Economic Exchange

Japan, Serbia: Great Opportunities for Cooperation

Although located in the immediate vicinity of the Visegrad Group of countries, Serbia does not do enough to interest Japanese investors, and in the past it has missed out on the chances provided. However, renewed interest in our country is emerging among Japanese companies

The trade exchange between Serbia and Japan is characterised by its modest volume, especially when it comes to the value of our exports, with a constant trade deficit on the Serbian side and the low level of coverage of imports by exports.When it comes to Japanese investors, it could be said that on several occasions huge efforts of Japanese companies to promote Serbia have been thwarted by the fact that domestic companies have not respected the deadlines or rules agreed. That said, there are very successful examples, such as, for example, the investments of JTI and Panasonic and interest among other Japanese companies in organising production in Serbia.

Total trade in 2014 amounted to a value of $114.3 million, which represents a decrease of 12.5% compared to 2013. A growth in exports was recorded of 6.7%, or $6.8 million, which is our best export performance in the last 10 years – and a decline in imports of 13.4% ($107.5 million), compared to the previous year, with an export-import coverage ratio of 6.28%. According to data for the first nine months of 2015, total trade amounted to $111.3 million, which represents an increase of 26.9% compared to the same period in 2014. The value of exports was $27.6 million, while imports were worth $83.7 million. Exports have increased 426.8% and imports 1.5%, compared with the first nine months of 2014. Such a high rate of growth of exports of goods from Serbia to Japan during this period is due to the exports of cigarettes. In the first nine months of 2015, over 150 times more cigarettes were exported than during the whole of 2014.

A deficit is still present and amounts to $56.1 million, while the export-import coverage is 32.91%.

Japanese companies are interested in importing our health food, wine, spirits, mineral water, herbal teas and traditional goose feathers. JETRO (Japan External Trade Organisation) believes there is room for the placement of Serbian furniture, kitchenware and equipment, wooden toys and the like, because no quantitative restrictions apply on imports of these products to Japan, while customs duties are marginal.

The amount of Japanese assistance through projects to serve the basic needs of the population (POPOS) in Serbia since 1999 totals around €10 million. The total amount of Japanese assistance to Serbia over the same period exceeds €460 million

Company Sirogojno has been present in Japan for decades, primarily through the export of folk handiwork items. In recent years, the most important export product from Sirogojno has been frozen raspberries, and in addition to a regular customer (JAM Incorporated), there is interest for cooperation from trade giant Marubeni and company Aoba Trading. They are expected to start exporting dried fruit soon.

In 2014, exports of frozen raspberries grew by 69.3%, jams and marmalades by 32.6% and dairy spreads by 12.1%, compared to 2013. Last year’s statistics registered exporters of frozen and dried fruit, juices, dairy spreads and wine, alongside the aforementioned Sirogojno, as: Master Frigo, Belgrade, Agropartner, Lu?ani, Foodland, Belgrade, Zadrugar, Ljubovija, ITN, Belgrade, Drenovac Arilje, Farmakom, Šabac, Mileti? Winery, Rekovac and Winery Kiš, Sremski Karlovci. The Aleksandrovi? Winery and Japanese company Makato Investment agreed in May this year on the export of around 2,400 bottles of wine by the end of 2015, with this amount set to double in 2016 to 4,800 bottles and in 2017 to 9,600 bottles.

Company Waido-Waido has long-term cooperation with Serbian companies, primarily with Agrostemin, and is interested in the production of kajmak milk curd.

Mitsubishi is generally interested in cooperation in the production of auto parts for export to the SEE region, the machine industry, importing our food products, artificial fertiliser production, and participation in projects related to energy and transport infrastructure and environmental protection.

Pharmaceutical company Takeda has been present in Serbia since 2012 and in December 2013 it was joined by another Japanese pharmaceutical company, Astellas. Toshiba is present in Serbia through its distributor CT Computers.

JETRO has previously carried out extensive analysis of market potential based on a survey of Japanese companies operating in Europe and Turkey. It is significant that in the medium-term period of 5-10 years, Japanese companies consider promising manufacturing bases as being Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, China, India, Romania and Turkey, while Serbia is not on the list. According to the criteria of key sales destinations for Japanese products, at the top of list are Russia, Turkey and Germany, while at the bottom are Slovakia, Croatia and Macedonia, and Serbia agin does not feature.


The first Japanese investment in Serbia was the purchase of Senta Tobacco Industry by Japan Tobacco International in May 2006. Since that acquisition to date, this company has invested $169 million, the last time in October 2014, in a new machine for the production of super slim cigarettes ($5 million). This latest reinvestment in the factory in Senta is even more significant when viewed in light of the decision of JTI to close two of its factories in Europe in the 2016-2018 period, as well as to relocate part of its production. Japan Tobacco International is a leader in the production of tobacco in Serbia, with a market share of over 40%, and is the sixth largest taxpayer in Serbia. The biggest problem for the company is cutting illegal trade in tobacco, which has negative consequences for this company and the entire tobacco industry.

Company Asahi Food and Healthcare Co. Ltd. (part of the Asahi Breweries corporation), in collaboration with companies Alltech and Mitsui Co., plans the full investment of 45 million euros in the Fermin factory in Senta (under American ownership) for the production of natural food additives (special yeast), for export to Europe, the U.S. and Japan. Equipment has been ordered from Serbian producers, while the investment envisages the total creation of over 100 new jobs. This factory operates and exports successfully.

Panasonic Electric Works (via subsidiary Vosloh, based in Lüdenscheid, Germany) has been present in Serbia since 2010. It launched the production of energy-efficient electronic devices for lighting (LED modules) in 2011. Intitially working out of a rented production hall, in April 2013 the company bought a building in the Veliko Polje industrial zone in the municipality of Svilajnac. The target markets are Eastern and Western Europe as well as Asia, provided the price is competitive.

Japanese corporations Itochu and Mitsui have shown interest in participating in the realisation of priority investment projects in Serbia (construction of bridges, Pan-European Transport Corridors 10 and 7, water-supply).

Japanse Corporate Presence

Company Shimizu (which constructs Japanese factories overseas and provides consulting services to investors) has expressed an interest in working in Serbia and Croatia, where Croatia is seen as suitable for investment in real estate and logistics (due to the Port of Rijeka) and Serbia as a production destination.

November 2014 saw the opening of the representatives office of Yokogawa Electric Corporation in Belgrade, as a result of years of being present on the market in Serbia (sector of industrial automation and control).

In September 2014 Serbia was visited by representatives of organisation Keidanren, which is Japan’s most influential business association, representing the interests of the biggest Japanese companies. This was their first visit to Serbia and interest was shown in investing in the food, automotive and electrical industries).

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