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 above 80 percent. One of the government’s priorities is to continue to develop infrastructure, including the second section of the country’s first highway that will better connect the developed southern part of the country with the relatively underdeveloped north. Although Montenegro’s economic growth rate in 2019 was one of the highest in Europe at 3.5 percent, the pandemic negatively affected Montenegro more than any other country in the region, causing GDP to decline approximately 15 percent. The unemployment rate increased from 15.3 in 2019 to 20 percent. In August 2020, Montenegrins took to the polls and elected an opposition coalition, unseating the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists for the first time in 29 years. In December 2020, the Ministry of Finance issued a EUR 750 million bond on international markets to service maturing debt. At the end of 2020, the new government exercised its legal option to continue government operations under a temporary budget and postpone the budget proposal until March 2021.
As a candidate country on its path to joining the European Union (EU), Montenegro is making steady progress. All 33 chapters have been opened and three chapters have been provisionally closed. Despite regulatory improvements, corruption remains a significant concern. Montenegro joined NATO in June 2017.
Montenegro’s economy is centered 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 source country dominates foreign direct investments to Montenegro, although the most significant investments have come from Italy, Hungary, China, Russia, and Serbia, with investments also coming from the United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, Turkey and the U.S. Economic statistics from the Central Bank of Montenegro (CBCG) show that direct foreign investments during 2020 amounted to €663 million, with the highest level of foreign investments coming from NATO member countries (€230 million), while Russia and China together invested €170 million. In the energy sector, the government began operation of its underwater electric transmission cable to Italy in December 2019. Additionally, there are several ongoing conventional energy projects around the country, including the controversial ecological reconstruction of the existing block of the coal-fired thermal plant in Pljevlja in partnership with China’s Dongfang Electric Corporation. The Montenegrin government has signed concession agreements with two consortiums: the Italian-Russian consortium Eni/Novatek for four blocks and the Greek-British consortium Energean/Mediterranean oil and gas for one block. Offshore exploratory drilling started in March 2021.
The Government sees as one of its priorities further development of the digital economy, although it has made only moderate progress to date.
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, however long-standing property restitution cases dating back to WWII remain unresolved. 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. The main laws that regulate foreign investment in Montenegro are: the Foreign Investment Law; the Enterprise Law; the Insolvency Law; the Law on Fiduciary Transfer of Property Rights; the Accounting Law; the Law on Capital and Current Transactions; the Foreign Trade Law; the Customs Law; the Law on Free Zones; the Labor Law; the Securities Law; the Concession Law, and the set of laws regulating tax policy. Montenegro 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. Favorable tax policies established at the national level are often cancelled out with taxes introduced by different municipalities on the local level.
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 promotes 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. More information available at http://www.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 no limits on foreign control and right to private ownership or on establishing companies in Montenegro. There are no institutional barriers to foreign investors, including U.S. businesses, and there is no screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment.
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 1.2), 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. Montenegrin law permits the establishment of six types of companies: entrepreneur, limited liability company, joint stock company, general partnership, limited partnership, and part of a foreign company. All included in the business activities need to open a bank account. Once a bank account is established, the company reports to the tax authority in order to receive a PIB (taxation identification number) and VAT number (Value Added Tax). For classification of companies by size, based on number of employees, the government’s definition is as follows: (i) small enterprises (from one to 49 employees), (ii) medium-sized enterprises (from 50 to 249) and (iii) large enterprises (more than 250 employees).
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, 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 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. More information available at http://www.mek.gov.me/en/WTO/LIBRARY/free_trade?alphabet=lat.
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 expired on January 1, 2021. As a result Montenegrin imports entering the United States that were eligible for duty free treatment under GSP up to December 31, 2020 (jewelry, ores, stones and various agricultural products) are now subject to regular duties.
Bilateral Taxation Treaties
Montenegro does not have a double taxation treaty with the United States. 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.
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, Netherlands, 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.
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, North Macedonia, Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates, Moldova, Israel, and Switzerland. Additional information can be found at 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 2020, many municipalities lack adequate detailed urban plans, complicating investment plans. 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 surveyed are dissatisfied with the duration of the court proceedings (79,5%) and unequal implementation of the law (63,6%). At the same time, over 70% of AmCham member companies surveyed 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 energy law mandates that in the energy sectors, when prices are affected by monopoly positions of some participants, business costs will be set at levels approved by the Agency. In those areas deemed to function competitively, the market will determine prices. The price of gasoline is set nationally every two weeks and is uniform across all petrol stations.
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 revised Law of Public Procurement entered into force in December 2019. 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, 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. All 33 negotiating chapters have been opened, while three are provisionally closed. 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 the 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 basic 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 Court. 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. The Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP), a technical assistance arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce is active in providing technical assistance in the area of commercial law.
Over the last several years, the adoption of 20 new business laws has significantly changed and clarified the legislative environment. Recently adopted legislative reforms improved the efficiency and effectiveness of court proceedings, a trend which is already visible through the introduction of 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 Dead link, not available elsewhere.. 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 Competitionwas established as a functionally independent entity after the Law on Protection of Competition entered into force and the Central Register of Economic Entities registered the law. 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 U.S. citizens. The cases are in various stages of adjudication and have been ongoing 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.
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
Montenegro does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States. 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; these are the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA of the World Bank), U.S. Development Finance Corporation (USDFC), U.K. Exports Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD), Slovenia Export Corporation (SID), Italian Export Credit Agency (SACE), French Export Credit Agency (COFACE), and Austrian Export Financing Group (OEKB).
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 2011, Montenegro adopted the Law on Public Bailiffs, which subsequently improved the procedure to enforce civil judgments.
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 bankruptcy and damage to another person by irrational spending of assets or their bargain selling, by excessive borrowing, undertaking disproportional obligations, recklessly concluding contracts with insolvent entities, omitting to collect claims in time, by destroying or concealing property or by 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
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 took over and continued with the incentive program implementation. More information is available on the Agency’s website (www.mia.gov.me). The government also offers, in the partnership with local municipalities, some incentives through business zones, which exist in several cities outside the capital.
On January 1, 2019 Montenegro started with the implementation of the Economic citizenship program. The Program is designed to last for a limited period of three years and it will be available for up to 2,000 applicants. The new Government will, during this year, reconsider the possible extension of the program.
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. Complete equality has been guaranteed to foreign investors in reference to ownership rights, organizing economic activities in the zone, complete free transfer of profit and deposit, and the security of investments. More info is available here.. Dead link, not available elsewhere. Linked to WTO website with Law on Free Zones in English
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
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 83rd 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. Additional amendments to the existing Law on the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights were adopted over the last several years (beginning in 2006) in line with the EU regulations, and it is expected to bring more efficiency in implementation as well as a multifunctional approach to IPR protection. In 2005, the Montenegrin Parliament adopted the Regulation on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Border Measures that provides powers to customs authorities to suspend customs procedures and seize pirated and counterfeit goods. Statistics on seizures of counterfeit goods are 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 stricter criminal penalties; however, copyright violation is a significant problem in the outerwear and apparel market, and unlicensed software can be easily found on the general market. The Law on Optical Disks was adopted in 2006. It requires the registration of business activity when reproducing optical disks for commercial purposes and provides for surveillance of optical disk imports and exports, as well as imports and exports of polycarbonates.
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.
At the end of 2007, the Customs Administration signed a Letter of Intent for acceptance of Standards to be Employed by Customs for Uniform Rights Enforcement (SECURE) Standards, adopted by the World Customs Organization (WCO), to promote the efficient protection of IPR by customs authorities.
Montenegro is not included on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watch List or Notorious Markets List. However, the sale of pirated optical media (DVDs, CDs, software) as well as counterfeit trademarked goods, particularly sneakers and clothing, is widespread. According to a 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 constituting 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.
AmCham Montenegro established an IPR Committee in April 2009, which currently operates under the Grey Economy Committee. The main goal of the committee is to work closely with the Montenegrin institutions that deal with IPR, to increase public awareness of the importance of IPR protection, and to help the Government of Montenegro strengthen its administrative capacities in this field. More information about the committee’s activities can be found on AmCham’s website: http://www.amcham.me/.
The banking sector in Montenegro is fully privatized with 12 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).
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.) The MSE is organized on the principle of member firms, which trade in their own names and for their own account (dealers) in the name and for the account of their clients (brokers). Members of the MSE can be a legal entity registered as a broker under the Law on Securities provided they meet conditions laid down by the Statute of the Stock Exchange. In addition, members may include banks and insurance companies, once approved by the Commission for Securities to perform stock exchange trade. MSE currently has 11 stock brokers.
Money and Banking System
According to Central Bank of Montenegro, the banking sector remained solvent and liquid, with a share of 5.5 percent of non-performing loans. In 2020, lending activity grew by 3.2 percent in relation to the end of 2019 while the interest rate dropped to 5.84 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.
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.
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, Airports of Montenegro, Plantaze Vineyards, Electric Power Industry of Montenegro (EPCG), and several companies in the tourism industry, including Ulcinjska and Budvanska Rivijera. In December 2020, the new Government decided to shut heavily-indebted national carrier Montenegro Airlines and to create a new state company ToMontenegro which should start operating by the middle of 2021. 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.
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. Dead link; could not find new council website.
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. The most recent survey showed that large private companies and associations are, indeed, more engaged in RBC activities, whereas small companies cited the lack of knowledge about RBC and the lack of support and interest from clients as the main reasons for not participating.
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 67 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International (TI) 2020 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. The government has also taken 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, and the Agency for Prevention of Corruption became operational in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, 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. The Head of Crime Police presides over the team, and it consists of representatives of the police, Customs Authority, Tax Authority, and Administration for Inspection Affairs. A focus of the team’s work will be on the 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 Prosecution which created a new independent judicial training institute, with greatly expanded powers and autonomy. In the past two years, the government has achieved some progress on combating official corruption through adoption of important legislation on public procurement, the treasury and budget system, and the courts. Also, there have been a few high-profile corruption prosecutions, including at the levels of local and national governments. The adoption of the Law on Courts has created one centralized Special Department for Organized Crime, Corruption, War Crimes, Terrorism and Money Laundering in the Podgorica High Court.
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.
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.
In December 2020, the government established the High-Level National Anti-Corruption Council. The members of the council are the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Social Welfare, as well as representatives of the NGOs MANS and Institute Alternativa. The Council will check and collect documentation related to all suspicious government work. It will submit any questionable findings to the competent authorities, including the Prosecutor’s Office in all cases where there is a suspicion of corrupt activities and damage to the budget of Montenegro.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at government agencies responsible for combating corruption:
Chief Special Prosecutor for Fighting Organized Crime, Corruption, War Crimes and Terrorism and Money Laundering
Office of the Special State Prosecutor
MANS (Network for Affirmation of NGO sector) is a non-governmental organization that fights against corruption and organized crime in Montenegro. MANS is engaged in investigating concrete cases of corruption and organized crime, monitoring the implementation of legislation and government policy, providing free legal aid to citizens, CSOs, media and businesses, developing law and policy proposals and analysis, and conducting advocacy campaigns.
Montenegro has a multi-party political system with a mixed parliamentary and presidential system. The August 30, 2020 national parliamentary elections resulted in three opposition coalitions – For the Future of Montenegro, Peace is Our Nation, and In Black and White – toppling the former ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) that had been in power since the introduction of the multi-party system in 1990. The new ruling parliamentary majority is a mix of radical pro-Russian/pro-Serb parties, moderate pro-Serb parties, and civic parties, while the cabinet is composed of apolitical technocrats in what they term an expert government. The leader of the For the Future of Montenegro coalition, Zdravko Krivokapic, was elected Prime Minister, while the leader of the In Black and White coalition, Dritan Abazovic, was elected Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of Peace is our Nation, Aleksa Becic, was elected Speaker of Parliament. The three leaders signed an agreement to maintain Montenegro’s pro-Western, Euro-Atlantic trajectory, promising to fulfill all NATO membership obligations and accelerate EU accession efforts. However, due to the radical, pro-Russian bent of a significant number of ruling coalition MPs, concerns of foreign malign influence persist.
Former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic was elected President of Montenegro in April 2018 for a five year term.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Montenegro’s total labor force consists of approximately 250,000 people with almost 50,000 workers(close to 20 percent of the labor pool) employed in the public sector. With an unemployment rate of 20 percent (according to the State statistical agency, MONSTAT, in 2020) and the average monthly salary, net of taxes and contributions, of EUR 527 (USD 634) in December 2020, the bloated public sector and the lack of a highly skilled labor pool are cited by foreign investors as challenges facing Montenegro. According to AmCham, finding skilled middle managers represents a serious challenge for its member companies, and many foreign companies choose to hire foreigners for skilled positions. To tackle youth unemployment, Montenegro is prioritizing efforts to improve practical job skills, including English language training and digital literacy. However, university students in Montenegro obtain little or no practical work experience while studying for their Bachelor’s degree. It is widely mentioned in business circles that Montenegrin young adults prefer public sector work to private companies, which offer higher salaries. 2019 was marked by the intensive work on the Labor Law in a form of a dialogue among social partners regarding disputable legal solutions and the new Labor Law has been adopted in December 2019.
Over the past few years, private sector employment 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 (including on cruise ships or freighters), and manufacturing.
The new Montenegrin Labor Act introduced important employment regulations. The maximum duration of a fixed-term contract has been extended from 24 months to 36 months. Employers that employ more than 10 employees have to adopt an internal general policy which lists positions and sets out job descriptions. Part-time positions cannot be for fewer than 10 hours per week, except for the GM/CEO. Full-time positions are 40 hours per week. Minimum statutory annual leave is 20 working days for regular jobs and 30 working days for jobs with severe conditions where full-time work hours are reduced from 40 to 36 hours per week. Employees who have a six-day long work week are entitled to a minimum of 24 working days of annual leave. As of October 2019, the amended Law on Internal Trade stipulates non-working Sunday in shopping facilities.
The new Labor Law contains an explicit provision stating that an employer may only pay salaries to the employee’s bank account. Employment may not be terminated during pregnancy or maternity/ parental leave, except in case of a serious breach of work duties. Maternity leave may be taken for 365 days, beginning 28 days prior to childbirth. In cases in which employees claim unlawful termination, the employee must initiate proceedings before the Agency for Peaceful Resolution of Labor Disputes or before the Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution. After doing so, the employee may initiate court proceedings against the employer. Court proceedings must be initiated within 15 days from the end of the mandatory mediation. The statute of limitations for monetary claims arising out of employment is four years from the date on which the obligation became due. Claims for payment of pension and disability insurance contributions are not subject to any statute of limitations.
The procedure for determining a breach of work duties has been adjusted, now allowing for dismissal for breach without having to first conduct disciplinary proceedings in the following cases: (i) if the employee’s behavior is such that he/she cannot continue to work for the employer (e.g. coming to work intoxicated; drinking or using narcotics during work; refusing to undergo a medical examination to determine intoxication; abusive, offensive, or inappropriate behavior towards customers or employees, etc.); (ii) if the employee knowingly provided inaccurate data during the hiring process; (iii) abuse of sick leave; (iv) failure to return to work after the end of unpaid leave.
The Law on Peaceful Resolution of Labor Disputes was adopted in 2007. It introduces out-of-court settlements of labor disputes.
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 2020, the government adopted a decision on determining the number of work permits for foreigners for 2021, establishing the quota at 20,450 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, and 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 amended Law on Pensions and Care of Invalids which improves the conditions for retirement and harmonization of pensions, and increases the minimum pension was adopted in July 2020. The new Law improves the conditions for retirement, because one quarter of the period of service that was the most unfavorable for future retirees is excluded from the accounting period.
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 it is eligible for DFC financing. In December 2020, DFC’s representative visited Montenegro to meet the new government and private sector representatives. 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 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
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment
Outward Direct Investment
Republic of Serbia
United Arab Emirates
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.
14. Contact for more information
Until August 2021 From August 2021
Kyle Hatcher Walter Andonov
Political and Economic Deputy Chief Political and Economic Deputy Chief
U.S. Embassy Montenegro U.S. Embassy Montenegro
St. Dzona Dzeksona 2, 81000 Podgorica
+382 20 410 528