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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.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Montenegrin government offers financial incentives to investors based on the value of their investment. Both Montenegrin and foreign entities or investors can benefit from these investment incentives.

As part of its efforts to attract investment, the government adopted the Decree on Direct Investment Incentives, with a goal to improve the business climate in Montenegro and stimulate economic growth through increased inflow of direct investments and job creation. For investments greater than EUR 500,000 (approximately USD 617,280) that create at least 20 new jobs within three years from the date of signing the incentive agreement, both domestic and foreign investors can apply for cash grants in the amount of EUR 3,000-10,000 (approximately USD 3,700-12,345) per every new job created. For investments in the North and Central region (except for the capital Podgorica), the minimum investment is EUR 250,000 (approximately USD 380,640) with a threshold of creating 10 new jobs. For capital investments greater than EUR 10 million (approximately USD 12.3 million) that create at least 50 new jobs, incentives can be awarded in the amount of up to 17 percent of the investment value. The Decree also provides for refunds on infrastructure development costs incurred in the process of completing the investment project. The exact amount of the incentives is determined in accordance with the criteria defined in the Decree. The decision on the incentive award is approved by the government and the funds are payable in three equal installments.

The incentive program was administered by the Secretariat for Development Projects and after establishment of MIA they will take oved and continue with the incentive program implementation. More information will be available soon on the Agency’s website.

The government also offers, in the partnership with local municipalities, some incentives through business zones, which exist in several cities outside the capital.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In 2004, Montenegro adopted the Law on Free Zones, which offers businesses benefits and exemptions from custom duties, taxes, and other duties in specified free trade zones. The Port of Bar is currently the only free trade zone in Montenegro.  All free zone users have many benefits provided by the law and other regulations (import free of customs duties, customs fees and VAT; storage of goods in a duty free regime for an unlimited period of time; low corporate tax, simplified procedures) in addition to the use of infrastructure, port handling services, and telecommunication services. All regulations relating to free trade zones are in compliance with EU legal standards.

AD Luka Bar (Port of Bar Holding)
Obala 13. Jula bb
85000 Bar, Montenegro
+382 30 312 666
Website: http://www.lukabar.me/ ; Email: lukabar@t-com.me

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government does not impose any performance requirements as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding an investment. There is a defined package of incentives offered to foreign investors, including duty exemptions for imported equipment.

AmCham Montenegro and the Foreign Investors’ Council announced that Montenegro has improved and liberalized its business environment due to amendments to the Law on Foreigners.  This law addressed previous requirements placed on hiring practices. According to revisions to the law, businesses no longer need to prove that there are no local citizens of the required vocational profile that are available for a particular job before the company decides to hire a foreigner.

The government does not use “forced localization,” the policy in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology. The only exception is an agreement with a Chinese company that is constructing the country’s first national highway. The agreement for this project, which is currently the largest infrastructure project in Montenegro, requires that 30 percent of the labor contract be engaged locally.

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 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

While there are several good examples of companies undertaking responsible business conduct (RBC) in Montenegro, practices are still developing and are not adopted evenly across the private sector. The government, together with various business organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the international community, organizes events in order to promote and encourage RBC. Since last year, efforts have focused on introducing the RBC concept in the education system. The promotion of RBC through the media has also been used as an effective tool as the media can play a pivotal role in raising awareness about RBC initiatives.

The concept of corporate social responsibility (a term that preceded RBC) features regularly on the agenda of many companies in Montenegro.

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.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Montenegro’s total labor force consists of approximately 250,000 people with almost 50,000, or close to 20 percent, employed in the public sector.  With an unemployment level at 15.3 percent (according to the State statistical agency, MONSTAT, in 2019) and the average monthly salary, net of taxes and contributions, at EUR 520 (USD 578) in December 2019, the bloated public sector and the lack of a highly skilled labor pool are cited by foreign investors as challenges facing Montenegro. An AmCham survey of its members found that the lack of skills and qualifications in the Montenegrin labor pool is a significant barrier to investment and operations. According to AmCham, finding skilled middle managers represents a serious challenge for members, and many foreign companies choose to hire foreigners for these positions. To tackle youth unemployment, Montenegro is prioritizing efforts to improve practical job skills, including English language training.

Over the past few years, employment in private companies has increased, and total employment in the public sector (including SOEs) has decreased.  Employment in Montenegro is led by three major sectors: tourism, maritime and offshore jobs, and manufacturing.

The Law on the Employment of Nonresidents took effect in, 2009, and mandates the government to set a quota for nonresident workers in the country. In December 2019, the government adopted a decision on determining the number of work permits for foreigners for 2020, establishing the quota at 20,454 work permits. Procedures for hiring foreign workers have been simplified, and taxes for nonresident workers have been significantly decreased to help domestic companies that are experiencing problems engaging domestic staff, particularly for temporary and seasonal work.

The Law on Foreigners in Montenegro came into force in 2015. At the beginning of 2016, amendments suggested by AmCham Montenegro and business organizations (including the Montenegrin Employers’ Federation, Montenegrin Chamber of Economy, Montenegro Business Alliance, Montenegrin Foreign Investors Council) were adopted that improve and liberalize Montenegro’s business environment.  According to changes to the law, businesses are no longer required to provide official records proving that the company was unable to hire Montenegrin nationals with the required skills before hiring foreigners.

Changes were made to the Law on Pensions and Care of Invalids in 2017, primarily in the area of gradually increasing the age of retirement from 65 to 67 years (both for men and women) by 2042. These revisions are designed to eliminate anticipated shortfalls in the pension fund. The ratio between pensioners and active employees is very low, putting the whole system at risk.

Adoption of the amended Law on Pensions and Care of Invalids is expected in 2020.

Until 2008, there was only one trade union confederation at the national level in Montenegro, the Confederation of Trade Unions of Montenegro (SSCG). SSCG is the successor of the former socialist trade union and also inherited the property, organizational structure, and rights to participation in the tripartite bodies on the national level. As of 2008, a new confederation, the Union of Free Trade Unions of Montenegro (USSCG), split away from SSCG. All international labor rights are recognized within domestic law, such as freedom of association, the elimination of forced labor, child labor employment discrimination, minimum wage, occupation safety and health, as well as weekly working hours.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Montenegro, through the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, became eligible for OPIC programs in July 2001, and should remain eligible for DFC programs Prior to the establishment of the DFC, OPIC activities in Montenegro included: insurance for investors against political risk, expropriation of assets, damages due to political violence and currency convertibility, and insurance coverage for certain contracting, exporting, licensing, and leasing transactions More information on these programs can be found on OPIC’s website http://www.dfc.gov 

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.

14. Contact for more information

Kyle Hatcher
Political and Economic Deputy Chief
U.S. Embassy Montenegro
St. Dzona Dzeksona 2, 81000 Podgorica
+382 20 410 528
hatcherbk@state.gov

2020 Investment Climate Statements: Montenegro
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