China

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

China continues to be one of the largest recipients of global FDI due to a relatively high economic growth rate, growing middle class, and an expanding consumer base that demands diverse, high quality products.  FDI has historically played an essential role in China’s economic development. In recent years, due to stagnant FDI growth and gaps in China’s domestic technology and labor capabilities, Chinese government officials have prioritized promoting relatively friendly FDI policies promising market access expansion and national treatment for foreign enterprises through general improvements to the business environment. They also have made efforts to strengthen China’s legal and regulatory framework to enhance broader market-based competition.  Despite these efforts, the on-the-ground reality for foreign investors in China is that the operating environment still remains closed to many foreign investments across a wide range of industries.

In 2018, China issued the nationwide negative list that opened up a few new sectors to foreign investment and promised future improvements to the investment climate, such as leveling the playing field and providing equal treatment to foreign enterprises.  However, despite these reforms, FDI to China has remained relatively stagnant in the past few years. According to MOFCOM, total FDI flows to China slightly increased from about USD126 billion in 2017 to just over USD135 billion in 2018, signaling that modest market openings have been insufficient to generate significant foreign investor interest in the market.  Rather, foreign investors have continued to perceive that the playing field is tilted towards domestic companies. Foreign investors have continued to express frustration that China, despite continued promises of providing national treatment for foreign investors, has continued to selectively apply administrative approvals and licenses and broadly employ industrial policies to protect domestic firms through subsidies, preferential financing, and selective legal and regulatory enforcement.  They also have continued to express frustration over China’s weak protection and enforcement of IPR; corruption; discriminatory and non-transparent anti-monopoly enforcement that forces foreign companies to license technology at below-market prices; excessive cybersecurity and personal data-related requirements; increased emphasis on requirements to include CCP cells in foreign enterprises; and an unreliable legal system lacking in both transparency and rule of law.

China seeks to support inbound FDI through the MOFCOM “Invest in China” website (www.fdi.gov.cn  ).  MOFCOM publishes on this site laws and regulations, economic statistics, investment projects, news articles, and other relevant information about investing in China.  In addition, each province has a provincial-level investment promotion agency that operates under the guidance of local-level commerce departments.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

In June 2018, the Chinese government issued the nationwide negative list for foreign investment that replaced the Foreign Investment Catalogue.  The negative list identifies industries and economic sectors restricted or prohibited to foreign investment. Unlike the previous catalogue that used a “positive list” approach for foreign investment, the negative list removed “encouraged” investment categories and restructured the document to group restrictions and prohibitions by industry and economic sector.  Foreign investors wanting to invest in industries not on the negative list are no longer required to obtain pre-approval from MOFCOM and only need to register their investment.

The 2018 foreign investment negative list made minor modifications to some industries, reducing the number of restrictions and prohibitions from 63 to 48 sectors.  Changes included: some openings in automobile manufacturing and financial services; removal of restrictions on seed production (except for wheat and corn) and wholesale merchandizing of rice, wheat, and corn; removal of Chinese control requirements for power grids, building rail trunk lines, and operating passenger rail services; removal of joint venture requirements for rare earth processing and international shipping; removal of control requirements for international shipping agencies and surveying firms; and removal of the prohibition on internet cafés.  While market openings are always welcomed by U.S. businesses, many foreign investors remain underwhelmed and disappointed by Chinese government’s lack of ambition and refusal to provide more significant liberalization. Foreign investors continue to point out these openings should have happened years ago and now have occurred mainly in industries that domestic Chinese companies already dominate.

The Chinese language version of the 2018 Nationwide Negative List: http://www.ndrc.gov.cn/zcfb/zcfbl/201806/W020180628640822720353.pdf .

Ownership Restrictions

The foreign investment negative list restricts investments in certain industries by requiring foreign companies enter into joint ventures with a Chinese partner, imposing control requirements to ensure control is maintained by a Chinese national, and applying specific equity caps.  Below are just a few examples of these investment restrictions:

Examples of foreign investments that require an equity joint venture or cooperative joint venture for foreign investment include:

  • Exploration and development of oil and natural gas;
  • Printing publications;
  • Foreign invested automobile companies are limited to two or fewer JVs for the same type of vehicle;
  • Market research;
  • Preschool, general high school, and higher education institutes (which are also required to be led by a Chinese partner);
  • General Aviation;
  • Companies for forestry, agriculture, and fisheries;
  • Establishment of medical institutions; and
  • Commercial and passenger vehicle manufacturing.

Examples of foreign investments requiring Chinese control include:

  • Selective breeding and seed production for new varieties of wheat and corn;
  • Construction and operation of nuclear power plants;
  • The construction and operation of the city gas, heat, and water supply and drainage pipe networks in cities with a population of more than 500,000;
  • Water transport companies (domestic);
  • Domestic shipping agencies;
  • General aviation companies;
  • The construction and operation of civilian airports;
  • The establishment and operation of cinemas;
  • Basic telecommunication services;
  • Radio and television listenership and viewership market research; and
  • Performance agencies.

Examples of foreign investment equity caps include:

  • 50 percent in automobile manufacturing (except special and new energy vehicles);
  • 50 percent in value-added telecom services (excepting e-commerce);
  • 51 percent in life insurance firms;
  • 51 percent in securities companies;
  • 51 percent futures companies;
  • 51 percent in security investment fund management companies; and
  • 50 percent in manufacturing of commercial and passenger vehicles.

Investment restrictions that require Chinese control or force a U.S. company to form a joint venture partnership with a Chinese counterpart are often used as a pretext to compel foreign investors to transfer technology against the threat of forfeiting the opportunity to participate in China’s market.  Foreign companies have reported these dictates and decisions often are not made in writing but rather behind closed doors and are thus difficult to attribute as official Chinese government policy. Establishing a foreign investment requires passing through an extensive and non-transparent approval process to gain licensing and other necessary approvals, which gives broad discretion to Chinese authorities to impose deal-specific conditions beyond written legal requirements in a blatant effort to support industrial policy goals that bolster the technological capabilities of local competitors.  Foreign investors are also often deterred from publicly raising instances of technology coercion for fear of retaliation by the Chinese government.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

China is not a member of the OECD.  The OECD Council decided to establish a country program of dialogue and co-operation with China in October 1995.  The most recent OECD Investment Policy Review for China was completed in 2008 and a new review is currently underway.

OECD 2008 report: http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investment-policy/oecdinvestmentpolicyreviews-china2008encouragingresponsiblebusinessconduct.htm  .

In 2013, the OECD published a working paper entitled “China Investment Policy: An Update,” which provided updates on China’s investment policy since the publication of the 2008 Investment Policy Review.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

China became a member of the WTO in 2001.  WTO membership boosted China’s economic growth and advanced its legal and governmental reforms.  The sixth and most recent WTO Investment Trade Review for China was completed in 2018. The report highlighted that China continues to be one of the largest destinations for FDI with inflows mainly in manufacturing, real-estate, leasing and business services, and wholesale and retail trade.  The report noted changes to China’s foreign investment regime that now relies on the nationwide negative list and also noted that pilot FTZs use a less restrictive negative list as a testbed for reform and opening.

Business Facilitation

China made progress in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey by moving from 78th in 2017 up to 46th place in 2018 out of 190 economies.  This was accomplished through regulatory reforms that helped streamline some business processes including improvements related to cross-border trading, setting up electricity, electronic tax payments, and land registration.  This ranking, while highlighting business registration improvements that benefit both domestic and foreign companies, does not account for major challenges U.S. businesses face in China like IPR protection and forced technology transfer.

The Government Enterprise Registration (GER), an initiative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), gave China a low score of 1.5 out of 10 on its website for registering and obtaining a business license.  In previous years, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) was responsible for business license approval. In March 2018, the Chinese government announced a major restructuring of government agencies and created the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) that is now responsible for business registration processes.  According to GER, SAMR’s Chinese website lacks even basic information, such as what registrations are required and how they are to be conducted.

The State Council, which is China’s chief administrative authority, in recent years has reduced red tape by eliminating hundreds of administrative licenses and delegating administrative approval power across a range of sectors.  The number of investment projects subject to central government approval has reportedly dropped significantly. The State Council also has set up a website in English, which is more user-friendly than SAMR’s website, to help foreign investors looking to do business in China.

The State Council Information on Doing Business in China: http://english.gov.cn/services/doingbusiness  

The Department of Foreign Investment Administration within MOFCOM is responsible for foreign investment promotion in China, including promotion activities, coordinating with investment promotion agencies at the provincial and municipal levels, engaging with international economic organizations and business associations, and conducting research related to FDI into China.  MOFCOM also maintains the “Invest in China” website.

MOFCOM “Invest in China” Information: http://www.fdi.gov.cn/1800000121_10000041_8.html  

Despite recent efforts by the Chinese government to streamline business registration procedures, foreign companies still complain about the challenges they face when setting up a business.  In addition, U.S. companies complain they are treated differently from domestic companies when setting up an investment, which is an added market access barrier for U.S. companies. Numerous companies offer consulting, legal, and accounting services for establishing wholly foreign-owned enterprises, partnership enterprises, joint ventures, and representative offices in China.  The differences among these corporate entities are significant, and investors should review their options carefully with an experienced advisor before choosing a particular Chinese corporate entity or investment vehicle.

Outward Investment

Since 2001, China has initiated a “going-out” investment policy that has evolved over the past two decades.  At first, the Chinese government mainly encouraged SOEs to go abroad and acquire primarily energy investments to facilitate greater market access for Chinese exports in certain foreign markets.  As Chinese investors gained experience, and as China’s economy grew and diversified, China’s investments also have diversified with both state and private enterprise investments in all industries and economic sectors.  While China’s outbound investment levels in 2018 were significantly less than the record-setting investments levels in 2016, China was still one of the largest global outbound investors in the world. According to MOFCOM outbound investment data, 2018 total outbound direct investment (ODI) increased less than one percent compared to 2017 figures.  There was a significant drop in Chinese outbound investment to the United States and other North American countries that traditionally have accounted for a significant portion of China’s ODI. In some European countries, especially the United Kingdom, ODI generally increased. In One Belt, One Road (OBOR) countries, there has been a general increase in investment activity; however, OBOR investment deals were generally relatively small dollar amounts and constituted only a small percentage of overall Chinese ODI.

In August 2017, in reaction to concerns about capital outflows and exchange rate volatility, the Chinese government issued guidance to curb what it deemed to be “irrational” outbound investments and created “encouraged,” “restricted,” and “prohibited” outbound investment categories to guide Chinese investors.  The guidelines restricted Chinese outbound investment in sectors like property, hotels, cinemas, entertainment, sports teams, and “financial investments that create funds that are not tied to specific investment projects.” The guidance encouraged outbound investment in sectors that supported Chinese industrial policy, such as Strategic Emerging Industries (SEI) and MIC 2025, by acquiring advanced manufacturing and high-technology assets.  MIC 2025’s main aim is to transform China into an innovation-based economy that can better compete against – and eventually outperform – advanced economies in 10 key high-tech sectors, including: new energy vehicles, next-generation IT, biotechnology, new materials, aerospace, oceans engineering and ships, railway, robotics, power equipment, and agriculture machinery. Chinese firms in MIC 2025 industries often receive preferential treatment in the form of preferred financing, subsidies, and access to an opaque network of investors to promote and provide incentives for outbound investment in key sectors.  The outbound investment guidance also encourages investments that promote China’s OBOR development strategy, which seeks to create connectivity and cooperation agreements between China and countries along the Chinese-designated “Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road” through an expansion of infrastructure investment, construction materials, real estate, power grids, etc.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

China has 109 Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in force and multiple Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with investment chapters.  Generally speaking, these agreements cover topics like expropriation, most-favored-nation treatment, repatriation of investment proceeds, and arbitration mechanisms.  Relative to U.S.-negotiated BITs and FTA investment chapters, Chinese agreements are generally considered to be weaker and offer less protections to foreign investors.

A list of China’s signed BITs:

The United States and China last held BIT negotiations in January 2017.  China has been in active bilateral investment agreement negotiations with the EU since 2013.  The two sides have exchanged market access offers and have expressed an intent to conclude talks by 2020.  China also has negotiated 17 FTAs with trade and investment partners, is currently negotiating 14 FTAs and FTA-upgrades, and is considering eight further potential FTA and FTA-upgrade negotiations.  China’s existing FTA partners are Maldives, Georgia, ASEAN, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Iceland, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan.  China concluded its FTAs with Maldives and Georgia in 2017.

China’s signed FTAs:

The United States and China concluded a bilateral taxation treaty in 1984.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In assessing China’s regulatory governance effectiveness, the World Bank Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance gave China a composite score of 1.75 out 5 points.  The World Bank attributed China’s relatively low score to the futility of foreign companies appealing administrative authorities’ decisions, given partial courts; not having laws and regulations in one accessible place that is updated regularly; the lack of impact assessments conducted prior to issuing new laws; and other concerns about public comments and transparency.

World Bank Rule Making Information: http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/china  

In various business climate surveys, U.S. businesses operating in China consistently cite arbitrary legal enforcement and the lack of regulatory transparency among the top challenges of doing business in China.  These challenges stem from a complex legal and regulatory system that provides government regulators and authorities broad discretion to selectively enforce regulations, rules, and other guidelines in an inconsistent and impartial manner, often to the detriment of foreign investor interests.  Moreover, regulators are often allowed to hinder fair competition by allowing authorities to ignore Chinese legal transgressors while at the same time strictly enforcing regulations selectively against foreign companies.

Another compounding problem is that Chinese government agencies rely on rules and enforcement guidelines that often are not published or even part of the formal legal and regulatory system.  “Normative Documents” (opinions, circulars, notices, etc.), or quasi-legal measures used to address situations where there is no explicit law or administrative regulation, are often not made available for public comment or even published, yet are binding in practice upon parties active in the Chinese market.  As a result, foreign investors are often confronted with a regulatory system rife with inconsistencies that hinders business confidence and generates confusion for U.S. businesses operating in China.

One of China’s WTO accession commitments was to establish an official journal dedicated to the publication of laws, regulations, and other measures pertaining to or affecting trade in goods, services, Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), or the control of foreign exchange.  The State Council’s Legislative Affairs Office (SCLAO) issued two regulations instructing Chinese agencies to comply with this WTO obligation and also issued Interim Measures on Public Comment Solicitation of Laws and Regulations and the Circular on Public Comment Solicitation of Department Rules, which required government agencies to post draft regulations and departmental rules on the official SCLAO website for a 30-day public comment period.  Despite the fact this requirement has been mandated by Chinese law and was part of the China’s WTO accession commitments, Chinese ministries under the State Council continue to post only some draft administrative regulations and departmental rules on the SCLAO website.  When drafts are posted for public comment, the comment period often is less than the required 30 days.

China’s proposed draft regulations are often drafted without using scientific studies or quantitative analysis to assess the regulation’s impact.  When Chinese officials claim an assessment was made, the methodology of the study and the results are not made available to the public. When draft regulations are available for public comment, it is unclear what impact third-party comments have on the final regulation.  Many U.S. stakeholders have complained of the futility of the public comment process in China, often concluding that the lack of transparency in regulation drafting is purposeful and driven primarily by industrial policy goals and other anti-competitive factors that are often inconsistent with market-based principles.  In addition, foreign parties are often restricted from full participation in Chinese standardization activities, potentially providing Chinese competitors opportunity to develop standards inconsistent with international norms and detrimental to foreign investor interests.

In China’s state-dominated economic system, it is impossible to assess the motivating factors behind state action.  The relationships are often blurred between the CCP, the Chinese government, Chinese business (state and private owned), and other Chinese stakeholders that make up the domestic economy.  Foreign invested enterprises perceive that China prioritizes political goals, industrial policies, and a desire to protect social stability at the expense of foreign investors, fairness, and overall rule of law.  These blurred lines are on full display in some industries that have Chinese Self-Regulatory Organizations (SROs) that make licensing decisions. For instance, a Chinese financial institution who is a direct competitor to a foreign enterprise applying for a license may be a voting member of the governing SRO and can either influence other SRO members or even directly adjudicate the application of the foreign license.  To protect market share and competitive position, this company likely has an incentive to disapprove the license application, further hindering fair competition in the industry or economic sector.

For accounting standards, Chinese companies use the Chinese Accounting Standards for Business Enterprises (ASBE) for all financial reporting within mainland China.  Companies listed overseas (including in Hong Kong) may choose to use ASBE, the International Financial Reporting Standards, or Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standards.

International Regulatory Considerations

China has been a member of the WTO since 2001.  As part of its accession agreement, China agreed to notify the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Committee) of all draft technical regulations.  Compliance with this WTO commitment is something Chinese officials have promised in previous dialogues with U.S. government officials. The United States remains concerned that China continues to issue draft technical regulations without proper notification to the TBT Committee

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Chinese legal system is based on a civil law model that borrowed heavily from the legal systems of Germany and France but retains Chinese legal characteristics.  The rules governing commercial activities are found in various laws, regulations, and judicial interpretations, including China’s civil law, contract law, partnership enterprises law, security law, insurance law, enterprises bankruptcy law, labor law, and several interpretations and regulations issued by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).  While China does not have specialized commercial courts, it has created specialized courts and tribunals for the hearing of intellectual property disputes. In 2014, China launched three intellectual property (IP) courts in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. In October 2018, the National People’s Congress approved the establishment of an national-level appellate tribunal within the SPC to hear civil and administrative appeals of technically complex IP cases .

China’s Constitution and various laws provide contradictory statements about court independence and the right of judges to exercise adjudicative power free from interference by administrative organs, public organizations, and/or powerful individuals.  However in practice, courts are heavily influenced by Chinese regulators. Moreover, the Chinese Constitution established that the “leadership of the Communist Party” is supreme, which in practices makes judges susceptible to party pressure on commercial decisions impacting foreign investors.  This trend of central party influence in all areas, not just in the legal system, has only been strengthened by President Xi Jinping’s efforts to consolidate political power and promote the role of the party in all economic activities. Other reasons for judicial interference may include:

  • Courts fall under the jurisdiction of local governments;
  • Court budgets are appropriated by local administrative authorities;
  • Judges in China have administrative ranks and are managed as administrative officials;
  • The CCP is in charge of the appointment, dismissal, transfer, and promotion of administrative officials;
  • China’s Constitution stipulates that local legislatures appoint and supervise the courts; and
  • Corruption may also influence local court decisions.

While in limited cases U.S. companies have received favorable outcomes from China’s courts, the U.S. business community consistently reports that Chinese courts, particularly at lower levels, are susceptible to outside political influence (particularly from local governments), lack the sophistication and educational background needed to understand complex commercial disputes, and operate without transparency.  U.S. companies often avoid challenging administrative decisions or bringing commercial disputes before a local court because of perceptions that these efforts would be futile and for fear of future retaliation by government officials.

Reports of business disputes involving violence, death threats, hostage-taking, and travel bans involving Americans continue to be prevalent.  However, American citizens and foreigners in general do not appear to be more likely than Chinese nationals to be subject to this kind of coercive treatment.  Police are often reluctant to intervene in what they consider internal contract disputes.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The legal and regulatory framework in China controlling foreign direct investment activities is more restrictive and less transparent across-the-board compared to the investment frameworks of developed countries, including the United States.  China has made efforts to unify its foreign investment laws and clarify prohibited and restricted industries in the negative list.

On March 17, 2019 China’s National People’s Congress passed the Foreign Investment Law (FIL) that intends to replace existing foreign investment laws.  This law will go into effect on January 1, 2020 and will replace the previous foreign investment framework based on three foreign-invested entity laws: the China-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the China-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law, and the Foreign-Invested Enterprise (FIE) Law.  The FIL provides a five-year transition period for foreign enterprises established under previous foreign investment laws, after which all foreign enterprises will be subject to similar laws as domestic companies, like the company law, the enterprise law, etc.

In addition to these foreign investment laws, multiple implementation guidelines and other administrative regulations issued by the State Council that are directly derived from the law also affect foreign investment.  Under the three current foreign investment laws, such implementation guidelines include:

  • Implementation Regulations of the China-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprises Law;
  • Implementation Regulations of the China-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law;
  • Implementation Regulations of the FIE Law;
  • State Council Provisions on Encouraging Foreign Investment;
  • Provisions on Guiding the Direction of Foreign Investment; and
  • Administrative Provisions on Foreign Investment to Telecom Enterprises.

In addition to the three central-level laws mentioned above, there are also over 1,000 rules and regulatory documents related to foreign investment in China,  issued by government ministries, including:

  • the Foreign Investment Negative List;
  • Provisions on Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors;
  • Administrative Provisions on Foreign Investment in Road Transportation Industry;
  • Interim Provisions on Foreign Investment in Cinemas;
  • Administrative Measures on Foreign Investment in Commercial Areas;
  • Administrative Measures on Ratification of Foreign Invested Projects;
  • Administrative Measures on Foreign Investment in Distribution Enterprises of Books, Newspapers, and Periodicals;
  • Provision on the Establishment of Investment Companies by Foreign Investors; and
  • Administrative Measures on Strategic Investment in Listed Companies by Foreign Investors.

The State Council has yet to provide a timeframe for new implementation guidelines for the Foreign Investment Law that will replace the implementation guidelines under the previous foreign investment system.  While the FIL reiterates existing Chinese commitments in regards to certain elements of the business environment, including IP protection for foreign-invested enterprises, details on implementation and the enforcement mechanisms available to foreign investors have yet to be provided.

In addition to central-level laws and implementation guidelines, local regulators and governments also enact their own regulations, rules, and guidelines that directly impact foreign investment in their geographical area.  Examples include the Wuhan Administration Regulation on Foreign-Invested Enterprises and Shanghai’s Municipal Administration Measures on Land Usage of Foreign-Invested Enterprises.

A Chinese language list of Chinese laws and regulations, at both the central and local levels: http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/  .

FDI Laws on Investment Approvals

Foreign investments in industries and economic sectors that are not explicitly restricted or prohibited on the foreign investment negative list are not subject to MOFCOM pre-approval, but notification is required on proposed foreign investments.  In practice, investing in an industry not on the negative list does not guarantee a foreign investor national treatment in establishing an foreign investment as investors must comply with other steps and approvals like receiving land rights, business licenses, and other necessary permits.  In some industries, such as telecommunications, foreign investors will also need to receive approval from regulators or relevant ministries like the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The Market Access Negative List issued December 2018 incorporated the previously issued State Council catalogue for investment projects called the Decision on Investment Regime Reform and the Catalogue of Investment Projects subject to Government Ratification (Ratification Catalogue).  Both foreign enterprises and domestic firms are subject to this negative list and both are required to receive government ratification of investment projects listed in the catalogue.  The Ratification Catalogue was first issued in 2004 and has since undergone various reiterations that have shortened the number of investment projects needed for ratification and removed previous requirements that made foreign investors file for record all investment activities.  The most recent version was last issued in 2016. Projects still needing ratification by NDRC and/or local DRCs include investments surpassing a specific dollar threshold, in industries experiencing overcapacity issues, or in industries that promote outdated technologies that may cause environmental hazards.  For foreign investments over USD300 million, NDRC must ratify the investment. For industries in specific sectors, the local Development and Reform Commission (DRC) is in charge of the ratification.

Ratification Catalogue: http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2016-12/20/content_5150587.htm  

When a foreign investment needs ratification from the NDRC or a local DRC, that administrative body is in charge of assessing the project’s compliance with China’s laws and regulations; the proposed investment’s compliance with the foreign investment and market access negative lists and various industrial policy documents; its national security, environmental safety, and public interest implications; its use of resources and energy; and its economic development ramifications.  In some cases, NDRC also solicits the opinions of relevant Chinese industrial regulators and “consulting agencies,” which may include industry associations that represent Chinese domestic firms. This presents potential conflicts of interest that can disadvantage foreign investors seeking to receive project approval. The State Council may also weigh in on high-value projects in “restricted” sectors.

If a foreign investor has established an investment not on the foreign investment negative list and has received NDRC approval for the investment project if needed, the investor then can apply for a business license with a new ministry announced in March 2018, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR).  Once a license is obtained, the investor registers with China’s tax and foreign exchange agencies. Greenfield investment projects must also seek approval from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources. In several sectors, subsequent industry regulatory permits are required. The specific approvals process may vary from case to case, depending on the details of a particular investment proposal and local rules and practices.

For investments made via merger or acquisition with a Chinese domestic enterprise, an anti-monopoly review and national security review may be required by SAMR if there are competition concerns about the foreign transaction.  The anti-monopoly review is detailed in a later section of this report, on competition policy.

Article 12 of MOFCOM’s Rules on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investment stipulates that parties are required to report a transaction to SAMR if:

  • Foreign investors obtain actual control, via merger or acquisition, of a domestic enterprise in a key industry;
  • The merger or acquisition affects or may affect “national economic security”; or
  • The merger or acquisition would cause the transfer of actual control of a domestic enterprise with a famous trademark or a Chinese time-honored brand.

If SAMR determines the parties did not report a merger or acquisition that affects or could affect national economic security, it may, together with other government agencies, require the parties to terminate the transaction or adopt other measures to eliminate the impact on national economic security.  They may also assess fines.

In February 2011, China released the State Council Notice Regarding the Establishment of a Security Review Mechanism for Foreign Investors Acquiring Domestic Enterprises.  The notice established an interagency Joint Conference, led by NDRC and MOFCOM, with authority to block foreign M&As of domestic firms that it believes may impact national security.  The Joint Conference is instructed to consider not just national security, but also “national economic security” and “social order” when reviewing transactions. China has not disclosed any instances in which it invoked this formal review mechanism.  A national security review process for foreign investments was written into China’s new Foreign Investment Law, but with very few details on how the process would be implemented.

Chinese local commerce departments are responsible for flagging transactions that require a national security review when they review them in an early stage of China’s foreign investment approval process.  Some provincial and municipal departments of commerce have published online a Security Review Industry Table listing non-defense industries where transactions may trigger a national security review, but MOFCOM has declined to confirm whether these lists reflect official policy.  In addition, third parties such as other governmental agencies, industry associations, and companies in the same industry can seek MOFCOM’s review of transactions, which can pose conflicts of interest that disadvantage foreign investors.  Investors may also voluntarily file for a national security review.

U.S.  Chamber of Commerce report on Approval Process for Inbound Foreign Direct Investment: http://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/reports/020021_China_InvestmentPaper_hires.pdf .

Foreign Investment Law

On March 15, 2019 the National People’s Congress passed the Foreign Investment Law (FIL) that replaced all existing foreign investment laws, including the China-Foreign Joint Venture Law, the Contract Joint Venture Law, and the Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises Law.  The FIL is significantly shorter than the 2015 draft version issued for public comment and the text is vague and provides loopholes through which regulators could potentially discriminate against foreign investors. While the law made policy declarations on important issues to U.S. and other foreign investors (e.g.,  equal protection of intellectual property, prohibitions again certain kinds of forced technology transer, and greater market access,), specifics on implementation and enforcement were lacking.  The law goes into effect on January 1, 2020. Many high-level Chinese officials have stated that the implementation guidelines and other corresponding legal changes will be developed prior to the law going into effect.  The content of these guidelines and future corresponding changes to other laws to become consistent with the FIL will largely determine the impact it will have on the investment climate.

Free Trade Zone Foreign Investment Laws

China issued in 2015 the Interim Measures on the National Security Review of Foreign Investment in Free Trade Zones.  The definition of “national security” is broad, covering investments in military, national defense, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, transportation, culture, information technology products and services, key technology, and manufacturing.

In addition, MOFCOM issued the Administrative Measures for the Record-Filing of Foreign Investment in Free Trade Zones, outlining a more streamlined process that foreign investors need to follow to register investments in the FTZs.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

China uses a complex system of laws, regulations, and agency specific guidelines at both the central and provincial levels that impacts an economic sector’s makeup, sometimes as a monopoly, near-monopoly, or authorized oligopoly.  These measures are particularly common in resource-intensive sectors such as electricity and transportation, as well as in industries seeking unified national coverage like telecommunication and postal services. The measures also target sectors the government deems vital to national security and economic stability, including defense, energy, and banking.  Examples of such laws and regulations include the Law on Electricity (1996), Civil Aviation Law (1995), Regulations on Telecommunication (2000), Postal Law (amended in 2009), Railroad Law (1991), and Commercial Bank Law (amended in 2003), among others.

Anti-Monopoly Law

China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) went into effect on August 1, 2008.  The National People Congress in March 2018 announced that AML enforcement authorities previously held by three government ministries would be consolidated into a new ministry called the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR).  This new agency would still be responsible for AML enforcement and cover issues like concentrations review (M&As), cartel agreements, abuse of dominant market position, and abuse of administrative powers. To fill in some of the gaps from the original AML and to address new commercial trends in China’s market, SAMR has started the process of issuing draft implementation guidelines to clarify enforcement on issues like merger penalties, implementation of abuse of market dominant position, etc.  By unifying antitrust enforcement under one agency, the Chinese government hopes to consolidate guidelines from the three previous agencies and provide greater clarity for businesses operating in China. Generally, the AML enforcement agencies have sought public comment on proposed measures and guidelines, although comment periods can be less than 30 days.

In addition to the AML, the State Council in June 2016 issued guidelines for the Fair Competition Review Mechanism that targets administrative monopolies created by government agents, primarily at the local level.  The mechanism not only requires government agencies to conduct a fair competition review prior to issuing new laws, regulations, and guidelines, to certify that proposed measures do not inhibit competition, but also requires government agencies to conduct a review of all existing rules, regulations, and guidelines, to eliminate existing laws and regulations that are competition inhibiting.  In October 2017, the State Council, State Council Legislative Affairs Office, Ministry of Finance, and three AML agencies issued implementation rules for the fair competition review system to strengthen review procedures, provide review criteria, enhance coordination among government entities, and improve overall competition-based supervision in new laws and regulations. While local government bodies have reported a completed review of over 100,000 different administrative documents, it is unclear what changes have been made and what impact it has had on actually improving the competitive landscape in China.

While procedural developments such as those outlined above are seen as generally positive, the actual enforcement of competition laws and regulations is uneven.  Inconsistent central and provincial enforcement of antitrust law often exacerbates local protectionism by restricting inter-provincial trade, limiting market access for certain imported products, using measures that raise production costs, and limiting opportunities for foreign investment.  Government authorities at all levels in China may also restrict competition to insulate favored firms from competition through various forms of regulations and industrial policies. While at times the ultimate benefactor of such policies is unclear, foreign companies have expressed concern that the central government’s use of AML enforcement is often selectively used to target foreign companies, becoming an extension of other industrial policies that favor SOEs and Chinese companies deemed potential “national champions.”

Since the AML went into effect, the number of M&A transactions reviewed each year by Chinese officials has continued to grow.  U.S. companies and other observers have expressed concerns that SAMR is required to consult with other Chinese agencies when reviewing a potential transaction and that other agencies can raise concerns that are often not related to competition to either block, delay, or force one or more of the parties to comply with a condition in order to receive approval.  There is also suspicion that Chinese regulators rarely approve “on condition” any transactions involving two Chinese companies, thus signaling an inherent AML bias against foreign enterprises.

Under NDRC’s previous enforcement of price-related monopolies, some procedural progress in AML enforcement was made, as they started to release aggregate data on investigations and publicize case decisions.  However, many U.S. companies complained that NDRC discouraged companies from having legal representation during informal discussions or even during formal investigations. In addition, the investigative process reportedly lacked basic transparency or specific best practice guidance on procedures like evidence gathering.  Observers continue to raise concern over the use of “dawn raids” that can be used at any time as a means of intimidation or to prop up a local Chinese company against a competing foreign company in an effort to push forward specific industrial policy goals. Observers also remain concerned that Chinese officials during an investigation will fail to protect commercial secrets and have access to secret and proprietary information that could be given to Chinese competitors.

In prior bilateral dialogues, China committed to strengthening IP protection and enforcement.  However, concerns remain on how China views the intersection of IP protection and antitrust. Previous AML guidelines issued by antitrust regulators for public comment disproportionately impacted foreign firms (generally IP rights holders) by requiring an IP rights holder to license technology at a “fair price” so as not to allow abuse of the company’s “dominant market position.”  Foreign companies have long complained that China’s enforcement of AML serves industrial policy goals of, among other things, forcing technology transfer to local competitors. In other more developed antitrust jurisdictions, companies are free to exclude competitors and set prices, and the right to do so is recognized as the foundation of the incentive to innovate.

Another consistent area of concern expressed by foreign companies deals with the degree to which the AML applies – or fails to apply – to SOEs and other government monopolies, which are permitted in some industries.  While SAMR has said AML enforcement applies to SOEs the same as domestic or foreign firms, the reality is that only a few minor punitive actions have been taken against provincial level SOEs. In addition, the AML explicitly protects the lawful operations of SOEs and government monopolies in industries deemed nationally important.  While SOEs have not been entirely immune from AML investigations, the number of investigations is not commensurate with the significant role SOEs play in China’s economy. The CCP’s proactive orchestration of mergers and consolidation of SOEs in industries like rail, marine shipping, metals, and other strategic sectors, which in most instances only further insulates SOEs from both private and foreign competition, signaling that enforcement against SOEs will likely remain limited despite potential negative impacts on consumer welfare.

Expropriation and Compensation

Chinese law prohibits nationalization of foreign-invested enterprises, except under “special circumstances.”  Chinese laws, such as the Foreign Investment Law, states there are circumstances for expropriation of foreign assets that may include national security or a public interest needs, such as large civil engineering projects.  However, the law does not specify circumstances that would lead to the nationalization of a foreign investment. Chinese law requires fair compensation for an expropriated foreign investment but does not provide details on the method or formula used to calculate the value of the foreign investment.  The Department of State is not aware of any cases since 1979 in which China has expropriated a U.S. investment, although the Department has notified Congress through the annual 527 Investment Dispute Report of several cases of concern.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

China is a contracting state to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention).  The domestic legislation that provides for enforcement of foreign arbitral awards related to these two Conventions includes the Arbitration Law adopted in 1994, the Civil Procedure Law adopted in 1991 (later amended in 2012), the Law on Chinese-Foreign Equity Joint Ventures adopted in 1979 (amended most recently in 2001), and a number of other laws with similar provisions.  China’s Arbitration Law has embraced many of the fundamental principles of The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Chinese officials typically urge private parties to resolve commercial disputes through informal conciliation.  If formal mediation is necessary, Chinese parties and the authorities typically prefer arbitration to litigation.  Many contract disputes require arbitration by the Beijing-based China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC).  Established by the State Council in 1956 under the auspices of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), CIETAC is China’s most widely-utilized arbitral body in China for foreign-related disputes.  Some foreign parties have obtained favorable rulings from CIETAC, while others have questioned CIETAC’s fairness and effectiveness.

CIETAC also had four sub-commissions located in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin, and Chongqing.  CCPIT, under the authority of the State Council, issued new arbitration rules in 2012 that granted CIETAC headquarters greater authority to hear cases than the sub-commissions.  As a result, CIETAC Shanghai and CIETAC Shenzhen declared independence from the Beijing authority, issued new rules, and changed their names. This split led to CIETAC disqualifying the former Shanghai and Shenzhen affiliates from administering arbitration disputes, raising serious concerns among the U.S. business and legal communities over the validity of arbitration agreements arrived at under different arbitration procedures and the enforceability of arbitral awards issued by the sub-commissions.  In 2013, the Supreme People’s Court issued a notice clarifying that any lower court that hears a case arising out of the CIETAC split must report the case to the court before making a decision. However, this notice is brief and lacks detail like the timeframe for the lower court to refer and the timeframe for the Supreme People’s Court to issue an opinion.

Beside the central-level arbitration commission, there are also provincial and municipal arbitration commissions that have emerged as serious domestic competitors to CIETAC.  A foreign party may also seek arbitration in some instances from an offshore commission. Foreign companies often encounter challenges in enforcing arbitration decisions issued by Chinese and foreign arbitration bodies.  In these instances, foreign investors may appeal to higher courts.

The Chinese government and judicial bodies do not maintain a public record of investment disputes.  The Supreme People’s Court maintains an annual count of the number of cases involving foreigners but does not provide details about the cases, identify civil or commercial disputes, or note foreign investment disputes.  Rulings in some cases are open to the public.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Articles 281 and 282 of China’s Civil Procedural Law governs the enforcement of judgments issued by foreign courts.  The law states that Chinese courts should consider factors like China’s treaty obligations, reciprocity principles, basic Chinese law, Chinese sovereignty, Chinese social and public interests, and national security before determining if the foreign court judgment should be recognized.  As a result of this broad criteria, there are few examples of Chinese courts recognizing and enforcing a foreign court judgment. China has bilateral agreements with 27 countries on the recognition and enforcement of foreign court judgments, but not with the United States.

Article 270 of China’s Civil Procedure Law also states that time limits in civil cases do not apply to cases involving foreign investment.  According to the 2012 CIETAC Arbitration Rules, in an ordinary procedure case, the arbitral tribunal shall render an arbitral award within six months (in foreign-related cases) from the date on which the arbitral tribunal is formed.  In a summary procedure case, the arbitral tribunal shall make an award within three months from the date on which the arbitral tribunal is formed.

Bankruptcy Regulations

China’s Enterprise Bankruptcy Law took effect on June 1, 2007 and applies to all companies incorporated under Chinese laws and subject to Chinese regulations.  This includes private companies, public companies, SOEs, foreign invested enterprises (FIEs), and financial institutions.  China’s primary bankruptcy legislation generally is commensurate with developed countries’ bankruptcy laws and provides for reorganization or restructuring, rather than liquidation.  However, due to the lack of implementation guidelines and the limited number of previous cases that could provide legal precedent, the law has never been fully enforced.  Most corporate debt disputes are settled through negotiations led by local governments.  In addition, companies are disincentivized from pursing bankruptcy because of the potential for local government interference and fear of losing control over the bankruptcy outcome.  According to experts, Chinese courts not only lack the resources and capacity to handle bankruptcy cases, but bankruptcy administrators, clerks, and judges all lack relevant experience.

In the October 2016 State Council Guiding Opinion on Reducing Enterprises’ Leverage Ratio, bankruptcy was identified as a tool to manage China’s corporate debt problems.  This was consistent with increased government rhetoric throughout the year in support of bankruptcy.  For example, in June 2016, the Supreme People’s Court issued a notice to establish bankruptcy divisions at intermediate courts and to increase the number of judges and support staff to handle liquidation and bankruptcy issues.  On August 1, 2016, the court also launched a new bankruptcy and reorganization electronic information platform: http://pccz.court.gov.cn/pcajxxw/index/xxwsy  .

The number of bankruptcy cases has continued to grow rapidly since 2015.  According to a National People’s Congress (NPC) official, in 2018, 18,823 liquidation and bankruptcy cases were accepted by Chinese courts, an increase of over 95 percent from last year.  11,669 of those cases were closed, an increase of 86.5 percent from the year before.  The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) reported that in 2017, 9,542 bankruptcy cases were accepted by the Chinese courts, representing a 68.4 percent year-on-year increase from 2016, and 6,257 cases were closed, representing a 73.7 percent year-on-year increase from 2016. The SPC has continued to issue clarifications and new implementing measures to improve bankruptcy procedures.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

To attract foreign investment, different provinces and municipalities offer preferential packages like a temporary reduction in taxes, resources and land use benefits, reduction in import and/or export duties, special treatment in obtaining basic infrastructure services, streamlined government approvals, research and development subsidies, and funding for initial startups.  Often, these packages stipulate that foreign investors must meet certain benchmarks for exports, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements.  Preferential treatment often occurs in specific sectors that the government has identified for policy support, like technology and advanced manufacturing, and will be specific to a geographic location like a special economic zone (like FTZs), development zone, or a science park.  The Chinese government has also prioritized foreign investment in inland China by providing incentives to invest in seven new FTZs located in inland regions (2017) and offering more liberalizations to foreign investment through its Catalogue of Priority Industries for Foreign Investment in Central and Western China that provides greater market access to foreign investors willing to invest in less developed areas in Central and Western China.

While state subsidies has long been an area that foreign investors have criticized for distorting competition in certain industries, Chinese officials have publicly pledged that foreign investors willing to manufacture products in China can equally participate in the research and development programs financed by the Chinese government.  The Chinese government has also said foreign investors have equal access to preferential policies under initiatives like Made in China 2025 and Strategic Emerging Industries that seek to transform China’s economy into an innovation-based economy that becomes a global leader in future growth sectors.  In these high-tech and advanced manufacturing sectors, China needs foreign investment because it lacks the capacity, expertise, and technological know-how to conduct advanced research or manufacture advanced technology on par with other developed economies.  Announced in 2015, China’s MIC 2025 roadmap has prioritized the following industries: new-generation information technology, advanced numerical-control machine tools and robotics, aerospace equipment, maritime engineering equipment and vessels, advanced rail, new-energy vehicles, energy equipment, agricultural equipment, new materials, and biopharmaceuticals and medical equipment.  While mentions of MIC 2025 have all but disappeared from public discourse, a raft of policy announcements at the national and sub-national level indicate China’s continued commitment to developing these sectors.  Foreign investment plays an important role in helping China move up the manufacturing value chain.  However, there are a large number of economic sectors that China deems sensitive due to broadly defined national security concerns, including “economic security,” which can effectively close off foreign investment to those sectors.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

China has customs-bonded areas in Shanghai, Tianjin, Shantou, Guangzhou, Dalian, Xiamen, Ningbo, Zhuhai, Fuzhou, and parts of Shenzhen.  In addition to these official duty-free zones identified by China’s State Council, there are also numerous economic development zones and “open cities” that offer preferential treatment and benefits to investors, including foreign investors.

In September 2013, the State Council in conjunction with the Shanghai municipal government, announced the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone that consolidated the geographical area of four previous bonded areas into a single FTZ.  In April 2015, the State Council expanded the pilot to include new FTZs in Tianjin, Guangdong, and Fujian. In March 2017, the State Council approved seven new FTZs in Chongqing, Henan, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Sichuan, and Zhejiang, with the stated purpose to integrate these areas more closely with the OBOR initiative – the Chinese government’s plan to enhance global economic interconnectivity through joint infrastructure and investment projects that connect China’s inland and border regions to the rest of the world.  In October 2018, the Chinese government rolled out plans to convert the entire island province of Hainan into an FTZ that will take effect in 2020. This FTZ aims to provide a more open and high-standard trade and investment hub focused on improved rule of law and financial services. In addition to encourage tourism development, the Hainan FTZ will also seek to develop high-tech industries while preserving the ecology of the island. The goal of all China’s FTZs is to provide a trial ground for trade and investment liberalization measures and to introduce service sector reforms, especially in financial services, that China expects eventually to introduce in other parts of the domestic economy.

The FTZs should offer foreign investors “national treatment” for the market access phase of an investment in industries and sectors not listed on the FTZ “negative list,” or on the list of industries and economic sectors restricted or prohibited for foreign investment.  The State Council published an updated FTZ negative list in June 2018 that reduced the number of restrictions and prohibitions on foreign investment from 95 items down to 45. The most recent negative list did not remove many commercially significant restrictions or prohibitions compared to the nationwide negative list also released in June 2018.

Although the FTZ negative list in theory provides greater market access for foreign investment in the FTZs, many foreign firms have reported that in practice, the degree of liberalization in the FTZs is comparable to other opportunities in other parts of China.  According to Chinese officials, over 18,000 entities have registered in the FTZs. The municipal and central governments have released a number of administrative and sector-specific regulations and circulars that outline the procedures and regulations in the zones.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As part of China’s WTO accession agreement, China promised to revise its foreign investment laws to eliminate sections that imposed export performance, local content, balanced foreign exchange through trade, technology transfer, and create research and development center requirements on foreign investors as a prerequisite to enter China’s market.  As part of these revisions, China committed to only enforce technology transfer requirements that do not violate WTO standards on IP and trade-related investment measures. In practice, however, China has not completely lived up to these promises with some U.S. businesses reporting that local officials and regulators sometimes only accept investments with “voluntary” performance requirements or technology transfer that helps develop certain domestic industries and support the local job market.  Provincial and municipal governments will sometimes restrict access to local markets, government procurement, and public works projects even for foreign firms that have already invested in the province or municipality. In addition, Chinese regulators have reportedly pressured foreign firms in some sectors to disclose IP content or provide IP licenses to Chinese firms, often at below market rates. These practices not only run contrary to WTO principles but hurt the competitive position of foreign investors.

China also called to restrict the ability of both domestic and foreign operators of “critical information infrastructure” to transfer personal data and important information outside of China while also requiring those same operators to only store data physically in China.  These potential restrictions have prompted many firms to review how their networks manage data. Foreign firms also fear that calls for use of “secure and controllable,” “secure and trustworthy,” etc. technologies will curtail sales opportunities for foreign firms or that foreign companies may be pressured to disclose source code and other proprietary information, putting IP at risk.  In addition, prescriptive technology adoption requirements, often in the form of domestic standards that diverge from global norms, in effect gives preference to domestic firms and their technology. These requirements not only hinder operational effectiveness but also potentially puts in jeopardy IP protection and overall competitiveness of foreign firms operating in China.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Foreign companies have long complained that the Chinese legal system, responsible for mediating acquisition and disposition of property, has inconsistently protected the legal real property rights of foreigners.

Urban land is entirely owned by the State.  The State can issue long-term land leases to individuals and companies, including foreigners, subject to many restrictions.  China’s Property Law stipulates that residential property rights will renew automatically, while commercial and industrial grants shall be renewed if the renewal does not conflict with other public interest claims.  A number of foreign investors have reported that their land use rights were revoked and given to developers to build neighborhoods designated for building projects by government officials. Investors often complain that compensation in these cases has been nominal.

In rural China, collectively-owned land use rights are more complicated.  The registration system chronically suffers from unclear ownership lines and disputed border claims, often at the expense of local farmers who are excluded from the process by village leaders making “handshake deals” with commercial interests.  The central government announced in 2016, and reiterated in 2017 and 2018, plans to reform the rural land registration system so as to put more control in the hands of farmers, but some experts remain skeptical that changes will be properly implemented and enforced.

China’s Securities Law defines debtor and guarantor rights, including rights to mortgage certain types of property and other tangible assets, including long-term leases.  Chinese law does not prohibit foreigners from buying non-performing debt, which can only be acquired through state-owned asset management firms. However, in practice, Chinese official often use bureaucratic hurdles that limit foreigners’ ability to liquidate assets, further discouraging foreign purchase of non-performing debt.

Intellectual Property Rights

Following WTO accession, China updated many laws and regulations to comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and other international agreements.  However, despite the changes to China’s legal and regulatory regime, some aspects of China’s IP protection regime fall short of international best practices.  In addition, enforcement ineffectiveness of Chinese laws and regulations remains a significant challenge for foreign investors trying to protect their IPR.

Major impediments to effective IP enforcement include the unavailability of deterrent-level penalties for infringement, a lack of transparency, unclear standards for establishing criminal investigations, the absence of evidence production methods to compel evidence from infringers, and local protectionism, among others.  Chinese government officials tout the success of China’s specialized IP courts – including the establishment of a new appellate tribunal within the SPC – as evidence of its commitment to IP protection; however, while this shows a growing awareness of IPR in China’s legal system, civil litigation against IP infringement will remain an option with limited effect until there is an increase in the amount of damages an infringer pays for IP violations.

Chinese-based companies remain the largest IP infringers of U.S. products.  Goods shipped from China (including those transshipped through Hong Kong) accounted for an estimated 87 percent of IPR-infringing goods seized at U.S. borders.  (Note: This U.S.  Customs statistic does not specify where the fake goods were made.)  China imposes requirements that U.S. firms develop their IP in China or transfer their IP to Chinese entities as a condition to accessing the Chinese market, or to obtain tax and other preferential benefits available to domestic companies.  Chinese policies can effectively require U.S. firms to localize research and development activities, practices documented in the March 2018 Section 301 Report released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  China remained on the Priority Watch List in the 2019 USTR Special 301 Report, and several Chinese physical and online markets were included in the 2018 USTR Notorious Markets Report.  For detailed information on China’s environment for IPR protection and enforcement, please see the following reports:

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local intellectual property offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en  

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

China’s leadership has stated that it seeks to build a modern, highly developed, and multi-tiered capital market.  Bank loans continue to provide the majority of credit options (reportedly around 81.4 percent in 2018) for Chinese companies, although other sources of capital, such as corporate bonds, equity financing, and private equity are quickly expanding their scope, reach, and sophistication in China.  In the past three years, Chinese regulators have taken measures to rein in the rapid growth of China’s “shadow banking” sector, which includes vehicles such as wealth management and trust products.  The measures have achieved positive results. The share of trust loans, entrust loans and undiscounted bankers’ acceptances dropped a total of 15.2 percent in total social financing (TSF) – a broad measure of available credit in China, most of which was comprised of corporate bonds. TSF’s share of corporate bonds jumped from a negative 2.31 percent in 2017 to 12.9 percent in 2018. Chinese regulators regularly use administrative methods to control credit growth, although market-based tools such as interest rate policy and adjusting the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) play an increasingly important role.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank, has gradually increased flexibility for banks in setting interest rates, formally removing the floor on the lending rate in 2013 and the deposit rate cap in 2015 – but is understood to still influence bank’s interest rates through “window guidance.”  Favored borrowers, particularly SOEs, benefit from greater access to capital and lower financing costs, as they can use political influence to secure bank loans, and lenders perceive these entities to have an implicit government guarantee.  Small- and medium-sized enterprises, by contrast, have the most difficulty obtaining financing, often forced to rely on retained earnings or informal investment channels.

In 2018, Chinese regulators have taken measures to improve financing for the private sector, particularly small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMEs).  On November 1, 2018, Xi Jinping held an unprecedented meeting with private companies on how to support the development of private enterprises. Xi emphasized to the importance of resolving difficult and expensive financing problems for private firms and pledged to create a fair and competitive business environment.  He encouraged banks to lend more to private firms, as well as urged local governments to provide more financial support for credit-worthy private companies. Provincial and municipal governments could raise funds to bailout private enterprises if needed. The PBOC increased the relending and rediscount quota of RMB 300 billion for SMEs and private enterprises at the end of 2018.  The government also introduced bond financing supportive instruments for private enterprises, and the PBOC began promoting qualified PE funds, securities firms, and financial asset management companies to provide financing for private companies. The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission’s (CBIRC) Chairman said in an interview that one-third of new corporate loans issued by big banks and two-thirds of new corporate loans issued by small and medium-sized banks should be granted to private enterprises, and that 50 percent of new corporate loans shall be issued to private enterprises in the next three years.  At the end of 2018, loans issued to SMEs accounted for 24.6 percent of total RMB loan issuance. The share dropped 1 percent from 25.6 percent in 2017. Interest rates on loans issued by the six big state-owned banks – Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Construction Bank (CCB), Bank of China (BOC), Agriculture Bank of China (ABC), Bank of Communications and China Postal Savings Bank – to SMEs averaged 4.8 percent, in the fourth quarter of 2018, down from 6 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

Direct financing has expanded over the last few years, including through public listings on stock exchanges, both inside and outside of China, and issuing more corporate and local government bonds.  The majority of foreign portfolio investment in Chinese companies occurs on foreign exchanges, primarily in the United States and Hong Kong.  In addition, China has significantly expanded quotas for certain foreign institutional investors to invest in domestic stock markets; opened up direct access for foreign investors into China’s interbank bond market; and approved a two-way, cross-border equity direct investment scheme between Shanghai and Hong Kong and Shenzhen and Hong Kong that allows Chinese investors to trade designated Hong Kong-listed stocks through the Shanghai and Shenzhen Exchanges, and vice versa.  Direct investment by private equity and venture capital firms is also rising, although from a small base, and has faced setbacks due to China’s capital controls that complicate the repatriation of returns

Money and Banking System

After several years of rapid credit growth, China’s banking sector faces asset quality concerns.  For 2018, the China Banking Regulatory Commission reported a non-performing loans (NPL) ratio of 1.83 percent, higher than the 1.74 percent of NPL ratio reported the last quarter of 2017.  The outstanding balance of commercial bank NPLs in 2018 reached 2.03 trillion RMB (approximately USD295.1 billion).  China’s total banking assets surpassed 268 trillion RMB (approximately USD39.1 trillion) in December 2018, a 6.27 percent year-on-year increase.  Experts estimate Chinese banking assets account for over 20 percent of global banking assets.  In 2018, China’s credit and broad money supply slowed to 8.1 percent growth, the lowest published rate since the PBOC first started publishing M2 money supply data in 1986.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

While the central bank’s official position is that companies with proper documentation should be able to freely conduct business, in practice, companies have reported challenges and delays in getting foreign currency transactions approved by sub-national regulatory branches.  In 2017, several foreign companies complained about administrative delays in remitting large sums of money from China, even after completing all of the documentation requirements.  Such incidents come amid announcements that the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) had issued guidance to tighten scrutiny of foreign currency outflows due to China’s rapidly decreasing foreign currency exchange.  China has since announced that it will gradually reduce those controls, but market analysts expect they would be re-imposed if capital outflows accelerate again.

Under Chinese law, FIEs do not need pre-approval to open foreign exchange accounts and are allowed to retain income as foreign exchange or to convert it into RMB without quota requirements.  Foreign exchange transactions related to China’s capital account activities do not require review by SAFE, but designated foreign exchange banks review and directly conduct foreign exchange settlements.  Chinese officials register all commercial foreign debt and will limit foreign firms’ accumulated medium- and long-term debt from abroad to the difference between total investment and registered capital.  China issued guidelines in February 2015 that allow, on a pilot basis, a more flexible approach to foreign debt within several specific geographic areas, including the Shanghai Pilot FTZ.  The main change under this new approach is to allow FIEs to expand their foreign debt above the difference between total investment and registered capital, so long as they have sufficient net assets.

Chinese foreign exchange rules cap the maximum amount of RMB individuals are allowed to convert into other currencies at approximately USD50,000 each year and restrict them from directly transferring RMB abroad without prior approval from SAFE.  In 2017, authorities further restricted overseas currency withdrawals by banning sales of life insurance products and capping credit card withdrawals at USD5,000 per transaction.  SAFE has not reduced this quota, but during periods of higher than normal capital outflows, banks are reportedly instructed by SAFE to increase scrutiny over individuals’ requests for foreign currency and to require additional paperwork clarifying the intended use of the funds, with the express intent of slowing capital outflows.

China’s exchange rate regime is managed within a band that allows the currency to rise or fall by 2 percent per day from the “reference rate” set each morning.  In August 2015, China announced that the reference rate would more closely reflect the previous day’s closing spot rate.  Since that change, daily volatility of the RMB has at times been higher than in recent years, but for the most part, remains below what is typical for other currencies.  In 2017, the PBOC took additional measures to reduce volatility, introducing a “countercyclical factor” into its daily RMB exchange rate calculation.  Although the PBOC reportedly suspended the countercyclical factor in January 2018, the tool remains available to policymakers if volatility re-emerges.

Remittance Policies

The remittance of profits and dividends by FIEs is not subject to time limitations, but FIEs need to submit a series of documents to designated banks for review and approval.  The review period is not fixed, and is frequently completed within one or two working days of the submission of complete documents.  In the past year, this period has lengthened during periods of higher than normal capital outflows, when the government strengthens capital controls.

Remittance policies have not changed substantially since SAFE simplified some regulations in January 2014, devolving many review and approval procedures to banks.  Firms that remit profits at or below USD50,000 dollars can do so without submitting documents to the banks for review.

For remittances above USD50,000, the firm must submit tax documents, as well as the formal decision by its management to distribute profits.

For remittance of interest and principle on private foreign debt, firms must submit an application form, a foreign debt agreement, and the notice on repayment of the principle and interest.  Banks will then check if the repayment volume is within the repayable principle.

The remittance of financial lease payments falls under foreign debt management rules.  There are no specific rules on the remittance of royalties and management fees.  In August 2018, SAFE raised the reserve requirement for foreign currency transactions from zero to 20 percent, significantly increasing the cost of foreign currency transactions.  The reserve ratio was introduced in October 2015 at 20 percent, which was lowered to zero in September 2017.

The Financial Action Task Force has identified China as a country of primary concern.  Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that over S1 trillion of illicit money left China between 2003 and 2012, making China the world leader in illicit capital flows.  In 2013, GFI estimated that another USD260 billion left the country.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

China officially has only one sovereign wealth fund (SWF), the China Investment Corporation (CIC).  Established in 2007, CIC manages over USD941.4 billion in assets (as of 2017) and invests on a 10-year time horizon.  China’s sovereign wealth is also invested by a subsidiary of SAFE, the government agency that manages China’s foreign currency reserves, and reports directly to the PBOC.  The SAFE Administrator also serves concurrently as a PBOC Deputy Governor.

CIC publishes an annual report containing information on its structure, investments, and returns.  CIC invests in diverse sectors like financial, consumer products, information technology, high-end manufacturing, healthcare, energy, telecommunication services, and utilities.

China also operates other funds that function in part like sovereign wealth funds, including: China’s National Social Security Fund, with an estimate USD341.4 billion in assets; the China-Africa Development Fund (solely funded by the China Development Bank), with an estimated USD5 billion; the SAFE Investment Company, with an estimated USD439.8 billion; and China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund, established in December 2014 with USD40 billion to foster investment in OBOR partner countries.  Chinese SWFs do not report the percentage of their assets that are invested domestically.

Chinese SWFs follow the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles and participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs.  The Chinese government does not have any formal policies specifying that CIC invest funds consistent with industrial policies or in government-designated projects, although CIC is expected to pursue government objectives.  The SWF generally adopts a “passive” role as a portfolio investor.

9. Corruption

Corruption remains endemic in China.  The lack of an independent press, along with the lack of independence of corruption investigators, who answer to and are managed by the CCP, all hamper the transparent and consistent application of anti-corruption efforts.

Chinese anti-corruption laws have strict penalties for bribes, including accepting a bribe, which is a criminal offense punishable up to life imprisonment or death in “especially serious” circumstances.  Offering a bribe carries a maximum punishment of up to five years in prison, except in cases with “especially serious” circumstances, when punishment can extend up to life in prison.

In August 2015, the NPC amended several corruption-related parts of China’s Criminal Law.  For instance, bribing civil servants’ relatives or other close relationships is a crime with monetary fines imposed on both the bribe-givers and the bribe-takers; bribe-givers, mainly in minor cases, who aid authorities can be given more lenient punishments; and instead of basing punishments solely on the specific amount of money involved in a bribe, authorities now have more discretion to impose punishments based on other factors.

In February 2011, an amendment was made to the Criminal Law, criminalizing the bribing of foreign officials or officials of international organizations.  However, to date, there have not been any known cases in which someone was successfully prosecuted for offering this type of bribe.

In March 2018, the NPC approved the creation of the National Supervisory Commission (NSC), a new government anti-corruption agency that resulted from the merger of the Ministry of Supervision and the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).  The NSC absorbed the anti-corruption units of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and those of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention.  In addition to China’s 89 million CCP members, the new commission has jurisdiction over all civil servants and employees of state enterprises, as well as managers in public schools, hospitals, research institutes, and other public service institutions.  Lower-level supervisory commissions have been set up in all provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.  The NPC also passed the State Supervision Law, which provides the NSC with its legal authorities to investigate, detain, and punish public servants.

The CCDI remains the primary body for enforcing ethics guidelines and party discipline, and refers criminal corruption cases to the NSC for further investigation.

President Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Efforts

Since President Xi’s rise to power in 2012, China has undergone an intensive and large-scale anti-corruption campaign, with investigations reaching into all sectors of the government, military, and economy.  President Xi labeled endemic corruption as an “existential threat” to the very survival of the CCP that must be addressed.  Since then, each CCP annual plenum has touched on judicial, administrative, and CCP discipline reforms needed to thoroughly root out corruption.  Judicial reforms are viewed as necessary to institutionalize the fight against corruption and reduce the arbitrary power of CCP investigators, but concrete measures have emerged slowly.  To enhance regional anti-corruption cooperation, the 26th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Ministers Meeting adopted the Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption in November 2014.

According to official statistics, from 2012 to 2018 the CCDI investigated 2.17 million cases – more than the total of the preceding ten years.  In 2018 alone, the CCP disciplined around 621,000 individuals, up almost 95,000 from 2017.  However, the majority of officials only ended up receiving internal CCP discipline and were not passed forward for formal prosecution and trial.  A total of 195,000 corruption and bribery cases involving 263,000 people were heard in courts between 2013 and 2017, according to the Supreme People’s Court.  Of these, 101 were officials at or above the rank of minister or head of province.  In 2018, a large uptick of 51 officials at or above the provincial/ministerial level were disciplined by the NSC.  One group heavily disciplined in recent years has been the discipline inspectors themselves, with the CCP punishing more than 7,900 inspectors since late-2012.  This led to new regulations being implemented in 2016 by CCDI that increased overall supervision of its investigators.

China’s overseas fugitive-hunting campaign, called “Operation Skynet,” has led to the capture of more than 5,000 fugitives suspected of corruption.  In 2018 alone, CCDI reported that 1,335 fugitives suspected of official crimes were apprehended, including 307 corrupt officials mainly suspected for graft.  Anecdotal information suggests the Chinese government’s anti-corruption crackdown oftentimes is inconsistently and discretionarily applied, raising concerns among foreign companies in China.  For example, to fight rampant commercial corruption in the medical/pharmaceutical sector, China’s health authority issued “black lists” of firms and agents involved in commercial bribery.  Several blacklisted firms were foreign companies.  Additionally, anecdotal information suggests many Chinese government officials responsible for approving foreign investment projects, as well as some routine business transactions, are slowing approvals to not arouse corruption suspicions, making it increasingly difficult to conduct normal commercial activity.

While central government leadership has welcomed increased public participation in reporting suspected corruption at lower levels, direct criticism of central government leadership or policies remains off-limits and is seen as an existential threat to China’s political and social stability.  Some citizens who have called for officials to provide transparency and public accountability by disclosing public and personal assets, or who have campaigned against officials’ misuse of public resources, have been subject to criminal prosecution.

United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combating Bribery

China ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005 and participates in APEC and OECD anti-corruption initiatives.  China has not signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery, although Chinese officials have expressed interest in participating in the OECD Working Group on Bribery meetings as an observer.

Resources to Report Corruption

The following government organization receives public reports of corruption:

Anti-Corruption Reporting Center of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Ministry of Supervision, Telephone Number: +86 10 12388.

10. Political and Security Environment

The risk of political violence directed at foreign companies operating in China remains low.  Each year, government watchdog organizations report tens of thousands of protests throughout China.  The government is adept at handling protests without violence, but given the volume of protests annually, the potential for violent flare-ups is real.  Violent protests, while rare, have generally involved ethnic tensions, local residents protesting corrupt officials, environmental and food safety concerns, confiscated property, and disputes over unpaid wages.

In recent years, the growing number of protests over corporate M&A transactions has increased, often because disenfranchised workers and mid-level managers feel they were not included in the decision process.  China’s non-transparent legal and regulatory system allows the CCP to pressure or punish foreign companies for the actions of their governments. The government has also encouraged protests or boycotts of products from certain countries, like Korea, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the Philippines, in retaliation for unrelated policy decisions.  Examples of politically motivated economic retaliation against foreign firms include boycott campaigns against Korean retailer Lotte in 2016 and 2017 in retaliation for the decision to deploy the Thermal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to the Korean Peninsula, which led to Lotte closing and selling its China operations; and high-profile cases of gross mistreatment of Japanese firms and brands in 2011 and 2012 following disputes over islands in the East China Sea.  Recently, some reports suggest China has retaliated against some Canadian companies and products as a result of a domestic Canadian legal issue that impacted a large Chinese enterprise.

There have also been some cases of foreign businesspeople that were refused permission to leave China over pending commercial contract disputes.  Chinese authorities have broad authority to prohibit travelers from leaving China (known as an “exit ban”) and have imposed exit bans to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate government investigations.  Individuals not directly involved in legal proceedings or suspected of wrongdoing have also been subject to lengthy exit bans in order to compel family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigations. Exit bans are often issued without notification to the foreign citizen or without a clear legal recourse to appeal the exit ban decision.

In the past few years, Chinese authorities have detained or arrested several foreign nationals, including American citizens, and have refused to notify the U.S. Embassy or allow access to the American citizens detained for consular officers to visit.  These trends are in direct contravention of recognized international agreements and conventions.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

For U.S. companies operating in China, finding adequate human resources remains a major challenge.  Finding, developing, and retaining domestic talent, particularly at the management and highly-skilled technical staff levels, remain difficult challenges often cited by foreign firms.  In addition, labor costs continue to be a concern, as salaries along with other inputs of production have continued to rise. Foreign companies also continue to cite air pollution concerns as a major hurdle in attracting and retaining qualified foreign talent to relocate to China.  These labor concerns contribute to a small, but growing, number of foreign companies relocating from China to the United States, Canada, Mexico, or other parts of Asia.

Chinese labor law does not protect rights such as freedom of association and the right of workers to strike.  China to date has not ratified the United Nations International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, and forced labor, but it has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination.  Foreign companies often complain of difficulty navigating China’s ever-evolving labor laws, social insurance laws, and different agencies’ implementation guidelines on labor issues. Compounding the complexity, local characteristics and the application by different localities of national labor laws often vary.

Although required by national law, labor contracts are often not used by domestic employers with local employees.  Without written contracts, employees struggle to prove employment, thus losing basic labor rights like claiming severance and unemployment compensation if terminated, as well as access to publicly-provided labor dispute settlement mechanisms.  Similarly, regulations on agencies that provide temporary labor (referred to as “labor dispatch” in China) have tightened, and some domestic employers have switched to hiring independent service provider contractors in order to skirt the protective intent of these regulations.  These loopholes incentivize employers to skirt the law because compliance leads to substantially higher labor costs. This is one of many factors contributing to an uneven playing field for foreign firms that compete against domestic firms that circumvent local labor laws.

Establishing independent trade unions is illegal in China.  The law allows for worker “collective bargaining”; however, in practice, collective bargaining focuses solely on collective wage negotiations – and even this practice is uncommon.  The Trade Union Law gives the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo, control over all union organizations and activities, including enterprise-level unions.  The ACFTU’s priority task is to “uphold the leadership of the Communist Party,” not to protect workers’ rights or improve their welfare. The ACFTU and its provincial and local branches aggressively organize new constituent unions and add new members, especially in large multinational enterprises, but in general, these enterprise-level unions do not actively participate in employee-employer relations.  The absence of independent unions that advocate on behalf of workers has resulted in an increased number of strikes and walkouts in recent years.

ACFTU enterprise unions issue a mandatory employer-borne cost of 2 percent of payroll for membership.  While labor laws do not protect the right to strike, “spontaneous” worker protests and work stoppages occur with increasing regularity, especially in labor intensive and “sunset” industries (i.e., old and declining industries such as low-end manufacturing).  Official forums for mediation, arbitration, and other similar mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution have generally been ineffective in resolving labor disputes in China.  Some localities actively discourage acceptance of labor disputes for arbitration or legal resolution. Even when an arbitration award or legal judgment is obtained, getting local authorities to enforce judgments is problematic.

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) 2018 (*) $13,239,840 2017 $12,238,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S.  FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 (**) $82,500 2017 $107,556 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 (**) $67,400 2017 $39,518 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 (**) %16.4 2017 12.6% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

*China’s National Bureau of Statistics (90.031 trillion RMB converted at 6.8 RMB/USD estimate)
** Statistics gathered from China’s Ministry of Commerce official data


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 $2,688,470 100% Total Outward N/A 100%
China, PR: Hong Kong $1,242,441 46.21% N/A N/A N/A
Brit Virgin Islands $285,932 10.64% N/A N/A N/A
Japan $164,765 6.13% N/A N/A N/A
Singapore $107,636 4.00% N/A N/A N/A
Germany $86,945 3.23% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source: IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS)


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

Germany

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Germany has an open and welcoming attitude towards FDI.  The 1956 U.S.-Federal Republic of Germany Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation affords U.S. investors national treatment and provides for the free movement of capital between the United States and Germany. As an OECD member, Germany adheres to the OECD National Treatment Instrument and the OECD Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and of Invisible Operations.  The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy to review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers, to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security (for example, when the investment pertains to critical infrastructure).  For many decades, Germany has experienced significant inbound investment, which is widely recognized as a considerable contributor to Germany’s growth and prosperity. The German government and industry actively encourage foreign investment. U.S. investment continues to account for a significant share of Germany’s FDI. The investment-related challenges foreign companies face are generally the same as for domestic firms, for example, high marginal income tax rates and labor laws that complicate hiring and dismissals.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Under German law, a foreign-owned company registered in the Federal Republic of Germany as a GmbH (limited liability company) or an AG (joint stock company) is treated the same as a German-owned company.  There are no special nationality requirements for directors or shareholders.

However, Germany does prohibit the foreign provision of employee placement services, such as providing temporary office support, domestic help, or executive search services.

While Germany’s Foreign Economic Law permits national security screening of inbound direct investment in individual transactions, in practice no investments have been blocked to date.  Growing Chinese investment activities and acquisitions of German businesses in recent years – including of Mittelstand (mid-sized) industrial market leaders – led German authorities to amend domestic investment screening provisions in 2017, clarifying their scope and giving authorities more time to conduct reviews.  The government further lowered the threshold for the screening of acquisitions in critical infrastructure and sensitive sectors in 2018, to 10 percent of voting rights of a German company. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive sectors to which the lower threshold applies, to prevent foreign actors from engaging in disinformation.  In a prominent case in 2016, the German government withdrew its approval and announced a re-examination of the acquisition of German semi-conductor producer Aixtron by China’s Fujian Grand Chip Investment Fund based on national security concerns.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2019” and Economist Intelligence Unit both provide additional information on Germany investment climate.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Germany publishes results of an annual survey of U.S. investors in Germany on business and investment sentiment (“AmCham Germany Transatlantic Business Barometer”).

Business Facilitation

Before engaging in commercial activities, companies and business operators must register in public directories, the two most significant of which are the commercial register (Handelsregister) and the trade office register (Gewerberegister).

Applications for registration at the commercial register, which is publically available under www.handelsregister.de  , are electronically filed in publicly certified form through a notary.  The commercial register provides information about all relevant relationships between merchants and commercial companies, including names of partners and managing directors, capital stock, liability limitations, and insolvency proceedings.  Registration costs vary depending on the size of the company.

Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), the country’s economic development agency, can assist in the registration processes (https://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Navigation/EN/Invest/Investment-guide/Establishing-a-company/business-registration.html  ) and advise investors, including micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), on how to obtain incentives.

In the EU, MSMEs are defined as follows:

  • Micro-enterprises:  less than 10 employees and less than €2 million annual turnover or less than €2 million in balance sheet total.
  • Small-enterprises:  less than 50 employees and less than €10 million annual turnover or less than €10 million in balance sheet total.
  • Medium-sized enterprises:  less than 250 employees and less than €50 million annual turnover or less than €43 million in balance sheet total.

Outward Investment

The Federal Government provides guarantees for investments by German-based companies in developing and emerging economies and countries in transition in order to insure them against political risks.  In order to receive guarantees, the investment must have adequate legal protection in the host country. The Federal Government does not insure against commercial risks.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Germany does not have a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with the United States. However, a Friendship, Commerce and Navigation (FCN) treaty dating from 1956 contains many BIT-relevant provisions including national treatment, most-favored nation, free capital flows, and full protection and security.

Germany has bilateral investment treaties in force with 126 countries and territories.  Treaties with former sovereign entities (including Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Sudan, and Yugoslavia) continue to apply in an additional seven cases.  These are indicated with an asterisk (*) and have not been taken into account in regard to the total number of treaties. Treaties are in force with the following states, territories, or former sovereign entities.  For a full list of treaties containing investment provisions that are currently in force, see the UNCTAD Navigator at http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/78#iiaInnerMenu  .

Afghanistan; Albania; Algeria; Angola; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina; Armenia; Azerbaijan; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Barbados; Belarus; Benin; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Botswana; Brunei; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cambodia; Cameroon; Cape Verde; Central African Republic; Chad; Chile; China (People’s Republic); Congo (Republic); Congo (Democratic Republic); Costa Rica; Croatia; Cuba; Czechoslovakia; Czech Republic*; Dominica; Egypt; El Salvador; Estonia; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Georgia; Ghana; Greece; Guatemala; Guinea; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Hong Kong; Hungary; Iran; Ivory Coast; Jamaica; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Republic of Korea; Kosovo*; Kuwait; Kyrgyzstan; Laos; Latvia; Lebanon; Lesotho; Liberia; Libya; Lithuania; Madagascar; Malaysia; Mali; Malta; Mauritania; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova; Mongolia; Montenegro*; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Nepal; Nicaragua; Niger; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Oman; Pakistan; Palestinian Territories; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russia*; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Serbia*; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Slovak Republic*; Slovenia; Somalia; South Sudan*; Soviet Union; Sri Lanka; St. Lucia; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Sudan; Syria; Tajikistan; Tanzania; Thailand; Togo; Trinidad & Tobago; Tunisia; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Uganda; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; Uruguay; Uzbekistan; Venezuela; Vietnam; Yemen; Yugoslavia; Zambia; and Zimbabwe.

A BIT with Bolivia was terminated in May 2014, a BIT with South Africa was terminated in October 2014, BITs with India and Indonesia were terminated in June 2017, and a BIT with Ecuador was terminated in May 2018.  The current BIT with Poland will be terminated in October 2019.

Germany has ratified treaties with the following countries and territories that have not yet entered into force:

Country Signed Temporarily Applicable
Brazil 09/21/1995 No
Congo (Republic) 11/22/2010 *
Iraq 12/04/2010 No
Israel 06/24/1976 Yes
Pakistan 12/01/2009 *
Timor-Leste 08/10/2005 No
Panama* 01/25/2011 *
(*) Previous treaties apply

Bilateral Taxation Treaties:

Taxation of U.S. firms within Germany is governed by the “Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation with Respect to Taxes on Income.” This treaty has been in effect since 1989 and was extended in 1991 to the territory of the former German Democratic Republic. With respect to income taxes, both countries agreed to grant credit for their respective federal income taxes on taxes paid on profits by enterprises located in each other’s territory.  A Protocol of 2006 updates the existing tax treaty and includes several changes, including a zero-rate provision for subsidiary-parent dividends, a more restrictive limitation on benefits provision, and a mandatory binding arbitration provision. In 2013, Germany and the United States signed an agreement on legal and administrative cooperation and information exchange with regard to the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. (Full document at https://www.bundesfinanzministerium.de/Content/DE/Standardartikel/Themen/Steuern/Internationales_
Steuerrecht/Staatenbezogene_Informationen/Laender_A_Z/Verein_Staaten/2013-10-15-USA-Abkommen-FATCA.html
 
).

As of January 2019, Germany had bilateral tax treaties with a total of 96 countries, including with the United States, and, regarding inheritance taxes, with 6 countries.  It has special bilateral treaties with respect to income and assets by shipping and aerospace companies with 10 countries and has treaties relating to the exchange of information and administrative assistance with 27 countries.  Germany has initiated and/or is renegotiating new income and wealth tax treaties with 64 countries, special bilateral treaties with respect to income and assets by shipping and aerospace companies with 2 countries, and information exchange and administrative assistance treaties with 7 countries.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Germany has transparent and effective laws and policies to promote competition, including antitrust laws.  The legal, regulatory and accounting systems are complex but transparent and consistent with international norms.

Formally, the public consultation by the federal government is regulated by the Joint Rules of Procedure, which specify that ministries must consult early and extensively with a range of stakeholders on all new legislative proposals.  In practice, laws and regulations in Germany are routinely published in draft, and public comments are solicited. According to the Joint Procedural Rules, ministries should consult the concerned industries’ associations (rather than single companies), consumer organizations, environmental, and other NGOs.  The consultation period generally takes two to eight weeks.

The German Institute for Standardization (DIN) is open to foreign members.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of the European Union, Germany must observe and implement directives and regulations adopted by the EU.  EU regulations are binding and enter into force as immediately applicable law. Directives, on the other hand, constitute a type of framework law that is to be implemented by the Member States in their respective legislative processes, which is regularly observed in Germany.

EU Member States must implement directives within a specified period of time.  Should a deadline not be met, the Member State may suffer the initiation of an infringement procedure, which could result in high fines.  Germany has a set of rules that prescribe how to break down any payment of fines devolving on the Federal Government and the federal states (Länder).  Both bear part of the costs depending on their responsibility within legislation and the respective part they played in non-compliance.

The federal states have a say over European affairs through the Bundesrat (upper chamber of parliament).  The Federal Government is required to instruct the Bundesrat at an early stage on all EU plans that are relevant for the federal states.

The federal government notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) through the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

German law is both predictable and reliable.  Companies can effectively enforce property and contractual rights.  Germany’s well-established enforcement laws and official enforcement services ensure that investors can assert their rights.  German courts are fully available to foreign investors in an investment dispute.

The judicial system is independent, and the federal government does not interfere in the court system.  The legislature sets the systemic and structural parameters, while lawyers and civil law notaries use the law to shape and organize specific situations.  Judges are highly competent. International studies and empirical data have attested that Germany offers an efficient court system committed to due process and the rule of law.

In Germany, most important legal issues and matters are governed by comprehensive legislation in the form of statutes, codes and regulations.  Primary legislation in the area of business law includes:

  • the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated as BGB), which contains general rules on the formation, performance and enforcement of contracts and on the basic types of contractual agreements for legal transactions between private entities;
  • the Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch, abbreviated as HGB), which contains special rules concerning transactions among businesses and commercial partnerships;
  • the Private Limited Companies Act (GmbH-Gesetz) and the Public Limited Companies Act (Aktiengesetz), covering the two most common corporate structures in Germany – the ‘GmbH’ and the ‘Aktiengesellschaft’; and
  • the Act on Unfair Competition (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb, abbreviated as UWG), which prohibits misleading advertising and unfair business practices.

Germany has specialized courts for administrative law, labor law, social law, and finance and tax law.  In 2019, the first German district court for civil matters (in Frankfurt) introduced the possibility to hear international trade disputes in English.  Other federal states are currently discussing plans to introduce these specialized chambers as well. The Federal Patent Court hears cases on patents, trademarks, and utility rights which are related to decisions by the German Patent and Trademarks Office.  Both the German Patent Office (Deutsches Patentamt) and the European Patent Office are headquartered in Munich.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers in cases where investors seek to acquire at least 25 percent of the voting rights to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security of the Federal Republic of Germany.  In the case of acquisitions of critical infrastructure and companies in sensitive sectors, the threshold for triggering an investment review by the government is 10 percent. The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for screening investments. To our knowledge, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy had not prohibited any acquisitions as of April 2019.

There is no requirement for investors to obtain approval for any acquisition, but they must notify the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy if the target company operates critical infrastructure.  In that case, or if the company provides services related to critical infrastructure or is a media company, the threshold for initiating an investment review is the acquisition of at least 10 percent of voting rights.  The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may launch a review within three months after obtaining knowledge of the acquisition; the review must be concluded within four months after receipt of the full set of relevant documents.  An investor may also request a binding certificate of non-objection from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in advance of the planned acquisition to obtain legal certainty at an early stage. If the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy does not open an in-depth review within two months from the receipt of the request, the certificate shall be deemed as granted.

Special rules apply for the acquisition of companies that operate in sensitive security areas, including defense and IT security.  In contrast to the cross-sectoral rules, the sensitive acquisitions must be notified in written form including basic information of the planned acquisition, the buyer, the domestic company that is subject of the acquisition and the respective fields of business.  The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may open a formal review procedure within three months after receiving notification, or the acquisition shall be deemed as approved. If a review procedure is opened, the buyer is required to submit further documents.  The acquisition may be restricted or prohibited within three months after the full set of documents has been submitted.

The German government amended domestic investment screening provisions, effective June 2017, clarifying the scope for review and giving the government more time to conduct reviews, in reaction to an increasing number of acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors, particularly from China.  The amended provisions provide a clearer definition of sectors in which foreign investment can pose a “threat to public order and security,” including operators of critical infrastructure, developers of software to run critical infrastructure, telecommunications operators or companies involved in telecom surveillance, cloud computing network operators and service providers, and telematics companies.  All non-EU entities are now required to notify Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in writing of any acquisition of or significant investment in a German company active in the above sectors. The new rules also extend the time to assess a cross-sector foreign investment from two to four months, and for investments in sensitive sectors, from one to three months, and introduce the possibility of retroactively initiating assessments for a period of five years after the conclusion of an acquisition. Indirect acquisitions such as those through a Germany- or EU-based affiliate company are now also explicitly subject to the new rules.  In 2018, the government further lowered the threshold for the screening of investments, allowing authorities to screen acquisitions by foreign entities of at least 10 percent of voting rights of German companies that operate critical infrastructure (down from 25 percent), as well as companies providing services related to critical infrastructure. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive businesses to which the lower threshold applies, to prevent foreign actors to engage in disinformation.

Any decisions resulting from review procedures are subject to judicial review by the administrative courts.  The German Economic Development Agency (GTAI) provides extensive information for investors, including about the legal framework, labor-related issues and incentive programs, on their website: http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Navigation/EN/Invest/investment-guide.html.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

German government ensures competition on a level playing field on the basis of two main legal codes:

The Law against Limiting Competition is the legal basis for the fight against cartels, merger control, and monitoring abuse.  State and Federal cartel authorities are in charge of enforcing anti-trust law. In exceptional cases, the Minister for Economics and Energy can provide a permit under specific conditions.  The last case was a merger of two retailers (Kaisers/Tengelmann and Edeka) to which a ministerial permit was granted in March 2016. A July 2017 amendment to the Cartel Law expanded the reach of the Federal Cartel Authority (FCA) to include internet and data-based business models; as a result, the FCA investigated Facebook’s data collection practices regarding potential abuse of market power.  A February 2019 decision affirming abuse by the FCA has been challenged by Facebook at a regional court.  In November 2018, the FCA initiated an investigation of Amazon over potential abuse of market power; a decision was pending as of April 2019.

The Law against Unfair Competition (amended last in 2016) can be invoked in regional courts.

Expropriation and Compensation

German law provides that private property can be expropriated for public purposes only in a non-discriminatory manner and in accordance with established principles of constitutional and international law.  There is due process and transparency of purpose, and investors and lenders to expropriated entities receive prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.

The Berlin state government is currently reviewing a petition for a referendum submitted by a citizens’ initiative which calls for the expropriation of residential apartments owned by large corporations.  At least one party in the governing coalition officially supports the proposal, whereas the others remain undecided. Certain long-running expropriation cases date back to the Nazi and communist regimes. During the 2008-9 global financial crisis, the parliament adopted a law allowing emergency expropriation if the insolvency of a bank would endanger the financial system, but the measure expired without having been used.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Germany is a member of both the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under certain conditions.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors in Germany are extremely rare. According to the UNCTAD database of treaty-based investor dispute settlement cases, Germany has been challenged a handful of times, none of which involved U.S. investors.  

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Germany has a domestic arbitration body called the German Institution for Dispute Settlement. ”Book 10” of the German Code of Civil Procedure addresses arbitration proceedings. The International Chamber of Commerce has an office in Berlin. In addition, chambers of commerce and industry offer arbitration services.

Bankruptcy Regulations

German insolvency law, as enshrined in the Insolvency Code, supports and promotes restructuring.  If a business or the owner of a business becomes insolvent, or a business is over-indebted, insolvency proceedings can be initiated by filing for insolvency; legal persons are obliged to do so.  Insolvency itself is not a crime, but deliberately late filing for insolvency is.

Under a regular insolvency procedure, the insolvent business is generally broken up in order to release as much money as possible through the sale of individual items or rights or parts of the company.  Proceeds can then be paid out to the creditors in the insolvency proceedings. The distribution of the monies to the creditors follows the detailed instructions of the Insolvency Code.

Equal treatment of creditors is enshrined in the Insolvency Code.  Some creditors have the right to claim property back. Post-adjudication preferred creditors are served out of insolvency assets during the insolvency procedure.  Ordinary creditors are served on the basis of quotas from the remaining insolvency assets. Secondary creditors, including shareholder loans, are only served if insolvency assets remain after all others have been served.  Germany ranks fourth in the global ranking of “Resolving Insolvency” in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, with a recovery rate of 80.4 cents on the dollar.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Federal and state investment incentives – including investment grants, labor-related and R&D incentives, public loans, and public guarantees – are available to domestic and foreign investors alike.  Different incentives can be combined. In general, foreign and German investors have to meet the same criteria for eligibility.

Germany Trade & Invest, Germany’s federal economic development agency, provides comprehensive information on incentives in English at:  www.gtai.com/incentives-programs  .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are currently two free ports in Germany operating under EU law:  Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven. The duty-free zones within the ports also permit value-added processing and manufacturing for EU-external markets, albeit with certain requirements.  All are open to both domestic and foreign entities. In recent years, falling tariffs and the progressive enlargement of the EU have eroded much of the utility and attractiveness of duty-free zones.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

In general, there are no requirements for local sourcing, export percentage, or local or national ownership.  In some cases, however, there may be performance requirements tied to the incentive, such as creation of jobs or maintaining a certain level of employment for a prescribed length of time.

U.S. companies can generally obtain the visas and work permits required to do business in Germany.  U.S. Citizens may apply for work and residential permits from within Germany. Germany Trade & Invest offers detailed information online at www.gtai.com/coming-to-germany  .

There are no localization requirements for data storage in Germany.  However, in recent years German and European cloud providers have sought to market the domestic location of their servers as a competitive advantage.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The German Government adheres to a policy of national treatment, which considers property owned by foreigners as fully protected under German law.  In Germany, mortgages approvals are based on recognized and reliable collateral. Secured interests in property, both chattel and real, are recognized and enforced.  According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, it takes an average of 52 days to register property in Germany.

The German Land Register Act dates back to 1897 and was last amended in 2017.  The land register mirrors private real property rights and provides information on the legal relationship of the estate.  It documents the owner, rights of third persons, liabilities and restrictions and how these rights relate to each other. Any change in property of real estate must be registered in the land registry to make the contract effective.  Land titles are now maintained in an electronic database and can be consulted by persons with a legitimate interest.

Intellectual Property Rights

Germany has a robust regime to protect intellectual property (IP) rights.  Legal structures are strong and enforcement is good. Nonetheless, internet piracy and counterfeit goods remain an issue, and specific infringing websites are included in the 2018 Notorious Markets List.  Germany has been a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) since 1970. The German Central Customs Authority annually publishes statistics on customs seizures of counterfeit and pirated goods.  The statistics for 2018 can be found under: https://www.zoll.de/SharedDocs/Broschueren/DE/Die-Zollverwaltung/jahresstatistik_2018.html?nn=287024  .  

Germany is also a party to the major international intellectual property protection agreements: the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Geneva Phonograms Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Brussels Satellite Convention, the Treaty of Rome on Neighboring Rights, and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  Many of the latest developments in German IP law are derived from European legislation with the objective to make applications less burdensome and allow for European IP protection.

The following types of protection are available:

Copyrights:  National treatment is also granted to foreign copyright holders, including remuneration for private recordings.  Under the World Trade Organization (WTO) TRIPS Agreement, Germany also grants legal protection for U.S. performing artists against the commercial distribution of unauthorized live recordings in Germany.  Germany signed the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)_Copyright Treaty and ratified it in 2003. Most rights holder organizations regard German authorities’ enforcement of intellectual property protections as effective.  In 2008, Germany implemented the EU enforcement directive with a national bill, thereby strengthening the privileges of rights holders and allowing for improved enforcement action.

Trademarks:  Foreigners may register trademarks subject to exactly the same terms as German nationals at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office.  Protection is valid for a period of ten years and can be extended in ten-year periods.

Patents:  Foreigners may register patents subject to the same terms as German nationals at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office.  Patents are granted for technical inventions which are new, involve an inventive step, and are industrially applicable. However, applicants having neither a domicile nor an establishment in Germany must appoint a patent attorney in Germany as a representative filing the patent application.  The documents must be submitted in German or with a translation into German. The duration of a patent is 20 years, beginning on the day following the invention patent application. Patent applicants can request accelerated examination when filing the application provided that the patent application was previously filed at the U.S. patent authority and that at least one claim had been determined to be allowable. There are a number of differences in patent law that a qualified patent attorney can explain to U.S. patent applicants.

Trade Secrets: Both technical and commercial trade secrets are protected in Germany by the Law Against Unfair Competition.  According to the law, the illegal passing of trade secrets to third parties – including the attempt to do so – for reasons related to competition, self-interest, the benefit of a third party, or with the intent to harm the business owner, is punishable with prison sentences of up to three years or a monetary fine.  In severe cases, including commercial-scale theft and those that involve passing trade secrets to foreign countries, courts can impose prison sentences of up to five years or a monetary fine.

U.S. grants of IP rights are valid in the United States only.  U.S. IPR owners should note that the EU operates on a “first-to-file” principle and not on the “first-inventor-to-file” principle, used in the United States.  It is possible to register for trademark and design protection nationally in Germany or with the European Union Trade Mark and/or Registered Community Design. These provide protection for industrial design or trademark in the entire EU market.  Both national trademarks and European Community Trade Marks (CTMs) can be applied for from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as part of an international trademark registration system (http://www.uspto.gov  ), or the applicant may apply directly for those trademarks from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) at https://euipo.europa.eu/ohimportal/en/home  .

For patents, the situation is slightly different but protection can still be gained via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Although there is not yet a single EU-wide patent system, the European Patent Office (EPO) does grant individual European patents for the contracting states to the European Patent Convention (EPC), which entered into force in 1977.  The 38 contracting states include the entire EU membership and several additional European countries. As an alternative to filing patents for European protection with the USPTO, the EPO provides a convenient single point to file a patent in as many of these countries as an applicant would like: https://www.epo.org/index.html.

In addition, German law offers the possibility to register designs and utility models.

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

Country resources:

For additional information about how to protect intellectual property in Germany, please see Germany Trade & Invest website at http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Navigation/EN/Invest/Investment-guide/The-legal-framework/patents-licensing-trade-marks.html  .

Statistics on the seizure of counterfeit goods are available through the German Customs Authority (Zoll):

https://www.zoll.de/SharedDocs/Broschueren/DE/Die-Zollverwaltung/jahresstatistik_2018.html?nn=287024  

Investors can identify IP lawyers in AmCham Germany’s Online Services Directory: https://www.amcham.de/services/overview/member-services/address-services-directory/   (under “legal references” select “intellectual property.”)

Businesses can also join the Anti-counterfeiting Association (APM)

http://www.markenpiraterie-apm.de/index.php?article_id=1&clang=1   or the Association for the  Enforcement of Copyrights (GVU) http://www.gvu.de  .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

As an EU member state with a well-developed financial sector, Germany welcomes foreign portfolio investment and has an effective regulatory system.  Germany has a very open economy, routinely ranking among the top countries in the world for exports and inward and outward foreign direct investment.  As a member of the Eurozone, Germany does not have sole national authority over international payments, which are a shared task of the Eurosystem, comprised of the European Central Bank and the national central banks of the 19 member states that are part of the eurozone, including the German Central Bank (Bundesbank).  A European framework for screening of foreign investments, which entered into force in April 2019, provides a basis under European law to restrict capital movements into Germany. Global investors see Germany as a safe place to invest, as the real economy continues to outperform other EU countries and German sovereign bonds retain their “safe haven” status.

Listed companies and market participants in Germany must comply with the Securities Trading Act, which bans insider trading and market manipulation.  Compliance is monitored by the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) while oversight of stock exchanges is the responsibility of the state governments in Germany (with BaFin taking on any international responsibility).  Investment fund management in Germany is regulated by the Capital Investment Code (KAGB), which entered into force on July 22, 2013. The KAGB represents the implementation of additional financial market regulatory reforms, committed to in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.  The law went beyond the minimum requirements of the relevant EU directives and represents a comprehensive overhaul of all existing investment-related regulations in Germany with the aim of creating a system of rules to protect investors while also maintaining systemic financial stability.

Money and Banking System

Although corporate financing via capital markets is on the rise, Germany’s financial system remains mostly bank-based.  Bank loans are still the predominant form of funding for firms, particularly the small- and medium-sized enterprises that comprise Germany’s “Mittelstand,” or mid-sized industrial market leaders.  Credit is available at market-determined rates to both domestic and foreign investors, and a variety of credit instruments are available. Legal, regulatory and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international banking norms.  Germany has a universal banking system regulated by federal authorities, and there have been no reports of a shortage of credit in the German economy. After 2010, Germany banned some forms of speculative trading, most importantly “naked short selling.” In 2013, Germany passed a law requiring banks to separate riskier activities such as proprietary trading into a legally separate, fully capitalized unit that has no guarantee or access to financing from the deposit-taking part of the bank.

Germany supports a worldwide financial transaction tax and is pursuing the introduction of such a tax along with several other Eurozone countries.

Germany has a modern banking sector but is considered “over-banked” resulting in low profit margins and a need for consolidation.  The country’s “three-pillar” banking system consists of private commercial banks, cooperative banks, and public banks (savings banks/Sparkassen and the regional state-owned banks/Landesbanken).  The private bank sector is dominated by Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, with balance sheets of €1.35 trillion and €462 billion respectively (2018 figures). Commerzbank received €18 billion in financial assistance from the federal government in 2009, for which the government took a 25 percent stake in the bank (now reduced to 15.6 percent).  Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank confirmed in March 2019 that they are in merger talks, with the outcome unclear as of April 2019. A merger of the two institutions would create the Eurozone’s third-largest lender after HSBC and BNP Paribas with roughly €1.9 trillion in assets (USD 2.04 trillion), about 150,000 employees, about one-fifth of the private customers in Germany, but a market value of just €25 billion (USD 28.4 billion).  Germany’s regional state-owned banks (Landesbanken) were among the hardest hit by the global financial crisis and were forced to reduce their business activities but have lately stabilized again.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

As a member of the Eurozone, Germany uses the euro as its currency, along with 18 other EU countries.  The Eurozone has no restrictions on the transfer or conversion of its currency, and the exchange rate is freely determined in the foreign exchange market.

German authorities respect the independence of the European Central Bank (ECB), and thus have no scope to manipulate the bloc’s exchange rate.  In a February 2019 report, the European Commission (EC) concluded Germany’s persistently high current account surplus – the world’s largest in 2018 at USD 294 billion (7.8 percent of GDP) – “has slightly narrowed since 2016 and is expected to gradually decline due to a pick-up in domestic demand in the coming years whilst remaining at historically high levels over the forecast horizon.”  While low commodity prices and the weak euro exchange rate explain some of the surplus’ increase in 2015-2016, the persistence of Germany’s surplus is a matter of international controversy. German policymakers view the large surplus is the result of market forces rather than active government policies, while the EC and IMF have called on authorities to rebalance towards domestic sources of economic growth by expanding public investment, using available fiscal space, and other policy choices that boost domestic demand.

Germany is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and is committed to further strengthening its national system for the prevention, detection and suppression of money laundering and terrorist financing.  In 2017, Germany’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) was restructured and given more staff. It was transferred to the General Customs Directorate in the Federal Ministry of Finance. At the same time, its tasks and competencies were redefined taking into account the provisions of the Fourth EU Money Laundering Directive.  One focus is now on operational and strategic analysis. On June 26, 2017, legislation to implement the Fourth EU Money Laundering Directive and the European Funds Transfers Regulation (Geldtransfer-Verordnung) entered into force.  (The Act amends the German Money Laundering Act (Geldwäschegesetz – GwG) and a number of further laws).

There is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions or delays on investment remittances or the inflow or outflow of profits.

Germany is the sixth-largest remittance-sending country worldwide.  Migrants in Germany posted USD 22.09 billion (0.6 percent of GDP) abroad in 2018 (World Bank, Bilateral Remittances Matrix 2018).  The most important receiving states for remittances from Germany are EU neighbors such as France, Poland, and Italy. Around USD 8 billion was sent to developing countries, out of which Lebanon, Vietnam, China, Nigeria and Serbia were the biggest receivers.  Remittance flows into Germany amounted to around USD 17.36 billion in 2017, approximately 0.4 percent of Germany’s GDP.

The issue of remittances played a role during the German G20 Presidency.  During its presidency, Germany passed an updated version of its “G20 National Remittance Plan.”  The document states that Germany’s focus will remain on “consumer protection, linking remittances to financial inclusion, creating enabling regulatory frameworks and generating research and data on diaspora and remittances dynamics.” The 2017 “G20 National Remittance Plan” can be found at https://www.gpfi.org/sites/default/files/documents/2017 percent20G20 percent20Financial percent20Inclusion percent20Action percent20Plan percent20final.pdf    

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The German government does not currently have a sovereign wealth fund or an asset management bureau.  Following German reunification, the federal government set up a public agency to manage the privatization of assets held by the former East Germany.  In 2000, the agency, known as TLG Immobilien, underwent a strategic reorientation from a privatization-focused agency to a profit-focused active portfolio manager of commercial and residential property.  In 2012, the federal government sold TLG Immobilien to private investors.

9. Corruption

Among industrialized countries, Germany ranks 11th out of 180, according to Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index.  Some sectors including the automotive industry, construction sector, and public contracting, exhibit political influence and party finance remains only partially transparent.  Nevertheless, U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an impediment to investment in Germany. Germany is a signatory of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

Over the last two decades, Germany has increased penalties for the bribery of German officials, corrupt practices between companies, and price-fixing by companies competing for public contracts.  It has also strengthened anti-corruption provisions on financial support extended by the official export credit agency and has tightened the rules for public tenders. Government officials are forbidden from accepting gifts linked to their jobs.  Most state governments and local authorities have contact points for whistle-blowing and provisions for rotating personnel in areas prone to corruption. There are serious penalties for bribing officials and price fixing by companies competing for public contracts.

According to the Federal Criminal Office, in 2017, 63 percent of all corruption cases were directed towards the public administration (up from 49 percent in 2016), 22 percent towards the business sector (down from 30 percent in 2016), 12 percent towards law enforcement and judicial authorities (down from 18 percent in 2016), and 3 percent to political officials (same as in 2016).

A prominent corruption case concerns the “BER” Berlin Airport construction project. Proceedings were opened in October 2015 against a manager of the airport operating company. In October 2016, the Cottbus district court sentenced the manager to 3.5 years in prison and a fine of €150,000 (USD 160,000) on the grounds of corruption.  Two leading employees of a technical company working on electricity, heating, and sanitary equipment received suspended jail sentences.

Parliamentarians are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish earnings from outside employment.  Disclosures are available to the public via the Bundestag website (next to the parliamentarians’ biographies) and in the Official Handbook of the Bundestag. Penalties for noncompliance can range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary.

Donations to political parties are legally permitted.  However, if they exceed €50,000, they must be reported to the President of the Bundestag.  Donations of €10,000 or more must be included in the party’s annual accountability report to the President of the Bundestag.

State prosecutors are generally responsible for investigating corruption cases, but not all state governments have prosecutors specializing in corruption.  Germany has successfully prosecuted hundreds of domestic corruption cases over the years, including large scale cases against major companies.

Media reports in recent years about bribery investigations against Siemens, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, and Ferrostaal increased awareness of the problem of corruption.  As a result, an increasing number of listed companies and multinationals have expanded their compliance departments, tightened internal codes of conduct, established points of conducts, and offered more ethics training to employees.

The Federation of Germany Industries (BDI), the Association of German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) provide guidelines in paper and electronic format on how to prevent corruption in an effort to convince all including small- and medium- sized companies to catch up.  In addition, BDI provides model texts if companies with two different sets of compliance codes want to do business with each other.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Germany was a signatory to the UN Anti-Corruption Convention in 2003.  The Bundestag ratified the Convention in November 2014.

Germany adheres to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention which criminalizes bribery of foreign public officials by German citizens and firms.  The necessary tax reform legislation ending the tax write-off for bribes in Germany and abroad became law in 1999. Germany actively enforces the convention and is increasingly better managing the risk of transnational corruption.

Germany participates in the relevant EU anti-corruption measures and signed two EU conventions against corruption.  However, while Germany ratified the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption in 2017, it has not yet ratified the Civil Law Convention on Corruption.

Resources to Report Corruption

There is no central government anti-corruption agency in Germany.

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Prof. Dr. Edda Muller, Chair
Transparency International Germany
Alte Schonhauser Str. 44, 10119 Berlin
+49 30 549 898 0
office@transparency.de

The Federal Criminal Office publishes an annual report: “Lagebild Korruption” – the latest one covers 2017.

https://www.bka.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Publikationen/JahresberichteUndLagebilder/
Korruption/korruptionBundeslagebild2017.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=6 10
 

10. Political and Security Environment

Political acts of violence against either foreign or domestic business enterprises are extremely rare.  Isolated cases of violence directed at certain minorities and asylum seekers have not targeted U.S. investments or investors.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The German labor force is generally highly skilled, well-educated, and productive.  Employment in Germany has continued to rise for the thirteenth consecutive year and reached an all-time high of 44.8 million in 2018, an increase of 562,000 (or 1.3 percent) from 2017—the highest level since German reunification in 1990.

Simultaneously, unemployment has fallen by more than half since 2005, and reached in 2018 the lowest average annual value since German reunification.  In 2018, around 2.34 million people were registered as unemployed, corresponding to an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, according to the Germany Federal Employment Agency.  Using internationally comparable data from the European Union’s statistical office Eurostat, Germany had an average annual unemployment rate of 3.4 percent in 2018, the second lowest rate in the European Union.  All employees are by law covered by the federal unemployment insurance that compensates for the lack of income for up to 24 months.

Germany’s national youth unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in 2018, the lowest in the EU.  The German vocational training system has gained international interest as a key contributor to Germany’s highly skilled workforce and its sustainably low youth unemployment rate. Germany’s so-called “dual vocational training,” a combination of theoretical courses taught at schools and practical application in the workplace, teaches and develops many of the skills employers need.  Each year, there are more than 500,000 apprenticeship positions available in more than 340 recognized training professions, in all sectors of the economy and public administration. Approximately 50 percent of students choose to start an apprenticeship. The government is promoting apprenticeship opportunities, in partnership with industry, through the “National Pact to Promote Training and Young Skilled Workers.”

An element of growing concern for German business is the aging and shrinking of the population, which will result in labor shortages in the future.  Official forecasts at the behest of the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs predict that the current working age population will shrink by almost 3 million between 2010 and 2030, resulting in an overall shortage of workforce and skilled labor.  Labor bottlenecks already constrain activity in many industries, occupations, and regions. According to the Federal Employment Agency, doctors; medical and geriatric nurses; mechanical, automotive, and electrical engineers; and IT professionals are in particular short supply.  The government has begun to enhance its efforts to ensure an adequate labor supply by improving programs to integrate women, elderly, young people, and foreign nationals into the labor market. The government has also facilitated the immigration of qualified workers.

Labor Relations

Germans consider the cooperation between labor unions and employer associations to be a fundamental principle of their social market economy and believe this has contributed to the country’s resilience during the economic and financial crisis.  Insofar as job security for members is a core objective for German labor unions, unions often show restraint in collective bargaining in weak economic times and often can negotiate higher wages in strong economic conditions. According to the Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI), the number of workdays lost to labor actions increased significantly to 1 million in 2018, compared to 238,000 in 2017.  WSI assesses this unusual increase was mostly due to the labor conflict in the metal industry, which resulted in a large number of warning strikes at various companies and plants. However, in an international comparison, Germany is in the lower midrange with regards to strike numbers and intensity. All workers have the right to strike, except for civil servants (including teachers and police) and staff in sensitive or essential positions, such as members of the armed forces.

Germany’s constitution, federal legislation, and government regulations contain provisions designed to protect the right of employees to form and join independent unions of their choice. The overwhelming majority of unionized workers are members of one of the eight largest unions — largely grouped by industry or service sector — which are affiliates of the German Trade Union Confederation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB).  Several smaller unions exist outside the DGB. Overall trade union membership has, however, been in decline over the last several years. In 2016, about 18.5 percent of the workforce and 26 percent of the whole population belonged to unions. Since peaking at around 12 million members shortly after German reunification, total DGB union membership has dropped to 5.9 million, IG Metall being the largest German labor union with 2.3 million members, followed by the influential service sector union Ver.di (1.9 million members).

The constitution and enabling legislation protect the right to collective bargaining, and agreements are legally binding to the parties.  In 2017, over three quarters (78 percent) of non-self-employed workers were directly or indirectly covered by a collective wage agreement, 59 percent of the labor force in the western part of the country and approximately 47 percent in the East.  On average, collective bargaining agreements in Germany were valid for 25 months in 2017.

By law, workers can elect a works council in any private company employing at least five people.  The rights of the works council include the right to be informed, to be consulted, and to participate in company decisions.  Works councils often help labor and management to settle problems before they become disputes and disrupt work. In addition, “co-determination” laws give the workforce in medium-sized or large companies (corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships limited by shares, co-operatives, and mutual insurance companies) significant voting representation on the firms’ supervisory boards.  This co-determination in the supervisory board extends to all company activities.

The strong collectively negotiated wage increases in 2018 and the rise of the federal Germany-wide statutory minimum wage to €9.19 (USD 10.32) on January 1, 2019, led to 3.1 percent nominal wage increase, the highest in Germany for eight years.

Labor costs increased by 2.6 percent in 2017.  With an average labor cost of €34.10 (USD 42.24) per hour, Germany ranked fifth among the 28 EU-members states (EU average: €26.80/USD 33.20) in 2017.  Since the introduction of the European common currency, the increases of the unit labor cost in Germany remained significantly below EU average.

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) 2018 €3,386,000 million 2017 $3,677,439 https://data.worldbank.org/country/germany?view=chart  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2016 €54,810 2017 $136,128 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2016 €223,813 million 2017 $405,552 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2016 €21.7Amt 2017 27.2% UNCTAD data available athttps://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx    

* Source for Host Country Data: Federal Statistical Office DESTATIS, Bundesbank; http://www.bundesbank.de   (German Central Bank, 2017 data to be published in April 2019, only available in €)


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 $950,837 100% Total Outward $1,606,120 100%
Netherlands $181,080 19.0% United States $267,769 16.7%
Luxembourg $164,449 17.3% Netherlands $202,022 12.6%
United States $93,572 9.8% Luxembourg $191,449 11.9%
United Kingdom $83,299 8.8% United Kingdom $149,184 9.3%
Switzerland $79,499 8.4% France $90,077 5.6%
“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 $12,173,972 100% All Countries $1,266,593 100% All Countries $2,192,351 100%
Luxembourg $680,807 5.6% Luxembourg $566,381 44.7% France $317,050 14.5%
France $416,561 3.4% United States $161,234 12.7% United States $250,607 11.4%
United States $411,841 3.4% Ireland $113,430 9.0% Netherlands $232,576 10.6%
Netherlands $277,569 2.3% France $99,512 7.9% United Kingdom $153,672 7.0%
United Kingdom $211,076 1.7% United Kingdom $57,404 4.5% Italy $139,334 6.4%

Poland

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Poland welcomes foreign investment as a source of capital, growth, and jobs, and as a vehicle for technology transfer, research and development (R&D), and integration into global supply chains.  The government’s Strategy for Responsible Development identifies key goals for attracting investment, including improving the investment climate, a stable macroeconomic and regulatory environment, and high-quality corporate governance, including in state-controlled companies.  By the end of 2017, according to IMF and National Bank of Poland data, Poland attracted around USD 239 billion (cumulative) in foreign direct investment (FDI), principally from Western Europe and the United States. In 2017, reinvested profits dominated the net inflow of FDI to Poland.  The greatest reinvestment of profits occurred in services and manufacturing, reflecting the change of Poland’s economy to a more service-oriented and less capital-intensive structure.

Foreign companies generally enjoy unrestricted access to the Polish market.  However, Polish law limits foreign ownership of companies in selected strategic sectors, and limits acquisition of real estate, especially agricultural and forest land.  Additionally, the current government has expressed a desire to increase the percentage of domestic ownership in some industries such as banking and retail which have large holdings by foreign companies, and has employed sectoral taxes and other measures to advance this aim.  In March 2018, Sunday trading ban legislation went into effect, which is gradually phasing out Sunday retail commerce in Poland, especially for large retailers. In 2019, stores may operate an average of one Sunday a month, and in 2020 a total ban will be in effect (with the exception of seven Sundays).  Polish authorities have publicly favored introducing a digital services tax. Since no draft has been released, the details of such a tax are unknown, but it would affect mainly foreign digital companies.

There is a variety of Polish agencies involved in investment promotion:

  • The Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology has two departments involved in investment promotion and facilitation: the Investment Development and the Trade and International Relations Departments.  The Deputy Minister supervising the Investment Development Department was appointed in 2019 to be ombudsman for foreign investors. https://www.gov.pl/web/przedsiebiorczosc-technologia/  
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) promotes Poland’s foreign relations including economic relations, and along with the Polish Chamber of Commerce (KIG), organizes missions of Polish firms abroad and hosts foreign trade missions to Poland.   https://www.msz.gov.pl/  ; https://kig.pl/  
  • The Polish Investment and Trade Agency (PAIH) is the main institution responsible for promotion and facilitation of foreign investment. The agency is responsible for promoting Polish exports, for inward foreign investment and for Polish investments abroad. The agency operates as part of the Polish Development Fund, which integrates government development agencies.  PAIH coordinates all operational instruments, such as commercial diplomatic missions, commercial fairs and programs dedicated to specific markets and sectors. The Agency has opened offices abroad including in the United States (San Francisco and Washington, D.C, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and New York. PAIH’s services are available to all investors. https://www.paih.gov.pl/en  
  • The Polish Chamber of Commerce in the United States (POLCHAM USA), located in Washington, D.C., promotes the strengthening of economic and trade relationships between the United States and Poland.  It is an independent, non-profit organization. https://polchamusa.org/  

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Poland allows both foreign and domestic entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in most forms of remunerative activity per the Entrepreneurs’ Law which went into effect on April 30, 2018.  Forms of business activity are described in the Commercial Companies Code. Poland does place limits on foreign ownership and foreign equity for a limited number of sectors. Polish law limits non-EU citizens to 49 percent ownership of a company’s capital shares in the air transport, radio and television broadcasting, and airport and seaport operations sectors.  Licenses and concessions for defense production and management of seaports are granted on the basis of national treatment for investors from OECD countries.

Pursuant to the Broadcasting Law, a television broadcasting company may only receive a license if the voting share of foreign owners does not exceed 49 percent and if the majority of the members of the management and supervisory boards are Polish citizens and hold permanent residence in Poland.  In January 2017, a team comprised of officials from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) and the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) was created in order to review and tighten restrictions on large media, and limit foreign ownership of the media.  While no legislation has been introduced, there is concern that possible future proposals may limit foreign ownership of media sector.

In the insurance sector, at least two management board members, including the chair, must speak Polish.  The Law on Freedom of Economic Activity (LFEA) requires companies to obtain government concessions, licenses, or permits to conduct business in certain sectors, such as broadcasting, aviation, energy, weapons/military equipment, mining, and private security services.  The LFEA also requires a permit from the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology for certain major capital transactions (i.e., to establish a company when a wholly or partially Polish-owned enterprise has contributed in-kind to a company with foreign ownership by incorporating liabilities in equity, contributing assets, receivables, etc.).  A detailed description of business activities that require concessions and licenses can be found here: https://www.paih.gov.pl/publications/how_to_do_business_in_Poland

Polish law restricts foreign investment in certain land and real estate.  Land usage types such as technology and industrial parks, business and logistic centers, transport, housing plots, farmland in special economic zones, household gardens and plots up to two hectares are exempt from agricultural land purchase restrictions.  Since May 2016, foreign citizens from European Economic Area member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, as well as Switzerland, do not need permission to purchase any type of real estate including agricultural land. Investors from outside of the EEA or Switzerland need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration (with the consent of the Defense and Agriculture Ministries), pursuant to the Act on Acquisition of Real Estate by Foreigners, prior to the acquisition of real estate or shares which give control of a company holding or leasing real estate.  The permit is valid for two years from the day of issuance, and the ministry can issue a preliminary document valid for one year. Permits may be refused for reasons of social policy or public security. The exceptions to this rule include purchases of an apartment or garage, up to 0.4 hectares of undeveloped urban land, and “other cases provided for by law” (generally: proving a particularly close connection with Poland). Laws to restrict farmland and forest purchases came into force April 30, 2016, and are addressed in more detail in Section 6: Real Property.

Since September 2015 the Act on the Control of Certain Investments has provided for the national security-related screening of acquisitions in high-risk sectors including: energy generation and distribution; petroleum production, processing and distribution; telecommunications; media and mining; and manufacturing and trade of explosives, weapons and ammunition.  Poland maintains a list of strategic companies that can be amended at any time, but is updated at least once a year, usually in January. The national security review mechanism does not appear to constitute a de facto barrier for investment, and does not unduly target U.S. investment.  According to the Act, prior to the acquisition of shares of strategic companies (including the acquisition of proprietary interests in entities and/or their enterprises) the purchaser must notify the controlling government body and receive approval.  The obligation to inform the controlling government body applies to transactions involving the acquisition of a “material stake” in companies subject to special protection. The Act stipulates that failure to notify carries a fine of up to PLN 100,000,000 (approx. USD 25,575,542) or a penalty of imprisonment between six months and five years (or both penalties together) for a person acting on behalf of a legal person or organizational unit that acquires a material stake without prior notification.

The Polish government has drafted an amendment to extend the list of state companies with restrictions on selling shares and to increase the powers of the Prime Minister in the area of state property management.  The companies slated for additional restrictions are pipeline operator PERN, postal service Poczta Polska, aviation group PGL, railway system  PKP and the Special Purpose Vehicle in charge of building Poland’s planned central airport.  The amendment also sanctions possible mergers of such entities.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Poland can be found here:

http://www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/economic-survey-poland.htm  

Additionally, the OECD Working Group on Bribery has provided recommendations on the implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in Poland:  http://www.oecd.org/daf/anti-bribery/poland-oecdanti-briberyconvention.htm  

In March 2018, the OECD published a Rural Policy Review on Poland.  According to this review, Poland has seen impressive growth in recent years, and yet regional disparities in economic and social outcomes remain large by OECD standards.  The review is available at: http://www.oecd.org/poland/oecd-rural-policy-reviews-poland-2018-9789264289925-en.htm  

Business Facilitation

The Polish government has continued to implement reforms aimed at improving the investment climate with a special focus on the SME sector and innovations.  In 2016-18, Poland reformed its R&D tax incentives with new regulations and changes encouraging wider use of the R&D tax breaks. As of January 1, 2019, a new mechanism reducing the tax rate on income derived from intellectual property rights (IP Box) was introduced.  Please see Section 5 of this report for more information.

A package of five laws referred to as the “Business Constitution”—intended to facilitate the operation of small domestic enterprises—was gradually introduced in 2018.  The main principle of the Business Constitution is the presumption of innocence of business owners in dealings with the government.

Poland made enforcing contracts easier by introducing an automated system to assign cases to judges randomly.  Despite these reforms and others, some investors have expressed serious concerns regarding over-regulation, over-burdened courts and prosecutors, and overly-burdensome bureaucratic processes.  The way tax audits are performed has changed considerably. For instance, in many cases the appeal against the findings of an audit now must be lodged with the authority that issued the initial finding rather than a higher authority or third party.

In Poland, business activity may be conducted in forms of a sole proprietor, civil law partnership, as well as commercial partnerships and companies regulated in provisions of the Commercial Partnerships and Companies Code.  Sole proprietor and civil law partnerships are registered in the Central Registration and Information on Business (CEIDG), which is housed by the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology: 

https://prod.ceidg.gov.pl/CEIDG.CMS.ENGINE/?D;f124ce8a-3e72-4588-8380-63e8ad33621f  

Commercial companies are classified as partnerships (registered partnership, professional partnership, limited partnership, and limited joint-stock partnership) and companies (limited liability company and joint-stock company).  A partnership or company is registered in the National Court Register (KRS) and kept by the competent district court for the registered office of the established partnership or company. Local corporate lawyers report that starting a business remains costly in terms of time and money, though KRS registration in the National Court Register averages less than two weeks according to the Ministry of Justice and four weeks according to the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report.  A 2018 law introduced a new type of company—PSA (Prosta Spółka Akcyjna – Simple Joint Stock Company).  PSAs are meant to facilitate start-ups with simpler and cheaper registration procedures. The minimum initial capitalization is 1 PLN (approx. USD 0.26) while other types of registration require 5,000 PLN (approx. USD 1,315) or 50,000 PLN (approx. USD 13,158).  A PSA has a board of directors, which merges the responsibilities of a management board and a supervisory board. The provision for PSA will enter into force in March 2020.

New provisions of the Public Procurement Law (“PPL”) transposing provisions of EU directives coordinating the rules of public procurement came into force on October 18, 2018.  These regulations apply to proceedings concerning contracts with a value equal to or exceeding the EU thresholds.

Polish lawmakers are gradually digitalizing the services of the KRS.   The first change, which entered into force on March 15, 2018, was the obligation to file financial statements with the Repository of Financial Documents via the Ministry of Finance website.  There is also a new requirement for representatives and shareholders of companies to submit statements on their addresses. A requirement to file financial statements exclusively in electronic form entered into force on October 1, 2018, and, beginning in  March 2020, all applications will have to be filed with the commercial register electronically. A certified e-signature may be obtained from one of the commercial e-signature providers listed on the following website: https://www.nccert.pl/  

Agencies that a business will need to file with in order to register in the KRS:

Both registers are available in English and foreign companies may use them.

Poland’s Single Point of Contact site for business registration and information is: https://www.biznes.gov.pl/en/  and an online guide to choose a type of business registration is: https://www.biznes.gov.pl/poradnik/-/scenariusz/REJESTRACJA_DZIALALNOSCI_GOSPODARCZEJ  

Outward Investment

The Polish Agency for Investment and Trade (PAIH) under the umbrella of the Polish Development Fund, plays a key role in promoting Polish investment abroad.  More information on PFR can be found in Section 7 and at its website: https://pfr.pl/  

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Entrepreneurship and Technology have   significantly reformed Poland’s economic diplomacy. The Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency (PAIiIZ) was reformed in February 2017 to be the Polish Agency for Investment and Trade (PAIH).  Trade and Investment Promotion Sections in embassies and consulates around the world have been replaced by PAIH offices. These 70 offices worldwide constitute a global network and include six in the United States.  

PAIH offices offer a range of services to include: finding potential partners for Polish manufacturers/exporters; providing information on business opportunities; assisting in the organization of business trips and study tours; and assisting in initiating first contacts between interested local importers, distributors or wholesalers and Polish manufacturers or service providers.  The Agency implements pro-export projects such as the Polish Tech Bridges dedicated to expansion of innovative Polish SMEs.  PAIH has a number of investment/export-oriented government programs specially developed to promote Polish companies abroad such as Go China, Go India, Go Africa, Go ASEAN and Go Arctic.  Vietnam and Iran are also priority investment and export destinations for Poland, though trade with Iran has dropped off since the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions. Poland is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).  Poland co-founded and actively supports the Three Seas Initiative, which seeks to improve north-south connections in road, energy and telecom infrastructure in 12 countries on NATO’s and the EU’s eastern flank. . PAIH is responsible for the promotion of Poland at the EXPO Dubai 2020. 

The national development bank BGK (Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego) offers support for goods with a Polish component and depending on the credit can be a minimum of 30-40 percent of net contract revenue.  BGK offers a number of short-term credit instruments like documentary letters of credit for post-financing. BGK offers direct credit for importers to purchase investment goods and services. The Export Credit Insurance Corporation KUKE insures the BGK-issued credit, including for companies from countries with higher trade risk.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Poland has concluded bilateral investment agreements with the following countries: Albania (1993); Argentina (1992); Australia (1992); Azerbaijan (1999); Bangladesh (1999); Belarus (1993); Canada (1990); Chile (2000); China (1989); Egypt (1998); India (1997 – terminated in March 2017;   a 15 year sunset clause applies); Indonesia (1993); Iran (2001; although Poland supports international sanctions regimes); Israel (1992); Jordan; Kazakhstan (1995); Kuwait (1993); Macedonia (1997); Malaysia (1994); Moldova (1995); Mongolia (1996); Morocco (1995); Norway (1990); Serbia and Montenegro (1997); Singapore (1993); Slovakia (1996 termination under consultations); South Korea (1990); Switzerland (1990); Thailand (1993); Tunisia (1993); Turkey (1994); Ukraine (1993); United Arab Emirates (1994); the United States (1994); Uruguay (1994); Uzbekistan (1995); Vietnam (1994).

As of March 2019, Poland has terminated or is in the process of termination of all bilateral BITs with EU member states except with Slovakia (consultations on the termination process are in progress).

The United States and Poland signed a Treaty Concerning Business and Economic Relations in 1990 that was amended and ratified in October 2004 due to Poland’s entrance into the EU.  A current list of all Poland’s BITs, including the documents themselves, can be found at: http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/168#iiaInnerMenu  

Poland has signed Double Tax Treaties with over 80 countries.  The United States shares a double taxation treaty with Poland; an updated bilateral tax treaty was signed in February 2013 and is awaiting U.S. ratification.  The Agreement between the United States of America and the Republic of Poland on Social Security (“Totalization Treaty”) prevents double taxation, enables resumption of payments to suspended beneficiaries, and allows transfer of benefit eligibility.

In 2018, the Polish tax system again underwent significant changes. The most important changes involved:

  1. rules for mandatory disclosure;
  2. major changes to processes for “withholding tax”;
  3. introduction of a nine percent CIT for some companies;
  4. incentives for registering intellectual property, a.k.a. “IP Box” (See Section 5 for more details);
  5. new rules for accounting for tax loss;
  6. additional cost on accounting of hypothetical interest;
  7. an exit tax on both corporations and individuals; and
  8. additional liabilities for tax evasion.

More information can be found at http://taxsummaries.pwc.com/ID/Poland-Overview    

Some U.S. investors have expressed concern that Poland’s tax authorities do not always consistently uphold presumably binding tax decisions and sometimes seek retroactive payments after a reversal.  Investors have reported an increase of inspections and more aggressive tax auditing, including on transfer pricing. The double taxation treaty does not cover stock options as part of remuneration packages, according to some investors.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Polish Constitution contains a number of provisions related to administrative law and procedures.  It states administrative bodies have a duty to observe and comply with the law of Poland. The Code of Administrative Procedures (CAP) states rules and principles concerning participation and involvement of citizens in processes affecting them, the giving of reasons for decision, and forms of appeal and review.

As a member of the EU, Poland complies with EU directives by harmonizing rules or translating them into national legislation.  Rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the central, regional, and municipal levels. Various ministries are engaged in rule-making that affects foreign business, such as pharmaceutical reimbursement at the Ministry of Health or incentives for R&D at the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology.  Regional and municipal level governments can levy certain taxes and affect foreign investors through permitting and zoning.

Polish accounting standards do not differ significantly from international standards.  Major international accounting firms provide services in Poland. In cases where there is no national accounting standard, the appropriate International Accounting Standard may be applied.  However, investors have complained of regulatory unpredictability and high levels of administrative red tape. Foreign and domestic investors must comply with a variety of laws concerning taxation, labor practices, health and safety, and the environment.  Complaints about these laws, especially the tax system, center on frequent changes, lack of clarity, and strict penalties for minor errors.

Poland has improved its regulatory policy system over the last years.  The government introduced a central online system to provide access to the general public to regulatory impact assessment (RIA) and other documents sent for consultation to selected groups such as trade unions and business.  Proposed laws and regulations are published in draft form for public comment, and ministries must conduct public consultations. Poland follows OECD recognized good regulatory practices, but investors say the lack of regulations governing the role of stakeholders in the legislative process is a problem.  Participation in public consultations and the window for comments are often limited.

New guidelines for RIA, consultation and ex post evaluation were adopted under the Better Regulation Program in 2015, providing more detailed guidance and stronger emphasis on public consultation.  Like many countries, Poland faces challenges to fully implement its regulatory policy requirements and to ensure that RIA and consultation comments are used to improve decision making.  The OECD suggests Poland extend its online public consultation system and consider using instruments such as green papers more systematically for early-stage consultation to identify options for addressing a policy problem.  OECD considers steps taken to introduce ex post evaluation of regulations encouraging.

Bills can be submitted to the parliament for debate as “citizen’s bills” if authors can collect 100,000 signatures.  NGOs and private sector associations most often take advantage of this avenue. Parliamentary bills can also be submitted by a group of parliamentarians, a mechanism that bypasses public consultation and which both domestic and foreign investors have criticized.  Changes to the government’s rules of procedure introduced in June 2016 reduced the requirements for RIA for preparations of new legislation.

Administrative authorities are subject to oversight by courts and other bodies (e.g., Supreme Audit Chamber – NIK), the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, special commissions and agencies, inspectorates, the Prosecutor and parliamentary committees.  Polish Parliamentary committees utilize a distinct system to examine and instruct ministries and administrative agency heads. Committees’ oversight of administrative matters consists of: reports on state budgets implementation and preparation of new budgets, citizens’ complaints, and reports from the external audit agency (NIK) reports.  In addition, courts and prosecutors’ offices sometimes bring cases to parliament’s attention. The Ombudsman’s institution works relatively well in Poland. Polish citizens have a right to complain and to put forward grievances before administrative bodies. Proposed legislation can be tracked on the Prime Minister’s webpage, http://legislacja.rcl.gov.pl/   and Parliament’s webpage: http://www.sejm.gov.pl/Sejm8.nsf/proces.xsp  

Poland has consistently met or exceeded the Department of State’s minimum requirements for fiscal transparency: https://www.state.gov/e/eb/ifd/oma/fiscaltransparency/273700.htm.  Poland’s budget and information on debt obligations were widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online.  The budget was substantially complete and considered generally reliable. Poland’s supreme audit institution (NIK) audited the government’s accounts and made its reports publicly available, including online.  The budget structure and classifications are complex and the Polish authorities agree more work is needed to address deficiencies in the process of budgetary planning and procedures. State budget encompasses only part of the public finances sector.  In 2018, Poland continued its work to reform the budgetary process to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of spending and to simplify the budget structure. The completion of the first stage of these efforts is expected by the end of 2019.

International Regulatory Considerations  

Since Poland’s EU accession (May 2004) Poland has been transposing European legislation and reforming its regulations in compliance with the EU system.  Poland sometimes disagrees with EU regulations related to renewable energy and emissions due to its important domestic coal industry.

In 2018, Poland saw significant increases in wholesale electricity prices due largely to an increase in the price of coal and EU emissions permits.  The government’s initial plans of proposing a new law to protect household consumers from rising electricity prices put it at odds with the European Commission (EC) for the lack of notification of what amounted to state aid measures before they took effect.  The Polish energy market regulator (URE) also criticized the proposed bill for household power bills not reflecting the market rate and claimed the proposed law threatened URE’s independence.

Poland participates in the process of creation of European norms.  There is strong encouragement for non-governmental organizations, such as environmental and consumer groups, to actively participate in European standardization.  In areas not covered by the European normalization the Polish Committee for Standardization (PKN) introduces norms identical with international norms i.e., PN-ISO and PN-IEC.  PKN actively cooperates with international and European standards organizations and with standards bodies from other countries. PKN is a member-founder of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and a member of International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) since 1923.

PKN also cooperates with ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials) (ASTM) International and the World Trade Organization’s WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (WTO/TBT).  Poland has been a member of WTO since July 1, 1995, and was a member of GATT since October 18, 1967. All EU member states are WTO members, as is the EU in its own right. While the member states coordinate their position in Brussels and Geneva, the European Commission alone speaks for the EU and its members in almost all WTO affairs.  PKN runs the WTO/TBT National Information Point in order to apply the provisions of the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade with respect to information exchange concerning national standardization.

Useful Links:

http://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/european-standards/harmonised-standards/  

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/oj/direct-access.html?locale=en  )

Legal System and Judicial Independence

During the year the government continued to implement and introduce new measures related to the judiciary that drew strong criticism from some legal experts, NGOs, and international organizations.  Some observers have criticized in particular the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the recently enacted Supreme Court Law, which they believe could affect economic interests, in that final judgments issued since 1997 could be challenged and overturned in whole or in part over the next three years, including some long-standing judgments on which economic actors have relied.  As of February 6, 2019, the Justice Minister has submitted five extraordinary complaints to the Chamber. The first complaints are to be reviewed on April 3.

In December 2017, the European Commission triggered a disciplinary proceeding under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty for what it considered “systemic threats” to the independence of the Polish courts.  The key concerns focused on the Polish government’s ability to remove up to 40 percent of the Supreme Court’s judges and the justice minister’s power to discipline judges. Separately, the Commission has sought redress through the European Court of Justice.

In April and May 2018, the Polish President signed into law amendments to the common courts law, the National Judiciary Council law, and the 2017 amendments to the Supreme Court law in response to the December 2017 European Commission rule of law recommendation and infringement procedure. In December 2017, the European Commission triggered a disciplinary proceeding under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty for what  the Commission considered determined to be “systemic threats” to the independence of the Polish courts. The key concerns focused on the Polish government’s ability to remove up to 40 percent of the Supreme Court’s judges and the justice minister’s power to discipline judges. Separately, the Commission has sought redress through the European Court of Justice. The Polish government has countered that its reforms do not infringe judicial independence and are intended to make court operations more efficient and transparent.

On July 2, 2018, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland two days before provisions of the revised Supreme Court law lowering the mandatory retirement age for judges went into effect (affecting 27 of the 74 Supreme Court justices at that time).  On August 2, 2018, the Polish Supreme Court ruled to suspend further implementation of the mandatory retirement age provisions of the amended Supreme Court law, and requested that the European Court of Justice rule on whether these provisions comply with EU law. The Polish President Andrzej Duda refused to acknowledge the Supreme Court’s suspension of the mandatory retirement provisions. On September 24, the European Commission referred the country’s amended Supreme Court law to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), stating “the Polish law on the Supreme Court is incompatible with EU law as it undermines the principle of judicial independence, including the “irremovability” of judges.”  The European Commission asked the ECJ to review the law and order interim measures to restore the Supreme Court to its composition before the revised law was implemented. In September and October, the president continued to implement the amended Supreme Court law by appointing judges to the newly created disciplinary and extraordinary appeals chambers and to positions vacated by voluntarily retired judges. Some judicial experts, NGOs, and international organizations saw the Polish President’s appointments as an attempt to preempt any adverse ruling by the ECJ. On October 19, the ECJ issued an interim injunction requiring the government to reinstate those judges who had been retired under the amended law.  On November 19, the government submitted legislation to automatically reappoint all justices retired under the Supreme Court law to fulfill the ECJ’s interim measures, and President Duda signed the legislation into law on December 17. By the end of 2018, the ECJ had not announced a date for considering the European Commission’s case against Poland’s Supreme Court law.

The Polish legal system is code-based and prosecutorial.  The main source of the country’s law is the Constitution of 1997.  The legal system is a mix of Continental civil law (Napoleonic) and remnants of communist legal theory.  Poland accepts the obligatory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but with reservations.  In civil and commercial matters first instance courts sit in single-judge panels, while courts handling appeals sit in three-judge panels.  District Courts (Sad Rejonowy) handle the majority of disputes in the first instance. When the value of a dispute exceeds a certain amount or the subject matter requires more expertise (such as in intellectual property right matters), Circuit Courts (Sad Okregowy) serve as first instance courts.  Circuit Courts also handle appeals from District Court verdicts. Courts of Appeal (Sad Apelacyjny) handle appeals from verdicts of Circuit Courts as well as generally supervise the courts in their region.

The Polish judicial system generally upholds the sanctity of contracts.  Foreign court judgements, under the Polish Civil Procedure Code and European Community regulation, can be recognized.  However, there are many foreign court judgments which Polish courts do not accept or accept partially. One of the reasons for delays in the recognition of judgments of foreign courts is an insufficient number of judges with specialized expertise.  Generally, foreign firms are wary of the slow and over-burdened Polish court system, preferring other means to defend their rights. Contracts involving foreign parties often include a clause specifying that disputes will be resolved in a third-country court or through offshore arbitration (More detail in Section 4, Dispute Settlement)

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign nationals can expect to obtain impartial proceedings in legal matters.  Polish is the official language and must be used in all legal proceedings. It is possible to obtain an interpreter.  The basic legal framework for establishing and operating companies in Poland, including companies with foreign investors, is found in the Commercial Companies Code.  The Code provides for establishment of joint-stock companies, limited liability companies, or partnerships (e.g., limited joint-stock partnerships, professional partnerships).  These corporate forms are available to foreign investors who come from an EU or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member state or from a country that offers reciprocity to Polish enterprises, including the United States.

With few exceptions, foreign investors are guaranteed national treatment.  Companies that establish an EU subsidiary after May 1, 2004, and conduct, or plan to commence business operations in Poland must observe all EU regulations.  However, in some cases they may not be able to benefit from all privileges afforded to EU companies. Foreign investors without permanent residence and the right to work in Poland may be restricted from participating in day-to-day operations of a company.  Parties can freely determine the content of contracts within the limits of European contract law. All parties must agree on essential terms, including the price and the subject matter of the contract. Written agreements, although not always mandatory, may enable an investor to avoid future disputes.  Civil Code is the law applicable to contracts.

Useful websites (in English) to help navigate laws, rules, procedures and reporting requirements for foreign investors:

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Poland has a high level of nominal convergence with the EU on competition policy in accordance with Articles 101 and 102 of the Lisbon Treaty.  Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) is well within EU norms for structure and functioning, with the exception that the Prime Minister both appoints and dismisses the head of UOKiK.  This is set to change to be in line with EU norms in 2019 with implementation of EU directive 2019/1.

All multinational companies must notify UOKiK of a proposed merger if any party to it has subsidiaries, distribution networks or permanent sales in Poland.  

Examples of competition reviews can be found at:

In 2015, the President of UOKiK was granted the power to impose significant  fines on people in management positions in companies that violate the prohibition of anticompetitive agreements.  The recently adopted amendment to the law governing UOKiK’s operation, which entered into force on December 15, 2018, provides for a similar power to impose significant fines on the management of companies in the case of violations of consumer rights.  The maximum fine that can be imposed on a manager may amount to PLN 2 million (approx. USD 526,000) and, in the case of managers in the financial sector, up to PLN 5 million (approx. USD 1.32 million).

Expropriation and Compensation

Article 21 of the Polish Constitution states: “expropriation is admissible only for public purposes and upon equitable compensation.”  The Law on Land Management and Expropriation of Real Estate states that property may be expropriated only in accordance with statutory provisions such as construction of public works, national security considerations, or other specified cases of public interest.  The government must pay full compensation at market value for expropriated property.  Acquiring land for road construction investment and recently also for the Central Airport and the Vistula Spit projects has been liberalized and simplified to accelerate property acquisition, particularly through a special legislative act.  Most acquisitions for road construction are resolved without problems.  However, there have been a few cases in which inability to reach agreement on remuneration has resulted in disputes.  Post is not aware of any recent expropriation actions against U.S. investors, companies, or representatives.  

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Poland is not a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (Washington Convention).  Poland is a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Poland is party to the following international agreements on dispute resolution, with the Ministry of Finance acting as the government’s representative: The 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses; The 1961 Geneva European Convention on International Trade Arbitration; The 1972 Moscow Convention on Arbitration Resolution of Civil Law Disputes in Economic and Scientific Cooperation Claims under the U.S.-Poland Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) (with further amendments).

The UNCTAD database   lists four cases involving a U.S. party.  The majority of Poland’s investment disputes are with other EU member states.  According to the UNCTAD database, over the last decade, there have been some 19 known disputes with other foreign investors.

There is no distinction in law between domestic and international arbitration.  The law only distinguishes between foreign and domestic arbitral awards for the purpose of their recognition and enforcement.  The decisions of arbitration entities are not automatically enforceable in Poland, but must be confirmed and upheld in a Polish court.  Under Polish Civil Code, local courts accept and enforce the judgments of foreign courts, however, in practice; the acceptance of foreign court decisions varies.  Investors say the timely process of energy policy consolidation has made the legal, regulatory and investment environment for the energy sector uncertain in terms of how the Polish judicial system deals with questions and disputes around energy investments by foreign investors, and in foreign investor interactions with state owned or affiliated energy enterprises.

A Civil Procedures Code amendment in January 2016 implements internationally recognized arbitration standards, and creates an arbitration-friendly legal regime in Poland.  The amendment applies to arbitral proceedings initiated on or after January 1, 2016, and introduced one-instance proceedings to repeal an arbitration award (instead of two-instance proceedings).  This change encourages mediation and arbitration to solve commercial disputes and aims to strengthen expeditious procedure. The Courts of Appeal (instead of District Courts) handle complaints. In cases of foreign arbitral awards, the court of appeal is the only instance.  In certain cases it is possible to file a cassation (or extraordinary) appeal with the Supreme Court of the Republic of Poland. In the case of a domestic arbitral award, it will be possible to file an appeal to a different panel of the Court of Appeal.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Poland does not have an arbitration law, but provisions in the Polish Code of Civil Procedures of 1964, as amended,  is based to a large extent on UNCITRAL Model Law. Under the Code of Civil Procedure, an arbitration agreement must be concluded in writing.  Commercial contracts between Polish and foreign companies often contain an arbitration clause. Arbitration tribunals operate through the Polish Chamber of Commerce, and other sector-specific organizations.  A permanent court of arbitration also functions at the business organization Confederation Lewiatan in Warsaw and at the General Counsel to the Republic of Poland (GCRP). GCRP took over arbitral cases from external counsels in 2017 and began representing state-owned commercial companies in litigation and arbitration matters for amounts in dispute over 5 million zloty (approx. USD 1.5 million).  The list of these entities includes major Polish state-owned enterprises in the airline, energy, banking, chemical, insurance, military, oil and rail industries as well as other entities such as museums, state-owned media, and universities.

In 2018, the Court of Arbitration at the Polish Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw, the biggest permanent arbitration court in Poland, adjusted its arbitration rules to the latest international standards, implementing new provisions on expedited procedure. In recent years, numerous efforts have been made to increase use of of arbitration in Poland.  Polish state courts generally respect the wide autonomy of arbitration courts and show little inclination to interfere with their decisions as to the merits of the case. The arbitral awards are likely to be set aside only in rare cases. As a rule, in post-arbitral proceedings, Polish courts do not address the merits of the cases decided by the arbitration  courts. An arbitration-friendly approach is also visible in other aspects, such as in the broad interpretation of arbitration clauses.

On April 3, 2018, the Polish Supreme Court introduced a new legal instrument into the Polish legal field: an extraordinary complaint.  Although this new instrument does not refer directly to arbitration proceedings, it may be applied to any procedures before Polish state courts, including post-arbitration proceedings (see Section 3 for more details).

Bankruptcy Regulations

Poland’s bankruptcy law has undergone significant change and modernization in recent years.  There is now a bankruptcy law and a separate, distinct restructuring law. Poland ranks 25 for ease of resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s Doing Business report 2019.  Bankruptcy in Poland is criminalized if a company’s management does not file a petition to declare bankruptcy when a company becomes illiquid for an extended period of time, or if a company ceases to pay its liabilities.  https://www.paih.gov.pl/polish_law/bankruptcy_law_and_restructuring_proceedings  

4. Industrial Policies

Poland’s Plan for Responsible Development identifies eight industries for development and incentives: aviation, defense, automotive parts manufacturing, ship building, information technology, chemical, furniture manufacturing and food processing.  The full text of the plan can be found at this link: https://www.miir.gov.pl/strony/strategia-na-rzecz-odpowiedzialnego-rozwoju/plan-na-rzecz-odpowiedzialnego-rozwoju/  .  Poland encourages energy sector development through its energy policy, outlined in the November 2018 published draft report “Polish Energy Policy to 2040.”   While the strategy has not yet been finalized, the government has generally followed the directions of development in the policy. The draft policy can be found at:   http://www.me.gov.pl/Energetyka/Polityka+energetyczna  . The draft policy  foresees a primary role for fossil fuels until 2040 as well as  strong growth in electricity production. The construction of the first nuclear plant is planned by 2033, until then coal is to remain the main fuel for electricity generation.  The draft policy foresees a large potential for the development of offshore wind power generation, but the policy remains skeptical of onshore wind. . Poland plans to adopt a  National Energy and Climate Plan by the end of 2019, in line with the EU Regulation on the Governance of the Energy and Climate Action.

Investment Incentives

A company investing in Poland, either foreign or domestic, may receive assistance from the Polish government.  Foreign investors have the potential to access certain incentives such as: income tax and real estate tax exemptions; investment grants of up to 50 percent of investment costs (70 percent for small and medium-sized enterprises); grants for research and development; grants for other activities such as environmental protection, training, logistics, or use of renewable energy sources.

Large priority sector investments may qualify for the “Program for Supporting Investment of Considerable Importance for the Polish Economy for 2011-2020” which provides grants to large investments that create jobs in sectors including automotive, electronics, aviation, biotechnology, R&D, agriculture and food processing, and services (finance, information and communication, professional business services). Companies can learn more at: https://www.miir.gov.pl/strony/zadania/wsparcie-przedsiebiorczosci/program-wspierania-inwestycji-o-istotnym-znaczeniu-dla-gospodarki-polskiej-na-lata-2011-2023/  

The Polish Investment Zone (PSI), the new system of tax incentives for investors replacing the previous system of special economic zones (SEZ), was launched September 5, 2018.  Under the new law on the “Polish Investment Zone,” companies can apply for a corporate income tax (CIT) exemption for a new investment to be placed anywhere in Poland. The CIT exemption is calculated based on the value of the investment multiplied by the percentage of the public aid amount allocated for a given region based on its level of development (set percentage).  The CIT exemption is for 10-15 years, depending on the location of the investment. Special treatment is available for investment in new business services and research and development. A point system determines eligibility for the incentives.

The deadline for utilizing available tax credits from the previous SEZ system is the end of 2026 (previously 2020).  The new regulations also contain important changes for entities already operating in SEZs, even if they do not plan new investment projects.  This includes the possibility of losing the right to tax incentives in the event of fraud or tax evasion. Investors should consider carefully the potential benefits of the CIT exemption in assessing new investments or expansion of existing investments in Poland.

More information on government financial support:

The Polish government is seeking to increase Poland’s economic competitiveness by shifting toward a knowledge-based economy.  The government has targeted public and private sector investment in research and development (R&D) to increase to 1.7 percent of GDP by 2020.  During 2014 – 20 Poland will receive approximately USD 88.85 billion in EU Structural and Cohesion funds dedicated to R&D. Businesses may also take advantage of the EU primary research funding program, Horizon 2020.

More information:

The Second Law on Innovation (commonly referred to as the “Big Law on Innovation”) entered into force on January 1, 2018.  Some of its provisions include:

  1. Tax credits for R&D raising the level of tax benefits up to 100 percent for both personal costs and for SMEs and large companies (raised from 50 percent in 2017),
  2. The extension of the catalog of eligible costs of non-durable materials,
  3. Clarification of labor costs and expert opinions as well as consulting services,
  4. Extension of the partial exemption from double taxation of limited partnerships and joint-stock limited companies (for the period of 2016-2023) This is an important incentive for potential investors because it gives startups better access to financing from venture capital funds,
  5. Enabling the use of concessions by companies also benefiting from incentives in Special Economic Zones,
  6. A tax credit of 150 percent for enterprises with Research and Development Center (RDC) status.  The enterprises with this status can also benefit from additional eligible deductions (depreciation of buildings, places and expert reports made by entities other than research units – up to 10 percent of revenues).

As of January 1, 2019, the Innovation Box or IP Box reduces the tax rate applicable to an income derived from IP rights to 5 percent.  Taxpayers applying the IP Box shall be entitled to benefit from the tax preference until a given right expires (in case of a patented invention – 20 years).  In order to benefit from the program, taxpayers will be obliged to separately account for the relevant income. Foreign investors may take advantage of this benefit as long as the relevant IP is registered in Poland.  

The Polish government does not issue sovereign guarantees for FDI projects.  Co-financing may be possible for partnering on large FDI projects, such as the planned central airport project or a possible nuclear project.  For example, the state-owned Polish Development Fund (along with Singaporean and Australian partners) plans to purchase 30 percent of the soon-to-be-expanded Gdansk Deepwater Container Terminal.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Foreign-owned firms have the same opportunities as Polish firms to benefit from foreign trade zones (FTZs), free ports, and special economic zones.  The 2004 Customs Law regulates operation of FTZs in Poland. The Minister of Finance and the Minister of Investment and Development establish duty-free zones.  The Ministers designate the zone’s managing authorities, usually provincial governors who issue operating permits to interested companies for a given zone.

Most activity in FTZs involves storage, packaging, and repackaging.  As of March 2018, there were seven FTZs: Gliwice, near Poland’s southern border; Terespol, near Poland’s border with Belarus; Mszczonow, near Warsaw; Warsaw’s Frederic Chopin International Airport; Szczecin; Swinoujscie; and Gdansk.  Duty-free shops are available only for travelers to non-EU countries.

There are fourteen bonded warehouses:  Bydgoszcz-Biale Blota; Krakow-Balice; Wroclaw-Strachowice; Katowice-Pyrzowice; Gdansk-Trojmiasto; Lodz; Braniewo; Poznan-Lawica; Rzeszow-Jasionka, Warszawa-Modlin, Lublin, Szczecin-Goleniow; Radom, Olsztyn-Mazury. Commercial companies can operate bonded warehouses.  Customs and storage facilities must operate pursuant to custom authorities’ permission. Only legal persons established in the EU can receive authorization to operate a customs warehouse.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Poland has no policy of “forced localization” designed to force foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology.  Investment incentives apply equally to foreign and domestic firms. Over 40 percent of firms in Special Economic Zones are Polish. There is little data on localization requirements in Poland and there are no requirements for foreign information technology (IT) providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance (backdoors into hardware and software or turn over keys for encryption).  Exceptions exist in sectors where data are important for national security such as critical telecommunications infrastructure and in gambling. The cross-border transfer rules in Poland are reasonable and follow international best practices, although some companies have criticized registration requirements as cumbersome. In Poland, the Telecommunications Law (Act of 16 July 2004 – (unified text, Journal of Laws 2018, item 1954) includes data retention provisions.  The data retention period is 12 months.

In the telecommunication sector, the Office of Electronic Communication (UKE) ensures telecommunication operators fulfill their obligations.  In radio and television, National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) acts as the regulator. Polish regulations protect an individual’s personal data that are collected in Poland regardless of where the data are physically stored.  The Personal Data Protection Office (UODO) enforces personal data regulation.

Post is not aware of excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees, though investors regularly note long processing times due to understaffing at regional employment offices.  Generally, Poland does not mandate local employment, but there are a few regulations that place de facto restrictions e.g. a certain number of board members of insurance companies must speak Polish.

Polish law limits non-EU citizens to 49 percent ownership of a company’s capital shares in the air transport, radio and television broadcasting, sectors as well as airport and seaport operations.  There are also legal limits on foreign ownership of farm and forest lands as outlined in Section 2 of this report under Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment.  Pursuant to the Broadcasting Law, a TV broadcasting company may only receive a license if the voting share of its foreign owners does not exceed 49 percent and if they hold permanent residence in Poland.  In the insurance sector, at least two members of management boards, including the chair, must speak Polish.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Poland recognizes and enforces secured interests in property, movable and real.  The concept of a mortgage exists in Poland, and there is a recognized system of recording such secured interests. There are two types of publicly available land registers in Poland: the land and mortgage register (ksiegi wieczyste), the purpose of which is to register titles to land and encumbrances thereon, and the land and buildings register (ewidencja gruntow i budynkow), whose function is more technical as it contains information concerning physical features of the land, class of land and its use.  Generally, real estate in Poland is registered and legal title can be identified on the basis of entries in the land and mortgage registers which are maintained by relevant district courts.  Each register is accessible to the public and excerpts are available on application, subject to a nominal fee. The registers are available online.

Poland has a non-discriminatory legal system accessible to foreign investors that protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights, including land, buildings, and mortgages.  However, foreigners (both individuals and entities) must obtain a permit to acquire property (See Section 1 Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment). Many investors, foreign and domestic, complain the judicial system is slow in adjudicating property rights cases.  Under the Polish Civil Code, a contract to buy real property must be made in the form of a notary deed. Foreign companies and individuals may lease real property in Poland without having to obtain a permit.

Widespread nationalization of property during and after World War II has complicated the ability to establish clear title to land in Poland, especially in major municipalities.  While the Polish government has an administrative system for reviewing claims for the restitution of communal property, former individual property owners must file and pursue claims in the Polish court system in order to receive restitution.  There is no general statute of limitations regarding the filing or litigation of private property restitution claims, but there are exceptions for specific cases. For example, in cases involving the communist-era nationalization of Warsaw under the Bierut Decree, there were claims deadlines that have now passed, and under current law, those who did not meet the deadlines would no longer be able to make a claim for either restitution or compensation.  During 2017, Warsaw city authorities began implementing a 2015 law that critics stated might extinguish potential claims by private individuals of public properties seized during the Second World War or the communist era if no one comes forward to pursue a restitution claim within six months after publication of the affected property. Any potential claimants who come forward will have an additional three months to establish their claim after the initial six-month period.  The city began publishing lists in February 2017, and is expected to continue to publish similar property cases going forward.  The city’s website contains further information on these cases and the process to pursue a claim: http://bip.warszawa.pl/Menu_podmiotowe/biura_urzedu/SD/ogloszenia/default.htm?page=1  

It is sometimes difficult to establish clear title to properties.  There are no comprehensive estimates of land without clear title in Poland.

On October 11, 2017, the Ministry of Justice announced comprehensive private property restitution draft legislation that would block any physical return of former properties, provide compensation of 20-25 percent of the property’s value at the time of taking in cash or government bonds, and set a one-year claims filing period.  The legislation drew intense media coverage and public scrutiny, and critics argued the legislation would exclude potential foreign claimants, many of whom are Holocaust survivors or their heirs.  As of March 2019, the Justice Ministry had not submitted the draft legislation to the Council of Ministers (cabinet) for review and approval. 

The agricultural land law bans sale of Agricultural Property Agency (APA) (state-owned) farmland for five years.  The impact of the five-year ban is not significant, as at present more than 90 percent of all agricultural land is already privately owned.  State-owned farm land will be available only under long-term lease for farmers who want to enlarge their farms, to a maximum of 300 hectares (new and old land combined size).  Foreigners can (and do) lease agricultural land. The agricultural land law also imposed restrictions on the sale of privately owned farm land, and gives the APA preemptive right to purchase in case of land sales by a private owner.  Official statistics on the impact of the new law on prices and turnover of land is not available. Recently, the government announced plans to loosen these regulations. The Law on Forest Land similarly prevents Polish and foreign investors from purchasing privately-held forests and gives state-owned forestry agency (Lasy Panstwowe) preemptive right to buy privately-held forests, though the government may be considering relaxing some restrictions.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Polish intellectual property rights (IPR) law is stricter than European Commission directives require.  Enforcement is good and improving across all IP types.  Physical piracy (e.g., optical discs) is not a problem in Poland.  However, online piracy continues to be widespread, despite progress in enforcement, and a popular cyberlocker platform in Poland is listed on the 2018 Notorious Markets List.  Poland does not appear in the USTR’s Special 301 Report.

Polish law requires a rights holder to start the prosecution process.  In Poland, authors’ and creators’ organizations and associations track violations and present motions to prosecutors.  Rights holders express concern that penalties for digital IPR infringement are not high enough to deter violators.  In an effort to address these concerns, the Polish government established a national IPR strategy for 2015-17. 

A new act passed on June 15, 2018, which implements EU Directive 2014/26/EU on the collective management of copyright and related rights and the granting of multi-territorial licenses regarding rights to music for online use on the internal market.  The purpose of the bill is comprehensive regulation of the activities of collective management organizations in Poland. It will replace the existing provisions in this area, ex. chapters 12 and 12 (1) of the Copyright and Related Rights Act. Additional harmonization with existing regulations, such as the Act on the Protection of Databases and the Act on Copyright and Related Rights, is to be carried out in 2019.  On March 11, 2019, the Polish President signed amendments to the Act on Industrial Property Law (“IPL”). Many adjustments resulted from the implementation of EU Trademark Directive 2015/2436. The amendments entered into force on March 12, 2019. IPL introduced, inter alia, the abandonment of the graphical representation requirement, introduction of a new mechanism for trademark protection renewals, extended licensee’s rights, as well as remedies against counterfeit goods in transit and against infringing preparatory acts.  The changes provide new tools to fight against infringements of trademark protection rights.

New tax incentives for intellectual property known collectively as “IP Box” or “Innovation Box” were included in the November 2018 tax amendment.  See Section 4 Investment Incentives.  

Polish customs tracks seizures of counterfeit goods but failed to provide this information for the reporting period.  

General information on copyright in Poland: http://www.copyright.gov.pl/pages/main-page/copyright-in-poland/general-information.php  

Polish Patent Office: http://www.uprp.pl/o-urzedzie/Lead03,14,56,1,index,pl,text/  

Ministry of Digitalization: https://www.gov.pl/cyfryzacja/co-robimy  

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/details.jsp?country_code=PL  

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Polish regulatory system is effective in encouraging and facilitating portfolio investment.  Both foreign and domestic investors may place funds in demand and time deposits, stocks, bonds, futures, and derivatives.  Poland’s equity markets facilitate the free flow of financial resources. Poland’s stock market is the largest and most developed in Central Europe.  In September 2018, it was reclassified as developed market status by FTSE Russell’s country classification report. The stock market’s capitalization amounts to around 35 percent of GDP, but management want to increase it  increase it to 50 percent in 2023. Although the Warsaw Stock Exchange (WSE) is itself a publicly traded company with shares listed on its own exchange after its partial privatization in 2010, the state retains a significant percentage of shares which allows it to control the company.  WSE has become a hub for foreign institutional investors targeting equity investments in the region. In addition to the equity market, Poland has a wholesale market dedicated to the trading of treasury bills and bonds (Treasury BondSpot Poland). This treasury market is an integral part of the Primary Dealers System organized by the Finance Ministry and part of the pan-European bond platform.  Wholesale treasury bonds and bills denominated in PLN and some securities denominated in Euros are traded on the Treasury BondSpot market. Non-government bonds are traded on Catalyst, a WSE managed platform.  The capital market is a source of funding for Polish companies.  While securities markets continue to play a subordinate role to banks in the provision of finance, the need for medium-term financial support for the modernization of the electricity and gas sectors is likely to lead to an increase in the importance of the corporate bond market.  The Polish government acknowledges the capital market’s role in the economy in its development plan.  Foreigners may invest in listed Polish shares, but they are subject to some restrictions in buying large packages of shares.  Liquidity remains tight on the exchange.

The Capital Markets Development published in 2018 identifies 20 key barriers and offers 60 solutions.  Some key challenges include low levels of savings and investment, insufficient efficiency, transparency and liquidity of many market segments, and lack of taxation incentives for issuers and investors.  The primary aim of the strategy is to improve access of Polish enterprises to financing. The strategy focuses on strengthening trust in the market, improving the protection of individual investors, the stabilization of the regulatory and supervisory environment and the use of competitive new technologies.  The strategy will not become a law, however, it will set the direction for further regulatory proposals. Poland is one of the most rigorously supervised capital markets in Europe according to the European Commission.

The Employee Capital Plans program  (PPK)—which is designed to increase household saving to augment individual incomes in retirement—could provide a boost to Poland’s capital markets and reduce dependence on foreign saving as a source for investment financing.

High-risk venture capital funds are becoming an increasingly important segment of the capital market.  According to Bain and Company/CEE, PE/VC investments in Poland in 2018 dropped to EUR 2.0 billion from EUR 2.2 billion in 2017.  The market is still shallow and one major transaction may affect the value of the market in a given year. The funds remain active and Poland is a leader in this respect in Central and Eastern Europe.

Poland provides full IMF Article VIII convertibility for current transactions.  Banks can and do lend to foreign and domestic companies. Companies can and do borrow abroad and issue commercial paper, but the market is less robust than in Western European countries or the United States.  The Act on Investment Funds allows for open-end, closed-end, and mixed investment funds, and the development of securitization instruments in Poland. In general, no special restrictions apply to foreign investors purchasing Polish securities.

Credit allocation is on market terms.  The government maintains some programs offering below-market rate loans to certain domestic groups, such as farmers and homeowners.  Foreign investors and domestic investors have equal access to Polish financial markets. Private Polish investment is usually financed from retained earnings and credits, while foreign investors utilize funds obtained outside of Poland as well as retained earnings.  Polish firms raise capital in Poland and abroad. Inflation remained below the National Bank of Poland’s medium-term target rate of 2.5 percent in 2018. The Monetary Policy Council maintains a dovish tone, saying they expect to raise raises in late 2020 at the earliest.

Confidence in the banking regulator was shaken in 2018 by allegations of corruption that led to the resignation of the head of the Polish Financial Supervisory Authority (KNF).  Recent changes in the governance structure of the KNF are aimed at increasing cross governmental coordination and a better-targeted response in case of financial shocks, while achieving greater institutional effectiveness through enhanced resource allocation.  A legislative amendment improved funding of the KNF by granting greater budgetary independence. It also enlarged the composition of the Authority, increasing the number of government representatives, but only four out of nine voting members are designated by the government.  Additionally, KNF’s supplementary powers increased, allowing it to authorize the swift acquisition of a failing or likely to fail lender by a stronger financial institution.

Money and Banking System

The banking sector plays a dominant role in the financial system, accounting for about 70 percent of financial sector assets.  The sector is predominantly privately owned, with the state controlling about one third of the banking sector and the biggest insurance company. Poland had 34 locally incorporated commercial banks at the end of August 2018, according to the KNF.  The number of locally-incorporated banks has been declining over the last five years. Poland’s 550 cooperative banks play a secondary role in the financial system, but are widespread. The state owns eight banks (up from five in February 2016). Over the last few years, growing capital requirements, lower prospects for profit generation and uncertainty about legislation addressing foreign currency mortgages has pushed banks towards mergers and acquisitions.  The KNF welcomes this consolidation process, seeing is as “natural” way to create an efficient banking sector.

The Polish National Bank (NBP) is Poland’s central bank.  At the end of 2018, the banking sector was overall well capitalized and solid.  Poland’s banking sector meets European Banking Authority regulatory requirements. The share of non-performing loans is close to the EU average and recently has been falling.  Between January-June 2018 non-performing loans were seven percent of portfolios. According to S&P Rating Agency, Poland’s central bank is willing and able to provide liquidity support to the banking sector, in local and foreign currencies, if needed.

The banking sector is liquid, profitable and major banks are well capitalized. This was confirmed by a stress test undertaken by the European Banking Authority in November 2018.  Two Polish banks were among the most stress-resistant of all 50 banks participating in the test. Profitability increased slightly in 2018 as a result of rapid GDP growth, a pickup in investments and low provisioning costs, and remained at a reasonable level (ROE at 7.5 percent after nine months of 2018).  Nevertheless, profits remain under pressure due to low interest rates, the unsolved issue of conversion of Swiss Francs mortgage portfolios into PLN, and a special levy on financial institutions (0.44 percent of the value of assets excluding equity and Polish sovereign bonds).

In general, supervision and risk management contained excessive risk-taking.  Since 2015, the Polish government established an active campaign aiming to increase the market share of national financial institutions.  In 2017, for the first time Polish investors’ share in the banking sector has reached over 50 percent of the sector’s total assets, and exceeded the foreign share in the sector.  The State controls about 40 percent of total assets, including the two largest banks in Poland. These two lenders control about one third of the market. Rating agencies warn that an increasing state share in the banking sector might impact competitiveness and profits in the whole financial sector. There is concern that lending decisions at state-owned banks could come under political pressure, especially after allegations of questionable loans being issued by a newly state-owned bank in 2018.  Nevertheless, Poland’s strong fundamentals and the size of its internal market mean that many foreign banks will want to retain their positions.

The financial regulator has restricted the availability of loans in Euros or Swiss Francs in order to minimize the banking system’s exposure to exchange risk resulting from fluctuations.  Only individuals who earn salaries denominated in these currencies continue to enjoy easy access to loans in foreign currencies

The national bank (NBP) did not provide information on correspondent banking relationships in 2018.  In 2017, NBP had relationships with 25 banks commercial and central banks, and was not concerned about losing any of them.   

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Poland is not a member of the Eurozone; its currency is the Polish Zloty.  The current government has shown little desire to adopt the euro (EUR). The Polish Zloty (PLN) is a floating currency; it has largely tracked the EUR at approximately PLN 4.2-4.3 to EUR 1 in recent years and PLN 3.77 to UDS 1.  Foreign exchange is available through commercial banks and exchange offices. Payments and remittances in convertible currency may be made and received through a bank authorized to engage in foreign exchange transactions, and most banks have authorization.  Foreign investors have not complained of significant difficulties or delays in remitting investment returns such as dividends, return of capital, interest and principal on private foreign debt, lease payments, royalties, or management fees. Foreign currencies can freely be used for settling accounts.

Poland provides full IMF Article VIII convertibility for current transactions.  Polish Foreign Exchange Law, as amended, fully conforms to OECD Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and Current Invisible Operations.  In general, foreign exchange transactions with the EU, OECD, and European Economic Area (EEA) are accorded equal treatment and are not restricted.

Except in limited cases which require a permit, foreigners may convert or transfer currency to make payments abroad for goods or services and may transfer abroad their shares of after-tax profit from operations in Poland.  In general, foreign investors may freely withdraw their capital from Poland, however, the November 2018 tax bill included an exit tax (see Section 2). Full repatriation of profits and dividend payments is allowed without obtaining a permit.  However, a Polish company (including a Polish subsidiary of a foreign company) must pay withholding taxes to Polish tax authorities on distributable dividends unless a double taxation treaty is in effect, which is the case for the United States.  Changes to the withholding tax in the 2018 tax bill increased the bureaucratic burden for some foreign investors (see Section 2). The United States and Poland signed an updated bilateral tax treaty in February 2013 that the United States has not yet ratified.  As a rule, a company headquartered outside of Poland is subject to corporate income tax on income earned in Poland, under the same rules as Polish companies.

Foreign exchange (FX) regulations require non-bank entities dealing in foreign exchange or acting as a currency exchange bureau to submit reports electronically to the National Bank of Poland (NBP) at http://sprawozdawczosc.nbp.pl  .  An exporter may open foreign exchange accounts in the currency the exporter chooses.

Remittance Policies

Poland does not prohibit remittance through legal parallel markets utilizing convertible negotiable instruments (such as dollar-denominated Polish bonds in lieu of immediate payment in dollars).  As a practical matter, such payment methods are rarely, if ever, used.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Polish government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.  However, the government established the Polish Development Fund (PFR), an umbrella organization pooling resources of several governmental agencies and departments, including EU funds. A strategy for the Fund was adopted in September 2016, and it was registered in February 2017 at which point the Ministry of Economic Development took supervision over the Fund (this ministry was re-named the Investment and Development Ministry in 2018).  PFR supports the implementation of the Responsible Development Strategy.

The PFR operates as a group of state-owned banks and insurers, investment bodies, and promotion agencies.  The budget of PFR group initially reached PLN 14 billion, which managers estimate is sufficient to raise capital worth PLN 90-100 billion.  Various actors within the organization can invest through acquisition of shares, through direct financing, seed funding, and co-financing venture capital.  Depending on the instruments, PFR expects different rates of return. PFR intends to launch a new fund of funds in 2018 with the aim of financing capital investments valued at PLN 50-100 million (USD 14.7 – 29.4 million).  In March 2019, the Entrepreneurship Ministry presented a draft law, which aimed at formalizing and improving the cooperation of institutions that make up the PFR Group, strengthen the position of the Fund’s president and secure additional funding from the Finance Ministry.  The group will have one common strategy. An almost four-fold increase in the share capital will enable PFR to significantly increase the scale of investment in innovation, infrastructure and help Polish companies expand into foreign markets. While supporting overseas expansion of Polish companies, the fund’s mission is domestic.  Until now, the group’s operations had been based on the strategy of responsible development, not legal regulations.

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption

Poland has laws, regulations, and penalties aimed at combating corruption of public officials and counteracting conflicts of interest.  Anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to members of political parties who are members of parliament. There are also anti-corruption laws regulating the finances of political parties.  According to a local NGO, an increasing number of companies are implementing voluntary internal codes of ethics.  In 2018, the Transparency International (TI) index of perceived public corruption ranked Poland as the 36th (the same as in 2017) least corrupt among 180 countries/territories. 

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

The Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and national police investigate public corruption.  The Justice Ministry and the police are responsible for enforcing Poland’s anti-corruption criminal laws.  The Finance Ministry administers tax collection and is responsible for denying the tax deductibility of bribes.  Reports of alleged corruption most frequently appear in connection with government contracting and the issuance of a regulation or permit that benefits a particular company.  Allegations of corruption by customs and border guard officials, tax authorities, and local government officials show a decreasing trend.  If such corruption is proven, it is usually punished.

Overall, U.S. firms have found that maintaining policies of full compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is effective in building a reputation for good corporate governance and that doing so is not an impediment to profitable operations in Poland.  Poland ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2006 and the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery in 2000.  Polish law classifies the payment of a bribe to a foreign official as a criminal offense, the same as if it were a bribe to a Polish official.

At its March 2018 meeting, the OECD Working Group on Bribery urged Poland to make progress on carrying out key recommendations that remain unimplemented more than four years after its Phase 3 evaluation in June 2013.

For more information on the implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in Poland, please visit:  http://www.oecd.org/daf/anti-bribery/poland-oecdanti-briberyconvention.htm  

Resources to Report Corruption

Centralne Biuro Antykorupcyjne (Central Anti-Corruption Bureau – CBA)

Ujazdowskie 9, 00-583 Warszawa
+48 800 808 808
kontakt@cba.gov.pl
www.cba.gov.pl  ; link: Zglos Korupcje (report corruption)

The Batory Foundation, Public Integrity Program serves as a non-governmental watchdog organization.  The foundation can be reached by whistleblowers at +48 (22) 536 0257 or op@batory.org.pl.

10. Political and Security Environment

Poland is a politically stable country.  Constitutional transfers of power are orderly.  The last presidential elections took place in May 2015 and parliamentary elections took place in October 2015; observers considered both elections free and fair.  The new government formed in November 2015. There was a change of the Prime Minister in December 2017 and a major government reshuffle in January 2018. Local elections took place in October 2018. Elections to the European Parliaments will take place in May 2019.  The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for the fall of 2019. The next presidential election is scheduled for May 2020.

There have been no confirmed incidents of politically motivated violence toward foreign investment projects in recent years.  Poland has neither insurgent groups nor belligerent neighbors.  The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provides political risk insurance for Poland but it is not frequently used, as competitive private sector financing and insurance are readily available.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Poland has a well-educated, skilled labor force.  Productivity, however, remains below OECD averages but is rising rapidly and unit costs are competitive.  In the last quarter of 2018, according to the Polish Central Statistical Office (GUS) the average gross wage in Poland was PLN 4,864 (approx. USD 1,293 per month)  compared to 4,517 (approx. USD 1,200) in the last quarter of 2017.  Poland’s economy employed roughly 16.617 million people in the third quarter of 2018. Eurostat measured total Polish unemployment at 3.7 percent, with youth unemployment at 11.5 percent in December 2018.  GUS reports unemployment rates differently and tends to be higher than Eurostat figures.  Unemployment varied substantially between regions, the highest rate (9.9 percent according to GUS ) in the north-eastern part of Poland (Warmia and Mazury), and the lowest at 3.2 percent  (GUS ) in the western province of Wielkopolska, in the third quarter of 2018.  Unemployment was lowest in major urban areas. Polish workers are usually eager to work for foreign companies, in Poland and abroad.  Since Poland joined the EU, up to two million Poles have sought work in other EU member states.

A January 2018 revision of the Law on Promoting Employment and Labor Market Institutions introduced greater regulatory control over the “simplified procedure” of hiring foreigners from six countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and Russia), which allows foreigners from these countries to work in Poland without a work permit for six months.  According to the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy, 1.6 million “simplified procedure” work declarations were registered in 2018, of which almost 1.5 million were for Ukrainian workers (compared to 1.7 million a year earlier). Under the revised procedure, local authorities may verify if potential employers have actual job positions for potential foreigner workers.  The law also authorizes local authorities to refuse declarations from employers with a history of abuse, as well as to ban employers previously convicted of human trafficking from hiring foreign workers. The January 2018 revision of the law on promoting employment and labor market institutions introduced also a new type of work permit for foreign workers – the so-called seasonal work permit, which allow for legal work up to nine months in  agriculture, horticulture and tourism and similar industries. The Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy statistics show that during 2018 121,436 seasonal work permits of this type were issued, of which 119,929 went to Ukrainians. Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy statistics also show that in 2018, 238,334 thousand Ukrainians received  work permits, compared with 192, 547 in 2017.

At the same time, the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy statistics show a growing number of work permits issued to workers from South and East Asia.  For example, the number of work permits for the Nepalese workers has grown from 7,000 in 2017 to 19,912 in 2018. While the the number of work permits for Bengali workers increased from 2,412 in 2017 to 8,341 in 2018.

Despite this influx of foreign workers, Polish companies suffer from a shortage of qualified workers.  The most sought-after specialists are engineers, IT specialists, salespersons, project managers, and technical advisors.  Manufacturing companies seek welders, bricklayers, and machinery operators.  Employment has expanded in service industries such as information technology, manufacturing, administrative and support service activities.  The business process outsourcing industry in Poland has experienced dynamic growth.  The state-owned sector employs about a quarter of the work force, although employment in coal mining and steel are declining.

In 2017, a retirement law entered into force that lowered the minimum retirement age for men (from 67 to 65) and for women (from 67 to 60).  The Parliament passed a bill on December 15, 2017, abolishing the limit beyond which Poles do not pay pension or disability contributions, a move which would have  increased social insurance contributions by 5.4 billion PLN/year (USD 1.5 billion). The Constitutional Court ruled the law unconstitutional on November 14, 2018.

Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and dismissal for cause (firing).  In the case of layoffs (when workers are dismissed for economic reasons in companies which employ more than 20 employees), employers are required to offer severance pay.   In the case of dismissal for cause, the labor law does not require severance pay.

Most workers hired under labor contracts have the legal right to establish and join independent trade unions and to bargain collectively.  On July 25, 2018, the president signed the revision of the law on trade unions to expand the right to form a union to persons who entered into an employment relationship based on a civil law contract and to persons who were self-employed.  The law is the result of the 2015 the Constitutional Court ruling that found any limitation to the freedom of association violates the constitution, and required the government and parliament to amend the law on trade unions.  Trade union influence is declining, though unions remain powerful among miners, shipyard workers, government employees, and  teachers.

The Polish labor code outlines employee and employer rights in all sectors, both public and private, and has been gradually revised to adapt to EU standards.  However, employers tend to use temporary and contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature.  Employers have used  short-term contracts because they allow firing with two weeks’ notice and without consulting trade unions. Employers also tend to use civil instead of labor contracts because of ease of hiring and firing, even in situations where work performed meets all requirements of a regular labor contract.

Polish law requires equal pay for equal work and equal treatment with respect to signing labor contracts, employment conditions, promotion, and access to training.  The law defines equal treatment as nondiscrimination in any way, directly or indirectly on the grounds of gender, age, disability, race, religion, nationality, political opinion, ethnic origin, denomination, sexual orientation, whether or not the person is employed temporarily or permanently, full time or part time.

The 1991 Law on Conflict Resolution defines the mechanism for labor dispute resolution.  It consists of four stages: first, the employer is obliged to conduct negotiations with employees; the second stage is a mediation process, including an independent mediator; if an agreement is not reached through mediation, the third stage is arbitration, which takes place at the regional court; the fourth stage of conflict resolution is a strike.

The Polish government adheres to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) core conventions and generally complies with international labor standards.  However, there are several gaps in enforcing these standards, including legal restrictions on the rights of workers to form and join independent unions.  Cumbersome procedures make it difficult for workers to meet all of the technical requirements for a legal strike.  The law prohibits collective bargaining for key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges, and prosecutors.  There were some limitations with respect to identification of victims of forced labor.  Despite prohibitions against discrimination with respect to employment or occupation, such discrimination occurs. Authorities do not consistently enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety, either in the formal or informal sectors.

The National Labor Inspectorate (NLI) is responsible for identifying possible labor violations; it may issue fines and notify the prosecutor’s office in cases of severe violations.  According to  labor unions, however, the NLI does not have adequate tools to hold violators accountable and the small fines imposed as punishment are an ineffective deterrent to most employers.

The United States has no FTA or preference program (such as GSP) with Poland that includes labor standards.

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) 2017 $518,587 2017 $526,466 http://www.worldbank.org/en/country  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $5,729 2017 $12,604 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $812.6 2017 ** BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 46.0 2017 48.5 UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

* In Poland the National Bank of Poland (NBP) collects data on FDI. Annual FDI report/data are published at the end of the following year. GDP data are published by the Central Statistical Office. Final annual data are available at the end of May of the following year.

**Data are suppressed to avoid disclosure of data of individual companies


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI (as of end of 2017)

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 239,624 100% Total Outward 30,322 100%
Netherlands 46,157 19.3% Luxemburg 6,615 21.8%
Germany 41,883 17.5% Czech Republic 3,282 10.8%
Luxemburg 33,186 13.8% Switzerland 2,459 8.1%
France 21,972 9.2% Netherlands 2,372 7.8%
Spain 14,438 X% Cyprus 2,233 7.4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Results of table are consistent with the data of the National Bank of Poland (NBP).  NBP publishes FDI data in October/November.

A number of foreign countries register businesses in the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Cyprus hence results for these countries include investments from other countries/economies.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment (as of June 2018)

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 37,685 100% All Countries 24,017 100% All Countries 13,669 100%
Luxemburg 6,251 17% Luxemburg 5,262 4% U.S. 2,860 21%
Intl Orgs 2,557 7% Germany 1,017 3% Intl Orgs 2,557 19%
France 1,509 4% Ireland 683 3% Sweden 1,200 9%
Germany 1,349 4% Austria 665 3% Luxemburg 989 7%
Sweden 1,240 3% Italy 644 3% France 903 7%

Note: NBP publishes only total amounts of portfolio investment assets.

Results of table are consistent with the data of the National Bank of Poland (NBP). NBP publishes FDI data in October/November.

A number of foreign countries register businesses in the Netherlands, Luxemburg or Cyprus hence results for these countries include investments from other countries/economies.

South Africa

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The government of South Africa is generally open to foreign investment as a means to drive economic growth, improve international competitiveness, and access foreign markets.  Merger and acquisition activity is more sensitive and requires advance work to answer potential stakeholder concerns. The 2018 Competition Amendment Bill, which was signed into law on February 13, 2019, introduced a mechanism for South Africa to review foreign direct investments and mergers and acquisitions by a foreign acquiring firm on the basis of protecting national security interests (see section on Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment below).  Virtually all business sectors are open to foreign investment. Certain sectors require government approval for foreign participation, including energy, mining, banking, insurance, and defense.

The Department of Trade and Industry’s (the dti) Trade and Investment South Africa (TISA) division provides assistance to foreign investors.  In the past year, they opened provincial One-Stop Shops that provide investment support for foreign direct investment (FDI), with offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, and a national One Stop Shop located at the dti in Pretoria and online at http://www.gov.za/Invest percent20SA percent3AOnestopshop  .  An additional one-stop shop has opened at Dube Trade Port, which is a special economic zone aerotropolis linked to the King Shaka International Airport in Durban.  The dti actively courts manufacturing industries in which research indicates the foreign country has a comparative advantage. It also favors manufacturing that it hopes will be labor intensive and where suppliers can be developed from local industries.  The dti has traditionally focused on manufacturing industries over services industries, despite a strong service-oriented economy in South Africa. TISA offers information on sectors and industries, consultation on the regulatory environment, facilitation for investment missions, links to joint venture partners, information on incentive packages, assistance with work permits, and logistical support for relocation.  The dti publishes the “Investor’s Handbook” on its website: www.dti.gov.za  

While the government of South Africa supports investment in principle and takes active steps to attract FDI, investors and market analysts are concerned that its commitment to assist foreign investors is insufficient in practice.  Some felt that the national-level government lacked a sense of urgency to support investment deals. Several investors reported trouble accessing senior decision makers. South Africa scrutinizes merger- and acquisition-related foreign direct investment for its impact on jobs, local industry, and retaining South African ownership of key sectors.  Private sector representatives and other interested parties were concerned about the politicization of South Africa’s posture towards this type of investment. Despite South Africa’s general openness to investment, actions by some South African Government ministries, populist statements by some politicians, and rhetoric in certain political circles show a lack of appreciation for the importance of FDI to South Africa’s growth and prosperity and a lack of concern about the negative impact domestic policies may have on the investment climate.  Ministries often do not consult adequately with stakeholders before implementing laws and regulations or fail to incorporate stakeholder concerns if consultations occur. On the positive side, the President, assisted by his appointment of four investment envoys, and his new cabinet are working to restore a positive investment climate and appear to be making progress as they engage in senior level overseas roadshows to attract investment.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Currently there is no limitation on foreign private ownership. South Africa’s transformation efforts – the re-integration of historically disadvantaged South Africans into the economy – has led to policies that could disadvantage foreign and some locally owned companies.  In 2017, the Broad-Based Black Socio-Economic Empowerment Charter proposed for the South African mining and minerals industry required an increase to 30 percent ownership by black South Africans, but was mired in the courts as industry challenged it. The Charter was retracted for revision and a new version was proposed in 2018. The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2013 (B-BBEE), and associated codes of good practice, requires levels of company ownership and participation by Black South Africans to get bidding preferences on government tenders and contracts. The dti created an alternative equity equivalence (EE) program for multinational or foreign owned companies to allow them to score on the ownership requirements under the law, but many view the terms as onerous and restrictive.  Currently eight multinationals, most in the technology sector, participate in this program, most in the technology sector.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization carried out in 2015 a Trade Policy Review for the Southern African Customs Union, in which South Africa accounts for over 90 percent of overall GDP.  Neither the OECD nor the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has conducted investment policy reviews for South Africa.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, South Africa’s rank in ease of doing business in 2019 was unchanged from 2018 at 82nd of 190.  It ranks 134th for starting a business, taking an average of forty days to complete the process. South Africa ranks 143rd of 190 countries on trading across borders.

In 2017, the dti launched a national InvestSA One Stop Shop (OSS) to simplify administrative procedures and guidelines for foreign companies wishing to invest in South Africa.  The dti, in conjunction with provincial governments, opened physical OSS locations in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg. These physical locations bring together key government entities dealing with issues including policy and regulation, permits and licensing, infrastructure, finance, and incentives, with a view to reducing lengthy bureaucratic procedures, reducing bottlenecks, and providing post-investment services.  The virtual OSS web site is: http://www.gov.za/Invest percent20SA percent3AOnestopshop  .

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), a body of the dti, is responsible for business registrations and publishes a step-by-step process for registering a company.  This process can be done on its website (http://www.cipc.co.za/index.php/register-your-business/companies/  ), through a self-service terminal, or through a collaborating private bank.  New business registrants also need to register through the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to get an income tax reference number for turnover tax (small companies), corporate tax, employer contributions for PAYE (income tax), and skills development levy (applicable to most companies).  The smallest informal companies may not be required to register with CIPC, but must register with the tax authorities. Companies also need to register with the Department of Labour (DoL) – www.labour.gov.za   – to contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and a compensation fund for occupational injuries.  The DoL registration takes the longest (up to 30 days), but can be done concurrently with other registrations.

Outward Investment

South Africa does not incentivize outward investments.  South Africa’s stock foreign direct investments in the United States in 2017 totaled USD 4.1 billion (latest figures available), an almost 40 percent increase from 2016.  The largest outward direct investment of a South African company is a gas liquefaction plant in the State of Louisiana by Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and NASDAQ dual-listed petrochemical company SASOL.  There are some restrictions on outward investment, such as a R1 billion (USD 83 million) limit per year on outward flows per company. Larger investments must be approved by the South African Reserve Bank and at least 10 percent of the foreign target entities voting rights must be obtained through the investment. https://www.resbank.co.za/RegulationAndSupervision/
FinancialSurveillanceAndExchangeControl/FAQs/Pages/Corporates.aspx
 

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Of South Africa’s 49 signed bilateral investment treaties (BITs), 35 never entered into force or were terminated.  According to UNCTAD, fourteen agreements are still in force including with Russia, China, Cuba, and Iran. The 2015 “Protection of Investment Act” replaces lapsed BITs and stipulates that “Existing investments that were made under such treaties will continue to be protected for the period and terms stipulated in the treaties.  Any investments made after the termination of a treaty, but before promulgation of this Act, will be governed by the general South African law.” It also provides that “the government may consent to international arbitration in respect of investments covered by the Act, subject to the exhaustion of domestic remedies.” Such “arbitration will be conducted between the Republic and the home state of the applicable investor.”  South Africa is not engaged in new BIT negotiations.

South Africa is a member of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) which has a common external tariff and tariff-free trade between its five members (South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland).  South Africa is generally restricted from negotiating trade agreements by itself because SACU is the competent authority. Nevertheless, South Africa has free trade agreements with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) including its 12 members; the Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement (TDCA) between South Africa and the European Union (EU); EFTA-SACU Free Trade Agreement between SACU and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland; and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the SADC EPA States (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Mozambique) and the EU and its Member States.  These agreements mainly cover trade in goods and provide preferential market access, though article 52 of the 1999 EU-TDCA covers investment promotion and protection.  South Africa, through SACU, is currently negotiating a “rollover” EPA with the United Kingdom (UK) similar to its EPA with the EU in an effort to curb any trade disruptions when the UK exits the EU.  Progress in reaching an agreement is mired in negotiations over rules of origin, cumulation, and sanitary and phytosanitary matters. 

South Africa is a signatory to the SADC-EAC-COMESA Tripartite FTA which includes 26 countries with a combined GDP of USD 860 billion and a combined population of approximately 590 million people.  This agreement primarily covers trade in goods. South Africa ratified the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in 2018. It joins 21 other African countries, reaching the threshold needed to bring the agreement into force, once these countries submit their ratification instruments to the African Union.  Implementation of the agreement still requires signatories to present offers on tariff lines and services, and agree to rules of origin among other outstanding issues.

The United States and South Africa signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 1999.  The last TIFA discussions were held in 2015. The United States and SACU negotiated a Trade, Investment and Development Cooperation Agreement (TIDCA) in 2008.

The first U.S.-South Africa bilateral tax treaty eliminated double taxation and entered into force in 1998.  In 2014, a new bilateral tax treaty was signed to implement the U.S. Foreign Asset Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

As part of a broad set of tax increases, in 2018 the government raised, for the first time since 1993, the value added tax (VAT) by one percentage point to 15 percent.  Other fiscal measures intended to raise government revenues, such as no upward adjustments to personal income tax brackets to account for inflation, higher alcohol and tobacco excise duties, and an extra 29 cents per liter for gasoline and 30 cents per liter for diesel in fuel levies – are meant to generate an additional R15-billion (USD 1.1 billion) for the national coffers.  The tax increases come alongside government expenditure cuts primarily in government payroll compensation. Taken together, these interventions aim to stabilize public finances by 2023. According to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, “It will not be easy. There are no quick fixes. But our nation is ready for renewal. We are ready to plant the seeds of our future.”

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) began collecting the health promotion levy – previously known as the sugar-sweetened beverages tax – in April 2018, almost one year after it was initially due to come into effect.  In February 2019, the Minister of Finance announced a five percent increase to this tax from 2.1 rand cents to 2.21 rand cents (USUSD 0.0015 to USD 0.0016) per gram of sugar content that exceeds 4 grams per 100 ml.  The tax, which applies to both domestic and international products, is meant to encourage the reduction in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to deal with obesity and the epidemic of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, which is cited as the second leading cause of death, after tuberculosis, among South Africans.  The Treasury argued that taxes on foods high in sugar can be an important element in a strategy to address diet-related diseases.

The South African Revenue Service will impose a carbon emissions tax from June 2019, based on an initial levy of R120 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) of greenhouse gas emissions above certain tax-free allowances.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

South African laws and regulations are generally published in draft form for stakeholders to comment, and legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms.

The dti is responsible for business-related regulations. It develops and reviews regulatory systems in the areas of competition, standards, consumer protection, company and intellectual property registration and protections, as well as other subjects in the public interest.  It also oversees the work of national and provincial regulatory agencies mandated to assist the dti in creating and managing competitive and socially responsible business and consumer regulations. The dti publishes a list of Bills and Acts that govern the dti’s work at http://www.dti.gov.za/business_regulation/legislation.jsp  .

The 2015 Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Act authorized the creation of the South African Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), meant in part to address the backlog of more than 7000 drugs waiting for approval to be used in South Africa.  Established in 2018, and unlike its predecessor, the Medicines Control Council (MCC), SAHPRA is a stand-alone public entity governed by a board that is appointed by and accountable to the South African Ministry of Health. SAHPRA is responsible for the monitoring, evaluation, regulation, investigation, inspection, registration, and control of medicines, scheduled substances, clinical trials and medical devices, in vitro diagnostic devices (IVDs), complementary medicines, and blood and blood-based products.  SAHPRA intends to do this through 207 full-time in-house technical evaluators, though this structure has not been fully staffed. Unlike with the MCC, SAHPRA’s funding is provided by the retention of registration fees. Despite its launch in 2018, the full staffing and implementation of SAPHRA is anticipated to take up to five years, and clearing the backlog of drug registration dossiers will also take significant time.

South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act (2008) went into effect in 2011. The legislation reinforces various consumer rights, including right of product choice, right to fair contract terms, and right of product quality. Impact of the legislation varies by industry, and businesses have adjusted their operations accordingly. A brochure summarizing the Consumer Protection Act can be found at:  http://www.dti.gov.za/business_regulation/acts/CP_Brochure.pdf . Similarly, the National Credit Act of 2005 aims to promote a fair and non-discriminatory marketplace for access to consumer credit and for that purpose to provide the general regulation of consumer credit and improves standards of consumer information. A brochure summarizing the National Credit Act can be found at: http://www.dti.gov.za/business_regulation/acts/NCA_Brochure.pdf 

International Regulatory Considerations

South Africa is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the oldest existing customs union in the world.  SACU functions mainly on the basis of the 2002 SACU Agreement which aims to: (a) facilitate the cross-border trade in goods among SACU members; (b) create effective, transparent and democratic institutions; (c) promote fair competition in the common customs area; (d) increase investment opportunities in the common customs area; (e) enhance the economic development, diversification, industrialization and competitiveness of member States; (f) promote the integration of its members into the global economy through enhanced trade and investment; (g) facilitate the equitable sharing of revenue arising from customs and duties levied by members; and (h) facilitate the development of common policies and strategies.

The 2002 SACU Agreement requires member States to develop common policies and strategies with respect to industrial development; cooperate in the development of agricultural policies; cooperate in the enforcement of competition laws and regulations; develop policies and instruments to address unfair trade practices between members; and calls for harmonization of product standards and technical regulations.

SACU member States are working to develop the regional industrial development policy to harmonize competition policy and unfair trade practices.  Progress is limited in general to customs related areas, mainly tariff and trade remedies. SACU has not harmonized non-tariff measures. Also, the 2002 SACU Agreement is limited to the liberalization of trade in goods and does not cover trade in services.  In 2008, the SACU Council of Ministers agreed that new generation issues such as services, investment, and Intellectual Property Rights should be incorporated into the SACU Agenda. Work is ongoing. South Africa is generally restricted from negotiating trade agreements by itself, since SACU is the competent authority.

In general, South Africa models its standards according to European standards or UK standards where those differ.

South Africa is a member of the WTO and attempts to notify all draft technical regulations to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), though often after the regulations have been implemented.

In November 2017, South Africa ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement. According to the government, it has implemented over 90 percent of the commitments as of February 2018. The outstanding measures were notified under Category B, to be implemented by the indicative date of 2022 without capacity building support and include Article 3 and Article 10 commitments on Advance Rulings and Single Window.

The South African Government is not party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPO).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

South Africa has a mixed legal system composed of civil law inherited from the Dutch, common law inherited from the British, and African customary law, of which there are many variations.  As a general rule, South Africa follows English law in criminal and civil procedure, company law, constitutional law, and the law of evidence, but follows Roman-Dutch common law in contract law, law of delict (torts), law of persons, and family law.  South African company law regulates corporations, including external companies, non-profit, and for-profit companies (including state-owned enterprises). Funded by the national Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, South Africa has district and magistrates courts across 350 districts and high courts for each of the provinces (except Limpopo and Mpumalanga, which are heard in Gauteng).  Often described as “the court of last resort,” the Supreme Court of Appeals hears appeals, and its jurisprudence may only be overruled by the apex court, the Constitutional Court. Moreover, South Africa has multiple specialized courts, including the Competition Appeal Court, Electoral Court, Land Claims Court, the Labour and Labour Appeal Courts, and Tax Courts to handle disputes between taxpayers and the South African Revenue Service.  These courts exist parallel to the court hierarchy, and their decisions are subject to the same process of appeal and review as the normal courts. Analysts routinely praise the competence and reliability of judicial processes, and the courts’ independence has been repeatedly proven with high-profile rulings against controversial legislation, as well as against former presidents and corrupt individuals in the executive and legislative branches.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The February 2019 ratification of the Competition Amendment Bill introduced, among other revisions, section 18A that mandates the President create a committee – comprised of 28 Ministers and officials chosen by the President – to evaluate and intervene in a merger or acquisition by a foreign acquiring firm on the basis of protecting national security interests.  According to the bill, any decisions taken by this committee are required to be published in the Gazette and must be presented, in appropriate detail, to the National Assembly. The new section states that the President must identify and publish in the Gazette – the South African equivalent of the U.S. Federal Register – a list of national security interests including the markets, industries, goods or services, sectors or regions in which a merger involving a foreign acquiring firm must be notified to the South African government.  The law also outlines what factors the President should take into consideration when determining what constitutes a threat to national security interest, including the merger’s impact on the use or transfer of sensitive technology or know-how; the security of critical infrastructure, including systems, facilities, and networks; the supply of critical goods or services to citizens and/or to the government; and the potential to enable foreign surveillance or espionage or hinder intelligence or law enforcement operations. It also suggests the President consider transactions that enable or facilitate terrorism, terrorist organizations, or organized crime; and to consider a merger’s impact on the economic and social stability of South Africa.  The law further recommends the committee take into consideration whether the foreign acquiring firm is a firm controlled by a foreign government.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Competition Commission is empowered to investigate, control and evaluate restrictive business practices, abuse of dominant positions, and mergers in order to achieve equity and efficiency.  Their public website is www.compcom.co.za  

The Competition Tribunal has jurisdiction throughout South Africa and adjudicates competition matters in accordance with the Competition Act.  While the Commission is the investigation and enforcement agency, the Tribunal is the adjudicative body, very much like a court.

In addition to the points made in the previous section, the amendments, presented by the Ministry for Economic Development that revise the Competition Act of 1998 and entered effect in February 2019 extend the mandate of the competition authorities and the executive to tackle high levels of economic concentration, address the limited transformation in the economy, and curb the abuse of market power by dominant firms.  The changes introduced through the Competition Amendment Act are meant to curb anti-competitive practices and break down monopolies that hinder “transformation” – the increased participation of black and HDSA in the South African economy. The amendments aim to deter the abuse of market dominance by large firms that use practices such as margin squeeze, exclusionary practices, price discrimination, and predatory pricing.  By increasing the penalties for these prohibited business practices – for repeat offences the penalties could amount to between 10 percent to 25 percent of a firm’s annual turnover – and allowing the parent or holding company to be held liable for the actions of its subsidiaries that contravene competition law, the Competition Commission hopes to break down these anticompetitive practices and open up new opportunities for SMEs.

Expropriation and Compensation

Racially discriminatory property laws and land allocations during the colonial and apartheid periods resulted in highly distorted patterns of land ownership and property distribution in South Africa.  Given the slow and mixed success of land reform to date, the National Assembly (Parliament) passed a motion in February 2018 to investigate a proposal to amend the constitution (specifically Section 25, the “property clause”) to allow for land expropriation without compensation (EWC). The constitutional Bill of Rights, where Section 25 resides, has never been amended.  Some politicians, think-tanks, and academics argue that Section 25, as written, allows for EWC in certain cases, while others insist that in order to implement EWC more broadly, amending the constitution is required. Academics foresee a few test cases for EWC over the next year, primarily targeted at abandoned buildings in urban areas, informal settlements in peri-urban areas, and involving labor tenants in rural areas.

Parliament tasked an ad hoc Constitutional Review Committee – made up of parliamentarians from various political parties – to report back on whether to amend the constitution to allow EWC, and if so, how it should be done.  In December 2018, the National Assembly adopted the committee’s report recommending a constitutional amendment, but Parliament ran out of time to draft the amendment before its final session before the May 8, 2019 elections.  The next Parliament will need to compose a new ad hoc committee to draft the constitutional amendment bill.

South African law requires that Parliament engage in a rigorous public participation process.  Parliament must publish a proposed bill to amend the Constitution in the Government Gazette at least 30 days prior to its introduction to allow for public comment.  Any change to the constitution would need a two-thirds parliamentary majority (267 votes) to pass, as well as the support of six out of the nine provinces in the National Council of Provinces.  Currently, no single political party has such a majority.

In September 2018, President Ramaphosa appointed an advisory panel on land reform, which supports the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Land Reform chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza.  Comprised of ten members from academia, social entrepreneurship, and activist organizations, the panel will submit a formal report in 2019 on issues related to land restitution, redistribution, tenure security, and agricultural support.  Analysts have praised the panel for representing the executive branch’s interest and dedication to engaging with diverse sectors to handle the sensitive, multi-faceted issues related to land reform.

Existing expropriation law, including The Expropriation Act of 1975 (Act) and the Expropriation Act Amendment of 1992, entitles the government to expropriate private property for reasons of public necessity or utility.  The decision is an administrative one. Compensation should be the fair market value of the property as agreed between the buyer and seller, or determined by the court, as per Section 25 of the Constitution. In several restitution cases in which the government initiated proceedings to expropriate white-owned farms after courts ruled the land had been seized from blacks during apartheid, the owners rejected the court-approved purchase prices.  In most of these cases, the government and owners reached agreement on compensation prior to any final expropriation actions. The government has twice exercised its expropriation power, taking possession of farms in Northern Cape and Limpopo provinces in 2007 after negotiations with owners collapsed. The government paid the owners the fair market value for the land in both cases. A new draft expropriation law, intended to replace the Expropriation Act of 1975, was passed and is awaiting Presidential signature.  Some analysts have raised concerns about aspects of the new legislation, including new clauses that would allow the government to expropriate property without first obtaining a court order.

In 2018, the government operationalized the 2014 Property Valuation Act that creates the office of Valuer-General charged with the valuation of property that has been identified for land reform or acquisition or disposal by a department.  Among other things, the Act gives the government the option to expropriate property based on a formulation in the Constitution termed “just and equitable compensation.” This considers the market value of the property and applies discounts based on the current use of the property, the history of the acquisition, and the extent of direct state investment and subsidy in the acquisition and capital improvements to the property.  Critics fear that this could lead to the government expropriating property at a price lower than fair market value. The Act also allows the government to expropriate property under a broad range of policy goals, including economic transformation and correcting historical grievances.

The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002 (MPRDA), enacted in 2004, gave the state ownership of all of South Africa’s mineral and petroleum resources.  It replaced private ownership with a system of licenses controlled by the government of South Africa, and issued by the Department of Mineral Resources.  Under the MPRDA, investors who held pre-existing rights were granted the opportunity to apply for licenses, provided they met the licensing criteria, including the achievement of certain B-BBEE objectives.  Amendments to the MPRDA passed by Parliament in 2014, but were not signed by the President.  In August 2018, the Minister for the Department of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, called for the recall of the amendments so that oil and gas could be separated out into a new bill.  The Minister also announced the B-BBEE provisions in the new Mining Charter would not apply during exploration, but would start once commodities were found and mining commenced.  The Amendments are now with the Department of Mineral Resources to draft a new bill to be submitted to Parliament.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

South Africa is a member of the New York Convention of 1958 on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitration awards, but is not a member of the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The 2015 Promotion of Investment Act removes the option for investor state dispute settlement through international courts typically afforded through bilateral investment treaties (BITs).  Instead, investors disputing an action taken by the South African government must request the Department of Trade and Industry to facilitate the resolution by appointing a mediator. A foreign investor may also approach any competent court, independent tribunal, or statutory body within South Africa for the resolution of the dispute.

Dispute resolution can be a time-intensive process in South Africa.  If the matter is urgent, and the presiding judge agrees, an interim decision can be taken within days while the appeal process can take months or years.  If the matter is a dispute of law and is not urgent, it may proceed by application or motion to be solved within months. Where there is a dispute of fact, the matter is referred to trial, which can take several years.  The Alternative Dispute Resolution involves negotiation, mediation or arbitration, and may resolve the matter within a couple of months.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitration in South Africa follows the Arbitration Act of 1965, which does not distinguish between domestic and international arbitration and is not based on UNCITRAL model law.  South African courts retain discretion to hear a dispute over a contract entered into under U.S. law and under U.S. jurisdiction; however, the South African court will interpret the contract with the law of the country or jurisdiction provided for in the contract.

South Africa recognizes the International Chamber of Commerce, which supervises the resolution of transnational commercial disputes.  South Africa applies its commercial and bankruptcy laws with consistency and has an independent, objective court system for enforcing property and contractual rights.

Alternative Dispute Resolution is increasingly popular in South Africa for many reasons, including the confidentiality which can be imposed on the evidence, case documents, and the judgment.  South Africa’s new Companies Act also provides a mechanism for Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Bankruptcy Regulations

South Africa has a strong bankruptcy law, which grants many rights to debtors, including rejection of overly burdensome contracts, avoiding preferential transactions, and the ability to obtain credit during insolvency proceedings.  South Africa ranks 66 out of 190 countries for resolving insolvency according to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business report, an increase from its 2018 rank of 55 despite receiving the same overall score, indicating that the increase is only due to other countries falling below South Africa in 2019.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

South Africa offers various investment incentives targeted at specific sectors or types of business activities. The dti has a number of incentive programs ranging from tax allowances to support in the automotive sector and helping innovation and technology companies to film and television production.

12I Tax Allowance: is designed to support new industrial projects that utilize only new and unused manufacturing assets and expansions or upgrades of existing industrial projects. The incentive offers support for both capital investment and training. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=45&subthemeid=26  

Agro-Processing Support Scheme (APSS): aims to stimulate investment by South African agro-processing/beneficiation (agri-business) enterprises. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=69&subthemeid=25  

Aquaculture Development and Enhancement Programme (ADEP): is available to South African registered entities engaged in primary, secondary, and ancillary aquaculture activities in both marine and freshwater classified under SIC 132 (fish hatcheries and fish farms) and SIC 301 and 3012 (production, processing and preserving of aquaculture fish). https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=56&subthemeid=26  

Automotive Investment Scheme (AIS): designed to grow and develop the automotive sector through investment in new and/ or replacement models and components that will increase plant production volumes, sustain employment and/ or strengthen the automotive value chain. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=37&subthemeid=26  

Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicles Automotive Investment Scheme (MHCV-AIS): is designed to grow and develop the automotive sector through investment in new and/or replacement models and components that will increase plant production volumes, sustain employment and/or strengthen the automotive value chain. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=60&subthemeid=26  

People-carrier Automotive Investment Scheme (P-AIS): provides a non-taxable cash grant of between 20 percent and 35 percent of the value of qualifying investment in productive assets approved by the dti. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=55&subthemeid=26  

Business Process Services (BPS): aims to attract investment and create employment opportunities in South Africa through offshoring activities. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=6&subthemeid=25  

Capital Projects Feasibility Programme (CPFP): is a cost-sharing grant that contributes to the cost of feasibility studies likely to lead to projects that will increase local exports and stimulate the market for South African capital goods and services. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=4&subthemeid=26  

Cluster Development Programme (CDP): aims to promote industrialization, sustainable economic growth and job creation needs of South Africa through cluster development and industrial parks. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=66&subthemeid=28  

Critical Infrastructure Programme (CIP): aims to leverage investment by supporting infrastructure that is deemed to be critical, thus lowering the cost of doing business.  https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=3&subthemeid=26  

Clothing and Textile Competitiveness Improvement Programme (CTCIP): aims to build capacity among manufacturers and in other areas of the apparel value chain in South Africa, to enable them to effectively supply their customers and compete on a global scale. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=35&subthemeid=25  

Export Marketing and Investment Assistance (EMIA): develops export markets for South African products and services and recruits new foreign direct investment into the country. The purpose of the scheme is to partially compensate exporters for costs incurred with respect to activities aimed at developing an export market for South African product and services and to recruit new foreign direct investment into South Africa. https://www.thedti.gov.za/trade_investment/emia.jsp  

Foreign Film and Television Production and Post-Production Incentive: to attract foreign-based film productions to shoot on location in South Africa and conduct post-production activities. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=63&subthemeid=26  

Innovation and Technology Funding instruments: click on the link to see a graphic of the various funding instruments the government has made available. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/Innovation_value_Chain.jsp  

Manufacturing Competitiveness Enhancement Programme (MCEP): aims to encourage manufacturers to upgrade their production facilities in a manner that sustains employment and maximizes value-addition in the short to medium term.  Participants can also apply for incentives for energy efficiency and green economy incentives. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=53&subthemeid=25  

Production Incentive (PI): forms part of the Clothing and Textile Competitiveness Program, and forms part of the customized sector program for the clothing, textiles, footwear, leather and leather goods industries. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=36&subthemeid=25  

Sector-Specific Assistance Scheme (SSAS): is a reimbursable cost-sharing incentive scheme which grants financial support to organizations that support the development of industry sectors and those that contribute to the growth of South African exports. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=8&subthemeid=26  

Shared Economic Infrastructure Facility (SEIF)contact the Department of Small Business Development on +27 861 843 384 (select option 2) or E-Mail: sbdinfo@dsbd.gov.za for more information. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=61&subthemeid=1  

Support Programme for Industrial Innovation (SPII): is designed to promote technology development in South Africa’s industry, through the provision of financial assistance for the development of innovative products and/or processes. SPII is focused on the development phase, which begins when basic research concludes and ends at the point when a pre-production prototype has been produced. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=48&subthemeid=8  

Strategic Partnership Programme (SPP)The SPP aims to develop and enhance the capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises to provide manufacturing and service support to large private sector enterprises. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=67&subthemeid=1  

Workplace Challenge Programme (WPC): managed by Productivity South Africa, WPC aims to encourage and support negotiated workplace change towards enhancing productivity and world-class competitiveness, best operating practices, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, while resulting in job creation. https://www.thedti.gov.za/financial_assistance/financial_incentive.jsp?id=68&subthemeid=25  

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

South Africa designated its first Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) in 2001. IDZs offer duty-free import of production-related materials and zero VAT on materials sourced from South Africa, along with the right to sell in South Africa upon payment of normal import duties on finished goods.  Expedited services and other logistical arrangements may be provided for small to medium-sized enterprises or for new foreign direct investment. Co-funding for infrastructure development is available from the dti. There are no exemptions from other laws or regulations, such as environmental and labor laws.  The Manufacturing Development Board licenses IDZ enterprises in collaboration with the South African Revenue Service (SARS), which handles IDZ customs matters. IDZ operators may be public, private, or a combination of both. There are currently five IDZs in South Africa: Coega IDZ, Richards Bay IDZ, Dube Trade Port, East London IDZ, and Saldanha Bay IDZ.  For more detailed information on IDZs in South Africa please see: http://www.thedti.gov.za/industrial_development/sez.jsp  

In February 2014, the dti introduced a new Special Economic Zones (SEZs) Bill focused on industrial development. The SEZs encompass the IDZs but also provide scope for economic activity beyond export-driven industry to include innovation centers and regional development.  There are five SEZ in South Africa: Atlantis SEZ, Nkomazi SEZ, Maliti-A-Phofung SEZ, Musina/Makhado SEZ, and OR Tambo SEZ. The broader SEZ incentives strategy allows for 15 percent Corporate Tax as opposed to the current 28 percent, Building Tax Allowance, Employment Tax Incentive, Customs Controlled Area (VAT exemption and duty free), and Accelerated 12i Tax Allowance.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Employment and Investor Requirements

Foreign investors who establish a business or who invest in existing businesses in South Africa must show within twelve months of establishing the business that at least 60 percent of the total permanent staff are South African citizens or permanent residents.

The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) program measures employment equity, management control, and ownership by historically disadvantaged South Africans for companies which do business with the government or bid on government tenders.  Companies may consider the B-BBEE scores of their sub-contractors and suppliers, as their scores can sometimes contribute to or detract from the contracting company’s B-BBEE score.

A business visa is required for foreign investors who will establish a business or who will invest in an existing business in South Africa.  They are required to invest a prescribed financial capital contribution equivalent to R2.5million (USD 178 thousand) and have at least R5 million (USD 356 thousand) in cash and capital available.  These capital requirements may be reduced or waived if the investment qualifies under one of the following types of industries/businesses: information and communication technology; clothing and textile manufacturing; chemicals and bio-technology; agro-processing; metals and minerals refinement; automotive manufacturing; tourism; and crafts.

The documentation required for obtaining a business visa is onerous and includes, among other requirements, a letter of recommendation from the Department of Trade and Industry regarding the feasibility of the business and its contribution to the national interest, and various certificates issued by a chartered or professional South African accountant.

U.S. citizens have complained that the processes to apply for and renew visas and work permits are lengthy, confusing, and difficult.  Requirements frequently change mid-process, and there is little to no feedback about why an application might be considered incomplete or denied.  Many U.S. citizens use facilitation services to help navigate these processes.

Goods, Technology, and Data Treatment

The government does not require the use of domestic content in goods or technology.  The transfer of personal information about a subject to a third party who is in a foreign country is prohibited unless certain conditions are met.  These conditions are outlined in the Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) Act, which the government enacted in 2013 to regulate how personal information may be processed.  The conditions relate to: accountability, processing limitations, purpose specification, information quality, openness, security safeguards, and data subject participation. PoPI also created an Information Regulator (IR) to draft regulations and enforce them; the five member body that comprises the IR was established in 2018.  The IR released regulations on personal information processing in December 2018, but government was not clear if the one year grace period to begin implementation started from the date the regulations were published or from the date the IR is fully operational.

Investment Performance Requirements

There are no performance requirements on investments.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The South African legal system protects and facilitates the acquisition and disposition of all property rights (e.g., land, buildings, and mortgages).  Deeds must be registered at the Deeds Office. Banks usually register mortgages as security when providing finance for the purchase of property.

South Africa ranks 106th of 190 countries in registering property according to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business report.

Intellectual Property Rights

South Africa has a strong legal structure and enforcement of intellectual property rights through civil and criminal procedures.  Criminal procedures are generally lengthy, so the customary route is through civil enforcement.  There are concerns about counterfeit consumer goods, illegal commercial photocopying, and software piracy.

Owners of patents and trademarks may license them locally, but when a patent license entails the payment of royalties to a non-resident licensor, the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) must approve the royalty agreement.  Patents are granted for twenty years – usually with no option to renew. Trademarks are valid for an initial period of ten years, renewable for ten-year periods. The holder of a patent or trademark must pay an annual fee to preserve ownership rights.  All agreements relating to payment for the right to use know-how, patents, trademarks, copyrights, or other similar property are subject to approval by exchange control authorities in the SARB. A royalty of up to four percent is the standard approval for consumer goods, and up to six percent for intermediate and finished capital goods.

Literary, musical, and artistic works, as well as cinematographic films and sound recordings are eligible for copyright under the Copyright Act of 1978.  New designs may be registered under the Designs Act of 1967, which grants copyrights for five years. The Counterfeit Goods Act of 1997 provides additional protection to owners of trademarks, copyrights, and certain marks under the Merchandise Marks Act of 1941.  The Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Act of 1997 amended the Merchandise Marks Act of 1941, the Performers’ Protection Act of 1967, the Patents Act of 1978, the Copyright Act of 1978, the Trademarks Act of 1993, and the Designs Act of 1993 to bring South African intellectual property legislation fully into line with the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS).  Further Amendments to the Patents Act of 1978 also brought South Africa into line with TRIPS, to which South Africa became a party in 1999, and implemented the Patent Cooperation Treaty. The private sector and law enforcement cooperate extensively to stop the flow of counterfeit goods into the marketplace, and the private sector believes that South Africa has made significant progress in this regard since 2001.   Statistics on seizures are not available.

In an effort to modernize outdated copyright law to incorporate “digital age” advances, the dti introduced the latest draft of the Copyright Amendment Bill in May 2017.  The South African Parliament and the National Council of Provinces approved the Copyright Amendment Bill in March 2019 and sent the bill to the president for signature. As of mid-May 2019, the bill had not been signed.  Among the issues of concern to some private sector stakeholders is the introduction of the U.S. model of “fair use” for copyright exemptions without prescribing industry-specific circumstances where fair use will apply, creating uncertainty about copyrights enforcement.  Other concerns that stakeholders have include a clause which allows the Minister of Trade and Industry to set royalty rates for visual artistic works and impose compulsory contractual terms. The bill also limits the assignment of copyright to 25 years before it reverts back to the author.

The Performers’ Protection Amendment Bill seeks to address issues relating to the payment of royalties to performers; safeguarding the rights of contracting parties; and promotes performers’ moral and economic rights for performances in fixations (recordings).  Similar to the Copyright Amendment Bill, this bill gives the Minister of Trade and Industry authority to determine equitable remuneration for a performer and copyright owner for the direct or indirect use of a work. It also suggests that any agreement between the copyright owner and performer will only last for a period of 25 years and does not determine what happens after 25 years.  The bill also does not stipulate how it will address works with multiple performers, particularly how to resolve potential problems of hold-outs when contracts are renegotiated that could hinder the further exploitation of a work.

The dti released the final Intellectual Property Policy of the Republic of South Africa Phase 1  in June, 2018, that informs the government’s approach to intellectual property and existing laws.  Phase I focuses on the health space, particularly pharmaceuticals. The South African Government, led by the dti, held multiple rounds of public consultations since its introduction and the 2016 release of the IP Consultative Framework.

Among other things, the IP policy framework calls for South Africa to carry out substantive search and examination (SSE) on patent applications and to introduce a pre- and post-grant opposition system.  The dti repeatedly stressed its goal of creating the domestic capacity to understand and review patents, without having to rely on other countries’ examinations. U.S. companies working in South Africa have been generally supportive of the government’s goal; they are concerned, however, that the relatively low number of examiners currently on staff (20) to handle the proposed SSE process and the introduction of a pre-grant opposition system in South Africa could lead to significant delays of products to market.  The South African Government is working with international partners (including USPTO and the European Union) to provide accelerated training of their patent reviewers while also recruiting new staff.

The new IP policy framework also raises concerns around the threat of separate patentability criteria for medicines and a more liberalized compulsory licensing regime.  Stakeholders are calling for more concrete assurances that the use of compulsory licensing provisions will be as a last resort and applied in a manner consistent with WTO rules.  Industry sources report they are not aware of a single case of South Africa issuing a compulsory license.

South Africa is currently in the process of implementing the Madrid Protocol.  CIPC has completed drafting legislative amendments after consultations with stakeholders and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on the implementation process in South Africa.  WIPO has conducted a number of missions to South Africa on this matter, the latest of which was in February 2018. South Africa has also engaged with national IP offices with similar trade mark legislation, such as New Zealand.

Resources for Rights Holders

Economic Officer covering IP issues:

Juan Manuel Cammarano
Trade and Investment Officer
+27(0)12 431-4343
CammaranoJM@State.gov

For additional information about South Africa’s treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/  .  A list of attorneys for various South African districts can be found on the U.S. Mission Citizen Services page: https://za.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources/attorneys/

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

South Africa recognizes the importance of foreign capital in financing persistent current account and budget deficits and openly courts foreign portfolio investment.  Authorities regularly meet with investors and encourage open discussion between investors and a wide range of private and public-sector stakeholders. The government enhanced efforts to attract and retain foreign investors.  President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted an investment conference in October 2018 and attended the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2019 to promote South Africa as an investment destination. South Africa suffered a two-quarter technical recession in 2018 with economic growth registering only 0.8 percent for the entire year.

South Africa’s financial market is regarded as one of the most sophisticated among emerging markets.  A sound legal and regulatory framework governs financial institutions and transactions.

The fully independent South African Reserve Bank (SARB) regulates a wide range of commercial, retail and investment banking services according to international best practices, such as Basel III, and participates in international forums such as the Financial Stability Board and G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors.  There are calls to “nationalize” the privately-held SARB, which would not change its constitutional mandate to maintain price stability. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) serves as the front-line regulator for listed firms, but is supervised in these regulatory duties by the Financial Services Board (FSB). The FSB also oversees other non-banking financial services, including other collective investment schemes, retirement funds and a diversified insurance industry.  The South African government has committed to tabling a Twin Peaks regulatory architecture to provide a clear demarcation of supervisory responsibilities and consumer accountability and to consolidate banking and non-banking regulation in 2017.

South Africa has access to deep pools of capital from local and foreign investors which provide sufficient scope for entry and exit of large positions.  Financial sector assets amount to almost three times GDP, and the JSE is the largest on the continent with capitalization of approximately USD 900 billion and approximately 400 companies listed on the main, alternative and other smaller boards.  Non-bank financial institutions (NBFI) hold about two thirds of financial assets.  The liquidity and depth provided by NBFIs make these markets attractive to foreign investors, who hold more than a third of equities and government bonds, including sizeable positions in local-currency bonds. A well-developed derivative market and a currency that is widely traded as a proxy for emerging market risk allows investors considerable scope to hedge positions with interest rate and foreign exchange derivatives.

The SARB’s exchange control policies permit authorized currency dealers, normally one of the large commercial banks, to buy and borrow foreign currency freely on behalf of domestic and foreign clients.  The size of transactions is not limited, but dealers must report all transactions to SARB, regardless of size.  Non-residents may purchase securities without restriction and freely transfer capital in and out of South Africa.  Local individual and institutional investors are limited to holding 25 percent of their capital outside of South Africa. Given the recent exchange rate fluctuations, this requirement has entailed portfolio rebalancing and repatriation to meet the prescribed prudential limits.

Banks, NBFIs, and other financial intermediaries are skilled at assessing risk and allocating credit based on market conditions.  Foreign investors may borrow freely on the local market.  A large range of debt, equity and other credit instruments are available to foreign investors, and a host of well-known foreign and domestic service providers offer accounting, legal and consulting advice.  In recent years, the South African auditing profession has suffered significant reputational damage with the leadership of two large foreign firms being implicated in allegations of aiding and abetting irregular client management practices that were linked to the previous administration, or of delinquent oversight of listed client companies.  South Africa’s WEF competitiveness rating for auditing and reporting fell from number one in the world in 2016, to number 55 in 2018.

Money and Banking System

South African banks are well capitalized and comply with international banking standards. There are 19 registered banks in South Africa and 15 branches of foreign banks. Twenty-nine foreign banks have approved local representative offices. Five banks – Standard, ABSA, First Rand (FNB), Capitec, and Nedbank – dominate the sector, accounting for over 85 percent of the country’s banking assets, which total over USD 390 billion.  The SARB regulates the sector according to the Bank Act of 1990. There are three alternatives for foreign banks to establish local operations, all of which require SARB approval: separate company, branch, or representative office. The criteria for the registration of a foreign bank are the same as for domestic banks. Foreign banks must include additional information, such as holding company approval, a letter of “comfort and understanding” from the holding company, and a letter of no objection from the foreign bank’s home regulatory authority. More information on the banking industry may be obtained from the South African Banking Association at the following website: www.banking.org.za  .

The Financial Services Board (FSB) governs South Africa’s non-bank financial services industry (see website: www.fsb.co.za/  ).  The FSB regulates insurance companies, pension funds, unit trusts (i.e., mutual funds), participation bond schemes, portfolio management, and the financial markets.  The JSE Securities Exchange SA (JSE) is the nineteenth largest exchange in the world measured by market capitalization and enjoys the global reputation of being one of the best regulated.  Market capitalization stood at USD 900 billion as of November 2018, with 388 firms listed. The Bond Exchange of South Africa (BESA) is licensed under the Financial Markets Control Act. Membership includes banks, insurers, investors, stockbrokers, and independent intermediaries.  The exchange consists principally of bonds issued by government, state-owned enterprises, and private corporations. The JSE acquired BESA in 2009. More information on financial markets may be obtained from the JSE (website: www.jse.co.za  ).  Non-residents are allowed to finance 100 percent of their investment through local borrowing.  A finance ratio of 1:1 also applies to emigrants, the acquisition of residential properties by non-residents, and financial transactions such as portfolio investments, securities lending and hedging by non-residents.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) Exchange Control Department administers foreign exchange policy.  An authorized foreign exchange dealer, normally one of the large commercial banks, must handle international commercial transactions and report every purchase of foreign exchange, irrespective of the amount.  Generally, there are only limited delays in the conversion and transfer of funds. Due to South Africa’s relatively closed exchange system, no private player, however large, can hedge large quantities of Rand for more than five years.

While non-residents may freely transfer capital in and out of South Africa, transactions must be reported to authorities.  Non-residents may purchase local securities without restriction. To facilitate repatriation of capital and profits, foreign investors should ensure an authorized dealer endorses their share certificates as “non-resident.”  Foreign investors should also be sure to maintain an accurate record of investment.

Remittance Policies

Subsidiaries and branches of foreign companies in South Africa are considered South African entities and are treated legally as South African companies.  As such, they are subject to exchange control by the SARB. South African companies may, as a general rule, freely remit the following to non-residents: repayment of capital investments; dividends and branch profits (provided such transfers are made out of trading profits and are financed without resorting to excessive local borrowing); interest payments (provided the rate is reasonable); and payment of royalties or similar fees for the use of know-how, patents, designs, trademarks or similar property (subject to prior approval of SARB authorities).

While South African companies may invest in other countries, SARB approval/notification is required for investments over R500 million (USD 43.5 million).  South African individuals may freely invest in foreign firms listed on South African stock exchanges. Individual South African taxpayers in good standing may make investments up to a total of R4 million (USD 340,000) in other countries.  As of 2010, South African banks are permitted to commit up to 25 percent of their capital in direct and indirect foreign liabilities. In addition, mutual and other investment funds can invest up to 25 percent of their retail assets in other countries.  Pension plans and insurance funds may invest 25 percent of their retail assets in other countries.

Before accepting or repaying a foreign loan, South African residents must obtain SARB approval.  The SARB must also approve the payment of royalties and license fees to non-residents when no local manufacturing is involved.  When local manufacturing is involved, the dti must approve the payment of royalties related to patents on manufacturing processes and products.  Upon proof of invoice, South African companies may pay fees for foreign management and other services provided such fees are not calculated as a percentage of sales, profits, purchases, or income.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

South Africa does not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

9. Corruption

South Africa has a robust anti-corruption framework, but laws are inadequately enforced and accountability in public sectors tends to be low. The law provides for criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, and the government continued efforts to curb corruption, but officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

High-level political interference has undermined the ability of the country’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) – constitutionally responsible for all prosecutions – to pursue criminal proceedings and enforce accountability.  After an unprecedented consultative process, President Ramaphosa appointed Shamila Batohi as the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) in December 2018, and he created an Investigative Directorate within her office in March 2019 to focus on the significant number of cases emanating from ongoing corruption investigations.  The Constitutional Court ruled in August 2018 that Zuma’s appointment of Shaun Abrahams as the former NDPP was invalid and ordered President Ramaphosa to replace Abrahams within 90 days. Widely praised by civil society, the court also ordered former NDPP Mxolisi Nxasana to repay a “golden handshake” (an illegal departure bonus) of 10.2 million rand (USD 788,000) he received when Zuma replaced him with Abrahams in 2015.

The Department of Public Service and Administration formally coordinates government initiatives against corruption, and the “Hawks” – South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations – focuses on organized crime, economic crimes, and corruption.  In 2018, the Office of the Public Protector, a constitutionally mandated body designed to investigate government abuse and mismanagement, investigated thousands of cases, some of which involved high-level officials. The public and NGOs considered the Office of the Public Protector independent and effective, despite limited funding.  According to the NPA’s 2017-2018 Annual Report, it recovered 410,000 rand (USD 31,700) from government officials involved in corruption, a 92-percent decrease from the previous year.  Courts convicted 213 government officials of corruption.

The Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (PCCA) officially criminalizes corruption in public and private sectors and codifies specific offenses (such as extortion and money laundering), making it easier for courts to enforce the legislation.  Applying to both domestic and foreign organizations doing business in the country, the PCCA covers receiving or offering bribes, influencing witnesses and tampering with evidence in ongoing investigations, obstruction of justice, contracts, procuring and withdrawal of tenders, and conflict of interests, among other areas.  Inconsistently implemented, the PCCA does not include any protectionary measures for whistleblowers.  Complementary acts – such as the Promotion of Access to Information Act and the Public Finance Management Act – calls for increased access to public information and review of government expenditures.

“State capture” – the popular term used to describe systemic corruption of the state’s decision-making processes by private interests – has become synonymous with the administration of former president Jacob Zuma.  In response to widespread calls for accountability, President Cyril Ramaphosa has denounced corruption since assuming office in February 2018. He has vowed to tackle the scourge at all levels of government, including through proposed lifestyle audits of officials to expose bribery, corruption, and public tender irregularities.  He has also launched four separate judicial commissions of inquiry to investigate corruption, fraud, and maladministration, including in the Public Investment Corporation, South African Revenue Service, National Prosecuting Authority, and writ large across the government. These commissions have revealed pervasive networks of criminality across all levels of the municipal, provincial, and national government.  Numerous former senior officials had already testified before the commission; a number of them directly implicated former president Jacob Zuma in corruption cases.

Corruption charges were reinstated against Zuma in 2018 related to a USD 2.5-billion arms deal in the late 1990s.  The Zuma-linked Gupta family, which owns interests in multiple industries from computer services to mining, has also been placed under investigation and its assets frozen while the state investigates allegations of state capture, bribery, and the siphoning off of public funds meant for small-holder farmers.  These and other ongoing efforts are meant to rebuild the public’s trust in government and to foment transparency and predictability in the business environment in order to woo investors.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

South Africa signed the Anticorruption Convention on 9 Dec 2003 and ratified it on 22 Nov 2004.  South Africa also signed the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery in 2007, with implementing legislation dating from 2004.

South Africa is also a party to the SADC Protocol Against Corruption, which promotes the development of mechanisms needed to prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption in the public and private sector.  The protocol also seeks to facilitate and regulate cooperation in matters of corruption amongst Member States and foster development and harmonization of policies and domestic legislation related to corruption.  The Protocol defines ‘acts of corruption,’ preventative measures, jurisdiction of Member States, as well as extradition. http://www.sadc.int/files/7913/5292/8361/Protocol_Against_Corruption2001.pdf 

Resources to Report Corruption

To report corruption to the government:

Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane
Public Protector
Office of the Public Protector, South Africa
175 Lunnon Street, Hillcrest Office Park, Pretoria 0083

Anti-Corruption Hotline: +27 80 011 2040 or +27 12 366 7000
http://www.pprotect.org   or customerservice@pprotect.org

Or for a non-government agency:

David Lewis
Executive Director
Corruption Watch
87 De Korte Street, Braamfontein/Johannesburg 2001
+27 80 002 3456 or +27 11 242 3900
http://www.corruptionwatch.org.za/content/make-your-complaint  
info@corruptionwatch.org.za

10. Political and Security Environment

South Africa has a history of politically-motivated violence and civil disturbance.  Violent protests, often by residents in poor communities against the lack of effective government service delivery, are common.  Killings of, and by, mostly low-level political and organized crime rivals take place on a regular basis.  Still, South Africa enjoys strong, democratic political institutions and the overall political environment is stable and secure.

In May 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa set up an inter-ministerial committee in the security cluster to serve as a national task force on political killings.  The task force includes the Police Minister‚ State Security Minister‚ Justice Minister‚ National Prosecuting Authority, and the National Police Commissioner.  The task force ordered multiple arrests, including of high profile officials, in what appears to be a crackdown on political killings.

There is suspicion that criminal threats have been used to resolve business disputes. There was one known incident in 2018 when two expat employees of a U.S. company managing an ongoing construction project received threats to leave the country.  The threats escalated to mention the expats’ families as targets, and the company evacuated them from South Africa. Subcontractors accused of using substandard construction materials were suspected. There were no reports of physical damage at the project.

Labor unrest in one part of South Africa has caused damage to property and halted operations to a U.S. company operating in an industrial zone.  In this case, the U.S. company was targeted as a single employer by strikes and labor unrest on what was a national bargaining council issue.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Since 1994, the South African government has replaced apartheid-era labor legislation with policies that emphasize employment security, fair wages, and decent working conditions.  Under the aegis of the National Economic Development and Labor Council (NEDLAC), government, business, and organized labor are to negotiate all labor laws, with the exception of laws pertaining to occupational health and safety.  The South African Constitution and South African laws allows workers to form or join trade unions without previous authorization or excessive requirements. Labor unions that meet a locally negotiated minimum threshold of representation (often, 50 percent plus one union member) are entitled to represent the entire workplace in negotiations with management.  As the majority union or representative union, they may also extract agency fees from non-union members present in the workplace. In some workplaces and job sectors, this financial incentive has encouraged inter-union rivalries, including intimidation and violence, as unions compete for the maximum share of employees in seeking the status of representative union.

In February 2019, South Africa reported a year-on-year unemployment rate increase of 0.4 percentage point to 27.1 percent.  However, labor force participation increased by 0.6 percentage points to 59.4 percent from 58.8 percent in 2018. The youth unemployment (ages 15-24) rate has hovered at or just over 50 percent since 2015.  Approximately 3.2 million (31.1 percent) of the 10.3 million of these South Africans were not in employment, education, or training. On a quarterly basis, employment in the formal sector increased in all industries with the exception of professional employment and skilled agriculture.

There are 205 trade unions registered with the Department of Labor as of February 2019, up from 190 the prior year, but down from the 2002 high of 504.  According to the 2018 Fourth Quarter Labor Force Survey (QLFS) report from Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), 4.04 million workers belonged to a union, an increase of 511,000 from the fourth quarter of 2017.  Department of Labor statistics indicate union density declined from 45.2 percent in 1997 to 24.7 percent in 2014, the most recent data available. Using StatsSA data, however, union density can be calculated: The February 2019 QLFS reported 4.041 million union members and 13.992 million employees, for a union density of 28.9 percent.

The right to strike is protected under South Africa’s constitution and laws.  The law allows workers to strike due to matters of mutual interest, such as wages, benefits, organizational rights disputes, socioeconomic interests of workers, and similar measures. Workers may not strike because of disputes where other legal recourse exists, such as through arbitration. Although the number of workdays lost to strikes jumped from 480,000 in 2017 to 1.95 million in 2018, the figure remains low in comparison to the 2005-2014 period in which every year but one (2008) saw lost workdays total at least 2.3 million.  Long-running strikes in the plastics and mining sector accounted for the 2018 increase. Strikes in 2018 were triggered almost exclusively (96 percent of strikes) by wages and grievances. The health and education sectors saw the most strikes in 2018, followed by miners and municipal sector workers. Due to long-running strikes in the plastics and mining sectors, these industries saw the most work days lost to strikes in 2018.

Layoffs and retrenchments are permitted for economic reasons, but they are subject to a statutory process requiring consultations between employers and labor unions in an effort to reach consensus.

Employers and employees are each required to pay one percent of workers’ wages to the national unemployment fund.  The fund pays benefits based on reverse sliding scale of the prior salary, up to 58 percent of the prior wage, for up to 34 weeks.

There are robust labor dispute resolution institutions in South Africa, including the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), the bargaining councils, and specialized labor courts of both first instance and appellate jurisdiction.

Improved labor stability is essential for South Africa’s economic stability and development and vital to the country’s ability to continue to attract and retain foreign investment.  The government of South Africa does not waive labor laws to attract or retain investment.

Collective bargaining is a cornerstone of the current labor relations framework.  As of February 2019, the South Africa Department of Labor listed 39 private sector bargaining councils through which parties negotiate wages and conditions of employment.  Per the Labor Relations Act, the Minister of Labor must extend agreements reached in bargaining councils to non-parties of the agreement operating in the same sector. Employer federations, particularly those representing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) argue the extension of these agreements – often reached between unions and big business – negatively impacts SMEs that cannot afford to pay higher wages.  In 2018, the average wage settlement resulted in a 7.2 percent wage increase, on average 2.6 percent above the increase in South Africa’s consumer price index and down slightly from the average increase of 7.6 percent in 2017.

Major labor legislation includes:

As of January 1, 2019, South Africa has a national minimum wage of R20/hour, with lower rates for domestic (R16/hour) and agricultural (R 18/hour) workers.  This rate is subject to annual increases as suggested by the 13-member National Minimum Wage Commission and as approved by parliament and signed by the president.

In November 2018, President Ramaphosa signed an amendment to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act which provides benefits to new parents.  Fathers may now claim ten days of paternity leave, whereas adoptive parents and commissioning parents in a surrogate motherhood agreement may now claim ten weeks of leave.  South Africa’s Unemployment Fund funds this leave at the same rate for unemployment claims (see above) and not at the claiming employee’s wage rate.

The Labor Relations Act (LRA), in effect since 1995 with amendments made in 2014, provides fair dismissal guidelines, dispute resolution mechanisms, and retrenchment guidelines stating employers must consider alternatives to retrenchment and must consult all relevant parties when considering possible layoffs.  The Act enshrines the right of workers to strike and of management to lock out striking workers. The Act created the Commission on Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA), which can conciliate, mediate, and arbitrate in cases of labor disputes, and is required to certify an impasse in bargaining council negotiations before a strike can be called legally.  The CCMA’s caseload currently exceeds what was anticipated; the South African Government provided the CCMA an additional USD 60 million to handle its caseload and any possible increase caused by the 2014 amendments to the LRA. Amendments to the LRA modify the regulation of temporary employment service firms, extend organizational rights to workplaces with a majority of temporary or fixed term contract workers, reduces the maximum period of temporary or fixed term contract employment to three months, establishes joint liability by temporary employment services and their clients for contraventions of employment law, and strengthens other protections for temporary or contract workers.

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), implemented in 1997 and amended in 2014, establishes a 45-hour workweek, standardizes time-and-a-half pay for overtime, and authorizes four months of maternity leave for women. No employer may require or permit an employee to work overtime except by agreement, and overtime may not be more than 10 hours a week. The law stipulates rest periods of 12 consecutive hours daily and 36 hours weekly and must include Sunday. The law allows adjustments to rest periods by mutual agreement. A ministerial determination exempted businesses employing fewer than 10 persons from certain provisions of the law concerning overtime and leave.  Farmers and other employers can apply for variances from the law by showing good cause. The law applies to all workers, including workers in informal sectors, foreign nationals, and migrant workers, but the government did not prioritize labor protections for workers in the informal economy. The law prohibits employment of children under age 15 and prohibits anyone from requiring or permitting a child under age 15 to work. The law allows children under age 15 to work in the performing arts, but only if their employers receive permission from the Department of Labor and agree to follow specific guidelines. Amendments made in 2014 clarify the definitions of employment, employers, and employees to reflect international labor conventions, closing a loophole that previously existed in South African law between the LRA and the BCEA.  The Act gives the Minister of Labor the power to set sectoral minimum wages and annual minimum wage increases for employees not covered by sectoral minimum wage agreements.

The Employment Equity Act of 1998 (EEA), amended in 2014, protects all workers against unfair discrimination on the grounds of race, age, gender, religion, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility, ethnic or social origin, color, sexual orientation, disability, conscience, belief, political, opinion, culture, language, HIV status, birth, or any other arbitrary ground. The EEA further requires large- and medium-sized companies to prepare employment equity plans to ensure that historically disadvantaged South Africans, such as Blacks, South Asians, and Coloreds, as well as women and disabled persons, are adequately represented in the workforce.  The EEA amendments increase fines for non-compliance with employment equity measures and have a new provision of equal pay for work of equal value. The Act prohibits the use of foreign nationals to meet employers’ affirmative action targets and relaxes the standards for parties in labor disputes to access the CCMA instead of going directly to the Labor Court.

More information regarding South African labor legislation can be found at:  www.labour.gov.za/legislation  

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) 2018 $368,500 2017 $348,872 www.worldbank.org/en/country   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2016 $9,578 2017 $7,334 BEA 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2016 $6,683 2017 $4,117 BEA 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2016 43.1% 2017 47.2% UNCTAD

* Statistics South Africa (STATS SA) www.statssa.gov.za


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 $156,103 100% Total Outward $276,450 100%
United Kingdom $64,505 41.3% China $165,477 59.9%
Netherlands $28,075 18% United Kingdom $24,334 8.8%
United States $10,459 6.7% Mauritius $11,422 4.1%
Germany $7,623 4.9% Australia $8,840 3.2%
China $7,290 4.7% United States $7,872 2.8%
“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 $167,005  100% All Countries $157,749 100% All Countries $9,255 100%
United Kingdom $61,226 36.7% United Kingdom $59,434 37.7% United States $2,169 23.4%
Ireland $26,485 15.8% Ireland $24,926 15.8% United Kingdom $1,792 19.4%
United States $20,676 12.4% United States $18,507 11.7% Ireland $1,559 16.8%
Luxembourg $15,761 9.4% Luxembourg $15,153 9.6% Italy $691 7.5%
Bermuda $9,491 5.7% Bermuda $9,491 6.0% Luxembourg $609 6.6%

Zimbabwe

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The government has a clear desire to attract greater FDI in order to improve the country’s competitiveness.  The government encourages public-private partnerships in order to enhance technological development, while also emphasizing the need to improve the investment climate by restoring the rule of law and sanctity of contracts.  Implementation has been limited.

Zimbabwe’s Indigenization and Economic Empowerment law limits the amount of shares owned by foreigners in the diamonds and platinum sectors to 49 percent with specific indigenous organizations owning the remaining 51 percent.  The government has signaled it intends to remove these restrictions. There are also smaller sectors “reserved” for Zimbabweans.

The Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) promotes and facilitates both foreign direct investment and local investment.  ZIA facilitates and processes investment applications for approval.  ZIA’s website is http://www.investzim.com/  .  The country encourages companies to register with ZIA and the process currently takes approximately 90 days.  The government has announced plans for a more powerful, streamlined entity (a “one-stop shop”) – the Zimbabwe Investment Development Authority (ZIDA).

While the new government of President Emerson Mnangagwa commits to prioritizing investment retention, there are as of yet no mechanisms and formal structures through which this is done.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

While there is a right for foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity, foreign ownership of businesses in the diamonds and platinum sectors is limited to 49 percent (or less in certain reserved sectors), as outlined above.

In 2007, the government passed the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act, which required that “indigenous Zimbabweans” (i.e. black Zimbabweans) own at least 51 percent of all enterprises valued over USD 500,000.  A March 2018 amendment to the law limits these restrictions to the diamond and platinum sectors.

Foreign investors are free to invest in the non-resource sectors without any restrictions as the government aims to achieve technology transfer, create employment, and achieve value addition.  The government further reserves certain sectors such as passenger busses, taxis and car hire services, employment agencies, grain milling, bakeries, advertising, dairy processing and estate agencies for Zimbabweans.

The country screens FDI through the Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) in liaison with relevant line ministries to confirm compliance with the country’s investment regulations.  Once an investor meets the criteria, ZIA issues the company or entity with an investment certificate.

According to the country’s laws, U.S. investors are not especially disadvantaged or singled out by any of the ownership or control mechanisms relative to other foreign investors.  In its investment guidelines, the government states its commitment to non-discrimination between foreign and domestic investors and among foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In the past three years, the government has not conducted an investment policy review through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Business Facilitation

The government expressed its desire to reduce the time it takes to start up a business.  It has also committed itself to improving the transparency and predictability of its policies and to dealing decisively with corruption.

Zimbabwe does not have a fully online registration process.  One is able to begin the process and conduct a name search online via the ZimConnect web portal.  The Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) is the country’s investment promotion body set up to facilitate both foreign direct investment and local investment.  ZIA’s website is http://www.investzim.com/  .  According to the World Bank, it takes on average 32 days to start a business and requires nine distinct processes, with costs greater than an individual’s average annual income.

Outward Investment

Zimbabwe does not promote or incentivize outward investment because of the tight foreign exchange constraint.  Any outward investment requires approval by exchange control authorities.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Zimbabwe has investment treaties with 35 countries but ratified only ten of these treaties, including those with the Netherlands, Denmark, Yugoslavia, China, Germany, Russia, South Africa, and Switzerland.  Two other investment agreements with India and Iran are awaiting ratification before they go into effect. In spite of these agreements, the government has failed to protect investments undertaken by nationals from these countries, particularly with regard to land.  In 2009, for example, an army officer seized a farm belonging to a German national but the government did not intervene, despite its assurance that Zimbabwe would honor all obligations and commitments to international investors. Some claimants protected by investment treaties have pursued arbitration through the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.  The German Pezold family won a landmark USD 196 million judgment, but has received only partial payment.

The United States does have a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), of which Zimbabwe is a member.  This TIFA provides a mechanism to talk about disputes, although the protection offered by the TIFA is much more limited than protection typically provided by a bilateral investment treaty.

The United States does not have a bilateral taxation and/or investment treaty with Zimbabwe.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The government’s official policy is to encourage competition within the private sector, but the bureaucracy within regulatory agencies lacks transparency, and corruption is prevalent.  Investors have also complained of policy inconsistency and unpredictability.

The government has introduced import taxes arbitrarily to support certain inefficient producers who lobby for protection against more competitive imports.  In late 2012, the Ministry of Finance announced a 25 percent surtax on selected imported products including soaps, meat products, beverages, dairy products, and cooking oil starting January 1, 2013 as well as other import taxes on beer, cigarettes, and chickens brought in from outside the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African regions (COMESA).  In 2016, the government, through the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, introduced statutory instrument (SI) 64 which banned importation of a number of products manufactured locally. In 2017, the government replaced SI 64 with SI 122, which removed some products from requiring import licenses on importation. In October 2018, the government repealed SI 122 altogether to allow local companies and individuals with free funds to import commodities and stock up and stave off shortages of basic commodities.

In the last year, the government has stated its commitment to ensuring that laws, regulations and policies pertaining to investment are enacted after proper notice and consultation and are available publicly in a prompt and transparent manner.

According to the Department of State’s 2018 Fiscal Transparency Report, public budget documents do not provide a full picture of government expenditures, and there is a notable lack of transparency regarding state-owned enterprises and the extraction of natural resources.

International Regulatory Considerations

Zimbabwe is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and it is signatory to the SADC and COMESA trade protocols establishing free trade areas (FTA) with the aim of growing into a customs union.  Although the country is also a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), it normally notifies only SADC and COMESA of measures that it intends to implement.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

According to Zimbabwe’s law and constitution, Zimbabwe has an independent judicial system whose decisions are binding on the other branches of government.  The country has written commercial law and it has expressed its intention to set up specialized commercial courts in 2019. Administration of justice in commercial cases that lack political overtones is still generally impartial.  Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and are adjudicated in the national court system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

As noted above, in 2007, the government introduced the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act requires that “indigenous Zimbabweans” (black Zimbabweans) own at least 51 percent of all enterprises valued over USD 500,000, but now amended to apply only to the diamonds and platinum sectors.  In certain sectors, such as primary agriculture, transport services, and retail and wholesale trade including distribution, foreign investors may not own more than 35 percent equity.

The Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) promotes and facilitates both foreign direct investment and local investment.  ZIA facilitates and processes investment applications for approval.  ZIA’s website is http://www.investzim.com/  .  The government has announced plans for a more powerful, streamlined entity (a “one-stop shop”) – the Zimbabwe Investment Development Authority (ZIDA).

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The government’s official policy is to encourage competition within the private sector with the enactment of the Zimbabwe Competition Act.  The Act provided for the formation of the Tariff and Competition Commission charged with investigating restrictive practices, mergers, and monopolies in the country.  The Competition and Tariff Commission (CTC) is an autonomous statutory body established in 2001 with the dual mandate of implementing and enforcing Zimbabwe’s competition policy and law and executing the country’s trade tariffs policy.

Expropriation and Compensation

Despite provisions in Zimbabwe’s previous constitution that prohibited the acquisition of private property without compensation, in 2000 the government began to allow the uncompensated seizures of privately owned agricultural land, serially amending the constitution to grant the government increasingly broad authorities to do so after the fact.  The authorities subsequently transferred many of the farms seized to government officials and other regime supporters. In April 2000, the government amended the constitution to authorize the compulsory acquisition of privately owned commercial farms with compensation limited to the improvements made on the land. In September 2005, the government amended the constitution again to transfer ownership of all expropriated land to the government.  Since the passage of this amendment, top government officials, supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party, and members of the security forces have continued to disrupt production on commercial farms, including those owned by foreign investors and those covered by bilateral investment agreements. Similarly, government officials have sought to impose politically-connected individuals as indigenous partners on privately and foreign-owned wildlife conservancies.

In 2006, the government began to issue 99-year leases for land seized from commercial farms. These leases, however, are not readily transferable or acceptable as collateral that would allow for borrowing and investment.  The government retains the right to withdraw the lease at any time for any reason. The government’s program to seize commercial farms without compensating the titleholders, who have no recourse to the courts, has raised serious questions about respect for property rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.  As a result, Zimbabwe ranked 95 out of 190 countries considered with respect to the country’s ability to protect minority investors in the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business report.

Zimbabwe’s new government has announced its intention to compensate farmers who lost their land.  Negotiations between the government and farmers’ groups are ongoing.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Zimbabwe acceded to the 1965 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States and to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in 1994.  However, the government does not always accept binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and the state.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government is signatory to a number of bilateral investment agreements with a number of countries (see above) in which international arbitration of investment disputes is recognized.  As noted above, Zimbabwe does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty or Free Trade Agreement with an investment chapter with the United States.

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government, but there is a history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.  For example, senior politicians declined to support enforcement of a 2008 SADC Tribunal decision ordering Zimbabwe to return expropriated commercial farms to the original owners.  Once an investor has exhausted the administrative and judicial remedies available locally, the government of Zimbabwe agrees, in theory, to submit matters for settlement by arbitration according to the rules and procedures promulgated by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.  However, this has not occurred in practice.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

As noted above, local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government, but there is a history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.  For example, senior politicians declined to support enforcement of a 2008 SADC Tribunal decision ordering Zimbabwe to return expropriated commercial farms to the original owners. Once an investor has exhausted the administrative and judicial remedies available locally, the government of Zimbabwe agrees, in theory, to submit matters for settlement by arbitration according to the rules and procedures promulgated by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.  However, this has not occurred in practice.

Bankruptcy Regulations

In the event of insolvency or bankruptcy, Zimbabwe applies the Insolvency Act.  All creditors have equal rights against an insolvent estate. In terms of resolving insolvency, Zimbabwe ranks 102 out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business Report.

4. Industrial Policies

There are a number of incentives depending on the form of investment and the sectors.  For investment designed to develop industrial parks and investment in tourism development zones and joint ventures in the form of the build, own, operate, and transfer (BOOT) and build, operate, and transfer (BOT), the investors will not pay tax in the first five years after which they will pay tax at the rate of 25 percent compared to the normal tax rate of 35 percent.  For BOOT and BOT joint ventures, investors will not pay tax for the first five years after which they will pay tax at the rate of 15 percent per annum. Investors within the mining sector exporting 50 percent of output will have reduced corporation tax of 20 percent and receive import duty exemption on imported capital goods while losses are carried forward indefinitely for mining operations.  Moreover, the government generally allows for duty exemptions in the importation of raw materials used in the manufacture of goods for export.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The government promulgated legislation creating Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in 1996.  Zimbabwe now has approximately 183 EPZ-designated companies. Benefits include a five-year tax holiday, duty-free importation of raw materials and capital equipment for use in the EPZ, and no tax liability from capital gains arising from the sale of property forming part of the investment in EPZs.  Since January 2004, the government has generally required that foreign capital comprise a majority of the investment. The requirement on EPZ-designated companies to export at least 80 percent of output has constrained foreign investment in the zones. The merger between the Zimbabwe Investment Centre and the Zimbabwe Export Processing Zones Authority, which began in 2006, has completed and the Zimbabwe Investment Authority now performs both roles.  Zimbabwe has recently passed amendments to the Zimbabwe Investment Authority Act to include Special Economic Zones. However, to date, activities in special economic zones have not been meaningful in spite of the generous incentives offered to investors in these areas.

Although there are no discriminatory import or export policies affecting foreign firms, the government’s approval criteria heavily favor export-oriented projects.  Import duties and related taxes range as high as 110 percent. Export Processing Zone-designated companies must export at least 80 percent of output.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government mandates local employment except for specialized skills that are in short supply locally.  There are no general performance requirements for businesses located outside Export Processing and Special Economic Zones.  Government policy, however, encourages investment in enterprises that contribute to rural development, job creation, exports, the addition of domestic value to primary products, use of local materials, and the transfer of appropriate technologies.

Government participation is required for new investments in strategic industries such as energy, public water provision, and railways.  The terms of government participation are determined on a case-by-case basis during license approval. The few foreign investors (for example, from China, Russia, and Iran) in reserved strategic industries have either purchased existing companies or have supplied equipment and spares on credit.

The government encourages foreign investors to make maximum use of Zimbabwean management and technical personnel, and any investment proposal that involves the employment of foreigners must present a strong case in order to obtain work and residence permits.  Normally, the maximum contract period for a foreigner is three years but with possible extension to five years for individuals with highly specialized skills.

While currently there is no forced localization in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods, the government is in the process of developing a local content policy designed to encourage the use of local inputs in production.

The government does not require foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance.  Only banks are required to maintain all their data in the country through the escrow agreement.

The new government investment guidelines do not permit mandatory and/or arbitrary performance requirements that distort or limit the expansion of trade and investment.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The government enforces interests in residential and commercial properties in cities although this is not the case with agricultural land.  Mortgages and liens do exist for urban properties although liquidity constraints have led to a fall in the number of mortgage loans. According to the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report, Zimbabwe is ranked 109 out of 190 countries in terms of registering property.  The recording of mortgages is generally reliable. With regard to agricultural land, the government provides and protects the usage rights of indigenous people, and it is currently in the process of developing new 99-year leases that will guarantee use, with the government retaining ownership of all agricultural land.  Current 99-year leases have not been strong enough for banks to accept them as collateral.

Intellectual Property Rights

Zimbabwe follows international patent and trademark conventions, and it is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  Generally, the government seeks to honor intellectual property ownership and rights, although a lack of expertise and manpower as well as corruption limit its ability to enforce these obligations.  Pirating of videos, music, and computer software is common.

It does not appear that the government enacted new IP related laws or regulations over the past year.  The country does not publish information on the seizures of counterfeit goods.

Zimbabwe is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List

For additional information about national laws, 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

Zimbabwe’s stock market currently has 56 publicly-listed companies, but just 12 of them account for about 75 percent of total market capitalization, which stood at USD 5.7 billion on March 25, 2019.  In September 1996, the government opened the stock and money markets to limited foreign portfolio investment. Since then, a maximum of 49 percent of any locally-listed company can be foreign-owned in line with the indigenization policy framework, with any single investor allowed to acquire up to 15 percent of the outstanding shares.

There is a 1.48 percent withholding tax on the sale of marketable securities, while the tax on purchasing stands at 1.73 percent.  Totaling 3.21 percent, the rates are comparable with the average of 3.5 percent for the region. As a way of raising funds for the state, the government mandated that insurance companies and pension funds invest between 25 and 35 percent of their portfolios in prescribed government bonds.  Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation, which ended with the 2009 dollarization, wiped out the value of domestic debt instruments. However, the government has been borrowing from the local market by issuing Treasury Bills (TBs) to financial institutions to finance government expenditure. Official statistics show that by the end of 2017, the government had issued in excess of USD 2 billion worth of TBs to financial institutions.

Money and Banking System

Three major international commercial banks and a number of regional and domestic banks operate in Zimbabwe, with a total of over 200 branches.  The central bank (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)) believes that the banking sector is generally stable in spite of a harsh operating environment characterized by high credit risk and liquidity constraints.  As most international banks reduce risk (de-risking) in the face of high penalties for non-compliance with prudential guidelines in developed countries, most Zimbabwean correspondent banking relationships are in jeopardy.  As of December 31, 2018, the sector had 19 operating institutions, comprising 13 commercial banks, five building societies and one savings bank. According to the RBZ, as of December 2018, all operating banking institutions complied with the prescribed minimum core capital requirements.  The level of non-performing loans increased somewhat from 7.08 percent in December 2017 to 8.25 percent by December 2018 largely reflecting a decline in credit quality due to the poor operating environment. The RBZ still believes the NPLs of financial institutions will fall due to banks adopting credit risk management tools in line with the internationally accepted accounting standards.

According to the central bank, the total deposits (including interbank deposits), rose from USD 8.48 billion in December 2017 to USD 10.32 billion by December 2018.  The RBZ reports that as of December 31, 2018, total nostro foreign currency deposits amounted to USD 673.81 million, mostly dominated by corporates (97.17 percent).

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

In 2009, the government lifted exchange controls and demonetized the Zimbabwe dollar.  The RBZ permitted bank accounts and transactions in the following currencies: Euro, Botswana pula, South African rand, British pound, U.S. dollar, Chinese yuan, Australian dollar, Indian rupee, and Japanese yen, with most business conducted in U.S. dollars.  Zimbabwe’s export performance rose but at a slower pace than imports. Weak investment inflows and Zimbabwe’s fiscal and current account deficits gradually resulted in a shortage of foreign exchange. In response to a binding cash crisis, the government introduced a surrogate currency, the bond note, in 2016 which traded on a 1:1 basis with the U.S. dollar, but the shortage of dollars meant RBZ would only allocate U.S. dollars to priority payments, to others payments after a delay, or – when the situation reached a crisis in late 2018 and early 2019 – not at all.  Businesses have resorted to a black market for foreign exchange in order to make external payments. On February 20, 2019, the RBZ introduced the real time gross settlement (RTGS) dollar (incorporating the RTGS balances, bond notes and coins) whose value against the U.S. dollar should be market-determined (via a new interbank foreign exchange market emerged), but RBZ has not allowed the official rate to fall in line with market pressures. The black market persists. Since October 2018, banks have set up distinct foreign currency accounts denominated in U.S. dollars.  The government’s arrears on over USD 7 billion in external debt block the country’s access to multilateral financing. These conditions severely constrain external financing for the economy, which has resulted in rising external payments arrears for necessary imports.

Remittance Policies

In line with recommendations from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the IMF, the government revised the Foreign Exchange Control Act, which regulated currency conversions and transfers before the withdrawal of the Zimbabwe dollar.  With these changes and the liberalization of most current account transactions, exporters retained 100 percent of their foreign currency receipts for their own use until 2016. From 2016 to February 2019, the RBZ retained 50 percent of the foreign exchange generated by export proceeds (distributing the equivalent amount to the exporter in local currency), shared among competing foreign payments needs based on a priority list.  In February 2019, the government raised the amount most exporters can retain for their own use to 80 percent, 55 percent for gold producers, 50 percent for all other minerals, and 30 percent for tobacco and cotton farmers. Moreover, foreigners can remit capital appreciation, dividend income and after tax profits provided the foreign exchange is available.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Zimbabwe does not have a sovereign wealth fund (SWF). The government set aside USUSD 1 million toward administrative costs related to the setting up of the Sovereign Wealth Fund in its 2016 Budget.  Although the government proposed to capitalize the SWF through a charge of up to 25 percent on royalty collections on mineral sales, as well as on special dividend on the sale of diamond, gas, granite and other minerals, the concept has not progressed any further.

9. Corruption

In 2005, the government enacted an Anti-Corruption Act that established a government-appointed Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) to investigate corruption.  The 2009 – 13 government of national unity (GNU) enhanced the institutional capacity of the ZACC with members appointed from civil society and the private sector. However, when the ZACC’s term of office expired, the new ZACC did not include civil society and private sector representatives.  The government has a track record of prosecuting individuals selectively, focusing on those who have fallen out of favor with the ruling party and ignoring transgressions by members of the favored elite. Accusations of corruption seldom result in formal charges and convictions. Many corruption charges stem from opaque procurement processes.

While the laws to combat corruption exist, enforcement of the laws is weak as law enforcement agencies lack political will and resources.  As a result, Transparency International ranked Zimbabwe 160 out of 175 countries and territories surveyed in 2018. The Mnangagwa government has committed itself to eradicate corruption.  Since December 2017, ZACC has arrested and brought before the courts a number of high-ranking officials, mostly aligned to the Mugabe faction from the previous government. In spite of this, the courts have not sent many of the accused persons to prison.

Existing rules on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange compel listed companies to disclose, through annual reports, minimum disclosure requirements.

The government also created a policy to improve accountability in the use of state resources through the introduction of the Public Finance Management Act in March 2010.  Nevertheless, corruption remains endemic, especially within the diamond sector where production and export figures are largely unreliable. The government has introduced a diamond policy that focuses on ensuring the 100 percent government ownership of all alluvial diamonds in the ground and the involvement of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) in the entire value chain of diamond production.

While Zimbabwe signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption on February 20, 2004 and ratified the treaty on February 20, 2007, it is not party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

Transparency International Zimbabwe
96 Central Avenue
P O Box CY 434, Causeway
Harare
+263 4 793 246/7
Email:
info@tizim.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Political parties, labor organizations, and civil-society groups sometimes encounter state-sponsored intimidation and repression from government security forces and Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF)-linked activists.  Disagreements between and within political parties occasionally resulted in violence targeting political party members.

Political tensions and civil unrest persist under the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa who came into power following the military intervention of November 2017 that resulted in the departure of longstanding dictator Robert Mugabe.  On August 1, 2018, the army used live ammunition to disperse people demonstrating against the delay in announcing official presidential election results, leaving six people dead. Following demonstrations against a 140 percent increase in fuel prices on January 14, 2019, security forces responded with excessive violence and human rights abuses, including the use of live ammunition, arbitrary beatings and arrests, resulting in 17 deaths and hundreds injured over the course of weeks.  The crackdown targeted members of the opposition political party, civil society groups, and labor leaders. Political uncertainty remains high.

Violent crime, such as assault, carjacking, and home invasion, is common. Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Decades of political and economic crises have led to the emigration of many of Zimbabwe’s skilled and well-educated citizens.  Formal sector employment has fallen significantly. Anecdotal evidence shows widespread youth unemployment as the country continues to produce graduates without a matching growth in employment opportunities.  As a result, most end up joining the informal sector estimated at over 90 percent of the workforce.

The government encourages foreign investors to make maximum use of Zimbabwean management and technical personnel.

The country’s labor laws make it very difficult for employers to adjust employment in response to an economic downturn except in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) where labor laws do not apply.  Outside the SEZs, the employer must engage the employees and their representatives and agree to adopt measures to avoid retrenchment. If the measures fail, the employer can retrench and pay an all-inclusive package of one month salary for each two years of service or the pro rata share thereof.

The labor laws differentiate between layoffs and severance with the former falling under retrenchment where the retrenchment law must apply.  The law does not accept unfair dismissal or layoffs of employees. The 2015 amendments to the act only permit terminations of contracts to be in terms of a registered code of conduct, expiry of a contract of fixed term duration, or mutual agreement.  There is no unemployment insurance or other safety net programs for workers laid off for economic reasons.

Employers in all sectors rely heavily on temporary or contract workers because there is no need to follow termination procedures.  The employee will only wait for the expiry of the agreed period of employment.  The Labor Amendment Act of 2015, however, now requires employment councils to put a limit on the number of times employers can renew short-term contracts.

The government does not waive labor laws in order to attract or retain investment, except in the case of SEZs.

Labor unions affiliated to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) are independent of the government and those affiliated to the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) and the Zimbabwe Industrial Revolution Workers Federation support the government.

Collective bargaining takes place through a National Employment Council (NEC) in each industry, comprising representatives from labor, business, and government.  The agreements apply to the entire sector regardless of whether or not all employees are members to the council or not, except for managerial employees.

The country has a labor dispute resolution process that starts at company level through disciplinary committees or grievance committees.  If the issue is not resolved at this level, the aggrieved party can appeal to either the employment council or the Labor Court depending on the industrial agreement.  Other redress is through the Ministry of Public Service Labor and Social Welfare in which labor officers settle disputes for industries without employment councils. From the Labor Court, an aggrieved party can appeal to the Supreme Court.

Labor inspection is minimal due to a lack of inspectors, and there is discrimination in practice.  The government continues to harass labor unions and their leaders. Labor leaders were among the targets of the January 2019 violent government crackdown.

The government is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has ratified conventions protecting worker rights.  The country has been subject to ILO supervisory mechanisms for practices that limit workers’ rights to freely associate, organize, and hold labor union meetings.

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) 2017 $22,041 2017 $22,041 www.worldbank.org/en/country   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 N/A 2017 $37 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 N/A 2016 0 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 N/A 2017 30.3% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx    

*Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Data not available.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.