2021 Investment Climate Statements: North Macedonia
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The Republic of North Macedonia, an EU aspirant country and a NATO member since March 2020, continues to be receptive to U.S. commercial investments. The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted North Macedonia’s economy and ability to absorb foreign investment. Though the government’s efforts to divert manufacturing toward necessities and control prices at the outset of the pandemic are largely over, restrictions over people’s movement and a significant increase in unemployment have limited consumption and slowed the services required to open a business. The pandemic sharply reversed the country’s GDP growth, going from an increase of 3.2 percent in 2019 to a decrease of 4.5 percent in 2020, though in March the government forecasted the economy would grow 4.1 percent in 2021. The virus will likely have extensive, albeit currently unclear, impacts on the economy through 2021 and beyond.
While doing business is generally easy in North Macedonia and the legal framework is largely in line with international standards, corruption is a consistent issue. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked North Macedonia the 17th best place in the world for doing business, down seven spots from the previous year. Fitch Ratings downgraded North Macedonia’s previous credit rating from BB+ with a stable outlook to BB+ with a negative outlook, and Standard & Poor’s affirmed its credit rating at BB- with a stable outlook. Large foreign companies operating in the Technological Industrial Development Zones (TIDZ) generally report positive investment experiences and maintain good relations with government officials. However, the country’s overall regulatory environment remains complex, and frequent regulatory and legislative changes, coupled with inconsistent interpretation of the rules, create an unpredictable business environment conducive to corruption. The government generally enforces laws, but there are numerous reports that some officials remain engaged in corrupt activities. Transparency International ranked North Macedonia 111th out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index in 2020, down 5 spots from the prior year and 13 from the year before that, with a score of 35/100 in absolute terms.
The new government, ratified by parliament on August 30, 2020, has taken steps to improve the investment environment. Ministers without Portfolio, who previously shared the responsibility to attract FDI, were removed, and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs now coordinates government activities related to foreign investments, simplifying the process. Additionally, in an effort to tackle corruption, the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption has opened a number of corruption-related inquiries, including those involving high-level officials.
There are several areas to watch in 2021. In 2020, Embassy Skopje identified ICT as an emerging sector ripe for U.S. investment as the government has recently focused on providing a better environment for technology development. North Macedonia’s location is an advantage as companies consider “near-shoring” their production to be closer to consumption centers in Europe following the pandemic-induced production shortfall in 2020.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Attracting FDI remains one of the government’s main pillars of economic growth and job creation, although the COVID-19 pandemic prevented government officials from engaging with potential investors in person in 2020. There are no laws or practices that discriminate against foreign investors. In March 2018, the government passed its “Plan for Economic Growth” (https://vicepremier-ekonomija.gov.mk/?q=node/275), which provides substantial incentives to foreign companies operating in the 15 free economic zones. The incentives include a variety of measures such as job creation subsidies, capital investment subsidies, and financial support to exporters. Also, North Macedonia is a signatory to multilateral conventions protecting foreign investors and is party to a number of bilateral investment protection treaties, though none with the United States.
The new government, ratified by parliament on August 30, 2020, removed ministerial positions specifically responsible for attracting foreign investments. Instead, the office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs (https://vicepremier-ekonomija.gov.mk) coordinates the government’s activities related to foreign investments. Invest North Macedonia – the Agency for Foreign Investments and Export Promotion, http://www.investinmacedonia.com, is the primary government institution in charge of facilitating foreign investments. It works directly with potential foreign investors, provides detailed explanations and guidance for registering a business in North Macedonia, produces analysis on potential industries and sectors for investing, shares information on business regulations, and publishes reports about the domestic market. The North Macedonia Free Zones Authority, http://fez.gov.mk/, a governmental managing body responsible for developing free economic zones throughout the country, also assists foreign investors interested in operating in the zones. It manages all administrative affairs of the free economic zones and assists foreign investors to identify appropriate investment locations and facilities. North Macedonia does not maintain a “one-stop-shop” for FDI, requiring investors to navigate through several bureaucratic institutions to implement their investments.
The government maintains contact with large foreign investors through frequent meetings and formal surveys to solicit feedback. Large foreign investors have direct and easy access to government leaders, whom they can contact for assistance to resolve issues. The Foreign Investors Council, https://www.fic.mk/Default.aspx?mId=1, advocates for foreign investors and suggests ways to improve the business environment.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign investors can invest directly in all industry and business sectors except those limited by law. For instance, investment in the production of weapons and narcotics remains subject to government approval, while investors in sectors such as banking, financial services, insurance, and energy must meet certain licensing requirements that apply equally to domestic and foreign investors. Foreign investment may be in the form of money, equipment, or raw materials. Under the law, if assets are nationalized, foreign investors have the right to receive the full value of their investment. This provision does not apply to national investors. Invest North Macedonia conducts screening and due diligence reviews of foreign direct investments in a non-standard, non-public procedure and on an ad-hoc basis. The main purpose of the screening is to ensure economic benefit for the country and to protect national security. The process does not disadvantage foreign investors. More information about the screening process is available directly from Invest North Macedonia, at http://www.investinmacedonia.com. U.S. investors are not disadvantaged or singled out by any of the ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms.
All legal entities in the country must register with the Central Registry of the Republic of North Macedonia (Central Registry). Foreign businesses may register a limited liability company, single-member limited liability company, joint venture, or joint stock company, as well as branches and representative offices. There is a one-stop-shop system which enables investors to register their businesses within a day by visiting one office, obtaining the information from a single place, and addressing one employee. Once the company is registered with the Central Registry, the registration is valid for all other agencies. In addition to registering, some businesses must obtain additional working licenses or permits for their activities from relevant authorities. More information on business registration documentation and procedures is available at the Central Registry’s website, http://www.crm.com.mk. All investors may register a company online at http://e-submit.crm.com.mk/eFiling/en/home.aspx. Applications must be submitted by an authorized registration agent. The online business registration process is clear, complete, and available for use by foreign companies. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked North Macedonia 78th in the world for ease of starting a business, 31 spots down from 2019.
The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad, but it does not promote or provide incentives for outward investments. The publicly reported total stock of outward investments is small, worth approximately $68 million, the majority of which is in the Balkan region, the Netherlands, Germany, and Russia, and in production facilities, pharmaceuticals, metal processing, and wholesale and retail trade.
2. Bilateral Investment and Taxation Treaties
North Macedonia does not have a bilateral investment or double taxation treaty with the United States.
North Macedonia has concluded an Agreement for Promotion and Protection of Foreign Direct Investments with the following countries: Albania, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Iran, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and Ukraine.
North Macedonia is a signatory of three multilateral Free Trade Agreements: the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with EU member-states, giving North Macedonia duty-free access to 650 million consumers; the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein; and the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Kosovo. Bilateral Free Trade Agreements are in force with Turkey and Ukraine.
There are no recent or upcoming changes to the tax regime which will concern foreign investors. No U.S. companies operating in North Macedonia have raised tax concerns with Post.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The government has made progress adopting reform priorities called for by the EU, NATO, and other bodies, leading to well defined laws, institutional structures, and regulatory legal frameworks. However, laws are not regularly drafted based on data-driven evidence or assessments and, at times, move through parliament using shortened legislative procedures. While laws are in place, enforcement and universal implementation of laws and regulations are generally lacking and can be a problem for businesses and citizens.
North Macedonia has simplified regulations and procedures for large foreign investors operating in the TIDZ. While the country’s overall regulatory environment is complex and not fully transparent, the government is making efforts to improve transparency. The government is implementing reforms designed to avoid frequent regulatory and legislative changes, coupled with inconsistent interpretations of the rules, which create an unpredictable business environment that enables corruption. The current government has published all incentives for businesses operating in North Macedonia, which are standardized and available to domestic and international companies. However, companies worth more than $1 billion that want to invest in North Macedonia can negotiate terms different from the standard incentives. The government can offer customized incentive packages if the investment is of strategic importance.
Rule-making and regulatory authorities reside within government ministries, regulatory agencies, and parliament. Almost all regulations most relevant to foreign businesses are on the national level. Regulations are generally developed in a four-step process. First, the regulatory agency or ministry drafts the proposed regulation. The proposal is then published in the Unique National Electronic Register of Regulations (ENER: https://ener.gov.mk/) for public review and comment. After public comments are considered and properly incorporated into the draft, it is sent to the central government to be reviewed and adopted in an official government session. Once the government has approved the draft law, it is sent to parliament for full debate and adoption. The public consultation process has improved, with businesses, the public, and NGOs having an increasing role in commenting on draft regulations and proposing changes through ENER.
There is no single centralized location which maintains a copy of all regulatory actions. All newly adopted regulations, rules, and government decisions are published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of North Macedonia after they are adopted by the government or parliament, or signed by the corresponding minister or director. Public comments are not published nor made public as part of the regulation, and limited information is available in English.
North Macedonia accepts International Accounting Standards, and the legal, regulatory, and accounting systems used by the government are consistent with international norms. North Macedonia has aligned its national law with EU directives on corporate accounting and auditing.
The government has systems in place to regularly communicate and consult with the business community and other stakeholders before amending and adopting legislation, through ENER. Interested parties, including chambers of commerce, can review the legislation published on ENER. The online platform is intended to facilitate public participation in policymaking, increase public comment, and provide a phase-in period for legal changes to allow enterprises to adapt. Key institutions influencing the business climate publish official and legally-binding instructions for the implementation of laws. These institutions are obliged to publish all relevant laws, by-laws, and internal procedures on their websites, however, some of them do not maintain regular updates. The government makes significant efforts to ensure respect for the principles of transparency, merit, and equitable representation.
In 2018, the government adopted a new Strategy for Public Administration Reform and Action Plan (2018-2022), and the National Plan for Quality Management of Public Administration, which focus on policy creation and coordination, strengthening public service capacities, and increasing accountability and transparency. The government also adopted its Open Data Strategy (2018-2020), which puts forth measures to encourage the release and use of public data as an effective tool for innovation, growth, and transparent governance. With the introduction of the Transparency Strategy (2019-2021), which closely ties to the Open Data Strategy, the government intends to contribute to greater transparency of government central bodies, both at the central and local levels.
Public finances and debt obligations are fairly transparent. The Ministry of Finance publishes budget execution data monthly; public debt figures, including contingent liability, quarterly; and the fiscal strategy is updated annually.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a candidate country for accession to the EU, North Macedonia is gradually harmonizing its legal and regulatory systems with EU standards. As a member of the WTO, North Macedonia regularly notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of proposed amendments to technical regulations concerning trade. North Macedonia ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in July 2015 (Official Gazette 130/2015), becoming the 50th out of 134 members of the WTO to do so. In October 2017, the government formed a National Trade Facilitation Committee, chaired by the Minister of Economy, which includes 22 member institutions. The Committee identified areas which need harmonization with the TFA and is working toward implementation.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
North Macedonia’s legal system is based on the civil law tradition, with increasing adversarial-style elements, and includes an established legal framework for both commercial and contract law. The Constitution established independent courts which rule on commercial and contractual disputes between business entities, and court rulings are legally executed by private enforcement agents. Enforcement actions may be appealed before the court. The enforcement procedure fees were lowered and simplified in 2019. Disputes up to €15,000 ($17,715 per 03/25/2021 exchange rate) require mediation as a precondition to initiating legal action within the courts. Cases involving international elements may be decided using international arbiters. Ratified international instruments prevail over national laws.
Businesses complained that lengthy and costly commercial disputes adjudicated through the court system created legal uncertainty. Businesses, however, are not inclined to use mediation as a swifter and often less costly way to resolve disputes. In December 2020, the government announced a new and improved Mediation Law would address noted deficiencies and was in the final drafting stage. Numerous international reports note rule of law remains a key challenge in North Macedonia, pointing to undue executive, business, and/or political interference in the judiciary, and poor funding for and management of administrative courts as major obstacles. The government continued major reforms, throughout 2020, to improve judicial independence and impartiality, but contract enforcement and perceived non-transparent public procurement practices remain a challenge for businesses.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
There is no single law regulating foreign investments, nor a “one-stop-shop” website which provides all relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. Rather, the legal framework is comprised of several laws including: the Trade Companies Law; the Securities Law; the Profit Tax Law; the Customs Law; the Value Added Tax (VAT) Law; the Law on Trade; the Law on Acquiring Shareholding Companies; the Foreign Exchange Operations Law; the Payment Operations Law; the Law on Foreign Loan Relations; the Law on Privatization of State-owned Capital; the Law on Investment Funds; the Banking Law; the Labor Law; the Law on Financial Discipline; the Law on Financial Support of Investments; and the Law on Technological Industrial Development Zones (free economic zones). An English language version of the consolidated Law on Technological Industrial Development Zones (free economic zones) is available at: https://fez.gov.mk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/law-in-tidz-eng.pdf , and additional information at https://www.worldfzo.org/Portals/0/OpenContent/Files/487/Macedonia_FreeZones.pdf . No other new major laws, regulations, or judicial decisions related to foreign investments were passed during the past year; however, some existing laws were amended slightly.
Competition and Antitrust Laws
The Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) is responsible for enforcing the Law on Protection of Competition. The CPC issues opinions on draft legislation which may impact competition. The CPC reviews the impact on competition of proposed mergers and can prohibit a merger or approve it with or without conditions. The CPC also reviews proposed state aid to private businesses, including foreign investors, under the Law on Control of State Aid (Official Gazette 145/10) and the Law on State Aid (Official Gazette 24/03). The CPC determines whether the state aid gives economic advantage to the recipient, is selective, or adversely influences competition and trade. More information on the CPC’s activities is available at http://kzk.gov.mk/en. There were no significant competition cases during the past year.
Expropriation and Compensation
The Law on Expropriation (http://www.mioa.gov.mk/sites/default/files/pbl_files/documents/legislation/zakon_za_eksproprijacija_konsolidiran_032018.pdf) states the government can seize or limit ownership and real estate property rights to protect the public interest and to build facilities and carry out other activities of public interest. According to the Constitution and the Law on Expropriation, property under foreign ownership is exempt from expropriation except during instances of war or natural disaster, or for reasons of public interest. Under the Law on Expropriation, the state is obliged to pay market value for any expropriated property. If the payment is not made within 15 days of the expropriation, interest will accrue. The government has conducted a number of expropriations, primarily to enable capital projects of public interest, such as highway and railway construction for which the government offered market value compensation. Expropriation procedures have followed strict legal regulations and due process. The government has not undertaken any measures that have been alleged to be, or could be argued to be, indirect expropriation, such as confiscatory tax regimes or regulatory actions that deprive investors of substantial economic benefits from their investments.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
North Macedonia is a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) and the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration. Additionally, North Macedonia has either signed, or has inherited by means of succession from the former Yugoslavia, a number of bilateral and multilateral conventions on arbitration, including the Convention Establishing the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA); the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards; the Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses from 1923; and the Geneva Convention on Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Decisions.
In April 2006, the Law on International Commercial Arbitration came into force in North Macedonia. This law applies exclusively to international commercial arbitration conducted in the country. An arbitration award under this law has the validity of a final judgment and can be enforced without delay. Any arbitration award decision from outside North Macedonia is considered a foreign arbitral award and is recognized and enforced in accordance with the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral awards.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
North Macedonia accepts binding international arbitration in disputes with foreign investors. Foreign arbitration awards are generally recognized and enforceable in the country provided the conditions of enforcement set out in the Convention and the Law on International Private Law (Official Gazette of the Republic of North Macedonia, No. 87/07 and No. 156/2010: https://www.slvesnik.com.mk/besplate-pristap-do-izdanija.nspx) are met. So far, the country has been involved in six reported investor-state disputes resolved before international arbitration panels. None of those cases involved U.S. citizens or companies. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitration awards issued against the Government of North Macedonia. The country does not have a history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
North Macedonia accepts international arbitration decisions on investment disputes. The country’s Law on International Commercial Arbitration is modeled on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and the judgments of foreign courts. Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are available for settling disputes between two private parties but seldom utilized. A Permanent Court of Arbitration, established in 1993 within the Economic Chamber of Macedonia (a non-government business association), has the authority to administer both domestic and international disputes. North Macedonia requires mediation in disputes between companies up to €15,000 ($17,715 per 03/25/2021 exchange rate) in value before companies can go to court.
There is no tracking system of cases involving State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) involved in investment disputes in North Macedonia, and post is not aware of any examples.
North Macedonia’s bankruptcy law governs the settlement of creditors’ claims against insolvent debtors. Bankruptcy proceedings may be initiated over the property of a debtor, be it a legal entity, an individual, a deceased person, joint property of spouses, or a business. However, bankruptcy proceedings may not be implemented over a public legal entity or property owned by the Republic of North Macedonia. The Government of North Macedonia announced March 31, 2020 bankruptcy proceedings would be forbidden during the COVID-19 crisis as well as for six months thereafter. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked North Macedonia 30th out of 190 countries for resolving insolvency. (As noted in the World Bank’s December 16, 2020 Statement on Doing Business Data Corrections and Findings of Internal Audit, arrangements for publication of the Doing Business 2021 report will be completed in mid-2021.)
The Macedonian Credit Bureau (https://mkb.mk/en/), commercial banks, and the National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia serve as credit monitoring authorities.
4. Industrial Policies
Both the Law on Technological Industrial Development Zones (TIDZ) and the Law on Financial Support of Investments offer incentives to investors. Investors in the TIDZ are eligible for tax exemptions for a period of up to 10 years of operation in proportion to the size of investment and number of employees. Investors in the TIDZ are exempt from paying duties for equipment and machines as well as municipality tax for construction. The land lease rate is symbolic, and investors are eligible for a grant equal to 10 percent of the cost of plant construction and new machinery, as well as a grant for improving competitiveness. North Macedonia’s legislative framework for FDI is generally harmonized with EU state aid regulations.
The salaries of employees working for TIDZ employers are exempt from personal income tax for a period of up to ten years after the first month in which the employer starts paying out salaries.
The government does not issue guarantees or jointly finance foreign direct investment projects. Depending on the industry and size of the investment, the government may decide to cover up to 50 percent of eligible investment costs over a period of 10 years.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
North Macedonia currently has 15 free economic zones in various stages of development throughout the country. The Directorate for Technological Industrial Development Zones (TIDZ) (http://fez.gov.mk/) is responsible for establishing, developing, and supervising 14 of them, including seven fully operational TIDZ: Skopje 1 and 2, Prilep, Stip, Kicevo, Struga, and Strumica. The Tetovo TIDZ is a public-private partnership. U.S. companies operate in TIDZ throughout North Macedonia, including automotive components manufacturer ARC Automotive (Skopje 1), Adient (Stip and Strumica), Aptiv (Skopje 1), Gentherm (Prilep), Lear (Tetovo), Dura Automotive and Dura Structures & Extrusion (Skopje 2), and electronic component manufacturer Kemet (Skopje 1).
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
North Macedonia does not normally impose performance requirements, such as mandating local employment (working level or management level) or domestic content in goods or technology, as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding an investment. Foreign investors in the TIDZ may employ staff from any country. In 2016, North Macedonia simplified the procedure for expatriates to obtain permission to live and work in the country.
North Macedonia does not impose a “forced localization” policy for data. The government does not prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country. Post is not aware of any requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. Furthermore, there are no measures which prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country. However, based on the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in May 2018, North Macedonia’s Directorate for Personal Data Protection adopted in February 2020 amendments to the Law on Personal Data Protection (Official Gazette of the Republic of North Macedonia, No. 42/2020) to harmonize North Macedonia’s laws with the new EU regulations.
Depending on the sector and type of investment, various government authorities oversee and assess the fulfillment of investment promises made by foreign investors. Government entities include the Agency for Foreign Investments and Export Promotion (Invest North Macedonia), Directorate for Technological Industrial Development Zones (TIDZ), and the Ministry of Economy.
There is no discriminatory export or import policy affecting foreign investors. Almost 96 percent of total foreign trade is unrestricted. Current tariffs and other customs-related information are published on the website of the Customs Administration http://www.customs.gov.mk/index.php/en/ .
5. Protection of Property Rights
Laws protect ownership of both movable and real property, but implementation of these laws remains inconsistent. Mortgages and liens are regularly utilized, and the recording system is reliable. Highly centralized control of government owned “construction land,” the lack of coordinated local and regional zoning plans, and the lack of an efficient construction permitting system continue to impede business and investment. However, the government has improved the cadaster system, which has increased the security and speed of real estate transactions. Over 97 percent of real estate records are digitized. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked North Macedonia 48th out of 190 for the ease of registering property, two places up from 2018, and 15th for the ease of dealing with construction permits.
Land leased or acquired by foreign and/or non-resident investors is regulated by the Law on Ownership and Other Real Rights. EU and OECD residents have the same rights as local residents in lease or acquisition of construction land or property, whereas for non-EU and non-OECD residents property ownership is regulated under terms of reciprocity. Foreign residents cannot acquire agricultural land in North Macedonia. Foreign investors may acquire property rights for buildings used in their business activities, as well as full ownership rights over construction land through a locally registered company. If a foreign company registers a local company in any form (subsidiary, local partner, or joint venture representation office), it can acquire land with full ownership rights similar to a domestic company.
Purchased land belongs to the owner and, even if it remains unoccupied, cannot revert to other owners such as squatters. The exception to this is agricultural land granted by the government as concessions. If the consignee does not use the land per the agreement, then the government can cancel the concession and take back possession of the land.
Intellectual Property Rights
Responsibility for safeguarding intellectual property rights (IPR) is distributed among numerous institutions. The State Office of Industrial Property governs patents, trademarks, service marks, designs, models, and samples. A very small unit within the Ministry of Culture administers the protection of authors’ rights and other related rights (e.g., music, film, television). The State Market Inspectorate is responsible for monitoring markets and preventing the sale of counterfeit and pirated goods. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for IPR-related crimes committed on the Internet. The Customs Administration has the right to seize suspect goods to prevent their distribution pending confirmation from the rights holder of the authenticity of the goods. The National Coordination Body for Intellectual Property, which periodically organized interagency raids to seize counterfeit products, usually focuses on small sellers in open-air markets and mostly targets trademark infringements. The body has been inactive for the past two years.
As North Macedonia awaits a date to begin EU accession negotiations, it continues to harmonize its IPR laws and regulations with EU standards, but still needs to demonstrate adequate enforcement of those laws. The European Commission’s 2020 report on North Macedonia noted some progress in raising awareness in the fight against counterfeiting, smuggling, and the importation of counterfeit goods, as well as an increase in seized goods. The EU raised concerns that an information platform for law enforcement institutions to exchange data on IPR had still not been established despite continuing recommendations. This is an obstacle to the creation of a credible enforcement record and to gathering reliable statistics on the institutional handling of IPR infringements. The EU also noted the need for further improvement of the legal framework on IPR, notably the collective rights management system, by aligning with the Collective Rights Management Directive, and industrial property rights, by aligning with the Enforcement Directive and the Trade Secrets Directive. By delaying amendments to the legal framework on copyright and neighboring rights, North Macedonia’s royalty fee collection system will continue to decline. The Law on industrial property is still not aligned with the EU acquis on trade secrets, which further increases companies’ mistrust. The business community frequently complains the State Office for Industrial Property does not register patents or take enforcement action in a timely manner.
While North Macedonia has many laws in place to protect IPR, infringement is frequent, and the court system should be improved. Prosecutors and judges for both civil and criminal cases are aware of IPR but lack adequate experience due to the small number of IPR cases. There are no specialized courts to handle IPR cases. Many rights holders do not pursue legal action since IPR violators usually lack the financial resources to pay damages. Courts are sometimes reluctant to find accused IPR violators guilty due to stiff mandatory minimum sentences for small-time distributors of counterfeit goods. The penalties for IPR infringement range from 30 to 60 days closure of businesses, monetary fines of up to €5,000 ($5,624), or a prison sentence of up to five years. North Macedonia does not track and report cumulative statistics on IPR infringement or seizures of counterfeit goods, and therefore lacks a credible enforcement record. North Macedonia is not included in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report or the Notorious Market List. Notably, after 10 years of using unlicensed software, in September 2020, North Macedonia finalized an agreement and began to use licensed Microsoft software in government institutions.
North Macedonia is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to a number of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The government openly welcomes foreign portfolio investors. The establishment of the Macedonian Stock Exchange (MSE) in 1995 made it possible to regulate portfolio investments, although North Macedonia’s capital market is modest in turnover and capitalization. Market capitalization in 2020 was $3.5 billion, a 1.2 percent drop from the previous year. The main index, MBI10, increased by 1.2 percent, reaching 4,705 points at year-end. Foreign portfolio investors accounted for an average of 7.6 percent of total MSE turnover, 17.4 percentage points less than in 2019. The current regulatory framework does not appear to discriminate against foreign portfolio investments.
There is an effective regulatory system for portfolio investments, and North Macedonia’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) licenses all MSE members to trade in securities and regulates the market. In 2020, the total number of listed companies was 104, two less than in 2019, and total turnover increased by 6.4 percent. Compared to international standards, overall liquidity of the market is modest for entering and/or exiting sizeable positions. Individuals generally trade on the MSE as individuals, rather than through investment funds, which have been present since 2007.
There are no legal barriers to the free flow of financial resources into the products and factor markets. The National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia (NBRNM) respects IMF Article VIII and does not impose restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. A variety of credit instruments are provided at market rates to both domestic and foreign companies.
Money and Banking System
In its regular report on Article IV consultations, published January 2020, the International Monetary Fund assessed North Macedonia’s banking sector is healthy, well-capitalized, liquid, and profitable. Banks comfortably meet capital adequacy requirements, but efforts are needed to further mitigate credit risk. Domestic companies secure financing primarily from their own cash flows and bank loans due to the lack of corporate bonds and other securities as credit instruments.
Financial resources are almost entirely managed through North Macedonia’s banking system, consisting of 14 banks and a central bank, the NBRNM. On August 12, 2020, NBRNM revoked the operating license of Eurostandard Bank due to the bank’s insolvency. Eurostandard Bank controlled just 1.3 percent of the total banking sector’s assets, and its closure did not affect the banking sector’s stability, but did improve its overall ratio of non-performing loans by one percentage point. The banking sector is highly concentrated, with three of the largest banks controlling 57.6 percent of the banking sector’s total assets of about $10.7 billion and collecting 70.9 percent of total household deposits. The largest commercial bank in the country has estimated total assets of about $2.4 billion, and the second largest about $2 billion. The nine smallest banks, which have individual market shares of less than 6 percent each, account for 23.5 percent of total banking sector assets. Foreign banks or branches are allowed to establish operations in the country on equal terms as domestic operators, subject to licensing and prudent supervision from the NBRNM. In 2020, foreign capital remained present in 13 of North Macedonia’s 14 banks, and was dominant in 10 banks, controlling 71.5 percent of total banking sector assets, 80.4 percent of total loans, and 69.4 percent of total deposits.
According to the NBRNM, the banking sector’s non-performing loans at the end of Q3 of 2020 (latest available data) were 3.4 percent of total loans, dropping by 1.4 percentage points on an annual basis, mostly due to the NBRNM’s anti-crisis measures allowing temporary postponement of loan installment payments and regulatory amendments in managing and calculating credit risk. Total profits at the end of Q3 of 2020 reached $112 million, which was 2.1 percent higher compared to the same period of 2019.
Banks’ liquid assets at the end of Q3 of 2020 were 29.9 percent of total assets, 2.5 percentage points lower compared to the same period in 2019, remaining comfortably high. In 2020, the NBRNM conducted different stress-test scenarios on the banking sector’s sensitivity to increased credit risk, liquidity shocks, and insolvency shocks, all of which showed the banking sector is healthy and resilient, with a capital adequacy ratio remaining above the legally required minimum of eight percent. The actual capital adequacy ratio of the banking sector at the end of Q3 of 2020 was 16.9 percent, unchanged compared to the same period in 2019, with all banks, except the one which was closed, maintaining a ratio above the required minimum.
There are no restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account. All commercial banks and the NBRNM have established and maintain correspondent banking relationships with foreign banks. The banking sector lost no correspondent banking relationships in the past three years, nor were there any indications that any current correspondent banking relationships were in jeopardy. There is no intention to implement or allow the implementation of blockchain technologies in banking transactions in North Macedonia. Also, alternative financial services do not exist in the economy. The transaction settlement mechanism is solely through the banking sector.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The Constitution provides for free transfer, conversion, and repatriation of investment capital and profits by foreign investors. Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into other currencies. Conversion of most foreign currencies is possible at market rates on the official foreign exchange market. In addition to banks and savings houses, numerous authorized exchange offices also provide exchange services. The NBRNM operates the foreign exchange market but participates on an equal basis with other entities. There are no restrictions on the purchase of foreign currency.
Parallel foreign exchange markets do not exist in the country, largely due to the long-term stability of the national currency, the denar (MKD). The denar is convertible domestically but is not convertible on foreign exchange markets. The NBRNM is pursuing a strategy of pegging the denar to the euro and has successfully kept it at the same level since 1997. Required foreign currency reserves are spelled out in the banking law.
There were no changes in investment remittance policies, and there are no immediate plans for changes to the regulations. By law, foreign investors are entitled to transfer profits and income without being subject to a transfer tax. All types of investment returns are generally remitted within three working days. There are no legal limitations on private financial transfers to and from North Macedonia. Remittances from workers in the diaspora represent a significant source of income for North Macedonia’s households. In 2020, net private transfers amounted to $1.5 billion, accounting for 12.2 percent of GDP.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
North Macedonia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
There are about 120 State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in North Macedonia, the majority of which are public utilities, predominately owned by the central government or the 81 local governments. The government estimated about 8,600 people are employed in SOEs. SOEs operate in several sectors of the economy, including energy, transportation, and media. There are also industries such as arms production and narcotics in which private enterprises may not operate without government approval. SOEs are governed by boards of directors, consisting of members appointed by the government. All SOEs are subject to the same tax policies as private sector companies. SOEs are allowed to purchase or supply goods or services from the private sector and are not given advantages that are not market-based, such as preferential access to land and raw materials.
There is no published registry with complete information on all SOEs in the country.
The government has yet to implement broad public administration reform, which would also include SOEs, especially addressing their employment policies and governance. North Macedonia is not a signatory to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs. In February 2018, the government sent its bid to the World Trade Organization to upgrade its status from observer to a full member of the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). The negotiation process is still ongoing.
North Macedonia’s privatization process is almost complete, and private capital is dominant in the market. The government is trying to resolve the status of one remaining state-owned loss-making company in a non-discriminatory process through an international tender. Foreign and domestic investors have equal opportunity to participate in the privatization of the remaining state-owned assets through an easily understandable, non-discriminatory, and transparent public bidding process. Neither the central government nor any local government has announced plans to fully or partially privatize any of the utility companies or SOEs in their ownership.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Responsible business conduct (RBC) is a nascent concept in North Macedonia, and the number of enterprises which contribute to sustainable development is very limited. The government has not taken any major measures to encourage RBC and has not defined RBC or policies to actively promote or encourage it. The government has not conducted a “National Action Plan” on RBC and does not factor RBC policies into its procurement decisions.
There have not been any high-profile controversial instances of private sector impact on human rights or resolution of such cases in the recent past. Previously, the government has failed to fully enforce laws related to labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protection, and other laws and regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts.
North Macedonia passed the Law on Trade Companies in 2004 and the Securities Law in 2005 which regulate corporate governance. Together these laws provide a clear distinction between the rights and duties of shareholders versus the operations and management of the company. Shareholders generally cannot be held liable for the acts or omissions of the company. The American Chamber of Commerce in North Macedonia has a committee on Community Engagement and Responsible Business Conduct, which, beginning in 2015, organizes seminars on relevant topics and maintains an online database of corporate social responsibility activities carried out by over 260 companies (http://amcham.mk/csr/). The government does not take any measures to encourage adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsibility Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. North Macedonia does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
North Macedonia has laws intended to counter bribery, abuse of official position, and conflicts-of-interest, and government officials and their close relatives are legally required to disclose their income and assets. However, enforcement of anti-corruption laws has at times been weak and selectively targeted government critics and low-level offenders. There have been credible allegations of corruption in law enforcement, the judiciary, and many other sectors. The current State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (SCPC) (https://www.dksk.mk/index.php?id=home ), appointed in February 2019, resumed its work after the passage of new anticorruption legislation in January 2019 and has been particularly proactive since. The SCPC opened a number of corruption-related inquiries, focused on high-level officials from across the political spectrum for alleged nepotism and conflict of interest. After the Chief Special Prosecutor was indicted on racketeering charges in November 2019 and the mandate of the Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) expired, all SPO cases (which emanated from a massive wiretapping scandal which revealed extensive abuse of office by former public officials and corruption involving public tenders) were transferred to the Public Prosecution Office’s Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecution Office. A few of the high-profile cases were completed in 2020, with defendants receiving prison sentences of up to 12 years. Transparency International ranked North Macedonia 111th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, a drop of 5 places, for a lack of government efforts to combat corruption and conflict of interest in public administration. The resulting public disappointment and pressure over the high index score, in part, triggered the Deputy Prime Minister for Anti-Corruption to introduce a Code of Ethics for members of the government and all other officials appointed by the government, under which they must commit to transparent and responsible work.
To deter corruption, the government uses an automated electronic customs clearance process, which allows businesses to monitor the status of their applications. In order to raise transparency and accountability in public procurement, the Bureau for Public Procurement introduced an electronic system which allows publication of notices from domestic and international institutions, tender documentation previews without registering in the system, e-payments for system use, electronic archiving, and electronic complaint submission (https://www.e-nabavki.gov.mk/PublicAccess/Home.aspx#/home).
The government does not require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct prohibiting bribery of public officials. A number of domestic NGOs focus on anti-corruption and transparency in public finance and tendering procedures. There are frequent reports of nepotism in public tenders. The government does not provide any special protections to NGOs involved in investigating corruption. North Macedonia has ratified the UN Convention against Corruption and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and has signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Many businesses operating in North Macedonia, including some U.S. businesses, identified corruption as a problem in government tenders and in the judiciary. No local firms or non-profit groups provide vetting services of potential local investment partners. Foreign companies often hire local attorneys, who have knowledge of local industrial sectors and access to the Central Registry and business associations, who can provide financial and background information on local businesses and potential partners.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contacts at government agencies responsible for combating corruption:
State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption
Ms. Biljana Ivanovska, President Dame
Gruev 1 1000 Skopje,
+389 2 321 5377 email@example.com
Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecution Office
Ms. Vilma Ruskovska, Chief
Boulevard Krste Misirkov BB, Sudska Palata 1000 Skopje,
+389 2 321 9884
Ministry of Interior Organized Crime and Corruption Department
Mr. Lazo Velkovski, Head of the Department
Dimce Mircev bb 1000 Skopje, Macedonia
+ 389 2 314 3150 + 389 2 314 3150
Transparency International – Macedonia
Ms. Slagjana Taseva, President
Naum Naumovski Borce 58 P.O. Box 270 1000 Skopje,
+389 2 321 7000 firstname.lastname@example.org
10. Political and Security Environment
North Macedonia generally has been free from political violence over the past decade, although interethnic relations have been strained at times. Public protests, demonstrations, and strikes occur sporadically, and often result in traffic jams, particularly near the center of Skopje.
Following 2016 parliamentary elections, an organized group of protestors leveraged ongoing protests and eventually stormed the parliament building on April 27, 2017 in reaction to the change of government and the election of Talat Xhaferi as Speaker of Parliament, the first ethnic Albanian to assume that post since the country’s independence. More than 100 people were injured, including several members of the government and seven MPs. On March 18, 2019, 16 individuals were convicted and given lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in the attack, including the former head of the Public Security Bureau (who had previously served as Minister of Interior) and former security officers. The trial against the suspected organizers is ongoing. Defendants include the former prime minister and now fugitive from justice (Nikola Gruevski), parliament speaker, two former ministers, and a former director of the Department of Security and Counterintelligence.
There is neither widespread anti-American nor anti-Western sentiment in North Macedonia. There have been no incidents in recent years involving politically motivated damage to U.S. projects or installations. Violent crime against U.S. citizens is rare. Theft and other petty street crimes do occur, particularly in areas where tourists and foreigners congregate.
North Macedonia formally deposited its instrument of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty and was formally accepted as NATO’s 30th member on March 27, 2020. The country has been an EU candidate country since December 2005 and, on March 25, 2020, the General Affairs Council of the European Union decided to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia, which was endorsed by the European Council the following day. However, Bulgaria refused to approve North Macedonia’s EU negotiating framework in November 2020, effectively blocking the official launch of EU accession talks.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Foreign investors, especially those in labor-intensive industries, find North Macedonia’s competitive labor costs and high number of English speakers attractive. The average net wage in 2020 was MKD 28,294 ($554) per month. Тhe minimum net wage for June 2020 through March 2021 was set to MKD 14,934,00 ($260) per month.
In 2019, North Macedonia’s labor force consisted of 964,014 people, of which 797,651 (82.7 percent) were officially employed and 166,363 (17.3 percent) were officially unemployed. North Macedonia’s employed labor force is roughly 59.9 percent male and 40.1 percent female. The largest number of employees are engaged in manufacturing at 19.8 percent, trade 14.1 percent, and agriculture 13.9 percent. The total unemployment rate for youth ages 15 to 24 years old is 35.6 percent. About 20 percent of the unemployed have a university education. Informal sectors of the economy, including agriculture, are estimated to account for 22 percent of employment.
Despite the relatively high unemployment rate, foreign investors report difficulties in recruiting and retaining workers. Positions requiring technical and specialized skills can be especially difficult to fill due to a mismatch between industry needs, the educational system, and graduates’ aspirations. Many well-trained professionals with highly marketable skills, such as IT specialists, outsource to foreign companies or choose to work outside the country. To address shortages of factory workers, the government encourages the dispersal of labor-intensive manufacturing investments to different parts of the country, and companies often bus in workers from other areas. The Operational Plan for Active Programs and Measures for Employment and Services in the Labor Market for 2020 (http://av.gov.mk/content/%D0%9E%D0%9F/OP-2020.pdf) defines active government measures, programs, and services for self-employment and employment to stimulate job creation. The Plan also provides subsidies for companies which create new jobs, internships, and vocational training for unemployed persons or offer re-qualification/retraining.
Relations between employees and employers are regulated by individual employment contracts, collective agreements, and labor legislation. The Law on Working Relations regulates all forms of employment relations between employees and employers to include retirement, lay-offs, and union operations. Severance and unemployment insurance are also covered by the same law. Most labor-related laws are in line with international labor standards and generally align with recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Labor laws apply to both domestic and foreign investments, and employees under each are equally protected.
There is no limitation on the number of employed foreign nationals or the duration of their stay. Work permits are required for foreign nationals, and an employment contract must be signed upon hiring. The employment contract, which must be in writing and kept on the work premises, should address the following provisions: description of the employee’s duties, duration of the contract (finite or indefinite), effective start and termination dates, workplace location, hours of work, rest and vacation periods, qualifications and training, salary, and pay schedule. The law establishes a 40-hour work week with a minimum 24-hour rest period, paid vacation of 20 to 26 workdays, and sick leave benefits. Employees may not legally work more than an average of eight hours of overtime per week over a three-month period, or 190 hours per year. According to the collective agreement for the private sector between employers and unions, employees in the private sector have a right to overtime pay at 135 percent of their regular rate. In addition, the law entitles employees who work more than 150 hours of overtime per year to a bonus of one month’s salary. Although the government sets occupational safety and health standards for employers, those standards are not enforced in the informal sector.
Trade unions are interest-based, legally autonomous labor organizations. Membership is voluntary, and activities are financed by membership dues. About 22 percent of legally employed workers are dues-paying union members. Although legally permitted, there are no unions in the factories operating in the free economic zones. Most unions, with the exception of a few local branches, are generally not independent of the influence of government officials, political parties, and employers.
There are two main associations of trade unions: The Union of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Each association is comprised of independent branch unions from the public and private sectors. Both associations, along with representatives from the Organization of Employers of North Macedonia and relevant government ministries, are members of the Economic – Social Council. The Council meets regularly to discuss issues of concern to both employers and employees, and reviews amendments to labor-related laws.
The rights of workers in industrial divisions are regulated by National Collective Bargaining Agreements, and there are two on the national level – one for the public sector and one for the private sector. Only about 25 percent of the labor force is covered by these agreements. National collective agreements in the private sector are negotiated between representative labor unions and representative employer associations. The national collective agreement for the public sector is negotiated between the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and labor unions. Separate contracts are negotiated by union branches at the industry or company level. Collective bargaining agreements are most prevalent in the metal industry, private sector education, and court administration.
An out-of-court mechanism for labor dispute resolution was introduced in 2015 with ILO assistance. North Macedonia’s labor regulations comply with international labor standards and are in line with the ILO. In 2018, the government adopted a number of changes to the Law on Labor relations, most of which related to workers’ rights in procedures for termination of work contracts, severance pay, and apprenticeships. http://www.mtsp.gov.mk/content/pdf/zakoni/2018/ZRO%20izmeni%202018.pdf.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
Financing and insurance for export, investment, and development projects are made possible through agencies such as the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA); the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EX-IM); the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC); the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank); the International Finance Corporation (IFC); the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA); and the Southeast Europe Equity Fund (SEEF). Most funding for major projects is acquired through co-financing agreements, especially for transportation and energy infrastructure development.
Political risk insurance and project financing have been available to investors in North Macedonia since 1996, first through OPIC and now through the DFC. The DFC focuses on debt financing, political risk insurance, equity investment, and supporting private equity investment funds. MIGA provides investment guarantees against certain non-commercial risks (i.e., political risk insurance) to eligible foreign investors who make qualified investments in developing member countries.
Although its primary focus is export assistance, including direct loans and capital guarantees aimed at the export of non-military items, EX-IM also provides insurance policies to protect against both political and commercial risks. USTDA, SEEF, the World Bank, and the EBRD focus more directly on financing agreements. 13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
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;
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)
* Source for Host Country Data: State Statistical Office (SSO) publishes data estimates on GDP; National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia (NBRNM) publishes data on FDI. Data is publicly available online and is published immediately upon processing with a lag of less than one quarter. End-year data for previous year is usually published in March of current year.
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment
Outward Direct Investment
Bosnia and Herzegovina
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Debt Securities
The results from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are consistent with host country data. Sources of portfolio investments are not tax havens.
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy – Skopje
1000 Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia
Tel: +389 2 310 2403