For first-time exporters to the market, it is important to note that distinct cultural differences between Serbia and the United States translate into different local labeling regulations, which may dictate changes in selling, advertising, and marketing for U.S. firms. Although many strategies used by firms in the United States can be equally effective in Serbia, U.S. companies are advised not to automatically assume that selling in Serbia is the same as selling in the domestic U.S. market. Companies should carefully research the implications of promotional activities prior to their implementation in Serbia.
A tight credit policy in Serbian banks, exacerbated by external shocks, makes the ability to provide financing a key factor in selling both industrial and “high ticket value” consumer goods. Many Serbian buyers prefer to pay in monthly installments even for low-cost goods. Sales techniques critical to success include close and frequent contact with buyers, motivated and trained partners, and aggressive market promotion. U.S. firms interested in selling products to state-owned companies will need to establish the company’s creditability with Serbian government entities. Internationally financed public procurements offer the best opportunity for transparent purchasing decisions.
Trade Promotion and Advertising
Aggressive product promotion and advertising are effective tools in Serbia, especially for consumer goods, where brand image is important. U.S. products face fierce competition from both local and European sellers. Television and radio advertising are the most effective. Television, which reaches 90 percent of households, has the broadest reach of all media.
According to the Business Registers Agency, Serbia has a total of 2,508 registered media outlets, not including online only media. That number of outlets includes 937 print media, 751 Internet portals, 333 radio stations, 244 TV stations, 28 news agency and 84 websites which are not classified as media but provide information.
Serbian law restricts advertising on state television to six minutes per hour. Advertising on privately-owned (regional and local) television stations cannot exceed 20 percent of total program length. The most advertised products are telecommunications, vehicles, financial institutions, beverages, newspapers, and hygiene products. Serbian law prohibits the advertisement of tobacco and alcohol on television. Digital printing and commercial graphics are widely used in Serbia, including billboards that cover entire building facades.
Trade promotion events and fairs continue to be popular in Serbia, although they lack the level of sophistication that many U.S. exhibitors have become accustomed to in other markets. The Belgrade Fair maintains its tradition of organizing industry-focused or specialty exhibitions such as automotive, construction equipment, furniture, fashion, medical, pharmaceutical, books, tourism, etc. Although relatively small, the Belgrade Fair attracts international attention and includes numerous foreign exhibitors. For more information on these events, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org In addition, Novi Sad Fair organizes the biggest agriculture trade show in Serbia.
There are many domestic advertising agencies, but most are small and lack the client base required for significant media buying discounts. Some local advertising agencies have links to U.S. advertisers. The vast majority of the international agencies are in partnership with domestic agencies.
There are more than 10,000 billboards in Serbia. Prices vary depending on the location, frequency, and category. Billboards are frequently used for political and election campaigns and are increasing in popularity in urban areas for consumer goods and services.
U.S. Commercial Service Serbia aids U.S. exporters in promoting their products through the Single Company Promotion (SCP) service.
For more information on advertising in Serbia, please see the Law on Advertising.
In early 2021, the minimum net monthly salary in Serbia was US$315, and the average net monthly salary was US$616. In the first half of 2022, net monthly salary raised to US$650. As a result, price remains a key and sensitive factor for consumers. There is, however, a sizeable segment of the population with significantly higher earning power. There is a gap between prices in urban areas and those in rural areas. Most food prices remain below EU levels.
The value-added tax (VAT) rate in Serbia is 20 percent. There is also reduced VAT of 10 percent, mainly for groceries, books, and medicines. VAT is charged on assets and services consumed in Serbia, as well as on imports into Serbia.
Changes in the price of certain basic local products (for example, milk, bread, flour, and cooking oil) must be reported to the Ministry of Trade 15 days in advance, and the state has the authority to deny price increases for those goods.
Sales Service/Customer Support
The Ministry of Trade Tourism and Telecommunications requires that all businesses provide adequate after-sales service and customer support. Consumer organizations also gained strength in Serbia. The National Strategy for Consumer Protection prescribes a significant extension of the obligations of local authorities; the creation of a unified register of consumer queries and claims; and the enhancement of out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes to relieve the courts and ensure a more efficient enforcement of consumer rights.
The Consumer Protection Law is generally compliant with the EU consumer protection directive and further improves the protection and position of consumers. However, its effects will depend on the adoption of the by-laws necessary to regulate it in more detail, the conditions for out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes, and the rules for bodies resolving such disputes.
The Consumer Protection Law requires that retailers thoroughly inform consumers about their goods or services, including the price per unit of the product, and specifications related to the purchase of technical equipment. While producers are solely responsible for the products meeting the stated specifications, retailers must respond to consumer complaints within eight days with a proposal as to how to solve an identified problem. They likewise must provide customers with the opportunity to be present during a review by authorities if there is a question of whether the customer had been misled during the measuring or charging process. Traders must keep records of complaints for two years. Each vendor must designate a section in the store and personnel for receiving complaints.
For financial services, the National Bank of Serbia (NBS) established the Institute of Financial Services Consumer Protection, along with a special organizational unit – the Department for Financial Consumer Protection and Education. This Department also includes the NBS Call Centre, where citizens can obtain information about advantages and risks to be considered when deciding which financial products and services to use.
The National Council for Consumer Protection is an expert advisory body that was formed to improve the system of consumer protection and foster cooperation between the authorities and other consumer protection entities, including representatives of consumer associations, experts, and chambers of commerce. It is an independent, non-governmental, and non-partisan alliance of consumer organizations. Also, some organizations (e.g., the Consumer Centre of Serbia, Centre for Consumer Education and Protection Belgrade, Consumers’ Association of Vojvodina, and FORUM-Nis) work together on consumer protection advocacy.
Local Professional Services
For an extensive list of professional service providers, please contact: email@example.com
The members of AmCham Serbia often support U.S. companies entering or present in the market.
Principal Business Associations
The key U.S. business association in Serbia, the American Chamber of Commerce Serbia, is very active and well organized. It has approximately 220 members, of which about one-third are U.S. companies, one-third are Serbian companies, and one-third are international companies and non-profit associations. Most U.S. companies present in Serbia are members of AmCham Serbia, which is an accredited affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington and the AmChams in Europe (ACE) network.
The key Serbian business association is the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS), which membership is mandatory for all companies registered in Serbia. Serbia also has an active Foreign Investors Council (FIC) and Serbian Association of Managers (SAM).
Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services
Serbia has a “zero-tolerance” ban on the importation of products containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). There is some controversy, however, about the wording of the law, in which small traces of GMO below a certain threshold are permitted without the requirement to disclose that on the labelling. Please contact U.S. Commercial Service Belgrade and the Foreign Agricultural Service in Belgrade for more information and assistance on these products. As Serbia looks to join the World Trade Organization, it will be required to modify this GMO Law as a condition for membership. The timeline for this is uncertain, however, given the strong anti-GMO sentiment among the public and no champions of greater tolerance for GMOs among government officials.
While there is high demand for pork products and live piglets, Serbia does not accept U.S. export testing procedures to grant entry into Serbia. Contact the Foreign Agricultural Service for more information.
Consumer Protection Platforms
The following platforms set up by the Ministry of Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications are intended to educate consumers and include legal advice and important information for consumers: https://www.pametnoibezbedno.gov.rs/ and https://www.zastitapotrosaca.gov.rs/.