Economy of Serbia

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Economy of Serbia
New Belgrade.jpg
New Belgrade, financial center of Serbia.
Currency Serbian dinar (RSD)
Calendar year
Trade organisations
GDP Increase$37.745 billion (2016, nominal)[1]
Increase$101.752 billion (2016, PPP)[2]
GDP rank 92nd (nominal) / 81th (PPP)
GDP growth
Increase+2.7% (2016)[3]
GDP per capita
Increase$5,376 (2016, nominal)[4]
Increase$14,493 (2016, PPP)[5]
GDP by sector
services: 60.8%
industry: 31.3%
agriculture: 7.9% (2016)[6]
Positive decrease1.2% (2016)[7]
Population below poverty line
6.2% (2014)[8]
31.7 (2014)[8]
Labour force
3.1 million (2015)[9]
Labour force by occupation
services: 56.2%
industry: 24.4%
agriculture: 19.4% (2015)[10]
Unemployment Positive decrease11.8% (Q2 2017)[11]
Average gross salary
Increase67,857 RSD / $624 (June 2017)[12]
Increase49,238 RSD / $482 (June 2017)[13]
Main industries
motor vehicle, base metals, food processing, machinery, chemicals, sugar, tires, pharmaceuticals
Increase47th (2017)[14]
Exports Increase$14.883 billion (2016)[15]
Export goods
motor vehicles ($1.527bn), electrical machines ($1.241bn), fruits and vegetables ($0.806bn), cereals ($0.701bn), machinery ($0.669bn)
Main export partners
 Italy 14.6%
 Germany 13%
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 8.3%
 Romania 5.7%
 Russia 5.3% (2016)[15]
Imports Increase$19.246 billion (2016)[15]
Import goods
motor vehicles ($2.163bn), oil ($1.808bn), electrical machines ($0.813bn), natural gas ($0.807bn), medical products ($0.700bn)
Main import partners
 Germany 12.8%
 Italy 10.3%
 China 8.3%
 Russia 7.8%
 Hungary 4.6% (2016)[15]
FDI stock
Increase$29.8 billion (2000-2013)[16]
Positive decrease$36.1 billion (2014)[8]
Public finances
Positive decrease64.6% of GDP (October 2017)[17]
Revenues Increase$14.91 billion (2015)[8]
Expenses Increase$16.40 billion (2015)[8]
Economic aid €2.6 billion of EU IPA (2001–2014)[18]
€1.5 billion of EU IPA (2014–2020)[19]
Foreign reserves
Increase $12.27 billion (2017)[23]
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

The economy of Serbia is a service-based economy with the tertiary sector accounting for two-thirds of total gross domestic product (GDP) and functions on the principles of the free market. Nominal GDP in 2016 amounted $37.745 billion, which is $5,376 per capita, while the GDP based on purchasing power parity (PPP) stood at $101.752 billion, which is $14,493 per capita.[24]

The strongest sectors in the economy are energy, automotive industry, machinery, mining, and agriculture.[25] Primary industrial exports are automobiles, iron and steel, rubber, clothes, wheat, fruit and vegetables, nonferrous metals, electric appliances, metal products, weapons and ammunition.[26] Trade plays a major role in Serbian economic output. The main trading partners are Germany, Italy, Russia, China, and neighbouring Balkan countries.[27]

Belgrade is the capital and economic heart of Serbia and home to most major Serbian and international companies operating in the country, as well as the National Bank of Serbia and the Belgrade Stock Exchange. Novi Sad is the second largest city and the most important economic hub after Belgrade.

Historical preview[edit]

In the late 1980s, at the beginning of the process of economic transition from a planned economy to a market economy, Serbia's economy had a favorable position in compare to the most of the Eastern Bloc countries, but it was gravely impacted by the Yugoslav Wars and UN sanctions and trade embargo during the 1990s.[28] At the same time, country has experienced a serious "brain drain".[29] After the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in 2000, Serbia went through a process of transition to a market-based economy and experienced fast economic growth. During that period Serbian economy grew at 4-5% annually, average wages quadrupled, and economic and social opportunities dramatically improved. During the Great Recession, Serbia marked a decline in its economy of 3.1% in 2009, and following years of economic stagnation pre-crisis level of GDP was reached only in 2016.

Since 2014, country is in the process of accession negotiations to join the European Union.[30]

Macroeconomic trends[edit]

Economic growth[edit]

The average growth of Serbia's GDP in the last five years was very low 0.6% per year. GDP structure by sector in 2015 was: services 67.1%, industry 25.2%, agriculture 7.7%.[31]

GDP Growth
Year 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Rate 7.7% 5.0% 7.1% 4.4% 9.0% 5.5% 4.9% 5.9% 5.3% -3.1% 0.6% 1.4% -1.0% 2.5% -1.8% 0.8% 2.7%
Source: World Bank

Public finances[edit]

Serbia's public debt relative to GDP from 2000 to 2008 decreased by 140.1 percentage points, and then started increasing again as the government was fighting effects of worldwide 2008 financial crisis. In 2016, the public debt stood at 73% of GDP.[32]

Public debt
Year 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Billions EUR 14.17 13.43 11.02 9.35 8.78 9.85 12.16 14.78 17.72 20.14 22.76 24.81 24.71
Share of GDP 201.2% 68.3% 52.6% 35.9% 28.3% 32.8% 41.8% 45.4% 56.2% 59.6% 70.4% 76.0% 73.0%
Source: Ministry of Finance of Serbia

Serbian foreign exchange reserves were highly augmented from 2000 to 2009, when they amounted 10.6 billion euros and are more or less stagnating ever since.

Foreign exchange reserves
Year 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Central bank (billions EUR) 0.55 2.19 3.10 9.02 8.16 10.60 10.00 12.06 10.91 11.19 9.91 10.38 10.20
Commer. banks (billions EUR) 0.39 0.68 0.59 0.52 0.92 1.42 1.68 0.80 1.06 0.91 1.73 1.43 1.56
Total (billions EUR) 0.95 2.86 3.70 9.54 9.08 12.03 11.69 12.87 11.97 12.10 11.64 11.81 11.76
Source: National Bank of Serbia

Currency and inflation[edit]

1000 Serbian dinar banknote

The official currency in Serbia is the Serbian dinar and its earliest use dates back to 1214.

Serbia historically have been battling high inflation, especially during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1992 and 1993 experienced a period of hyperinflation which lasted for a total of 25 months.[33] In 1993, a monthly inflation rate stood at staggering 313 million percent.[33] Since early 2000s inflation rate has been stabilised and in the last couple of years recorded relatively low level of inflation.

Inflation and Serbian dinar Exchange Rates
Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Inflation rate 19.5% 9.9% 11.0% 16.1% 11.7% 6.4% 12.4% 8.1% 6.1% 11.1% 7.3% 7.7% 2.1% 1.4% 1.1%
USD/RSD 58.98 54.64 57.94 72.22 59.98 53.73 62.90 66.73 79.28 80.87 86.18 83.13 99.46 111.25 117.13
EUR/RSD 61.51 68.31 78.89 85.50 79.00 79.24 88.60 95.89 105.50 104.64 113.72 114.64 120.96 121.63 123.47
Source: World Bank,National Bank of Serbia;
Note: All exchange data retrieved each year on December 31

External trade[edit]

Graphical depiction of Serbia's product exports in 28 color-coded categories
Fiat 500L – motor vehicles are the leading export product of Serbia

Serbia has a wide-range free trade agreements with foreign countries and trading blocs.

Serbia signed free trade agreement with the European Union in 2008 enabling exports of all products originating from Serbia without customs and other fees.[34] For a limited number of products (baby beef, sugar, and wine), annual import quotas remain in effect. As of 2016, the EU countries were the largest trading partners of Serbia with 64.4% of country's total foreign trade.[15]

Serbia signed the CEFTA enabling exports of all products originating from Serbia without customs and other fees to the neighbouring countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro and Kosovo.[34] In 2016, the CEFTA countries were the second largest trading partners of Serbia.[35]

Serbia signed a free-trade agreement with EFTA members (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland) in 2009.[36]

Serbia free-trade agreement with Russia was implemented since 2000; for a limited number of products, annual import quotas remain in effect.[34][37] Free-trade agreement with Turkey has been implemented since 2010.[37] Trade with the United States is pursued under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) with a preferential duty-free entry for approximately 4,650 products.[38]

External trade
Year 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Exports (millions USD): 1,558 2,074 3,523 6,431 10,974 8,345 9,794 11,780 11,353 14,614 14,843 13,379 14,883
Imports (millions USD): 5,614 5,614 10,755 13,174 24,332 15,808 16,471 19,862 19,014 20,543 20,650 18,218 19,247
Balance (millions USD): -1,772 -3,540 -7,232 -6,743 -13,358 -7,463 -6,677 -8,082 -7,661 -5,929 -5,806 -4,839 -4,363
Exports/Imports (%): 46.8 36.9 32.8 48.8 45.1 52.8 59.5 59.3 59.7 71.1 71.9 73.4 77.3
Source: Statistical Office of Serbia

Foreign direct investments[edit]

Attracting foreign direct investments is set as a priority for the government of Serbia, which provides both financial and tax incentives to companies willing to invest.[39] Leading investor nations in Serbia include: Italy, United States, Austria, Norway, Greece and Germany.[40] Majority of FDI went into automotive industry, food and beverage industry, machinery, textile and clothing.[41]

Blue-chip corporations making investments in manufacturing sector include: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Bosch, Michelin, Siemens, Panasonic, Continental, Schneider Electric, Philip Morris, LafargeHolcim, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Carlsberg and others.[42] In the energy sector, Russian energy giants, Lukoil and Gazprom have made large investments.[43] The financial sector has attracted investments from Italian banks such as Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit, Crédit Agricole and Société Générale from France, Erste Bank and Raiffeisen from Austria, among others.[44] ICT and telecommunications saw investments from likes such as Microsoft, Telenor, Telekom Austria, and NCR. In retail sector, biggest foreign investors are Dutch Ahold Delhaize, German Metro AG and Schwarz Gruppe, Greek Veropoulos, and Croatian Agrokor.

Foreign direct investments
Year 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Total (millions USD) 54 177 546 1,511 1,077 1,579 5,663 4,389 3,407 2,729 1,549 3,018 2,629 1,518 1,550 2,114 2,080
Per capita (USD) 7.2 23.6 72.8 202.0 144.3 212.2 764.0 594.6 461.5 372.8 212.5 415.8 365.2 211.9 216.7 297.7 292.9
Source: Development Agency of Serbia [16]

Economic sectors[edit]


The industry is the economy sector which was hardest hit by the UN sanctions and trade embargo and NATO bombing during the 1990s and transition to market economy during the 2000s.[45] The industrial output saw dramatic downsizing: in 2013 it was expected to be only a half of that of 1989.[46] Main industrial sectors include: automotive, mining, non-ferrous metals, food-processing, electronics, pharmaceuticals, clothes.

Automotive industry (with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles as a forebearer) is dominated by cluster located in Kragujevac and its vicinity, and contributes to export with about $2 billion.[47] Serbia's mining industry is comparatively strong: Serbia is the 18th largest producer of coal (7th in the Europe) extracted from large deposits in Kolubara and Kostolac basins; it is also world's 23rd largest (3rd in Europe) producer of copper which is extracted by RTB Bor, a large domestic copper mining company; significant gold extraction is developed around Majdanpek. Serbia notably manufactures intel smartphones named Tesla smartphones.[48]

Food industry is well known both regionally and internationally and is one of the strong points of the economy.[49] Some of the international brand-names established production in Serbia: PepsiCo and Nestlé in food-processing sector; Coca-Cola (Belgrade), Heineken (Novi Sad) and Carlsberg (Bačka Palanka) in beverage industry; Nordzucker in sugar industry.[50] Serbia's electronics industry had its peak in the 1980s and the industry today is only a third of what it was back then, but has witnessed a something of revival in last decade with investments of companies such as Siemens (wind turbines) in Subotica, Panasonic (lighting devices) in Svilajnac, and Gorenje (electrical home appliances) in Valjevo.[51] The pharmaceutical industry in Serbia comprises a dozen manufacturers of generic drugs, of which Hemofarm in Vršac and Galenika in Belgrade, account for 80% of production volume. Domestic production meets over 60% of the local demand.[52]


The energy sector is one of the largest and most important sectors to the country's economy. Serbia is a net exporter of electricity and importer of key fuels (such as oil and gas).

Serbia has an abundance of coal, and significant reserves of oil and gas. Serbia's proven reserves of 5.5 billion tons of coal lignite are the 5th largest in the world (second in Europe, after Germany).[53][54] Coal is found in two large deposits: Kolubara (4 billion tons of reserves) and Kostolac (1.5 billion tons).[53] Despite being small on a world scale, Serbia's oil and gas resources (77.4 million tons of oil equivalent and 48.1 billion cubic meters, respectively) have a certain regional importance since they are largest in the region of former Yugoslavia as well as the Balkans (excluding Romania).[55] Almost 90% of the discovered oil and gas are to be found in Banat and those oil and gas fields are by size among the largest in the Pannonian basin but are average on a European scale.[56]

The production of electricity in 2015 in Serbia was 36.5 billion kilowatt-hours (KWh), while the final electricity consumption amounted to 35.5 billion kilowatt-hours (KWh).[57] Most of the electricity produced comes from thermal-power plants (72.7% of all electricity) and to a lesser degree from hydroelectric-power plants (27.3%).[58] There are 6 lignite-operated thermal-power plants with an installed power of 3,936 MW; largest of which are 1,502 MW-Nikola Tesla 1 and 1,160 MW-Nikola Tesla 2, both in Obrenovac.[59] Total installed power of 9 hydroelectric-power plants is 2,831 MW, largest of which is Đerdap 1 with capacity of 1,026 MW.[60] In addition to this, there are mazute and gas-operated thermal-power plants with an installed power of 353 MW.[61] The entire production of electricity is concentrated in Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS), public electric-utility power company.

The current oil production in Serbia amounts to over 1.1 million tons of oil equivalent[62] and satisfies some 43% of country's needs while the rest is imported.[63] National petrol company, Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS), was acquired in 2008 by Gazprom Neft. The company has completed $700 million modernisation of oil-refinery in Pančevo (capacity of 4.8 million tons) and is currently in the midst of converting oil refinery in Novi Sad into lubricants-only refinery. It also operates network of 334 filling stations in Serbia (74% of domestic market) and additional 36 stations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 31 in Bulgaria, and 28 in Romania.[64][65] There are 155 kilometers of crude oil pipelines connecting Pančevo and Novi Sad refineries as a part of trans-national Adria oil pipeline.[66]

Serbia is heavily dependent on foreign sources of natural gas, with only 17% coming from domestic production (totalling 491 million cubic meters in 2012) and the rest is imported, mainly from Russia (via gas pipelines that run through Ukraine and Hungary).[63] Srbijagas, public gas company, operates the natural gas transportation system which comprise 3,177 kilometers of trunk and regional natural gas pipelines and a 450 million cubic meter underground gas storage facility at Banatski Dvor.[67]

Over 40% of Serbia is arable land
Serbia is the world's second largest producer of raspberries


Serbia has very favourable natural conditions (land and climate) for varied agricultural production. It has 5,056,000 ha of agricultural land (0.7 ha per capita), out of which 3,294,000 ha is arable land (0.45 ha per capita).[68] In 2016, Serbia exported agricultural and food products worth $3.2 billion, and the export-import ratio was 178%.[69] Agricultural exports constitute more than one-fifth of all Serbia's sales on the world market. Serbia is one of the largest provider of frozen fruit to the EU (largest to the French market, and 2nd largest to the German market).[50] Agricultural production is most prominent in Vojvodina on the fertile Pannonian Plain. Other agricultural regions include Mačva, Pomoravlje, Tamnava, Rasina, and Jablanica.[70] In the structure of the agricultural production 70% is from the crop field production, and 30% is from the livestock production.[70] Serbia is world's second largest producer of plums (582,485 tons; second to China), second largest of raspberries (89,602 tons, second to Poland), it is also significant producer of maize (6.48 million tons, ranked 32nd in the world) and wheat (2.07 million tons, ranked 35th in the world).[71][72] Other important agricultural products are: sunflower, sugar beet, soybean, potato, apple, pork meat, beef, poultry and dairy.

There are 56,000 ha of vineyards in Serbia, producing about 230 million litres of wine annually.[71][68] Most famous viticulture regions are located in Vojvodina and Šumadija.


Serbia has a strategic transportation location since the country's backbone, Morava Valley, represents by far the easiest route of land travel from continental Europe to Asia Minor and the Near East.

Serbian road network carries the bulk of traffic in the country. Total length of roads is 45,419 km of which 782 km are "class-Ia state roads" (i.e. motorways); 4,481 km are "class-Ib state roads" (national roads); 10,941 km are "class-II state roads" (regional roads) and 23,780 km are "municipal roads".[73][74][75] The road network, except for the most of class-Ia roads, are of comparatively lower quality to the Western European standards because of lack of financial resources for their maintenance in the last 20 years.

Air Serbia Airbus A330

There are currently 124 kilometers of highways under construction: two sections 34 km-long of the A1 motorway (from south of Leskovac to Bujanovac), 67 km-long segment of A2 (between Belgrade and Ljig), and 23 kilometers on the A4 (east of Niš to the Bulgarian border).[76][77][78] Coach transport is very extensive: almost every place in the country is connected by bus, from largest cities to the villages; in addition there are international routes (mainly to countries of Western Europe with large Serb diaspora). Routes, both domestic and international, are served by more than 100 bus companies, biggest of which are Lasta and Niš-Ekspres. As of 2015, there were 1,833,215 registered passenger cars or 1 passenger car per 3.8 inhabitants.[79]

Serbia has 3,819 kilometers of rail tracks, of which 1,279 are electrified and 283 kilometers are double-track railroad.[71] The major rail hub is Belgrade (and to a lesser degree Niš), while the most important railroads include: Belgrade–Bar (Montenegro), Belgrade–Šid–Zagreb (Croatia)/Belgrade–Niš–Sofia (Bulgaria) (part of Pan-European Corridor X), Belgrade–Subotica–Budapest (Hungary) and Niš–Thessaloniki (Greece). Although still a major mode of freight transportation, railroads face increasing problems with the maintenance of the infrastructure and lowering speeds. All rail services are operated by public rail company, Serbian Railways.[80] There are only two airports with regular passenger traffic: Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport served almost 5 million passengers in 2016, and is a hub of flagship carrier Air Serbia which carried some 2.6 million passengers in 2016.[81][82] Niš Constantine the Great Airport is mainly catering low-cost airlines.[83]

Serbia has a developed inland water transport since there are 1,716 kilometers of navigable inland waterways (1,043 km of navigable rivers and 673 km of navigable canals), which are almost all located in northern third of the country.[71] The most important inland waterway is the Danube (part of Pan-European Corridor VII). Other navigable rivers include Sava, Tisza, Begej and Timiş River, all of which connect Serbia with Northern and Western Europe through the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal and North Sea route, to Eastern Europe via the Tisza, Begej and Danube Black Sea routes, and to Southern Europe via the Sava river. More than 2 million tons of cargo were transported on Serbian rivers and canals in 2016 while the largest river ports are: Novi Sad, Belgrade, Pančevo, Smederevo, Prahovo and Šabac.[71][84]

Telecommunications and IT industry[edit]

205 meters-high Avala Tower

Fixed telephone lines connect 89% of households in Serbia, and with about 9.1 million users the number of cellphones surpasses the total population of Serbia by 29%. The largest mobile operator is Telekom Srbija with 4.2 million subscribers, followed by Telenor with 2.9 million users and Vip mobile with about 2 million.[85] Some 64.7% of households have Internet connection,[86] while practically the same percentage (64.2%) are provided with pay television services (i.e. 37% cable television, 16% IPTV, and 11% satellite).[85] Digital television transition has been completed in 2015 with DVB-T2 standard for signal transmission.[87]

The Serbian IT industry is rapidly growing and changing pace. In 2016 Serbia's IT services exports crossed the $800 million mark.[88] Large investments by global tech companies like Microsoft, typical of the 2000s, are being eclipsed by a growing number of domestic startups which obtain funding from domestic and international investors. What brought companies like Microsoft in the first place was a large pool of talented engineers and mathematicians.[89] In just the first quarter of 2016, more than US$65 million has been raised by Serbian startups including US$45 million for Seven Bridges (a Bioinformatics firm) and US$14 million for Vast (a data analysis firm).[90][91] Some of the most successful startups have been Nordeus which was founded in Belgrade in 2010 and is the developer of Top Eleven Football Manager, a game played by over 20 million people.

Stara planina mountain resort


The touristic sector accounted for little more than 1% of GDP in 2016.[92] Tourism in Serbia employs some 75,000 people, about 3% of the country's workforce.[93]

Serbia is not a mass-tourism destination but nevertheless has a diverse range of touristic products.[94] In 2015, total of over 2.4 million tourists were recorded in accommodations, of which some 1.1 million were foreign.[95] Foreign exchange earnings from tourism were estimated at $1.14 billion.[96]

Tourism is mainly focused on the mountains and spas of the country, which are mostly visited by domestic tourists, as well as Belgrade which is preferred choice of foreign tourists.[97] The most famous mountain resorts are Kopaonik, Stara Planina, and Zlatibor. There are also many spas in Serbia, the biggest of which is Vrnjačka Banja, Soko Banja, and Banja Koviljača. City-break and conference tourism is developed in Belgrade (which was visited by 517,401 foreign tourists in 2013, more than a half of all international visits to the country) and to a lesser degree Novi Sad.[98] Other touristic products that Serbia offer are natural wonders like Đavolja varoš,[99] Christian pilgrimage to the many Orthodox monasteries across the country[100] and the river cruising along the Danube. There are several internationally popular music festivals held in Serbia, such as EXIT (with 25–30,000 foreign visitors coming from 60 different countries) and the Guča trumpet festival.[101]


The list includes ten largest Serbian companies by revenue in 2013 (excluding banks):[102]

Rank Company Headquarters Industry Revenue
(Mil. €)
Employees Note
1. Naftna Industrija Srbije Novi Sad.svg Novi Sad Petroleum 2,307 7,629 [103]
2. Elektroprivreda Srbije Small Coat of Arms Belgrade.svg Belgrade Electric utility 1,917 31,569 [104]
3. Fiat Automobili Srbija Kragujevac city Coat of Arms.jpg Kragujevac Automotive 1,497 3,668 [105]
4. Telekom Srbija Small Coat of Arms Belgrade.svg Belgrade Telecommunications 1,018 13,229 [106]
5. Delhaize Srbija Small Coat of Arms Belgrade.svg Belgrade Retail 886 11,763 [107]
6. Srbijagas Novi Sad.svg Novi Sad Natural gas 602 3,011 [108]
7. Tarkett Blason de Bačka Palanka.gif Bačka Palanka Manufacturing 562 2,755 [109]
8. Mercator-S Novi Sad.svg Novi Sad Retail 553 4,701 [110]
9. IDEA Small Coat of Arms Belgrade.svg Belgrade Retail 483 3,954 [111]
10. Delta Holding Small Coat of Arms Belgrade.svg Belgrade Holding 481 3,417 [112]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]