Economic and Political Overview

flag Serbia Serbia: Economic and Political Overview

In this page: Economic Indicators | Foreign Trade in Figures | Sources of General Economic Information | Political Outline | COVID-19 Country Response

 

Economic Indicators

The economy of Serbia experienced rapid growth from 2001–2008, although the global financial crisis hit hard on the country’s economy, showing its structural weaknesses and the need for a full transition to a market economy. Despite turning into negative territory in 2020 as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis, Serbia’s GDP rebounded strongly in 2021 (+7.4%) and continued its positive trend in 2022 (+2.3%). According to the Statistical Office of Serbia, GDP grew 2.5% in real terms in 2023, thanks to stronger net exports and investments and revived private consumption in light of a decrease in inflation. The IMF forecast indicates that economic growth is set to rise to 3% in 2024 and further to 4.5% in 2025. This surge is primarily attributed to the increased pace of private consumption growth, facilitated by reduced inflation, and a rise in investment activity. Following the significant positive impact observed last year, the contribution of net exports to growth is anticipated to remain generally neutral in both 2024 and 2025.

According to governmental figures, the general government budget deficit stood at 2.3% of GDP in 2023, from 3.2% one year earlier, amid lower capital transfers to state-owned enterprises within the energy sector and augmented revenue from increased excise duties, which were counterbalanced by discretionary expenditure measures encompassing heightened subsidies for agriculture, one-time lump-sum payments to pensioners and families with children, an exceptional pension increase, and additional wage increments in education and health sectors. Buoyed by the economic rebound and a continued reduction in energy-related capital transfers, the deficit is predicted to steadily diminish throughout 2024 and 2025. After dropping to 51.3% in 2023, primarily due to substantial nominal GDP growth, the general government debt-to-GDP ratio is also projected to progressively decline further, chiefly driven by the denominator effect amid sustained robust growth in nominal GDP, reaching 47.4% in 2025 (IMF). The estimated annual inflation rate hovered around 12% in 2023. The EU Commission expects it to revert to single digits in 2024 and to align within the Central Bank's target range by 2025. Meanwhile, negotiations for EU membership continued: Serbia has met the criteria to open new sets of chapters in the EU accession talks (including the Green Agenda and sustainable connectivity), although the normalization of relations with Kosovo is slow and those with Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are complicated. The negotiations are expected to end in 2024. The main challenges that Serbia faces are: stagnant household incomes, a need for private-sector job creation and structural reform of public enterprises as well as strategic reforms in the public sector. An ineffective judicial system, a high level of corruption and an aging population represent other challenges that the country will have to face in the long term.

Serbia's unemployment rate, relatively low compared to its neighbors in the Balkans, remains significantly higher than the European average: in 2023, it stood at 9.1%, with a marginal decrease expected in the next couple of years (8.8% in 2025 as per the IMF projections). However, in comparison to 2022, average salaries, along with taxes and contributions deducted, experienced a nominal increase of 15% and a real increase of 2.6% in 2023 (Statistical Office of Serbia). The standard of living of the Serbian population remains significantly below the EU average and the country's informal sector is substantial. However, the authorities have the support of the EU and international financial institutions to modernize infrastructure and support investment in the business community. Eurostat estimates that the number of people at risk of poverty fell further to 21.2% in 2021 (latest data available), while the GDP per capita (PPP) stood at USD 23,911 in 2022 (World Bank).

 
Main Indicators 20222023 (E)2024 (E)2025 (E)2026 (E)
GDP (billions USD) 63.5075.0281.6988.9195.52
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) 2.32.03.04.54.0
GDP per Capita (USD) 9,52811,30112,35713,50214,564
General Government Balance (in % of GDP) -1.4-2.0-2.0-1.3-1.3
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 53.551.349.647.445.2
Inflation Rate (%) n/a12.45.33.53.2
Unemployment Rate (% of the Labour Force) 9.49.19.08.88.7
Current Account (billions USD) -4.35-1.76-2.64-3.15-3.59
Current Account (in % of GDP) -6.9-2.3-3.2-3.5-3.8

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database , Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

Main Sectors of Industry

Serbia has a workforce of 3.37 million out of its 6.8 million population. The agricultural sector accounts for 6.5% of the country's GDP (its share has been decreasing in the past years), employing nearly 14% of the workforce (World Bank, latest data available). Serbia has 3.4 million hectares of agricultural land. Its continental climate with cold winters and hot humid summers is ideal for intensive fruit production. Fruit production consists mainly of apples, grapes, plums, peaches, pears, and berries. Recently, Serbia has been widely using fruit processing to obtain products like brandies, jams, juices, and compotes. The main crops are maize and wheat, together with barley, oat, and rye. Figures from the national Statistical Office show that agricultural production volume grew 9% in 2023 compared to one year earlier.

Serbia has significant quantities of coal, lead, zinc, copper, and gold, but the lack of investment, which has affected the mining sector for several years, prevents the country's economy from benefiting from this wealth. The industrial sector is likewise in need of modernization and foreign investment, currently contributing one-fourth of the country's GDP and employing 29% of the workforce. The country’s main industries include automotive, food processing, chemicals, base metals, furniture, pharmaceuticals, machinery, sugar, tires, and clothing. The manufacturing sector is estimated to account for 14% of GDP. According to the national statistical institute, Serbia's industrial production increased by 2.4% year-on-year in 2023, while manufacturing grew by 0.5%.

Services make up the main sector of activity and account for 52% of Serbia's GDP, employing 57% of the workforce. The IT industry is one of the fastest-growing, the same as for the tourist sector: the number of foreign tourists who visited Serbia in 2023 grew by 20% to 2,134,305, while that of overnight stays spent by foreign tourists increased by 13%. In the same year, retail trade turnover decreased by 1.8%, while the wholesale trade turnover dropped by 1% in nominal terms (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia).

 
Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 13.9 28.9 57.1
Value Added (in % of GDP) 6.8 23.1 52.4
Value Added (Annual % Change) -8.3 -0.7 4.5

Source: World Bank - Latest available data.

 

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Monetary Indicators 20162017201820192020
Serbian Dinar (RSD) - Average Annual Exchange Rate For 1 MUR 3.133.132.952.962.62

Source: World Bank - Latest available data.

 
 

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Indicator of Economic Freedom

Definition:

The Economic freedom index measure ten components of economic freedom, grouped into four broad categories or pillars of economic freedom: Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption); Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending); Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom); and Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom). Each of the freedoms within these four broad categories is individually scored on a scale of 0 to 100. A country’s overall economic freedom score is a simple average of its scores on the 10 individual freedoms.

Score:
67,2/100
World Rank:
54
Regional Rank:
30

Economic freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Index of Economic Freedom, Heritage Foundation

 

Business environment ranking

Definition:

The business rankings model measures the quality or attractiveness of the business environment in the 82 countries covered by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Country Forecast reports. It examines ten separate criteria or categories, covering the political environment, the macroeconomic environment, market opportunities, policy towards free enterprise and competition, policy towards foreign investment, foreign trade and exchange controls, taxes, financing, the labour market and infrastructure.

Score:
6.04/10
World Rank:
54/82

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit - Business Environment Rankings 2020-2024

 

Country Risk

See the country risk analysis provided by Coface.

 

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Foreign Trade in Figures

Serbia is gradually becoming more open to international trade, which represents 139% of GDP (World Bank, latest data available). The Stabilization and Association Agreement between the EU and Serbia and the steady growth of foreign direct investment inflows have led to a constant increase in the volume of foreign trade. The country’s main exports are electrical machines and apparatus (11.3%); metal ores and residues (6.9%); power engines and motors (5%); iron and steel (4.4%); and fruit and vegetables (4.2%); whereas imports are led by oil and oil derivatives (7.7%); electrical machines and apparatus (6.1%); natural gas (4.4%); electricity (4.1%); and medical and pharmaceutical products (3.9% - data Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, 2022).

The country's main customers are Germany (13.7%), Bosnia-Herzegovina (7.5%), Italy (7.2%), Hungary (5.4%), and Romania (4.4%). Its main suppliers are China (12.1%), Germany (7.4%), Russia (7.5%), Italy (6.6%) and Hungary (5.6% - data Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia 2022). Serbia is the largest Western Balkan trade partner of the European Union. Observed by regions, the largest share in export of Serbia was noted in Vojvodine (33.6%), followed by Beogradski (23.3%), Šumadije and Zapadne Srbije (21.0%), and Južne and Istočne Srbije (19.9%).

Serbia has a structural trade deficit that amounted to 11% of GDP in 2022, according to the World Bank. A large portion of the deficit is due to investment-related imports. In 2022, exports of merchandise stood at USD 29 billion (+13.6% y-o-y), against USD 41.1 billion in imports (+21.7% y-o-y). In the same year, Serbia exported USD 11.6 billion worth of services, importing USD 9.1 billion (data WTO). According to figures from the Serbian statistical office, in 2023 the country's exports grew by 6.5% to USD 30.9 billion, while imports went down by 3.2% to USD 39.8 billion. The deficit amounted to USD 8.9 billion, which was a decrease of 26.4% in relation to the same period one year earlier.

 
Foreign Trade Indicators 20182019202020212022
Imports of Goods (million USD) 25,88226,73026,23333,79741,148
Exports of Goods (million USD) 19,22719,63019,49825,56429,058
Imports of Services (million USD) 5,9676,6255,8227,5539,180
Exports of Services (million USD) 7,1377,7557,0859,20711,604
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 10.810.7-3.617.717.8
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 7.57.7-4.219.517.6
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 59.160.956.562.374.2
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 50.451.048.254.563.5
Trade Balance (million USD) -5,983-6,289-5,941-7,094-9,901
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) -4,813-5,159-4,677-5,441-7,478
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 109.5112.0104.7116.8137.6

Source: WTO – World Trade Organisation ; World Bank , Latest Available Data

 

Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
2022
Germany 13.7%
Bosnia and Herzegovina 7.5%
Italy 7.2%
Hungary 5.4%
Romania 4.4%
See More Countries 61.8%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
2022
China 12.1%
Germany 11.4%
Russia 7.5%
Italy 6.6%
Hungary 5.6%
See More Countries 56.7%

Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data

 
 

Main Products

29.1 bn USD of products exported in 2022
Insulated "incl. enamelled or anodised" wire,...Insulated "incl. enamelled or anodised" wire, cable "incl. coaxial cable" and other insulated electric conductors, whether or not fitted with connectors; optical fibre cables, made up of individually sheathed fibres, whether or not assembled with electric conductors or fitted with connectors 6.5%
Copper ores and concentratesCopper ores and concentrates 6.1%
New pneumatic tyres, of rubberNew pneumatic tyres, of rubber 3.1%
Electrical energyElectrical energy 3.1%
Electric motors and generators (excl. generating...Electric motors and generators (excl. generating sets) 2.6%
See More Products 78.6%
41.1 bn USD of products imported in 2022
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 5.5%
Petroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbonsPetroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbons 4.4%
Electrical energyElectrical energy 4.1%
Medicaments consisting of mixed or unmixed...Medicaments consisting of mixed or unmixed products for therapeutic or prophylactic uses, put up in measured doses "incl. those in the form of transdermal administration" or in forms or packings for retail sale (excl. goods of heading 3002, 3005 or 3006) 3.1%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (excl. crude); preparations containing >= 70% by weight of petroleum oils or of oils obtained from bituminous minerals, these oils being the basic constituents of the preparations, n.e.s.; waste oils containing mainly petroleum or bituminous minerals 1.9%
See More Products 80.9%

Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data

 
 

To go further, check out our service Import Export Flows.

 
 

Main Services

11.3 bn USD of services exported in 2022
25.50%
23.86%
23.08%
18.29%
3.10%
1.88%
1.79%
1.37%
0.87%
0.18%
0.08%
9.1 bn USD of services imported in 2022
30.26%
27.36%
19.91%
7.04%
6.92%
2.04%
1.80%
1.75%
1.07%
1.06%
0.79%

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, Latest Available Data

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Sources of General Economic Information

Ministries
Ministry of Finance
Ministry of Economy
Statistical Office
Statistics Office of Serbia
Central Bank
National Bank of Serbia
Stock Exchange
Belgrade Stock Exchange
Search Engines
Cruiser
Serbian Cafe
Economic Portals
The World Bank in Serbia

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Political Outline

Current Political Leaders
President: Aleksandar VUCIC (since 31 May 2017)
Prime Minister: Ana BRNABIC (since 29 June 2017)
Next Election Dates
Presidential: 2028
National Assembly: 2027
Main Political Parties
Serbia has a multi-party system. The main parties include:

- Serbian Progressive Party (SNS): centre-right, right-wing populist, leading party
- Serbia Against Violence (SPN): pro-European coalition which is opposed to the Serbian Progressive Party
- National Democratic Alternative (NADA): national-conservative political coalition, led by the New Democratic Party of Serbia (NDSS) and Movement for the Restoration of the Kingdom of Serbia (POKS)
- We–The Voice from the People (MI–GIN): right-wing populism
- Justice and Reconciliation Party (SPP): Bosniak minority interests, Islamism
- Party of Democratic Action of Sandžak (SDAS): representing the Bosniak ethnic minority
- Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS): left-wing, nationalist, populist
- United Serbia (JS): conservatist, populism
- Social Democratic Party of Serbia (SDPS): social democracy, populism
- Party of United Pensioners of Serbia (PUPS): centre left, pensioners' interests
- Party for Democratic Action (PVD-PDD): representing the Albanian ethnic minority
- People's Party (Narodna): centre-right
- Democratic Party (DS): centre, social liberalism, pro-Europe
- Serbian Party Oathkeepers (SSZ): far-right
- Together (Z): left-wing
- Dveri: nationalism, right-wing populism
- Do not let Belgrade drown (NDB): green
- Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (VMSZ): represents the Hungarian minority in Serbia.

Type of State
Republic, based on a unicameral parliamentary democracy.
Executive Power
Executive power is held by the Prime Minister and the cabinet (Council of Ministers). The Prime Minister and the members of the government are elected by the National Assembly. The President of the Republic has little executive power and is primarily a ceremonial position. The President is elected for a 5-year term by direct universal suffrage and can be elected twice. He has exceptional powers in case of a state of emergency and can dissolve the National Assembly.
Legislative Power
Legislative power is held by the unicameral parliament, known as the National Assembly, which consists of 250 deputies elected for a 4-year term by direct universal suffrage. Its decisions are taken by a majority vote of members at the session at which a majority of deputies are present. In the case of amendments to the Constitution, a two-thirds majority is needed.
 

Indicator of Freedom of the Press

Definition:

The world rankings, published annually, measures violations of press freedom worldwide. It reflects the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists, the media and digital citizens of each country and the means used by states to respect and uphold this freedom. Finally, a note and a position are assigned to each country. To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) prepared a questionnaire incorporating the main criteria (44 in total) to assess the situation of press freedom in a given country. This questionnaire was sent to partner organisations,150 RWB correspondents, journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It includes every kind of direct attacks against journalists and digital citizens (murders, imprisonment, assault, threats, etc.) or against the media (censorship, confiscation, searches and harassment etc.).

World Rank:
93/180
Evolution:
93/180
 

Indicator of Political Freedom

Definition:

The Indicator of Political Freedom provides an annual evaluation of the state of freedom in a country as experienced by individuals. The survey measures freedom according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. The ratings process is based on a checklist of 10 political rights questions (on Electoral Process, Political Pluralism and Participation, Functioning of Government) and 15 civil liberties questions (on Freedom of Expression, Belief, Associational and Organizational Rights, Rule of Law, Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights). Scores are awarded to each of these questions on a scale of 0 to 4, where a score of 0 represents the smallest degree and 4 the greatest degree of rights or liberties present. The total score awarded to the political rights and civil liberties checklist determines the political rights and civil liberties rating. Each rating of 1 through 7, with 1 representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of freedom, corresponds to a range of total scores.

Ranking:
Partly Free
Political Freedom:
4/7
Civil Liberties:
43/60

Political freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Freedom in the World Report, Freedom House

 

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COVID-19 Country Response

Travel restrictions
Regularly updated travel information for all countries with regards to Covid-19 related entry regulations, flight bans, test and vaccines requirements is available on TravelDoc Infopage.
To find information about the current travel regulations, including health requirements, it is also advised to consult Travel Regulations Map provided and updated on a daily basis by IATA.
Import & export restrictions
A general overview of trade restrictions which were adopted by different countries during the COVID-19 pandemic is available on the International Trade Centre's COVID-19 Temporary Trade Measures webpage.
Economic recovery plan
For the general overview of the key economic policy responses to the COVID-19 outbreak (fiscal, monetary and macroeconomic) undertaken by the Serbian government, please consult the section dedicated to Serbia in the IMF’s Policy Tracker platform.
Support plan for businesses
For an evaluation of impact of the Covid pandemic on SMEs and an inventory of country responses to foster SME resilience, refer to the OECD's SME Covid-19 Policy Responses document.
You can also consult the World Bank's Map of SME-Support Measures in Response to COVID-19.

 

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Latest Update: March 2024