The Republic of North Macedonia signed the Prespa Agreement on June 17, 2018, resolving a decades-long name dispute with Greece and opening the possibility of fulfilling its aspirations to join the EU and NATO. The NATO member states’ permanent representatives signed North Macedonia’s NATO Accession Protocol on February 6, and 11 countries have ratified the Protocol as of April 2019. On May 29, 2019, the European Commission recommended the European Council open accession negotiations with North Macedonia based on the progress achieved and sustained momentum on reforms. EU member states will decide whether to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia in summer or fall 2019. Progress towards EU and NATO membership has resulted in positive economic growth, with a 2018 fourth quarter GDP boost of 3.7 percent, and increases in FDI. Since the establishment of the current government in June 2017, 17 separate investments, worth a combined total of around USD 175 million, now exist at varying stages of development. On April 2, 2019, Greece and North Macedonia signed a series of bilateral agreements on defense, energy, civil aviation, and technology.
Attracting FDI is one of the government’s main pillars of economic growth and job creation. No laws or practices exist that discriminate against foreign investors. In 2019, a number of countries and foreign companies announced investments in the country 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 car manufacturers, and cooperative government assistance attracted foreign auto parts companies. The government’s attitude towards FDI, as well as policies it has in place, are conducive to U.S. investment, and a number U.S. companies successfully operate in North Macedonia.
The 2019 World Bank’s Doing Business Report ranked North Macedonia the 10th best place in the world for doing business, up one spot from the year before. Fitch affirmed North Macedonia’s BB credit rating and S&P affirmed its credit rating of the country at BB- with a stable outlook. Transparency International ranked North Macedonia 93rd out of 180 countries in its 2019 Corruption Perception index, up 14 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 in similar circumstances. North Macedonia has simplified regulations and procedures for large foreign investors operating in its TIDZ. Large foreign companies operating in the zones generally report positive experiences doing business and good relations with government officials. However, the country’s overall regulatory environment is complex, and frequent regulatory and legislative changes, coupled with inconsistent interpretations of the rules, create an unpredictable business environment that allows for corruption. The government generally implements laws, but there are reports that some officials engaged in corruption, and some NGOs assess the government’s dominant role in the economy created opportunities for corruption. The current government has pledged to enhance transparency and rule of law.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||93 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||10 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||84 of 126||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2017||$43||http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2017||$4,880||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Toward 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” ( ), 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, , 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, , 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 in developing their physical facilities.
The government maintains contact with large foreign investors through frequent meetings and formal surveys to solicit feedback. Large foreign investors also can directly and easily contact government leaders for assistance to resolve issues. The Foreign Investors Council, , 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 example, investment in the production of weapons and narcotics is subject to government approval. Investors in some 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 review of foreign direct investments in a non-public procedure. 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 . 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 has been no third-party review of the government’s investment policy in the past three years. The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) last review of North Macedonia’s trade policy, published in 2014, is available at: . There is no OECD investment policy review available on North Macedonia. The most recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) investment policy review on North Macedonia, from March 2012, is available at: . 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.
All legal entities in the country must register with the 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, . All investors may register a company online at . 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 World Bank’s Doing Business Ranking 2019 put North Macedonia 47th in the world for ease of starting a business, unchanged from 2018.
The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad, but it also does not promote or provide incentives for outward investments. Publicly reported total outward investments are small, worth approximately USD 81 million, the majority of which are in the Balkans region and in the Netherlands.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
North Macedonia does not have a bilateral investment or double taxation treaty with the United States.
North Macedonia has concluded an Agreement for Promotion and Protection of Foreign Direct Investments with the following countries: Albania, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Iran, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and Ukraine.
North Macedonia is a signatory of three multilateral Free Trade Agreements: the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU member-states, giving North Macedonia duty-free access to 650 million consumers; the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein; and the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Kosovo. Bilateral Free Trade Agreements are in force with Turkey and Ukraine.
There are no recent or upcoming changes to the tax regime that will concern foreign investors. No U.S. companies operating in North Macedonia have raised tax concerns with U.S. Embassy officials.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The government has made progress adopting reform priorities called for by the EU, NATO, and other bodies, leading to well defined laws, institutional structures, and regulatory legal frameworks. However, laws are not regularly prepared 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 may enable corruption. The current government has published all incentives for businesses operating in North Macedonia, which are standardized and available to domestic and international companies. Companies worth more than USD 1 billion that want to invest in North Macedonia can also negotiate terms different from the standard incentives. Moreover, the government can offer customized incentive packages if the investment is of strategic importance. The legal regulatory and accounting systems used by the government are consistent with international norms.
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 for public review and comments. 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, parliament, or signed by the corresponding minister or director. Public comments are not published or made public as part of the regulation.
North Macedonia accepts International Accounting Standards, which are transparent and 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 the Unique National Electronic Register of Regulations (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 comments, and to allow 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 National Plan for Quality Management of Public Administration, which focus on policy creation and coordination, strengthening of 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.
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 their implementation.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
North Macedonia’s legal system is based on civil law with adversarial-style elements. The constitution provides for independent courts. The country has written commercial law and contract law. There are specialized courts that handle commercial and contractual disputes between businesses. Contracts are legally enforced by civil and administrative court rulings, and sporadically, with mediation. Enforcement actions are appealable and adjudicated in the national court system. Cases involving international elements can be decided in international arbitration.
North Macedonia has obligatory mediation in disputes between companies up to USD16,871 in value as a precondition before going to court. Some companies complain the measure imposes additional costs and protracts enforcement of contracts.
Numerous international reports have cited North Macedonia’s failure to fully respect the rule of law. In 2018, the government demonstrated greater respect for judicial independence and impartiality compared to previous years. However, limited judicial independence, politicization of the judicial oversight body, and inadequate funding of the judiciary continued to be concerns. Enforcing contracts and resolving commercial disputes in North Macedonia’s court system is time-consuming, costly, and subject to political pressures.
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 .An English language version of the consolidated Law on Technological Industrial Development Zones is available at: .. No other new major laws, regulations, or judicial decisions related to foreign investment were passed during the past year, however some existing laws received small amendments.
The Trade Companies Law
This is the primary law regulating business activity in North Macedonia ( ). It defines the types of companies allowed to operate in the country, as well as procedures and regulations for their establishment and operation. All foreign investors are granted national treatment and are entitled to establish and operate all types of private and joint-stock companies. Foreign investors are not required to obtain special permission from state-authorized institutions other than what is customarily required by law.
Law on Privatization of State-owned Capital
Foreign investors are guaranteed equal rights with domestic investors when bidding on shares of companies owned by the government. There are no legal impediments to foreign investors participating in the privatization of domestic companies.
Foreign Loan Relations Law
This law regulates the credit relations of domestic entities with those abroad. Specifically, it regulates the terms by which foreign investors can convert their claims into deposits, shares, or equity investments with the debtor or bank. The Foreign Loan Relations Law also enables rescheduled debt to be converted into foreign investment in certain sectors or in secondary capital markets.
Law on Investment Funds
The Law on Investment Funds governs the conditions for incorporation of investment funds and investment fund management companies, the manner and supervisory control of their operations, and the process of selecting a depository bank. The law does not discriminate against foreign investors in establishing open-ended or closed investment funds.
Law on Takeover of Shareholding Companies
This law regulates the conditions and procedures for purchasing more than 25 percent of the voting shares of a company. The company must be listed on an official stock market, have at least 25 employees, and have initial capital of EUR 2 million. This law does not apply to shares in state-owned enterprises. .
Law on Foreign Exchange Operations
This law establishes the terms for capital transactions. It regulates current and capital transactions between residents and non-residents, transfers of funds across borders, as well as all foreign exchange operations. All current transactions (e.g., all transactions that are eventually registered in the current account of the balance of payments, such as trade and private transfers) of foreign entities are allowed. There are no specific restrictions for non-residents wishing to invest in North Macedonia. Foreign investors may repatriate both profits and funds acquired by selling shares after paying regular taxes and social contributions. In case of expropriation, foreign investors have the right to choose their preferred form of reimbursement.
Profit Tax Law
The corporate profit tax rate was raised from 10 percent to 15 percent on January 1, 2019. Since 2006, a withholding tax of 15 percent was levied on foreign legal entities as well as on income from dividends, interest, management consulting, financial, technical, administrative, research and development services, leasing of assets, awards, insurance premiums, telecommunication services, author fees, sports and entertainment activities, and rent proceeds from lease of real estate. The withholding tax does not apply to legal entities from countries that have signed an agreement to avoid double taxation with North Macedonia. The United States does not have such an agreement with North Macedonia.
All individual employment contracts and collective agreements signed between unions and employers are regulated by the Labor Law. ( ) The law also regulates the implementation of rights, obligations, and responsibilities of the employee and employer. A general collective agreement clarifies and often enhances the basic rights and benefits provided for in the law. In addition, there are collective agreements applicable in some industries or sectors, which further specify relations between employers and employees in those industries.
Law on Financial Discipline
Effective from May 1, 2014, this law regulates timely payment of liabilities between private sector legal entities, and liabilities stemming from business relations between private sector and public sector legal entities ( ). Under the law, private entities must settle payment liabilities within 60 days of the day when the liability occurred. Failure to comply with the provisions of the law results in high fines both for legal entities and for the responsible person.
Law on Financial Support of Investments
On May 3, 2018 the Parliament adopted the Law on Financial Support of Investments, . This law regulates the types, amount, conditions, manner, and procedure for providing financial assistance to eligible foreign and domestic investors. In March 2019, the government proposed amendments to this law, lowering some of the criteria for businesses’ eligibility for financial assistance from the government.
Law on Technological Industrial Development Zones
The Law on Technological Industrial Development Zones ( ) regulates the incentives for investing in technological industrial development zones as well as the conditions, manner and procedure for the establishment, development, and operation of the zones. It also regulates the business activities performed in the zones, the procedure for acquisition of facilities in the zones, the procedure for issuance of a construction permit in the zones, and the procedure for leasing construction land in the zones.
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, to determine if the aid adversely influences competition and trade under the Law on Control of State Aid (Official Gazette 145/10) and the Law on State Aid (Official Gazette 24/03). More information on the CPC’s activities is available at . There were no significant competition cases during the past year.
Expropriation and Compensation
The Law on Expropriation ( ) provides that seizure and limitation of the right to ownership and property rights of real estate could be applied for the purpose of realization of public interest and for the purpose of building facilities and carrying 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 construction of highways and railways to 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.
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 award from arbitration under this law has the validity of a final judgment and can be enforced without delay. Any award decision from arbitration outside North Macedonia is considered a foreign arbitral award and is recognized and enforced in accordance with the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral awards.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
North Macedonia accepts binding international arbitration in disputes with foreign investors. Foreign arbitration awards are generally recognized and enforceable in the country provided the conditions of enforcement set out in the Convention and the Law on International Private Law (Official Gazette of the Republic of North Macedonia, No. 87/07 and No. 156/2010; ) are met. So far, the country has been involved in three reported investor-state disputes brought in front of international arbitration panels. None of those cases involved U.S. citizens or companies. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitration awards issued against the Government of North Macedonia. The country does not have a history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
North Macedonia accepts international arbitration decisions on investment disputes. The country’s Law on International Commercial Arbitration is modeled on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration. 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 are 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 USD16,871 in value before companies can go to court.
There is no tracking system of cases involving SOEs involved in investment disputes in North Macedonia, and post is not aware of any particular examples.
North Macedonia’s bankruptcy law governs the settlement of creditors’ claims against insolvent debtors. Bankruptcy proceedings may be initiated over the property of a debtor, be it a legal entity, an individual, a deceased person, joint property of spouses, or business. However, bankruptcy proceedings may not be implemented over a public legal entity or property owned by the Republic of North Macedonia. The World Bank’s Doing Business Report for 2019 (benchmarked to May 2018) ranked North Macedonia 10th out of 190 countries for ease of doing business.
4. Industrial Policies
Both the Law on Technological Industrial Development Zones (TIDZs) and the Law on Financial Support of Investments offer incentives to investors. Investors in the TIDZs are eligible for tax exemptions for a period of up to 10 years of operation in proportion to the size of investment and number of employees. Investors in the TIDZs are exempt from paying duties for equipment and machines as well as municipality tax for construction. The land lease rate is symbolic, and investors are eligible for a 10 percent grant for the cost of construction of a plant and new machinery, as well as a grant for improving competitiveness. North Macedonia’s legislative framework for FDI is generally harmonized with EU state aid regulations.
The salaries of employees working for TIDZ employers are exempt from personal income tax for a period of up to ten years after the first month in which the employer starts paying out salaries.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
North Macedonia currently has 15 free economic zones in various stages of development throughout the country. The Directorate for Technological Industrial Development Zones ( ) is responsible for establishing, developing, and supervising 14 of them, including seven fully operational TIDZ: Skopje 1 and 2, Prilep, Stip, Kicevo, Struga and Strumica. The Tetovo TIDZ is a public-private partnership. U.S. companies operate in TIDZs throughout North Macedonia: ARC Automotive (Skopje 1), Aptiv (Skopje 1), Kemet (Skopje 1), Gentherm (Prilep), Lear (Tetovo), and Adient (Stip and Strumica). The Dura Automotive project in TIDZ Skopje 1 is under construction.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
North Macedonia does not impose performance requirements, such as mandating local employment (working level or management level) or domestic content in goods or technology, as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding an investment. Foreign investors in the TIDZ may employ staff from any country. In 2016, North Macedonia simplified the procedure for expatriates to obtain permission to live and work in the country.
North Macedonia does not impose a “forced localization” policy for data. The government does not prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country. U.S. Embassy Skopje is not aware of any requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. Furthermore, there are no measures that prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country. However, based on the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in May 2018, North Macedonia’s Directorate for Personal Data Protection is preparing amendments to the Law on Personal Data Protection to harmonize North Macedonia’s laws with the new EU regulations.
Depending on the sector and type of investment, various government authorities oversee and assess the fulfillment of investment promises made by foreign direct investments (FDI). The government entities include the Agency for Foreign Investments and Export Promotion (InvestNorthMacedonia), the Directorate for Technological Industrial Development Zones (TIDZs), and the Ministry of Economy.
There is no discriminatory export or import policy affecting foreign investors. Almost 96 percent of total foreign trade is unrestricted. Current tariffs and other customs-related information are published on the website of the Customs Administration ( )
5. Protection of Property Rights
Laws protect ownership of both movable and real property, but implementation of the laws is inconsistent. Mortgages and liens exist and are regularly used, 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 World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report ranked North Macedonia 46th out of 190 for the ease of registering property, two places up from 2018, and 13th 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 the foreign company registers a local company, 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
As an EU candidate country, North Macedonia must harmonize its intellectual property rights (IPR) laws and regulations with EU standards and demonstrate adequate enforcement of those laws. The European Commission’s 2018 report on North Macedonia confirmed the country’s legislative framework has a sufficient level of alignment with the EU acquis, but its collective management systems needs further improvement. The report recommended North Macedonia step up efforts to investigate and prosecute infringements of IPR, improve coordination among the law enforcement institutions through establishing an information platform for exchange of data, and raise public awareness on the importance of protecting IPR according to international best practices.
Responsibility for 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 or 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, but it usually focuses on small sellers in open-air markets. Measures taken by the coordination body are rare and mostly target infringement of trademarks.
While North Macedonia has most necessary IPR laws in place, infringements of IPR are frequent, and protection of IPR by the court system should be improved. Prosecutors and judges in both civil and criminal cases are aware of IPR but lack adequate experience due to the small number of IPR cases and so do not have specialized courts to handle IPR cases. Many rights holders do not pursue legal action, as IPR infringers usually lack the financial resources to pay damages anyway. Courts reportedly are reluctant to find accused infringers of IPR guilty due to the criminalization of counterfeiting and 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 EUR 5,000, (USD5,624), 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 listed in the U.S. Trade Representative Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List. However, the government currently uses, and has used for the past ten years, unlicensed Microsoft software. In early 2018, the government initiated talks to resolve the issue.
North Macedonia joined the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 1993 and in 1994 became a member of WIPO’s Permanent Committee of Industrial Property Protection Information. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at
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 2018 was USD3.1 billion, a 19 percent rise from the previous year. The main index, MBI10, increased by 36.6 percent, reaching 3,469 points at year-end. Foreign portfolio investors accounted for an averaged 13.5 percent of total MSE turnover, 3.9 percentage points less than in 2017. The authorities do not discriminate against foreign portfolio investments in any way.
There is an effective regulatory system for portfolio investments, and North Macedonia’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) licenses all MSE members for trading in securities and regulates the market. In 2018, the total number of listed companies was 105, two less than a year prior, but total turnover increased by 119.8 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 Central Bank 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 2019, the International Monetary Fund assessed that North Macedonia’s banking sector is well-capitalized, liquid, profitable, and banks comfortably meet capital adequacy requirements and maintain sound aggregate liquidity buffers. Domestic companies secure financing primarily from their own cash flow and from 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. It is a highly concentrated system, with the three largest banks controlling 57.1 percent of the banking sector’s total assets of about USD9.2 billion, and collecting 69.6 percent of total household deposits. The largest commercial bank in the country has estimated total assets of about USD 2 billion, and the second largest of about USD 1.7 billion. The nine smallest banks, which have individual market share of less than 5 percent, account for one-fifth of total banking sector assets. Foreign banks or branches are allowed to establish operations in the country at equal terms as domestic operations, subject to licensing and prudent supervision from the Central Bank. In 2018, foreign capital remained present in 14 of North Macedonia’s 15 banks, and was dominant in 11 banks, controlling 71.1 percent of total banking sector assets, 79.9 percent of total loans, and 70 percent of total deposits.
According to the National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia (NBRNM – the Central Bank) the banking sector’s non-performing loans at the end of the third quarter of 2018 (latest available data) were 5 percent of total loans, dropping by 1.6 percentage points on an annual basis. Total profits at the end of the third quarter of 2018 reached USD 144 million, which was 66.2 percent higher than in the same period of the previous year.
Banks’ liquid assets at the end of the third quarter of 2018 were 30.6 percent of total assets, which was 1.1 percentage points higher compared to the same period of 2017, remaining comfortably high. In 2018 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 of September 2018 was 16.3 percent, 0.5 percent higher compared to the same period of the previous year. Only one individual bank had a ratio below the required minimum.
There are no restrictions on the ability of foreigners to establish bank accounts. All commercial banks and the Central Bank 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 was in jeopardy. There is no intention for implementing or allowing 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
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 a pegged 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.
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 households in North Macedonia. In 2018, net private transfers amounted to USD 2 billion, accounting for 15.8 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. The 81 local governments also own local public utility enterprises. In March 2018, the 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 non-market based advantages, such as preferential access to land and raw materials.
There is no published registry with complete information on all SOEs in the country.
A 2016 report by Transparency International-Macedonia commented that “policy decisions related to SOEs often comply with the political needs of the ruling political establishment, such as needs for employment…rather than with the actual needs of the SOEs.” When it took office in June 2017, the new government declared it would change that practice. Following reports in 2018 and 2019 that party members and family were being hired in SOEs, the government announced it would review SOE hiring decisions. As a result of the review, several individuals have already resigned. 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 process is ongoing.
North Macedonia’s privatization process is almost complete, and private capital is dominant in the market. The government is trying to sell two remaining state-owned loss-making companies in a non-discriminatory process through international tenders. 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.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Responsible business conduct (RBC) is a nascent concept in North Macedonia. The government has not taken any major measures to encourage RBC and has not defined RBC or policies to actively promote or encourage it. The government has not conducted a “National Action Plan” on RBC and does not factor RBC policies into its procurement decisions.
There have not been any high-profile controversial instances of private sector impact on human rights or resolution of such cases in the recent past. In the past, the government of North Macedonia has failed to fully enforce laws related to labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws and regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts.
North Macedonia passed the Law on Trade Companies in 2004 and the Securities Law in 2005 that govern corporate governance. Together these laws provide a clear distinction between the rights and duties of shareholders and the operations and management of the company. Shareholders generally cannot be held liable for the acts or omissions of the company.
The American Chamber of Commerce in North Macedonia has a committee on Community Engagement and Responsible Business Conduct, which, beginning in 2015, organizes seminars on relevant topics and maintains an online database of corporate social responsibility activities carried out by over 260 companies ( ). The government does not take any measures to encourage adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsibility Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. North Macedonia does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
North Macedonia has laws intended to counter bribery, abuse of official position, and conflicts-of-interest; 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 Prevention of Corruption ( ), established in 2002 to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest did not function from March 2018 until 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 has restarted its work. 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. In the 2018 Corruption Perception Index, Transparency International ranked North Macedonia 93rd out of 180 countries on the, an improvement of 14 places from 2017.
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, preview of tender documentation without registration in the system, e-payment for use of the system, electronic archiving, and the electronic submission of complaints.
The government does not require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct prohibiting bribery of public officials. A number of NGOs focus on anti-corruption, transparency in public finances, 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 Prevention of Corruption
Ms. Biljana Ivanovska, President
Dame Gruev 1
1000 Skopje, North Macedonia
+389 2 321 5377
Public Prosecution Office for Fighting Organized Crime and Corruption
Ms. Vilma Ruskovska, Chief
Boulevard Krste Misirkov BB, Sudska Palata
1000 Skopje, North Macedonia
+389 2 321 9884
Ministry of Interior
Organized Crime and Corruption Department
Mr. Lazo Velkovski, Head of the Department
Dimce Mircev bb
1000 Skopje, Macedonia
+ 389 2 314 3150
Transparency International – Macedonia
Ms. Slagjana Taseva, President
Naum Naumovski Borce 58
P.O. Box 270
1000 Skopje, North Macedonia
+389 2 321 7000
10. Political and Security Environment
North Macedonia generally has been free from political violence over the past decade, although interethnic relations are strained at times. Public protests, demonstrations, and strikes occur sporadically, and often result in disruptions, particularly near the center of Skopje.
On April 27, 2017 after a majority of parliament members elected Talat Xhaferi as Speaker, an organized attack leveraged ongoing protests to storm the parliament building. More than 100 people were injured, including the now Prime Minister 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 Department of Public Security Bureau (who had previously served as Minister of Interior), former security officers, and others. Prosecutors are conducting a separate investigation into the organizers of the parliament attack, and named former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, the former Speaker of Parliament, two former ministers, and a former director of the Department of Security and Counterintelligence service as parties of interest in the investigation.
There is no widespread anti-American or 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.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Foreign investors, especially those in labor-intensive industries, find North Macedonia’s competitive labor costs and high number of English speakers attractive. The average net wage in 2018 was USD 470 per month, but reportedly about 60 percent of workers receive wages lower than that average. In July 2018, the minimum net wage was raised to MKD 12,165 (USD 183) per month. The government has promised to raise the minimum wage to MKD 16,000 (USD 320) per month by the end of its mandate in 2020.
In 2018, North Macedonia’s labor force consisted of 957,623 people, of which 759,054 (45.1 percent) were officially employed and 198,569 (20.7 percent) were officially unemployed. North Macedonia’s employed labor force is roughly 60.4 percent male and 39.6 percent female. The largest number of employees are engaged in manufacturing, agriculture, and trade. The total unemployment rate for youth ages 15 to 24 years old is 45 percent. About 20 percent of the unemployed have a university education. Informal sectors of the economy, including agriculture, are estimated to account for 22 percent of employment.
Despite the relatively high unemployment rate, foreign investors report difficulties in recruiting and retaining workers. Positions requiring technical and specialized skills can be especially difficult to fill, due to a mismatch between industry needs, the educational system, and graduates’ aspirations. Many well-trained professionals with marketable skills, such as IT specialists, switch to outsourcing, or choose to work outside the country. To address shortages of factory workers, the government encourages the dispersal of labor-intensive manufacturing investments to different parts of the country, and companies often bus in workers from other areas. The Operational Plan for Active Programs and Measures for Employment and Services in the Labor Market for 2019 ( ) defines programs and services for employment that will stimulate job creation, provide subsidies for companies creating new jobs, and deliver vocational training for unemployed persons.
Relations between employees and employers are regulated by individual employment contracts, collective agreements, and labor legislation. The Law on Working Relations regulates all forms of employment relations between employees and employers to include retirement, lay-offs, and union operations. Severance and unemployment insurance are also covered by the same law. Most labor-related laws are in line with international labor standards and generally within recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Labor laws apply to both domestic and foreign investments, and employees in both segments are equally protected.
There is no limitation on the number of employed foreign nationals or the duration of their stay. Work permits are required for foreign nationals and an employment contract must be signed upon hiring. The employment contract, which must be in writing and kept on the work premises, should address the following provisions: description of the employee’s duties, duration of the contract (finite or indefinite), effective and termination dates, location of the work place, hours of work, rest and vacation periods, qualifications and training, salary, and pay schedule.
The law establishes a 40-hour work week with a minimum 24-hour rest period, paid vacation of 20 to 26 workdays, and sick leave benefits. Employees may not legally work more than an average of eight hours of overtime per week over a three-month period, or 190 hours per year. According to the collective agreement for the private sector between employers and unions, employees in the private sector have a right to overtime pay at 135 percent of their regular rate. In addition, the law entitles employees who work more than 150 hours of overtime per year to a bonus of one month’s salary. Although the government sets occupational safety and health standards for employers, those standards are not enforced in the informal sector.
Trade unions are interest-based, legally autonomous labor organizations. Membership is voluntary and activities are financed by membership dues. About 22 percent of legally employed workers are dues-paying union members. Although legally permitted, there are no unions in the factories operating in the free economic zones. Most unions, with the exception of a few branch unions, are generally not independent of the influence of the government officials, political parties, and employers.
There are two main associations of trade unions: The Union of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Each association is comprised of independent branch unions from the public and private business sectors. Both associations, along with the representatives of the Organization of Employers of North Macedonia and representatives from relevant government ministries, are members of the Economic – Social Council. The Council meets regularly to discuss issues of concern to both employers and employees and reviews amendments to labor-related laws.
The rights of workers in the industry branches are regulated by the National Collective Bargaining Agreements, and there are two on the national level – one for the public and one for private sectors. Only about 25 percent of the labor force are covered by these agreements. National collective agreements in the private sector are negotiated between representative labor unions and representative employer associations. The national collective agreement for the public sector is negotiated between the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and labor unions. Separate contracts are negotiated by union branches at the industry or company level. Collective bargaining agreements are most prevalent in the metal industry, private sector education, and court administration.
An out-of-court mechanism for labor dispute resolution was introduced in 2015 with assistance from the ILO. North Macedonia’s labor regulations comply with international labor standards and are in line with the ILO. In 2018, the Government adopted a number of changes in the Law on Labor relations, most of which related to workers’ rights in procedures for termination of work contracts and severance pay.
12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
Financing and insurance for exports, investment, and development projects are made possible through agencies such as the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA); the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EX-IM); the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC); the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank); the International Finance Corporation (IFC); the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA); and the Southeast Europe Equity Fund (SEEF). Most of the funding for major projects is achieved through co-financing agreements, especially in the transportation and energy infrastructure development fields.
OPIC insurance and project financing have been available to investors in North Macedonia since 1996. OPIC’s three main activities are risk insurance, project finance, and investment funding. MIGA provides investment guarantees against certain non-commercial risks (i.e., political risk insurance) to eligible foreign investors who make qualified investments in developing member countries.
Although its primary focus is export assistance, including direct loans and capital guarantees aimed at the export of non-military items, EX-IM also provides insurance policies to protect against both political and commercial risks. TDA, SEEF, the World Bank, and the EBRD focus more directly on financing agreements.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
* 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||$5,634||100%||Total Outward||$81||100%|
|Netherlands||$450||8.0%||Bosnia & Herzegovina||$15||18.3%|
|“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||$360||100%||All Countries||$331||100%||All Countries||$29||100%|
|United States||$257||71.4%||United States||$250||75.5%||Austria||$13||44.8%|
The results from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are consistent with host country data. Sources of portfolio investments are not tax heavens.
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy – Skopje
1000 Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia
Tel: +389 2 310 2403