Armenia

Executive Summary

Over the past several years, Armenia has received respectable rankings in international indices that review country business environments and investment climates. Significant U.S. investments are present in Armenia, most notably ContourGlobal’s acquisition of the Vorotan Hydroelectric Cascade and Lydian International’s efforts to develop a major gold mine. U.S. investors in the banking, energy, pharmaceutical, information technology, and mining sectors, among others, have entered or acquired assets in Armenia. Armenia presents a variety of opportunities for investors, and the country’s legal framework and government policy aim to attract investment, but the investment climate is not without challenges. Obstacles include Armenia’s small market size, relative geographic isolation due to closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, weaknesses in the rule of law and judiciary, and a legacy of corruption. Net foreign direct investment inflows are low. Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, a customs union that brings Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia together in an integrated single market. In May 2015, Armenia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States. The TIFA establishes a United States-Armenia Council on Trade and Investment to discuss bilateral trade and investment and related issues. In November 2017, Armenia signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the European Union, which aims in part to improve Armenia’s investment climate and business environment.

Armenia imposes few restrictions on foreign control and rights to private ownership and establishment. There are no restrictions on the rights of foreign nationals to acquire, establish, or dispose of business interests in Armenia. Business registration procedures are straightforward. According to foreign companies, otherwise sound regulations, policies, and laws are sometimes undermined by problems such as the lack of independence, capacity, or professionalism in key institutions, most critically the judiciary. Armenia does not limit the conversion and transfer of money or the repatriation of capital and earnings. The banking system in Armenia is sound and well-regulated, but investors note that the financial sector is not highly developed. The U.S.-Armenia Bilateral Investment Treaty provides U.S. investors with a variety of protections. Although Armenian legislation offers protection for intellectual property rights, enforcement efforts and recourse through the courts require improvement.

Armenia experienced a dramatic change of government in April/May 2018. Parliamentary elections in December 2018 led to the exit from power of numerous parliamentarians known to have significant business holdings in Armenia and exercise outsized sway over large sections of the economy. An anti-corruption campaign is underway as part of efforts to eliminate systemic corruption. Overall, the competitive environment in Armenia is improving, but several businesses have reported that broader reforms across judicial, tax, customs, health, education, military, and law enforcement institutions will be necessary to shore up these gains. Despite progress in the fight against corruption and improvements in some areas that raise Armenia’s attractiveness as an investment destination, investors claim that numerous concerns remain and must be addressed to ensure a transparent, fair, and predictable business climate. An investment dispute in the country’s mining sector has attracted significant international attention and remains outstanding after several years.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 77 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 47 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 64 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 7 million http://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 4,230 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The government of Armenia officially welcomes foreign investment. The Ministry of Economy is the main government body responsible for the development of investment policy in Armenia. Armenia has achieved respectable rankings on some global indices measuring the country’s business climate. Armenia’s investment and trade policy is relatively open; foreign companies are entitled by law to the same treatment as Armenian companies. Armenia has strong human capital and a well-educated population, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, leading to significant investment in the high-tech and information technology sectors. Many international companies have established branches or subsidiaries in Armenia to take advantage of the country’s pool of qualified specialists and position within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). However, many businesses have identified challenges with Armenia’s investment climate in terms of the country’s small market (with a population of less than three million), relative geographic isolation due to closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, per capita gross national income of $4,230, and concerns related to weaknesses in the rule of law.

After a dramatic change of government in April/May 2018, major sectors of Armenia’s economy have ostensibly become more open to competition. Large businesses backed by oligarchic interests are notionally less able to draw on government support to prop up their market positions. An anti-corruption campaign was launched after the 2018 change of government, and a series of high-profile cases have resulted as part of efforts to eliminate systemic corruption. These developments serve to improve Armenia’s investment climate and competitive environment, though the fight against corruption needs to be institutionalized in the long term, especially in critical areas such as the judiciary, tax and customs operations, and health, education, military, and law enforcement sectors. Foreign investors are still concerned about the rule of law and equal treatment. U.S companies have also reported that the investment climate is tainted by a failure to enforce intellectual property rights. There have been concerns regarding the lack of an independent and strong judiciary, which undermines the government’s assurances of equal treatment and transparency and reduces access to effective recourse in instances of investment or commercial disputes. Representatives of U.S. entities have raised concerns about the quality of stakeholder consultation by the government with the private sector and government responsiveness in addressing concerns among the business community. The Armenian National Interests Fund and Investment Support Center are responsible for attracting and facilitating inward foreign direct investment.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are very few restrictions with regard to limitations on foreign ownership or control of commercial enterprises. There are some restrictions on foreign ownership within the media and commercial aviation sectors. Local incorporation is required to obtain a license for the provision of auditing services.

The Armenian government does not maintain investment screening mechanisms for foreign direct investment, though government approval is required to take advantage of certain tax and customs privileges.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2019, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published its first investment policy review for Armenia . The World Trade Organization (WTO) published a Trade Policy Review for Armenia  in 2018.

Business Facilitation

Armenia has traditionally fared well in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report.  The government has announced its commitment to addressing deficiencies that prevent Armenia from obtaining a higher ranking. Companies can register electronically at http://www.e-register.am/en/ .  This single window service was launched in 2011 and allows individual entrepreneurs and companies to complete name reservation, business registration, and tax identification processes all at once.  The application can be completed in one day. An electronic signature is needed in order to be able to register online. Foreign citizens can obtain an e-signature and more detailed information from the e-signature portal at https://www.ekeng.am/en/ .  In December 2019, the government launched a new e-regulations platform that provides a step-by-step guide for business and investment procedures. The platform is available at https://armenia.eregulations.org/ .

Outward Investment

The Armenian government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Armenian government nominally uses transparent policies and laws to foster competition.  Some report that Armenia’s new government has pursued a more consistent execution of these laws and policies in an effort to improve market competition and remove informal barriers to market entry, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises.  Armenia’s legislation on the protection of competition has been improved with clear definitions and newly introduced concepts on issues such as price manipulation, imposition of fines as a percentage of revenue versus fixed amounts, and penalties for state officials.  However, companies regard the efforts of the State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC) alone as insufficient to ensure a level playing field. They indicate that improvements in other state institutions and authorities that support competition, like the courts, tax and customs, public procurement, and law enforcement, are necessary.  Numerous studies observe a continuing lack of contestability in local markets, many of which are dominated by a few incumbents. Banking supervision is relatively well developed and largely consistent with the Basel Core Principles. The Central Bank of Armenia is the primary regulator of the financial sector and exercises oversight over banking, securities, insurance, and pensions. Armenia has adopted IFRS as the accounting standard for enterprises. Data on Armenia’s public finances and debt obligations are broadly transparent, and the Ministry of Finance publishes periodic reports that are available online.

Safety and health requirements, most of them holdovers from the Soviet period, generally do not impede investment activities.  Nevertheless, investors consider bureaucratic procedures to be sometimes burdensome, and discretionary decisions by individual officials may present opportunities for petty corruption.  A unified online platform for publishing draft legislation was launched in March 2017 and is available at https://www.e-draft.am/en .  Proposed legislation is available for the public to view.  Registered users can submit feedback and see a summary of comments on draft legislation.  However, the time period devoted to public comments is often regarded as insufficient to solicit proper feedback.  The results of consultations have not been reported by the government in the past. The government maintains other portals, including http://www.e-gov.am  and http://www.arlis.am , that make legislation and regulations available to the public. Some regulations that affect Armenia are developed within the Eurasian Economic Commission, the executive body for the EAEU.

International Regulatory Considerations

Armenia is a member of the EAEU and adheres to relevant technical regulations.  Armenia’s entry into CEPA will lead it to pursue harmonization efforts with the EU on a range of laws, regulations, and policies relevant to economic affairs.  Armenia is also a member of the WTO, and the Armenian government notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.  Armenia is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement and had already sent category “A”, “B,” and “C” notifications to the WTO.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Armenia has a hybrid legal system that includes elements of both civil and common law.  Although Armenia is developing an international commercial code, the laws regarding commercial and contractual matters are currently set forth in the civil code.  Thus, because Armenia lacks a commercial court, all disputes involving contracts, ownership of property, or other commercial matters are resolved by litigants in courts of general jurisdiction, which handle both civil and criminal cases.  Courts that handle civil matters may be overwhelmed by the volume of cases before them and are frequently seen by the public as corrupt.  Despite the ability of courts to use the precedential authority of the Court of Cassation and the European Court of Human Rights, many judges presiding over civil matters do not do so, increasing the unpredictability of civil court decisions in the eyes of investors.

Businesses tend to perceive that many Armenian courts suffer from low levels of efficiency, independence, and professionalism, which drives a need to strengthen the judiciary.  According to UNCTAD, rent seeking and inefficiencies are among the key constraints on investing and doing business in Armenia. Very often in proceedings when additional forensic expertise is requested, the court may suspend a case until the forensic opinion is received, a process that can take several months.  Businesses have noted that many judges at courts of general jurisdiction may be reluctant to make decisions without getting advice from higher court judges.  Thus, the public opinion is that decisions may be influenced by factors other than the law and merits of individual cases.  In general, the government honors judgments from both arbitration proceedings and Armenian national courts.

Due to the nature and complexity of commercial and contractual issues and the caseload of judges presiding over civil matters, many matters involving investment or commercial disputes take months or years to work their way through the civil courts.  In addition, businesses have complained of the inherent inefficiencies and institutional corruption of the courts. Even though the Armenian constitution provides investors the tools to enforce awards and their property rights, investors claim that there is little predictability in what a court may do.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Basic legal provisions covering foreign investment are specified in the 1994 Law on Foreign Investment.  Foreign companies are entitled by law to the same treatment as Armenian companies. A Law on Public-Private Partnership (PPP), adopted in 2019, establishes a framework for the government to attract investment for projects focused on infrastructure. However, Armenia must adopt secondary implementing legislation to clarify key aspects of the PPP framework, including comprehensive criteria for project selection.

The Investment Support Center is Armenia’s national authority for investment and export promotion.  It provides information to foreign investors on Armenia’s business climate, investment opportunities, and legislation; supports investor visits; and serves as a liaison for government institutions.  More information is available via the Investment Support Center’s website .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

SCPEC reviews transactions for competition-related concerns.  Relevant laws, regulations, commission decisions, and more information can be found on SCPEC’s website .  Concentrations, including mergers, acquisitions of shares or assets, amalgamations, and incorporations, are subject to ex ante control by SCPEC in accordance with the law.  Whenever a concentration gives rise to concerns about harm to competition, including the creation or strengthening of a dominant position, SCPEC can prohibit such a transaction or impose certain remedies.  However, SCPEC’s investigative powers are understood to be limited, forcing SCPEC to rely primarily on document studies and requesting information from other state institutions. Armenia’s Law on Protection of Economic Competition has been amended several times in recent years to bring Armenia’s competition framework into alignment with EAEU and CEPA requirements.

Expropriation and Compensation

Under Armenian law, foreign investment cannot be confiscated or expropriated except in extreme cases of natural or state emergency upon obtaining an order from a domestic court.  According to the Armenian constitution, equivalent compensation is owed prior to expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Armenia is party to the ICSID Convention (Washington Convention) and Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).

Under Article 5 of the Armenian constitution, international treaties ratified by Armenia take precedence over domestic law.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

According to the Law on Foreign Investment, all disputes that arise between a foreign investor and Armenia must be settled in Armenian courts.  A Law on Commercial Arbitration, enacted in 2007, provides a wider range of options for resolving commercial disputes. The U.S.–Armenia BIT provides that in the event of a dispute involving a U.S. investor and the state, the investor may take the case to international arbitration.  As of January 2020, two investment disputes brought against Armenia under the U.S.–Armenia BIT were pending with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Commercial disputes may be brought before an Armenian or any other competent court, as provided by law or in accordance with party agreements.  Commercial disputes are heard in courts of general jurisdiction.  Specialized administrative courts adjudicate cases brought against state entities.  Decisions of general and administrative courts may be appealed first to the Civil Court of Appeal and Administrative Court of Appeal, and then to the Civil and Administrative Chamber of the Court of Cassation.

The Law on Arbitration Courts and Arbitration Procedures provides rules governing the settlement of disputes by arbitration.  In accordance with the New York Convention and Article 5 of the Armenian constitution, domestic courts must recognize foreign arbitral awards.

Armenia intends to develop an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism that will include mediation and arbitration.  ADR could be used not only in commercial matters, including those involving mobile property and secured transactions, but also in cases involving family and labor disputes.   While ADR options are available to those who seek alternatives to litigation, they currently are not widely used or trusted.

Bankruptcy Regulations

According to the Law on Bankruptcy adopted in 2006, creditors and equity and contract holders (including foreign entities) have the right to participate and defend their interests in bankruptcy cases.  Armenia decided with the passage of a new Judicial Code in 2018 to adopt a new, specialized bankruptcy court, which began operations in 2019.  Creditors have the right to access all materials relevant to cases, submit claims to court, participate in meetings of creditors, and nominate candidates to administer cases.  Monetary judgments are usually made in local currency.  The Armenian Criminal Code defines penalties for false and deliberate bankruptcy, concealment of property or other assets of the bankrupt party, or other illegal activities during the bankruptcy process.  UNCTAD observes that Armenia’s framework for bankruptcy procedures needs improvement, adding that insolvency cases are expensive and almost always result in liquidation. Armenia amended its bankruptcy law in December 2019 intended to reduce the cost of bankruptcy proceedings. In addition, premiums have been set for bankruptcy managers for submitting financial recovery plans, as well as for the recovery of a bankrupt person, with the aim of raising rates of financial recovery.

According to the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index, Armenia stands at 95 in the ranking of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency.  Resolving insolvency takes 1.9 years on average and costs 11 percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being that the company will be broken up and sold.  The average recovery rate is 39.2 cents on the dollar.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Armenia offers incentives for exporters (e.g. no export duty, VAT refund on goods and services exported) and foreign investors (e.g. income tax holidays, the ability to carry forward losses indefinitely, VAT deferral, and exemptions from customs duties for investment projects).  Starting in 2018, the Armenian government began exempting imports of capital investment-related goods from VAT payments at the border. In 2015, the Armenian government began exempting from customs duties investment-related imports of equipment and raw materials from non-EAEU member countries.  VAT and customs duties exemptions are implemented by government decisions made on a case-by-case basis. Also, in accordance with the Law on Foreign Investment, several ad hoc incentives may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis for investments that are targeted at certain sectors of the economy or are of strategic interest. The government regularly signs memoranda of understanding or agreement with investors on the development of specific projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In June 2011, Armenia adopted a Law on Free Economic Zones (FEZ), amended in October 2018, and developed several key regulations to attract foreign investments into FEZs:  exemptions from VAT, profit tax, customs duties, and property tax. The Alliance FEZ was opened in August 2013 to focus on high-tech industries, including information and communication technologies, electronics, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, architecture and engineering, industrial design, and alternative energy.  In 2014, the government expanded operations in the Alliance FEZ to include industrial production. In 2015, the Meridian FEZ, focused on jewelry production, watchmaking, and diamond cutting, opened in Yerevan. The Meghri FEZ, located on Armenia’s border with Iran, opened in 2017. A new FEZ, located in Hrazdan, opened in late 2018 and is focused on the high-tech and information technology sectors. Armenia has signaled an interest in developing logistics hubs, including one in Gyumri, to facilitate goods trade.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no performance requirements for investment in terms of mandating local employment.  The processes for obtaining visas, residence, or work permits are straightforward. There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest.

Armenia does not follow any policy that would force foreign investors to use domestic content in goods and technology.  There are no requirements for foreign information technology providers to turn over source code or provide keys for encryption.  There are no requirements to store data within the country.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Armenian law protects secured interests in property, both personal and real.  Armenian law provides a basic framework for secured lending, collateral, and pledges and provides a mechanism to support modern lending practices and title registration.  According to Armenia’s constitution, foreign citizens are prohibited from owning land, though they may take out long-term leases. In the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report, Armenia ranked 13th among 190 economies for the ease of registering property.  Lack of clear title to land is generally not an issue in Armenia. The World Bank observes that while all land plots in Armenia are mapped, some may not be formally registered with the body responsible for immovable property registration.

Intellectual Property Rights

Armenia has a strong legislative and regulatory framework to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) .  Domestic legislation, including the 2006 Law on Copyright and Related Rights, provides for the protection of copyright with respect to literary, scientific, and artistic works (including computer programs and databases), patents and other rights of invention, industrial design, know-how, trade secrets, trademarks, and service marks.  The Intellectual Property Agency (IPA) in the Ministry of Economy is responsible for granting patents and overseeing other IPR-related matters. The collective management organization ARMAUTHOR manages authors’ economic rights. Trademarks and patents require state registration by the IPA, but copyright does not.  There is no special trade secret law in Armenia, but the protection of trade secrets is covered by Armenia’s Civil Code. Formal registration is straightforward, the database of registered IPR is public, and applications to register IPR are published online for two months for comment by third parties. Armenia’s legislation is in compliance with the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

In 2005, Armenia created an IPR Enforcement Unit in the Organized Crime Department of the Armenian Police, which acts only based on complaints from right holders – it does not exercise ex-officio powers. The Armenian customs authorities track statistics related to the seizure of counterfeit goods, but the public reports are not regularly updated.

Despite the existence of relevant legislation and executive government structures, the concept of IPR remains unrecognized by a large part of the local population. The onus for IPR complaints rests with the offended party.  The police assert that the majority of cases are settled through out-of-court proceedings. While the Armenian government has made some progress on IPR issues, strengthening enforcement mechanisms remains necessary. UNCTAD reports that low awareness and poor monitoring of IPR violations harm the business climate.

A new Law on Copyright has been drafted.  It includes provisions from new international agreements (Marrakesh and Beijing Treaties) and clarifies numerous provisions in the current law.  Proposed legislative amendments to the Law on Patents and the Law on Inventions, Utility Models, and Industrial Designs have been drafted and were submitted by the government to parliament for approval in November 2019. The draft amendments for the Law on Patents strengthens the requirement for substantive examination before rights registration. The draft amendments for the Law on Inventions, Utility Models, and Industrial Designs includes some procedural changes, including publishing applications for industrial designs and objects during the state registration process.

Armenia is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The banking system in Armenia is sound and well-regulated, but the financial sector is not highly developed, according to investors.  Banking sector assets account for over 80 percent of total financial sector assets. Financial intermediation tends to be poor. Nearly all banks require collateral located in Armenia, and large collateral requirements often prevent potential borrowers from entering the market.  U.S. businesses have noted that this creates a significant barrier for small- and medium-sized enterprises and start-up companies.

The Armenian government welcomes foreign portfolio investment and there is a supporting system and legal framework in place. Armenia’s securities market is not well developed and has only minimal trading activity through the Armenia Securities Exchange, though efforts to grow capital markets are underway. Liquidity sufficient for the entry and exit of sizeable positions is often difficult to achieve due to the small size of the Armenian market. The Armenian government hopes that as a result of pension reforms in 2014, which brought two international asset managers to Armenia, capital markets will play a more prominent role in the country’s financial sector.  Armenia adheres to its IMF Article VIII commitments by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors are able to access credit locally.

Money and Banking System

The banking sector is healthy, and indicators of financial soundness, including capital adequacy ratios and non-performing loan rates, have been broadly strong in recent years.  The sector is well capitalized and liquid. Dollarization, historically high for deposits and lending, has been falling in recent years. Non-performing loans have fallen to below 10 percent of total loans.  There are 17 commercial banks in Armenia and 14 universal credit organizations. There are extensive branch networks throughout Armenia. At the end of 2019, the top three Armenian banks by estimated total assets were Ameriabank (968 billion Armenian drams (AMD), or USD 2.01 billion), Armbusinessbank (782.1 billion AMD, or USD 1.63 billion), and Ardshinbank (721.7 billion AMD, or USD 1.5 billion).  The minimum capital requirement for banks is 30 billion AMD (62.5 million USD). There are no restrictions on foreigners to open bank accounts. Residents and foreign nationals can hold foreign currency accounts and import, export, and exchange foreign currency relatively freely in accordance with the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control. Foreign banks may establish a subsidiary, branch, or representative office, and subsidiaries of foreign banks are allowed to provide the same types of services as domestically-owned banks.

The Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) is responsible for the regulation and supervision of the financial sector.  The authority and responsibilities of the CBA are established under the Law on Central Bank of Armenia. Numerous other articles of legislation and supporting regulations provide for financial sector oversight and supervision.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Armenia has no limitations on the conversion and transfer of money or the repatriation of capital and earnings, including branch profits, dividends, interest, royalties, or management or technical service fees.  Most banks can transfer funds internationally within two to four days. Armenia maintains the Armenian dram as a freely convertible currency under a managed float. The AMD/USD exchange rate has proven generally stable in recent years, though it has not been without occasional sharp movements.

According to the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control, prices for all goods and services, property, and wages must be set in AMD.  There are exceptions in the law, however, for transactions between resident and non-resident businesses and for certain transactions involving goods traded at world market prices.  The law requires that interest on foreign currency accounts be calculated in that currency, but paid in AMD.

Remittance Policies

Armenia imposes no limitations on the conversion and transfer of money or the repatriation of capital and earnings, including branch profits, dividends, interest, royalties, lease payments, private foreign debt, or management or technical service fees.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Armenia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Most of Armenia’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) were privatized in the 1990s and early 2000s, but SOEs are still active in a number of sectors.  SOEs in Armenia operate as state-owned closed joint stock companies that are managed by the Department of State Property Management and state non-commercial organizations.  There are no laws or rules that ensure a primary or leading role for SOEs in any specific industry. Armenia is party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement, and SOEs are covered under that agreement.  SOEs in Armenia are subject to the same tax regime as their private competitors, and private enterprises in Armenia can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions. The Department of State Property Management maintains a public list of state-owned closed joint stock companies on its website .

Privatization Program

Most of Armenia’s state owned enterprises were privatized in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Many of the privatization processes for Armenia’s large assets were reported to be neither competitive nor transparent, and political considerations in some instances prevailed over fair tender processes.  The current law on privatization, the fifth, is the Law on the 2017–2020 Program for State Property Privatization, which lists 47 entities for privatization. The Department of State Property Management oversees the management of the state’s shares in entities slated for privatization. Details of the privatization program are available on the Department of State Property Management website .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is not a widespread understanding of responsible business conduct (RBC) in Armenia, but several larger companies with foreign ownership or management are introducing the concept. Initiatives, where they do exist, are primarily limited to corporate social responsibility efforts. However, RBC programs that do exist are viewed favorably.  Some civil society groups and business associations are playing a more active role to promote RBC and develop awareness. Armenia joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in March 2017 as a candidate country.  The first EITI national report for Armenia was published in January 2019. As part of its EITI membership aspirations, the government in March 2018 adopted a roadmap to disclose beneficial owners in the metal ore mining industry.  Relevant implementing legislation, including for beneficial ownership disclosure, was adopted in 2019.

Major pillars of corporate governance in Armenia include the Law on Joint Stock Companies, the Law on Banks and Banking Activity, the Law on Securities Market, and a Corporate Governance Code.  International observers note inconsistencies in this legislation and generally rate corporate governance practices as weak to fair. Specific areas for potential improvement cited by the local business community include improving internal and external auditing for firms, enhancing the powers of independent directors on company boards, and boosting shareholders’ rights. Armenia has outlined commitments to corporate governance reforms, including with regard to mandatory audit, accounting, and financial reporting, within the context of an ongoing Stand-By Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund.

Domestic laws and regulations related to labor, employment rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection are not always enforced effectively.  These laws and regulations cannot be waived to attract foreign investment.

9. Corruption

After a peaceful revolution in April/May 2018, the Armenian government has made eradicating corruption on of its highest priorities. The government’s anti-corruption agenda is outlined in a 2019–2022 strategy and implementation plan. These documents establish a new anti-corruption institutional framework with separate entities tasked with preventive and investigative functions, set out specific measures for strengthening these functions, and prioritize strategic communication and public education to give citizens ownership of anti-corruption reforms.

The government has increased corruption investigations against mid- and high-level government officials, including those appointed by the current government, since the revolution.  Numerous high-ranking officials have stated publicly that corruption within their respective institutions will no longer be tolerated. Though some report that the government has mainly targeted ex-government officials in corruption investigations, there is no indication that Armenia’s anti-corruption laws are being applied by the post-revolutionary government in a discriminatory manner.  Armenia’s anti-corruption laws extend to all Armenian citizens.

Corruption remains a significant obstacle to U.S. investment in Armenia, particularly as it relates to critical areas such as the justice system and concerns related to the rule of law, enforcement of existing legislation and regulations, and equal treatment.  Investors claim that the health, education, military, corrections, and law enforcement sectors lack transparency in procurement and have in the past used selective enforcement to elicit bribes. Judges presiding over civil matters are still widely perceived by the public to be corrupt and under the influence of former authorities.  Although bribery is illegal in Armenia, the government does not actively encourage private companies to establish internal codes of conduct. Several multinational companies, select local companies, and foreign and local companies working with international financial institutions have implemented corporate governance mechanisms to tackle corruption internally.  However, such corporate governance principles are not widely implemented among local companies.

According to Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, Armenia received a score of 42 out of 100, ranking it 77th among 180 countries. This reflects an improvement by 28 places over 2018.

Armenia’s ability to counter, deter, and prosecute corruption is noted to be hindered by the lack of robust enforcement of official disclosure laws meant to prevent corrupt officials from entering and retaining positions of authority and influence.  The objective and systematic scrutiny of declarations by government officials has historically been lacking due to dysfunction within the Commission on Ethics of High-Ranking Officials and the delayed establishment of the Corruption Prevention Commission, which inherited this responsibility. According to international evaluations, Armenian authorities have limited capacities to investigate money laundering and bring such cases to prosecution.

Various laws, some updated as recently as 2018, prohibit the participation of civil and municipal servants, as well as local government elected officials such as mayors and councilors, in commercial activities.  However, powerful officials at the national, district, and local levels often acquire direct, partial, or indirect control over private firms. Such control is often exercised through a hidden partner or majority ownership of fully private parent companies. This involvement can also be indirect, including through close relatives and friends. According to foreign investors, these practices reinforce protectionism, hinder competition, and undermine the image of the government as a facilitator of private sector growth.  Because of the historical strong interconnectedness of the political and economic spheres, Armenia has often struggled to introduce legislation to encourage strict ethical codes of conduct and the prevention of bribery in business transactions. In 2016, Armenia adopted legislation on criminal penalties for illicit enrichment and noncompliance or fraud in filing declarations.

Armenia is a member of the UN Convention against Corruption.  While not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, Armenia is a member of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia and has signed the Istanbul Action Plan.  A monitoring report released by the OECD in 2018 cited Armenia’s lack of enforcement of anti-corruption laws, together with the continued presence of oligopolistic interests in the economy, as points of serious concern. The report contains a series of recommendations, including to take bold measures to ensure judicial and prosecutorial independence and integrity, introduce corporate liability for corruption offenses, investigate and prosecute high-profile and complex corruption cases, and increase transparency and strengthen monitoring in public procurement.  Armenia is also a member of the global Open Government Partnership initiative.

No specific law exists to protect NGOs dealing with anti-corruption investigations.

Resources to Report Corruption

For investigating corruption:
Investigation Department of Corruption, Organized and Official Crimes
Special Investigation Service of Armenia
13A Vagharsh Vagharshyan Street
Yerevan, Armenia
+374 11 900 002
press@investigatory.am

For prosecuting corruption:
Artur Chakhoyan
Head of Department for Combating Corruption and Economic Crimes
RA Prosecutor General’s Office
5 V. Sargsyan Street
Yerevan, Armenia
+374 10 511 655
info@prosecutor.am

For financial and asset declarations of high-level officials:
Haykuhi Harutyunyan
Chairperson
Corruption Prevention Commission
24 Baghramyan Street
Yerevan, Armenia
hhcpcarmenia@gmail.com

Watchdog organization:
Sona Ayvazyan
Executive Director
Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center
12 Saryan Street
Yerevan, Armenia
+374 10 569 589
sona@transparency.am

10. Political and Security Environment

Armenia has a history of political demonstrations, some of which have turned into violent confrontations between the police and protesters.  However, the frequency of violent protests has significantly decreased. The last major violent protest occurred in July 2016, when an armed group, Sasna Tsrer, stormed and occupied a police compound in Yerevan.  Three police officers were killed as a result. During the two-week standoff that followed, Sasna Tsrer took hostage additional police and medical personnel, demanding political changes.  During the standoff, demonstrations in support of Sasna Tsrer took place in Yerevan and clashes between law enforcement officers and protesters occurred.  These clashes did not pose any damage to businesses. In 2018, Armenia experienced a peaceful revolution that led to a change of government.  Acts of peaceful civic disobedience in Yerevan and some other cities led to street closures, including on the road to Yerevan’s international airport, but did not impede the ordinary functioning of business or harm the country’s macroeconomic stability.  These actions did not result in any damage to projects or installations. It is unlikely that civil disturbances, should they occur, would be directed against U.S. businesses of the U.S. community.

Casualties continue to occur in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Intermittent gunfire and the occasional use of artillery systems, land mines, and mortars result in deaths and injuries each year along the line of contact and the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Engaging in commercial activities inside the Nagorno-Karabakh region can make it difficult to conduct business inside Azerbaijan or with the Azerbaijani government. The Azerbaijani government has suspended or threatened to suspend the operations of U.S. companies in Azerbaijan whose products or services are provided in Nagorno-Karabakh and has banned the entry into Azerbaijan of some persons who have visited Nagorno-Karabakh. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Nagorno-Karabakh region as U.S. government employees are restricted from traveling there. There have been no threats to commercial enterprises from violence along the line of contact or the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Armenia’s human capital is one of its strongest resources.  The labor force is generally well educated, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.  Almost one hundred percent of Armenia’s population is literate.  According to official information, enrollment in secondary school is over 90 percent, and enrollment in senior school (essentially equivalent to American high school) is about 85 percent.  Despite this, official statistics indicate a high rate of unemployment, at around 18 percent.  Unemployment is particularly pronounced among women and youth, and significant underemployment is also a problem.

Considerable foreign investment in Armenia has occurred in the high-tech sector.  High-tech companies have established branches or subsidiaries in Armenia to take advantage of the country’s pool of qualified specialists in electrical and computer engineering, optical engineering, and software design.  There is a shortage of workers with vocational training.  About 20 percent of the non-agricultural workforce is employed in the informal economy, primarily in the services sector. Armenian law protects the rights of workers to form and to join independent unions, with exceptions for personnel of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies.  The law also provides for the right to strike, with the same exceptions, and permits collective bargaining.  The law stipulates that workers’ rights cannot be restricted because of membership in a union.  It also differentiates between layoffs and firing with severance.  According to some reports, labor organizations remain weak because of employer resistance, high unemployment, and unfavorable economic conditions; collective bargaining is not common in Armenia.  Experts observe that the right to strike, although enshrined in the constitution, is difficult to realize due to mediation and voting requirements. However, since the 2018 change of government, there have been consistent reports of grassroots movements to create unions in various spheres, including for doctors, teachers, and academics. Still, traditional labor unions are generally inactive with the exception of those connected with the mining and chemical industries.  Labor laws cannot be waived to retain or attract investment.

The current Labor Code is considered to be largely consistent with international standards.  The law sets a standard 40-hour work week, with 20 days of mandatory annual paid leave.  However, there are consistent reports that many private sector employees, particularly in the service sector, are unable to obtain paid leave and are required to work more than eight hours a day without additional compensation.  The treatment of labor in FEZs is no different than elsewhere in the country. Employers are generally able to adjust employment in light of fluctuating market conditions. Severance in general does not exceed 60 working days.  Benefits for workers laid off for economic reasons are mostly limited to receiving qualification trainings and job search assistance.

Individual labor disputes can usually be resolved through courts; however, the courts are often overburdened, causing significant delays.  Collective labor disputes should be resolved through collective bargaining.  Armenia’s Health and Labor Inspection Body (HLIB) has a mandate to monitor health and occupational safety issues. In July 2019, following the appointment of new leadership, HLIB began to implement a series of actions to draft and adopt regulations and legislation in order to restart HLIB’s oversight on labor issues. These changes include the development of risk assessment methodologies, hiring additional staff, and approving the checklists required by law to undertake inspections. The fast pace of HLIB’s activities and the plan to increase the number of inspectors by as much as four times by the end of 2020 has been made possible by changes to labor legislation that give HLIB the responsibility for oversight over all Labor Code provisions from 2021 onward.

Amendments to the Labor Code that entered into force in 2015 clarified the procedures for making changes in labor contracts and further specified the provisions required in labor contracts, notably those relating to probationary periods, vacation, and wage calculations.

The current legal minimum wage is AMD 68,000 (approximately USD 135) per month.  Most companies pay an unofficial extra-month bonus for the New Year’s holiday.  Wages in the public sector are often significantly lower than those in the private sector.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The United States and Armenia have an investment incentive agreement, signed in 1992, that serves to mobilize private capital via the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). DFC can help solve critical development challenges by mobilizing private capital as well as providing investors with financing, guarantees, political risk insurance, and support for private equity investment funds.  DFC’s predecessor organization, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, has been involved in several projects in Armenia, including the expansion of the Armenia Marriott Hotel in Yerevan and lending operations at several financial institutions. In 2019, OPIC concluded a deal to extend USD 10 million in financing to First Mortgage Company to expand the origination of long-term home mortgage loans.  Armenia is a member of the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $13,649 2018 $12,433 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $228 2018 $7 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 $3 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 44% 2018 44% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

Source for Host Country Data: Statistical Committee of the Republic of Armenia

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 5,072 100% Total Outward 232 100%
Russia 1,735 34.2% Georgia 59 25.4%
United Kingdom 433 8.5% Latvia 56 24.1%
Jersey 372 7.3% Bulgaria 36 15.5%
North Macedonia 334 6.6% United States 3 1.3%
Cyprus 303 6.0% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source:  IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) (2018)
A significant portion of outward investment is not specified by destination in the CDIS.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic & Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy Yerevan
American Avenue 1
Yerevan, Armenia
+374 10 494 200
YerevanBusiness@state.gov

Estonia

Executive Summary

Estonia is a safe and dynamic country for investment, with a business climate very similar to the United States. As a member of the EU, the Government of Estonia (GOE) maintains liberal policies in order to attract investments and export-oriented companies. Creating favorable conditions for foreign direct investment (FDI) and openness to foreign trade has been the foundation of Estonia’s economic strategy. The overall freedom to conduct business in Estonia is well protected under a transparent regulatory environment.

  • Estonia is among the leading countries in Eastern and Central Europe regarding FDI per capita. At the end of 2019, Estonia had attracted in total USD 27 billion (stock) of investment, of which 34 percent was made into the financial sector, 17.7 percent into real estate, 12 percent into manufacturing and 11 percent into wholesale and retail trade.
  • Estonia’s government has not yet set limitations on foreign ownership and foreign investors are treated on an equal footing with local investors, but the government is currently developing a framework to screen FDI. There are no investment incentives available to foreign investors.
  • While some corruption exists, it has not been a major problem faced by foreign investors.
  • The Estonian income tax system, with its flat rate of 21 percent, is considered one of the simplest tax regimes in the world. Deferral of corporate taxation payment shifts the time of taxation from the moment of earning the profits to that of their distribution. Undistributed profits are not subject to income taxation, regardless of whether these are reinvested or merely retained.
  • Estonia offers key opportunities for businesses in a number of economic sectors like information and communication technology (ICT), chemicals, wood processing, and biotechnology. Estonia has strong trade ties with Finland, Sweden and Germany.
  • Estonia suffers a shortage of labor, both skilled and unskilled.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 18 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 18 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 24 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $393 https://statistika.eestipank.ee/
#/en/p/146/r/2293/2122
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $21,140 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Estonia is currently open for FDI and foreign investors are treated on an equal footing with local investors, though the government is developing a screening mechanism to adhere to the EU Foreign Investment Screening Regulation (Regulation 2019/452 ) entered into force on 10 April 2019. This new regulation will be applicable from 11 October 2020 and creates an information-sharing mechanism between Member States and allows Member States and the European Commission to comment on foreign investments foreseen in other Member States.

The Estonian Investment Agency (EIA), a part of Enterprise Estonia, is a government agency promoting foreign investments in Estonia and assisting international companies in finding business opportunities in Estonia. EIA offers comprehensive, one-stop investment consultancy services, free of charge. The agency’s goal is to increase awareness of business opportunities in Estonia and promote the image of Estonia as an attractive country for investments. More info: http://www.investinestonia.com/en/estonian-investment-agency/about-the-agency 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Estonia’s government has not set limitations on foreign ownership. Licenses are required for foreign investors to enter the following sectors: mining, energy, gas and water supply, railroad and transport, waterways, ports, dams and other water-related structures and telecommunications and communication networks. The Estonian Financial Supervision Authority issues licenses for foreign interests seeking to invest in or establish a bank. Additionally, the Estonian Competition Authority reviews transactions for anti-competition concerns. Government review and licensing have proven to be routine and non-discriminatory.

As a member of the EU, the Government of Estonia (GOE) maintains liberal policies in order to attract investment and export-oriented companies. Creating favorable conditions for FDI and openness to foreign trade has been the foundation of Estonia’s economic strategy. Existing requirements are not intended to restrict foreign ownership but rather to regulate it and establish clear ownership responsibilities.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2019 the government had a third-party investment policy review (IPR) through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  The outcome showed Estonia’s economy is performing well and public finances are in excellent shape, yet growth is softening and spending pressures from infrastructure needs and an ageing population are mounting. The report said efforts should now focus on improving income equality and well-being, greening growth and accelerating the country’s digital transformation. Full report: http://www.oecd.org/economy/estonia-economic-snapshot.

Business Facilitation

The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report ranks Estonia in 18th place out of 190 countries on the ease of Starting a Business. Economic freedom, ease of doing business, per capita investments, the record-low national debt, euro zone membership, and low corruption scores – all these factors play a role in fostering a good climate for business facilitation.

In Estonia there are two ways to register your business:

  • Electronic registration via the e-Commercial Register’s Company Registration Portal (takes between 5 minutes and 1 business day)
  • Through a notary (takes 2-3 business days)

Access to the Register: https://www.eesti.ee/en/doing-business/establishing-a-company/comparison-of-each-form-of-business/ 

On July 1, 2014, an amended Taxation Act establishing the employment register entered into force, requiring all natural and legal employers to register the persons employed by them with the Estonian Tax and Customs Board.  The company must register itself as a value-added tax payer if the taxable turnover of the company, excluding imports of goods, exceeds EUR 40,000 as calculated from the beginning of the calendar year.

There are certain areas of activity (like construction, electrical works, fire safety, financial services, security services, etc.) in which business operation requires an additional registration in the Register of Economic Activities (MTR), but this can be done after registration of the company in the Commercial Register: https://mtr.mkm.ee/ 

International institutions and organizations give Estonia’s economic policies high marks. The Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation’s 2020 Index of Economic Freedom ranked Estonia 10th in the world. The index is a composite of scores in monetary policy, banking and finance, open markets, wages and prices. Full report: https://www.heritage.org/index/country/estonia  Estonia scores highly on this scale for investment freedom, fiscal freedom, financial freedom, property rights, business freedom, and monetary freedom.

The World Bank DB 2019 Starting a Business Score also ranks Estonia 18th in the world.  https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings

Outward Investment

Estonia does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad nor does it promote outward investment. Estonia companies have invested abroad about USD 10 billion, mostly into EU countries. The main sectors for outward investments are services, manufacturing, real estate and financial.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Estonian BITs with third countries are available at the following link:

http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/66#iiaInnerMenu 

A Bilateral Taxation Treaty with the U.S. came into force on January 1, 2000. The United States and Estonia signed a Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) agreement in April 2014.

List of agreements with the United States can be found at: http://www.vm.ee/en/countries/united-states-america?display=relations#agreements 

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Government of Estonia has set transparent policies and effective laws to foster competition and establish “clear rules of the game.” Despite these measures, due to the small size of Estonia’s commercial community, instances of favoritism are not uncommon.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. Financial statements should be prepared in accordance with either:

  • accounting principles generally accepted in Estonia; or
  • International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as adopted by the EU.

Listed companies and financial institutions are required to prepare financial statements in accordance with IFRS as adopted by the EU.

The Estonian Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) are written by the Estonian Accounting Standards Board (EASB).  Estonian GAAP, effective since 2013, is based on IFRS for Small and Medium-sized Entities (IFRS for SMEs) with limited differences from IFRS for SMEs with regard to accounting policies as well as disclosure requirements. More info: https://investinestonia.com/business-in-estonia/establishing-company/accounting-requirements/ 

The Minister of Justice has responsibility for promoting regulatory reform. The Legislative Quality Division of the Ministry of Justice provides an oversight and coordination function for Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) and evaluations with regards to primary legislation. For government strategies, EU negotiations and subordinate regulations, oversight responsibilities lie within the Government Office.

The government of Estonia has placed a strong focus on accessibility and transparency of regulatory policy by making use of online tools. There is an up-to-date database of all primary and subordinate regulations (https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/ ) in an easily searchable format. An online information system tracks all legislative developments, and makes available RIAs and documents of legislative intent (http://eelnoud.valitsus.ee/main ). Estonia also established the website www.osale.ee , an interactive website of all ongoing consultations where every member of the public can submit comments and review comments made by others. Regulations are reviewed on the basis of scientific and data-driven assessments.

Estonia, an OECD member country, has committed at the highest political level to an explicit whole-of-government policy for regulatory quality and has established sufficient regulatory oversight. Estonia scores the same as the United States on the World Bank`s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance on whether governments publish or consult with public about proposed regulations: http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/estonia   Estonia’s widely-praised “e-governance” solutions and other bureaucratic procedures are generally far more streamlined and transparent than those of other countries in the region and are among the easiest to use globally. In addition, Estonia’s budget and debt obligations are widely and easily accessible to the general public on the Ministry of Finance website.

International Regulatory Considerations

Estonia is a member of the EU.  An EU regulation is a legal act of the European Union that becomes immediately enforceable as law in all member states simultaneously. Regulations can be distinguished from directives which, at least in principle, need to be transposed into national law. Regulations can be adopted by means of a variety of legislative procedures depending on their subject matter. European Standards are under the responsibility of the European Standardization Organizations (CEN, CENELEC, ETSI) and can be used to support EU legislation and policies.

Estonia has been a member of WTO since 13 November 1999. Estonia is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) since 2015.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Estonia’s judiciary is independent and insulated from government influence. The legal system in Estonia is based on the Continental European civil law model and has been influenced by the German legal system.  In contrast to common law countries, Estonia has detailed codifications.

Estonian law is divided into private and public law. Generally, private law consists of civil law and commercial law.  Public law consists of international law, constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law, financial law and procedural law.

Estonian arbitral tribunals can decide in cases of civil matters that have not previously been settled in court. More on Estonian court system: https://www.riigikohus.ee/en .  Arbitration is usually employed because it is less time consuming and cheaper than court settlements. The following disputes can be settled in arbitral tribunals:

–        Labor disputes;

–        Lease disputes;

–        Consumer complaints arguments;

–        Insurance conflicts;

–        Public procurement disputes;

–        Commercial and industrial disputes.

The Court of Arbitration of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry serves as a permanent arbitration court to settle disputes arising from private law relationships, including foreign trade and other international business relations. More info: https://www.koda.ee/en/about-chamber/court-arbitration 

Recognition of court rulings of EU Member States is regulated by EU legislation. More: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/509988/IPOL_STU(2015)509988_EN.pdf 

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Estonia is part of the Continental European legal system (civil law system). The most important sources of law are legal instruments such as the Constitution, European Union law, international agreements and Acts and Regulations. Major laws affecting incoming foreign investment include: the Commercial Code, Taxation Act, Income Tax Act, Value Added Tax Act, Social Tax Act, Unemployment Insurance Payment Act. More information is available at https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/ .  An overview of the investment-related regulations can be found: http://www.investinestonia.com/en/investment-guide/legal-framework 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Estonian Competition Authority reviews transactions for anti-competition concerns. Government review and licensing have proven to be routine and non-discriminatory.

More info on specific competition cases: https://www.konkurentsiamet.ee/en

Expropriation and Compensation

Private property rights are observed in Estonia. The government has the right to expropriate for public interest related to policing the borders, public ports and airports, public streets and roads, supply to public water catchments, etc. Compensation is offered based on market value. Cases of expropriation are extremely rare in Estonia, and the Embassy is not aware of any expropriation cases involving discrimination against foreign owners.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Estonia has been a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since 1992 and a member of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards since 1993, meaning local courts are obliged to enforce international arbitration awards that meet certain criteria

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Embassy is not aware of any claims under Estonia’s Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States. Investment disputes concerning U.S. or other foreign investors in Estonia are rare.

In October 2014, AS Tallinna Vesi and its shareholder United Utilities (Tallinn) B.V., registered in the Kingdom of The Netherlands, commenced international arbitration proceedings against the Republic of Estonia for breach of the Agreement on the Encouragement and Reciprocal Protection of Investments between the Kingdom of The Netherlands and the Republic of Estonia. In June 2019 a majority of the arbitration tribunal decided to dismiss AS Tallinna Vesi´s and United Utilities (Tallinn) B.V.’s claims against the Republic of Estonia.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Arbitration Court of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a permanent arbitration court which settles disputes arising from contractual and other civil law relationships, including foreign trade and other international economic relations. More info: http://www.lawyersestonia.com/arbitration-in-estonia 

Recognition of court rulings of EU Member States is regulated by EU legislation. More: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/509988/IPOL_STU(2015)509988_EN.pdf 

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. The Embassy is not aware of any investment disputes involving SOEs.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Estonia.  Bankruptcy procedures in Estonia fall under the regulations of Bankruptcy Act that came into force in February 1997. The Estonian Bankruptcy Act focuses on the protection of the debtors and creditors’ rights. According to the Act, bankruptcy proceedings in Estonia can be compulsory, in which case a court will decide to commence the procedures for debt collection, or voluntarily by company reorganization. More info on bankruptcy procedures: http://www.lawyersestonia.com/bankruptcy-procedures-in-estonia 

The detailed information about the creditor’s rights: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/ee/Riigikogu/act/504072016002/consolide 

More info from World Bank’s Doing Business Report on Estonian ranking for ease of “resolving insolvency” http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/estonia#resolving-insolvency 

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Estonia is open for FDI and foreign investors are treated on an equal footing with local investors. There are no investment incentives or government guarantees available to foreign investors.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Estonia’s Customs Act permits the government to establish free trade zones. Goods in a free trade zone are considered to be outside the customs territory. Value-added tax, excise, import and export duties (as well as possible fees for customs services) do not have to be paid on goods brought into free trade zones for later re-export.

In Estonia, there are four free trade zones: Muuga port (near Tallinn), Sillamae port (northeast Estonia), Paldiski north port (northwest Estonia) and in Valga (southern Estonia). All free trade zones are open for FDI on the same terms as Estonian investments.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no specific performance requirements for foreign investments that differ from those required of domestic investments. The Estonian government does not mandate local employment or follow “forced localization” in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology.

Estonia continues to refine its immigration policies and practices. More info on work permits, visas, residence permits in Estonia: https://www.politsei.ee/en 

U.S. citizens are exempt from the quota regulating the number of immigration and residence permits issued, as are citizens of the EU and Switzerland.

There are no requirements for foreign IT service providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance (e.g., backdoors into hardware and software or turning over keys for encryption) or to maintain a certain amount of data storage in Estonia. There is no general requirement to register data processing activities in Estonia. Registration is required only if the data processor handles sensitive personal data.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) entered into force on May 25, 2018, with the goal of harmonizing the already existing data protection laws across Europe. The Estonian Personal Data Protection Act came into force on January 15, 2019.  More info: https://e-estonia.com/how-to-be-compliant-gdpr-5-steps/ 

Restrictions on transfer of data offshore:

Information on data transfer is available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/523012019001/consolide  or by contacting

Estonian Data Protection Inspectorate
39 Tatari St., 10134 Tallinn
Tel: (+372) 627 4135.
https://www.aki.ee/en 

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced. Mortgages are quite common for both residential and commercial property and leasing as a means of financing is widespread and efficient.

The legal system protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights, including land, buildings, and mortgages. As of 1 October 2011, land reform in Estonia was almost complete.  Restitution and privatization of lands commenced in 1991, but in almost every municipality there remain several complicated cases to be settled.  In total, less than 4 percent of the Estonian territory (waterbodies included) lacks a clear title.

Foreign individuals and companies are allowed to acquire real estate with the permission of the local authorities. There are legal restrictions on acquiring agricultural and woodland of 10 hectares or more, and permission from the county governor is needed.  Foreign individuals are not allowed to acquire land located on smaller islands, or listed territories adjacent to the Russian border.

Property may be taken from the owner without the owner`s consent only in the public interest, pursuant to a procedure provided by law, and for fair and immediate compensation. Everyone whose property has been taken from them without consent has the right to bring an action in the courts to contest the taking of the property, the compensation, or the amount of the compensation.

More info: http://www.globalpropertyguide.com/Europe/Estonia/Buying-Guide 

http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/estonia/registering-property#DB_rp 

http://www.lawyersestonia.com/purchase-a-property-in-estonia 

Intellectual Property Rights

Estonia maintains a robust intellectual property rights (IPR) regime. The quality of IP protection in legal structures is strong, enforcement is good, and infringement and theft are uncommon. Estonia adheres to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Rome Convention, the Geneva Convention, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  Estonian legislation fully complies with EU directives granting protection to authors, performing artists, record producers, and broadcasting organizations.  Equal protection against unauthorized use is provided via international conventions and treaties to foreign and Estonian authors.

Companies should recognize that IPR is protected differently in Estonia than in the United States, and U.S. laws do not protect IPR in Estonia.  Registration of patents and trademarks in Estonia is on a first-in-time, first-in-right basis, so companies should consider applying for trademark and patent protection before selling products or services in the Estonian market. IPR is primarily a private right, and the U.S. government generally cannot enforce rights for private individuals in Estonia.  It is the responsibility of the rights’ holders to register, protect, and enforce their rights where relevant, retaining their own counsel and advisors.  Companies may wish to seek advice from local attorneys or IPR consultants.

Estonia is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

Estonian Customs tracks and reports periodically on seizures of counterfeit goods.  In 2019, the Estonian Tax and Customs Board processed 249 cases involving counterfeit goods resulting in seizures of 10,013,641 items.  Most of the infringed goods were detected in mail, and the volume of goods seized per case was small.  The largest trademark-infringing commodity groups were footwear, clothes, accessories, toys, and electronics.  In Estonia, IPR crimes are prosecuted.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IPR offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Estonia is a member of the Euro zone. Estonia’s financial sector is modern and efficient. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors are able to obtain credit on the local market. The private sector has access to an expanding range of credit instruments similar in variety to those offered by banks in Estonia’s Nordic neighbors Finland and Sweden.

Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. The Estonian capital markets are rather inactive as both stock and bond market liquidity has been in a downward trend for the past ten years.

The Security Market Law complies with EU requirements and enables EU securities brokerage firms to deal in the market without establishing a local subsidiary. The NASDAQ OMX stock exchanges in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius form the Baltic Market, which facilitates cross-border trading and attracting more investments to the region. This includes sharing the same trading system and harmonizing rules and market practices, all with the aim of reducing the costs of cross-border trading in the Baltic region.

Certain investment services and products may be limited to U.S. persons in Estonia due to financial institutions’ response to the U.S. Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank).

Estonian financial services market overview:  https://www.fi.ee/en?id=12737 

IMF report on Estonia: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2020/01/21/Republic-of-Estonia-2019-Article-IV-Consultation-Press-Release-Staff-Report-and-Statement-by-48963 

Money and Banking System

Estonia’s banking system has consolidated rapidly. Total assets of the commercial banks were approximately EUR 32 billion in early 2020. The banking sector is dominated by two major commercial banks, Swedbank and SEB, both owned by Swedish banking groups. These two banks control approximately 65 percent of the financial services market. The third largest bank is Luminor Bank. There are no state-owned commercial banks or other credit institutions.

More information is available at: http://statistika.eestipank.ee/#/en/p/FINANTSSEKTOR/147/645 

The Scandinavian-dominated Estonian banking system is modern and efficient. Local and international banks in Estonia provide both domestic and international services (including internet and mobile banking) at competitive rates, as well as a full range of financial, insurance, accounting, and legal services. Estonia has a highly advanced internet banking system: currently 98 percent of banking transactions are conducted via the internet.

The Bank of Estonia (Eesti Pank) is the independent central bank. As Estonia is part of the Euro zone, the core tasks of the Bank are to help to define the monetary policy of the European Community and to implement the monetary policy of the European Central Bank, including the circulation of cash in Estonia. Eesti Pank is also responsible for holding and managing Estonian official foreign exchange reserves as well as supervising overall financial stability and maintaining reliable and well-functioning payment systems. The Central Bank and the government hold no shares in the banking sector.

EU legislation requires Estonia to make its AML regime compliant with EU directives. Due to strict anti-money laundering (AML) regulations and bank compliance practices, it can be difficult for non-residents to open a bank account. More info on opening a bank account for investors: https://transferwise.com/gb/blog/opening-a-bank-account-in-estonia   Changes in local AML regulations and oversight are evolving following some large-scale money laundering cases through branches of Nordic banks uncovered in Estonia.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

Estonia has been a member of the euro currency area since 2011. There are no restrictions on currency transfers or conversion.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions, limitations or delays involved in converting or transferring funds associated with an investment (including remittances of investment capital, earnings, loan repayments, or lease payments) into other currencies at market rates. There is no limit on dividend distributions as long as they correspond to a company’s official earnings records. If a foreign company ceases to operate in Estonia, all its assets may be repatriated without restriction. These policies are long-standing; there is no indication that they will be altered in the future. Foreign exchange is readily available for any purpose.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

There are no sovereign wealth funds or state owned investment funds in Estonia.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In Estonia SOEs are primarily engaged in the provision of services of strategic importance.

In early 2019, the Republic of Estonia held an interest in 29 companies of which 27 were solely owned by the state. The largest SOE`s are Eesti Energia (electricity production), Elering (electricity TSO), Estonian Railways, Tallinn Airport, and the Port of Tallinn.

The full list of SOEs is available at: https://www.eesti.ee/eng/contacts/riigi_osalusega_ariuhingud_1/riigi_osalusega_ariuhingud_2 

SOEs have assets worth about 6.6 billion euros, and they employ about 13,000 people.

Public enterprises operate on the same legal basis as private enterprises. Until recently SOEs had politically-appointed boards but today board members are appointed by an independent committee. SOEs are governed by the different ministries.

Competition and public procurement of SOEs is subject to EU law.  All SOEs have audited accounts. Large SOEs’ audits are publicly available on their websites.  The activities of the SOEs are also audited by the National Audit Office of Estonia, which conducts assessments and provides recommendations directly to the Parliament.

Privatization Program

Estonia’s privatization program is largely complete. Only a small number of enterprises remain wholly state-owned. There have been recent discussions on the political level about the possible listing of additional SOEs, such as Port of Tallinn and part of Eesti Energia.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The majority of OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are incorporated into Estonian legislation. The non-profit organization, Responsible Business Forum in Estonia, aims to further corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Estonia, and is a partner in the CSR360 Global Partner Network. CSR360 (www.csr360gpn.org) is a network of independent organizations, which work as the interface of business and society to mobilize business towards socially responsible aims.

The Estonian Ministry of Economy and Communication works closely with CSR on educating private businesses and SOEs on responsible business conduct, recognizing best practices, and factoring RBC policies or practices into its procurement decisions. The American Chamber of Commerce in Estonia also maintains a Corporate Social Responsibility committee.

Government in general enforces the labor, human rights, employment rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection related laws effectively and these requirements cannot be waived to attract foreign investment. Estonia has adhered to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises since 2001. The National Contact Point can be accessed here:

https://www.mkm.ee/en/objectives-activities/economic-development/oecd-guidelines-and-surveillance%20 

Natural resource extraction related revenues, including mining licenses, are less than 0.6 percent of government budget revenues and less than 0.3 percent of the GDP.  The revenues are reflected in the national budget.

Here you can find a summary of the strength of minority shareholder protections against misuse of corporate assets by directors for their personal gain:  http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/estonia/protecting-minority-investors/ 

9. Corruption

Estonia has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, and while corruption is not unknown, it has generally not been reported to pose a major problem for foreign investors. Both offering and taking bribes are criminal offenses which can bring imprisonment of up to five years. While “payments” that exceed the services rendered are not unknown, and “conflict of interest” is not a well-understood issue, surveys of American and other non-Estonian businesses have shown the issue of corruption is not a serious concern.

In 2019, Transparency International (TI) ranked Estonia 18th out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index.

Anti-corruption policy and implementation are coordinated by the Ministry of Justice and the strategy is implemented by all ministries and local governments.  The Internal Security Service is effective in investigating corruption offences and criminal misconduct, leading to the conviction of several high-ranking state officials. Until recently corruption was most commonly associated with public sector activities. Recently the government initiated efforts to educate private sector businesses about the risks of business-to-business corruption, for example within procurement activities.

Estonia cooperates in fighting corruption at the international level and is a member of GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption). Estonia is a party to both the Council of Europe (CoE) Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and the Civil Law Convention. The Criminal Law Convention requires criminalization of a wide range of national and transnational conduct, including bribery, money-laundering, and accounting offenses. It also incorporates provisions on liability of legal persons and witness protection. The Civil Law Convention includes provisions on compensation for damage relating to corrupt acts, whistleblower protection, and validity of contracts, inter alia.

More info on the corruption level in different sectors in Estonia can be found at: https://www.business-anti-corruption.com/country-profiles/estonia/

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

The UN Anticorruption Convention entered into force in Estonia in 2010. Estonia has been a full participant in the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business since 2004; the underlying Convention entered into force in Estonia in 2005. The Convention obligates Parties to criminalize bribery of foreign public officials in the conduct of international business.

The United States meets its international obligations under the OECD Anti-bribery Convention through the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Resources to Report Corruption

Government agency contacts responsible for combating corruption:

+372 6123657 Central Criminal Police corruption hotline

Or e-mail: korruptsioonivihje@politsei.ee

Transparency International in Estonia: http://www.transparency.org/whoweare/contact/org/nc_estonia 

10. Political and Security Environment

Civil unrest generally is not a problem in Estonia, and there have been no incidents of terrorism. Public gatherings and demonstrations may occur on occasion in response to political issues, but these have proceeded, with very few exceptions, without incidence of violence in the past.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Estonia has a small population – 1.31 million people. The average monthly Estonian salary at the end of 2019 was about USD 1,700. About 75 percent of the workforce is employed in the services sector. With an aging population and a negative birth rate, Estonia, like many other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, faces demographic challenges affecting its long-term supply of labor. Improving labor efficiency is a key focus for Estonia in the short-to-mid-term.  At the end of 2019, the unemployment rate was 4.4 percent but it is expected to increase significantly in 2020 due to the Covid-19 crisis.  More on the labor market: http://www.eestipank.ee/en/publications/series/labour-market-review 

The Law of Obligations Act, the Individual Labor Dispute Resolution Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act address employment and labor issues.  Labor laws may not be waived in order to attract or retain investment. Labor laws are generally strict, and the principle of employee protection is applied in which the worker is considered the economically weaker party. Upon termination of an employment contract due to a lay-off, an employer must pay an employee compensation in the amount of one month’s average wage. In addition, an insurance benefit shall be paid to an employee by the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund depending on the length of service. More info: https://www.oecd.org/els/emp/Estonia.pdf 

Trade union membership remains low compared to most countries in the EU. Estonia has ratified all eight ILO Core Conventions.

Estonian labor regulations on labor abuses, health and safety standards, labor disputes etc. are effectively monitored by the Estonian Labor Inspectorate: http://www.ti.ee/en/ 

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Estonia has a bilateral agreement with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the predecessor agency to the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $31,150 2019 $30,900 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $393 2018 $76 www.bea.gov 
Host Country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $205 2018 N/A www.bea.gov 
Total Inbound Stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 88% 2019 80.3% https://unctad.org/sections/dite_dir/
docs/wir2019/wir19_fs_ee_en.pdf
 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $27,393 100% Total Outward $10,763 100%
Sweden $6,542 24% Lithuania $2,860 26.6%
Finland $6,330 23% Latvia $2,362 22%
Netherlands $1,741 6.4% Cyprus $1,255 12%
Luxembourg $1,378 5% Finland $824 7.7%
Lithuania $1,174 4.3% Ukraine $309 2.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 15,519 100% All Countries 4,441 100% All Countries 11,078 100%
International Organizations 5,726 37% Luxembourg 1,239 28% International Organizations 5,726 52%
Luxembourg 2,374 15% U.S. 667 15% Luxembourg 1,135 10%
U.S 996 6.4% Ireland 740 16.7% Lithuania 595 5%
Ireland 802 5% Finland 368 8.3% Germany 423 4%
Finland 685 4.4% Sweden 203 4.5% France 329 3%

Source: Bank of Estonia, IMF http://data.imf.org/regular.aspx?key=60587804 

14. Contact for More Information

United States Embassy, Political/Economic Section
Kentmanni 20, 15099 Tallinn, Estonia
Tel: 372 668 8130
Contact: Mrs. Reene Moschella, Economic/Commercial Specialist
E-mail:  Moschellar@state.gov

Georgia

Executive Summary

Georgia, located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, is a small but open market that derives benefits from international trade, tourism, and transportation. While it is susceptible to global and regional shocks, the country has made sweeping economic reforms since 1991 that have produced a relatively well-functioning and stable market economy. It ranks seventh in the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index and twelfth in the Heritage Foundation’s 2020 Economic Freedom Index. Fiscal and monetary policy are focused on low deficits, low inflation, and a floating real exchange rate, although the latter has been affected by regional developments, including sanctions on Russia, and other external factors, such as a stronger dollar. Public debt and budget deficits remain under control. However, global challenges posed by COVID-19 and measures needed to mitigate the spread of the virus have placed significant pressure on the domestic currency and the local economy.

The Georgian government’s “Georgia 2020” economic strategy, initially published in 2014, outlines economic policy priorities. It stresses the government’s commitment to business-friendly policies, such as low taxes, but also pledges to invest in human capital and to strive for inclusive growth across the country. The strategy also emphasizes Georgia’s geographic potential as a trade and logistics hub along the New Silk Road linking Asia and Europe via the Caucasus.

Overall, business and investment conditions are sound. However, some companies have expressed an increasing lack of confidence in the judicial sector’s ability to adjudicate commercial cases independently or in a timely, competent manner, with some business dispute cases languishing in the court system for years. Other companies complain of inefficient decision-making processes at the municipal level, shortcomings in the enforcement of intellectual property rights, lack of effective anti-trust policies, selective enforcement of economic laws, and difficulties resolving disputes over property rights. The Georgian government continues to work to address these issues and, despite these remaining challenges, Georgia ranks high in the region as a good place to do business.

The United States and Georgia work to increase bilateral trade and investment through a High-Level Dialogue on Trade and Investment and through the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission’s Economic Working Group. Both countries signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty in 1994, and Georgia is eligible to export many products duty-free to the United States under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program.

Georgia suffered considerable instability in the immediate post-Soviet period. After regaining independence in 1991, civil war and separatist conflicts flared up along the Russian border in the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In August 2008, tensions in the region of South Ossetia culminated in a brief war between Georgia and Russia. Russia invaded and occupied areas of undisputed Georgian territory. Russia continues to occupy these Georgian regions, and the central government in Tbilisi does not have effective control over these areas. The United States supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and does not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia as independent. Tensions still exist both inside the occupied regions and near the administrative boundary lines, but other parts of Georgia, including Tbilisi, are not directly affected.

Transit and logistics are a priority sector as Georgia seeks to benefit from increased East/West trade through the country. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad has boosted Georgia’s transit prospects. The Anaklia Deep Sea Port project, however, has faced multiple delays and extensions since its initial contract in 2016. The government terminated its contract with the Anaklia Development Consortium in 2020, asserting the consortium did not mobilize the capital necessary to implement the project. However, the government said it remained committed to the construction of a deep sea port in Anaklia and planned to retender the project. Logistics and port management companies in Poti have started development and expansion of Poti Port, currently the largest port in Georgia. Pace Group launched a $120 million project to develop a new port terminal at the site of the former Poti Shipbuilding Factory. Additionally, APM Terminals announced plans in 2019 to create a deep-sea port in Poti.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 44 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 7 of 190 https://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 48 of 149 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 35 million USD https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 4,440 USD https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Georgia is open to foreign investment. Legislation establishes favorable conditions for foreign investment, but not preferential treatment for foreign investors. The Law on Promotion and Guarantee of Investment Activity protects foreign investors from subsequent legislation that alters the condition of their investments for a period of ten years. Investment promotion authority is vested in the Investment Division of Enterprise Georgia, a legal entity of public law under the Ministry of Economic and Sustainable Development. The Investment Division’s primary role is to attract, promote, and develop foreign direct investment in Georgia. For this purpose, it acts as the moderator between foreign investors and the Georgian government, ensures access to updated information, provides a means of communication with government bodies, and serves as a “one-stop-shop” to support investors throughout the investment process. (http://www.enterprisegeorgia.gov.ge/en/about ).

To enhance relations with investors, in 2015 Georgia’s then-Prime Minister created an Investors Council, an independent advisory body aimed at promoting dialogue among the private business community, international organizations, donors, and the Georgian government for the development of a favorable, non-discriminatory, transparent, and fair business and investment climate in Georgia (http://ics.ge ). The Business Ombudsman, who is a member of the Investors Council, is another tool for protecting investors’ rights in Georgia (http://businessombudsman.ge ).

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Georgia does not have an established interagency process to screen foreign investment, but relevant ministries or agencies may have the right to review investments for national security concerns in certain circumstances, as outlined below. Foreign investors have participated in most major privatizations of state-owned property. Transparency of privatization has been an issue at times. No law or regulation authorizes private firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association that limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control. Cross-shareholder or stable-shareholder arrangements are not used by private firms in Georgia. Georgian legislation does not protect private firms from takeovers. There are no regulations authorizing private firms to restrict foreign partners’ investment activity or limit foreign partners’ ability to gain control over domestic enterprises.

There are no specific licensing requirements for foreign investment other than those that apply to all companies. The government requires licenses for activities that affect public health, national security, and the financial sector: weapons and explosives production, narcotics, poisonous and pharmaceutical substances, exploration and exploitation of renewable or non-renewable substances, exploitation of natural resource deposits, establishment of casinos and gambling houses and the organization of games and lotteries, banking, insurance, securities trading, wireless communication services, and the establishment of radio and television channels. The law requires the state to retain a controlling interest in air traffic control, shipping traffic control, railroad control systems, defense and weapons industries, and nuclear energy. For investment projects requiring licenses or permits, the relevant government ministries and agencies have the right to review the project for national security concerns.  By law, the government has 30 days to make a decision on licenses, and if the licensing authority does not state a reasonable ground for rejection within that period, the government must approve the license or permit for issuance. Per Georgian law, it is illegal to undertake any type of economic activity in Abkhazia or South Ossetia if such activities require permits, licenses, or registration in accordance with Georgian legislation. Laws also ban mineral exploration, money transfers, and international transit via Abkhazia or South Ossetia. Only the state may issue currency, banknotes, and certificates for goods made from precious metals, import narcotics for medical purposes, and produce control systems for the energy sector.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In January 2016, the World Trade Organization (WTO) concluded its second Trade Policy Review of Georgia. In this review, WTO members reiterated their approval of Georgia’s broadly open, transparent, and predictable trade and investment regimes. Members noted that, during the review period, Georgia undertook an impressive range of reform initiatives aimed at streamlining, liberalizing, and simplifying trade regulations and their implementation. The review lauded Georgia’s trade openness and its commitment to the multilateral system through its responsible contribution to the work of the WTO.

WTO members commended Georgia for ratifying the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement and the related notification to the WTO of Category A, B and C commitments. Members also noted that Georgia was an observer to the Government Procurement Agreement and was assessing the prospects for joining the Agreement. Members welcomed the announcement that Georgia was considering joining the expanded Information Technology Agreement, which would constitute a significant step forward for attracting further investment. See more at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp428_crc_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

Registering a business in Georgia is relatively quick and streamlined, and Georgia ranks second in registering property among countries assessed in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report. Registration takes one day to complete through Georgia’s single window registration process. The National Agency of Public Registry (NAPR) (www.napr.gov.ge  – webpage is in Georgian only), located in Public Service Halls (PSH) under the Ministry of Justice of Georgia, carries out company registration. The web page of the PSH (http://www.psh.gov.ge/main/page/2/85 ) outlines procedures and requirements for business registration in English. For registration purposes, the law does not require a document verifying the amount or existence of charter capital. A company is not required to complete a separate tax registration as the initial registration includes both the revenue service and national business registration. The following information is required to register a business in Georgia: bio data for the founder and principal officers, articles of incorporation, and the company’s area of business activity. Other required documents depend on the type of entity to be established.

To register a business, the potential owner must first pay the registration fee, register the company with the Entrepreneurial Register, and obtain an identification number and certificate of state and tax registration. Registration fees are: GEL100 (around USD35) for regular registration, GEL200 (USD70) for expedited registration, plus GEL1 (bank fees). Second, the owner must open a bank account (free).

Georgia’s business facilitation mechanism provides for equitable treatment of women and men. There are a variety of state-run and donor-supported projects that aim to promote women entrepreneurs through specific training or other programs, including access to financing and business training.

Outward Investment

The Georgian government does not have any specific policy on promoting or restricting domestic investors from investing abroad and Georgia’s outward investment is insignificant.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Georgia’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms, and the Georgian government has committed to achieving even greater transparency and simplicity of regulations for these systems.

In Georgia, the lawmaking process involves Parliament (drafting and consideration) and the President (signing). Under Georgia’s constitution, the following subjects have the right to initiate legislation: the President, the government, members of Parliament, a committee, faction, the representative bodies of the Autonomous Republics of Abkhazia and Adjara, and groups of at least 30,000 voters.

A subject who does not have the right to launch a legislative initiative does, however, have the right to submit a “legislative proposal,” which should be a well-reasoned address to Parliament advocating for the adoption of a new law or of changes/amendments to existing legislation. According to Article 150 of the Law on Parliament, the following can submit a legislative proposal: citizens of Georgia, state bodies (except the establishments of the executive branch of government), the representative and executive bodies of local self-government, political and public unions registered in Georgia according to the established rule, and other legal entities.

There are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations, except their entitlement for participating in the law-making process prescribed by the above law.

Publicly listed companies are required to prepare financial statements in accordance with IFRS – International Financial Reporting Standards.

Draft bills or regulations are available for public comment. NGOs, professional associations, and business chambers actively participate in public hearings on legislation.

The government publishes laws and regulations in Georgian in the official online legislative herald gazette, the Legislative Messenger, ‘Matsne’ (www.matsne.gov.ge ). Another online tool to research Georgian legislation is www.codex.ge , or the webpage of the Parliament of Georgia, www.parliament.ge .

General oversight of the executive branch is vested in the parliament. The new Constitution, which entered into force in December 2018, and subsequently adopted new Parliamentary Rules and Procedures aim to strengthen Parliament’s oversight role. Under its strengthened role, public officials are obliged to respond to Parliament’s questions and government institutions submit annual reports. However, local watchdog organizations continue to raise concern that one party controls all branches of government, undermining checks and balances. Independent agencies, such as the State Audit Office, the Ombudsman’s office, including the Business Ombudsman, and business associations also provide an oversight function. Georgia maintains an active civil society that frequently reports on government activities.

Information on Georgia’s state budget and debt obligations was widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online, and considered generally reliable. Georgia’s State Audit Service reviewed the government’s accounts and made its reports publicly available. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported in its Regional Economic Outlook  on the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, published in October 2019, that Georgia had successfully implemented fiscal reforms. The report states, “Fiscal transparency, measured by the Open Budget Index, has improved markedly. Tax revenues rose and the efficiency of revenue collection has been higher than among peers….The adoption of flexible fiscal rules helped foster fiscal discipline, limited the rise in public debt, and reduced volatility of government expenditure.”

Georgia has six types of taxes: corporate profit, value added, property, income, excise, and dividend. The tax on corporate profits is 15 percent. However, in January 2017, the government adopted a corporate profit tax scheme that exempts undistributed, reinvested, or retained corporate profits from income taxation. Georgia’s value added tax (VAT) rate is 18 percent, tax on personal income is 20 percent, and dividend income tax is five percent. There are no dividend or capital gains taxes for publicly traded equities (a free float in excess of 25 percent). Georgia imposes excise taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, fuel, and mobile telecommunication. Most goods, except for some agricultural products, have no import tariffs. For goods with tariffs, the rates are five or 12 percent, unless excluded by an FTA.

Detailed information on the types and rates of taxes applicable to businesses and individuals, as well as a payment calendar, is available on the webpage  of Georgia’s Revenue Service.

In 2019, the Georgian government introduced new regulations to simplify the tax regime and streamline processes for small businesses. The new legislation decreased turnover tax from five percent to one percent for small businesses and defined small business as those with less than GEL 500,000 (USD 185 thousand) annual turnover, a fivefold increase from the previous GEL 100,000 (USD 31 thousand) threshold. In addition, the new regulations allow small businesses to pay taxes by the end of month, instead of requiring advance payments. For medium and large businesses, the reform introduced an automatic system of VAT returns and activated a special system whereby entrepreneurs can pay VAT returns in five to seven business days by filling out an electronic application.

Enterprise Georgia, a state agency under the Ministry of Economic and Sustainable Development, operates the Business Service Center in Tbilisi, which provides domestic and foreign businesses with information on doing business in Georgia. The Business Service Center facilitates an online chat tool for interested individuals (http://www.enterprisegeorgia.gov.ge/en/SERVICE-CENTER ). Additionally, the Investor’s Council provides an opportunity for the private sector to discuss legislative reforms, economic development plans, and actions to spur economic growth with the government. Different commercial chambers, such as the American Chamber of Commerce (www.amcham.ge ), International Chamber of Commerce (www.icc.ge ), Business Association of Georgia (www.bag.ge ), Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (www.gcci.ge ), and EU-Georgia Business Council (http://eugbc.net ) remain important tools for facilitating ongoing dialogue between domestic and foreign business communities and the government.

International accounting standards are binding for joint stock companies, banks, insurance companies, companies operating in the insurance field, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, joint liability companies, and cooperatives. Private companies are required to perform accounting and financial reporting in accordance with international accounting standards. Sole entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-commercial legal entities perform accounting and financial reporting according to simplified interim standards approved by the Parliamentary Accounting Commission. Shortcomings in the use of international accounting standards persist, and qualified accounting personnel are in short supply.

The Law of Georgia on Free Trade and Competition provides for the establishment of an independent structure, the Competition Agency, to exercise effective state supervision over a free, fair, and competitive market environment. Nonetheless, certain companies have dominant positions in pharmaceutical, petroleum, and other sectors.

Public finances and debt obligations are transparent, and Georgia’s budget and information on debt obligations were widely and easily accessible to the public through government websites including the Ministry of Finance’s site (www.mof.gov.ge ). Georgia’s State Audit Office (www.sao.ge ) reviews the government’s accounts and makes its reports publicly available.

International Regulatory Considerations

Georgia’s Association Agreement of 2014 with the European Union introduced a preferential trade regime, the DCFTA, which increased market access between the EU and Georgia based on having better-aligned regulations. The agreement is designed to introduce gradually European standards in all spheres of Georgia’s economy and sectoral policy: infrastructure, energy, the environment, agriculture, tourism, technological development, employment and social policy, health protection, education, culture, civil society, and regional development. It also provides for the approximation of Georgian laws with nearly 300 separate European legislative acts.

The DCFTA should promote a gradual approximation with European standards for food safety, establish a transparent and stable business environment in Georgia, increase Georgia’s potential to attract investment, introduce innovative approaches and new technologies, stimulate economic growth, and support the country’s economic development.

Georgia has been a WTO member since 2000 and consistently meets requirements and obligations included in the Agreement on Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIM). Since WTO accession, Georgia has not introduced any Technical Barriers to Trade. In January 2016, Georgia ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Georgia’s legal system is based on civil law and the country has a three-tier court system. The first tier consists of 25 trial courts throughout the country that hear criminal, civil, and administrative cases. Two appellate courts, Tbilisi Appeal Court (East Georgia) and Kutaisi Appeal Court (West Georgia), represent the second tier. The Supreme Court of Georgia occupies the third, or the highest, instance and acts as the highest appellate court. In addition, there is a separate Constitutional Court for arbitrating constitutional disputes between branches of government and ruling on individual claims concerning human rights violations stemming from the Constitution.

Georgia does not have an integrated commercial code. There are a number of different laws and codes (Tax Code, Law on Entrepreneurs, and Law on Insolvency) that regulate commercial activity in Georgia. There are no specialized courts, such as a commercial court, to handle commercial disputes. The Ministry of Justice’s Public Service Halls provide property registration.

The independence of Georgia’s judiciary and political inference in the judicial system remain concerns. Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom in the World Report stated that “despite ongoing judicial reforms, executive and legislative interference in the courts remains a substantial problem, as does corruption and a lack of transparency and professionalism surrounding judicial proceedings.” In addition, delays in adjudicating cases and backlogs in Georgian courts remain problematic. International experts are providing Georgian officials with assistance aimed at improving judicial efficiency. The recommendations in the fourth wave of judicial reforms passed in 2019 included legislative changes, streamlining case management, increasing the number of matters resolved by non-judges, improved data exchanges, and implementing balanced caseload.

Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable and are adjudicated in the national court system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The U.S.-Georgia Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) guarantees U.S. investors national treatment and most favored nation treatment. Exceptions to national treatment have been carved out for Georgia in certain sectors, such as maritime fisheries, air and maritime transport and related activities, ownership of broadcast, common carrier, or aeronautical radio stations, communications satellites, government-supported loans, guarantees, and insurance, and landing of submarine cables.

Georgia’s legal system is based on civil law. Legislation governing foreign investment includes the Constitution, the Civil Code, the Tax Code, and the Customs Code. Other relevant legislation includes the Law on Entrepreneurs, the Law on Promotion and Guarantee of Investment Activity, the Bankruptcy Law, the Law on Courts and General Jurisdiction, the Law on Limitation of Monopolistic Activity, the Accounting Law, and the Securities Market Law.

Ownership and privatization of property is governed by the following acts: the Civil Code, the Law on Ownership of Agricultural Land, the Law on Private Ownership of Non-Agricultural Land, the Law on Management of State-Owned Non-Agricultural Land, and the Law on Privatization of State Property. Property rights in extractive industries are governed by the Law on Concessions, the Law on Deposits, and the Law on Oil and Gas. Intellectual property rights are protected under the Civil Code and the Law on Patents and Trademarks. Financial sector legislation includes the Law on Commercial Banks, the Law on National Banks, and the Law on Insurance Activities.

There is no one-stop-shop website for investment that provides relevant laws in English.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Georgian Law “On Free Trade and Competition” of 2005 that governs competition is in line with the Georgian Constitution and international agreements.

The agency in charge of reviewing transactions for competition-related concerns is the Competition Agency, an independent legal entity of public law, subordinated to the Prime Minister of Georgia. The agency aims to promote market liberalization, free trade, and competition (www.competition.ge ). Georgia has also signed a number of international agreements containing competition provisions, including the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. The DCFTA within the AA goes further than most FTAs, with elimination of non-tariff barriers and regulatory alignment, as well as binding rules on investments and services.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Georgian Constitution protects property ownership rights, including ownership, acquisition, disposal, and inheritance of property. Foreign citizens living in Georgia possess rights and obligations equal to those of the citizens of Georgia, with the exception of certain property rights (see Section 5). The Constitution allows restriction or revocation of property rights only in cases of extreme public necessity, and then only as allowed by law.

The Law on Procedures for Forfeiture of Property for Public Needs establishes the rules for expropriation in Georgia. The law allows expropriation for certain enumerated public needs, establishes a mechanism for valuation and payment of compensation, and provides for court review of the valuation at the option of any party. The Georgian Law on Investment allows expropriation of foreign investments only with appropriate compensation. Amendments to the Law on Procedures for Forfeiture of Property for Public Needs allow payment of compensation with property of equal value as well as money. Compensation includes all expenses associated with the valuation and delivery of expropriated property. Compensation must be paid without delay and must include both the value of the expropriated property as well as the loss suffered by the foreign investor as a result of expropriation. The foreign investor has a right to review an expropriation in a Georgian court. In 2007, Parliament passed a law generally prohibiting the government from contesting the privatization of real estate sold by the government before August 2007. The law is not applicable, however, to certain enumerated properties.

The U.S.-Georgia BIT permits expropriation of covered investments only for a public purpose, in a non-discriminatory manner, upon payment of prompt, adequate and effective compensation, and in accordance with due process of law and general principles of fair treatment.

Expropriation disputes are not common in Georgia, although under the previous government (before 2012), reputable NGOs raised cases of illegal revocation of historic ownership rights in Svaneti, Anaklia, Gonio, and Black Sea-adjacent territories. Under the previous government there were cases of property transfers that lacked transparency and allegedly were implemented under coercion.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Since 1992, Georgia has been a member of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and a signatory to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). As a result of these international obligations, Georgia is bound to accept international arbitration and recognize arbitral awards. The Ministry of Justice oversees the government’s interests in arbitrations between the state and private investors.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Georgia has signed bilateral investments treaties (BITs) with 32 countries  including the United States. Georgian investment law allows disputes between a foreign investor and a government body to be resolved in Georgian courts or at ICSID, unless a different method of dispute settlement is agreed upon between the parties. If the dispute cannot be heard at ICSID, the foreign investor can also submit the dispute to ad-hoc international arbitration under United Nations Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL model law) rules. The right to use ICSID or UNCITRAL model law is provided for under the U.S.–Georgia BIT.

There were reports of lack of due process and respect for rule of law in a number of property rights cases. NGOs also reported several cases in which groups claimed the government improperly used taxes on property to pressure organizations.

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there remain indications of interference in judicial independence and impartiality. Judges are vulnerable to political pressure from within and outside of the judiciary.

Disputes over property rights at times have undermined confidence in the impartiality of the Georgian judicial system and rule of law, and by extension, Georgia’s investment climate. The government identified judicial reform as one of its top priorities, and Parliament has passed a series of reforms aimed at strengthening judicial independence. While reforms have improved the independence of the judiciary, politically sensitive cases are still vulnerable to political pressure. The High Council of Justice is currently dominated by a group of anti-reform judges. Civil society asserts this group applies pressure on judges in politically sensitive cases. The government recently adopted additional judicial reforms focused on improving judicial discipline rules and regulating the operations of the High School of Justice and High Council of Justice.

Over the past 10 years, there have been over a dozen investment disputes involving U.S. citizens. As of 2019, five of those disputes were still ongoing, while the rest were resolved through arbitral awards or out-of-court settlements.

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.

There is no substantial history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Georgia’s arbitration law went into force on January 1, 2010. Georgia has enacted legislation based on the UNCITRAL Model Law. Domestic private arbitration firms, such as the International Arbitration Center (www.giec.ge ), operate in dispute resolution between two private parties.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Law of Georgia on Insolvency Proceedings regulates rehabilitation and bankruptcy. The law defines two types of creditors: secured and non-secured. Creditors can file a court claim for opening an insolvency proceeding, given certain conditions are satisfied (conditions vary, depending on the outstanding debt amount and the delayed days of repayment).

Creditor meetings are held in court and chaired by a judge. The creditor meeting can decide several issues, including the appointment of a supervisor of the bankruptcy or rehabilitation proceedings, and the appointment of a member of the facilitation council.

Secured creditors: Secured creditors must make unanimous decisions on approving a debtor’s new debts, the encumbrance of the debtor’s property, and suretyship. If there are no secured creditors, the creditor’s meeting is authorized to make the same decisions. The secured creditors, in a creditor’s meeting, may suspend enforcement of the material conditions of the agreement with the bankruptcy or rehabilitation supervisor or on the definition of the terms of the rehabilitation. After the debtor’s property is sold on auction, secured creditors have first priority for being repaid. All secured creditors must approve the rehabilitation plan and plan amendments. New equity investment in the debtor’s company is only possible if there are prior consents from all secured creditors and the rehabilitation supervisor.

Non-secured creditors: Non-secured creditors are satisfied only after all secured creditors are satisfied (unless otherwise agreed by all creditors unanimously). Non-secured creditors do not have voting rights for the rehabilitation plan approval.

The priority system shall not apply to creditors whose claim is secured by financial collateral.

Foreign creditors: The law provides additional time for foreign creditors to file claims. Creditors may file claims to the court and request to declare the agreements made by the insolvent debtor voidable and/or request reimbursement of damages, if such agreements inflicted damages to the creditor.

The Law of Georgia on Insolvency Proceedings only incurs criminal liabilities in cases where the debtor does not provide information about its obligations, assets, financial situation and activities, or ongoing disputes in which the debtor is involved; or provides such information with intentional delay, or provides falsified information.

The Debt Registry of the National Agency of the Public Register is Georgia’s credit monitoring authority.

According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report , Georgia’s score of 40.5 in the category of Resolving Insolvency is above the regional average, and the Law of Georgia on Insolvency Proceedings entered into force in 2017 made insolvency proceedings more accessible for debtors and creditors, improved provisions on treatment of contracts during insolvency, and granted creditors greater participation in important decisions during the proceedings. According to the Law on Insolvency Proceedings, it should take no more than 225 days to complete liquidation proceedings. However, in practice, it often takes two years to complete the process because parties do not always comply with statutory deadlines.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Georgian government has created several tools to support investment in the country’s economy. The JSC Partnership Fund is a state-owned investment fund, established in 2011. The fund owns the largest Georgian state-owned enterprises operating in the transportation, energy, and infrastructure sectors. The Fund’s main objective is to promote domestic and foreign investment in Georgia by providing co-financing (equity, mezzanine, etc.) in projects at their initial stage of development, with a focus on tourism, manufacturing, energy, and agriculture. (www.fund.ge )

In 2013, the government launched the Georgian Co-Investment Fund (GCF) to promote foreign and domestic investments. According to the government, the GCF is a six billion USD private investment fund with a mandate of providing investors with unique access, through a private equity structure, to opportunities in Georgia’s fastest growing industries and sectors. (www.gcfund.ge )

The government’s “Produce in Georgia” program is another tool for jointly financing foreign investment under which investors establish limited liability companies in Georgia. The program aims to develop and support entrepreneurship, encourage creation of new enterprises, and increase export potential and investment in the country. Coordinated by the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development through its Entrepreneurship Development Agency, National Agency of State Property, and Technology and Innovation Agency of Georgia, the project provides access to finance, access to real property, and technical assistant to entrepreneurs

For more information please visit: http://enterprisegeorgia.gov.ge/en/home 

The National Agency of State Property is in charge of the Physical Infrastructure Transfer Component, i.e., the free-of-charge transfer of government-owned real property to an entrepreneur under certain investment obligations.

Low labor costs contribute to the attractiveness of Georgia as a foreign investment destination. Georgia is also increasingly recognized as a regional transportation hub that links Asia and Europe. Georgia’s free trade regimes provide easy access for companies to export goods produced in Georgia to foreign markets. In some cases, foreign investors can benefit from these agreements by producing goods that target these markets.

In October 2018, Georgia’s Prime Minister introduced the concept of electronic residency, allowing citizens of 34 countries to register their companies electronically and open bank accounts in Georgia while not having a physical presence in the country.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In June 2007, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the Law on Free Industrial Zones, which defines the form and function of free industrial/economic zones. Financial operations in such zones may be performed in any currency. Foreign companies operating in free industrial zones are exempt from taxes on profit, property, and VAT. Currently, there are four free industrial zones (FIZ) in Georgia:

Poti Free Industrial Zone (FIZ): This is the first free industrial zone in the Caucasus region, established in 2008. UAE-based RAK Investment Authority (Rakia) initially developed the zone, but in 2017, CEFC China Energy Company Limited purchased 75 percent of shares, and the Georgian government holds the remaining 25 percent. Poti FIZ, a 300-hectare area, benefits from its close proximity to the Poti Sea Port. www.potifreezone.ge .

A 27-hectare plot in Kutaisi is home to the Egyptian company Fresh Electric, which constructed a kitchen appliances factory in 2009. The company has committed to building about one dozen textile, ceramics, and home appliances factories in the zone, and announced its intention to invest over USD two billion.

Chinese private corporation “Hualing Group,” based in Urumqi, China, developed another FIZ in Kutaisi in 2015. This FIZ is a 36-hectare area that houses businesses focused on sales of wood, furniture, stone, building materials, pharmaceuticals, auto spare parts, electric vehicles, and beverages: www.hualingfiz.ge .

The Tbilisi Free Zone (TFZ) in Tbilisi occupies 17 hectares divided into 28 plots. TFZ has access to the main cargo transportation highway, Tbilisi International Airport (30 km), and the Tbilisi city center (17 km). For more information, visit: https://www.tfz.ge/en/510/ .

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements are not a condition of establishing, maintaining, or expanding an investment, but the government has imposed requirements on a case-by-case basis in some privatizations of large state assets, such as commitments to maintain employment levels or to make additional investments within a specified period of time. Performance requirements such as the scope and time limit on licenses to extract natural resources or production sharing agreements have triggered complaints from some companies that transactions lacked transparency. The U.S.-Georgia BIT prohibits certain performance requirements.

Georgia’s Law on Promotion and Guarantees of Investment Activity prohibits setting the required minimum number of Georgian citizens to be elected or appointed in leading bodies of enterprises.

The government does not follow a forced localization policy though recent legislative changes have created difficulties in acquiring residence permits for foreign employees working for VAT exempt entities. The government is aware of this oversight and Parliament plans to address this issue summer 2020. Foreign investors have no obligation to use domestic content in goods or technology. In addition, there are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source codes and/or provide access to surveillance.

Customer- and business-related data transfer is not restricted in Georgia, neither within nor outside the country, unless it concerns personal or national security matters, which are protected by the law.

The Data Exchange Agency (DEA), under the Ministry of Justice, coordinates e-governance development, data exchange infrastructure, unified governmental networks, informational and communication standards, and cybersecurity policy. The DEA requires any company managing critical data to implement a number of security protocols to protect that information (www.dea.gov.ge ).

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Georgia ranks high in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report in general, but especially in the category of “registering property.” Processes to register property are streamlined, transparent, and take one day to process at Public Service Halls.

In June 2017, the Parliament adopted a legislative amendment that placed a moratorium on the sale of agricultural land to foreign citizens and stateless persons. Under the amendment, foreigners, legal entities registered abroad, and legal entities registered by foreigners in Georgia were not able to purchase agricultural land in Georgia. Furthermore, the new Constitution that came into force in December 2018 determined that agricultural land can only be owned by the state, self-governing entities, citizens of Georgia, or a group of Georgian citizens. The Constitution also states that exclusions may be specified in organic law, which requires votes from at least two-thirds of Parliament to pass. Parliament is considering a draft law that would provide an exception to the constitutional ban.

Mortgages and liens are registered through the public registry and information can be obtained from the webpage www.napr.gov.ge .

The government has taken multiple steps to regulate land titling, including facilitating simplified procedures, free registration campaigns, and mediation services. The National Public Registration Agency reported that from August 2016 through February 2019, 300 thousand hectares of land were registered under the land reform project, increasing the share of titled land to 45 percent. Unclear or unregistered titling bears the potential to hamper investment projects.

Property ownership cannot revert to other owners when legally purchased property stays unoccupied.

Intellectual Property Rights

Georgia acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in 2000. The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development is responsible for WTO compliance. Georgia is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and is party to the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. The legal framework for protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) in Georgia is approximated to international standards. Six laws regulate IPR in Georgia: the Law on Patents, the Law on Trademarks, the Law on Copyrights and Neighboring Rights, the Law on Appellation of Origin and Geographic Indication of Goods, the Law on Topographies of Integrated Circuits, and the Law on IP-Related Border Measures. Georgian law now provides protection for works of literature, art, science, and sound recordings for 50 years.

The National Intellectual Property Center of Georgia (Sakpatenti) provides legal protection for IPR in Georgia since it issues protective documents on invention, utility models, trademarks, design rights, geographical indications and appellation of origin, new animal breeds and plant varieties, and ensures the deposit of copyrighted works. The Revenue Service, which is part of the Ministry of Finance, is responsible for enforcing the IPR of holders listed in the Register of Intellectual Property Subject-Matters of the relevant service. The Revenue Service is also responsible for border control and can halt the import or export of items suspected of being counterfeit based on the register data. According to the Law, goods may be held for 10 working days, which may be extended by the Revenue Service for another 10 working days. The Law of Georgia on Border Measures Related to Intellectual Property allows for the destruction of counterfeit goods pending a court decision.

Infringement of IPR, including industrial property rights, copyrights, performers’ rights, rights of makers of databases, trademarks, or other illegal use of commercial indications can incur civil, criminal, and administrative penalties. Depending on the type and extent of the violation, penalties include fines, corrective labor, social work, or imprisonment.

Sakpatenti is an active and engaged partner of the United States in educating the public on IPR issues. Sakpatenti coordinates the government’s approach to the enforcement of IPR under the Interagency Coordination Council (Council) for IPR Enforcement. The Council is an efficient platform for government institutions to exchange their views on IPR enforcement issues. Georgia is improving its enforcement of IPR, but some problems persist, including the widespread use of unlicensed software and the availability of pirated video and audio recordings and other unlicensed content available online. The U.S. government Commercial Law Development Program continues to provide assistance to Sakpatenti and other government entities to build capacity to deal with IPR-related issues effectively.

With the aim of improving domestic legislation and harmonizing it with international standards, Sakpatenti has engaged in proposing amendments to existing legislation regulating IPR. For example, Sakpatenti continues work on the draft law “On Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications of Goods” in the framework of an EU-funded Twinning Project on “Establishing Efficient Protection and Control System of Geographical Indications (GIs) in Georgia.” The proposed legislative amendments address the state-controlled mechanism for the registration of appellations of origin and geographical indications, , obligation to use registered appellations of origin or geographical indications, define legal mechanisms to protect appellations of origin and geographical indications against infringement, and procedural specification for conducting substantive examinations of applications for appellations of origin and geographical indications.

In 2019, the Investigation Service of the Ministry of Finance of Georgia initiated 12 cases based on of Article 196 of the Criminal Code of Georgia governing unlawful use of trademark (service marks) or other commercial designations, six of which were initiated ex officio. As a result of these actions, the Georgian government seized 36,907 items of counterfeit goods worth approximately USD 53,000. Also in 2019, the Customs Department of Georgia issued 140 suspension orders on various goods entering Georgia, allowing them to confirm the legitimacy of the goods. In 102 cases, the rights holder and the purchaser of the goods agreed to destroy the infringing items. In 10 cases, the rights holder filed a lawsuit in court, and in the remaining cases the Customs Department was unable to prove the goods were counterfeit and so released the goods. The total value of the destroyed goods was around USD 51,000.

Georgia is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at: http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The National Bank of Georgia regulates the securities market. All market participants submit their reports in line with international standards. All listed companies must make public filings, which are then uploaded to the National Bank’s website, allowing investors to evaluate a company’s financial standing. The Georgian securities market includes the following licensed participants: a Stock Exchange, a Central Securities Depository, nine brokerage companies, and six registrars.

The Georgian Stock Exchange (GSE) is the only organized securities market in Georgia. Designed and established with the help of USAID and operating under a legal framework drafted with the assistance of American experts, the GSE complies with global best practices in securities trading and offers an efficient investment facility to both local and foreign investors. The GSE’s automated trading system can accommodate thousands of securities that can be traded by brokers from workstations on the GSE floor or remotely from their offices: https://gse.ge/en/ 

No law or regulation authorizes private firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association that limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation or control. Cross-shareholder or stable-shareholder arrangements are not used by private firms in Georgia. Georgian legislation does not protect private firms from takeovers. There are no regulations authorizing private firms to restrict the investment activity of foreign partners or to limit the ability of foreign partners to gain control over domestic enterprises.

The government and Central Bank (National Bank of Georgia) respect IMF Article VIII and do not impose any restrictions on payments and transfers in current international transactions.

Credit from commercial banks is available to foreign investors as well as domestic clients, although interest rates are high. Banks continue offering business, consumer, and mortgage loans.

The government adopted a new law in 2018 that introduced an accumulative pension scheme, which became effective on January 1, 2019. The pension scheme is mandatory for legally employed people under 40. For the self-employed and those above the age of 40, enrolment in the program is voluntary. The pension savings system applies to Georgian citizens, foreign citizens living in Georgia with permanent residency in the country, and stateless persons who are employed or self-employed and receive an income.

The government expects that that the new system will boost domestic capital market, as the pension funds will be invested within Georgia. The Pension Agency of Georgia made its first large scale investment in March 2020, when it invested 560 million GEL (around USD 200 million) in deposit certificates of high-rated Georgian commercial banks.

Money and Banking System

Banking is one of the fastest growing sectors in the Georgian economy. The banking sector is well-regulated and capitalized despite regional and global challenges faced in many neighboring countries. As of March 1, 2020, Georgia’s banking sector consists of 15 commercial banks, including 14 foreign-controlled banks, with 154 commercial bank branches and 830 service centers throughout the country. In January 2019, Georgian commercial banks held GEL 46.2 billion (around USD 15.5 billion) in total assets. As of early 2020, there were 17 insurance companies and 45 microfinance (MFI) organizations operating in Georgia. MFIs held GEL 500 million (USD155.5 million) in total assets as of January 1, 2020. Two Georgian banks are listed on the London Stock Exchange: TBC Bank (listed in 2014) and the Bank of Georgia (2006).

The National Bank of Georgia (NBG) is Georgia’s central bank, as defined by the Constitution. The rights and obligations of the NBG as the central bank, the principles of its activity, and the guarantee of its independence are defined in the Organic Law of Georgia on the National Bank of Georgia. The National Bank supervises the financial sector to facilitate the financial stability and transparency of the financial system, as well as to protect the rights of the sector’s consumers and investors. Through the Financial Monitoring Service of Georgia, a separate legal entity, the NBG undertakes measures against illicit income legalization and terrorism financing. In addition, the NBG is the government’s banker and fiscal agent. (www.nbg.gov.ge ).

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the Asian Development Bank (ABD), and other international development agencies have a variety of lending programs making credit available to large and small businesses in Georgia. Georgia’s two largest banks – TBC and Bank of Georgia – have correspondent banking relationships with the United States through Citibank, N.A.

Georgia does not restrict foreigners from establishing a bank account in Georgia.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Georgian law guarantees the right of an investor to convert and repatriate income after payment of all required taxes. The investor is also entitled to convert and repatriate any compensation received for expropriated property. Georgia has accepted the obligations of Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the IMF Articles of Agreement, effective as of December 20, 1996, to refrain from imposing restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions and from engaging in discriminatory currency arrangements or multiple currency practices without IMF approval. Parliament’s 2011 adoption of the Act of Economic Freedom further reinforced this provision.

Under the U.S.-Georgia BIT, the Georgian government guarantees that all money transfers relating to a covered investment by a U.S. investor can be made freely and without delay into and out of Georgia.

Foreign investors have the right to hold foreign currency accounts with authorized local banks. The sole legal tender in Georgia is the lari (GEL), which is traded on the Tbilisi Interbank Currency Exchange and in the foreign exchange bureau market.

The GEL’s official exchange rate is calculated based on transactions secured on the Interbank Foreign Exchange Market. Interbank trading with foreign currencies is organized via an international trading system (Bloomberg). Taking into consideration secured transactions, the weighted average exchange rate of the GEL against the USD is calculated and announced as the official exchange rate for the following day. The official exchange rate of the GEL against other foreign currencies is determined according to the rate on international markets or the issuer country’s domestic interbank currency market on the basis of cross-currency exchange rates. The cross-currency rates are acquired from the Reuters and Bloomberg information systems, and the corresponding webpages of central banks. The information is automatically received, calculated, and disseminated from these systems.

Georgia has a floating exchange rate. The National Bank of Georgia does not intend to peg the exchange rate and does not generally intervene in the foreign exchange market, except under certain circumstances when the GEL’s fluctuation has a high magnitude, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions, limitations, or delays involved remittances from overseas. Several Georgian banks participate in the SWIFT and Western Union interbank communication networks. Businesses report that it takes a maximum of three days for money transferred abroad from Georgia to reach a beneficiary’s account, unless otherwise provided by a customer’s order. There is no indication that remittance policies will be altered in the future. Travelers must declare at the border currency and securities in their possession valued at more than GEL 30,000 (around USD10,000).

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Georgia does not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Georgian government privatized most state-owned enterprises (SOEs). At the end of 2013, Georgian Railways, Georgian Oil and Gas Corporation (GOGC), Georgian State Electrosystem (GSE), Electricity System Commercial Operator (ESCO), and Enguri Hydropower plant were the major remaining SOEs. Of these companies, only Georgian Railways is a major market player. The energy-related companies largely implement the government’s energy policies and help manage the electricity market. There are also a number of Legal Entities of Public Law (LEPLs), independent bodies that carry out government functions, such as the Public Service Halls.

During 2012, Georgian Railways, GOGC, GSE, and ESCO’s assets were placed under the Partnership Fund, a state-run fund to facilitate foreign investment into new projects. In addition, the fund controls 25 percent of shares in the TELASI Electricity Distribution Company. The fund has stated its intention to sell those shares but has not yet done so. (www.fund.ge)

Despite state ownership, SOEs act under the general terms of the Entrepreneurial Law. Georgian Railway and GOGC have supervisory boards, while GSE and ESCO do not. The SOEs’ individual charters describe their procedures and policies. Georgia encourages its SOEs to adhere to the OECD’s Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs.

The senior management of SOEs report to Supervisory Boards where they exist (GRW, GOGC); in other cases they report to the line ministries. Governmental officials can be on the supervisory board of the SOEs, and the Partnership Fund has five key governmental officials on its board. SOEs explicitly are not obligated to consult with government officials before making business decisions, but informal consultations take place depending on the scale and importance of the issue.

To ensure the transparency and accountability of state business decisions and operations, SOEs have regular outside audits and publish annual reports. SOEs with more than 50 percent state ownership are obliged to follow the State Procurement Law and make procurements via public tender. The Partnership Fund, GRW and GOGC are subject to valuation by international rating agencies. There is no legal requirement for SOEs to publish annual report or to submit their books for independent audit, but this is done in practiced. In addition, GRW and GOGC are Eurobond issuer companies and therefore are required to publish reports. SOEs are subject to the same domestic accounting standards and rules. These standards are comparable to international financial reporting standards. No SOEs exercise delegated governmental powers.

Privatization Program

Georgia’s government has privatized most large SOEs. Successful privatization projects include major assets in energy generation and distribution, telecommunications, water utilities, port facilities, and real estate sectors. A list of entities available to be privatized can be found on the following website: www.privatization.ge. However, the government does not maintain a comprehensive website listing all privatization offers. The ministries covering the relevant sector of the economy handles the privatization information. Foreign investors are welcome to participate in privatization programs. Further information is also available at a website maintained by the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia at: www.amcham.ge .

In 2019, the government offered mining deposits for privatization in addition to other state-owned assets through the 100 Investment Offers for Business  initiative. Within the initiative, the government selected mineral resource deposits from various regions to sell at e-auctions . The mineral deposits include gold and copper-polymetallic, ore, bentonite clay, volcanic slag, peat, diatomite, tuff breccia, zeolite-containing tuff, basalt, marble, limestone, underground fresh water, and carbonated mineral water. Mining license prices vary and depend on the type of mineral resource and its price.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

While the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not highly developed in Georgia, it is growing. Most large companies engage in charity projects and public outreach as part of their marketing strategy. The American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia has a Corporate CSR committee that works with member companies on CSR issues. The Global Compact, a worldwide group of UN agencies, private businesses, and civil society groups promoting responsible corporate citizenship, is active in Georgia. The Eurasia Partnership Foundation launched a program on corporate social investment to promote greater private company engagement in addressing Georgia’s development needs.

The Georgian government undertook an OECD CSR policy review in 2016 based on the OECD Policy Framework for Investment. The report states that Georgia engages regularly with the OECD. Georgia participates in the OECD Eurasia Competitiveness Program, which works with countries in the region to unleash their economic and employment potential. Georgia participates in the OECD Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which provides a regional forum for promotion of anti-corruption activities, exchange of information on best practices, and donor coordination. Georgia is a member of the Task Force for the Implementation of the Environmental Action Program (EAP Task Force), which aims to address the heavy environmental legacy of the Soviet development model. Additionally, the Support for Improvement in Governance and Management (SIGMA) program, a joint initiative of the EU and the OECD, has provided assistance to Georgia since 2008, to strengthen public governance systems and public administration capacities. Georgia participates in the OECD Committee on Fiscal Affairs’ Base Erosion and Profit Sharing (BEPS) Project.

Georgia is not a party to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and/or Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights despite extractive manganese, gold, and copper ore industries operating in Georgia. Among the local tools promoting CSR principles and policies in such industries are commercial chambers, the Public Defender’s office, the Business Ombudsman under the Prime Minister’s Office, sectoral trade unions, and Georgia’s Trade Union Confederation (GTUC).

9. Corruption

Georgia has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption. Georgia criminalizes bribery under Articles 332-342 of the Criminal Code. Senior public officials must file financial disclosure forms, which are available online, and Georgian legislation provides for the civil forfeiture of undocumented assets of public officials who are charged with corruption-related offenses. Penalties for accepting a bribe start at six years in prison and can extend to 15 years, depending on the circumstances. Penalties for giving a bribe can include a fine, a minimum prison sentence of two years, or both. In aggravated circumstances, when a bribe is given to commit an illegal act, the penalty is from four to seven years. Abuse of authority and exceeding authority by public servants are criminal acts under Articles 332 and 333 of the criminal code and carry a maximum penalty of eight years imprisonment. The definition of a public official includes foreign public officials and employees of international organizations and courts. White collar crimes, such as bribery, fall under the investigative jurisdiction of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Georgia is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Georgia has, however, ratified the UN Convention against Corruption. Georgia cooperates with the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and the OECD’s Anti-Corruption Network for Transition Economies (ACN).

Following its assessment of Georgia in June 2016, the OECD released a report in September 2016 that concluded Georgia had achieved remarkable progress in eliminating petty corruption in public administration and should now focus on combating high-level and complex corruption. The report commends Georgia’s mechanism for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of its Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plan, as well as the role given to civil society in this process. It also welcomes the adoption of a new Law on Civil Service and recommends that the remaining legislation to implement civil service reforms is adopted without delay. The report notes that the Civil Service Bureau and Human Resources units in state entities should be strengthened to ensure the implementation of the required reforms. The report highlights Georgia’s good track record in prosecuting corruption crimes and in using modern methods to confiscate criminal proceeds. It recommends that Georgia increase enforcement of corporate liability and the prosecution of foreign bribery to address the perception of corruption among local government officials. The full report is available at: http://www.oecd.org/corruption/anti-bribery/Georgia-Round-4-Monitoring-Report-ENG.pdf .

Since 2003, Georgia has significantly improved its ranking in Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) report.

Transparency International (TI) ranked Georgia 44th out of 180 countries in the 2019 edition  of its Corruption Perceptions Index (the same rank as Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, and Latvia).

While Georgia has been successful in fighting visible, low-level corruption, Georgia remains vulnerable to what Transparency International calls “elite” corruption: high-level officials exploiting legal loopholes for personal enrichment, status, or retribution. Although the evidence is mostly anecdotal, this form of corruption, or the perception of its existence, has the potential to erode public and investor confidence in Georgia’s institutions and the investment environment. Corruption remains a potential problem in public procurement processes, public administration practices, and the judicial system due to unclear laws and ethical standards.

Resources to Report Corruption

Government agencies responsible for combating corruption:

Anti-Corruption Agency at the State Security Service of Georgia
Address: 72, Vazha Pshavela Ave.
Tel: +995-32-241-20-28

Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia
Mr. Gocha Gochashvili,
Head of Division of Criminal Prosecution of Corruption CrimesAddress: 24, Gorgasali Street, Tbilisi
Tel: +995-32-240-52-52
Email: ggochashvili@pog.gov.ge

Ministry of Justice of Georgia
Secretariat of the Anti-Corruption Council
Address: 24, Gorgasali Street, Tbilisi
Tel: +995-32-240-58-04
Email: ACCouncil@justice.gov.ge

Business Ombudsman’s Office
Mr. Mikheil Daushvili, Ombudsman
Address: 7, Ingorokva street
Hotline: +995 32 2 282828
Email: ask@businessombudsman.ge

Non-governmental organization:
Ms. Eka Gigauri
Director
Transparency International
26, Rustaveli Ave, 0108, Tbilisi, Georgia
Telephone: +995-32-292-14-03
ekag@transparency.ge

10. Political and Security Environment

The United States established diplomatic relations with Georgia in 1992, following Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Since independence, Georgia has made impressive progress fighting corruption, developing modern state institutions, and enhancing global security. The United States is committed to helping Georgia deepen Euro-Atlantic ties and strengthen its democratic institutions.

In August 2008, tensions in the region of South Ossetia culminated in a brief war between Georgia and Russia. Russia invaded and occupied areas of undisputed Georgian territory. Russia continues to occupy these Georgian regions, and the central government in Tbilisi does not have effective control over these areas. The United States supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and does not recognize the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia as independent. While South Ossetia and Abkhazia – which Russian troops and border guards have long occupied without Georgia’s consent – have declared independence, only Russia, Nauru, Nicaragua, Syria, and Venezuela recognize them as independent states. Tensions still exist both inside the occupied territories and near the administrative boundary lines (ABL). A Russian military build-up along the South Ossetia ABL dramatically escalated tensions in August 2019. In addition, Russian “border” guards regularly patrol the ABLs and have increasingly detained people trying to cross the ABLs. A number of attacks, criminal incidents, and kidnappings have occurred in and around the ABLs as well. While none of the activity has been anti-American in nature, there is a high risk of travelers finding themselves in a wrong place/wrong time situation. In addition, unexploded ordnance from previous conflicts poses a danger near the ABL of South Ossetia. However, other parts of Georgia, including Tbilisi, are not directly affected.

Per Georgian law, it is illegal to undertake any type of economic activity in Abkhazia or South Ossetia if such activities require permits, licenses, or registration in accordance with Georgian legislation. Laws also ban mineral exploration, money transfers, and international transit via Abkhazia or South Ossetia.

Violent street protests are uncommon, but there were significant clashes in June 2019 when protesters attempted to enter Parliament. Hundreds were injured, including some who suffered severe eye injuries due to police use of rubber bullets. Generally, police have fulfilled their duty to maintain order even in cases of unannounced protests.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Georgia offers skilled and unskilled labor at attractive costs compared not only to Western European and American standards, but also to Eastern European standards. Skilled labor availability in the engineering field remains underdeveloped. The official unemployment rate was 11.6 percent in 2019, according to State Department of Statistics, but actual unemployment is considerably higher given significant underemployment in the working population, especially in rural regions where subsistence farmers are considered employed for statistical purposes and job creation has remained a particular challenge. Some investment agreements between the Georgian government and private parties have included mandates for the contracting of local labor for positions below the management or executive level.

Georgia’s Labor Code defines the minimum age for employment (16), standard work hours (40 per week), and annual leave (24 calendar days). The law allows for other wage and hour issues to be agreed between the employer and employee. The amendments to the Labor Code in July 2013 defined the grounds for termination and severance pay for an employee at the time of termination, including the payment term. An employer is obliged to give compensation of not less than one month’s salary to an employee within thirty (30) days. Additionally, an employer is obliged to give the dismissed employee a written description of the grounds for termination within seven days after an employee’s request. The Labor Code also prescribes rules for paying overtime labor (over 40 hours), which must be paid at an increased hourly rate.

The Labor Code specifies essential terms for labor contracts, including: the starting date and the duration of labor relations, working hours and holiday time, location of workplace, position and type of work, amount of salary and its payment, overtime work and its payment, the duration of paid and unpaid vacation and leave, and rules for granting leave. The code states that the duration of a business day for an underage person (ages 16 to 18) should not exceed 36 hours per week. Regulations prohibit interference in union activities and discrimination of an employee due to union membership. The Labor Code amendments mandate the government to reestablish a labor inspectorate to ensure adherence to labor safety standards. The labor inspection program under the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs, employs 25 labor inspectors, although in 2019 the government increased the number of inspectors to 100 to deal with increasing demand, and the vacancies are still to be filled. In 2018, Parliament passed the Occupational Safety, and Health (OSH) Law, that gave the government power to make unannounced inspections in some circumstances in companies operating among “hard, harmful, hazardous, and increased danger” occupations. Subsequent amendments that entered into force in September 2019 allowed unannounced inspections across all sectors of the economy. Employees are entitled to up to 183 days (six months) of paid maternity leave, which can last up to 24 months when combined with unpaid leave. The state subsidizes leave taken for pregnancy, childbirth, childcare, and adoption of a newborn. An employer and employee may agree on additional compensation. The Labor Code permits non-competition clauses in contracts; this provision may remain in force even after the termination of employment.

Employees are entitled to up to 183 days (six months) of paid maternity leave, which can last up to 24 months when combined with unpaid leave. The state subsidizes leave taken for pregnancy, childbirth, childcare, and adoption of a newborn. An employer and employee may agree on additional compensation. The Labor Code permits non-competition clauses in contracts; this provision may remain in force even after the termination of employment.

The government adopted a new law in 2018 establishing an accumulative pension scheme, which came into effect as of January 1, 2019. The pension is mandatory for legally employed persons under 40, while for the self-employed and those above the age of 40 enrollment in the program is voluntary. Each employee, employer, and the government must each make a contribution of two percent of the employee’s gross income to an individual retirement account. As for the self-employed, they will make a deposit of four percent of their income, and the state will match another two per cent. Employees pay a flat 20 percent income tax. The state social security system provides a modest pension and maternity benefits. The minimum monthly pension is GEL 220 (USD 73). The average monthly salary across the economy in 2019 was GEL 1,217 (around USD 420). The minimum wage requirement for state sector employees is GEL115 (USD 40) per month. Legislation on the official minimum wage in the private sector has not changed since the early 1990s and stands at GEL 20 (USD 7) per month, but is not applied in practice and is not being used for reference.

The law generally provides for the right of most workers, including government employees, to form and join independent unions, to legally strike, and to bargain collectively. Employers are not obliged, however, to engage in collective bargaining, even if a trade union or a group of employees wishes to do so. While strikes are not limited in length, the law limits lockouts to 90 days. A court may determine the legality of a strike, and violators of strike rules can face up to two years in prison. Although the law prohibits employers from discriminating against union members or union-organizing activities in general terms, it does not explicitly require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. Certain categories of workers related to “human life and health,” as defined by the government, were not allowed to strike. The International Labor Organization noted the government’s list of such services included some it did not believe constituted essential services directly related to human life and health. Workers generally exercised their right to strike in accordance with the law.

Georgia has ratified some ILO conventions, including the Forced Labor Convention of 1930, the Paid Holiday Convention of 1936, the Anti-Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention of 1951, the Human Resources Development Convention of 1975, the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention of 1949, the Equal Remuneration Convention of 1951, the Abolition of Forced Labor Convention of 1957, the Employment Policy Convention of 1964, and the Minimum Age Convention of 1973.

Information on labor related issues is also available in the State Department’s annual reports: Human Right Report: http://georgia.usembassy.gov/officialreports/hrr.html. Child Labor Report: http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/georgia.htm .

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Since 1993, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), predecessor of the DFC, committed over USD 600 million in financing and political risk insurance for more than 60 projects in Georgia. DFC investment in Georgia has focused on the following sectors: credit for small and medium-sized enterprises, and projects in the infrastructure, franchising, education, manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, and health care sectors. Examples of 2019 of projects include a USD 50 million loan to finance the development, construction, and operation of a multifunctional general cargo, dry bulk, and container port terminal at Pace Terminal in Poti port, and a USD 15 million loan to Liberty Bank to upgrade Liberty Bank’s infrastructure, including the roll-out of approximately 500 ATMs, to help make formal financial services more accessible for SMEs and underbanked populations.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 17,700 2018 17.6 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/georgia
Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, other
Foreign Direct Investment Year Amount Year Amount
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 99 2018 N/A https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host Country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 108 2018 108 https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data: GeoStat (Georgia National Statistics Department)

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment (2018) Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 18,258 100% Total Outward N/A 100%
Azerbaijan 3,998 21.9% N/A N/A N/A
UK 2,498 13.7% N/A N/A N/A
Netherlands 1,750 9.7% N/A N/A N/A
Cyprus 1,270 6.7% N/A N/A N/A
Turkey 1,095 6% N/A N/A N/A

Source: IMF

The IMF data on Direct Investment are inconsistent with Georgia’s Statistic Agency’s published data for 2018. The IMF report does not include two countries listed in Georgia’s published data for 2018, the United States and China, in fourth and fifth place, respectively.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

United States Embassy, Political/Economic Section
29 Georgian-American Friendship Avenue, Tbilisi
Mackenzie Rowe, Economic Unit Chief +995-32-2-27-7000
RoweML2@state.gov

Investment Climate Statements
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select a Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future