Import regulations and customs duties
Serbia uses a system of documentation which is relatively standard for import-export transactions and the trend is towards harmonization of procedures with those of the European Union. Import licences have been abolished for all goods except : arms and munitions, police and military equipment, antiques, works of art, precious metals, waste and substances which are dangerous for the ozone layer. For medicines, an authorization from the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Agriculture is necessary.
To clear Customs each product must be labelled. The label must be written in Serbian and contain the following information : name of the product, full address of the producer or importer, net quantity/weight/volume, ingredients, storage and transport recommendations, and important recommendations for the consumer. Technically complicated goods must have instructions for use, the manufacturer's specifications, a list of authorized maintenance centers, information about the guarantee and especially its duration.
A certain number of products are banned from import, particularly because they are dangerous for the environment. These are :
- second-hand cars which do not have a Euro type engine
- 3 minimum in terms of maximum tolerated levels of noise and exhaust gas
- tractors, building and mining equipment more than three years old (except those imported for humanitarian reasons)
- dangerous waste,
- toxic substances.
For further information:
- the Ministry of Health
- the Ministry of Agriculture
- the European Commission's site for Market Access
- Customs Administration (only in Serbian)
In February 2004, Serbia applied to become a member of the WTO. The examination of Serbia's foreign trade system by a work group of the WTO should last until the end of 2006. However, quotas have been abolished and the number of import licences reduced. The amendment of the Customs Duties Act in July 2005 makes it compatible with the laws of the member countries of the WTO and the EU, especially in terms of the application of the harmonized Customs system (HS). Customs duties go from 0% to 30%, according to the products and according to the partners. The most heavily taxed goods are arms and munitions.
In 2000, two series of measures were introduced to strengthen trade relations between the EU and Serbia : asymmetrical trade preferences and agreements on stabilization and association.
The first series of trade measures was recorded in regulation (CE) 2007/2000 of the EU which grants preferences which imply practically free access to the Union for goods from Serbia. There are few restrictive clauses and these take the form of quotas for certain fishery products, some wines and sugar. In order to continue to benefit from these preferences, Serbia must continue its structural reforms and develop its export capacity.
Negotiations concerning Serbia's joining the European Union have begun but as yet no agreement has been signed.
Bilateral trade in textile goods between Serbia and the EU is carried out in the context of the Textile Agreement, signed on March 31st 2005. This agreement allows for the immediate opening up of the EU market to textile goods from Serbia and Serbia's commitment to abolish progressively its tarifs on textile goods from the EU, reaching a zero tarif in January 2008.
In August 2000 Serbia signed a free trade agreement with Russia, allowing free access for Serbian goods to the Russian market. Certain goods are however excluded from the agreement : poultry, sugar, confectionery, alcoholic drinks, soap, cotton, carpets, wooden furniture, electrical appliances, vehicle engines.
Since 2005, the United States have granted Serbia the system of generalized preferences. At the present time more than 4,650 products, essentially manufactured goods, semi-finished goods and some agricultural produce, are exempt from Customs duties. The main products which do not benefit from this special scheme are textile goods, leather goods and shoes. There are 13 free zones in Serbia : Belgrade, Kovin, Novi Sad, Sr. Mitrovica, Lapovo, Sabac, Vladicin Han, Prahovo, Smederovo, Sombor, Senta, Subotica, Pirot. Exports and imports through these zones are exempt from all restrictions and Customs duties, and VAT, and building, buying or renting warehouses and commercial premises is made easier.
For further information about the features of each of these free zones:
- the site of the Serbian Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SIEPA); this site is in English, Serbian and Italian
- the Customs site, which is only in Serbian
VAT was introduced in January 2005. Imports are subject to it in the same way as national production. Nevertheless, imports by companies situated in the free zones are zero rated.
Regulations governing payments
Following a decade in the 1990's marked by abuse, bad management and illegal transactions, the banking sector in Serbia has been vastly transformed in the early 2000's. The country's four main banks were declared bankrupt in January 2002, since when a wide privatization movement, especially in favor of foreign banks, has been set up. At the same time, a lot of foreign banks have established themselves in Serbia. Today most of the big French banks are established there.
What means of payment should you use?
- bank cheque : reject this, it is slow and costly;
- promissory note : avoid this;
- bill of exchange : avoid this;
- documentary collection : advisable;
- documentary letter of credit : advisable, it takes 5 to 15 days;
- SWIFT transfer : advisable, it takes 48 hours;
- standby letter of credit : advisable.
According to the local banks, the means of payment offering the best quality/security ratio are, in order, the SWIFT transfer, the documentary letter of credit and the standby letter of credit.
There is no exchange control in Serbia. The legal tender is the dinar. It floats freely but the National Bank of Serbia (NBS) manages to maintain the stability of the currency, which is in practice tied to the euro. The Serbian dinar is available outside the Serbian borders but not everywhere. Cash can enter or leave the country up to the equivalent of 5,000 euros per person (Currency Transactions Act 2006).
With a population of 7.5 million inhabitants Serbia is the second biggest market in South East Europe, after Romania. Distribution is not well developed because of extremely limited purchasing power. The distribution sector in Serbia is characterized by : the dominance of traditional local shops, the relative importance of the parallel economy and the very recent development of new forms of commerce, especially hypermarkets (the first opening was in December 2002). For the moment hypermarkets are mainly concentrated around Belgrade and, to a lesser extent, in the region of Novi Sad (Vojvodina). In 2003, the global retail trade turnover was estimated at about 6.5 billion euros, with a growth of 33% over the year. Because of low purchasing power, one of the key elements in selling goods is being able to offer payment facilities, on the B to C market as well as on the B to B market.
The Business to Consumer (B to C) market
Serbia is a country in transition and therefore a complex market. Calling on the services of a local representative, agents or distributors is recommended. As it is recommended to call on the services of a local lawyer, who is able to interpret the existing laws and their relatively frequent amendments.
Due to a high unemployment rate (about 20%) and very low salaries (about 200 euros), purchasing power is extremely low. 30% of the population lives under the poverty line. Consequently, revenue from the parallel economy and transfers from abroad play a relatively important role. Purchases are essentially of fresh produce and for small sums. Shopping is done often (3 to 4 times a week) and mostly on foot. The main buying places are supermarkets, followed by green markets, mini-markets and flea markets. Consumer foodstuffs are generally produced locally. Imports only represent a marginal part of traditional distribution and mass marketing (between 15 and 20%).
Small local shops represent 75% of distribution. There are 20,000 to 30,000 retail outlets for the food sector. Prices are ofter lower than in supermarkets. There are also many open air markets. There are three main retail chains : Centroprom, Jabuka and Si-Market.
Mass marketing was dominated until December 2002 by three big national supermarket chains :
- C-Market (www.cmarket.co.yu/), leader of the food market, has a network of 250 outlets of 600 to 800 m2 and is considering opening a 6,000 m2 hypermarket.
- Pekabeta (www.pekabeta.com/) has 160 outlets of 300 m2 on average.
- Maxi, holds a 7 to 8% market share of mass marketing and has 52 supermarkets of 900 m2 on average.
Hypermarkets appeared in Serbia in December 2002 with the arrival of Mercator (www.mercator.co.yu), belonging to the Slovenian group of the same name and which has a sales area of 5,500 m2 in Belgrade. The chain has recently opened a second hypermarket in Cacak. The SuperVero hypermarket, belonging to the Greek group Veropoulos and representing a sales area of 3,500 m2 also opened its doors at the end of 2002.
Note the presence of the French Intermarché through Interex (www.interex-planet.com) supermarkets in Cacak, Nis, Zajecar and Sabac (since December 2006).
Electronic commerce is only just starting up. For the moment, only the Maxi supermarket chain offers a system of on-line purchasing. There is no general law on electronic commerce in Serbia but a Digital Signature Act was passed in December 2004 and its enforcement is in progress.
For distribution other than food, it should be noted that there are still few shopping centers. Large scale expansion can be expected in the coming years, concurrently with the development of hypermarkets. The ready-to-wear and accessory sectors are for the moment those most often found, but the sectors of leisure, beauty products and especially products for DIY and the home should expand.
The Business to Business (B to B) market
Distribution circuits are very short, with importer wholesalers who sell their goods to retail shops and supermarkets. Most wholesalers have been privatized. The main chains of wholesalers are : Nana (Nis), Wissol (Cacak), Gradina (Uzice), Rodic (Vojvodina), Delta M (Belgrade), Tempo (Belgrade), Metro (Belgrade). A certain number of trade shows and fairs enable contact to be established with distributors or suppliers. Among the biggest are the Belgrade Trade Fairs (www.sajam.co.yu), the Novi Sad Trade Fair (www.nsfair.com), the Subotica Trade Fair (www.suexpo.co.yu).
Concerning public markets, a law exists on such markets in Serbia, which applies to all purchases made by the State, local governments or public enterprises (Official Journal, 39/2002 and 4/2003) of more than 600,000 dinars. In principle public purchases must be subjected to an invitation to tender published in the Official Journal (www.glasnik.com). Tenders of more than 3 million dinars or more than 15 million dinars for works must also be published in the press. The law defines "the best tender" as the least expensive of those which correspond to the need. Other criteria than price may be taken into account but they must appear in the invitation to tender. For large purchases foreign companies compete legally on an equal footing with local firms. However, an amendment to the law allows national preference on condition that the tender of the local firm is not 20% higher than the tender of the foreign company. The Ministry of Finance's public purchases department is responsible for the conformity of the awarding procedures.
Transportation of goods
The road network covers 40,845 km of roads including 5,525 km of main roads (including motorways), 11,540 km of regional roads and 23,780 km of local roads. The motorway network (about 700 km) is subject to toll. The Pan-European corridors VII and X cross Serbia.
The rail network covers 3,808 km including 1,200 km of electrified track.
Three rivers are navigable in Serbia.
The Danube, which flows through Belgrade, provides 588 km of waterways in Serbia. It is an international communication route especially thanks to the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal by which it is possible to sail from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Serbia's main port is in Belgrade (www.port-bgd.co.yu), on the Danube.
The river Tisa is navigable over 164 km and is an advantage for traffic on the Danube due to the existence of a Danube-Tisa-Danube canal.
The river Sava allows goods to be transported over 207 km and links several Balkan countries : Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.
There are two commercial airports in Serbia, in Belgrade (www.airport-belgrade.co.yu) and in Nis (www.airportnis.co.yu). The national airline company is JAT Airways (www.jat.com). Air transport of goods in Serbia-Montenegro was 6 million metric tons per kilometer in 2004.
The organization which fixes norms, tests and certifications in Serbia is the Institute for Standardization (Zavod za Standardizaciju). The organization which grants accreditations is the Council of Accreditation. Both organizations depend on the Ministry of the Economy.
At this time, the technical notes published by the Institute for Standardization only exist in Serbian. However, the catalog of the notes is available in English on the Institute's website. A complete reform of the system of standardization and the role of the Institute for Standardization is underway and should be finished by the end of 2006. The objective of this reform is especially to bring norms into line so that they are compatible with the requirements of the WTO concerning the elimination of technical barriers to trade. The Institute for Standardization is the main organization for issuing certificates of compliance. However, thirty or so private organizations are authorized to test products and provide such certificates. The list of these organizations is available on the Institute's website. All products must be certified. After certification procedure a producer receives a "C" symbol. This is mandatory and cannot be replaced by the "CE" symbol (European norms). The Council of Accreditation issues accreditations to Serbian certification companies, in collaboration with test and calibration laboratories.
For further information about the norms applicable to each product :
- the European Commission's site for Market Access
- the Institute for Standardization (Zavod za Standardizaciju) - in Serbian and in English
- the Council of Accreditation
- the Ministry of the Economy - in Serbian and in English
Patents and brands
The organization responsible for intellectual property protection in Serbia is the Federal Bureau for Intellectual Property (Zavod za Intelektualni Svojinu). It depends on the Ministry of the Economy and Foreign Trade.
Serbia is a member of the World Organization of Intellectual Property (OMPI-WOPI). It has signed the main conventions and agreements in the field :
- WOPI Convention (1973)
- Paris Convention on industrial property (1921)
- Berne Convention on artistic and literary works (1930)
- Patents Cooperation Treaty (PCT) (1997)
- Madrid Agreement on the protection of trademarks (1921)
- The Hague Agreement on industrial designs (1993)
- Nice Agreement on the classification of goods and services (1966)
- Lisbonne Agreement on " appellations d'origines contrôlées" (1999)
All the Serbian laws concerning intellectual property protection respect the TRIPS agreements (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) of the WTO. In case of dispute the regular courts have jurisdiction.
For further information:
- The Federal Bureau for Intellectual Property (Zavod za Intelektualni Svojinu) - in Serbian and English
Texts currently applying to patents/brands
||Date entered into law
||Period of validity
Copyright and associated rights Act
January 1st 2005
July 10th 2004
Protection of Trademarks Act
January 1st 2005
Protection of Designs Act
January 1st 2005
Protection of Integrated Circuits Act
Indications of geographical origin
Geographical Indications Act
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