its AML/CFT regime. To respond to the deficiencies, twelve new laws and over 60 regulations came into force. The new legislation includes a new AML/CFT Law, as well as amendments to the Criminal Code with regard to the further criminalization of money laundering. Among other AML/CFT reforms, Serbia introduced a Law on Ultimate Beneficial Owners Central Registry. The Serbian Business Registers Agency maintains a single, public, online electronic database containing information on natural persons who are the ultimate beneficial owners of legal entities. FATF removed Serbia from its monitoring process in June 2019, but Serbia remains subject to enhanced follow-up procedures by the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism, known as MONEYVAL.

There is no primary or “one-stop-shop” website for investment that provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. However, numerous Serbian firms that provide legal and other professional services publish comprehensive information for foreign investors, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, https://www.pwc.rs/en/publications/assets/Doing-Business-Guide-Serbia-2019.pdf .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Law on Protection of Competition was enacted in 2009 and amended in 2013. The Commission for the Protection of Competition is responsible for competition-related concerns and in principle implements the law as an independent agency reporting directly to the National Assembly. In some cases, companies have reported perceptions that political factors have influenced the Commission’s decision-making. In 2018, the Commission completed seven proceedings for violations of competition rules, approved 158 mergers (and rejected six), and issued 15 opinions about potential breaches of competition rules. Annual reports of the Commission’s actions are published online at http://www.kzk.gov.rs/izvestaji . Laws and regulations related to market competition are available at http://www.kzk.gov.rs/en/zakon-2 .

Expropriation and Compensation

A foreign investor is guaranteed national treatment, which means that any legal entity or natural person investing in Serbia enjoys full legal security and protection equal to those of local entities. A stake held by a foreign investor or a company with a foreign investment cannot be the subject of expropriation. The contribution of a foreign investor may be in the form of convertible foreign currency, contribution in kind, intellectual property rights, and securities.

Serbia’s Law on Expropriation authorizes expropriation (including eminent domain) for the following reasons: education, public health, social welfare, culture, water management, sports, transport, public utility infrastructure, national defense, local/national government needs, environmental protection, protection from weather-related damage, mineral exploration or exploitation, resettlement of persons holding mineral-rich lands, property required for certain joint ventures, and housing construction for the socially disadvantaged.

In the event of an expropriation, Serbian law requires compensation in the form of similar property or cash approximating the current market value of the expropriated property. The law sets forth various criteria for arriving at the amount of compensation applicable to different types of land (e.g. agricultural, vineyards or forests), or easements that affect land value. The local municipal court is authorized to intervene and decide the level of compensation if there is no mutually agreed resolution within two months of the expropriation order.

The Law on Investment provides safeguards against arbitrary government expropriation of investments. There have been no cases of expropriation of foreign investments in Serbia since the dissolution of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 2003. There are, however, outstanding claims against Serbia related to property nationalized under the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was dissolved in 1992.

The 2014 Law on Restitution of Property and Compensation applies to property seized by the government since the end of World War II (March 9, 1945), and includes special coverage for victims of the Holocaust, who are authorized to reclaim property confiscated by Nazi occupation forces. Under the law, restitution should be in kind when possible, and otherwise in the form of state bonds. Many properties are exempt from in-kind restitution, including property previously owned by corporations. Heirless property left by victims of the Holocaust is subject to a separate law, which was approved in February 2016.

Serbia committed itself under its restitution law to allocate EUR 2 billion, plus interest, for financial compensation to citizens in bonds and in cash. The restitution law caps the amount of compensation that any single claimant may receive at EUR 500,000 (approximately USD 565,000). With amendments to the Law on Restitution and Compensation adopted in December 2018, the government postponed for the third time issuance of these bonds until December 2021, pending approval of necessary by-laws that would regulate bond issuance. The Law mandates that by-laws be adopted by Government of Serbia by June 2020. The bonds will be denominated in euros, carry a two-percent annual interest rate, have a maturity period of 12 years, and be tradable on securities markets. The deadline for filing restitution applications was March 1, 2014. The Agency for Restitution received 75,414 property claims, and the adjudication process is still ongoing. Information about the Agency for Restitution and the status of cases is available on its website at www.restitucija.gov.rs/eng/index.php .

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Serbia is a signatory to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention, also known as the Washington Convention), and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The Law on Arbitration and the Law on Management of Courts regulate proceedings and jurisdiction over the recognition of foreign arbitral awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Although Serbia is a signatory to many international treaties regarding international arbitration, enforcement of an arbitration award can be a slow and difficult process. Serbia’s Privatization Agency refused for five years (2007-2012) to recognize an International Chamber of Commerce/International Court of Arbitration award in favor of a U.S. investor. The dispute caused the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which had insured a portion of the investment, to severely restrict its activities in Serbia. The U.S. Embassy facilitated a settlement agreement between the Serbian government and the investor, and OPIC reinstated its programs for Serbia in February 2012, but in 2015 and early 2016 both a first instance and appellate Serbian court dismissed OPIC’s request for enforcement action to collect damages awarded to it by an international arbitration board in the same case. Serbia has no Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States. In the past 10 years, three publicly-known investment disputes have involved U.S. citizens. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Law on Arbitration authorizes the use of institutional and ad hoc arbitration in all disputes, and regulates the enforcement of arbitration awards. The law is modeled after the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNICTRAL Model Law).

Commercial contracts, in which at least one contracting party is a foreign legal or natural person, may incorporate arbitration clauses, invoking the jurisdiction of the Foreign Trade Court of Arbitration of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, or any other foreign institutional arbitration body, including ad hoc arbitration bodies. International arbitration is an accepted means for settling disputes between foreign investors and the state.

Serbia is a signatory to the following international conventions regulating the mutual acceptance and enforcement of foreign arbitration:

  • 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses
  • 1927 Geneva Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitration Decisions
  • 1958 Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention)
  • 1961 European Convention on International Business Arbitration
  • 1965 International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)

Serbia allows for mediation to resolve disputes between private parties. Mediation is a voluntary process and is conducted only when both parties agree. The Law on Mediation regulates mediation procedures in disputes in the following areas of law: property, commercial, family, labor, civil, administrative and in criminal procedures where the parties act freely, unless the law stipulates exclusive authority of a court or other relevant authority.

Mediators can be chosen from the list of the Serbian National Association of Mediators, or from an official registry within the Ministry of Justice. There are two types of mediation: court-annexed and private mediation. A person can also be referred to mediation by a court, advocate, local ombudsman, employees of municipal or state authorities, an employer, or the other party to the conflict.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Serbia’s bankruptcy law is in line with international standards. According to the bankruptcy law, the goal is to provide compensation to creditors via the sale of the assets of a debtor company. The law stipulates automatic bankruptcy for legal entities whose accounts have been blocked for more than three years, and allows debtors and creditors to initiate bankruptcy proceedings. The law ensures a faster and more equitable settlement of creditors’ claims, lowers costs, and clarifies rules regarding the role of bankruptcy trustees and creditors’ councils. Parliament adopted new amendments to the Bankruptcy Law in December 2017. These amendments enable better collection and reduced costs for creditors; provide shorter deadlines for action by bankruptcy trustees and judges; improve the position of secured creditors; anticipate new ways of assessing debtors’ assets by licensed appraisers; and introduce a special rule to lift bans on the execution of debtor assets that are under mortgage, giving rights to the secured creditor to sell such assets under rules that apply to mortgage sales.

Foreign creditors have the same rights as Serbian creditors with respect to initiating or participating in bankruptcy proceedings. Claims in foreign currency are calculated in dinars at the dinar exchange rate on the date the bankruptcy proceeding commenced. Serbia’s Criminal Code criminalizes intentionally causing bankruptcy, and fraud in relation to a bankruptcy proceeding. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Index ranked Serbia 41 out of 190 economies with regards to resolving insolvency, with an average time of two years needed to resolve insolvency and average cost of 20 percent of the estate. The recovery rate was estimated at 34.5 cents on the dollar (https://www.doingbusiness.org/content/dam/doingBusiness/country/s/serbia/SRB.pdf ).

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Serbia has an adequate body of laws for the protection of property rights, but enforcement of property rights through the judicial system can be very slow. A multitude of factors can complicate property titles: restitution claims, unlicensed and illegal construction, limitation of property rights to rights of use, outright title fraud and other issues. Investors are cautioned to investigate thoroughly all property title issues on land intended for investment projects.

During the country’s socialist years, owners of nationalized land became users of the land and acquired rights of use that, until 2003, could not be freely sold or transferred. In July 2015, the government adopted a law that allows for property usage rights to be converted into ownership rights with payment of a market-based fee.

In March 2015, the government implemented new amendments to the Law on Planning and Construction that separated the issuance of permits from conversion issues. These amendments cut the administrative deadline for issuing construction permits for a potential investor to 30 days and introduced a one-stop shop for electronic construction permits.

Serbia’s real-property registration system is based on a municipal cadaster and land books. Serbia has the basis for an organized real estate cadaster and property-title system. However, legalizing tens of thousands of structures built over the past twenty years without proper licenses remains an enormous challenge, as an estimated two million buildings in Serbia are not registered in the cadaster, of which almost half are residential properties. According to some estimates, every third building in Serbia was not built in accordance with legal requirements. In November 2015, the government adopted a new Law on Legalization, which simplified the registration process. Since then, however, only slightly more than 230,000 decisions on legalization have been issued. The deadline set by the law for legalization of all buildings constructed without proper permits is November 2023.

The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index ranks Serbia 58th of 190 countries for time required to register real property (33days).

Intellectual Property Rights

Serbia is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to all major WIPO treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. While Serbia is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Serbian government has taken steps to adhere to the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Serbia’s intellectual property rights (IPR) laws include TRIPS-compliant provisions and are enforced by courts and administrative authorities.

For the most part, Serbia’s IPR legislation is modern and compliant with both the EU acquis communautaire and international standards. According to the EU’s 2019 Progress Report, Serbia has generally aligned its IPR legislation with the acquis.

Procedures for registration of industrial property rights and deposit of works and authorship with the Serbian Intellectual Property Office are straightforward and similar to procedures in most European countries. Relevant information is available at: http://www.zis.gov.rs/home.59.html  .

Enforcement of IPR remains haphazard but is roughly consistent with levels in neighboring countries. The government has a Permanent Coordination Body for IPR enforcement activities with participation from the tax administration, police, customs, and several state inspection services. Cooperation with the Special Department for High-Technology Crime has already resulted in court decisions to impose penalties in test cases against online traders and counterfeits. The Public Procurement Law requires bidders to affirm that they have ownership of any IPR utilized in fulfilling a public procurement contract. Although still present, trade in counterfeit goods—particularly athletic footwear and clothing—is declining in volume as the government has increased its enforcement efforts, including at the border. Upon seizure, however, authorities cannot destroy the goods unless they receive formal instructions from the rights holders who are billed for the storage and destruction of the counterfeit goods.

Inspectorates and customs authorities’ actions against IPR violations are relatively fast. However, enforcement of IPR in the court system often lasts up to two years. Proceedings improved after the creation of semi-specialized IPR courts in 2015 according to the Foreign Investors’ Council. The Serbian Intellectual Property Office continues to train judges on IPR to enable more timely court decisions.

Digital IPR theft is not common, but many digital brands are not properly protected, and there is a risk of trademark squatting.

Developments in 2019 and 2020

Patents: The Law on Patents in 2019 introduced significant changes to an employer’s ability to patent their employees’ inventions. Specifically, the amended law allows employers to file a patent application for a former employee’s innovations for up to one year after their employment ends, providing a higher level of legal certainty for corporations.

Topography of Semiconductor Products: The Law on the Legal Protection of Topography of Semiconductor Products was amended in 2019 and made fully compliant with EU legislation. There is no publicly available data indicating that anyone has ever exercised these rights in Serbia.

Copyright: Amendments made in 2019 to the Law on Protection of Copyright and Related Rights extends the definition of a work of authorship to include the technical and user documentation associated with software. The Law also addresses two additional issues: first, that multiple authors of a software product will all be deemed to be co-authors, and second, that an employee may require their employment contract to include additional remunerations for any software they create that their employer uses. However, if the employment agreement lacks such provisions , the employee is not entitled to remunerations after the fact, even if their software generates revenue for their employer. These provisions also apply to database producers. With respect to digital works, the 2019 amendments draw a clear line between digital and physical works. Owners or purchasers of a digital copy of a video game, TV show episode, or software are not entitled to further share and/or distribute copies.

Enforcement of Copyright: Court procedures for copyright infringement and related rights case are defined comprehensively, for they emphasize the need to preserve evidence and render urgent precautionary measures, including before an official claim might be submitted or the alleged infringing party is able to respond to the claim. The 2019 amendments clarify that a revision (as a legal remedy) may be filed in copyright infringement and related rights cases regardless of the claim’s value. The amendments also explicitly authorize the courts to summon any retailer or user of illegally downloaded mp3 files, software, or TV episodes.

Trademarks: Serbia recently adopted a new Law on Trademarks that came into force on February 1, 2020 and includes two major changes. The first major change is the introduction of an opposition system. As before, the Intellectual Property Office performs an official examination of the refusal grounds for a trademark application, but now the trademark applications are published before the trademark is granted so that interested parties can challenge the validity of the pending registration. Interested parties have three months to file opposition proceedings from the date of publication, and the trademark applicant must respond within another 60 days or opposition is granted and the trademark is refused. This approach is similar to other European countries. The second major change due to Serbia’s new Law is the allowance of parallel imports. Serbia’s previous national trademark exhaustion system authorized brandholders to prevent parallel imports. In contrast, the new worldwide system means that the trademarkholder cannot prohibit others from reselling the products that are legally in circulation anywhere in the world. Serbia is now compliant with U.S. standards. The former national system was aligned with EU legislation, which differentiates between goods circulating within the single market and those that were imported from a country outside of the EU market. During their accession process to the EU, Serbia will be required to align its legislation with that of the EU.

Administrative Fees: Amendments to Serbia’s Law on Administrative Fees entered into force in December 2019 and decreases the filing fee for applications filed electronically compared to those filed on paper. The fees for electronic filing of patents and utility model appplications have been reduced by 50 percent and electronic fees for industrial design and trademark applications have been reduced by 25 percent. These measures are meant to encourage electronic filings and make the process more accessible for individuals and small companies.

Statistics: The Customs Administration and Market Inspection issue periodic reports on seizures, but there is no unified methodology. The Customs Administration publishes daily information on the significant border seizures via its official Internet presentation at: http://www.carina.rs/cyr/Stranice/Default.aspx  and its official Facebook page: and http://www.facebook.com/upravacarina.rs/ 

The market inspectors perform regular on-demand and ex-officio inspections. In 2019, there were 2,146 controls performed and 209,538 articles were seized. The statistics are accessible at: https://mtt.gov.rs/informator-o-radu/ 

The tax administration checks software legality during its regular tax controls of businesses, but it performs only 100 regular inspections per year. The estimated value of Serbia’s illegal software market is approximately USD 51 million. According to the 2018 BSA Global Software Survey, software piracy in Serbia is around 66 percent. Although this is down from 72 percent in 2011, it remains among the highest piracy rates in the Balkan region. Serbia is not included in the U. S. Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=RS 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Serbia welcomes both domestic and foreign portfolio investments and regulates them efficiently. The Government removed restrictions on short-term portfolio investments April 2018. Residents of Serbia are now allowed to purchase foreign short-term securities, and foreigners are allowed to purchase short-term securities in Serbia. Payments related to long-term securities have no restriction.

In 2019, Serbia recorded net outflows of USD 200 million in portfolio investment, according to the National Bank of Serbia (NBS). The Serbian government regularly issues bonds to finance its budget deficit, including short-term, dinar-denominated T-bills, and dinar-denominated, euro-indexed government bonds. The total value of government debt securities issued on the domestic market reached USD 10.8 billion in February 2020, with 67.3 percent in Serbian dinars, 33 percent in euros, and 0.6 percent in U.S. dollars. Serbia also issued a total value of EUR 3 billion of Eurobonds on international market.

Total Serbian government-issued debt instruments on the domestic and international markets stood at USD 14.3 billion in February 2020 (see http://www.javnidug.gov.rs/upload/Bilteni/2020%20Mesecni/Februar/Mesecni%20izvestaj%20Uprave%20za%20javni%20dug%20-%20CIR%20Februar%202020.pdf ).

Serbia’s international credit ratings are improving. In March 2017, Moody’s upgraded the Government of Serbia’s long-term issuer ratings to Ba3, from B1. In December 2019, Standard & Poor’s raised its ratings for Serbia from BB to BB+ with a positive outlook; it maintained the rating on May 1, 2020, while modifying the outlook to stable. Also in September 2019, Fitch raised Serbia’s credit rating from BB to BB+. The improved ratings remain below investment grade.

Serbia’s equity and bond markets are underdeveloped. Corporate securities and government bonds are traded on the Belgrade Stock Exchange (BSE) www.belex.rs . Of 990 companies listed on the exchange, shares of fewer than 100 companies are traded regularly (more than once a week). Total annual turnover on the BSE in 2019 was USD 860 million, which represents an increase of 47 percent. However, trading volumes have declined since 2007, when the total turnover reached USD 2.7 billion.

Established in 1995, the Securities Commission regulates the Serbian securities market. The Commission also supervises investment funds in accordance with the Investment Funds Law. As of April 2020, 18 registered investment funds operate in Serbia-http://www.sec.gov.rs/index.php/en/public-registers-of-information/register-of-investment-funds .

Market terms determine credit allocation. In June 2019, the total volume of issued loans in the financial sector stood at USD 23.3 billion. Average interest rates are decreasing but still higher than the EU average. The business community cites tight credit policies and expensive commercial borrowing for all but the largest corporations as impediments to business expansion. Around 67 percent of all lending is denominated in euros, an additional 0.5 percent in Swiss francs, and 0.6 percent in U.S. dollars, all of which provide lower rates, but also shift exchange-rate risk to borrowers. Foreign investors are able to obtain credit on the domestic market. The government and central bank respect IMF Article VIII, and do not place restrictions on payments or transfers for current international transactions.

Hostile takeovers are extremely rare in Serbia. The Law on Takeover of Shareholding Companies regulates defense mechanisms. Frequently after privatization, the new strategic owners of formerly state-controlled companies have sought to buy out minority shareholders.

Money and Banking System

The NBS regulates the banking sector. Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in Serbia, and foreigners can freely open both local currency and hard currency non-resident accounts. The banking sector comprises 91 percent of the total assets of the financial sector. As of June 2019, consolidation had reduced the sector to 26 banks with total assets of USD 38 billion (about 80 percent of GDP), with 76.5 percent of the market held by foreign-owned banks. The top ten banks, with country of ownership and estimated assets, are Banca Intesa (Italy, USD 5.9 billion); UniCredit (Italy, USD 4.4 billion); Komercijalna Banka (majority Serbian government-owned, now in the process of being sold to Slovenia’s NLB Bank, USD 4.1 billion); Société Générale (France, USD 3.1 billion); Raiffeisen (Austria, USD 3.0 billion); Erste Bank (Austria, USD 2.2 billion) AIK Banka Nis (Serbia, USD 2.1 billion); Eurobank EFG (Greece, USD 1.6 billion); Vojvodjanska Banka (Hungary, USD 2.0 billion) Postanska Stedionica (Serbian government, USD 1.8 billion). See: https://www.nbs.rs/internet/latinica/55/55_4/kvartalni_izvestaj_II_19.pdf 

Four state-owned banks in Serbia went bankrupt after the global financial crisis in 2008. The state compensated the banks’ depositors with payouts of nearly USD 1 billion. A number of state-controlled banks have had financial difficulties since the crisis because of mismanagement and, in one instance, alleged corruption. The banks honored all withdrawal requests during the financial crisis and appear to have regained consumer trust, as evidenced by the gradual return of withdrawn deposits to the banking system. In June 2019, savings deposits in the banking sector reached USD 14 billion, exceeding pre-crisis levels.

The IMF assessed in their July 2019 report on Serbia that since the 2017 Article IV Consultation, the financial sector has shown improved resilience. As of February 2019, banks’ capital adequacy was stable at 22.3 percent, well above the regulatory minimum, while asset quality is improving. Banks’ profitability remains robust with return on assets and return on equity ratios of 1.9 percent and 10.6 percent respectively in February 2019. The IMF assessed in 2018 that authorities had made important progress, with the aggregate stock of non-performing loans (NPLs) falling both in nominal terms and relative to total loans. Since the adoption of an NPL resolution strategy in mid-2015, NPLs have declined from 22.2 to 4.1 percent of the total loan portfolio as of February 2020. NPLs remain fully provisioned. In addition, there are significant foreign-exchange risks, as 74 percent of all outstanding loans are indexed to foreign currencies (primarily the euro). In April 2019, the government adopted a law that protected consumers who had taken mortgage loans denominated in Swiss francs by converting them into euros. Banks and the state shared losses resulting from a reduction of outstanding principal and interest balances. This law enabled borrowers to continue servicing debt at more favorable terms.

The NBS, as chief regulator of the financial system, has announced that cryptocurrencies are not money, and thus are not regulated by law in Serbia. Cryptocurrencies are only mentioned in Serbian legislation in the Law on Preventing of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. NBS is not currently preparing cryptocurrency regulations. NBS said it does not have the authority to issue licenses for trading in cryptocurrencies or for setting up cryptocurrency ATMs. Nor are cryptocurrency traders or internet platforms subject to NBS oversight. NBS stressed that those engaging in cryptocurrency transactions or activities are the sole carriers of risk. However, the Serbian Administration for Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing oversees every transaction in cryptocurrencies performed on ATMs or online in Serbia.

Despite the lack of regulation, trading in cryptocurrencies in Serbia does occur. The company ECD Group has installed an online platform for trading in cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin BTC, Litecoin LTC, Ethereum ETH, Dash, and Bitcoin Cash) at https://ecd.rs/ . The company claims to have over 20,000 registered users of the platform. ECD Group has also installed 10 ATMs for cryptocurrencies in Serbia, most of which are in Belgrade but also in Novi Sad, Nis, and Subotica. EDC claims that it has executed over 100,000 transactions since it was established in 2012. As of June 2019, Xcalibra established a new digital platform (Xcalibra.com) to trade cryptocurrencies in Serbian dinars without mediator currencies, which will avoid currency exchange loss. There is also a Bitcoin Association of Serbia.- http://www.bitcoinasocijacija.org .

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Serbia’s Foreign Investment Law guarantees the right to transfer and repatriate profits from Serbia, and foreign exchange is available. Serbia permits the free flow of capital, including for investment, such as the acquisition of real estate and equipment. Non-residents may maintain both foreign-currency and dinar-denominated bank accounts without restrictions. Investors may use these accounts to make or receive payments in foreign currency. The government amended the Foreign Exchange Law in December 2014 to authorize Serbian citizens to conclude transactions abroad through internet payment systems such as PayPal.

Many companies have raised concerns that the NBS uses excessive enforcement of the Foreign Exchange Law to individually examine all cross-currency financial transactions – including intra-company transfers between foreign headquarters and local subsidiaries, as well as loan disbursements to international firms – thus raising the cost and bureaucratic burden of transactions and inhibiting the development of e-commerce within Serbia. For this reason, international financial institutions and the business community have urged revision of the law. The NBS has defended the measure as necessary to prevent money laundering and other financial crimes.

The NBS targets inflation in its monetary policy, and regularly intervenes in the foreign-exchange market to that end. In 2019, the NBS made net purchases of EUR 2.7 billion on the interbank currency market in order to prevent sharp fluctuations of the dinar. In 2019, the dinar appreciated 0.5 percent against the euro and depreciated 1.5 percent against the U.S. dollar. No evidence has been reported that Serbia engages in currency manipulation. According to the IMF, Serbia maintains a system free of restrictions on current international payments and transfers, except with respect to blocked pre-1991 foreign currency savings abroad. JP Morgan assessed in December 2019 that the Serbian dinar is one of the two most realistically valued currencies among 25 emerging markets globally.

Remittance Policies

Personal remittances constitute a significant source of income for Serbian households. In 2019, total remittances from abroad reached USD 2.7 billion, or approximately 7 percent of GDP.

The Law on Foreign Exchange Operations regulates investment remittances, which can occur freely and without limits. The Investment Law allows foreign investors to freely and without delay transfer all financial and other assets related to the investment to a foreign country, including profit, assets, dividends, royalties, interest, earnings share sales, proceeds from sale of capital and other receivables. The Foreign Investors’ Council, a business association of foreign investors, confirms that there are no limitations on investment remittances in Serbia.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Serbia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Law on Public Enterprises, adopted in February 2016, defines a public enterprise as “an enterprise pursuing an activity of common interest, founded by the State or Autonomous Province or a local government unit.” The law also defines “strategically important companies” as those in which the state has at least a 25 percent ownership share.

The law aimed to introduce responsible corporate management in public companies and strengthen supervision over public companies’ management. The law requires that directors of public companies be selected through a public application procedure and that they not hold any political party positions while serving. The law also requires that a portion of public companies’ profits be paid directly to the state, provincial, or local government budget. However, Transparency International Serbia analyzed implementation of the law in September 2017 and concluded that almost none of these requirements have been implemented, including the professionalization and transparency of management. The full report can be seen at: http://transparentnost.org.rs/images/publikacije/Political_influence_on_public_enterprises_and_media.pdf 

SOEs dominate many sectors of the economy, including energy, transportation, utilities, telecommunications, infrastructure, mining, and natural resource extraction. According to the Agency for Business Registers, Serbia has 549 SOEs, which employ more than 115,000 people, or approximately 4 percent of the formal workforce. A list of all public enterprises is available at the Ministry of Economy’s website: http://privreda.gov.rs/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Spisak-JP-I-DK-Za-Sajt-Avgust-2017.pdf.  In addition to these, at the beginning of 2020, 73 companies with nearly 27,000 employees had not been resolved through privatization or bankruptcy, down from 90 companies in early 2019. The Ministry of Economy is preparing these companies for divestiture (see Privatization Program, below).

A quasi-governmental watchdog agency, the Fiscal Council, assessed in September 2017 that unreformed and un-privatized SOEs represent the most significant threat to Serbia’s state budget. In December 2016, the Serbian government committed to the IMF to significantly reduce the fiscal cost of SOEs by curtailing direct and indirect subsidies, strictly limiting the issuance of new guarantees, and enhancing the accountability, transparency, and monitoring of SOEs. The Fiscal Council said in January 2019 that even when they do not require immediate budget support, as a rule, SOEs operate inefficiently and do not invest enough to keep their businesses healthy. For example, by far the largest SOE in Serbia, the power company EPS, has invested less per year than the value of the depreciation of its assets, the Fiscal Council warned. According to the Agency for Business Registration in Serbia’s annual report, public companies in Serbia generated losses of RSD 574 million (USD 5.7 million) in 2019.

In June 2017, the Fiscal Council published a separate study on state-owned local utility and service companies, and assessed that they received subsidies up to EUR 200 million (0.7 percent of GDP) annually but still generated losses of EUR 50 million. In addition, they have accumulated payment arrears totaling some EUR 150 million. At the same time, the quality of the services they provide is very low. For example, 98 percent of waste ends up at landfills without any processing, compared to 25 percent in the EU. Only 15 percent of wastewater is treated, compared to 85 percent in neighboring countries. The Council assessed that these local companies fail to collect 10 percent of their receivables, and the bulk of unpaid obligations are from SOEs.

In principle, SOEs are treated the same as private sector competitors. SOEs can purchase goods from the private sector and foreign firms under the Public Procurement Law. For example, foreign companies regularly win public tenders for the construction of roads and other infrastructure projects. Under the Public Procurement Law, a buyer must select a domestic supplier if the domestic supplier’s price is no more than five percent higher than a foreign supplier’s price. The Public Procurement Office (PPO) is an independent state body that supervises implementation of the Law on Public Procurement. Private enterprises have the same access to financing, land, and raw materials as SOEs, as well as the same tax burden and rebate policies. However, the IMF estimated that in 2014, SOEs enjoyed benefits amounting to approximately two percent of GDP.

Serbia—not yet a member of the WTO—is not a party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).

Privatization Program

From 2001 through 2015, the Serbian government privatized 3,047 SOEs. The government cancelled 646 of these privatizations, alleging that investors did not meet contractual obligations related to employment and investment. According to the Privatization Law, the deadline for the privatization of the 646 companies in the Privatization Agency’s portfolio was December 31, 2015. However, 73 companies were still unresolved as of April 2020. Among others, these companies include ten spas, which all have unresolved property issues; 13 companies in Kosovo, three veterinary stations which were transferred to local municipalities; 15 companies in restructuring that face bankruptcy, and one company that employs disabled persons.

Most significantly, the Ministry of Economy must still resolve several large, strategically important SOEs. These include the Resavica coal mine, MSK Kikinda, Petrohemija, and others; however, there was progress in privatization in 2018. Copper mining complex RTB Bor was sold to China’s Zijin Mining, and agricultural corporation PKB to Al Dahra of the United Arab Emirates. In addition, fertilizer producer Azotara was sent to bankruptcy. In many cases, closing these companies would mean leaving whole regions of Serbia destitute, since these companies are drivers of local economies. The Serbian government continues to engage foreign investors in the privatization process, inviting them to submit bids, participate in auctions, and purchase company shares. Invitations for privatization and bidding are published on the Ministry of Economy website at http://www.priv.rs/Naslovna .

In December 2018, the French Vinci Airports took over operations of Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport under a 25-year concession agreement. According to official statements, Vinci had offered EUR 501 million to manage the airport and EUR 732 million in investment, as well as an annual fee of up to EUR 16 million. The state telecommunications company Telekom Srbija has garnered investor interest, but the Serbian government has twice canceled its privatization, most recently in December 2015. The government has also concluded the tender for privatization of the second largest bank in the country, Komercijalna Banka, and awarded the contract to Slovenian NLB bank. The sale is expected to be complete by the end of 2020.

9. Corruption

Surveys show that corruption is believed to be prevalent in many areas and remains an issue of concern. Serbia was ranked 91st in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, down from 87th in 2018. However, its score – 39 out of 100 possible points – remained unchanged.

Serbia is a signatory to the Council of Europe’s Civil Law Convention on Corruption and has ratified the Council’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and the UN Convention against Corruption. Serbia also is a member of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), a peer-monitoring organization that provides peer-based assessments of members’ anti-corruption efforts on a continuing basis.

The Serbian government has worked to bring its legal framework for preventing and combating corruption more in line with EU norms, and a dedicated state body—the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) —oversees efforts in this area. The Criminal Code specifies a large number of potential offenses that can be used to prosecute corruption and economic offenses, including but not limited to giving or accepting a bribe, abuse of office, abuse of a monopoly, misfeasance in public procurement, abuse of economic authority, fraud in service, and embezzlement.

As of 2018, Serbia’s National Assembly strengthened anti-corruption laws through three pieces of legislation. The Law on Organization and Competence of State Organs in Suppressing Corruption, Organized Crime for the first time established specialized anti-corruption prosecution units and judicial departments, mandated the use of task forces, and introduced liaison officers and financial forensic experts. The Law on Asset Forfeiture was amended to expand coverage to new criminal offences, and amendments to the Criminal Code made corruption offenses easier to prosecute. Following these legal changes, specialized anti-corruption departments started operations in March 2018 in Novi Sad, Belgrade, Kraljevo, and Niš to prosecute offenders who have committed crimes of corruption valued at less than RSD 200 million (USD 2.1 million). Cases valued above this level are handled by the Organized Crime Prosecutor’s Office.

Serbian law also requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials, and regulates conflict of interest for all public officials. The disclosures cover assets of the officials, spouses, and dependent children. Declarations are publicly available on the ACA website, and failures to file or to fully disclose income and assets are subject to administrative and/or criminal sanctions. Significant changes to assets or income must be reported annually, upon departure from office, and for a period of two years after separation.

Serbian authorities do not require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct related to corruption or other matters, but some professional associations – e.g., for attorneys, engineers and doctors – enforce codes of conduct for their members. Private companies often have internal controls, ethics, or compliance programs designed to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. Large companies often have elaborate internal programs, especially in industries such as tobacco, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and industries regularly involved in public procurement.

Serbian law does not provide protection for non-governmental organizations involved in investigating corruption. However, the criminal procedure code provides witness protection measures, and Serbia enacted a Whistleblower Protection Law in June 2015, under which individuals can report corruption in companies and government agencies and receive court protection from retaliation by their employers. In September 2019, whistleblower Aleksandar Obradovic, an IT expert at the state-owned Krusik munitions plant, was arrested and charged with revealing trade secrets after he leaked documents showing dubious deals between Krusik and private companies, including a deal with the GIM Company in which a cabinet minister’s father was involved. A judge lifted Obradovic’s house arrest and ban on internet use in December 2019. However, prosecutors continue to pursue his case, arguing that Obradovic is not covered by the Whistleblower Protection Law.

U.S. firms interested in doing business or investing in Serbia are advised to perform due diligence before concluding business deals. Legal audits generally are consistent with international standards, using information gathered from public books, the register of fixed assets, the court register, the statistical register, as well as from the firm itself, chambers, and other sources. The U.S. Commercial Service in Belgrade can provide U.S. companies with background information on companies and individuals via the International Company Profile (ICP) service. An ICP provides information about a local company or entity, its financial standing, and reputation in the business community, and includes a site visit to the local company and a confidential interview with the company management. For more information, contact the local office at belgrade@trade.gov and visit www.export.gov/serbia . The U.S. Commercial Service also maintains lists of international consulting firms in Belgrade, local consulting firms, experienced professionals, and corporate/commercial law offices, in addition to its export promotion and advocacy services for U.S. business.

Some U.S. firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to foreign direct investment in Serbia. Corruption appears most pervasive in cases involving public procurement, natural resource extraction, government-owned property, and political influence/pressure on the judiciary and prosecutors.

The Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative maintains a website with updates about anti-corruption efforts in Serbia and the region: http://rai-see.org/ .

Resources to Report Corruption

Serbian Anti-Corruption Agency
Carice Milice 1, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia
+381 (0) 11 4149 100
office@acas.rs

Transparency International Serbia
Transparentnost Serbia
Palmoticeva 27, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia
+381 (0) 11 303 38 27
ts@transparentnost.org.rs

10. Political and Security Environment

Since October 2000, Serbia has had democratically elected governments that have committed publicly to supporting regional stability and security. Governments, however, frequently call early elections at the local and national level, which often leave politicians and elected officials focused on the next campaign. During the 2020 COVID-19 crisis, Serbia’s first regularly scheduled parliamentary elections in several cycles were postponed due to the state of emergency declared by President Vucic. Elections in Serbia are generally free and without incidents of violence, although observers have noted irregularities at polling stations and incidents of vote-buying and pressure on voters. The government has made EU membership a primary goal, but progress toward that goal is slow, with only 18 out of 35 chapters open in Serbia’s EU acquis and only two chapters provisionally closed. Corruption is widespread, and despite some anti-corruption reforms by the government, arrests and investigations generally focus on low or mid-level technocrats, and corruption-related trials are typically drawn-out and subject to a lengthy appeal process.

Protests are not uncommon, particularly in urban areas. Beginning in December 2018 and continuing through early 2020, weekly anti-government demonstrations were held across the country, attracting large crowds in major cities. The protests were broadly peaceful. There were large protests following the presidential election in April 2017 and in 2016 after the illegal demolition of residential buildings in Belgrade. Immediately following Kosovo’s February 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia, groups attacked embassies of countries that recognized Kosovo, resulting in the torching of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.

Organized groups of counter protesters assaulted participants at the 2010 LGBTI Pride Parade in Belgrade. The Serbian government cancelled the three subsequent Pride Parades at the last minute, ostensibly because of threats of violence by the same nationalist and extremist groups that attempted to disrupt the 2010 parade. Since 2014, the government has allowed Pride Parades to take place in central Belgrade, under heavy police protection and often sparsely attended, but without incident. Following its sixth successive incident-free parade, Serbia was selected to host EuroPride in 2022, indicating some confidence that a recurrence of wide-scale violence was unlikely.

Since 2017, there has been an increase in criminal activity linked to transnational organized crime groups. Sports hooliganism in Serbia is often associated with organized crime, and violent hooliganism remains a concern at matches of rival soccer teams within Serbia.

A number of ultra-nationalist organizations, such as Obraz and Nasi, are present in Serbia. These organizations have harassed Serbian political leaders, local NGOs, minority groups, and media outlets considered to be pro-Western, but these incidents are infrequent. Incidents include attacks on Roma settlements and anti-Roma riots in 2010, 2012, and 2013, and attacks on shops and bakeries owned by ethnic Albanians in Vojvodina in 2014. In the 2016 parliamentary elections, three far-right political parties were elected to the National Assembly: the Serbian Radical Party, the Democratic Party of Serbia, and Dveri.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Please note that the following tables include FDI statistics from three different sources, and therefore will not be identical. Table 2 uses BEA data when available, which measures the stock of FDI by the market value of the investment in the year the investment was made (often referred to as historical value). This approach tends to undervalue the present value of FDI stock because it does not account for inflation. BEA data is not available for all countries, particularly if only a few US firms have direct investments in a country. In such cases, Table 2 uses other sources that typically measure FDI stock in current value (or historical values adjusted for inflation). Even when Table 2 uses BEA data, Table 3 uses the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) to determine the top five sources of FDI in the country. The CDIS measures FDI stock in current value, which means that if the U.S. is one of the top five sources of inward investment, U.S. FDI into the country will be listed in this table. That value will come from the CDIS and therefore will not match the BEA data.

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (M USD ) 2019 $51,421 2018 $50,597 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD , stock positions) 2019 $206 2018 $145 BEA data available at
http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_data.htm
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD , stock positions) 2019 $1.2 2018 $3 BEA data available at
http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_data.htm
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 0.4% 2018 0.3%

*Source of GDP data: Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Serbia at https://www.mfin.gov.rs/dokumenti/makroekonomski-i-fiskalni-podaci/ https://www.mfin.gov.rs/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Tabela-1-Osnovni-makroekonomski-indikatori-2020.xlsx
https://www.mfin.gov.rs/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Tabela-1-Osnovni-makroekonomski-indikatori-2020.xlsx *Source of FDI data: National Bank of Serbia (NBS) at http://www.nbs.rs/internet/cirilica/80/platni_bilans.html 

*Source of FDI data: National Bank of Serbia (NBS) at http://www.nbs.rs/internet/cirilica/80/platni_bilans.html 

Source for Host Country Data:
NBS data on FDI significantly differ from U.S. data. The NBS calculates FDI according to the country from which the investment arrives, rather than by the ownership of the investing company. Frequently, U.S. investments in Serbia are carried out through subsidiaries of U.S. companies located in another European country. If a U.S. company invests in Serbia through a Dutch subsidiary, for example, the NBS records the investment as coming from the Netherlands rather than from the United States.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions) 2018
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 39,800 100% Total Outward $3,824 100%
The Netherlands $7,378 18% Bosnia and Herzegovina $981 26%
Austria $4,329 11% Montenegro $806 21%
Germany $2,564 6% Slovenia $562 15%
Cyprus $2,511 6% Russian Federation $195 5%
France $2,216 5% Switzerland $169 4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.