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

For the latest updates on the key economic responses from governments to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, please consult the IMF's policy tracking platform Policy Responses to COVID-19.

The economy of Serbia experienced rapid growth in 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 returned to growth in 2021: mainly driven by private consumption and investment, the economy grew an estimated 6.5% (IMF). After exceeding its pre-pandemic output level in 2021, GDP is expected to return to its pre-crisis rate of expansion of around 4.5% in 2022 and 2023, although headwind risks to the forecast persist (including new waves of contagion, supply-side bottleneck and rising inflation).

The robust package of economic measures taken by the authorities to alleviate the negative effects of the pandemic temporarily pushed up public debt, but it ill remained among the lowest in Europe. In 2021, the debt-to-GDP ratio was estimated at 59.9% (from a level of 52.8% before the crisis); although it is expected to follow a downward trend this year and the next (at 58.2% and 55.5%, respectively). The government balance was negative by 7.2% in 2021, despite the phasing out of most crisis support measures, partially counterbalanced by a substantial new package of support adopted in April, which included wage subsidies to all enterprises, one-off payments to citizens and specific support to the most affected sectors. The IMF sees the deficit gradually decreasing to 3.5% of GDP in 2022 and 1.6% the following year. Inflation accelerated strongly in 2021, mostly reflecting the sharp rebound of oil and food prices, reaching 3%. It is expected to decelerate marginally (to 2.7% this year and 2.5% in 2023 – IMF).  Meanwhile, negotiations for the EU membership continue: in 2021, Serbia has met the criteria to open two new sets of chapters in the EU accession talks (including the Green Agenda and sustainable connectivity), although the normalisation of relations with Kosovo is slow and those with Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are complicated. 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 ageing population represent other challenges that the country will have to face in the long term.

Serbia's unemployment rate, relatively low compared to its neighbours in the Balkans, remains significantly higher than the European average. Despite the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment decreased to 9.3% in 2021, mostly as a consequence of falling labour market participation. The rate is expected to remain stable in 202 before slightly decreasing to 9% in 2022 (IMF). 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 modernise infrastructure and support investment in the business community. Eurostat estimates that the number of people at risk of poverty has fallen further to 29.8% in 2020 (was 39.5% five years ago).

 
Main Indicators 20202021 (e)2022 (e)2023 (e)2024 (e)
GDP (billions USD) 53.3463.0762.7268.6875.63
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) -0.97.43.52.73.5
GDP per Capita (USD) 7991011
General Government Balance (in % of GDP) -5.9-4.3-2.6-1.1-0.5
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 58.757.954.450.347.3
Inflation Rate (%) 1.64.111.58.34.2
Unemployment Rate (% of the Labour Force) 10.110.19.99.79.5
Current Account (billions USD) -2.20-2.77-5.24-4.78-3.79
Current Account (in % of GDP) -4.1-4.4-8.4-7.0-5.0

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

Note: (e) Estimated Data

Main Sectors of Industry

Serbia has a workforce of 3.16 million out of its 6.9 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 15.6% of the workforce (World Bank, latest data available). Serbia has 3.4 million hectares of agricultural land. 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, compotes. The main crops are maize and wheat, together with barley, oat and rye.

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 modernisation and foreign investment. It contributes 24.8% to the country's GDP and employs 27.4% 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 13.2% of GDP. According to the national statistical institute, Serbia's industrial production increased by 6.3% year-on-year in 2021.

Services make up the main sector of activity and accounts for 51.5% of Serbia's GDP, employing 57% of the workforce. The IT industry is one of the fastest-growing, same as for the tourist sector which represented 6.9% of GDP before the pandemic. However, following the Covid-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, the Serbian tourism sector recorded only 871,239 foreign tourists in 2021: although it marks an increase of 95% compared to the previous year, this figure is still half of the ones recorded before the pandemic (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia). Concerning the banking sector, foreign banks account for 86% of the market, while state-owned banks and domestic private banks account for 7% each (EBF).

 
Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 15.6 27.4 57.0
Value Added (in % of GDP) 6.5 24.8 51.5
Value Added (Annual % Change) 4.2 -0.8 -1.8

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 104.9% of GDP (World Bank, latest data available). The Stabilisation 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. Serbia's negotiations with the WTO are in an advanced state. The country’s main exports are insulated electric conductors (7.2%), tyres (3.5%), maize and corn (3.4%), and electric motors and generators (2.5%); whereas imports are led by medicaments (4.1%), petroleum oils (3.2%), petroleum gases (1.9%), telephones, and motor vehicles (1.8% each).

The country's main customers are Germany (12.9%), Italy (8.4%), Bosnia-Herzegovina (7.1%), and Romania (6.5%). Its main suppliers are Germany (13.6%), China (12.5%), Italy (8.4%) and Russia (6%). Serbia is the largest Western Balkan trade partner of the European Union.

Serbia has a structural trade deficit that amounted to 8.3% of GDP in 2020, according to the World Bank. A large portion of the deficit is due to investment-related imports. Exports of merchandise were stable at USD 19.5 billion in 2020, the same as for imports which stood at USD 26.2 billion. In the same year, Serbia exported USD 7 billion worth of services, importing USD 5.7 billion. According to figures from the Serbian statistical office, in 2021 the country's exports grew by 31% to USD 25.563 billion, while imports went up by 29% to USD 33.797 billion. As a result, Serbia's foreign trade deficit went up 18% on the year to USD 8.233 billion in 2021.

 
Foreign Trade Indicators 20172018201920202021
Imports of Goods (million USD) 21,94725,88226,73026,23333,797
Exports of Goods (million USD) 16,99619,22719,63019,49825,564
Imports of Services (million USD) 4,7995,9096,5695,7587,528
Exports of Services (million USD) 5,9407,1267,7457,0429,207
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 11.110.810.7-3.5n/a
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 8.27.57.7-5.9n/a
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 57.159.161.056.9n/a
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 50.550.451.048.0n/a
Trade Balance (million USD) -4,533-5,983-6,289-5,967n/a
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) -3,435-4,813-5,159-4,734n/a
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 107.5109.5112.1104.9n/a

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

 

Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
2021
Germany 12.7%
Italy 8.5%
Bosnia and Herzegovina 7.2%
Romania 5.5%
Hungary 5.0%
See More Countries 61.0%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
2021
Germany 13.2%
China 12.3%
Italy 8.1%
Russia 5.3%
Türkiye 5.0%
See More Countries 56.1%

Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data

 
 

Main Products

25.6 bn USD of products exported in 2021
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 7.0%
Copper ores and concentratesCopper ores and concentrates 3.3%
New pneumatic tyres, of rubberNew pneumatic tyres, of rubber 3.3%
Fruit and nuts, uncooked or cooked by steaming or...Fruit and nuts, uncooked or cooked by steaming or boiling in water, frozen, whether or not containing added sugar or other sweetening matter 2.7%
Maize or cornMaize or corn 2.4%
See More Products 81.3%
33.8 bn USD of products imported in 2021
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 4.0%
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) 3.2%
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 1.9%
Petroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbonsPetroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbons 1.8%
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 1.7%
See More Products 87.4%

Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data

 
 

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

 
 

Main Services

7.4 bn USD of services exported in 2019
26.97%
21.65%
20.93%
19.37%
3.80%
3.26%
2.16%
0.72%
0.51%
0.50%
0.14%
6.4 bn USD of services imported in 2019
28.08%
25.37%
22.10%
8.19%
4.73%
3.09%
2.76%
1.79%
1.77%
1.25%
0.87%

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: April 2022
National Assembly: April 2022
Main Political Parties
Serbia has a multi-party system. The main parties include:

- Serbian Progressive Party (SNS): centre-right, right-wing populist, led by Aleksandar Vucic
- Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS): left-wing, nationalist, populist, led by Ivica Dacic
- Social Democratic Party of Serbia (SDP): social democracy, populism
- Party of United Pensioners of Serbia (PUPS): centre left, pensioners' interests, led by Milan Krkobabić
- Serbian Radical Party (SRS): right-populist, Serbian nationalist
- United Serbia (JS): conservatist, populism
- Democratic Party (DS): centre, social liberalism, pro-Europe
- Party of Modern Serbia (SMS): Liberalism, Social Democracy
- 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

COVID-19 epidemic evolution

To find out about the latest status of the COVID-19 pandemic evolution and the most up-to-date statistics on the COVID-19 disease in Serbia, please visit official governmental portal covid19.rs with the official data. For the reports from the Serbian Institute of Public Health, click here.
For the international outlook you can consult the latest
situation reports published by the World Health Organisation as well as the global daily statistics on the coronavirus pandemic evolution including data on confirmed cases and deaths by country.

Sanitary measures

To find out about the latest public health situation in Serbia and the current sanitary measures in vigour, please consult the list of the decisions taken by the national government (in Serbian). Updates on the containment measures can be retrieved on the official governmental website.

Travel restrictions

The COVID-19 situation, including the spread of new variants, evolves rapidly and differs from country to country. All travelers need to pay close attention to the conditions at their destination before traveling. Regularly updated information for all countries with regards to Covid-19 related travel restrictions in place including entry regulations, flight bans, test requirements and quarantine is available on TravelDoc Infopage.
It is also highly recommended to consult COVID-19 Travel Regulations Map provided and updated on the daily basis by IATA.
The US government website of Centers of Disease Control and Prevention provides COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination.

The UK Foreign travel advice also provides travelling abroad advice for all countries, including the latest information on coronavirus, safety and security, entry requirements and travel warnings.

Import & export restrictions

Serbia introduced an export ban on medicaments, as well as a ban for certain basic life products (wheat flour, sugar, oil, hygiene products, etc.).
For the information on all the measures applicable to movement of goods during the period of sanitary emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak (including eventual restrictions on imports and exports, if applicable), please consult the portal of the Serbian Customs Authority.
For a general overview of trade restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic, please consult the section dedicated to Serbia on the
International Trade Centre's COVID-19 Temporary Trade Measures webpage.

Economic recovery plan

To know about the economic measures taken by the Serbian government to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the national economy, please visit the dedicated page on the website of the Ministry of Economy (in Serbian). The National Bank of Serbia introduced a 3-months moratorium on all repayments under bank loans and financial leasing agreements. An overview of the measures is available on the guide by Deloitte and on the website of AmCham Serbia.

For the general overview of the key economic policy responses to the COVID-19 outbreak (fiscal, monetary and macroeconomic) taken by the Serbian government to limit the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, please consult the section dedicated to Serbia in the IMF’s Policy Tracker platform.

Support plan for businesses

For the information on the local business support scheme and taxation measures established by the Serbian government to help businesses to deal with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic on their activity, please consult the website of the Ministry of Economy (in Serbian) and the dedicated page on the portal of the Serbian Development Agency (in Serbian). The instructions on the implementation of the regulation on fiscal benefits and direct benefits to private sector companies is available here (in Serbian). For details in English refer to the website of Wolf Theiss.
For a general overview of international SME support policy responses to the COVID-19 outbreak refer to the World Bank's Map of SME-Support Measures in Response to COVID-19.

Support plan for exporters

The Export Insurance and Financing Agency (AOFI) granted a moratorium on all claims in order to overcome the negative effects on Serbia's export-oriented businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

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Latest Update: November 2022