"Two major things are happening right now which are the focus of our practice: The Tech Industry and Chinese Investors,” says Ivan Nonkovic, Partner and independent attorney at law in cooperation with Karanovic & Partners in Belgrade. "Both things are happening all over the region,” he concedes, ”so not exclusively in Serbia, but they’re definitely significant here too."
According to Nonkovic, “there is a huge and growing tech ecosystem here, and the number of startups and incubators is growing rapidly. There have also been a lot of investments this year, including a couple of really big deals, and some more are happening that should be announced soon.” As a result, he says, “there’s a lot of M&A work here in Serbia -— sometimes involving bigger companies buying start-ups, or from global mergers affecting Serbian subsidiaries, general corporate, and investment deals."
"And then Chinese investors are investing heavily as well,” he says, pointing to things like Zijin Mining's September 2018 acquisition of Serbia's RTB Bor (which Nonkovic worked on as part of the Karanovic & Partners team as reported by CEE Legal Matters on September 5, 2018, involving a pledge to invest some EUR 1.46 billion in upcoming years. And he notes that mining and highways are no longer the only beneficiary of the Asian interest. "Although those investments initially were focused almost exclusively on infrastructure projects,” he says, "now they’re starting to come in other areas as well.”
"Overall the economy is doing well,” Nonkovic reports. “There’s a lot of work, and everyone is busy — not just us, but our friends across the market as well.” Of course, like all lawyers, he’s alert to potential changes on the horizon, but he's not, at the moment, overly concerned. "There are some voices raised about the upcoming crisis,” he says, "because we’ve had ten years of growth, but there's no sign of it coming yet, at least in Serbia.” And, he says, the general elections that are widely expected to take place in March are unlikely to change things. "I don’t expect it to influence the upcoming cycle in Serbia much, because the current government has a pretty solid majority, and I don’t see them losing the next elections. So the work in the private sector should continue as it is. There may be change in the public sector — privatizations and in other areas where you need the participation of the government may slow down, as the government focuses on the elections — but otherwise I don’t see it impacting the market.”
“And the legal marketplace is quite steady now,” he says. “There was some turmoil in the past, but it’s quite stable now, and I don’t see any further changes or ground-breaking things going on. We’ve had a number of elections, and things are calm.”
Overall, Nonkovic concludes, "I would say that things are pretty good here. Of course Serbia is a smaller market, and we’re dependent on bigger markets, so of course developments in the EU or elsewhere in the world can affect us, but in general things seem to be going well.”