Serbia has substantially benefited from trade and economic integration with the EU. The EU is traditionally Serbia’s key trading partner accounting for more than 60% of Serbia’s total trade in 2021, with similar percentages persisting over the years. The value of Serbia’s exports to the EU more than quadrupled from nearly EUR 3.2 billion in 2009 to just below EUR 14 billion in 2021!
Serbia’s exports to the EU have been growing faster than imports from the EU. Coverage of imports by exports on the Serbian side has been improving; from 48% in 2009 to over 85% in 2021 (85% of the value of imports from the EU were covered by Serbian exports to the EU).
Individual EU member states traditionally top the list of Serbia’s most important trade partners, notably Germany as Serbia’s number one partner in both good imports and exports, followed by Italy, Hungary and Romania. Serbia exported almost 13% of total exports to Germany alone and another 8% to Italy in 2021. On the import side, Serbia imported more than 13% of all imports from Germany and another 8% from Italy in 2021.
Concerning trade in agricultural products, Serbia enjoys a surplus vis-à-vis the EU. This surplus reached its all-time-high in 2021 at EUR 688 million. The EU market traditionally represents the most important export destination for Serbian agricultural products with over 55% of agricultural exports shipped to the EU in 2021.
Serbia’s agricultural exports to the EU almost quadrupled over the past decade, from EUR 640 million in 2009 to EUR 2.3 billion in 2021. At the same time, Serbian imports of agricultural products from the EU have been on a steady rise during the previous decade from EUR 440 million in 2009 to over EUR 1.6 billion in 2021.
EU – Serbia’s most important investor
Foreign direct investments (FDI) coming from the EU accounted for more than 63% of total FDI coming to Serbia from 2010 until 2021. In absolute terms, FDI from the EU countries reached a total of EUR 19.1 billion over the past twelve years.
Companies from the EU have been the leading investors in Serbia over the previous decade. These companies have brought efficiency, modern technologies and know-how into the Serbian economy, providing jobs for many Serbian people. EU companies have also brought new corporate culture and EU values into Serbia’s economy changing the way Serbian economy operates with impact on individuals and society as a whole.
This has in turn significantly increased productivity and competitiveness of the Serbian economy, boosting its export potential, increasing budget revenues and generating economic growth. Ultimately, opening up of the Serbian market to companies from the EU has generated a variety of choice and lower prices for consumers.
Serbian producers exporting duty-free to the EU since 2000
Customs duties for all industrial and agricultural products coming from Serbia into the EU were abolished by the EU in 2000 with the application of the Autonomous Trade Measures. Only a few agricultural products remained protected by the preferential tariff quotas. This regime was unilaterally granted by the EU to Serbia in 2000 and it represented the most extensive trade concessions regime that was ever granted by the EU to any country or group of countries. This meant that the EU had immediately abolished all customs duties and quantitative restrictions on imports of all industrial and agricultural products, aside from only a few agricultural products that are under the preferential tariff quota regime (sugar, baby beef, wine and a few types of fish).
Serbia gradually removing customs protection since 2009
For Serbia, the reduction of import duties for goods originating in the EU started nine years later in January 2009 when Serbia voluntarily initiated the implementation of the trade-related part of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, called the Interim Agreement. This agreement introduced asymmetric trade liberalisation in favour of Serbia for both industrial and agricultural products. In other words, since 2009, trade liberalisation on the Serbian side has been following a gradual and predictable six years’ liberalisation schedule, reflecting the level of sensitivity of products for Serbian producers.
At the same time, a level playing field was being gradually introduced through the implementation of a predictable customs regime, anti-trust, state aid rules as well as the intellectual and industrial property protection regime in Serbia. This gradual trade liberalisation schedule was supposed to enable Serbian producers to progressively prepare for growing competition from the EU.
From January 1, 2014, Serbia and the EU have reached the sixth and final year of the trade liberalisation schedule. However, the most sensitive agricultural products for Serbian farmers will remain protected with customs duties until Serbia’s accession to the EU, notably all kinds of meat, yoghurt, butter, certain types of cheese, honey, certain vegetables and flour, with their tariff protection ranging from 20% to 50% of the most favoured nation (MFN) duty that Serbia applies to the rest of the world.
Entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement
The entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement in September 2013 further reinforced the economic benefits of the Interim Agreement. A number of new provisions contributed to improving the business environment in Serbia, including provisions related to the free movement of capital, public procurement, standardisation, rights of establishment and supply of services. These policy changes provide a clearer and safer framework for investors and businesses creating new momentum for the Serbian economy in attracting investments and improving the level playing field.
Implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement has raised standards of doing business for Serbian companies, gradually preparing them to compete with the EU companies on the Single Market and increasing their competitiveness in the long run.
For Serbian citizens, this should generate more variety of choice and decrease the prices of goods. For instance, the gradual opening of the market for public tenders to EU companies should result in more competition in public procurement procedures and is supposed to consequently bring better value for money to Serbian tax payers – better public works, supplies and services with less tax payers’ money.
Access2Markets is for companies, business organisations, chambers of commerce, business advisory services such as the Enterprise Europe Network, for Export Promotion Organisations and all other entities who work with and advise companies in exploring export opportunities or where to source goods from outside the EU.
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The portal offers a single search window for import and export to look up life data for the to-date applying trade conditions for each product, each trade agreement and arrangement. This product-specific information includes customs formalities, product legislation, the contact details of competent authorities in every country. The portal comes in all 24 official EU languages.