The new Serbian customs law, in force as of December 16, 2018, became applicable six months following the date of its entry into force, on June 17, 2019, after the adoption of several bylaws. On September 5, 2019, a group of experts from the Customs System and Policy Department of the Ministry of Finance hosted a seminar in Belgrade to discuss the most important novelties introduced by the new customs legislation, which aims to harmonize Serbia’s legislation with the corresponding EU regulations, namely the Union Customs Code (UCC), EU’s basic customs law governing customs procedures and requirements for bringing goods in and out of the EU. At the same time, Serbia is about to sign a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), despite EU disapproval, a topic also covered during the seminar.
One of the most important novelties brought by the new customs law is the applicants’ ‘right to be heard’ which allows for additional communication between customs authorities and applicants when a customs decision would negatively affect the applicant. For instance, customs authorities cannot automatically reject an application but are now required to inform the applicant that their application will be refused, unless they provide additional, supporting documents or proof to justify reviewing the decision. This novelty has been introduced into the field of IP protection by the new regulation on border measures for the protection of IP rights (Official Gazette 38/19), which entered into force in June 2019.
Previously, customs authorities could automatically reject an IP protection related request if they found deficiencies in the application. The right owner was able to appeal against a decision to refuse the application. Now the process has been expedited by eliminating the appeal procedure, if not necessary. If the deficiencies are remedied within the prescribed timeframe of 30 days, the review of the application will continue. Another novelty is that the timeframe for the customs authorities to make a decision on an IP related request has been extended from 30 to 120 days from the date the request is received. However, in practice most decisions will take only up to 30 days.
Negotiations related to the free trade agreement between Serbia and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) member countries lasted from December 2017 to January 2019, and the agreement is expected to be signed in Moscow on October 25, 2019. It will enter into force when ratified by all signatory countries, which may take several months. Under the agreement, certain kind of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes will be imported into Serbia and Serbia will export fruit brandy and sheep and goat cheese duty-free.
Serbia already has similar agreements with three of the five members of the EAEU (Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) and the idea was to combine the three bilateral agreements into a single agreement that will also include Armenia and Kyrgyzstan and help Serbia enter additional markets. The European Commission does not support the signing of this agreement, declaring that it contradicts Serbia’s plans for EU accession. The agreement is likely to be in place until Serbia becomes a full member of the EU.