For more than a decade after the end of the war in 1995, Croatia enjoyed steady growth in foreign investment, buoyed by a growing economy, low inflation, a stable exchange rate and developed infrastructure. Investment activity slowed substantially in 2009 and continued to lag in 2010, due partly to the global financial crisis, and partly to structural problems that continue to plague the economy. The banking system weathered the financial crisis well, but a bloated and complex bureaucracy, underperforming state enterprises, an anemic export sector, and corruption all contributed to a sour economic mood over the last two years. The country’s inefficient and sometimes unpredictable judicial system is also a key concern for investors.
Croatia enters 2011, however, with reasons for optimism. The government of Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor has made progress in its European Union accession efforts and hopes to finish all negotiations in 2011. Reforms undertaken for the purpose of meeting EU accession demands bode well for Croatia’s economy and investment climate, and entry into the union should contribute to greater stability and enhanced opportunities for trade. Prime Minister Kosor made eliminating barriers to investment a priority in 2010, but much work remains. An economic recovery plan unveiled in April 2010 included a number of reforms aimed at creating a more efficient and friendly climate for foreign investment, but progress has been slow. Investors still complain about high para-fiscal fees, rigid labor laws, non-transparency in public tendering, and slow and complex permitting procedures.
In the fall, the government launched an ambitious drive to see 30 major investment projects commence in 2011. The majority of these opportunities are in the field of energy, with others in infrastructure and tourism. In late 2010, the Prime Minister created a new deputy prime minister position solely for the purpose of developing domestic and foreign investment. His tasks will be to see through these 30 investments projects, and to create better ministerial level coordination to resolve issues slowing or blocking investment. While the effectiveness of this new position is not yet clear, it is a promising sign that the government is serious in its desire to improve the investment climate.
Strong efforts over the past two years at stamping out corruption have helped to make Croatia a more attractive investment location. Several new investigations involving high level current and former members of government, including a former Prime Minister, seem to indicate the Government is serious in this campaign. If the Prime Minister and her economic policy makers can find a way to make government more transparent, rationalize the state budget, move forward with remaining privatizations, and stimulate investment and export activity, then Croatia will almost surely be able to return to a path of strong economic growth very soon.
Openness to Foreign Investment
Croatia is open to foreign investment. The Croatian government continues to have as one of its main goals a further increase in foreign investment. NATO membership, acquired in 2009, and the prospect of membership in the EU continue to motivate both reform and stabilization of the economy, which should in turn improve the investment climate of the country. The government continues to give priority to activities related to fighting organized crime and corruption. Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor has been resolute in this regard. A number of high profile corruption cases involving high-level officials have been initiated since Kosor became Prime Minister in July 2009. While there is a sincere intent by Kosor to show openness to investment, bureaucratic and political barriers remain, especially at local levels.
Despite recent progress, problems remain that dampen investment in Croatia. The greatest of these is the country’s inefficient and sometimes unpredictable legal system. Amid a backlog of 750,000 pending cases, even the simplest matters can take years to resolve. Timely enforcement of contracts is a significant problem. The difficulty of obtaining timely judicial remedies has hindered investment in Croatia. Other problem areas include inefficient bureaucracies, high para-fiscal fees and the country's relatively high labor costs in relation to other locations in Central and Eastern Europe.
Croatia’s legal framework accords equal treatment to foreign and domestic investors for all types of business. There are no reviewing or screening mechanisms to exclude foreign investment, nor are there any restrictions to foreign investment. The website of the Croatian Chamber of Economy (www.hgk.hr) provides a useful English-language guide, "How to Start Up an Enterprise in Croatia," as well as sector-specific and general reports. The Zagreb Stock Exchange's website (www.zse.hr) posts English-language translations of key laws in force.
The Investment Promotion and Export Directorate, located in the Ministry of Economy, Labor and Entrepreneurship, offers advice and legal expertise for helping with strategies for investment promotion and removing barriers to investment. The office also works on developing free trade zones and drafting measures that are intended to help increase both foreign and domestic investment. More information can be found at http://www.mingorp.hr/defaulteng.aspx?id=26
The Company Act defines the forms of legal organization for domestic and foreign investors. The following entity formations are permitted for foreigners: general partnerships, limited partnerships, branches, limited liability companies, and joint stock companies. The Obligatory Relations Law regulates commercial contracts.
Croatia is included on the following lists and ranks per each as follows:
· Transparency International Corruption Index: ranked 62 with a 4.1 corruption perception index
· Heritage Economic Freedom overall score: 61.1
· World Bank Doing Business “Ease of doing business” ranking: 84 ( it should be noted that this is a 19 place jump from 2009’s ranking of 103)
Conversion and Transfer Policies
The Croatian constitution guarantees the free transfer and repatriation of profits and invested capital for foreign investments. Article VI of the U.S. Croatia Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) establishes protection for American investors from government exchange controls that limit current and capital account transfers, and limits on inward transfers made by screening authorities. The BIT obliges both countries to permit all transfers relating to a covered investment to be made freely and without delay into and out of each other's territory. The Croatian Foreign Exchange Law permits foreigners to maintain foreign currency accounts and to make external payments.
The Foreign Exchange Law also defines foreign direct investment (FDI). For example, use of retained earnings for new investments/acquisitions is considered FDI, whereas investments made by institutional investors such as insurance, pension and investment funds are not considered FDI. The law also liberalizes foreign exchange transactions for Croatian entities and individuals, allowing them to invest abroad. Generally, this law liberalized foreign exchange transactions, but it also introduced criteria for the possible imposition of capital controls.
The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb has not received any complaints from American companies regarding transfers and remittances.
Expropriation and Compensation
There have been no cases of expropriation of foreign investments by the government since Croatia became independent in 1991. Article III of the BIT covers both direct and indirect expropriations. The BIT bars all expropriations or nationalizations except those that are for a public purpose, carried out in a non-discriminatory manner, are in accordance with due process of law, and are subject to prompt, adequate and effective compensation.
Croatian law gives the government broad authority to expropriate property under various economic and security related circumstances. The law provides for an appellate mechanism to challenge expropriation decisions by means of a complaint to the Ministry of Justice within 15 days of the expropriation order. The law, however, does not describe the Ministry's adjudication process and the fact that the Ministry of Justice represents the government, which initiates expropriations, is an area of potential concern for investors. Investors should also be aware of the 2009 Law on Golf, which allows the government to expropriate land in order to sell it for golf course development.
There have been instances of investment disputes involving U.S. companies in Croatia. As a result of the very long timeframes involved in obtaining judgments in court, in addition to questionable transparency in some cases in the past, companies often try to resolve disputes without seeking a judicial remedy. The government is currently working to reduce court backlogs and to encourage the use of alternative dispute settlement.
The Croatian constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The judicial system consists of courts of general and specialized jurisdictions, whose core structure is Supreme Court, County Courts, Municipal Courts, and the Magistrate/Petty Crimes Courts. Specialized courts include the Administrative Court and High Commercial and Lower Commercial Courts. There is also a Constitutional Court that determines the constitutionality of laws and government actions and protects and enforces constitutional rights. Municipal courts exercise original jurisdiction over civil and juvenile/criminal cases. The High Commercial Court is located in Zagreb and has appellate review of lower commercial court decisions. Modification of lower court decisions by the High Commercial Court may be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Administrative Court has jurisdiction over the decisions of administrative bodies of all levels of government. The Supreme Court, under certain circumstances, may review decisions. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country and, as such, enjoys jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases. It hears appeals from County, High Commercial, and Administrative Courts.
The government continues efforts to reform the judiciary, including reducing the backlog of cases, reforming the land registry, training court officers and reducing the backlog and length of bankruptcy procedures. Alternative dispute resolution has been implemented at the High Commercial Court, the Zagreb Commercial Court and six municipal courts throughout the country. An important move to lessen the backlog of cases is the on-going redistribution of non-disputed decisions to public notaries. During the past year, the number of pending cases has decreased to fewer than 760,000, down from 870,000. There has been a significant reduction in the backlog of enforcement cases and the enforcement of judgments, which currently make up over 10 percent of all pending cases. According to the provisions of the Law on Enforcement, a judgment made by a judge or panel of judges to order payment or direct actions to be taken or ceased must be executed immediately. Current practice, however, delays enforcement until all appeals are exhausted. Article 17 of the Law on Enforcement states that foreign judgments may be executed only if the "judgment fulfills the conditions for recognition and execution as prescribed by an international agreement or the law." The Ministry of Justice’s reform plan is available on its website at www.pravosudje.hr.
The Law on Bankruptcy is internationally harmonized and corresponds to the EU regulation on insolvency proceedings and United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency. The law establishes timeframes for the initiation of bankruptcy proceedings. Bankruptcies and foreclosures have traditionally been slow and inefficient in Croatia. The World Bank has estimated that the recovery rate in Croatia is approximately 41 percent of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average, and somewhat better than the regional average.
The Commercial Court has exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy matters. A bankruptcy tribunal decides on initiating formal bankruptcy proceedings, appoints the trustee, reviews creditor complaints, approves the settlement for creditors, and decides on the closing of proceedings. The bankruptcy judge supervises the trustee (who represents the debtor) and the operations of the creditors' committee. A creditors' committee is convened to protect the interests of all creditors during the proceedings, to oversee the trustee's work and to report back to the creditors. The law establishes the priority of creditor claims, assigning higher priority to those related to taxes and revenues of state, local and administration budgets. The law also allows for a debtor or the trustee to petition to reorganize the firm, an alternative aimed at maximizing asset recovery and providing fair and equitable distribution among all creditors.
Arbitration is available, although underutilized. Within the Croatian Chamber of Economy, there is a permanent arbitration court that has been in existence since 1965 (see www.hgk.hr/wps/portal/!ut/p/.cmd/cl/.l/hr). Arbitration is voluntary and conforms to UNCITRAL model procedures. The court received 49 new cases in 2010, of which a few concern EU countries. There are currently no arbitration matters involving U.S. companies.
The English-language text of the Law on Arbitration can be found on the website of the Croatian Chamber of Economy (www.hgk.hr). The law covers domestic arbitration, recognition and enforcement of arbitration rulings, jurisdictional matters and procedures. Once a dispute has been arbitrated the decision is executed upon notice from the court to the obligatory party. If no payment is made by the established deadline, the party benefiting from the decision notifies the commercial court and the commercial court becomes responsible for enforcing compliance. Rulings of the arbitration court have the force of a final judgment, but can be appealed within three months.
Article X of the BIT sets forth several means for resolution of investment disputes, defined as any dispute arising out of or relating to an investment authorization, an investment agreement, or an alleged breach of rights conferred, created, or recognized by the BIT with respect to a covered investment. For more information on the BIT arbitration provisions, consult http://tcc.export.gov.
Croatia is a signatory to the following international conventions regulating the mutual acceptance and enforcement of foreign arbitration: the 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses, the 1927 Geneva Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitration Decisions, the 1958 New York Convention on the Acceptance and Execution of Foreign Arbitration Decisions, and the 1961 European Convention on International Business Arbitration. In 1998 Croatia ratified the Washington Convention - the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
Croatia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) agreement went into effect in 2000. Croatia has no trade-related investment measures in place at the present time, nor does the government intend to introduce any such measures in the future. Accordingly, Croatia did not seek to list any measures for elimination under the provisions of the WTO Agreement on TRIMs. Croatia committed to maintaining measures consistent with the TRIMs agreement and has applied the TRIMs agreement from the date of accession without recourse to any transition period.
Croatian law does not impose performance requirements on foreign or domestic investors. Article VII of the BIT prohibits mandating or enforcing specified performance requirements as a condition for the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct or operation of a covered investment. The list of prohibited requirements is exhaustive and covers domestic content requirements and domestic purchase preferences, the "balancing" of imports or sales in relation to exports or foreign exchange earnings, requirements to export products or services, technology transfer requirements and requirements relating to the conduct of research and development in the host country. Article VII makes clear, however, that a party may impose conditions for the receipt or continued receipt of benefits and incentives.
In late 2004, the Ministries of Economy and Defense agreed to introduce offsets (a requirement for local sourcing of a portion of the contract) for defense procurements over 2 million euros, and the Ministry of Economy said it was considering introducing offsets in other areas, but no such action has been taken. More information on the application and regulation of the offset program can be found at www.hgk.hr. The Investment Promotion Act (IPA) offers potentially significant incentives to investors, such as tax advantages (reduction of the statutory profit tax), tariff references, aid to cover eligible costs of the job creation linked to an investment, aid to cover eligible costs of training linked to an investment, incentive measures for the establishment and development of technology and innovation centers. The IPA also provides for strategic business support services and incentive measures for large investment projects of significant economic interest.
Tax incentives include substantially lower profit tax obligations. The incentives include: a 50 percent corporate tax reduction for a maximum period of ten years for companies that invest from 2.2 million to 11 million HRK (approximately $440,000 - $2.2 million) and create 10 new jobs; 65 percent corporate tax reduction for a maximum period of ten years for companies that invest from 11 million to 30 million HRK (approximately $2.2 million to $6 million) and create 30 new jobs; 85 percent corporate tax reduction for a maximum period of ten years for companies that invest 30 million to 58 million HRK (approximately $6 million to $11.6 million) and create 50 new jobs; and 100 percent corporate tax reduction for a maximum period of ten years for companies that invest over 60 million HRK (approximately $11.6 million) and create at least 75 new jobs. Also, the government will allow duty-free import of capital equipment and machinery for investments meeting any of the foregoing criteria. Incentives for new job creation range from $2,000 to $5,000 depending on the investment activity and registered unemployment rate of the county.
The IPA refers to investment projects in the manufacturing sector, investments in technology and innovation centers and investments in strategic business support services. The minimum amount of investment that qualifies for incentives is $400,000 EUR, under the condition that at least 10 new jobs are created during a three year period. The utilization of the incentive measures is limited by the maximum intensity of aid set for every NUTS II region (statistical region) by the Decision on Regional Aid Map (full harmonization with EU regulatory frame).
In order to utilize the incentive measures, an investor must send an application to the Ministry of Economy, Labor and Entrepreneurship, prior to the commencement of investment operations.
The Government may also offer real estate, permits or infrastructure to an investor either cost-free or on a preferential basis. The Government likewise offers incentives for business activities carried out in areas of special state concern, mountain areas and the city of Vukovar. The laws governing business activities in the areas of special state concern have been harmonized with EU regulations on state aid.
All information regarding incentives for investing in Croatia can be found on the website of the Ministry of Economy, Labor and Entrepreneurship, Directorate for Economic Diplomacy, Export and Investments (www.mingorp.hr). The web page also provides the text of the Act and Regulation on Investment Promotion, as well as other information on application forms and procedures.
The Investment and Export Promotion Directorate in the Ministry of Economy, Labor and Entrepreneurship can also be helpful in looking for incentive information. Further information can be found on their website at www.mingorp.hr.
Although procedures for obtaining business visas are generally clear, they can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Questions relating to visas and work permits should be directed to a Croatian embassy or consulate in the U.S. The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb also maintains a website with information on this subject at www.usembassy.hr.
The Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Both foreign and domestic legal entities have the right to establish and own businesses and engage in remunerative activity. Foreign investors can acquire ownership and shares of joint stock companies. The lowest amount of initial capital for establishing a joint stock company is 200,000 HRK ($40,000) and the nominal value per share cannot be less than 10 HRK ($2.00). Minimum initial capital for establishment of a limited liability company is 20,000 HRK ($4,000), while individual representation per investor cannot be less than 200 HRK ($40.00).
Most goods may be imported or exported for free. Quotas or protective levies may be introduced in accordance with WTO rules only as an exception if the balance of payments experiences disturbances. If the import of certain goods threatens to damage or damages domestic industry, import quotas may be introduced. Export quotas may also be set in order to protect national non-renewable natural resources, accompanied by restrictive measures that limit internal trade in these products.
Article 49 of the Constitution provides assurances that all entrepreneurs have equal legal status and that monopolies are forbidden. The Competition Act defines the rules and methods for promoting and protecting competition. This law and information about the Croatian Competition Agency can be found at www.aztn.hr. In theory, competitive equality is the standard applied to private enterprises in competition with public enterprises with respect to market access, credit and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies. In practice, however, state-owned enterprises and "strategic" firms continue to receive preferential treatment, including government bailouts and subsidies.
The government’s e-government initiative "Hitro" (www.hitro.hr) provides an on-line business registration component that reduces the time it takes to register a company to four days. Business registration is the first step in a plan to make more government services available on-line in coming years. Croatia’s land records are also available on-line (see www.pravosudje.hr and www.katastar.hr).
Protection of Property Rights
The right to ownership of private property is established in the Croatian Constitution. Numerous acts and regulations safeguard this right. A foreign physical or legal person incorporated under Croatian law is considered to be a Croatian legal person. The Law on Ownership and Property Rights establishes procedures for foreigners to acquire property by inheritance as well as legal transactions such as purchases, deeds, and trusts. While EU member state citizens are afforded the same rights as Croatian citizens in terms of purchasing property, the right of all other foreigners to acquire property in Croatia is based on reciprocity.
Reciprocity exists on a state-by-state basis with the United States. Croatia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed the existence of reciprocity for real estate purchases for residents of the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Iowa and Oklahoma (with a condition of permanent residence). Residents of other states could face longer waiting periods while the Ministry confirms that Croatian nationals can purchase real estate in those states without restrictions. However, a foreign investor, incorporated as a Croatian legal entity, may acquire and own property without ministry approval. Purchasing by any private party of certain types of land (principally land directly adjacent to the sea or in certain geographically designated areas) can be restricted. Both Croatian and foreign citizens may mortgage property and pledge real and tangible property.
In order to acquire property by means other than inheritance or as an incorporated Croatian legal entity, foreign investors require the approval of the Ministry of Justice. Approval often takes several months or longer owing to a lengthy interagency clearance process. When purchasing land for construction purposes, potential buyers should determine whether the property is classified as agricultural land or construction land. Several controversial classification laws exist and should be considered when purchasing land. The Arable Land Law allows for additional fees of 25 percent or more to be added to the initial cost of land that is to be converted from agricultural into construction land. The Law on Golf allows investors to expropriate land from private owners and local governments in order to build golf courses. The Agricultural Land Agency, which came into existence on January 1, 2010, works with local governments to review potential agricultural land purchases. Concern exists that the mechanism could be used to exclude foreign investors under a governing provision that allows its board to decide to which potential buyer private land should be sold where multiple offers exist, irrespective of the seller’s wishes. That provision has been challenged in court and has been enjoined pending resolution of the case by the Constitutional Court. It is unclear when the case will be resolved.
Clarifying Croatia's land registry system is an on-going process. Although Croatia has made progress resolving a backlog of cases, potential investors should seek a full explanation of land ownership rights before purchasing property. It is highly advisable to seek competent, independent legal advice in this area (see www.usembassy.hr, Consular section for a list of English-speaking attorneys), as there are sometimes ambiguous and conflicting claims to property, making it necessary to verify that the seller possesses clear title to both land and buildings, which can be titled and owned separately. Inheritance laws have led to a situation in which some properties can have dozens of legal owners, some of whom are long since deceased and others of whom emigrated and cannot be found. It is also important to verify the existence of necessary building permits, as some newer structures in coastal areas have been subject to destruction at the owner’s expense and without compensation for not conforming to local zoning regulations. Investors should be particularly wary of promises that structures built without permits will be regularized retroactively.
Some aspects of land ownership, as distinct from ownership of objects, are not clear. Investors interested in acquiring companies from the Croatian Privatization Fund should seek legal advice to determine whether any deal also includes the right to ownership of the land on which an object is located, or merely the right to lease the land through a concession. The various Croatian laws on privatization are not clear on this point.
Inconsistent regulations and restrictions on coastal property ownership and construction have in the past provided challenges for foreign investors. Legislation restricts coastal construction and commercial use within 70 meters of the coastline.
Croatia has intellectual property rights (IPR) legislation, including the Patent Law, Trademark Law, Industrial Design Law, Law on the Geographical Indications of Products and Services, Law on the Protection of Layout Design of Integrated Circuits, and Law on Copyrights and Related Rights. Although some areas of IPR protection remain problematic, Croatia is currently not on the U.S. Special 301 Watch List. Problem areas continue to be concentrated in piracy of digital media and counterfeiting.
As a full WTO member, Croatia is a party to the Uruguay Round Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). A WTO/TRIPS Working Group in June 2001 accepted Croatia's IPR legislation. Texts of these laws are available on the website of the State Intellectual Property Office: www.dziv.hr. Croatia is also a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). For a list of international conventions to which Croatia is a signatory, consult the State Intellectual Property Office's website.
Due to its geographical position, Croatia is also one of the transit routes for various contraband products bound for other countries in the region.
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Croatia is under pressure to increase transparency, and its commitments to adopt EU laws, norms, and practices provide steady pressure for reform. Nevertheless, bureaucracy and regulation continue to be overly complex and time consuming.
Legislation aimed at increasing transparency with respect to public procurement, accounting and financial security was passed in 2007. The procurement law provides for greater transparency with the introduction of electronic auctions, definitions of special procurement procedures and framework agreements, as well as publication of all procurement procedures over 70,000 HRK ($14,000). The Accounting Law includes reporting provisions according to which large companies must apply International Financial Reporting Standards, while small and medium businesses apply Croatian Financial Reporting Standards. Progress, however, is still necessary in this area. New legislation or changes to legislation, which is considered significant to citizens, is made available for public debate. An amended Company Law was passed in December 2008.
Croatia’s regulatory system does not specifically discriminate against foreign investors. However, transparency in developing legislation and regulation is often hampered by an inefficient public administration, a lack of intra-governmental coordination, and reliance on expert advice from national champions, sometimes giving the latter a privileged position in influencing new regulations.
Tax on corporate income is a flat 20 percent. There is a 15 percent tax on interest revenue and royalties. In 2005, tax on dividends was eliminated. For a detailed description of existing tax legislation, please consult the Tax Administration's website at www.porezna-uprava.hr/en/index.asp. The Institute of Public Finance maintains a useful table of Croatian taxes at www.ijf.hr/eng/taxguide/08_05/taxtable.pdf. Croatia also maintains a 23 percent value-added tax (VAT). Some companies have had difficulty with the tax authorities due to differing understandings of how certain goods and services are affected by the VAT. Detailed information about customs can be found at www.carina.hr.
A valuable source of analysis is located on the website of the Croatian office of the World Bank, at www.worldbank.hr. Click on the link for the "Doing Business in Croatia Forum.”
Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investments
Croatia's securities markets are open to both domestic and foreign investment equally. There are no restrictions that would disrupt foreign investment in the securities market and other markets in Croatia. Foreign residents may open non-resident accounts and may do business both domestically and abroad. Article 24 of the Foreign Currency Act states that non-residents may subscribe, pay in, purchase or sell securities in the Republic of Croatia in accordance with regulations governing securities transactions. Non-residents and residents are afforded the same treatment in spending and borrowing. These and other non-resident financial activities regarding securities are covered by Articles 24, 25 and 27 of the Foreign Currency Act, which can be viewed on the Central Bank website (www.hnb.hr).
The government passed a Capital Market Act that entered into force on January 1, 2009. The new Act focuses on: (1) the regulation of establishment of activities, supervision and cessation of investment companies, market operators and operators of payment and settlement systems; (2) the offering of investment services and the performance of investment activities; (3) the rules of trading on the organized market; (4) the offering and quotation of securities on the organized market; (5) the reporting requirements in connection with securities quoted on the organized market; (6) market abuse; (7) the deposit of financial instruments and the settlement and payment of transactions with financial instruments; and (8) the authority and activities of the Croatian Financial Services Supervisory Agency (HANFA) in connection with implementation. The new Act has also made clearer the details of required disclosures and the consequences of a failure to disclose. It specifies in much greater detail than did the old law who is responsible for information listed in a prospectus, and obligates the issuer to publish periodic financial reports as well as information about changes in corporate structure and voting rights. The new Act improves securities regulation and increases transparency. Experts have said that it will cause some investment companies to disappear while making others stronger.
Croatia’s capital markets did not do well in 2009 and figures were even less impressive in 2010. Transactions on the Zagreb Stock Exchange in 2009 totaled 10.91 billion HRK (approximately $2.14 billion), of which 2.98 billion HRK (approximately $590 million) was in institutional turnover. In 2010, transactions totaled 12.90 billion HRK (approximately $ 2.32 billion) of which 5.51 billion HRK (approximately $ 0.99 billion) was institutional turnover. According to the Central Depository Agency records, approximately 856,000 Croatian citizens now own stocks.
The Investment Fund Law provides for the establishment of derivative funds, index funds and other funds in accordance with EU legislation.
The Agency for Supervision of Financial Services (HANFA), headed by the Directorate for Supervision of Agencies, oversees the capital market in Croatia. See www.hanfa.hr for all legislation and information relative to capital markets. Only an authorized company (brokerage houses and banks) may deal in securities in Croatia. Such activity must be licensed by the Croatian Financial Services Supervisory Agency and entered in a court register.
A brokerage company may only be a private or public limited company based in the Republic of Croatia. Its only permitted activity is transactions in securities. The type of permitted activity depends on the amount of share capital. In accordance with national law, a brokerage company may establish a branch abroad in order to deal in securities in the respective country. Foreign brokerage companies authorized for transactions in securities may establish a branch in the Republic of Croatia, provided they obtain a license from HANFA.
The privatized and consolidated banking sector is advanced and is becoming more competitive. More than 90 percent of the total assets of the banking sector are foreign-owned. As of November 2010, there were 32 commercial banks and two savings banks, whose assets totaled 390.91 billion HRK ($75 billion). The three largest banks, all foreign-owned are: Zagrebacka Bank, with 94.8 billion HRK in assets, holding 24.3 percent of total bank assets in Croatia; Privredna Bank, with 64.7 billion HRK, holding 16.6 percent of total bank assets in Croatia; and Erste Steirmarkische Bank, with 49.6 billion HRK, holding 12.7 percent of total bank assets in Croatia.
The government uses the market to finance government expenditure. Government debt instruments must be bought through an intermediary such as a commercial bank, and are tradable on exchanges. All Croatian workers under age 40 are required to pay five percent of their gross salary into a pension fund of their choice. EU Pillar III (additional voluntary savings with government matching of 25 percent) has also been introduced.
Currently, securities are traded on the Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE), established in 1991. The Varazdin Stock Exchange (VSE), which was established in 1993 as an over-the-counter (OTC) exchange merged into the ZSE in 2007. The OMX X-Stream trading system is now used on the ZSE.
There are three tiers of securities traded on the ZSE. Companies must meet high disclosure and operating requirements to be fully listed (quotation I). A detailed explanation of all requirements is provided at www.zse.hr in English. The ZSE’s new Rules, which entered into force in July 2009, can be found at www.zse.hr.
The Securities Law requires that all companies with more than 100 shareholders and with share capital of at least HRK 30 million (approximately $5.5 million) be listed on the newly established quotation for public stock companies (JDDs). The intention of this law was to increase transparency and encourage companies to obtain low cost equity financing, which would result in increased turnover and trade volumes.
Measures governing takeovers are prescribed by the Law on Takeovers of Joint Stock Companies, which was passed in 2007 and replaced all earlier laws regulating takeovers. The Law on Takeovers has been harmonized with laws applicable to EU member states in anticipation of Croatia's accession to the EU. The Law was amended in order to improve shareholders' protection in the takeover process and to provide unambiguous rights and obligations of the acquirers. To date, there has only been one attempted hostile takeover, which failed.
The Croatian Chamber of Economy provides a useful summary of the capital markets in Croatia at www.hgk.hr.
Competition from State Owned Enterprises (SOEs)
Legislation provides that private enterprises are allowed to compete with public enterprises under the same conditions with respect to access to markets, credit and other business operations. In practice, however, there are often accusations that political influence in the SOEs influences competition and tenders. The Law on State Property Management went into effect on January 1, 2011. This law prescribes the work of the newly formed Agency for State Property Management. This agency is responsible for all of the SOEs and their activities in railways, electricity, shipbuilding and various tourism-related companies. This Agency will operate in place of the Croatian Privatization Fund. The supervisory boards of SOEs are currently structured to include government figures, most often ministers. Due to recent allegations of corruption in various SOEs, the government has proposed to change the procedure of appointing of political persons to the boards of SOEs. The government is suggesting that apolitical, professional persons should be appointed. Some progress was made in this regard in 2010, as some political appointees with little relevant experience were replaced by independent persons. Under current procedure, the SOE boards of management report directly to the government.
SOEs are required to submit annual reports and are also required to undergo independent audits.
Corporate Social Responsibility
The Croatian Business Council for Sustainable Development (www.hrpsor.hr) implements corporate social responsibility and is a member of CSR Europe's Network of National Partner Organizations, Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative. The Croatian Chamber of Economy adopted a Code of Business Ethics in 2005 and founded the Community for Corporate Social Responsibility.
The Croatian Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Croatian Chamber of Economy has created a Socially Responsible Practices Index. The two organizations ask 1,500 small and medium enterprises annually to answer a questionnaire and then rate the companies’ socially responsible practices. The Index results for 2009 are public and are published on the organization’s website.
The risk of political violence in Croatia is low. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the subsequent wars in the region, Croatia has emerged as a stable, democratic country and is the newest member of NATO. Membership in the European Union is also likely in the coming years. Relations with neighboring countries are generally good and improving, although some disagreements regarding border demarcation persist.
There is little domestic anti-American sentiment. There have been no incidents involving politically motivated damage to American projects or installations in Croatia.
Corruption in Croatia is perceived to be pervasive in major public companies, the health sector, universities, public procurement systems, the construction sector, land registry offices and the Agency for Management of State Owned Property (formerly the Privatization fund). Foreign investors, including U.S. companies, have expressed general complaints that the level of corruption is a barrier to investment.
Corruption remains a serious problem in Croatia, but the number of high profile corruption prosecutions increased significantly in 2009 and 2010. The government of Croatia recognizes this as a problem and, at the highest political levels, has shown a willingness to combat corruption. The GOC continued to give special attention in 2010 to the legal and institutional framework used to combat corruption. Following revisions to the Criminal Procedure Act in July 2009, which granted additional authorities to corruption and organized crime prosecutors, Croatian prosecutors launched investigations which targeted high level GOC officials, including a former Croatian Prime Minister, former Deputy Prime Minister, other ministers, high ranking officials and senior managers from several state owned companies.
The State Prosecutor's Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime (USKOK) is tasked with directing police investigations and prosecuting corruption and organized crime cases. USKOK is headquartered in Zagreb with offices in Split, Rijeka and Osijek. In addition, the National Police Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime (PN-USKOK) conducts corruption-related investigations and is based in the same cities as USKOK prosecutors. Specialized criminal judges are situated at the four largest county courts in Croatia, again in Zagreb, Rijeka, Split, and Osijek, and are responsible for adjudicating corruption and organized crime cases. The cases receive high priority in the justice system. The Ministry of Interior, the Office for Suppression of Money Laundering, the Tax Administration, the Anti-Corruption Sector of the Ministry of Justice and the National Council for Monitoring the Implementation of the National Strategy for Suppression of Corruption all have a proactive role in combating and preventing corruption.
Croatia has laws, regulations and penalties to effectively combat corruption. Revisions to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Act in December 2008 strengthened USKOK and PN-USKOK and increased the tools available to authorities to fight corruption. The asset forfeiture section of the 2008 criminal code broadened the possibility for asset seizure and forfeiture, especially for USKOK cases. If a case falls under USKOK's jurisdiction, it is assumed that all of a defendant's property was acquired through criminal offences unless the defendant can prove the legal origin of the assets in question. The pecuniary gain in such cases shall also be confiscated if it is in possession of a third party (e.g. spouse, relatives, or family members) and it has not been acquired in good faith.
These Criminal Procedure Act and Criminal Code reforms have increased both the number of high level corruption investigations and the speed with which investigations are completed. Delays still occur during the trial phase, but the creation of special panels of judges to hear USKOK cases has reduced backlogs in corruption cases. The Croatian criminal code covers such acts as trading in influence, abuse of official functions, bribery in the private sector, embezzlement of property in the private sector, and concealment and obstruction of justice. In 2010, the legal framework to combat corruption has been further improved. Amendments to the USKOK Act extended USKOK's authority to prosecute tax fraud linked to organized crime and corruption cases.
Additional laws that deal with suppression of corruption include: the Act on the Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized crime (Law on USKOK); the states attorney’s office act; the public procurement act; the budget act; the courts act; the conflict of interest prevention act; the corporate criminal liability act; the money laundering prevention act; the witness protection act; the personal data protection act; the right to access to information act; the act on public services; the code of conduct for public officials; and the code of conduct for judges. A revised Croatian Labor Act contains new whistleblower protections, but the changes are too new to determine effectiveness. Croatian laws and provisions regarding corruption apply equally for both domestic and foreign investors.
Croatia has not ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business transactions, but it is a member of the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), a peer monitoring organization that allows members to assess anticorruption efforts on a continuing basis. Croatia has been a member of INTERPOL since 1992. Croatia cooperates regionally through the southeast European Co-operative Initiative (SECI), the Southeast Europe Police Chiefs Association (SEPCA), and the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative (RAI). Croatia is one of five non-EU members of Eurojust, the EU's Judicial Cooperation Unit. Croatia is also a signatory to the UN Convention Against Corruption.
Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal act in Croatia. The minimum prison sentence for an act of bribery (per articles 348(1) and 294b (1) of the criminal code) is six months and the maximum sentence is three years. For two forms of passive bribery (discussed at articles 347 and 294 (a) of the criminal code), sentences range from one to eight years imprisonment. Bribes by a local company to a foreign official are punishable under Croatian law. If it is established that a local company is the legal entity committing crimes, the company may be banned from conducting operations, depending on the gravity of the crime.
Transparency International Croatia is the main non-governmental watchdog organization in Croatia. In addition, GONG, a non-partisan citizens' organization founded in 1997, monitors election processes, educates citizens about their rights and duties, encourages mutual communication between citizens and their elected representatives, promotes transparency of work within public services, and manages public advocacy campaigns and encourages and helps citizens in self-organizing initiatives. The Partnership for Social Development is another nongovernmental organization active in Croatia, dealing with the suppression of corruption.
Bilateral Investment Agreements
Croatia does not have a foreign investment law; foreigners receive national treatment under existing legislation. Investments by American citizens are covered by the U.S. Croatian Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), which entered into force in June 2001. The treaty fulfills the principal U.S. objectives for agreements of this type. Notably:
-- All forms of U.S. investment in the territory of Croatia are covered;
-- Covered investments receive the better of national treatment or most-favored-nation (MFN) treatment, both while they are being established and thereafter, subject to certain specified exceptions;
-- Specified performance requirements may not be imposed upon or enforced against covered investments;
-- Expropriation is permitted only in accordance with customary international law standards;
-- Parties are obligated to permit the transfer, in a freely usable currency, of all funds related to a covered investment, subject to exceptions for specified purposes;
-- Investment disputes with the host government may be brought by investors, or by their covered investments, to binding international arbitration as an alternative to domestic courts.
For further information about BITs and for the text of the U.S.-Croatian BIT please see www.mac.doc.gov/Tcc/e-guides/eg_bits (under "Croatia").
Croatia has signed investment protection treaties/agreements with the following countries, but not all of the agreements have entered into force:
Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Belarus**, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Great Britain, Greece, Germany, India, Indonesia**, Iran, Italy, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Cambodia, Canada, Qatar*, China*, Cuba**, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Hungary, Macedonia, Malaysia*, Malta, Republic of Moldova**, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Oman**, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia*, United States, Serbia Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia**, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland*, Thailand*, Turkey, Ukraine, Zimbabwe*. (* = ratified, but not in force) (** = not ratified or in force)
OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
Croatia is eligible for financing and political risk insurance coverage from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). In 2004, OPIC provided $250 million in political risk insurance to support financing for the construction of a motorway in Croatia that will do much to improve the country's infrastructure, reduce transportation costs, and develop the tourism potential of the Dalmatian coast. OPIC provided insurance to the Private Export Funding Corporation (PEFCO) to support PEFCO's financing to Croatian Motorways, ltd. for construction of a portion of the Zagreb-Split motorway, consisting of a tolled four-lane highway connecting Bregana and Zagreb, and Bosiljevo with Sveti Rok. For more information about OPIC, see www.opic.gov.
Croatia is a member country of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), for more information see www.miga.org.
The estimated annual U.S. dollar value of local currency used by the U.S. Embassy in Croatia was approximately $15 million for 2010. The Embassy currently purchases local currency from a local commercial bank at the market rate. A major devaluation is considered unlikely.
Croatia has an educated, highly-skilled, and relatively high cost labor force compared with the region. In general, employers’ wage costs are approximately 110 percent of an employee’s net wage. The estimated average cost to employers in Croatia was 7,651 HRK (approximately $1,401.28) per month as of November 2010, and the average net wage was 5,351 HRK ($980.03). The manner of calculating minimum wage was amended in 2008 by the Minimum Wage Act. The Act introduced a substantial one-time wage increase and the adjustment formula stipulated by the Act ensures a continuous minimum wage increase over a longer period of time. Minimum wage raises will be calculated from the minimum-to-average-wage ratio from the previous year, increased by the percent equal to real GDP growth in the previous year. Certain suggested alternative calculations for various sectors are under review by the Constitutional Court.
Croatia’s labor laws are aimed at increasing labor market flexibility by shortening the mandatory notification period before dismissal and reducing generous severance package requirements. However, Croatia still fares poorly in terms of time and expense in hiring and firing employees. Labor has generally been supportive of government efforts to boost competitiveness and welcomes foreign investment, but remains concerned about any possible cuts in social spending.
The Law on Labor regulates employee and employer relations through "employment contracts." Fulltime employment must not amount to more than 40 hours per week and employees are entitled to at least four weeks of paid annual leave and seven days of personal leave. The Law on Labor also provides special protections for workers in dangerous occupations, for work at night, and for work by minors between the ages of 15 and 18. The Law on Labor was amended in November 2009 to further enhance the rights of workers. The amendments prescribe that the amount of overtime hours per week cannot exceed eight, as opposed to the previous limit of ten, and that the amount of annual leave is set at four weeks and cannot include holidays or days off. The amendments also address organization of shift work and regulations for on-call work and night hours. The amendments also seek to better protect under-age employees and to provide better protections for the general safety and health of all employees.
Workers are entitled by law to form or join unions of their own choosing, and workers exercised this right in practice. In general, unions were independent of the government and political parties. The Labor Code prohibits anti-union discrimination and expressly allows unions to challenge firings in court; however, in general, attempts to seek redress through the legal system were seriously hampered by the inefficiency of the court system.
Chapter 7 of the Law on Foreigners covers the issuance of work permits for foreigners. While there are quotas (determined annually) for work permits for foreigners, there are no quotas for foreigners who execute key positions in companies or representative offices. Likewise, there are no quotas for business visas.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports
Croatia has several Free Trade Zones (FTZs), some of which are in war-affected areas. Special incentives are offered to users of FTZs.
The Law on Free Trade Zones allows a foreign-owned or domestic company in FTZs to engage in manufacturing, wholesale but not retail trade, foreign trade, banking and other financial activities. Articles 37a and 37b of the Law on Free Trade Zones define the payment structure for profit taxes through 2017. The Law on Profit Tax also covers business in FTZs. FTZ users are eligible for tariff waivers on imported products.
FTZs are exempted from any Croatian emergency measures or other restrictions pertaining to foreign trade or hard currency transactions. Users of the zones may freely store their goods and production equipment in the zones. Goods that are not intended for trade on the Croatian market or for domestic consumption are fully exempt from custom duties or taxes. Imported goods are taxed and assessed duties per the value of the production materials imported for the product, and not per the value of the finished product.
The following fifteen counties currently have FTZS: Buje; Krapina-Zagorje; Osijek; Rijeka; Slavonski Brod; Split; Splitsko-Dalmatinska; Obrovac; Ploce; Pula; Kukuljanovo; Varazdin; Zagreb; Vukovar; and Ribnik. As mentioned previously, EU accession will force the government to make changes in the free trade zone system and the incentives system associated with them.
Foreign Direct Investment Statistics
Compared to other advanced transitional economies in the region, Croatia is in the middle group in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI). New or green-field investments continue to see particularly slow growth.. Privatization of strategic government-owned assets has been the main source of FDI since Croatian independence. Large state assets such as utilities, the state insurance company and banks are being sold by the government, usually through international tenders, and in some cases, through initial public offerings (IPOs). The Agency for State Property Management, the agency responsible for the sale of other assets, has shares and stock in 1,112 (mostly non-performing) companies. The state's share of the equity base value of these companies is about 21.8 billion HRK ($4.36 billion). Information regarding the Agency for State Property Management can be found at www.vlada.hr.
There were no significant sales made by the government in terms of privatization efforts in 2010. There was an attempt at the long-awaited privatization of the shipbuilding industry, but no bidders satisfied tender conditions and a second round of tenders was issued in February of 2010. Those bids are under review at the time of writing.
Foreign Direct Investment in Croatia between 1993 and the second quarter of 2010 totaled $33.3 billion, with investments in the financial, retail and chemical sectors accounting for 60 percent of total investment. Croatian firms invested $5.7 billion abroad between 1993 and the second quarter of 2010. It is estimated that both inflow and outflow FDI for the first two quarters of 2010 amounted to less than 1 percent of GDP.
According to official statistics from the Croatian National Bank, Austria is the largest source of foreign investment in Croatia, accounting for 25.6 percent of total FDI since 1993. The Netherlands is second with 17.8 percent of total FDI, followed by Germany with 11.2 percent and Hungary with 9.7 percent. Because transactions are often executed through third countries and the Croatian National Bank records country of origin of the final transaction leading to the investment, misleading statistics are sometimes recorded. The U.S. Embassy in Croatia estimates that the amount of U.S. investment in Croatia from 1993 to the second quarter 2010 was approximately $ 2.5 billion. The leading destinations for total Croatian investment, from 1993 to the second quarter 2010, were the Netherlands with 45 percent of all outgoing investment, Bosnia-Herzegovina with 12 percent and Serbia with 10 percent. In the first two quarters of 2010, Croatians invested approximately $282 million abroad. Syria was the lead investment destination for 2010, followed by Liberia and the Netherlands.
The Croatian National Bank provides information about foreign investments in aggregate form on its website, at www.hnb.hr. The following includes some major ($20 million and above) foreign investments in Croatia to date listed at investment value at the time of the transaction (current values are not available):
Foreign Investor: WP Carey, U.S. investment company
Purchase of 6 Konzum supermarkets
Value: $64 million
Foreign Investor: Heitman Invesment Fund, US investment company
Purchase of portion of Arena Shopping Center
Value: $122 million (unofficial figures)
Foreign investor: GP&Partners (Dutch)
Corn starch factory
Value: $103 million
Foreign investor: Barr Pharmaceuticals (U.S)
Pharmaceuticals (which was bought out by Israeli Teva in December 2008)
Croatian company: Pliva
Value: $2.3 billion
Foreign investor: Deutsche Telekom (Germany)
Croatian Company: Croatian Telecom (51 percent of shares)
Value: $1.272 billion
Foreign investor: MOL (Hungary)
Croatian Company: INA d.d. (26 percent of shares in 2003 plus additional 21.15 percent in 2008)
Value: $505 million + $1.3 billion
Foreign investor: Lactalis (France)
Croatian company: Dukat
Value: $400 million
Foreign investor: Banca Commerciale Italiana (Italy)
Privredna Banka (66.66 percent of shares in 1999 plus 10 percent in 2002)
Value: $300 million + approximately $50 million, according to media reports
Foreign investor: Unicredito Italiano (Italy)
TAKEN OVER BY BANK AUSTRIA IN 2007
Zagrebacka Banka (96 percent ownership)
Value: $230 million (estimate)
Foreign investor: Erste und Steiermarkische Bank (Austria)
Rijecka Banka (85 percent share)
Value: $155 million
Foreign investor: Austria Creditanstalt Group (HVB Group) (Austria)
TAKEN OVER BY SOCIETE GENERAL IN 2006
Splitska Banka (88 percent ownership)
Value: $132 million
Foreign investor: Heineken N.V. (Netherlands)
Karlovacka Pivovara company (94.42 percent)
Value: $125 million
Foreign investor: Rockwool Group (Denmark)
Stone wool producers
Value: $110 million
Foreign investor: Sutivan Investment and Excelsa Anstalt (Lichtenstein)
Hotels and tourism
Plava Laguna (81.5 percent)
Value: $70 million
Foreign investor: CMC (U.S / Switzerland)
Croatian company: Sisak Steel Company
Value: $52 million
Foreign investor: Ericsson (Sweden)
Value: $48 million
Foreign investor: Hofmann and Pankl Betelligungasse (Austria)
Value: $39 million
Foreign investor: Societe Suisse de Cemment Portland (Switzerland)
Tvornica Cementa Koromacno company
Value: $38 million
Foreign investor: Applied Ceramics (U.S)
Value: $30 million
Foreign investor: Interbrew (Belgium)
Zagrebacka Pivovara company
Value: $27 million
Foreign investor: Coca Cola Amatil (Australia)
Croatian company: n/a
Value: $20 million
Foreign investor: Hospira (U.S)
Specialty pharmaceutical company
Croatian company: n/a
Foreign investor: L&P Technology
Croatian company: n/a
Value: Between $15-20 million