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Hong Kong

Executive Summary

Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on July 1, 1997, with its status defined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.  Under the concept of “one country, two systems,” the PRC government promised that Hong Kong will retain its political, economic, and judicial systems for 50 years after reversion.  The PRC’s imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) on June 30, 2020 undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and introduced heightened uncertainty for foreign and local firms operating in Hong Kong.  As a result, the U.S. Government has taken measures to eliminate or suspend Hong Kong’s preferential treatment and special trade status, including suspension of most export control waivers, revocation of reciprocal shipping income tax exemption treatments, establishment of a new marking rule requiring goods made in Hong Kong to be labeled “Made in China,”  and imposition of sanctions against former and current Hong Kong government officials.

On July 16, 2021, the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security, issued an advisory to U.S. businesses regarding potential risks to their operations and activities in Hong Kong.

 

Since the enactment of the NSL in Hong Kong, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Hong Kong may be subject to increased levels of surveillance, as well as arbitrary enforcement of laws and detention for purposes other than maintaining law and order.

On economic issues, Hong Kong generally pursues a free market philosophy with minimal government intervention.  The Hong Kong government (HKG) generally welcomes foreign investment, neither offering special incentives nor imposing disincentives for foreign investors.

Hong Kong provides for no distinction in law or practice between investments by foreign-controlled companies and those controlled by local interests.  Foreign firms and individuals are able to incorporate their operations in Hong Kong, register branches of foreign operations, and set up representative offices without encountering discrimination or undue regulation.  There is no restriction on the ownership of such operations.  Company directors are not required to be citizens of, or resident in, Hong Kong.  Reporting requirements are straightforward and are not onerous.

Despite the imposition of the NSL by Beijing, significant curtailments in individual freedoms, and the end of Hong Kong’s ability to exercise the degree of autonomy it enjoyed in the past, Hong Kong remains a popular destination for U.S. investment and trade.  Even with a population of less than eight million, Hong Kong is the United States’ twelfth-largest export market, thirteenth largest for total agricultural products, and sixth-largest for high-value consumer food and beverage products.  Hong Kong’s economy, with world-class institutions and regulatory systems, is bolstered by its competitive financial and professional services, trading, logistics, and tourism sectors, although tourism suffered steep drops in 2020 due to COVID-19.  The service sector accounted for more than 90 percent of Hong Kong’s nearly USD 348 billion gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.  Hong Kong hosts a large number of regional headquarters and regional offices.  Approximately 1,300 U.S. companies are based in Hong Kong, according to Hong Kong’s 2020 census data, with more than half regional in scope.  Finance and related services companies, such as banks, law firms, and accountancies, dominate the pack.  Seventy of the world’s 100 largest banks have operations in Hong Kong.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 11 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 3 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 11 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 81,883 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 50,800 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Hong Kong is the world’s second-largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI), according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2020, with a significant amount bound for mainland China.  The HKG’s InvestHK encourages inward investment, offering free advice and services to support companies from the planning stage through to the launch and expansion of their business.  U.S. and other foreign firms can participate in government financed and subsidized research and development programs on a national treatment basis.  Hong Kong does not discriminate against foreign investors by prohibiting, limiting, or conditioning foreign investment in a sector of the economy.

Capital gains are not taxed, nor are there withholding taxes on dividends and royalties.  Profits can be freely converted and remitted.  Foreign-owned and Hong Kong-owned company profits are taxed at the same rate – 16.5 percent.  The tax rate on the first USD 255,000 profit for all companies is currently 8.25 percent.  No preferential or discriminatory export and import policies affect foreign investors.  Domestic industries receive no direct subsidies.  Foreign investments face no disincentives, such as quotas, bonds, deposits, or other similar regulations.

According to HKG statistics, 3,983 overseas companies had regional operations registered in Hong Kong in 2020.  The United States has the largest number with 690.  Hong Kong is working to attract more start-ups as it works to develop its technology sector, and about 26 percent of start-ups in Hong Kong come from overseas.

Hong Kong’s Business Facilitation Advisory Committee is a platform for the HKG to consult the private sector on regulatory proposals and implementation of new or proposed regulations.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investors can invest in any business and own up to 100 percent of equity.  Like domestic private entities, foreign investors have the right to engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

The HKG owns virtually all land in Hong Kong, which the HKG administers by granting long-term leases without transferring title.  Foreign residents claim that a 15 percent Buyer’s Stamp Duty on all non-permanent-resident and corporate buyers discriminates against them.

The main exceptions to the HKG’s open foreign investment policy are:

Broadcasting – Voting control of free-to-air television stations by non-residents is limited to 49 percent.  There are also residency requirements for the directors of broadcasting companies.

Legal Services – Foreign lawyers at foreign law firms may only practice the law of their jurisdiction.  Foreign law firms may become “local” firms after satisfying certain residency and other requirements.  Localized firms may thereafter hire local attorneys but must do so on a 1:1 basis with foreign lawyers.  Foreign law firms can also form associations with local law firms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Hong Kong last conducted the Trade Policy Review in 2018 through the World Trade Organization (WTO).  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/g380_e.pdf

Business Facilitation

The Efficiency Office under the Innovation and Technology Bureau is responsible for business facilitation initiatives aimed at improving the business regulatory environment of Hong Kong.

The e-Registry (https://www.eregistry.gov.hk/icris-ext/apps/por01a/index) is a convenient and integrated online platform provided by the Companies Registry and the Inland Revenue Department for applying for company incorporation and business registration.  Applicants, for incorporation of local companies or for registration of non-Hong Kong companies, must first register for a free user account, presenting an original identification document or a certified true copy of the identification document.  The Companies Registry normally issues the Business Registration Certificate and the Certificate of Incorporation on the same day for applications for company incorporation.  For applications for registration of a non-Hong Kong company, it issues the Business Registration Certificate and the Certificate of Registration two weeks after submission.

Outward Investment

As a free market economy, Hong Kong does not promote or incentivize outward investment, nor restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  Mainland China and British Virgin Islands were the top two destinations for Hong Kong’s outward investments in 2019 (based on most recent data available).

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Hong Kong has bilateral investment agreements with Australia, Austria, the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  It has concluded but not yet signed agreements with Bahrain, Myanmar, and Maldives.  Hong Kong has also signed an investment agreement with Mexico, but it is not yet in force.  The HKG is currently negotiating agreements with Iran, Turkey, and Russia.  All such agreements are based on a model text approved by mainland China through the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group.  U.S. firms are generally not at a competitive or legal disadvantage.

Hong Kong has a free trade agreement (FTA) with mainland China, the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), which provides tariff-free export to mainland China of Hong Kong-origin goods and preferential access for specific services.  CEPA has gradually expanded since its signing in 2003.  Under the CEPA framework, Hong Kong enjoys liberalized trade in services using a “negative list” covering 134 service sectors for Hong Kong and grants national treatment to Hong Kong’s 62 service industries.  Hong Kong also enjoys most-favored nation treatment, with liberalization measures included in FTAs signed by mainland China and other countries automatically extended to Hong Kong.  Hong Kong and mainland China have also signed an investment agreement and an economic and technical cooperation agreement.  The investment agreement includes provision of national treatment and non-services investment using a negative list approach.

Hong Kong also has FTAs with New Zealand, member states of the European Free Trade Association, Chile, Macau, ASEAN, Georgia, the Maldives, and Australia.  These agreements are consistent with the provisions of the WTO.  Hong Kong is exploring FTAs with the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru) and the United Kingdom.  Hong Kong is keenly interested in joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

The United States does not have a bilateral treaty on the avoidance of double taxation with Hong Kong, but has a Tax Information Exchange Agreement and an Inter-Government Agreement on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act with Hong Kong.  As of April 2020, the HKG had Comprehensive Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements (CDTAs) with 43 tax jurisdictions, and negotiations with 14 tax jurisdictions are underway.  The HKG targets to bring the total number of CDTAs to 50 by the end of 2022.  In September 2018, the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters signed by mainland China entered into force for Hong Kong.  Effective January 2021, the number of reportable jurisdictions increased from 75 to 126.

Under the President’s Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization, which directs the suspension or elimination of special and preferential treatment for Hong Kong, the United States notified the Hong Kong authorities in August 2020 of its suspension of the Reciprocal Tax Exemptions on Income Derived from the International Operation of Ships Agreement.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Hong Kong’s regulations and policies typically strive to avoid distortions or impediments to the efficient mobilization and allocation of capital and to encourage competition.  Bureaucratic procedures and “red tape” are usually transparent and held to a minimum.

In amending or making any legislation, including investment laws, the HKG conducts a three-month public consultation on the issue concerned which then informs the drafting of the bill.  Lawmakers then discuss draft bills and vote.  Hong Kong’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Gazette is the official publication of the HKG.  This website https://www.gld.gov.hk/egazette/english/whatsnew/whatsnew.html is the centralized online location where laws, regulations, draft bills, notices, and tenders are published.  All public comments received by the HKG are published at the websites of relevant policy bureaus.

The Office of the Ombudsman, established in 1989 by the Ombudsman Ordinance, is Hong Kong’s independent watchdog of public governance.

Public finances are regulated by clear laws and regulations.  The Basic Law prescribes that authorities strive to achieve a fiscal balance and avoid deficits.  There is a clear commitment by the HKG to publish fiscal information under the Audit Ordinance and the Public Finance Ordinance, which prescribe deadlines for the publication of annual accounts and require the submission of annual spending estimates to the Legislative Council (LegCo).  There are few contingent liabilities of the HKG, with details of these items published about seven months after the release of the fiscal budget.  In addition, LegCo members have a responsibility to enhance budgetary transparency by urging government officials to explain the government’s rationale for the allocation of resources.  All LegCo meetings are open to the public so that the government’s responses are available to the general public.

On March 29, 2021, the Hong Kong Financial Services and Treasury Bureau submitted to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council plans to restrict the public from accessing certain information about executives in the Company Registry.  If passed, companies will be allowed immediately to withhold information on the residential addresses and identification numbers of directors and secretaries.  Corporate governance and financial experts warned that the proposal could enable fraud and further hurt the city’s status as a transparent financial hub.   Media organizations criticized the plan for undermining transparency and freedom of information.

International Regulatory Considerations

Hong Kong is an independent member of the WTO and Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), adopting international norms.  It notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade and was the first WTO member to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  Hong Kong has achieved a 100 percent rate of implementation commitments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Hong Kong’s common law system is based on the United Kingdom’s, and judges are appointed by the Chief Executive on the recommendation of the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission.  Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and they are adjudicated in the court system.

Hong Kong’s commercial law covers a wide range of issues related to doing business.  Most of Hong Kong’s contract law is found in the reported decisions of the courts in Hong Kong and other common law jurisdictions.

The imposition of the NSL and pressure from the PRC authorities raised serious concerns about the longevity of Hong Kong’s judicial independence.  The NSL authorizes the mainland China judicial system, which lacks judicial independence and has a 99 percent conviction rate, to take over any national security-related case at the request of the Hong Kong government or the Office of Safeguarding National Security.  Under the NSL, the Hong Kong Chief Executive is required to establish a list of judges to handle all cases concerning national security-related offenses.  Although Hong Kong’s judiciary selects the specific judge(s) who will hear any individual case, some commentators argued that this unprecedented involvement of the Chief Executive weakens Hong Kong’s judicial independence.

Media outlets controlled by the PRC central government in both Hong Kong and mainland China repeatedly accused Hong Kong judges of bias following the acquittals of protesters accused of rioting and other crimes.  Some Hong Kong and PRC central government officials questioned the existence of the “separation of powers” in Hong Kong, including some statements that judicial independence is not enshrined in Hong Kong law and that judges should follow “guidance” from the government.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Hong Kong’s extensive body of commercial and company law generally follows that of the United Kingdom, including the common law and rules of equity.  Most statutory law is made locally.  The local court system, which is independent of the government, provides for effective enforcement of contracts, dispute settlement, and protection of rights.  Foreign and domestic companies register under the same rules and are subject to the same set of business regulations.

The Hong Kong Code on Takeovers and Mergers (1981) sets out general principles for acceptable standards of commercial behavior.

The Companies Ordinance (Chapter 622) applies to Hong Kong-incorporated companies and contains the statutory provisions governing compulsory acquisitions.  For companies incorporated in jurisdictions other than Hong Kong, relevant local company laws apply.  The Companies Ordinance requires companies to retain accurate and up to date information about significant controllers.

The Securities and Futures Ordinance (Chapter 571) contains provisions requiring shareholders to disclose interests in securities in listed companies and provides listed companies with the power to investigate ownership of interests in its shares.  It regulates the disclosure of inside information by listed companies and restricts insider dealing and other market misconduct.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The independent Competition Commission (CC) investigates anti-competitive conduct that prevents, restricts, or distorts competition in Hong Kong.  In December 2020, the CC filed Hong Kong’s first abuse of substantial market power case in the Competition Tribunal against Linde HKO and its Germany-based parent company Linde GmbH for leveraging substantial market power in the production and supply of medical oxygen, medical nitrous oxide, Entonox, and medical air to maintain a stranglehold over the downstream maintenance market.

Expropriation and Compensation

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any expropriations in the recent past.  Expropriation of private property in Hong Kong may occur if it is clearly in the public interest and only for well-defined purposes such as implementation of public works projects.  Expropriations are to be conducted through negotiations, and in a non-discriminatory manner in accordance with established principles of international law.  Investors in and lenders to expropriated entities are to receive prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.  If agreement cannot be reached on the amount payable, either party can refer the claim to the Land Tribunal.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) apply to Hong Kong.  Hong Kong’s Arbitration Ordinance provides for enforcement of awards under the 1958 New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any investor-state disputes in recent years involving U.S. or other foreign investors or contractors and the HKG.  Private investment disputes are normally handled in the courts or via private mediation.  Alternatively, disputes may be referred to the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The HKG accepts international arbitration of investment disputes between itself and investors and has adopted the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law model law for domestic and international commercial arbitration.  It has a Memorandum of Understanding with mainland China modelled on the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) for reciprocal enforcement of arbitral awards.

Under Hong Kong’s Arbitration Ordinance emergency relief granted by an emergency arbitrator before the establishment of an arbitral tribunal, whether inside or outside Hong Kong, is enforceable.  The Arbitration Ordinance stipulates that all disputes over intellectual property rights may be resolved by arbitration.

The Mediation Ordinance details the rights and obligations of participants in mediation, especially related to confidentiality and admissibility of mediation communications in evidence.

Third party funding for arbitration and mediation came into force on February 1, 2019.

Foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters may be enforced in Hong Kong by common law or under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance, which facilitates reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments based on reciprocity.  A judgment originating from a jurisdiction that does not recognize a Hong Kong judgment may still be recognized and enforced by the Hong Kong courts, provided that all the relevant requirements of common law are met.  However, a judgment will not be enforced in Hong Kong if it can be shown that either the judgment or its enforcement is contrary to Hong Kong’s public policy.

In January 2019, Hong Kong and mainland China signed a new Arrangement on Reciprocal Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters by the Courts of the mainland and of Hong Kong to facilitate enforcement of judgments in the two jurisdictions.  The arrangement, which as of February 2021 is still pending implementing legislation, will cover the following key features: contractual and tortious disputes in general; commercial contracts, joint venture disputes, and outsourcing contracts; intellectual property rights, matrimonial or family matters; and judgments related to civil damages awarded in criminal cases.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Hong Kong’s Bankruptcy Ordinance provides the legal framework to enable i) a creditor to file a bankruptcy petition with the court against an individual, firm, or partner of a firm who owes him/her money; and ii) a debtor who is unable to repay his/her debts to file a bankruptcy petition against himself/herself with the court.  Bankruptcy offenses are subject to criminal liability.

The Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance aims to improve and modernize the corporate winding-up regime by increasing creditor protection and further enhancing the integrity of the winding-up process.

The Commercial Credit Reference Agency collates information about the indebtedness and credit history of SMEs and makes such information available to members of the Hong Kong Association of Banks and the Hong Kong Association of Deposit Taking Companies.

Hong Kong’s average duration of bankruptcy proceedings is just under ten months, ranking 45th in the world for resolving insolvency, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Hong Kong imposes no export performance or local content requirements as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding a foreign investment.  There are no requirements that Hong Kong residents own shares, that foreign equity is reduced over time, or that technology is transferred on certain terms.  The HKG does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.

The HKG allows a deduction on interest paid to overseas-associated corporations and provides an 8.25 percent concessionary tax rate derived by a qualifying corporate treasury center.

The HKG offers an effective tax rate of around three to four percent to attract aircraft leasing companies to develop business in Hong Kong.

The HKG has set up multiple programs to assist enterprises in securing trade finance and business capital, expanding markets, and enhancing overall competitiveness.  These support measures are available to any enterprise in Hong Kong, irrespective of origin.

Hong Kong-registered companies with a significant proportion of their research, design, development, production, management, or general business activities located in Hong Kong are eligible to apply to the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), which provides financial support for research and development (R&D) activities in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks (Science Park) and Cyberport are HKG-owned enterprises providing subsidized rent and financial support through incubation programs to early-stage startups.

The HKG offers additional tax deductions for domestic expenditure on R&D incurred by firms.  Firms enjoy a 300 percent tax deduction for the first HKD 2 million (USD 255,000) qualifying R&D expenditure and a 200 percent deduction for the remainder.  Since 2017, the Financial Secretary has announced over HKD 120 billion (USD 15.3 billion) in funding to support innovation and technology development in Hong Kong.  These funds are largely directed at supporting and adding programs through the ITF, Science Park, and Cyberport.

In February 2009, HKD 20 billion (USD 2.6 billion) was  earmarked for the Research Endowment Fund, which provides research grants to academics and universities.  In February 2018, another HKD 10 billion (USD 1.3 billion) was set aside to provide financial incentives to foreign universities to partner with Hong Kong universities and establish joint research projects housed in two research clusters in Science Park, one specializing in artificial intelligence and robotics and the other specializing in biotechnology.  In February 2018, another HKD 20 billion (USD 2.6 billion) was appropriated to begin construction on a second, larger Science Park, located on the border with Shenzhen, which is intended to provide a much larger number of subsidized-rent facilities for R&D which are also expected to have special rules allowing mainland residents to work onsite without satisfying normal immigration procedures.

The Technology Talent Admission Scheme provides a fast-track arrangement for eligible technology companies/institutes to admit overseas and mainland technology talent to undertake R&D for them in the areas of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics, data analytics, financial technologies, and material science are eligible for application.  The Postdoctoral Hub Program provides funding support to recipients of the ITF, as well as incubatees and tenants of Science Park and Cyberport, to recruit up to two postdoctoral talents for R&D. Applicants must have a doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-related discipline from either a local university or a well-recognized non-local institution.

In July 2020, the HKG launched a USD 256.4 million Re-industrialization Funding Scheme to subsidize manufacturers, on a matching basis, setting up smart production lines in Hong Kong.

The Pilot Bond Grant Scheme launched by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) in May 2018 is aimed at improving Hong Kong’s competitiveness in the international bond market by enhanced tax concessions for qualifying debt instruments.  The HKG supports first-time issues with a grant of up to 50 percent of the eligible issuance expenses, with a cap of HKD 2.5 million (USD 320,500) for issues with a credit rating from a credit rating agency recognized by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), or a cap of HKD 1.25 million (USD 160,200) for issues that do not have a credit rating and where neither the issuer nor the issue’s guarantor have a credit rating.

In October 2020, the HKG launched a USD 38 million pilot subsidy scheme to encourage the logistics industry to enhance productivity through the application of technology.

Starting from December 2020, a USD 25.6 million Green Tech Fund (GTF) is open for applications.  The GTF provides funding supports to R&D projects which can help Hong Kong decarbonize and enhance environmental protection.  The amount of funding for each project ranges from USD 320,500 to USD 3.9 million, and each project may last up to five years.

In February 2021, the HKG announced a proposal to strengthen Hong Kong’s position as an asset management center.  The HKG planned to introduce in the second quarter of 2021 new legislation to facilitate the re-domicile of foreign investment funds to Hong Kong for registration as Open-ended Fund Companies (OFCs).  The HKG would provide subsidies to cover 70 percent of the expenses (capped at HKD 1 million or USD 125,000) paid to local professional service providers for OFCs set up in or re-domiciled to Hong Kong in the coming three years.

In February 2021, the HKG announced it would consolidate the Pilot Bond Grant Scheme and the Green Bond Grant Scheme into a Green and Sustainable Finance Grant Scheme to subsidize eligible bond issuers and loan borrowers to cover their expenses on bond issuance and external review services.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Hong Kong, a free port without foreign trade zones, has modern and efficient infrastructure making it a regional trade, finance, and services center.  Rapid growth has placed severe demands on that infrastructure, necessitating plans for major new investments in transportation and shipping facilities, including a planned expansion of container terminal facilities, additional roadway and railway networks, major residential/commercial developments, community facilities, and environmental protection projects.  Construction on a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport is scheduled for completion by 2023.

Hong Kong and mainland China have a Free Trade Agreement Transshipment Facilitation Scheme that enables mainland-bound consignments passing through Hong Kong to enjoy tariff reductions in the mainland.  The arrangement covers goods traded between mainland China and its trading partners, including ASEAN members, Australia, Bangladesh, Chile, Costa Rica, Iceland, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and Taiwan.

The HKG launched in December 2018 phase one of the Trade Single Window (TSW) to provide a one-stop electronic platform for submitting ten types of trade documents, promoting cross-border customs cooperation, and expediting trade declaration and customs clearance.  Phase two is expected to be implemented in 2023.

The latest version of CEPA has established principles of trade facilitation, including simplifying customs procedures, enhancing transparency, and strengthening cooperation.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The HKG does not mandate local employment or performance requirements.  It does not follow a forced localization policy making foreign investors use domestic content in goods or technology.

Foreign nationals normally need a visa to live or work in Hong Kong.  Short-term visitors are permitted to conduct business negotiations and sign contracts while on a visitor’s visa or entry permit.  Companies employing people from overseas must show that a prospective employee has special skills, knowledge, or experience not readily available in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong allows free and uncensored flow of information, though the imposition of the NSL created certain limits on freedom of expression and content, especially those that may be viewed as politically-sensitive such as advocating for Hong Kong’s independence from mainland China.  The freedom and privacy of communication is enshrined in Basic Law Article 30.  The HKG has no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and does not interfere with data center operations.  However, the NSL introduced a heightened risk of PRC and Hong Kong authorities using expanded legal authorities to collect data from businesses and individuals in Hong Kong for actions that may violate “national security.” For more information, please refer to the Hong Kong business advisory released jointly by the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security on July 16, 2021.

The NSL grants Hong Kong police broad authorities to conduct wiretaps or electronic surveillance without warrants in national security-related cases.  The NSL also empowers police to conduct searches, including of electronic devices, for evidence in national security cases.  Police can also require Internet service providers to provide or delete information relevant to these cases.  In January 2021, the organizer of an online platform alleged that local Internet providers have made the site inaccessible for users in Hong Kong following requests from the Hong Kong government.  One ISP subsequently confirmed that they it blocked a website “in compliance with the requirement issued under the National Security Law.”

Hong Kong does not currently restrict transfer of personal data outside the SAR, but the dormant Section 33 the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance would prohibit such transfers unless the personal data owner consents or other specified conditions are met.  The Privacy Commissioner is authorized to bring Section 33 into effect at any time, but it has been dormant since 1995.

In January 2020, the HKG introduced a discussion paper to the LegCo and proposed certain changes to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance with the aim of strengthening data protection in Hong Kong.  One of the amendments proposed was to require data users to formulate a clear data retention policy which specified a retention period for the personal data collected.  Feedback from the LegCo on this discussion paper formed the basis of further consultations with stakeholders and more concrete legislative amendment proposals.  There is no indication on the timeline of any legislative amendments to the Ordinance.

In December 2020, Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) required licensed corporations in Hong Kong to seek the SFC’s approval before using the following for storing regulatory records: 1) premises controlled exclusively by an external data storage provider(s) located inside or outside Hong Kong, such as cloud service providers like Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS; or 2) server(s) for data storage at data centers located inside or outside Hong Kong.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Basic Law ensures protection of leaseholders’ rights in long-term leases that are the basis of the SAR’s real property system.  The Basic Law also protects the lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories.  The real estate sector, one of Hong Kong’s pillar industries, is equipped with a sound banking mortgage system.  HK ranked 51st for ease of registering property, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings.

Land transactions in Hong Kong operate on a deeds registration system governed by the Land Registration Ordinance.  The Land Titles Ordinance provides greater certainty on land title and simplifies the conveyancing process.

Intellectual Property Rights

Hong Kong generally provides strong intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement and for the most part has instituted an IP regime consistent with international standards.  Hong Kong has effective IPR enforcement capacity, and a judicial system that supports enforcement efforts with an effective public outreach program that discourages IPR-infringing activities.   Despite the robustness of Hong Kong’s IP system, challenges remain, particularly in copyright infringement and effective enforcement against the heavy, bi-directional flow of counterfeit goods.

Hong Kong’s commercial and company laws provide for effective enforcement of contracts and protection of corporate rights.  Hong Kong has filed its notice of compliance with the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) requirements of the WTO.  The Intellectual Property Department, which includes the Trademarks and Patents Registries, is the focal point for the development of Hong Kong’s IP regime.  The Customs and Excise Department (CED) is the sole enforcement agency for intellectual property rights (IPR).  Hong Kong has acceded to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the Geneva and Paris Universal Copyright Conventions.  Hong Kong also continues to participate in the World Intellectual Property Organization as part of mainland China’s delegation; the HKG has seconded an officer from CED to INTERPOL in Lyon, France to further collaborate on IPR enforcement.

The HKG devotes significant resources to IPR enforcement.  Hong Kong courts have imposed longer jail terms than in the past for violations of Hong Kong’s Copyright Ordinance.  CED works closely with foreign customs agencies and the World Customs Organization to share best practices and to identify, disrupt, and dismantle criminal organizations engaging in IP theft that operate in multiple countries.  The government has conducted public education efforts to encourage respect for IPR.  Pirated and counterfeit products remain available on a small scale at the retail level throughout Hong Kong.

Other IPR challenges include end-use piracy of software and textbooks, internet peer-to-peer downloading, and the illicit importation and transshipment of pirated and counterfeit goods from mainland China and other places in Asia.  Hong Kong authorities have taken steps to address these challenges by strengthening collaboration with mainland Chinese authorities, prosecuting end-use software piracy, and monitoring suspect shipments at points of entry.  It has also established a task force to monitor and crack down on internet-based peer-to-peer piracy.

The Drug Office of Hong Kong imposes a drug registration requirement that requires applicants for new drug registrations to make a non-infringement patent declaration.  The Copyright Ordinance protects any original copyrighted work created or published anywhere in the world and criminalizes copying and distribution of protected works .  The Ordinance also provides rental rights for sound recordings, computer programs, films, and comic books and includes enhanced penalty provisions and other legal tools to facilitate enforcement.  The law defines possession of an infringing copy of computer programs, movies, TV dramas, and musical recordings (including visual and sound recordings) for use in business as an offense but provides no criminal liability for other categories of works.  In June 2020, an amendment bill to implement the Marrakesh Treaty came into effect.

The HKG has consulted unsuccessfully with internet service providers and content user representatives on a voluntary framework for IPR protection in the digital environment.  It has also failed to pass amendments to the Copyright Ordinance that would enhance copyright protection against online piracy.  As of February 2021, the Infringing Website List Scheme (IWLS) established by the Hong Kong Creative Industries Association to clamp down on websites that display pirated content reportedly included 137 infringing websites in the portal.  In addition, 27 HKG agencies have been assigned with an individual password for checking with the IWLS before placing digital advertisements and tenders.

The Patent Ordinance allows for granting an independent patent in Hong Kong based on patents granted by the United Kingdom and mainland China.  Patents granted in Hong Kong are independent and capable of being tested for validity, rectified, amended, revoked, and enforced in Hong Kong courts.  Hong Kong’s Original Grant Patent system, which came into operation in December 2019, takes into account the patent systems generally established in regional and international patent treaties, while maintaining the re-registration system for the granting of standard patents.

The Registered Design Ordinance is modeled on the EU design registration system.  To be registered, a design must be new, and the system requires no substantive examination.  The initial period of five years protection is extendable for four periods of five years each, up to 25 years.

Hong Kong’s trademark law is TRIPS-compatible and allows for registration of trademarks relating to services.  All trademark registrations originally filed in Hong Kong are valid for seven years and renewable for 14-year periods.  Proprietors of trademarks registered elsewhere must apply anew and satisfy all requirements of Hong Kong law.  When evidence of use is required, such use must have occurred in Hong Kong.  In June 2020, Hong Kong implemented the Madrid Protocol.  The HKG will liaise with mainland China to seek application of the Madrid Protocol to Hong Kong beginning in 2022.

Hong Kong has no specific ordinance to cover trade secrets; however, the government has a duty under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance to protect information from being disclosed to other parties.  The Trade Descriptions Ordinance prohibits false trade descriptions, forged trademarks, and misstatements regarding goods and services supplied during trade.

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/.

10. Political and Security Environment

Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) on June 30, 2020 has introduced heightened uncertainties for companies operating in Hong Kong.  As a result, U.S. citizens traveling through or residing in Hong Kong may be subject to increased levels of surveillance, as well as arbitrary enforcement of laws and detention for purposes other than maintaining law and order.

As of March 2021, police have carried out at least 100 arrests of opposition politicians and activists under the NSL, including one U.S. citizen, in an effort to suppress all pro-democracy views and political activity in the city.  Police have also reportedly issued arrest warrants under the NSL for approximately thirty individuals residing abroad, including U.S. citizens.  Since June 2019, police have arrested over 10,000 people on various charges in connection with largely peaceful protests against government policies.

Please see the July 16, 2021 business advisory issued by the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The Department of State assesses that Hong Kong does not maintain a sufficient degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework to justify continued special treatment by the United States for bilateral agreements and programs per the Hong Kong Policy Act.  As a result of Hong Kong’s lack of autonomy from China, the Department of Commerce ended Hong Kong’s treatment as a separate trade entity from China, including the removal of many of Department of Commerce’s License Exceptions.  U.S. Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) requires goods produced in Hong Kong to be marked to show China, rather than Hong Kong, as their country of origin.  This requirement took effect November 9, 2020.  It does not affect country of origin determinations for purposes of assessing ordinary duties or temporary or additional duties.  Hong Kong has requested World Trade Organization dispute consultations to examine the issue.  As of March 2021, the Department of Treasury has sanctioned 35 former and current Hong Kong and mainland Chinese government officials and 44 Chinese-military companies identified by the Department of Defense.

The PRC government does not recognize dual nationality.  In January 2021, the Hong Kong government moved to enforce existing provisions of the Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China in place since 1997, effectively ending its longstanding recognition of dual citizenship in Hong Kong.  The action ended consular access to two detained U.S. citizens as of March 2021 and potentially removed consular protection from about half of the estimated 85,000 U.S. citizens in Hong Kong.  U.S.-PRC, U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S. citizens of Chinese heritage may be subject to additional scrutiny and harassment, and the PRC government may prevent the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate from providing consular services.

Hong Kong financial regulators have conducted outreach to stress the importance of robust anti-money laundering (AML) controls and highlight potential criminal sanctions implications for failure to fulfill legal obligations under local AML laws.  However, Hong Kong has a low number of prosecutions and convictions compared to the number of cases investigated.

Under the President’s Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization, which directs the suspension or elimination of special and preferential treatment for Hong Kong, the United States notified the Hong Kong authorities in August 2020 of its suspension of the Surrender of Fugitive Offenders Agreement and the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement.  The Reciprocal Tax Exemptions on Income Derived from the International Operation of Ships Agreement was also suspended.  In response, the Hong Kong government suspended the Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Hong Kong on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Affairs, which entered into force in 2000.

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

As a developed economy, there is little potential for the DFC to operate in Hong Kong.  However, there is scope for cooperation between companies based in Hong Kong with regional operations to work with the DFC.  Hong Kong is a member of the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $347,529 2019 $365,712 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $44,974 2019 $81,883 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $14,679 2019 $14,110 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 507.5% 2019 506.5% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 1,732,495 100% Total Outward 1,763,164 100%
British Virgin Islands 606,804 35% China, P.R.: Mainland 800,640 45%
China, P.R.: Mainland 475,641 27% British Virgin Islands 579,860 33%
Cayman Islands 152,048 9% Cayman Islands 70,492 4%
United Kingdom 139,120 8% Bermuda 55,091 3%
Bermuda 99,514 6% United Kingdom 53,858 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 1,830,229 100% All Countries 1,167,955 100% All Countries 662,274 100%
Cayman Islands 635,236 35% Cayman Islands 608,914 52% United States 156,543 24%
China, P.R.: Mainland 352,531 19% China, P.R.: Mainland 206,829 18% China, P.R.: Mainland 145,702 22%
United States 204,360 11% Bermuda 109,838 9% Japan 51,682 8%
Bermuda 112,021 6% United Kingdom 60,483 5% Luxembourg 42,742 6%
United Kingdom 85,496 5% United States 47,817 4% Australia 37,143 6%

India

Executive Summary

The Government of India continued to actively court foreign investment. In the wake of COVID-19, India enacted ambitious structural economic reforms, including new labor codes and landmark agricultural sector reforms, that should help attract private and foreign direct investment. In February 2021, the Finance Minister announced plans to raise $2.4 billion though an ambitious privatization program that would dramatically reduce the government’s role in the economy. In March 2021, parliament further liberalized India’s insurance sector, increasing the foreign direct investment (FDI) limits to 74 percent from 49 percent, though still requiring a majority of the Board of Directors and management personnel to be Indian nationals.

In response to the economic challenges created by COVID-19 and the resulting national lockdown, the Government of India enacted extensive social welfare and economic stimulus programs and increased spending on infrastructure and public health. The government also adopted production linked incentives to promote manufacturing in pharmaceuticals, automobiles, textiles, electronics, and other sectors. These measures helped India recover from an approximately eight percent fall in GDP between April 2020 and March 2021, with positive growth returning by January 2021.

India, however, remains a challenging place to do business. New protectionist measures, including increased tariffs, procurement rules that limit competitive choices, sanitary and phytosanitary measures not based on science, and Indian-specific standards not aligned with international standards, effectively closed off producers from global supply chains and restricted the expansion in bilateral trade.

The U.S. government continued to urge the Government of India to foster an attractive and reliable investment climate by reducing barriers to investment and minimizing bureaucratic hurdles for businesses.

 
Measure Year Index/ Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perception Index 2020 86 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/india
World Bank’s Doing Business Report: “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 63 of 190   https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings?region=south-asia
Innovation Index 2020 48 of 131 https://www.wipo.int/global_innovation_index/en/2020
U.S. FDI in partner country (Million. USD stock positions) 2019 45,883 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=612&UUID=67171087-ee34-4983-ac05-984cc597f1f4
World Bank GNI per capita (USD) 2019 2120 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ny.gnp.pcap.cd

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies toward Foreign Direct Investment

Changes in India’s foreign investment rules are notified in two different ways: (1) Press Notes issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) for most sectors, and (2) legislative action for insurance, pension funds, and state-owned enterprises in the coal sector. FDI proposals in sensitive sectors, however, require the additional approval of the Home Ministry.

DPIIT, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is India’s chief investment regulator and policy maker. It compiles all policies related to India’s FDI regime into a single document to make it easier for investors to understand, and this consolidated policy is updated every year. The updated policy can be accessed at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-directinvestment/foreigndirectinvestment-policy.  DPIIT, through the Foreign Investment Implementation Authority (FIIA), plays an active role in resolving foreign investors’ project implementation problems and disseminates information about the Indian investment climate to promote investments. The Department establishes bilateral economic cooperation agreements in the region and encourages and facilitates foreign technology collaborations with Indian companies and DPIIT oftentimes consults with lead ministries and stakeholders. There however have been multiple incidents where relevant stakeholders reported being left out of consultations.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

In most sectors, foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own businesses and engage in remunerative activities. Several sectors of the economy continue to retain equity limits for foreign capital as well as management and control restrictions, which deter investment. For example, the 2015 Insurance Act raised FDI caps from 26 percent to 49 percent, but also mandated that insurance companies retain “Indian management and control.” In the parliament’s 2021 budget session, the Indian government approved increasing the FDI caps in the insurance sector to 74 percent from 49 percent. However, the legislation retained the “Indian management and control” rider. In the August 2020 session of parliament, the government approved reforms that opened the agriculture sector to FDI, as well as allowed direct sales of products and contract farming, though implementation of these changes was temporarily suspended in the wake of widespread protests. In 2016, India allowed up to 100 percent FDI in domestic airlines; however, the issue of substantial ownership and effective control (SOEC) rules that mandate majority control by Indian nationals have not yet been clarified. A list of investment caps is accessible at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-directinvestment/foreign-directinvestment-policy .

Screening of FDI

All FDI must be reviewed under either an “Automatic Route” or “Government Route” process. The Automatic Route simply requires a foreign investor to notify the Reserve Bank of India of the investment and applies in most sectors. In contrast, investments requiring review under the Government Route must obtain the approval of the ministry with jurisdiction over the appropriate sector along with the concurrence of DPIIT. The government route includes sectors deemed as strategic including defense, telecommunications, media, pharmaceuticals, and insurance. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures and brought a number of sectors including coal mining and contract manufacturing under the automatic route.

FDI inflows were mostly directed towards the largest metropolitan areas – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai – and the state of Gujarat. The services sector garnered the largest percentage of FDI. Further FDI statistics are available at: http://dipp.nic.in/publications/fdistatistics. 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

OECD’s Indian Economic Snapshot: http://www.oecd.org/economy/india-economic-snapshot/ 

WTO Trade Policy Review: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp503_e.htm 

2015-2020 Government of India Foreign Trade Policy: http://dgft.gov.in/ForeignTradePolicy 

Business Facilitation

DPIIT is responsible for formulation and implementation of promotional and developmental measures for growth of the industrial sector, keeping in view national priorities and socio- economic objectives. While individual lead ministries look after the production, distribution, development and planning aspects of specific industries allocated to them, DPIIT is responsible for overall industrial policy. It is also responsible for facilitating and increasing the FDI flows to the country.

Invest India  is the official investment promotion and facilitation agency of the Government of India, which is managed in partnership with DPIIT, state governments, and business chambers. Invest India specialists work with investors through their investment lifecycle to provide support with market entry strategies, industry analysis, partner search, and policy advocacy as required. Businesses can register online through the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website: http://www.mca.gov.in/ . After the registration, all new investments require industrial approvals and clearances from relevant authorities, including regulatory bodies and local governments. To fast-track the approval process, especially in the case of major projects, Prime Minister Modi started the Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI initiative) – a digital, multi-modal platform to speed the government’s approval process. As of January 2020, a total of 275 project proposals worth around $173 billion across ten states were cleared through PRAGATI. Prime Minister Modi personally monitors the process to ensure compliance in meeting PRAGATI project deadlines. The government also launched an Inter-Ministerial Committee in late 2014, led by the DPIIT, to help track investment proposals that require inter-ministerial approvals. Business and government sources report this committee meets informally and on an ad hoc basis as they receive reports of stalled projects from business chambers and affected companies.

Outward Investment

The Ministry of Commerce’s India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) claimed in March 2020 that outbound investment from India had undergone a considerable change in recent years in terms of magnitude, geographical spread, and sectorial composition. Indian firms invest in foreign markets primarily through mergers and acquisition (M&A). According to a Care Ratings study, corporate India invested around $12.25 billion in overseas markets between April and December 2020. The investment was mostly into wholly owned subsidiaries of companies. In terms of country distribution, the dominant destinations were the Unites States ($2.36 billion), Singapore ($2.07 billion), Netherlands ($1.50 billion), British Virgin Islands ($1.37 billion), and Mauritius ($1.30 million).

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

India adopted a new model Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in December 2015, following several adverse rulings in international arbitration proceedings. The new model BIT does not allow foreign investors to use investor-state dispute settlement methods, and instead requires foreign investors first to exhaust all local judicial and administrative remedies before entering international arbitration. The Indian government also served termination notices for existing BITs with 73 countries.

In September 2018, Belarus became the first country to execute a new BIT with India, based on the new model BIT, followed by the Taipei Cultural & Economic Centre (TECC) in December 2019, and Brazil in January 2020. India has also entered into a BIT negotiation with the Philippines and joint interpretative statements are under discussion with Iran, Switzerland, Morocco, Kuwait, Ukraine, UAE, San Marino, Hong Kong, Israel, Mauritius, and Oman.

Currently 14 BITs are in force. The Ministry of Finance said the revised model BIT will be used for the renegotiation of existing and any future BITs and will form the investment chapter in any Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements (CECAs)/Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements (CEPAs)/Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

The complete list of agreements can be found at: https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/international-investment-agreements/countries/96/india 

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

India has a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States, available at: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irstrty/india.pdf

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irstrty/india.pdf

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Some government policies are written in a way that can be discriminatory to foreign investors or favor domestic industry. For example, approval in 2021 for higher FDI thresholds in the insurance sector came with a requirement of “Indian management and control.” On most occasions the rules are framed after thorough discussions by government authorities and require the approval of the cabinet and, in some cases, the Parliament as well. Policies pertaining to foreign investments are framed by DPIIT, and implementation is undertaken by lead federal ministries and sub-national counterparts. However, in some instances the rules have been framed without following any consultative process.

In 2017, India began assessing a six percent “equalization levy,” or withholding tax, on foreign online advertising platforms with the ostensible goal of “equalizing the playing field” between resident service suppliers and non-resident service suppliers. However, its provisions did not provide credit for taxes paid in other countries for services supplied in India. In February 2020, the FY 2020-21 budget included an expansion of the “equalization levy,” adding a two percent tax to the equalization levy on foreign e-commerce and digital services provider companies. Neither the original 2017 levy, nor the additional 2020 two percent tax applied to Indian firms. In February 2021, the FY 2021-22 budget included three amendments “clarifying” the 2020 equalization levy expansion that will significantly extend the scope and potential liability for U.S. digital and e-commerce firms. The changes to the levy announced in 2021 will be implemented retroactively from April 2020. The 2020 and 2021 changes were enacted without prior notification or an opportunity for public comment.

The Indian Accounting Standards were issued under the supervision and control of the Accounting Standards Board, a committee under the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), and has government, academic, and professional representatives. The Indian Accounting Standards are named and numbered in the same way as the corresponding International Financial Reporting Standards. The National Advisory Committee on Accounting Standards recommends these standards to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, which all listed companies must then adopt. These can be accessed at: http://www.mca.gov.in/MinistryV2/Stand.html 

International Regulatory Considerations

India is a member of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an eight- member regional block in South Asia. India’s regulatory systems are aligned with SAARC’s economic agreements, visa regimes, and investment rules. Dispute resolution in India has been through tribunals, which are quasi-judicial bodies. India has been a member of the WTO since 1995, and generally notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade; however, at times there are delays in publishing the notifications. The Governments of India and the United States cooperate in areas such as standards, trade facilitation, competition, and antidumping practices.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

India adopted its legal system from English law and the basic principles of the Common Law as applied in the UK are largely prevalent in India. However, foreign companies need to make adaptations for Indian Law and the Indian business culture when negotiating and drafting contracts in India to ensure adequate protection in case of breach of contract. The Indian judiciary provides for an integrated system of courts to administer both central and state laws. The judicial system includes the Supreme Court as the highest national court, as well as a High Court in each state or a group of states which covers a hierarchy of subordinate courts. Article 141 of the Constitution of India provides that a decision declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India. Apart from courts, tribunals are also vested with judicial or quasi-judicial powers by special statutes to decide controversies or disputes relating to specified areas.

Courts have maintained that the independence of the judiciary is a basic feature of the Constitution, which provides the judiciary institutional independence from the executive and legislative branches.

4. Industrial Policies

The regulatory environment in terms of foreign investment has been eased to make it investor friendly. The measures taken by the Government are directed to open new sectors for foreign direct investment, increase the sectoral limit of existing sectors, and simplifying other conditions of the FDI policy. The Indian government has issued guarantees to investments but only in cases of strategic industries.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The government established several foreign trade zone initiatives to encourage export-oriented production. These include Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Export Processing Zones (EPZs), Software Technology Parks (STPs), and Export Oriented Units (EOUs). EPZs are industrial parks with incentives for foreign investors in export-oriented businesses. STPs are special zones with similar incentives for software exports. EOUs are industrial companies, established anywhere in India, that export their entire production and are granted the following: duty-free import of intermediate goods, income tax holidays, exemption from excise tax on capital goods, components, and raw materials, and a waiver on sales taxes. According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, as of October 2020, 426 SEZ’s have been approved and 262 SEZs were operational. SEZs are treated as foreign territory — businesses operating within SEZs are not subject to customs regulations nor have FDI equity caps. They also receive exemptions from industrial licensing requirements and enjoy tax holidays and other tax breaks. In 2018, the Indian government announced guidelines for the establishment of the National Industrial and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs), envisaged as integrated industrial townships to be managed by a special purpose vehicle and headed by a government official. So far, three NIMZs have been accorded final approval and 13 have been accorded in-principal approval. In addition, eight investment regions along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DIMC) have also been established as NIMZs. These initiatives are governed by separate rules and granted different benefits, details of which can be found at: http://www.sezindia.nic.in,   https://www.stpi.in/   http://www.fisme.org.in/export_schemes/DOCS/B

1/EXPORT%20ORIENTED%20UNIT%20SCHEME.pdf and http://www.makeinindia.com/home. 

The GOI’s revised Foreign Trade Policy, which will be effective for five years starting April 1, 2021, is expected to include a new regionally focused District Export Hubs initiative in addition to existing SEZs and NIMZs

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Preferential Market Access (PMA) for government procurement has created substantial challenges for foreign firms operating in India. State-owned “Public Sector Undertakings” and the government accord a 20 percent price preference to vendors utilizing more than 50 percent local content. However, PMA for government procurement limits access to the most cost effective and advanced ICT products available. In December 2014, PMA guidelines were revised and reflect the following updates:

1. Current guidelines emphasize that the promotion of domestic manufacturing is the objective of PMA, while the original premise focused on the linkages between equipment procurement and national security.

2. Current guidelines on PMA implementation are limited to hardware procurement only. Former guidelines were applicable to both products and services.

3. Current guidelines widen the pool of eligible PMA bidders, to include authorized distributors, sole selling agents, authorized dealers or authorized supply houses of the domestic manufacturers of electronic products, in addition to OEMs, provided they comply with the following terms:

a. The bidder shall furnish the authorization certificate by the domestic manufacturer for selling domestically manufactured electronic products.

b. The bidder shall furnish the affidavit of self-certification issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency declaring that the electronic product is domestically manufactured in terms of the domestic value addition prescribed.

c. It shall be the responsibility of the bidder to furnish other requisite documents required to be issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency as per the policy.

4. The current guidelines establish a ceiling on fees linked with the complaint procedure. There would be a complaint fee of INR 200,000 ($3,000) or one percent of the value of the Domestically Manufactured Electronic Product being procured, subject to a maximum of INR 500,000 ($7,500), whichever is higher.

In January 2017, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) issued a draft notification under the PMA policy, stating a preference for domestically manufactured servers in government procurement. A current list of PMA guidelines, notified products, and tendering templates can be found on MeitY’s website: http://meity.gov.in/esdm/pma. 

Research and Development

The Government of India allows for 100 percent FDI in research and development through the automatic route.

Data Storage & Localization

In April 2018, the RBI, announced, without prior stakeholder consultation, that all payment system providers must store their Indian transaction data only in India. The RBI mandate went into effect on October 15, 2018, despite repeated requests by industry and U.S. officials for a delay to allow for more consultations. In July 2019, the RBI, again without prior stakeholder consultation, retroactively expanded the scope of its 2018 data localization requirement to include banks, creating potential liabilities going back to late 2018. RBI policy overwhelmingly and disproportionately has affected U.S. banks and investors, who depend on the free flow of data to both achieve economies of scale and to protect customers by providing global real-time monitoring and analysis of fraud trends and cybersecurity. U.S. payments companies have been able to implement the mandate for the most part, though at great cost and potential damage to the long-term security of their Indian customer base, which will receive fewer services and no longer benefit from global fraud detection and anti-money-laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) protocols. Similarly, U.S. banks have been able to comply with RBI’s expanded mandate, though incurring significant compliance costs and increased risk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

In addition to the RBI data localization directive for payments companies and banks, the government formally introduced its draft Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) in December 2019 which has remained pending in Parliament. The PDPB would require “explicit consent” as a condition for the cross-border transfer of sensitive personal data, requiring users to fill out separate forms for each company that held their data. Additionally, Section 33 of the bill would require a copy of all “sensitive personal data” and “critical personal data” to be stored in India, potentially creating redundant local data storage. The localization of all “sensitive personal data” being processed in India could directly impact IT exports. In the current draft no clear criteria for the classification of “critical personal data” has been included. The PDPB also would grant wide authority for a newly created Data Protection Authority to define terms, develop regulations, or otherwise provide specifics on key aspects of the bill after it becomes a law. Reports on Non-Personal Data and the implementation of a New Information Technology Rule 2021 with Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code added further uncertainty to how existing rules will interact with the PDPB and how non-personal data will be handled. 5.Protection of Property Rights

Indonesia

Executive Summary

Indonesia’s population of 270 million, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over USD 1 trillion, growing middle class, abundant natural resources, and stable economy all serve as very attractive features to U.S. investors; however, a range of stakeholders note that investing in Indonesia remains challenging.  Since 2014, the Indonesian government under President Joko (“Jokowi”) Widodo, now in his second and final five-year term, has prioritized boosting infrastructure investment and human capital development to support Indonesia’s economic growth goals.  The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the Indonesian government’s efforts to pursue major economic reforms through the issuance of the 2020 Omnibus Law on Job Creation (Omnibus Law).  The law and its implementing regulations aim to improve Indonesia’s economic competitiveness and accelerate economic recovery by lowering corporate taxes, reforming rigid labor laws, simplifying business licenses, and reducing bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to investment.  The regulations also provide a basis to liberalize hundreds of sectors, including healthcare services, insurance, power generation, and oil and gas.  Sectoral or technical regulations may still present obstacles.  Regardless of the outcome of these positive reforms and their implementation, factors such as a decentralized decision-making process, legal and regulatory uncertainty, economic nationalism, trade protectionism, and powerful domestic vested interests in both the private and public sectors can contribute to a complex investment climate.  Other factors relevant to investors include:  government requirements, both formal and informal, to partner with Indonesian companies, and to manufacture or purchase goods and services locally; restrictions on some imports and exports; and pressure to make substantial, long-term investment commitments.  Despite recent limits placed on its authority, the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) continues to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.  However, investors still cite corruption as an obstacle to pursuing opportunities in Indonesia.

Other barriers to foreign investment that have been reported include difficulties in government coordination, the slow rate of land acquisition for infrastructure projects, weak enforcement of contracts, bureaucratic inefficiency, and delays in receiving refunds for advance corporate tax overpayments from tax authorities.  Businesses also face difficulty from changes to rules at government discretion with little or no notice and opportunity for comment, and lack of stakeholder consultation in the development of laws and regulations at various levels.  Investors have noted that many new regulations are difficult to understand and often not properly communicated, including internally.  The Indonesian government is seeking to streamline the business license and import permit process, which has been plagued by complex inter-ministerial coordination in the past, through the establishment of a “one stop shop” for risk-based licenses and permits via an online single submission (OSS) system at the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM).

In February 2021, Indonesia introduced a priority list consisting of sectors that are open for foreign investment and eligible for investment incentives to replace the 2016 Negative Investment List.  All sectors are at least partially open to foreign investment, with the exception of seven closed sectors and sectors that are reserved for the central government.  Companies have reported that energy and mining still face significant foreign investment barriers.

Indonesia established the Indonesian Investment Authority (INA), also known as the sovereign wealth fund, upon the enactment of the Omnibus Law, aiming to attract foreign equity and long-term investment to finance infrastructure projects in sectors such as transportation, oil and gas, health, tourism, and digital technologies.

Indonesia began to abrogate its more than 60 existing Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in 2014, allowing some of the agreements to expire in order to be renegotiated, including through ongoing negotiations of bilateral trade agreements.  In March 2021, Indonesia and Singapore ratified a new BIT, the first since 2014.  The United States does not have a BIT with Indonesia.

Despite the challenges that industry has reported, Indonesia continues to attract significant foreign investment.  Singapore, the Netherlands, the United States, Japan, and Malaysia were among the top sources of foreign investment in the country in 2019 (latest available full-year data).  Private consumption is the backbone of Indonesia’s economy, the largest in ASEAN, making it a promising destination for a wide range of companies, ranging from consumer products and financial services, to digital start-ups and franchisors.  Indonesia has ambitious plans to continue to improve its infrastructure with a focus on expanding access to energy, strengthening its maritime transport corridors, which includes building roads, ports, railways and airports, as well as improving agricultural production, telecommunications, and broadband networks throughout the country.  Indonesia continues to attract U.S. franchises and consumer product manufacturers.  UN agencies and the World Bank have recommended that Indonesia do more to grow financial and investor support for women-owned businesses, noting obstacles that women-owned business sometimes face in early-stage financing.

Table 1
Measure Year Index or Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions index 2020 102 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2020/index/idn
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 73 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 85 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $12,151 https://apps.bea.gov/iTable/iTable.cfm?ReqID=2&step=1
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $4,050 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=ID

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Indonesia is an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) due to its young population, strong domestic demand, stable political situation, abundant natural resources, and well-regarded macroeconomic policy.  Indonesian government officials often state that they welcome increased FDI, aiming to create jobs, spur economic growth, and court foreign investors, notably focusing on infrastructure development and export-oriented manufacturing.  During the first term of President Jokowi’s administration, the government launched sixteen economic policy packages providing tax incentives in certain sectors, cutting red tape, reducing logistics costs, and creating a single submission system for business licensing applications.  Foreign investors, however, have complained about vague and conflicting regulations, bureaucratic inefficiencies, ambiguous legislation in regards to tax enforcement, poor existing infrastructure, rigid labor laws, sanctity of contract issues, and corruption.  To further improve the investment climate, the government drafted and parliament approved the Omnibus Law on Job Creation (Law No. 1/2020) in October 2020 to amend dozens of prevailing laws deemed to hamper investment.  It introduced a risk-based approach for business licensing, simplified environmental requirements and building certificates, tax reforms to ease doing business, more flexible labor regulations, and the establishment of the priority investment list.  It also streamlined the business licensing process at the regional level

The Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board, or BKPM, serves as an investment promotion agency, a regulatory body, and the agency in charge of approving planned investments in Indonesia.  As such, it is the first point of contact for foreign investors, particularly in manufacturing, industrial, and non-financial services sectors.  BKPM’s OSS system streamlines almost all business licensing and permitting processes, based on the issuance of Government Regulation No. 24/2018 on Electronic Integrated Business Licensing Services.  While the OSS system is operational, overlapping authority for permit issuance across ministries and government institutions, both at the national and subnational level, remains challenging.  The Omnibus Law on Job Creation requires local governments to integrate their license systems into the OSS.  The law allows the central government to take over local governments’ authority if local governments are not performing.  The government has provided investment incentives particularly for “pioneer” sectors (please see the section on Industrial Policies).

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

As part of the implementation of the Omnibus Law on Job Creation, the Indonesian government enacted Presidential Regulation No. 10/2021 to introduce a significant liberalization of foreign investment in Indonesia, repealing the 2016 Negative List of Investment (DNI).  In contrast to the previous regulation, the new investment list sets a default principle that all business sectors are open for investment unless stipulated otherwise.  It details the seven sectors that are closed to investment, explains that public services and defense are reserved for the central government, and outlines four categories of sectors that are open to investment: priority investment sectors that are eligible for incentives; sectors that are reserved for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and cooperatives or open to foreign investors who cooperate with them; sectors that are open with certain requirements (i.e., with caps on foreign ownership or special permit requirements); and sectors that are fully open for foreign investment.  Although hundreds of sectors that were previously closed or subject to foreign ownership caps are in theory open to 100 percent foreign investment, in practice technical and sectoral regulations may stipulate different or conflicting requirements that still need to be resolved.

In total, 245 business fields listed in the new Investment Priorities List, or DPI, are eligible for fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, notably pioneer industries, export-oriented manufacturing, capital intensive industries, national infrastructure projects, digital economy, labor-intensive industries, as well as research and development activities.  Restrictions on foreign ownership in telecommunications and information technology (e.g., internet providers, fixed telecommunication providers, mobile network providers), construction services, oil and gas support services, electricity, distribution, plantations, and transportation were removed.  Healthcare services including hospitals/clinics, wholesale of pharmaceutical raw materials, and finished drug manufacturing are fully open for foreign investment, which was previously capped in certain percentages.  The regulation also reduced the number of business fields that are subject to certain requirements to only 46 sectors.  Domestic sea transportation and postal services are open up to 49 percent of foreign ownership, while press, including magazines and newspapers, and broadcasting sectors are open up to 49 percent and 20 percent, respectively, but only for business expansion or capital increases.  Small plantations, industry related to special cultural heritage, and low technology industries or industries with capital less than IDR10 billion (USD 700,000) are reserved for MSMEs and cooperatives.  Foreign investors in partnership with MSMEs and cooperatives can invest in certain designated areas.  The new investment list shortened the number of restricted sectors from 20 to 7 categories including cannabis, gambling, fishing of endangered species, coral extraction, alcohol, industries using ozone-depleting materials, and chemical weapons.  In addition, while education investment is still subject to the Education Law, Government Regulation No. 40/2021 permits education and health investment as business activities in special economic zones.

In 2016, Bank Indonesia (BI) issued Regulation No. 18/2016 on the implementation of payment transaction processing.  The regulation governs all companies providing the following services: principal, issuer, acquirer, clearing, final settlement operator, and operator of funds transfer.  The BI regulation capped foreign ownership of payments companies at 20 percent, though it contained a grandfathering provision.  BI’s Regulation No. 19/2017 on the National Payment Gateway (NPG) subsequently imposed a 20 percent foreign equity cap on all companies engaging in domestic debit switching transactions.  Firms wishing to continue executing domestic debit transactions are obligated to sign partnership agreements with one of Indonesia’s four NPG switching companies.  In December 2020, BI issued umbrella Regulation No. 22/23/2020 on the Payment System, which implements BI’s 2025 Payment System Blueprint and introduces a risk-based categorization and licensing system.  The regulation will enter into force on July 1, 2021.  It allows 85 percent foreign ownership of non-bank payment services providers, although at least 51 percent of shares with voting rights must be owned by Indonesians.  The 20 percent foreign equity cap remains in place for payment system infrastructure operators who handle clearing and settlement services, and a grandfathering provision remains in effect for existing licensed payment companies.

Foreigners may purchase equity in state-owned firms through initial public offerings and the secondary market.  Capital investments in publicly listed companies through the stock exchange are generally not subject to the limitation of foreign ownership as stipulated in Presidential Regulation No. 10/2021.

Indonesia’s vast natural resources have attracted significant foreign investment and continue to offer significant prospects.  However, some companies report that a variety of government regulations have made doing business in the resources sector increasingly difficult, and Indonesia now ranks 64th of 76 jurisdictions in the Fraser Institute’s 2019 Mining Policy Perception Index.  In 2012, Indonesia banned the export of raw minerals, dramatically increased the divestment requirements for foreign mining companies, and required major mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work with the government.  The full export ban did not come into effect until January 2017, when the government also issued new regulations allowing exports of copper concentrate and other specified minerals, while imposing onerous requirements.  Of note for foreign investors, provisions of the regulations require that in order to export mineral ores, companies with contracts of work must convert to mining business licenses – and thus be subject to prevailing regulations – and must commit to build smelters within the next five years.  Also, foreign-owned mining companies must gradually divest 51 percent of shares to Indonesian interests over ten years, with the price of divested shares determined based on a “fair market value” determination that does not take into account existing reserves.  In January 2020, the government banned the export of nickel ore for all mining companies, foreign and domestic, in the hopes of encouraging construction of domestic nickel smelters.  In March 2021, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources issued a Ministerial Decision to allow mining business licenses holders who have not reached smelter development targets to continue exporting raw mineral ores under certain conditions.  The 2020 Mining Law returned the authority to issue mining licenses to the central government.  Local governments retain only authority to issue small scale mining permits

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The latest World Trade Organization (WTO) Investment Policy Review of Indonesia was conducted in December 2020 and can be found on the WTO website: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp501_e.htm

The last OECD Investment Policy Review of Indonesia, conducted in 2020, can be found on the OECD website:

https://www.oecd.org/investment/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-indonesia-2020-b56512da-en.htm

The 2019 UNCTAD Report on ASEAN Investment can be found here: https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2568

Business Facilitation

In order to conduct business in Indonesia, foreign investors must be incorporated as a foreign-owned limited liability company (PMA) through the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.  Once incorporated, a PMA must fulfill business licensing requirements through the OSS system.  In February 2021, the Indonesian government issued Government Regulation No. 5/2021 introducing a risk-based approach and streamlined business licensing process for almost all sectors.  The regulation classifies business activities into categories of low, medium, and high risk which will further determine business licensing requirements for each investment.  Low-risk business activities only require a business identity number (NIB) to start commercial and production activities.  An NIB will also serve as import identification number, customs access identifier, halal guarantee statement (for low risk), and environmental management and monitoring capability statement letter (for low risk).  Medium-risk sectors must obtain an NIB and a standard certification.  Under the regulation, a standard certificate for medium-low risk is a self-declared statement of the fulfillment of certain business standards, while a standard certificate for medium-high risk must be verified by the relevant government agency.  High-risk sectors must apply for a full business license, including an environmental impact assessment (AMDAL).  A business license remains valid as long as the business operates in compliance with Indonesian laws and regulations.  A grandfather clause applies for existing businesses that have obtained a business license.

Foreign investors are generally prohibited from investing in MSMEs in Indonesia, although the Presidential Regulation No. 10/2021 opened some opportunities for partnerships in farming, two- and three-wheeled vehicles, automotive spare parts, medical devices, ship repair, health laboratories, and jewelry/precious metals.

According to Presidential Instruction 7/2019, BKPM is responsible for issuing “investment licenses” (the term used to encompass both NIB and other business licenses) that have been delegated from all relevant ministries and government institutions to foreign entities through the OSS system, an online portal which allows foreign investors to apply for and track the status of licenses and other services online.  BKPM has also been tasked to review policies deemed unfavorable for investors.  While the OSS’s goal is to help streamline investment approvals, investments in the mining, oil and gas, and financial sectors still require licenses from related ministries and authorities.  Certain tax and land permits, among others, typically must be obtained from local government authorities.  Though Indonesian companies are only required to obtain one approval at the local level, businesses report that foreign companies often must seek additional approvals in order to establish a business.  Government Regulation No. 6/2021 requires local governments to integrate their business licenses system into the OSS system and standardizes services through a service-level agreement between the central and local governments.

Outward Investment

Indonesia’s outward investment is limited, as domestic investors tend to focus on the large domestic market.  BKPM has responsibility for promoting and facilitating outward investment, to include providing information about investment opportunities in other countries.  BKPM also uses its investment and trade promotion centers abroad to match Indonesian companies with potential investment opportunities.  The government neither restricts nor provides incentives for outward private sector investment.  The Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) encourages Indonesian SOEs through the SOE Go Global Program to increase their investment abroad, aiming to improve Indonesia’s supply chain and establish demand for Indonesian exports in strategic markets.  Indonesian SOEs reportedly accounted for around USD17.5 billion in outward investment in 2019.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Indonesia has investment agreements with 38 countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, Chile, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, Iran, Jordan, Mauritius, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.  In 2014, Indonesia began to abrogate its existing BITs by allowing the agreements to expire.  However, Indonesia ratified a new BIT with Singapore in March 2021, marking the first investment treaty signed and entered into force after years of review.  Indonesia reportedly developed a new model BIT which is currently reflected in the investment chapter of newly signed trade agreements.

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) arrangement came into effect in 2016 and was expected to reduce barriers for goods, services and the movement of some skilled employees across ASEAN.  Under the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, duties on imports from ASEAN countries generally range from zero to five percent, except for products specified on exclusion lists.  Indonesia also provides preferential market access to Australia, China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, and New Zealand under regional and bilateral agreements.  In November 2020, 10 ASEAN Member States and five additional countries (Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand) signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), representing around 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and population.  RCEP encompasses trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property rights, competition, dispute settlement, e-commerce, SMEs and government procurement.

Indonesia is actively engaged in bilateral FTA negotiations.  Indonesia recently signed trade agreements with Australia, Chile, Mozambique, the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland), and South Korea.  Indonesia is currently negotiating Bilateral Trade Agreements with the European Union, Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan, Morocco, Mauritius, Tunisia, and Turkey.

The United States and Indonesia signed the Convention between the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Government of the United States of America for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of the Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income in Jakarta on July 11, 1988.  This was amended with a Protocol, signed on July 24, 1996.  There is no double taxation of personal income.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Indonesia continues to bring its legal, regulatory, and accounting systems into compliance with international norms and agreements, but foreign investors have indicated they still encounter challenges in comparison to domestic investors and have criticized the current regulatory system for its failure to establish clear and transparent rules for all actors.  Certain laws and policies establish sectors that are either fully off-limits to foreign investors or are subject to substantive conditions.  In an effort to improve the investment climate and create jobs, Indonesia overhauled more than 70 laws and thousands of regulations through the enactment of the Omnibus Law on Job Creation.  Presidential Regulation No. 10/2021, one of 51 implementing regulations for the Omnibus Law adopted in February 2021, replaced the 2016 DNI with a new investment scheme that significantly reduced the number of sectors that are closed to foreign investment.

U.S. businesses cite regulatory uncertainty and a lack of transparency as two significant factors hindering operations.  U.S. companies note that regulatory consultation in Indonesia is inconsistent, despite the existence of Law No. 12/2011 on the Development of Laws and Regulations and its implementing Government Regulation No. 87/204, which states that the community is entitled to provide oral or written input into draft laws and regulations.  The law also sets out procedures for revoking regulations and introduces requirements for academic studies as a basis for formulating laws and regulations.  Nevertheless, the absence of a formal consultation mechanism has been reported to lead to different interpretations among policy makers of what is required.  Laws and regulations are often vague and require substantial interpretation by the implementers, leading to business uncertainty and rent-seeking opportunities.

Decentralization has introduced another layer of bureaucracy and red tape for firms to navigate.  In 2016, the Jokowi administration repealed 3,143 regional bylaws that overlapped with other regulations and impeded the ease of doing business.  However, a 2017 Constitutional Court ruling limited the Ministry of Home Affairs’ authority to revoke local regulations and allowed local governments to appeal the central government’s decision.  The Ministry continues to play a consultative function in the regulation drafting stage, providing input to standardize regional bylaws with national laws.  The Omnibus Law on Job Creation provided a legal framework to streamline regulations.  It establishes the norms, standards, procedures, criteria (NSPK) and performance requirements in administering government affairs for both the central and local governments.  Law No. 11/2020 aims to harmonize licensing requirements at the central and regional levels.  Under that law and its implementing regulations, the central government has the authority to take over regional business licensing if local governments do not meet performance requirements.  Local governments must also obtain recommendations from the Ministries of Home Affairs and Finance prior to implementing local tax regulations.

In 2017, Presidential Instruction No. 7/2017 was enacted to improve coordination among ministries in the policy-making process.  The regulation requires lead ministries to coordinate with their respective coordinating ministry before issuing a regulation.  The regulation also requires ministries to conduct a regulatory impact analysis and provide an opportunity for public consultation.  The presidential instruction did not address the frequent lack of coordination between the central and local governments.  The Omnibus Law on Job Creation enhanced the predictability of trade policy by moving the authority to issue trade regulations from the ministry-level (Ministry of Trade regulation) to the cabinet-level (government regulation).

International Regulatory Considerations

As an ASEAN member, Indonesia has successfully implemented regional initiatives, including the real-time movement of electronic import documents through the ASEAN Single Window, which reduces shipping costs, speeds customs clearance, and limits corruption opportunities.  Indonesia has committed to ratifying the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA), ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS), and the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement.  Notwithstanding the progress made in certain areas, the often-lengthy process of aligning national legislation has caused delays in implementation.  The complexity of interagency coordination and/or a shortage of technical capacity are among the challenges being reported.

Indonesia joined the WTO in 1995.  Indonesia’s National Standards Body (BSN) is the primary government agency to notify draft regulations to the WTO concerning technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS); however, in practice, notification is inconsistent.  In December 2017, Indonesia ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  Indonesia has met 88.7 percent of its commitments to the TFA provisions to date, including publication of information, consultations, advance rulings, detention and test procedures, , goods clearance, import/export formalities, and goods transit.

Indonesia is a Contracting Party to the Aircraft Protocol to the Convention of International Interests in Mobile Equipment (Cape Town Convention).  However, foreign investors bringing aircraft to Indonesia to serve the general aviation sector have faced difficulty utilizing Cape Town Convention provisions to recover aircraft leased to Indonesian companies.  Foreign owners of leased aircraft that have become the subject of contractual lease disputes with Indonesian lessees have been unable to recover their aircraft in certain circumstances.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Indonesia’s legal system is based on civil law.  The court system consists of District Courts (primary courts of original jurisdiction), High Courts (courts of appeal), and the Supreme Court (the court of last resort).  Indonesia also has a Constitutional Court.  The Constitutional Court has the same legal standing as the Supreme Court, and its role is to review the constitutionality of legislation.  Both the Supreme and Constitutional Courts have authority to conduct judicial review.

Corruption continues to plague Indonesia’s judiciary, with graft investigations involving senior judges and court staff.  Many businesses note that the judiciary is susceptible to influence from outside parties.  Certain companies have claimed that the court system often does not provide the necessary recourse for resolving property and contractual disputes and that cases that would be adjudicated in civil courts in other jurisdictions sometimes result in criminal charges in Indonesia.

Judges are not bound by precedent and many laws are open to various interpretations.  A lack of clear land titles has plagued Indonesia for decades, although land acquisition law No. 2/2012 includes legal mechanisms designed to resolve some past land ownership issues.  The Omnibus Law on Job Creation also created a land bank to facilitate land acquisition for priority investment projects.  Government Regulation No. 27/2017 provided incentives for upstream energy development and also regulates recoverable costs from production sharing contracts.  Indonesia has also required mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work to include higher royalties, more divestment to local partners, more local content, and domestic processing of mineral ore.

Indonesia’s commercial code, grounded in colonial Dutch law, has been updated to include provisions on bankruptcy, intellectual property rights, incorporation and dissolution of businesses, banking, and capital markets.  Application of the commercial code, including the bankruptcy provisions, remains uneven, in large part due to corruption and training deficits for judges and lawyers.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

FDI in Indonesia is regulated by Law No. 25/2007 (the Investment Law).  Under the law, any form of FDI in Indonesia must be in the form of a limited liability company with minimum capital of IDR 10 billion (USD 700,000) excluding land and building and with the foreign investor holding shares in the company.  The Omnibus Law on Job Creation allows foreign investors to invest below IDR 10 billion in technology-based startups in special economic zones.  The Law also introduces a number of provisions to simplify business licensing requirements, reforms rigid labor laws, introduces tax reforms to support ease of doing business, and establishes the Indonesian Investment Authority (INA) to facilitate direct investment.  In addition, the government repealed the 2016 Negative Investment List through the issuance of Presidential Regulation No. 10/2021, introducing major reforms that removed restrictions on foreign ownership in hundreds of sectors that were previously closed or subject to foreign ownership caps.  A number of sectors remain closed to investment or are otherwise restricted.  Presidential Regulation No. 10/2021 contains a grandfather clause that clarifies that existing investments will not be affected unless treatment under the new regulation is more favorable or the investment has special rights under a bilateral agreement.  The Indonesian government also expanded business activities in special economic zones to include education and health. (See section on limits on foreign control regarding the new list of investments.)  The website of the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) provides information on investment requirements and procedures:  https://nswi.bkpm.go.id/guide.  Indonesia mandates reporting obligations for all foreign investors through the OSS system as stipulated in BKPM Regulation No.6/2020.  (See section two for Indonesia’s procedures for licensing foreign investment.)

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Indonesian Competition Authority (KPPU) implements and enforces the 1999 Indonesia Competition Law.  The KPPU reviews agreements, business practices and mergers that may be deemed anti-competitive, advises the government on policies that may affect competition, and issues guidelines relating to the Competition Law.  Strategic sectors such as food, finance, banking, energy, infrastructure, health, and education are KPPU’s priorities.  The Omnibus Law on Job Creation and its implementing regulation, Government Regulation No. 44/2021, removes criminal sanctions and the cap on administrative fines, which was set at a maximum of IDR 25 billion (USD 1.7 million) under the previous regulation.  Appeals of KPPU decisions must be processed through the commercial court.

Expropriation and Compensation

Indonesia’s political leadership has long championed economic nationalism, particularly concerning mineral and oil and gas reserves.  According to Law No. 25/2007 (the Investment Law), the Indonesian government is barred from nationalizing or expropriating an investor’s property rights, unless provided by law.  If the Indonesian government nationalizes or expropriates an investors’ property rights, it must provide market value compensation.

Presidential Regulation No. 77/2020 on Government Use of Patent and the Ministry of Law and Human Rights (MLHR) Regulation No. 30/2019 on Compulsory Licenses (CL) enables patent right expropriation in cases deemed in the interest of national security or due to a national emergency.  Presidential Regulation No.77/2020 allows a GOI agency or Ministry to request expropriation, while MLHR Regulation No. 30/2019 allows an individual or private party to request a CL.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Indonesia is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) through the ratification of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).  Thus, foreign arbitral awards are in theory legally recognized and enforceable in Indonesian courts; however, some investors note that these awards are not always enforced in practice.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Since 2004, Indonesia has faced seven known Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) arbitration cases, including those that have been settled, and discontinued cases.  In 2016, an ICSID tribunal ruled in favor of Indonesia in the arbitration case of British firm Churchill Mining.  In March 2019, the tribunal rejected an annulment request from the claimants.  In 2019, a Dutch arbitration court ruled in favor of the Indonesian government in a USD 469 million arbitration case against Indian firm Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys.  Two cases involving Newmont Nusa Tenggara under the BIT with the Netherlands and Oleovest under the BIT with Singapore were discontinued.

Indonesia recognizes binding international arbitration of investment disputes in its bilateral investment treaties (BITs).  All of Indonesia’s BITs include the arbitration under ICSID or UNCITRAL rules, except the BIT with Denmark.  However, in response to an increase in the number of arbitration cases submitted to ICSID, BKPM formed an expert team to review the current generation of BITs and formulate a new model BIT that would seek to better protect perceived national interests.  The Indonesian model BIT is reportedly reflected in newly signed investment agreements.

In spite of the cancellation of many BITs, the 2007 Investment Law still provides protection to investors through a grandfather clause.  In addition, Indonesia also has committed to ISDS provisions in regional or multilateral agreements signed by Indonesia (i.e. ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement).

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Judicial handling of investment disputes remains mixed.  Indonesia’s legal code recognizes the right of parties to apply agreed-upon rules of arbitration.  Some arbitration, but not all, is handled by Indonesia’s domestic arbitration agency, the Indonesian National Arbitration Body.

Companies have resorted to ad hoc arbitrations in Indonesia using the UNCITRAL model law and ICSID arbitration rules.  Though U.S. firms have reported that doing business in Indonesia remains challenging, there is not a clear pattern or significant record of investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors.  Companies complain that the court system in Indonesia works slowly as international arbitration awards, when enforced, may take years from original judgment to payment.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Indonesian Law No. 37/2004 on Bankruptcy and Suspension of Obligation for Payment of Debts is viewed as pro-creditor, and the law makes no distinction between domestic and foreign creditors.  As a result, foreign creditors have the same rights as all potential creditors in a bankruptcy case, as long as foreign claims are submitted in compliance with underlying regulations and procedures.  Monetary judgments in Indonesia are made in local currency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Indonesia seeks to facilitate investment through fiscal incentives, non-fiscal incentives, and other benefits.  Fiscal incentives are in the form of tax holidays, tax allowances, and exemptions of import duties for capital goods and raw materials for investment.  Presidential Regulation No. 10/2021 on investment establishes 245 priority fields that are eligible for tax and other incentives, such as facilitated licensing and land use, to encourage investment in those sectors. The Omnibus Law on Job Creation offers a variety of tax incentives, including eliminating income tax on dividends earned in Indonesia and on certain income, including dividends earned abroad, as long as they are invested in Indonesia.  The Law also exempts dozens of goods and services from value added tax (VAT).  The provisions in the Omnibus Law on Job Creation complement several regulations in Law No. 2/2020, which was issued earlier in 2020.  Law No. 2 cut the corporate income tax rate, lowering it to 22 percent for 2020 and 2021, and to 20 percent for 2022.  In addition, a company can claim a further 3 percent reduction if it is publicly listed, with a total number of shares traded on an Indonesian stock exchange of at least 40 percent. Investment incentives are outlined at https://www.investindonesia.go.id/cn/invest-with-us/faq.

To cope with soaring demand and to improve domestic production of medical devices and supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the government through BKPM Regulation No. 86/2020 streamlined licensing requirements for manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices.  The Ministry of Health also accelerated product registration and certification for medical devices and household health supplies.  Moreover, the Ministry of Trade issued Regulation 28/2020 to relax import requirements for certain medical-related products.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Trade/ Trade Facilitation

Indonesia offers numerous incentives to foreign and domestic companies that operate in special economic and trade zones throughout Indonesia.  The largest zone is the free trade zone (FTZ) island of Batam, Bintan, and Karimun, located just south of Singapore.  The Omnibus Law on Job Creation and its implementing regulation, Government Regulation No. 41/2021 strengthened and unified the three islands (Batam, Bintan, and Karimun) into one integrated Free Trade Zone for the next 25 years to create an international logistics hub to support the industrial, trade, maritime, and tourism sectors.  Investors in FTZs are exempted from import duty, income tax, VAT, and sales tax on imported capital goods, equipment, and raw materials.  Fees are assessed on the portion of production destined for the domestic market which is “exported” to Indonesia, in which case fees are owed only on that portion.  Foreign companies are allowed up to 100 percent ownership of companies in FTZs.  Companies operating in FTZs may lend machinery and equipment to subcontractors located outside the zone for two years.

Indonesia also has numerous Special Economic Zones (SEZs), regulated under Law No. 39/2009, Government Regulation No. 1/2020 on SEZ management, and Government Regulation No. 12/2020 on SEZ facilities.  These benefits include reduction of corporate income taxes (depending on the size of the investment), luxury tax, customs duty and excise, and expedited or simplified administrative processes for import/export, expatriate employment, immigration, and licensing.  Under the Omnibus Law on Job Creation, foreign technology start-up investments located within SEZs are exempt from the minimum investment threshold of IDR 10 billion (USD 700,000), excluding land and buildings.  There are minimal export processing requirements within the SEZs.  New business activities in the education and health sectors (for which licensing services remain under the central government’s authority) will be allocated by zones and determined by the administrator of the SEZ.  The Law lifted limits of imported goods into SEZs but maintained restrictions on specific banned goods in accompanying laws and regulations.  It also introduced new tax facilities and incentives for taxpayers in SEZs.  As of February 2021, Indonesia has identified fifteen SEZs in manufacturing and tourism centers that are operational or under construction, and two more have been approved.

Indonesian law also provides for several other types of zones that enjoy special tax and administrative benefits.  Among these are Industrial Zones/Industrial Estates (Kawasan  Industri), bonded stockpiling areas (Tempat Penimbunan Berikat), and Integrated Economic Development Zones (Kawasan Pengembangan Ekonomi Terpadu).  Indonesia is home to 115 industrial estates that host thousands of industrial and manufacturing companies.  Ministry of Finance Regulation No. 105/2016 provides several different tax and customs accommodations available to companies operating out of an industrial estate, including corporate income tax reductions, tax allowances, VAT exemptions, and import duty exemptions depending on the type of industrial estate.  Bonded stockpile areas include bonded warehouses, bonded zones, bonded exhibition spaces, duty free shops, bonded auction places, bonded recycling areas, and bonded logistics centers.  Companies operating in these areas enjoy concessions in the form of exemption from certain import taxes, luxury goods taxes, and value-added taxes, based on a variety of criteria for each type of location.  Most recently, bonded logistics centers (BLCs) were introduced to allow for larger stockpiles, longer temporary storage (up to three years), and a greater number of activities in a single area.  The Ministry of Finance issued Regulation No. 28/2018, providing additional guidance on the types of BLCs and shortening approval for BLC applications.  By October 2019, Indonesia had designated 106 BLCs in 159 locations, with plans to approve more in eastern Indonesia.  In 2018, the Ministry of Finance and the Directorate General for Customs and Excise (DGCE) issued regulations (MOF Regulation No. 131/2018 and DGCE Regulation No. 19/2018) to streamline the licensing process for bonded zones.  Together the two regulations are intended to reduce processing times and the number of licenses required to open a bonded zone.

Shipments from FTZs and SEZs to other places in the Indonesia customs area are treated similarly to exports and are subject to taxes and duties.  Under MOF Regulation No. 120/2013, bonded zones have a domestic sales quota of 50 percent of the initial realization amount on export, sales to other bonded zones, sales to free trade zones, and sales to other economic areas (unless otherwise authorized by the Indonesian government).  Sales to other special economic regions are only allowed for further processing to become capital goods, and to companies with a license from the economic area organizer for the goods relevant to their business.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Indonesia expects foreign investors to contribute to the training and development of Indonesian nationals, allowing the transfer of skills and technology required for their effective participation in the foreign companies’ management.  Generally, a company can hire foreigners only for positions that the government has deemed open to non-Indonesians.  Employers must have training programs aimed at replacing foreign workers with Indonesians.  If a direct investment enterprise wants to employ foreigners, the enterprise should submit an Expatriate Placement Plan (RPTKA) to the Ministry of Manpower.

Indonesia recently made significant changes to its foreign worker regulations.  Government Regulation No. 34/2021, an implementing regulation of the Omnibus Law on Job Creation, on the utilization of foreign workers stipulates specific documents required for the RPTKA and introduces different types of RPTKA for temporary works (e.g. film production, audits, quality control, inspection and installation of machinery), employment for work under six months, employment that does not require payment to the Foreign Worker Utilization Compensation Fund (DKPTKA), and employment in SEZs.  Under the regulation, an RPTKA is not required for commissioners or executives.  Foreigners working in technology-based startups are also exempted from the RPTKA requirement in the first three months.  Expatriates can use an endorsed RPTKA to apply with the immigration office in their place of domicile for a Limited Stay Visa or Semi-Permanent Residence Visa (VITAS/VBS).  Expatriates receive a Limited Stay Permit (KITAS) and a blue book, valid for up to two years and renewable for up to two extensions without leaving the country.  While a technical recommendation from a relevant ministry is no longer required, ministries may still establish technical competencies or qualifications for certain jobs, or prohibit the use of foreign workers for specific positions, by informing and obtaining approval from the Ministry of Manpower.  Foreign workers who plan to work longer than six months in Indonesia must apply for employee social security and/or insurance.

Government Regulation No. 34/2021 outlines the types of businesses that can employ foreign workers, sets requirements to obtain health insurance for expatriate employees, requires companies to appoint local “companion” employees for the transfer of technology and skill development, and requires employers to facilitate Indonesian language training for foreign workers.  Any expatriate who holds a work and residence permit must contribute USD 1,200 per year to the DKPTKA for local manpower training at regional manpower offices.  Ministry of Manpower Decree No. 228/2019 details the number of jobs open for foreign workers across 18 sectors, ranging from construction, transportation, education, telecommunications, and professionals.  Foreign workers must obtain approval from the Manpower Minister or designated officials to apply for positions not listed in the decree.  Some U.S. firms report difficulty in renewing KITASs for their foreign executives.

Indonesia notified the WTO of its compliance with Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) on August 26, 1998.  The 2007 Investment Law states that Indonesia shall provide the same treatment to both domestic and foreign investors originating from any country. Nevertheless, the government pursues policies to promote local manufacturing that could be inconsistent with TRIMS requirements, such as linking import approvals to investment pledges or requiring local content targets in some sectors.

In 2019, Indonesia issued Government Regulation No. 71/2019 to replace Regulation No. 82/2012, further detailed in Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) Regulation No. 5/2020, which classifies electronic system operators (ESO) into two categories:  public and private.  Public ESOs are either a state institution or an institution assigned by a state institution but not a financial sector regulator or supervisory authority.  Private ESOs are individuals, businesses and communities that operate electronic systems.  Public ESOs must manage, process, and store their data in Indonesia, unless the storage technology is not available locally.  Private ESOs have the option to choose where they will manage, process, and store their data.  However, if private ESOs decide to process data outside of Indonesia, they must provide access to their systems and data for government supervision and law enforcement purposes.  For private financial sector ESOs, Government Regulation 71/2019 provides that such firms are “further regulated” by Indonesia’s financial sector supervisory authorities regarding the private sector’s ESO systems, data processing, and data storage.

Additionally, to implement Government Regulation 71/2019, the Financial Services Authority (OJK) issued Regulation No. 13/2020, an amendment to Regulation No. 38/2016, which allows banks to operate their electronic data processing systems and disaster recovery centers outside of Indonesia, provided that the system receives approval from OJK.  Certain core banking data must also be stored within Indonesia.  OJK will evaluate whether offshore data arrangements could diminish its supervisory efficiency or negatively affect the bank’s performance, and if the data center complies with Indonesia’s laws and regulations.  The regulation became effective March 31, 2020.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Basic Agrarian Law of 1960, the predominant body of law governing land rights, recognizes the right of private ownership and provides varying degrees of land rights for Indonesian citizens, foreign nationals, Indonesian corporations, foreign corporations, and other legal entities.  Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution states that all natural resources are owned by the government for the benefit of the people.  This principle was augmented by the passage of Land Acquisition Law No. 2/2012,which was amended by the Omnibus Law on Job Creation (Law No. 11/2020), that enshrined the concept of eminent domain and established mechanisms for fair market value compensation and appeals.  The National Land Agency registers property under Government Regulation No. 18/2021, though the Ministry of Forestry administers all “forest land.”  The regulation introduced e-registration to cut bureaucracy and minimize land disputes.  Registration is not conclusive evidence of ownership, but rather strong evidence of such.  It allows foreigners domiciled in Indonesia to have housing property with land  under a “right to use” status for a maximum of 30 years, with extensions available for up to 20 additional years, as well as a “right to own” status for apartments located in special economic zones, free trade zones, and industrial areas.  The Omnibus Law on Job Creation aims to reduce uncertainty around the roles of the central and local governments, including around spatial planning and environmental and social impact assessments (AMDALs), by simplifying the licensing process through implementation of a risk-based approach.  The Omnibus Law also created a land bank to facilitate land acquisition for priority investment projects.

Intellectual Property Rights

Indonesia remains on the priority watch list in the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report due to the lack of adequate and effective IP protection and enforcement.  Indonesia’s patent law continues to raise serious concerns, including patentability criteria and compulsory licensing.  Counterfeiting and piracy are pervasive, IP enforcement remains weak, and there are continued market access restrictions for IP-intensive industries.  According to U.S. stakeholders, Indonesia’s failure to protect intellectual property and enforce IP rights laws has resulted in high levels of physical and online piracy.  Local industry associations have reported large amounts of pirated films, music, and software in circulation in Indonesia in recent years, causing potentially billions of dollars in losses.  Indonesian physical markets, such as Mangga Dua Market, and online markets Tokopedia and Bukalapak, were included in USTR’s Notorious Markets List in 2020.

The Omnibus Law on Job Creation amended key articles in Patent Law No. 13/2016 and the Trademark and Geographical Indications Law No. 20/2016.  While Patent Law amendments require the patent holder to exercise their patented invention locally within 36 months after the patent is granted, the new amendments provide flexibility to IP holders to meet local “working” requirements.  The new law also revokes a provision requiring patent holders to support technology transfer, investment, and employment in local manufacturing as a condition of patent protection.  The law reduces the processing time required for simple patent applications from 12 months to 6 months.

In January 2020, Indonesia ratified the Marrakesh Treaty through Presidential Regulation No. 1/2020 to facilitate access to public works for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print-disabled.  Indonesia also ratified the Beijing Treaty on IPR protection for audiovisual performances to protect actors through Presidential Regulation No. 21/2020.  Indonesia deposited its instrument of accession to the Madrid Protocol with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2017 and issued implementing regulations in 2018.  Under the new rules, applicants desiring international mark protection under the Madrid Protocol must first register their application with DGIP and be Indonesian citizens, domiciled in Indonesia, or have clear industrial or commercial interests in Indonesia.  Although the Trademark Law of 2016 expanded recognition of non-traditional marks, Indonesia still does not recognize certification marks.  In response to stakeholder concerns over a lack of consistency in the treatment of internationally well-known trademarks, the Supreme Court issued Circular Letter 1/2017, which advised Indonesian judges to recognize cancellation claims for well-known international trademarks with no time limit stipulation.

Ministry of Finance (MOF) Regulation No. 6/2019 grants  the Directorate General of Customs and Excise (DGCE) legal authority to hold shipments believed to contain imitation goods for up to two days, pending inspection.  Under Regulation No. 6/2019, rights holders are notified by DGCE (through a recordation system) when an incoming shipment is suspected of containing infringing products.  If the inspection reveals an infringement, the rights holder has four days to file a court injunction to request a shipment suspension.  Rights holders are required to provide a refundable monetary guarantee of IDR 100 million (USD 6,600) when they file a claim with the court.  If the court sides with the rights holder, then the guarantee money will be returned to the applicant.  DGCE intercepted three suspected infringement product imports in 2020 by using this recordation system, as only 17 trademarks and two copyrights are registered in the recordation system.  Despite business stakeholder concerns, the GOI retains a requirement that only companies with offices domiciled in Indonesia may use the recordation system.

Trademark, Patent, and Copyright legislation require a rights-holder complaint for investigation. DGIP and BPOM investigators lack the authority to make arrests so must rely on police cooperation for any enforcement action.

Resources for Rights Holders

Additional information regarding treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, can be found at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) country profile website http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .  For a list of local lawyers, see: https://id.usembassy.gov/attorneys.

10. Political and Security Environment

As in other democracies, politically motivated demonstrations occasionally occur throughout Indonesia, but are not a major or ongoing concern for most foreign investors.  Since the Bali bombings in 2002 that killed over 200 people, Indonesian authorities have aggressively continued to pursue terrorist cells throughout the country, disrupting multiple aspirational plots.  Despite these successes, violent extremist networks and terrorist cells remain intact and have the capacity to  conduct attacks with little or no warning, as do lone wolf-style ISIS sympathizers.

Foreign investors in Papua face certain unique challenges.  Indonesian security forces occasionally conduct operations against the Free Papua Movement, a small armed separatist group that is most active in the central highlands region.  Low-intensity communal, tribal, and political conflict also exists in Papua and has caused deaths and injuries.  Anti-government protests have resulted in deaths and injuries, and violence has been committed against employees and contractors of at least one large corporation there, including the death of a New Zealand citizen in an attack on March 30, 2020, as well as  armed groups seizing aircraft and temporarily holding pilots and passengers hostage.  Additionally, racially-motivated attacks against ethnic Papuans in East Java province led to violence in Papua and West Papua in late 2019, including riots in Wamena, Papua that left dozens dead and thousands more displaced.  Continued attacks and counter attacks between security personnel and local armed groups have exacerbated the region’s issues with internally displaced persons.

Travelers to Indonesia can visit the U.S. Department of State travel advisory website for the latest information and travel resources: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Indonesia.html.

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) 2020 $1,061 2019 $1,119 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/Indonesia
*Indonesia Statistic Agency, GDP from the host country website is converted into USD with the exchange rate 14,546 for 2020
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $749.7 2019 $12,151 https://www.bea.gov/international/di1usdbal
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $399 https://www.bea.gov/international/di1fdibal
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 2.7% 2019 20.8% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
*Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), January 2021

There is a discrepancy between U.S. FDI recorded by BKPM and BEA due to differing methodologies.  While BEA recorded transactions in balance of payments, BKPM relies on company realization reports.  BKPM also excludes investments in oil and gas, non-bank financial institutions, and insurance.

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 2019 Outward Direct Investment 2019
Total Inward 233,984 100% Total Outward 79,632 100%
Singapore 55,386 23.7% Singapore 31,409 39.4%
Netherlands 34,981 15.0% France 19,226 24.1%
United States 29,643 12.7%  China (PR Mainland) 18,807 23.6%
Japan 28,875 12.3% Cayman Islands 3,431 4.3%
Malaysia 13,853 5.9% Netherlands 748 0.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Source:  IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey, 2019 for inward and outward investment data.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets 2019
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 21,814 100% All Countries 7,886 100% All Countries 13,928 100%
Netherlands 6,842 31.8% United States 3,032 38.4% Netherlands 6,837 49.1%
United States 4.035 16.6% India 2,028 25.7% Luxembourg 1,903 13.7%
India 2,049 8.9% China (PR Mainland) 1,025 13.0% United States 1,003 7.2%
 Luxembourg 1,904 8.4% China (PR Hong Kong) 708 9.0% Singapore 610 4.4%
China (Mainland) 1,270 4.9% Australia 468 5.9% United Arab Emirates 578 4.2%
Source: IMF Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey, 2019. Sources of portfolio investment are not tax havens.

The Bank of Indonesia published comparable data.

Malaysia

Executive Summary

Malaysia continues to focus on economic recovery following its deepest recession in 20 years, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on domestic travel and business operations intended to curb the spread of the virus. Under Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the government has spent an estimated USD 82 billion in stimulus measures since the start of the pandemic. Despite these setbacks, Malaysia’s economy is expected to rebound in 2021, buoyed by manufacturing export sector growth and public initiatives to increase digital investments and construction activity. Malaysia’s finance ministry and central bank have noted the pace of the recovery will also be impacted by the government’s vaccine rollout, which has experienced delays.

On April 21, the government announced the National Investment Aspirations, a framework intended to reform Malaysia’s investment policies. Among the goals of the new investment framework are to expand and integrate Malaysia’s linkages with regional and global supply chains and further develop economic clusters tied to key sectors, including advanced manufacturing and technology (broadly referred to in Malaysia as the electrical and electronics, or E&E, sector). On February 19, the government announced the MyDigital initiative, intended to add 500,000 jobs and grow Malaysia’s digital economy to nearly one-quarter of GDP by 2030.

On January 12, Prime Minister Muhyiddin announced a six-month state of emergency intended to strengthen the government’s ability to respond to the pandemic. However, the resulting suspension of parliament has also contributed to political uncertainty in Malaysia since a change in government in March 2020, the second in a two-year period.

The Malaysian government has traditionally encouraged foreign direct investment (FDI), and the Prime Minister and other cabinet ministers have signaled their openness to foreign investment since taking office. In its 2021 budget, the government proposed tax incentives which include extensions of existing relocation incentives for the manufacturing sector (including a zero-percent tax rate for new companies or a 100-percent investment tax allowance for five years) and extensions of existing tax incentives for certain industrial sectors.

The business climate in Malaysia is generally conducive to U.S. investment. Increased transparency and structural reforms that will prevent future corrupt practices could make Malaysia a more attractive destination for FDI in the long run. The largest U.S. investments are in the oil and gas sector, manufacturing, technology, and financial services. Firms with significant investment in Malaysia’s oil and gas and petrochemical sectors include ExxonMobil, Caltex, ConocoPhillips, Hess Oil, Halliburton, Dow Chemical, and Eastman Chemicals. Major semiconductor manufacturers, including ON Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, Intel, and others have substantial operations in Malaysia, as do electronics manufacturers Western Digital, Honeywell, and Motorola.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 57 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 12 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 33 of 130 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S.  FDI in partner country (historical stock positions) 2019 USD 10.8 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 11,230 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Historically, the Malaysian government has welcomed FDI as an integral component of its economic development. Over the last decade, the gradual liberalization of the economy and influx of FDI has led to the creation of new jobs and businesses and fueled Malaysia’s export-oriented growth strategy. The Malaysian economy is highly dependent on trade. According to World Bank data, the value of Malaysia’s imports and exports of goods and services as a share of GDP held steady at roughly 130 percent in 2018, more than double the global average.

In October 2019, the government introduced measures in its 2020 budget designed to streamline and further incentivize foreign investment, with special emphasis on investments being redirected from China as a result of shifting global supply chains. The Malaysian government established the China Special Channel for the purpose of attracting these investments, an initiative being managed by InvestKL, an investment promotion agency under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. The government also established the National Committee on Investment, an investment approval body jointly chaired by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of International Trade and Industry, to expedite the regulatory process with respect to approving new investments.

In its 2021 budget, the government proposed a slew of tax incentives which include extensions of existing relocation incentives for the manufacturing sector (including a 0 percent tax rate for new companies or a 100 percent investment tax allowance for five years) and extensions of existing tax incentives for certain industrial sectors. In light of the pandemic, manufacturers of pharmaceutical products, particularly those involved with COVID-19 vaccine supply chains, investing in Malaysia will be given income tax rates of zero percent to 10 percent for the first 10 years; with 10 percent rates for the subsequent 10 years.

Malaysia has various national, regional, and municipal investment promotion agencies, including the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) and InvestKL. These agencies can assist with business strategy consultations, area familiarization, talent management programs, networking, and other post-investment services.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity, with some exceptions. Although Malaysia has taken steps to liberalize policies concerning foreign investment, there continue to exist requirements for local equity participation within specific sectors. In 2009, Malaysia repealed Foreign Investment Committee (FIC) guidelines that limited transactions for acquisitions of interests, mergers, and takeovers of local companies by foreign parties. However, certain business sectors, including logistics, industrial training, and distributive trade, are required to limit foreign equity participation when applying for operating licenses, permits and approvals. Due to residual economic policies, this limitation most commonly manifests as a 70-30 equity split between foreign investors (maximum 70 percent) and Bumiputera (i.e., ethnic Malays and indigenous peoples) entities (minimum 30 percent).

Foreign investment in services, whether in sectors with no foreign equity caps or controlled sub-sectors, remain subject to review and approval by ministries and agencies with jurisdiction over the relevant sectors. A key function of this review and approval process is to determine whether proposed investments meet the government’s qualifications for the various incentives in place to promote economic development goals. The Ministerial Functions Act grants relevant ministries broad discretionary powers over the approval of investment projects. Investors in industries targeted by the Malaysian government can often negotiate favorable terms with the ministries or agencies responsible for regulating that industry. This can include assistance in navigating a complex web of regulations and policies, some of which can be waived on a case-by-case basis. Foreign investors in non-targeted industries tend to receive less government assistance in obtaining the necessary approvals from various regulatory bodies and therefore can face greater bureaucratic obstacles.

Finance

Malaysia’s 2011-2020 Financial Sector Blueprint has produced partial liberalization within the financial services sector; however, it does not contain specific market-opening commitments or timelines. For example, the services liberalization program that started in 2009 raised the limit of foreign ownership in insurance companies to 70 percent. However, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), Malaysia’s central bank, would allow a greater foreign ownership stake if the investment is determined to facilitate the consolidation of the industry. The latest Blueprint helped to codify this case-by-case approach. Under the Financial Services Act passed in late 2012, issuance of new licenses will be guided by prudential criteria and the “best interests of Malaysia,” which may include consideration of the financial strength, business record, experience, character and integrity of the prospective foreign investor, soundness and feasibility of the business plan for the institution in Malaysia, transparency and complexity of the group structure, and the extent of supervision of the foreign investor in its home country. In determining the “best interests of Malaysia,” BNM may consider the contribution of the investment in promoting new high value-added economic activities, addressing demand for financial services where there are gaps, enhancing trade and investment linkages, and providing high-skilled employment opportunities. BNM, however, has never defined criteria for the “best interests of Malaysia” test, and no firms have qualified.

While there has been no policy change in terms of the 70 percent foreign ownership cap for insurance companies, the government did agree to let one foreign owned insurer maintain a 100 percent equity stake after that firm made a contribution to a health insurance scheme aimed at providing health coverage to lower-income Malaysians.

BNM currently allows foreign banks to open four additional branches throughout Malaysia, subject to restrictions, which include designating where the branches can be set up (i.e., in market centers, semi-urban areas and non-urban areas). The policies do not allow foreign banks to set up new branches within 1.5 km of an existing local bank. BNM also has conditioned foreign banks’ ability to offer certain services on commitments to undertake certain back-office activities in Malaysia.

Information & Communication

In 2012, Malaysia authorized up to 100 percent foreign equity participation among application service providers, network service providers, and network facilities providers. An exception to this is national telecommunications firm Telekom Malaysia, which has an aggregate foreign share cap of 30 percent, or five percent for individual investors.

Manufacturing Industries

Malaysia permits up to 100 percent foreign equity participation for new manufacturing investments by licensed manufacturers. However, foreign companies can face difficulties obtaining a manufacturing license and often resort to incorporating a local subsidiary for this purpose.

Oil and Gas

Under the terms of the Petroleum Development Act of 1974, the upstream oil and gas industry is controlled by Petroleum Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS), a wholly state-owned company and the sole entity with legal title to Malaysian crude oil and gas deposits. Foreign participation tends to take the form of production sharing contracts (PSCs). PETRONAS regularly requires its PSC partners to work with Malaysian firms for many tenders. Non-Malaysian firms are permitted to participate in oil services in partnership with local firms and are restricted to a 49 percent equity stake if the foreign party is the principal shareholder. PETRONAS sets the terms of upstream projects with foreign participation on a case-by-case basis.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Malaysia’s most recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) investment review occurred in 2013. Although the review underscored the generally positive direction of economic reforms and efforts at liberalization, the recommendations emphasized the need for greater service sector liberalization, stronger intellectual property protections, enhanced guidance and support from Malaysia’s Investment Development Authority (MIDA), and continued corporate governance reforms.

Malaysia also conducted a WTO Trade Policy Review in February 2018, which incorporated a general overview of the country’s investment policies. The WTO’s review noted the Malaysian government’s action to institute incentives to encourage investment as well as a number of agencies to guide prospective investors. Beyond attracting investment, Malaysia had made measurable progress on reforms to facilitate increased commercial activity. Among the new trade and investment-related laws that entered into force during the review period were: the Companies Act, which introduced provisions to simplify the procedures to start a company, to reduce the cost of doing business, as well as to reform corporate insolvency mechanisms; the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) to replace the sales tax; the Malaysian Aviation Commission Act, pursuant to which the Malaysian Aviation Commission was established; and various amendments to the Food Regulations. Since the WTO Trade Policy Review, however, the new government has already eliminated the GST, and has revived the Sales and Services Tax, which was implemented on September 1, 2018.

Business Facilitation

The principal law governing foreign investors’ entry and practice in the Malaysian economy is the Companies Act of 2016 (CA), which entered into force on January 31, 2017 and replaced the Companies Act of 1965. Incorporation requirements under the new CA have been further simplified and are the same for domestic and foreign sole proprietorships, partnerships, as well as privately held and publicly traded corporations. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019, Malaysia streamlined the process of obtaining a building permit and made it faster to obtain construction permits; eliminated the site visit requirement for new commercial electricity connections, making getting electricity easier for businesses; implemented an online single window platform to carry out property searches and simplified the property transfer process; and introduced electronic forms and enhanced risk-based inspection system for cross-border trade and improved the infrastructure and port operation system at Port Klang, the largest port in Malaysia, thereby facilitating international trade; and made resolving insolvency easier by introducing the reorganization procedure. These changes led to a significant improvement of Malaysia’s ranking per the Doing Business Report, from 24 to 15 in one year.

In addition to registering with the Companies Commission of Malaysia, business entities must file: 1) Memorandum and Articles of Association (i.e., company charter); 2) a Declaration of Compliance (i.e., compliance with provisions of the Companies Act); and 3) a Statutory Declaration (i.e., no bankruptcies, no convictions). The registration and business establishment process takes two weeks to complete, on average. GST was repealed in May of 2018 and a new sales and services tax (SST) took effect on September 1, 2018.

Beyond these requirements, foreign investors must obtain licenses. Under the Industrial Coordination Act of 1975, an investor seeking to engage in manufacturing will need a license if the business claims capital of RM2.5 million (approximately USD 641,000) or employs at least 75 full-time staff. The Malaysian government’s guidelines for approving manufacturing investments, and by extension, manufacturing licenses, are generally based on capital-to-employee ratios. Projects below a threshold of RM55,000 (approximately USD 14,100) of capital per employee are deemed labor-intensive and will generally not qualify. Manufacturing investors seeking to expand or diversify their operations need to apply through MIDA.

Manufacturing investors whose companies have annual revenue below RM50 million (approximately USD 12.8 million) or with fewer than 200 full-time employees meet the definition of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and will generally be eligible for government SME incentives. Companies in the services or other sectors that have revenue below RM20 million (approximately USD 5.1 million) or fewer than 75 full-time employees also meet the SME definition.

Outward Investment

While the Malaysian government does not promote or incentivize outward investment, a number of government-linked companies, pension funds, and investment companies do have investments overseas. These companies include the sovereign wealth fund of the Government of Malaysia, Khazanah Nasional Berhad; KWAP, Malaysia’s largest public services pension fund; and the Employees’ Provident Fund of Malaysia. Government-owned oil and gas firm Petronas also has investments in several regions outside Asia.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

As a member of ASEAN, Malaysia is a party to trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand; China; India; Japan; and the Republic of Korea. During the review period, the ASEAN-India Agreement was expanded to cover trade in services. Malaysia also has bilateral FTAs with Australia; Chile; India; Japan; New Zealand; Pakistan; and Turkey.

Reference: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s366_sum_e.pdf

Malaysia has bilateral investment treaties with 36 countries, but not yet with the United States. Malaysia does have bilateral “investment guarantee agreements” with over 70 economies, including the United States. The Malaysian government reports that 65 of Malaysia’s existing investment agreements contain Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. Malaysia has double taxation treaties with over 70 countries, though the double taxation agreement with the U.S. currently is limited to air and sea transportation.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In July 2013, the Malaysian government accelerated its efforts to modernize the regulatory processes in the country by releasing the National Policy on Development and Implementation of Regulations (NPDIR), a roadmap to achieving Good Regulatory Practice (GRP). Under the NPDIR, the federal government formalized a comprehensive approach to improve the efficiency and transparency of the country’s regulatory framework. The benefits to the private sector thus far have included a streamlining of project approval requirements and fees (to the point that Malaysia ranked 2nd in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report on ease of “dealing with construction permits”), a greater role in the lawmaking process, and improved standardization and transparency in all phases of regulatory proceedings. The main components of the policy are: 1) the requirement of a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) (a cost-benefit analysis of all newly proposed regulations) with each new piece of regulation; and 2) the formalization of a public consultation process to take the views of stakeholders into account while formulating new legislation. Under the NPDIR, the government has committed to reviewing all new regulations every five years to determine which ones need to be adjusted or eliminated.

In furtherance of the NPDIR, the Malaysian government published four circulars in 2013 and 2014 to explain the methodology and implementation of their new strategy. These four documents laid out a clear framework toward increasing accountability, standardization, and transparency, as well as explaining enforcement and compliance mechanisms to be established. Throughout its various agencies, the government of Malaysia has taken steps to actualize these circulars. Ministries and agencies use their respective websites to publish the text and or summaries of proposed regulations prior to enactment, albeit with varying levels of consistency. Further, Malaysia’s procurement principles include adherence to open and fair competition, public accountability, transparency, and value for money.

Despite these efforts to foster inclusion, fairness, and transparency, considerable room for improvement exists. The Malaysian government’s 2018 Report on Modernization (sic) of Regulations emphasized the need to “Establish an accountability mechanism for the implementation of regulatory reviews by the government.” Many foreign investors echo this lack of accountability and criticize the opacity in the government decision-making process. One major area of concern for foreign investors remains government procurement policy, as non-Malaysian companies claim to have lost bids against Bumiputera-owned (ethnic Malay) companies despite offering better products at lower costs. Such results are due to the government’s preference policy to facilitate greater Bumiputera participation in the private sector. This preference policy is manifested through set-aside contracts for Bumiputera suppliers and contractors, and through the use of preferential price margins to increase the competitiveness of Bumiputera bidders.

Malaysia has a three-tiered system of legislation: federal-level (parliament), state-level, and local-level. Federal and state-level legislation derive their authority from the Malaysian Constitution, specifically Articles 73-79. Parliament has the exclusive power to make laws over matters including trade, commerce and industry, and financial matters. Parliament can delegate its authority to administrative agencies, states, and local bodies through Acts. States have the power to make laws concerning land, local government, and Islamic courts. Local legislative bodies derive their authority from Acts promulgated by parliament, most notably the Local Government Act of 1976. Local authorities can issue by-laws concerning local taxation and land use. For foreign investors, parliament is the most relevant legislating body, as it governs issues related to trade, and in instances of conflict, Article 75 of the Constitution states that federal laws will supersede state laws.

It is also important to note the role of the administrative state in the promulgation of new laws and regulations in Malaysia. Pursuant to the Interpretation Act of 1948 and 1967, “Any proclamation, rule, regulation, order, notification, bye-law, or other instrument made under any Act, Enactment, Ordinance or other lawful authority and having legislative effect.” Thus, the various ministries and agencies can be delegated lawmaking authority by an Act of a legislature with the legal right to make laws.

The Malaysian Accounting Standards Board (MASB) introduced the Malaysian Financial Reporting Standards (MFRS) framework, which came into effect on January 1, 2012. The MFRS framework is fully compliant with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) framework; this compliance serves to enhance the credibility and transparency of financial reporting in Malaysia.

The Malaysian Institute of Accountants’ (MIA) Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (AASB) reviews standards and technical pronouncements issued by the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB), which sets International Standards on Auditing (ISAs) that have been adopted in more than 110 jurisdictions.

In theory, pieces of legislation are to be made available for public comment through a multi-stage system of rulemaking. The Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) published the Guideline on Public Consultation Procedures in 2014 (the “Guideline”), which clarifies the roles of government and stakeholders in the consultation process and provides the guiding principles for Malaysia’s public consultation approach. As in the case of foreign investment, the consultation procedures usually fall under the purview of the Malaysian Securities Commission (SC), the Bursa Malaysia (Malaysia’s stock exchange), or BNM. The SC, for example, keeps public consultation papers on its website, easily accessible by stakeholders. These papers generally contain the rationale for the proposed regulations, as well as potential impacts, and provide a list of questions for stakeholders to explain their views to regulators.

The public is also engaged in the public consultation process through the increased role of PEMUDAH (the Special Task Force to Facilitate Business), which was founded in 2007 to serve as a bridge between government, businesses, and civil society organizations. PEMUDAH promotes the understanding of regulatory requirements that impact economic activities, by addressing unfair treatment resulting from inconsistencies in enforcement and implementation. It also plays an advocacy role in various points in the regulatory implementation process; provides recommendations from the private sector to regulators before new regulations are implemented, and monitors enactment of existing pieces of regulation.

Despite the Guideline, and significant steps taken to reduce the regulatory burden on industry, obstacles remain. There are frequent inconsistencies between different ministries in their implementation of the public consultation procedures, as well as in their respective interpretations of how regulations are to be applied. Adding to the difficulty is the complicated relationship between state-level and federal-level legislation, which can overlap on a range of issues and lead to inefficiencies for investors.

The CLJ Law website publishes the full text of Malaysian bills and amendments from 2013 onward: https://www.cljlaw.com/?page=latestmybill&year=2020 . In 2019 Malaysia in association with the World Bank, created a website that contains all ongoing pieces of legislation and allows public comment thereon. The website, called the Uniform Public Consultation Portal (http://upc.mpc.gov.my/csp/sys/bi/%25cspapp.bi.index.cls?home=1 ), does not contain legislation that was completed or implemented before 2019, but is a positive move toward standardizing and emphasizing the public consultation process. The website is user-friendly and allows searching by due date, implementing agency, and phase of consultation.

Malaysia has a multi-faceted approach to ensuring governmental compliance with regulatory requirements. The most important enforcement mechanism is access to judicial review. The WEF 2019 Report lists Malaysia as the 12th ranked country in efficiency of the legal framework in challenging regulations. Through ease in accessing administrative and judicial courts, aggrieved parties in Malaysia are able to compel action by the regulator.

Besides the legal route, aggrieved parties can also seek recourse through the various agency-led enforcement mechanisms. The central bank has a dedicated “Complaints Unit,” which deals with consumer complaints against banking institutions. The Bank lists enforcement options as “a public or private reprimand; an order to comply; an administrative and civic penalty; restitution to customer; or prosecution. By contrast, the Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia (tax agency) has the Special Commissioners of Income Tax, to which taxpayers may file appeals concerning judgments and new regulations. The Malaysian Companies Commission (which regulates laws relating to companies registered in Malaysia) is also engaged in enforcement proceedings, as is the Malaysian Securities Commission. On matters of procurement, aggrieved bidders may complain to the Public Complaints Bureau, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Malaysian Competition Commission, or the National Audit Department.

International Regulatory Considerations

Malaysia is one of 10 Member States that constitute the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). On December 31, 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community formally came into existence. ASEAN’s economic policy leaders meet regularly to discuss promoting greater economic integration within the 10-country bloc. Although already robust, Member States have prioritized steps to facilitate a greater flow of goods, services, and capital. No regional regulatory system is in place. As a member of the WTO, Malaysia provides notification of all draft technical regulations to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Malaysia’s legal system consists of written laws, such as the federal and state constitutions and laws passed by parliament and state legislatures, and unwritten laws derived from court cases and local customs. The Contract Law of 1950 still guides the enforcement of contracts and resolution of disputes. States generally control property laws for residences but through such programs as the Multimedia Super Corridor, Free Commercial Zones, and Free Industrial Zones, the federal government has substantial reach into a range of geographic areas as a means of encouraging foreign investment and facilitating ownership of commercial and industrial property.

Malaysia has taken measures to increase the efficacy of the courts to improve its reputation as an international business hub. Other than the usual criminal and civil branches of the legal system, there are dedicated courts for issues such as intellectual property (IP) and labor.

Certain foreign judgments are enforceable in Malaysia by virtue of the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act 1958 (REJA). However, before a foreign judgment can be enforceable, it must be registered. The registration of foreign judgments is only possible if the judgment was given by a Superior Court from a country listed in the First Schedule of the REJA: the United Kingdom, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, New Zealand, Republic of Sri Lanka, India, and Brunei. If the judgment is not from a country listed in the First Schedule to the REJA, the only method of enforcement at common law is by securing a Malaysian judgment. This involves suing on the judgment in the local Courts as an action in debt.

To register a foreign judgment under the REJA, the judgment creditor has to apply for the same within six years after the date of the foreign judgment. Any foreign judgment coming under the REJA shall be registered unless it has been wholly satisfied, or it could not be enforced by execution in the country of the original Court.

Post is not aware of instances in which political figures or government authorities have interfered in judiciary proceedings involving commercial matters.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The e Malaysia Investment Development Authority (MIDA). Under the purview of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) has the task to attract foreign investment and serve as a focal point for legal and regulatory questions. Other regional bodies providing support to investors include: Invest Kuala Lumpur, Invest Penang, Invest Selangor, the Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA), and the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation, among others.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

On April 21, 2010, the Parliament of Malaysia passed the Competition Commission Act 2010 and the Competition Act 2010 which took effect on January 1, 2012. The Competition Act prohibits cartels and abuses of a dominant market position but does not create any pre-transaction review of mergers or acquisitions. Violations are punishable by fines, as well as imprisonment for individual violations. Malaysia’s Competition Commission has responsibility for determining whether a company’s “conduct” constitutes an abuse of dominant market position or otherwise distorts or restricts competition. As a matter of law, the Competition Commission does not have separate standards for foreign and domestic companies. Commission membership consists of senior officials from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism (MDTCC), the Ministry of Finance, and, on a rotating basis, representatives from academia and the private sector.

In addition to the Competition Commission, the Acts established a Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) to hear all appeals of Commission decisions. In the largest case to date, the Commission imposed a fine of RM10 million on Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia in September 2013 for colluding to divide shares of the air transport services market. The airlines filed an appeal in March 2014. In February 2016, the CAT ruled in favor of the airlines in its first-ever decision and ordered the penalty to be set aside and refunded to both airlines.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Embassy is not aware of any cases of uncompensated expropriation of U.S.-held assets, or confiscatory tax collection practices, by the Malaysian government. The government’s stated policy is that all investors, both foreign and domestic, are entitled to fair compensation in the event that their private property is required for public purposes. Should the investor and the government disagree on the amount of compensation, the issue is then referred to the Malaysian judicial system.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Malaysia signed the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) on October 22, 1965, coming into force on October 14, 1966. In addition, it is a contracting state of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards since November 5, 1985.

Malaysia adopted the following measures to make the two conventions effective in its territory:

The Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Act, 1966 (Act of Parliament 14 of 1966); the Notification on entry into force of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Act, 1966 (Notification No. 96 of March 10, 1966); and the Arbitration (Amendment) Act, 1980 (Act A 478 of 1980).

Although the domestic legal system is accessible to foreign investors, filing a case generally requires any non-Malaysian citizen to make a large deposit before pursuing a case in the Malaysian courts. Post is unaware of any U.S. investors’ recent complaints of political interference in any judicial proceedings.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Malaysia’s investment agreements contain provisions allowing for international arbitration of investment disputes. Malaysia does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty with the United States.

Post has little data concerning the Malaysian government’s general handling of investment disputes. In 2004, a U.S. investor filed a case against the directors of the firm, who constituted the majority shareholders. The case involves allegations by the U.S. investor of embezzlement by the other directors, and its resolution is unknown.

The Malaysian government has been involved in three ICSID cases — in 1994, 1999, and 2005. The first case was settled out of court. The second, filed under the Malaysia-Belgo-Luxembourg Investment Guarantee Agreement (IGA), was concluded in 2000 in Malaysia’s favor. The 2005 case, filed under the Malaysia-UK Bilateral Investment Treaty, was concluded in 2007 in favor of the investor. However, the judgment against Malaysia was ultimately dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, namely that ICSID was not the appropriate forum to settle the dispute because the transaction in question was not deemed an investment since it did not materially contribute to Malaysia’s development. Nevertheless, Malaysian courts recognize arbitral awards issued against the government. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Malaysia’s Arbitration Act of 2005 applies to both international and domestic arbitration. Although its provisions largely reflect those of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, there are some notable differences, including the requirement that parties in domestic arbitration must choose Malaysian law as the applicable law. Although an arbitration agreement may be concluded by email or fax, it must be in writing: Malaysia does not recognize oral agreements or conduct as constituting binding arbitration agreements.

Many firms choose to include mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts. The government actively promotes use of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Center for Arbitration ( http://www.rcakl.org.my ), established under the auspices of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee to offer international arbitration, mediation, and conciliation for trade disputes. The KLRCA is the only recognized center for arbitration in Malaysia. Arbitration held in a foreign jurisdiction under the rules of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States 1965 or under the United Nations Commission on International trade Law Arbitration Rules 1976 and the Rules of the Regional Centre for Arbitration at Kuala Lumpur can be enforceable in Malaysia.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Malaysia’s Department of Insolvency (MDI) is the lead agency implementing the Insolvency Act of 1967, previously known as the Bankruptcy Act of 1967. On October 6, 2017, the Bankruptcy Bill 2016 came into force, changing the name of the previous Act, and amending certain terms and conditions. The most significant changes in the amendment include — (1) a social guarantor can no longer be made bankrupt; (2) there is now a stricter requirement for personal service for bankruptcy notice and petition; (3) introduction of the voluntary arrangement as an alternative to bankruptcy; (4) a higher bankruptcy threshold from RM30,000 to RM50,000; (5) introduction of the automatic discharge of bankruptcy; (6) no objection to four categories of bankruptcy for applying a discharge under section 33A (discharge of bankrupt by Certificate of Director General of Insolvency); (7) introduction of single bankruptcy order as a result of the abolishment of the current two-tier order system, i.e. receiving and adjudication orders; (8) creation of the Insolvency Assistance fund.

The distribution of proceeds from the liquidation of a bankrupt company’s assets generally adheres to the “priority matters and persons” identified by the Companies Act of 2016. After the bankruptcy process legal costs are covered, recipients of proceeds are: employees, secured creditors (i.e., creditors of real assets), unsecured creditors (i.e., creditors of financial instruments), and shareholders. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Malaysia. The country ranks 40th on the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2020 Rankings for Ease of Resolving Insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Malaysian government has codified the incentives available for investments in qualifying projects in target sectors and regions. Tax holidays, financing, and special deductions are among the measures generally available for domestic as well as foreign investors in the following sectors and geographic areas: information and communications technologies (ICT); biotechnology; halal products (e.g., food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals); oil and gas storage and trading; Islamic finance; Kuala Lumpur; Labuan Island (off Eastern Malaysia); East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia; Sabah and Sarawak (Eastern Malaysia); Northern Corridor.

The lists of application procedures and incentives available to investors in these sectors and regions can be found at: http://www.mida.gov.my/home/invest-in-malaysia .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Free Zone Act of 1990 authorized the Minister of Finance to designate any suitable area as either a Free Industrial Zone (FIZ), where manufacturing and assembly takes place, or a Free Commercial Zone (FCZ), generally for warehousing commercial stock. The Minister of Finance may appoint any federal, state, or local government agency or entity as an authority to administer, maintain and operate any free trade zone. Currently there are 13 FIZs and 12 FCZs in Malaysia. In June 2006, the Port Klang Free Zone opened as the nation’s first fully integrated FIZ and FCZ, although the project has been dogged by corruption allegations related to the land acquisition for the site. The government launched a prosecution in 2009 of the former Transport Minister involved in the land purchase process, though he was later acquitted in October 2013.

The Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) is an initiative by the Malaysian government, implemented through MDEC, launched in November 2017 with the participation of China’s Alibaba. DFTZ aims to facilitate seamless cross-border trading and eCommerce and enable Malaysian SMEs to export their goods internationally. According to the Malaysian government, the DFTZ consists of an eFulfilment Hub to help Malaysian SMEs export their goods with the help of leading fulfilment service providers; and an eServices Platform to efficiently manage cargo clearance and other processes needed for cross-border trade.

For more information, please visit https://mdec.my/digital-economy-initiatives/for-the-industry/entrepreneurs/dftz/ .

Raw materials, products and equipment may be imported duty-free into these zones with minimum customs formalities. Companies that export not less than 80 percent of their output and depend on imported goods, raw materials, and components may be located in these Free Zones. Ports, shipping, and maritime-related services play an important role in Malaysia, as 90 percent of the country’s international trade by volume is seaborne. Malaysia is also a major transshipment center.

Goods sold into the Malaysian economy by companies within the FZs must pay import duties. If a company wants to enjoy Common External Preferential Tariff (CEPT) rates within the ASEAN Free Trade Area, 40 percent of a product’s content must be ASEAN-sourced. In addition to the FZs, Malaysia permits the establishment of licensed manufacturing warehouses outside of free zones, which give companies greater freedom of location while allowing them to enjoy privileges similar to firms operating in an FZ. Companies operating in these zones require approval/license for each activity. The time needed to obtain licenses depends on the type of approval and ranges from two to eight weeks.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Fiscal incentives granted to both foreign and domestic investors historically have been subject to performance requirements, usually in the form of export targets, local content requirements and technology transfer requirements. Performance requirements are usually written into the individual manufacturing licenses of local and foreign investors.

The Malaysian government extends a full tax exemption incentive of fifteen years for firms with “Pioneer Status” (companies promoting products or activities in industries or parts of Malaysia to which the government places a high priority), and ten years for companies with “Investment Tax Allowance” status (those on which the government places a priority, but not as high as Pioneer Status). However, the government appears to have some flexibility with respect to the expiry of these periods, and some firms reportedly have had their pioneer status renewed. Government priorities generally include the levels of value-added, technology used, and industrial linkages. If a firm (foreign or domestic) fails to meet the terms of its license, it risks losing any tax benefits it may have been awarded. Potentially, a firm could lose its manufacturing license. The New Economic Model stated that in the long term, the government intends gradually to eliminate most of the fiscal incentives now offered to foreign and domestic manufacturing investors. More information on specific incentives for various sectors can be found at www.mida.gov.my .

Malaysia also seeks to attract foreign investment in the information technology industry, particularly in the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), a government scheme to foster the growth of research, development, and other high technology activities in Malaysia. However, since July 1, 2018, the Government decided to put on hold the granting of MSC Malaysia Status and its incentives, including extension of income tax exemption period, or adding new MSC Malaysia Qualifying Activities to review and amend Malaysia’s tax incentives. While the MSC Malaysia Status Services Incentive was published on December 31, 2018, the MSC Malaysia Status IP Incentive policy is still under review. For further details on incentives, see www.mdec.my. The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) approves all applications for MSC status. For more information please visit: https://www.mdec.my/msc-malaysia .

In the services sector, the government’s stated goal is to attract foreign investment in regional distribution centers, international procurement centers, operational headquarter research and development, university and graduate education, integrated market and logistics support services, cold chain facilities, central utility facilities, industrial training, and environmental management. To date, Malaysia has had some success in attracting regional distribution centers, global shared services offices, and local campuses of foreign universities. For example, GE and Honeywell maintain regional offices for ASEAN in Malaysia. In 2016, McDermott moved its regional headquarters to Malaysia and Boston Scientific broke ground on a medical device manufacturing facility.

Malaysia seeks to attract foreign investment in biotechnology but sends a mixed message on agricultural and food biotechnology. On July 8, 2010, the Malaysian Ministry of Health posted amendments to the Food Regulations 1985 [P.U. (A) 437/1985] that require strict mandatory labeling of food and food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology. The amendments also included a requirement that no person shall import, prepare, or advertise for sale, or sell any food or food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology without the prior written approval of the Director. There is no ‘threshold’ level on the labeling requirement. Labeling of “GMO Free” or “Non-GMO” is not permitted. The labeling requirements only apply to foods and food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology but not to food produced with GMO feed. The labeling regulation has yet to go into force although was slated to do so in 2014.

Malaysia has not implemented measures amounting to “forced localization” for data storage. Bank Negara Malaysia has amended its recent Outsourcing Guidelines to remove the original data localization requirement and shared that it will similarly remove the data localization elements in its upcoming Risk Management in Technology framework. The government has provided inducements to attract foreign and domestic investors to the Multimedia Super Corridor but does not mandate use of onshore providers. Companies in the information and communications technology sector are not required to hand over source code.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Land administration is shared among federal, state, and local government. State governments have their own rules about land ownership, including foreign ownership. Malaysian law affords strong protections to real property owners. Real property titles are recorded in public records and attorneys review transfer documentation to ensure efficacy of a title transfer. There is no title insurance available in Malaysia. Malaysian courts protect property ownership rights. Foreign investors are allowed to borrow using real property as collateral. Foreign and domestic lenders are able to record mortgages with competent authorities and execute foreclosure in the event of loan default. Malaysia ranks 33rd (ranked 29th in 2019) in ease of registering property according to the Doing Business 2020 report, right behind Austria and ahead of Finland, thanks to changes it made to its registration procedures.

Intellectual Property Rights

Malaysia is not currently listed in the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report. Its Petaling Street Market is listed in 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy (the Notorious Markets List). The overhaul of IPR protections that began in 2019 under the previous government continued in 2020 despite political uncertainty. Following Malaysia’s 2019 Trademarks Act, which brought protections in line with the Madrid Protocol, Malaysia amended its 1987 Copyright Act as part of an ongoing review of its IPR framework. New trademark provisions came into force on July 1, 2020 to strengthen copyright protection by creating an alternative avenue for dispute resolution by tribunal. Malaysia continues to assess its Copyright Act and has indicated it is considering additional amendments to further strengthen IPR protections. There is not yet an official determination of whether Malaysia will ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP); therefore, it remains unclear whether these legislative amendments will incorporate the IP-related provisions of the CPTPP.

Malaysia has a mixed but improving record of IPR enforcement, particularly for online services that stream illegal sports content. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission proactively combats illegal streaming sites that provide content in violation of copyright laws and acts against owners of non-certified Android TV boxes being used to stream illegal content. Malaysian enforcement authorities registered their first case related to infringing streaming devices under the Copyright Act, which was brought to court on February 8. Malaysia also increased its blocking of illegal streaming sites by over 900 percent over the past three years.

Despite Malaysia’s success in improving IPR enforcement, key issues remain. There is relatively widespread availability of pirated and counterfeit products in Malaysia and there are concerns that the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (RMC) is not always effectively identifying counterfeit goods in transit.

Malaysia’s 2017 compulsory license for U.S. Gilead Sciences’ sofosbuvir, a major intellectual property-related concern in recent years, expired in 2020. Malaysia has not indicated it intends to renew the compulsory license or a government manufacturing contract for the drug, both of which expired in October 2020. Malaysia has now registered Gilead’s sofosbuvir product, Sovaldi, for local use and offers fast-track registration with the Ministry of Health for new products under Gilead’s voluntary license program. Two Indian-manufactured sofosbuvir generics granted voluntary license agreements by Gilead Sciences have already made use of this registration program with Malaysia’s Drug Control Authority.

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/ .

10. Political and Security Environment

There have been no significant incidents of political violence since the 1969 national elections. In April 2012, the Peaceful Assembly Act took effect, which outlaws street protests and places other significant restrictions on public assemblies. The May 9, 2018, national election led to the first transition of power between coalitions since independence, and it was peaceful. The Pakatan Harapan administration that came to office in that election collapsed on February 24, 2020 and was replaced by the Perikatan Nasional coalition led by current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Periodically, Malaysian groups will organize modest protests against U.S. government policies, including over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, usually involving demonstrations outside the U.S. embassy. To date, these have remained peaceful and localized, with a strong police presence. Likewise, several non-governmental organizations have organized mass rallies in major cities in peninsular and East Malaysia related to domestic policies that have been peaceful. It is illegal for foreigners to participate in political demonstrations of any kind.

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) N/A N/A 2019 $364,700 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S.  FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $10,849 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $981 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 46.3% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report 
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 168,981 100% Total Outward 118,604 100%
Singapore 35,086 21% Singapore 23,653 20%
China, P.R. Hong Kong 21,438 13% Indonesia 11,532 10%
Japan 18, 382 11% Cayman Islands 8,682 7%
The Netherlands 14, 227 8% United Kingdom 7,330 6%
United States 10,398 6% United States 4,750 4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 108,626 100% All Countries 85,176 100% All Countries 23,450 100%
United States 21,594 20% United States 17,974 21% United States 3,620 15%
Singapore 11,275 10% Singapore 9,313 11% Cayman Islands 2,038 9%
China, P.R Hong Kong 6,904 6% China, P.R Hong Kong 6,181 7% Singapore 1,962 8%
United Kingdom 6,769 6% China, P.R. Mainland 5,420 6% Australia 1,646 7%
China, P.R. Mainland 6,625 6% United Kingdom 5,363 6% Indonesia 1,458 6%

Philippines

Executive Summary

Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines is committed to improving its overall investment climate.  Sovereign credit ratings remain at investment grade based on the country’s sound macroeconomic fundamentals.  Foreign direct investment (FDI), however, still remains relatively low when compared to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) figures; the Philippines ranks sixth out of ten ASEAN countries for total FDI in 2020.  FDI declined by almost 25 percent in 2020 to USD 6.5 billion from USD 8.7 billion in 2019, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (the Philippine’s Central Bank), mainly due to the disruptive impact of the pandemic on global supply chains and weak business outlook that affected investors’ decisions.  The majority of FDI investments included manufacturing, real estate, and financial/insurance activities.  (https://www.bsp.gov.ph/SitePages/MediaAndResearch/MediaDisp.aspx?ItemId=5704)

Foreign ownership limitations in many sectors of the economy constrain investments.  Poor infrastructure, high power costs, slow broadband connections, regulatory inconsistencies, and corruption are major disincentives to investment.  The Philippines’ complex, slow, and sometimes corrupt judicial system inhibits the timely and fair resolution of commercial disputes. Traffic in major cities and congestion in the ports remain a regular cost of business.  Recently passed tax reform legislation (Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises — CREATE) will reduce the corporate income tax from ASEAN’s highest rate of 30 percent to 25 percent in 2020 and eventually to 20 percent by 2025.  CREATE could be positive for business investment, although some foreign investors have concerns about the performance-based and time-bound nature of the incentives scheme adopted in the measure.

The Philippines continues to address investment constraints.  In late 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte updated the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which enumerates investment areas where foreign ownership or investment is banned or limited.  The latest FINL allows 40 percent foreign participation in construction and repair of locally funded public works, up from 25 percent.  The FINL, however, is limited in scope since it cannot change prior laws relating to foreign investments, such as Constitutional provisions which bar investment in mass media, utilities, and natural resource extraction.

There are currently several pending pieces of legislation, such as amendments to the Public Service Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Foreign Investment Act, all of which would have a large impact on investment within the country.  The Public Service Act would provide a clearer definition of “public utility” companies, in which foreign investment is limited to 40 percent according to the 1987 Constitution.  This amendment would lift foreign ownership restrictions in key areas such as telecommunications and energy, leaving restrictions only on distribution and transmission of electricity, and maintenance of waterworks and sewerage systems.  The Retail Trade Liberalization Act aims to boost foreign direct investment in the retail sector by changing capital thresholds to reduce the minimum investment per store requirement for foreign-owned retail trade businesses from USD 830,000 to USD 200,000.  It also would reduce the quantity of locally manufactured products foreign-owned stores are required to carry.  The Foreign Investment Act would ease restrictions on foreigners practicing their professions in the Philippines and give them better access to investment areas that are currently reserved primarily for Philippine nationals, particularly in sectors within education, technology, and retail.

While the Philippine bureaucracy can be slow and opaque in its processes, the business environment is notably better within the special economic zones, particularly those available for export businesses operated by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), known for its regulatory transparency, no red-tape policy, and one-stop shop services for investors.  Finally, the Philippines plans to spend more than USD 82.6 billion through 2022 to upgrade its infrastructure with the Administration’s aggressive Build, Build, Build program; many projects are already underway.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 115 of 179 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 95 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 50 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 9,940 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 3,850 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Philippines seeks foreign investment to generate employment, promote economic development, and contribute to inclusive and sustained growth.  The Board of Investments (BOI) and Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) are the country’s lead investment promotion agencies (IPAs).  They provide incentives and special investment packages to investors. Noteworthy advantages of the Philippine investment landscape include free trade zones, including economic zones, and a large, educated, English-speaking, and relatively low-cost Filipino workforce.  Philippine law treats foreign investors the same as their domestic counterparts, except in sectors reserved for Filipinos by the Philippine Constitution and the Foreign Investment Act (see details under Limits on Foreign Control section).  Additional information regarding investment policies and incentives are available on the BOI (http://boi.gov.ph) and PEZA (http://www.peza.gov.ph) websites.

Restrictions on foreign ownership, inadequate public investment in infrastructure, and lack of transparency in procurement tenders hinder foreign investment.  The Philippines’ regulatory regime remains ambiguous in many sectors of the economy, and corruption is a significant problem.  Large, family-owned conglomerates, including San Miguel, Ayala, Aboitiz Equity Ventures, and SM Investments, dominate the economic landscape, crowding out other smaller businesses.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreigners are prohibited from fully owning land under the 1987 Constitution, although the 1993 Investors’ Lease Act allows foreign investors to lease a contiguous parcel of up to 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) for a maximum of 75 years.  Dual citizens are permitted to own land.

The 1991 Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing every two years of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted.  The latest FINL was released in October 2018 and will be updated once the Strategic Investment Priorities Plan (SIPP) is drafted.  The FINL bans foreign ownership/participation in the following investment activities:  mass media (except recording and internet businesses); small-scale mining; private security agencies; utilization of marine resources; cockpits; manufacturing of firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices; and manufacturing and distribution of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons, and anti-personnel mines.  With the exception of the practices of law, radiologic and x-ray technology, and marine deck and marine engine officers, other laws and regulations on professions allow foreigners to practice in the Philippines if their country permits reciprocity for Philippine citizens, these include medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, accountancy, architecture, engineering, criminology, teaching, chemistry, environmental planning, geology, forestry, interior design, landscape architecture, and customs brokerage.  In practice, however, language exams, onerous registration processes, and other barriers prevent this from taking place.

The Philippines limits foreign ownership to 40 percent in the manufacturing of explosives, firearms, and military hardware; private radio communication networks; natural resource exploration, development, and utilization (with exceptions); educational institutions (with some exceptions); operation and management of public utilities; operation of commercial deep sea fishing vessels; Philippine government procurement contracts (40 percent for supply of goods and commodities); contracts for the construction and repair of locally funded public works (with some exceptions); ownership of private lands; and rice and corn production and processing (with some exceptions).  Other areas that carry varying foreign ownership ceilings include the following: private employee recruitment firms (25 percent) and advertising agencies (30 percent).

Retail trade enterprises with capital of less than USD 2.5 million, or less than USD 250,000, for retailers of luxury goods, are reserved for Filipinos.  The Philippines allows up to full foreign ownership of insurance adjustment, lending, financing, or investment companies; however, foreign investors are prohibited from owning stock in such enterprises, unless the investor’s home country affords the same reciprocal rights to Filipino investors.

Foreign banks are allowed to establish branches or own up to 100 percent of the voting stock of locally incorporated subsidiaries if they can meet certain requirements.  However, a foreign bank cannot open more than six branches in the Philippines.  A minimum of 60 percent of the total assets of the Philippine banking system should, at all times, remain controlled by majority Philippine-owned banks.  Ownership caps apply to foreign non-bank investors, whose aggregate share should not exceed 40 percent of the total voting stock in a domestic commercial bank and 60 percent of the voting stock in a thrift/rural bank.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted a Trade Policy Review of the Philippines in March 2018 and an Investment Policy Review of the Philippines in 2016, respectively.  The reviews are available online at the WTO website (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp468_e.htm) and OECD website (http://www.oecd.org/daf/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-philippines-2016-9789264254510-en.htm).

Business Facilitation

Business registration in the Philippines is cumbersome due to multiple agencies involved in the process.  It takes an average of 33 days to start a business in Quezon City in Metro Manila, according to the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report.  The Duterte Administrations’ landmark law, Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018 sought to address the issues through the amendment of the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 (https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2018/05/28/republic-act-no-11032/).  It legislates standardized deadlines for government transactions, a single business application form, a one-stop-shop, automation of business permits processing, a zero-contact policy, and a central business databank.  Implementing rules and regulations for the Act was signed in 2019 (http://arta.gov.ph/pages/IRR.html).  It created an Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) under the Office of the President that oversees national policy on anti-red tape issues and implements reforms to improve competitiveness rankings.  It also monitors compliance of agencies and issue notices to erring and non-compliant government employees and officials.  ARTA is governed by a council that includes the Secretaries of Trade and Industry, Finance, Interior and Local Governments, and Information and Communications Technology.  The Department of Trade and Industry serves as interim Secretariat for ARTA.  Since this landmark legislation, the Philippines jumped 29 notches in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranking 95th from its previous 124th rank with the ARTA pushing for the full adoption of an online application system as an efficient alternative to on-site application procedures, issue online permits, and use e-signatures in the processing of government transactions.

The Revised Corporation Code, a business-friendly amendment that encourages entrepreneurship, improves the ease of business and promotes good corporate governance.  This new law amends part of the four-decade-old Corporation Code and allows for existing and future companies to hold a perpetual status of incorporation, compared to the previous 50-year term limit which required renewal.  More importantly, the amendments allow for the formation of one-person corporations, providing more flexibility to conduct business; the old code required all incorporation to have at least five stockholders and provided less protection from liabilities.

Outward Investment

There are no restrictions on outward portfolio investments for Philippine residents, defined to include non-Filipino citizens who have been residing in the country for at least one year; foreign-controlled entities organized under Philippine laws; and branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates of foreign enterprises organized under foreign laws operating in the country.  However, outward investments funded by foreign exchange purchases above USD 60 million or its equivalent per investor per year, require prior notification to the Central Bank.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The Philippines has neither a bilateral investment nor a free trade agreement with the United States, but it utilizes the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP – https://ustr.gov/issue-areas/trade-development/preference-programs/generalized-system-preference-gsp), which is yet to be renewed.  The only bilateral free trade agreement the Philippines has is with Japan.  The Philippines has signed bilateral investment agreements with 37 countries or entities:  Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Kuwait, Mongolia, Myanmar, Netherlands, Pakistan, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

The Philippines is party to ASEAN regional trade agreements, including an investment chapter with trading partners Australia and New Zealand, Republic of Korea, India, Japan, and China.  It also has an investment agreement with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland under the Philippines-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Free Trade Agreement.  On November 15, the Philippines along with 14 other Asia-Pacific countries, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement.  The agreement will be implemented after a ratification process, which could take up to two years.

The Philippines has a tax treaty with United States to avoid double taxation and provide procedures for resolving interpretative disputes and tax enforcement in both countries.  The treaty encourages bilateral trade and investment by allowing the exchange of capital, goods, and services under clearly defined tax rules and, in some cases, preferential tax rates or tax exemptions.

U.S. recipients of royalty income qualify for preferential tax rates (currently 10 percent) under the most favored nation clause of the United States-Philippines tax treaty.  A preferential tax treaty rate of 15 percent applies to dividends and interest income from bona fide loans; and 10 percent on interest income from government bonds.  The Philippine Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that securing a tax treaty relief ruling from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is not a legal requirement to qualify for preferential treatment and tax treaty rates; however, based on experience, tax experts generally still advise filing a tax treaty relief application to avoid potential challenges or controversies.  Despite efforts to streamline processes, taxpayers find documentation requirements for tax treaty relief applications burdensome.  The volume of tax treaty relief applications has resulted in processing delays, with most applications reportedly pending for over a year.  Inconsistent taxation rulings are also a concern.

Given the recent updates on tax rulings, the BIR rules and regulations for tax accounting are yet to be fully harmonized with the Philippine Financial Reporting Standards.  The BIR requires taxpayers to maintain records in case of further audits of financial statements and income tax returns.  Additional information regarding BIR regulations is available on the BIR website (https://www.bir.gov.ph/).

The Philippines and United States signed a reciprocal Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) in July 2015 for automatic exchange of information between tax authorities to implement the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA).  The bilateral agreement has yet to enter into force pending completion of domestic legal remedies to overcome stringent bank secrecy restrictions to the disclosure/sharing of information.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Proposed Philippine laws must undergo public comment and review.  Government agencies are required to craft implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) through public consultation meetings within the government and with private sector representatives after laws are passed.  New regulations must be published in newspapers or in the government’s official gazette, available online, before taking effect (https://www.gov.ph/).  The 2016 Executive Order on Freedom of Information (FOI) mandates full public disclosure and transparency of government operations, with certain exceptions.  The public may request copies of official records through the FOI website (https://www.foi.gov.ph/).  Government offices in the Executive Branch are expected to come up with their respective agencies’ implementation guidelines.  The order is criticized for its long list of exceptions, rendering the policy less effective.

Stakeholders report regulatory enforcement in the Philippines is generally weak, inconsistent, and unpredictable.  Many U.S. investors describe business registration, customs, immigration, and visa procedures as burdensome and frustrating.  Regulatory agencies are generally not statutorily independent but are attached to cabinet departments or the Office of the President and, therefore, are subject to political pressure.  Issues in the judicial system also affect regulatory enforcement.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Philippines is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and provides notice of draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).  (http://tbtims.wto.org/en/Notifications/Search?ProductsCoveredHSCodes=&ProductsCoveredICSCodes=&DoSearch=True&ExpandSearchMoreFields=False&NotifyingMember=Philippines&DocumentSymbol=&DistributionDateFrom=&DistributionDateTo=&SearchTerm=&ProductsCovered=&DescriptionOfContent=&CommentPeriod=&FinalDateForCommentsFrom=&FinalDateForCommentsTo=&ProposedDateOfAdoptionFrom=&ProposedDateOfAdoptionTo=&ProposedDateOfEntryIntoForceFrom=&ProposedDateOfEntryIntoForceTo=).

The Philippines continues to fulfill required regulatory reforms under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).  The Philippines officially joined live operations of the ASEAN Single Window (ASW) on December 30, 2019.  The country’s National Single Window (NSW) now issues an electronic Certificate of Origin via the TRADENET.gov.ph platform, and the NSW is connected to the ASW, allowing for customs efficiencies and better transparency.

The Philippines passed the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act in 2016, which enables the country to largely comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation.  However, the various implementing rules and regulations to execute specific provisions have not been completed by the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs as of April 2020.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Philippines has a mixed legal system of civil, common, Islamic, and customary laws, along with commercial and contractual laws.

The Philippine judicial system is a separate and largely independent branch of the government, made up of the Supreme Court and lower courts.  The Supreme Court is the highest court and sole constitutional body.  More information is available on the court’s website (http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/).  The lower courts consist of:  (a) trial courts with limited jurisdictions (i.e., Municipal Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, etc.); (b) Regional Trial Courts (RTCs); (c) Shari’ah District Courts (Muslim courts); and (d) Court of Appeals (appellate courts).  Special courts include the “Sandiganbayan” (anti-graft court for public officials) and the Court of Tax Appeals.  Several RTCs have been designated as Special Commercial Courts (SCC) to hear intellectual property (IP) cases, with four SCCs authorized to issue writs of search and seizure on IP violations, enforceable nationwide.  In addition, nearly any case can be appealed to appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, increasing caseloads and further clogging the judicial system.

Foreign investors describe the inefficiency and uncertainty of the judicial system as a significant disincentive to investment.  Many investors decline to file dispute cases in court because of slow and complex litigation processes and corruption among some personnel.  The courts are not considered impartial or fair.  Stakeholders also report an inexperienced judiciary when confronted with complex issues such as technology, science, and intellectual property cases.  The Philippines ranked 152nd out of 190 economies, and 18th among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of enforcing contracts.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB) is the ultimate governing body that oversees the administration and grant of tax incentives by investments promotions agencies (IPAs).  It also determines the target performance metrics used as conditions to avail of tax incentives and reviews, approve, and cancels incentives for investments above  USD 20 million as endorsed by IPAs.  The BOI regulates and promotes investment into the Philippines that caters to the domestic market.  The Strategic Investment Priorities Plan (SIPP), identified by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and administered by the BOI, identifies preferred economic activities approved by the President.  Government agencies are encouraged to adopt policies and implement programs consistent with the SIPP.

The Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL) that outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted.  The FINL consists of two parts:  Part A details sectors in which foreign equity participation is restricted by the Philippine Constitution or laws; and Part B lists areas in which foreign ownership is limited for reasons of national security, defense, public health, morals, and/or the protection of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The 1995 Special Economic Zone Act allows PEZAs to regulate and promote investments in export-oriented manufacturing and service facilities inside special economic zones, including grants of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.

Further information about investing in the Philippines is available at BOI website (http://boi.gov.ph/) and PEZA website (http://www.peza.gov.ph).

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The 2015 Philippine competition law established the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), an independent body mandated to resolve complaints on issues such as price fixing and bid rigging, to stop mergers that would restrict competition.  More information is available on PCC website (http://phcc.gov.ph/#content).  The Department of Justice (https://www.doj.gov.ph/) prosecutes criminal offenses involving violations of competition laws.

Expropriation and Compensation

Philippine law allows expropriation of private property for public use or in the interest of national welfare or defense in return for fair market value compensation.  In the event of expropriation, foreign investors have the right to receive compensation in the currency in which the investment was originally made and to remit it at the equivalent exchange rate.  However, the process of agreeing on a mutually acceptable price can be protracted in Philippine courts.  No recent cases of expropriation involve U.S. companies in the Philippines.

The 2016 Right-of-Way Act facilitates acquisition of right-of-way sites for national government infrastructure projects and outlines procedures in providing “just compensation” to owners of expropriated real properties to expedite implementation of government infrastructure programs.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Philippines is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and has adopted the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, or the New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Philippines is signatory to various bilateral investment treaties that recognize international arbitration of investment disputes.  Since 2002, the Philippines has been respondent to five investment dispute cases filed before the ICSID.  Details of cases involving the Philippines are available on the ICSID website (https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/).

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Investment disputes can take years to resolve due to systemic problems in Philippine courts.  Lack of resources, understaffing, and corruption make the already complex court processes protracted and expensive.  Several laws on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms (i.e., arbitration, mediation, negotiation, and conciliation) were approved to decongest clogged court dockets.  Public-Private Partnership (PPP) infrastructure contracts are required to include ADR provisions to make resolving disputes less expensive and time-consuming.

A separate action must be filed for foreign judgments to be recognized or enforced under Philippine law.  Philippine law does not recognize or enforce foreign judgments that run counter to existing laws, particularly those relating to public order, public policy, and good customary practices.  Foreign arbitral awards are enforceable upon application in writing to the regional trial court with jurisdiction.  The petition may be filed any time after receipt of the award.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The 2010 Philippine bankruptcy and insolvency law provides a predictable framework for rehabilitation and liquidation of distressed companies, although an examination of some reported cases suggests uneven implementation.  Rehabilitation may be initiated by debtors or creditors under court-supervised, pre-negotiated, or out-of-court proceedings.  The law sets conditions for voluntary (debtor-initiated) and involuntary (creditor-initiated) liquidation.  It also recognizes cross-border insolvency proceedings in accordance with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, allowing courts to recognize proceedings in a foreign jurisdiction involving a foreign entity with assets in the Philippines.  Regional trial courts designated by the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over insolvency and bankruptcy cases.  The Philippines ranked 65th out of 190 economies, and ninth among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of resolving insolvency and bankruptcy cases.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Philippines’ Investment Priorities Plan (IPP) enumerates investment activities entitled to incentives facilitated by BOI, such as an income tax holiday.  Non-fiscal incentives include the following:  employment of foreign nationals, simplified customs procedures, duty exemption on imported capital equipment and spare parts, importation of consigned equipment, and operation of a bonded manufacturing warehouse.

The 2017 IPP provides incentives to the following activities: manufacturing (e.g., agro-processing, modular housing components, machinery, and equipment); agriculture, fishery, and forestry; integrated circuit design, creative industries, and knowledge-based services (e.g., IT-Business Process Management services for the domestic market, repair/maintenance of aircraft, telecommunications, etc.); healthcare (e.g., hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers); mass housing; infrastructure and logistics (e.g., airports, seaports, and PPP projects); energy (development of energy sources, power generation plants, and ancillary services); innovation drivers (e.g,. fabrication laboratories); and environment (e.g., climate change-related projects).  Further details of the 2017 IPP are available on the BOI website (http://boi.gov.ph/).  The BOI was tasked to update the investment priorities and formulate a Strategic Investment Priorities Plan to replace the IPP in light of the planned amendments in the tax incentive scheme of the Philippines under the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CREATE).

In the current set-up, BOI-registered enterprises that locate in less-developed areas are entitled to pioneer incentives and can deduct 100 percent of the cost of necessary infrastructure work and labor expenses from taxable income.  Pioneer status can be granted to enterprises producing new products or using new methods, goods deemed highly essential to the country’s agricultural self-sufficiency program, or goods utilizing non-conventional fuel sources.  Furthermore, an enterprise with more than 40 percent foreign equity that exports at least 70 percent of its production may be entitled to incentives even if the activity is not listed in the IPP.  Export-oriented firms with at least 50 percent of revenues derived from exports may register for additional incentives under the 1994 Export Development Act.

Multinational entities that establish regional warehouses for the supply of spare parts, manufactured components, or raw materials for foreign markets also enjoy incentives on imports that are re-exported, including exemption from customs duties, internal revenue taxes, and local taxes.  The first package of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law which took effect January 1, 2018, removed the 15 percent special tax rate on gross income of employees of multinational enterprises’ regional headquarters (RHQ) and regional operating headquarters (ROHQ) located in the Philippines.  RHQ and ROHQ employees are now subjected to regular income tax rates, usually at higher and less competitive rates.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Export-related businesses enjoy preferential tax treatment when located in export processing zones, free trade zones, and certain industrial estates, collectively known as economic zones, or ecozones.  Businesses located in ecozones are considered outside customs territory and are allowed to import capital equipment and raw material free of customs duties, taxes, and other import restrictions.  Goods imported into ecozones may be stored, repacked, mixed, or otherwise manipulated without being subject to import duties and are exempt from the Bureau of Customs’ Selective Pre-shipment Advance Classification Scheme.  While some ecozones are designated as both export processing zones and free trade zones, individual businesses within them are only permitted to receive incentives under a single category.

Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA)

PEZA operates 379 ecozones, primarily in manufacturing, IT, tourism, medical tourism, logistics/warehousing, and agro-industrial sectors.  PEZA manages four government-owned export-processing zones (Mactan, Baguio, Cavite, and Pampanga) and administers incentives to enterprises in other privately owned and operated ecozones.  Any person, partnership, corporation, or business organization, regardless of nationality, control and/or ownership, may register as an export, IT, tourism, medical tourism, or agro-industrial enterprise with PEZA, provided the enterprise physically locates its activity inside any of the ecozones.  PEZA administrators have earned a reputation for maintaining a clear and predictable investment environment within the zones of their authority (http://www.peza.gov.ph/index.php/economic-zones/list-of-economic-zones/operating-economic-zones).

Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA)

The ecozones located inside former U.S. military bases were established under the 1992 Bases Conversion and Development Act.  The BCDA (http://www.bcda.gov.ph/) operates Clark Freeport Zone (Angeles City, Pampanga), John Hay Special Economic Zone (Baguio), Poro Point Freeport Zone (La Union), and Bataan Technology Park (Morong, Bataan).  The SBMA operates the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (Subic Bay, Zambales).  Clark and Subic have their own international airports, power plants, telecommunications networks, housing complexes, and tourist facilities.  These ecozones offer comparable incentives to PEZA.  Enterprises already receiving incentives under the BCDA law are disqualified to receive incentives and benefits offered by other laws.

Other Zones

The Phividec Industrial Estate (Misamis Oriental Province, Mindanao) is governed by Phividec Industrial Authority (PIA) (http://www.piamo.gov.ph/), a government-owned and controlled corporation.  Other ecozones are Zamboanga City Economic Zone and Freeport (Zamboanga City, Mindanao) (http://www.zfa.gov.ph/), Cagayan Special Economic Zone (CEZA) and Freeport (Santa Ana, Cagayan Province) (http://ceza.gov.ph/), and Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) (Mariveles, Bataan).  CEZA grants gaming licenses in addition to offering export incentives.  The Regional Economic Zone Authority (Cotabato City, Mindanao) (https://reza.bangsamoro.gov.ph/) has been operated by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).  The FAB is operated by the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB) (https://afab.gov.ph/).  The incentives available to investors in these zones are similar to PEZA but administered independently.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The BOI imposes a higher export performance requirement on foreign-owned enterprises (70 percent of production) than on Philippine-owned companies (50 percent of production) when providing incentives under SIPP.

Companies registered with BOI and PEZA may employ foreign nationals in supervisory, technical, or advisory positions for five years from date of registration (possibly extendable upon request).  Top positions and elective officers of majority foreign-owned BOI-registered enterprises (such as president, general manager, and treasurer, or their equivalents) are exempt from employment term limitation.  Foreigners intending to work locally must secure an Alien Employment Permit from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), renewable every year with the duration of employment (which in no case shall exceed five years).  The BOI and PEZA facilitate special investor’s resident visas with multiple entry privileges and extend visa facilitation assistance to foreign nationals, their spouses, and dependents.

The 2006 Biofuels Act establishes local content requirements for diesel and gasoline.  Regarding diesel, only locally produced biodiesel is permitted.  For gasoline, all local ethanol must be bought off the market before imports are allowed to meet the blend requirement, and the local ethanol production may only be sourced from locally-produced sugar/molasses feedstock.

The Philippines does not impose restrictions on cross-border data transfers.  Sensitive personal information is protected under the 2012 Data Privacy Act, which provides penalties for unauthorized processing and improper disposal of data even if processed outside the Philippines.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Philippines recognizes and protects property rights, but the enforcement of laws is weak and fragmented.  The Land Registration Authority and the Register of Deeds (http://www.lra.gov.ph/), which facilitate the registration and transfer of property titles, are responsible for land administration, with more information available on their websites.  Property registration processes are tedious and costly.  Multiple agencies are involved in property administration, which results in overlapping procedures for land valuation and titling processes.  Record management is weak due to a lack of funds and trained personnel.  Corruption is also prevalent among land administration personnel and the court system is slow to resolve land disputes.  The Philippines ranked 120th out of 190 economies in terms of ease of property registration in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Philippines is not listed on the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Watch List.  The country has a generally robust intellectual property rights (IPR) regime in place, although enforcement is irregular and inconsistent.  The total estimated value of counterfeit goods reported seized in 2020 was USD180 million, lower than 2019’s USD 460 million.  The closure of commercial establishments and a strict three-month lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic,impacted enforcement activities.  The sale of imported counterfeit goods in local markets has visibly decreased, though the amount of counterfeit goods sold online has dramatically increased due to the shift of most businesses to online activities.

The Intellectual Property (IP) Code provides a legal framework for IPR protection, particularly in key areas of patents, trademarks, and copyrights.  The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) is the implementing agency of the IP Code, with more information available on its website (https://www.ipophil.gov.ph/).  The Philippines generally has strong patent and trademark laws.  IPOPHL’s IP Enforcement Office (IEO) reviews IPR-related complaints and visits establishments reportedly engaged in IPR-related violations.  However, weak border protection, corruption, limited enforcement capacity by the government, and lack of clear procedures continue to weaken enforcement.  In addition, IP owners still must assume most enforcement and storage costs when counterfeit goods are seized.

Enforcement actions are often not followed by successful prosecutions.  The slow and capricious judicial system keeps most IP owners from pursuing cases in court.  IP infringement is not considered a major crime in the Philippines and takes a lower priority in court proceedings, especially as the courts become more crowded out with criminal cases deemed more serious, which receive higher priority.  Many IP owners opt for out-of-court settlements (such as ADR) rather than filing a lawsuit that may take years to resolve in the unpredictable Philippine courts.

The IPOPHL has jurisdiction to resolve certain disputes concerning alleged infringement and licensing through its Arbitration and Mediation Center.

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

Resources for Rights Holders

Contacts at Mission:

Douglas Fowler, Economic Officer
Karen Ang, Economic Specialist
Economic Section, U.S. Embassy Manila
Telephone: (+632) 5301.2000
Email: ManilaEcon@state.gov

A list of local lawyers can be found on the U.S. Embassy’s website:  https://ph.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/.

10. Political and Security Environment

Terrorist groups and criminal gangs operate around the country.  The Department of State publishes a consular information sheet and advises all Americans living in or visiting the Philippines to review the information periodically.  A travel advisory is in place for those U.S. citizens contemplating travel to the Philippines.

Terrorist groups, including the ISIS-Philippines affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Maute Group, Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP) and elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), periodically attack civilian targets, kidnap civilians – including foreigners – for ransom, and engage in armed attacks against government security forces.  These groups have mostly carried out their activities in the western and central regions of Mindanao, including the Sulu Archipelago and Sulu Sea.  Groups affiliated with ISIS-Philippines continued efforts to recover from battlefield losses, recruiting and training new members, and staging suicide bombings and attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and small arms that targeted security forces and civilians.

In 2017, ISIS-affiliated groups in Mindanao occupied and held siege to Marawi City for five months, prompting President Duterte to declare martial law over the entire Mindanao region – approximately one-third of the country’s territory.  After granting multiple extensions of over two and a half years, Congress, with support from the government, allowed martial law to lapse on December 31, 2019.  In expressing its support for the decision, the military cited improvement in the security climate in Mindanao, but also noted that Proclamation 55, a national state of emergency declaration, remained in effect and would be used as necessary.

The Philippines’ most significant human rights problems were killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes, security forces, and insurgents; cases of apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process; official corruption; shrinking civic spaces; and a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators.  In 2020, the Philippines has seen a number of arrests and killings of human rights defenders and members of the media.

President Duterte’s administration continued its nationwide campaign against illegal drugs, led primarily by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), which continues to receive worldwide attention for its harsh tactics.  In 2020, the government also renewed focus on  anti-terrorism with a particular emphasis against communist insurgents.  In addition to Philippine military and police actions against the insurgents, the Philippine government also pressured a number of political groups and activists – accusing them of links to the NPA, often without evidence.  The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, signed into law on July 3, intends to prevent, prohibit, and penalize terrorism in the country, although critics question whether law enforcement and prosecutors might be able to use the law to punish political opponents and endanger human rights.

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

The U.S. International Development Finance Corp. (DFC) provides debt financing, partial credit guarantees, political risk insurance, grants, equity investment, and private equity capital to support U.S. investors and their investments.  It does so under a bilateral agreement with the Philippines.  DFC can provide debt financing, in the form of direct loans and loan guarantees, of up to USD 1 billion per project for business investments, preferably with U.S. private sector participation, covering sectors as diverse as tourism, transportation, manufacturing, franchising, power, infrastructure, and others.  DFC political risk insurance for currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and political violence for U.S. and other investments including equity, loans and loan guarantees, technical assistance, leases, and consigned inventory or equipment is also available for business investments in the Philippines.  Grants are available for projects that are already reasonably developed but need additional, limited funding and specific work – for example technical, environment and social, or legal – in order to be bankable and eligible for DFC financing or insurance.  In all cases, DFC support is available only where sufficient or appropriate investment support is unavailable from local or other private sector financial institutions.  In addition, DFC supports fifteen private equity funds that are eligible to invest in projects within the Philippines.

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) ($B USD) 2020 $362.2 2019 $36.8 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 N/A 2019 6,940 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 N/A 2019 $474 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 N/A 2019 1.4% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Host Country Statistical Sources:
Philippine Statistical Authority (http://psa.gov.ph/nap-press-release/data-charts)
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (http://www.bsp.gov.ph/statistics/efs_ext2.asp#FCDU)

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data, as of end-2019
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 52,995 100% Total Outward 9,970 100%
Japan 5,690 30% Singapore 5,033 50%
Netherlands 12,707 24% India 1,499 15%
United States 6,940 13% China 1,064 11%
Hong Kong 4,210 8% Netherlands 719 7%
Canada 2,398 5% United States 474 5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

The Philippine Central Bank does not publish or post inward and outward FDI stock broken down by country.  Total stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that the Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB).  As of the third quarter of 2020, inward direct investment (i.e. liabilities) is USD 95 billion, while outward direct investment (i.e., assets) is USD 61 billion.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets, as of end-2019
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 19,798 100% All Countries 2,242 100% All Countries 17,556 100%
United States 7,522 38% United States 581 26% United States 6,941 40%
Indonesia 3,169 16% Luxembourg 572 26% Indonesia 3,168 18%
Hong Kong 882 4% Ireland 527 24% Cayman Islands 807 5%
Cayman Islands 818 4% Hong Kong 338 15% Hong Kong 544 3%
Luxembourg 575 3% British Virgin Islands 68 3% China 467 3%

The Philippine Central Bank disaggregates data into equity and debt securities but does not publish or post the stock of portfolio investments assets broken down by country.  Total foreign portfolio investment stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB).  As of third quarter 2020, outward portfolio investment (i.e., assets) was USD 30.9 billion, of which USD 3.9 billion was in equity investments and USD 27 billion was in debt securities.

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore maintains an open, heavily trade-dependent economy. The economy is supported through unprecedented government spending and strong supply chains in key sectors, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s predominantly open investment policies support a free market economy while actively managing and sustaining Singapore’s economic development. U.S. companies regularly cite transparency, business-friendly laws, tax structure, customs facilitation, intellectual property protection, and well-developed infrastructure as attractive investment climate features. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report ranked Singapore second overall in “ease of doing business,” while the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore as the most competitive economy globally. Singapore actively enforces its robust anti-corruption laws and typically ranks as the least corrupt country in Asia. In addition, Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index placed Singapore as the third-least corrupt nation globally. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which came into force in 2004, expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and environmental protections.

Singapore has a diversified economy that attracts substantial foreign investment in manufacturing (petrochemical, electronics, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and equipment) and services (financial, trade, and business). The government actively promotes the country as a research and development (R&D) and innovation center for businesses by offering tax incentives, research grants, and partnership opportunities with domestic research agencies. U.S. direct investment in Singapore in 2019 totaled USD 288 billion, primarily in non-bank holding companies, manufacturing, finance, and insurance. Singapore received more than double the U.S. FDI invested in any other Asian nation. The investment outlook was positive due to Singapore’s proximity to Southeast Asia’s developing economies. Singapore remains a regional hub for thousands of multinational companies and continues to maintain its reputation as a world leader in dispute resolution, financing, and project facilitation for regional infrastructure development. In 2020, U.S. companies pledged USD 6.9 billion in future investments (over half of all-investment commitments) in the country’s manufacturing and services sectors.

Singapore is poised to attract future foreign investments in digital innovation, pharmaceutical manufacturing, sustainable development, and cybersecurity. The Government of Singapore (hereafter, “the government”) is investing heavily in automation, artificial intelligence, and integrated systems under its Smart Nation banner and seeks to establish itself as a regional hub for these technologies. Singapore is also a well-established hub for medical research and device manufacturing.

Singapore relies heavily on foreign workers who make up more than 20 percent of the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic was initially concentrated in dormitories for low-wage foreign workers in the construction and marine industries, which resulted in strict quarantine measures that brought the construction sector to a near standstill. The government tightened foreign labor policies in 2020 to encourage firms to improve productivity and employ more Singaporean workers, and lowered most companies’ quotas for mid- and low-skilled foreign workers. Cuts, which primarily target the service sector and foreign workers’ dependents, were taken despite industry concerns about skills gaps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has introduced more programs to partially subsidize wages and the cost to firms of recruiting, hiring, and training local workers

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 3 of 178 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 2 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 8 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 287,951 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 59,590 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore maintains a heavily trade-dependent economy characterized by an open investment regime, with some licensing restrictions in the financial services, professional services, and media sectors. The government was committed to maintaining a free market, but also actively plans Singapore’s economic development, including through a network of state wholly-owned and majority-owned enterprises (SOEs). As of March 31, 2021, the top three Singapore-listed SOEs accounted for 12.3 percent of total capitalization of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Some observers have criticized the dominant role of SOEs in the domestic economy, arguing that they have displaced or suppressed private sector entrepreneurship and investment.

Singapore’s legal framework and public policies are generally favorable toward foreign investors. Foreign investors are not required to enter joint ventures or cede management control to local interests, and local and foreign investors are subject to the same basic laws. Apart from regulatory requirements in some sectors (See also: Limits on National Treatment and Other Restrictions), eligibility for various incentive schemes depends on investment proposals meeting the criteria set by relevant government agencies. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings or capital. The judicial system, which includes international arbitration and mediation centers and a commercial court, upholds the sanctity of contracts, and decisions are generally considered to be transparent and effectively enforced.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead promotion agency that facilitates foreign investment into Singapore ( https:www.edb.gov.sg ). EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development and works with foreign and local businesses by providing information and facilitating introductions and access to government incentives for local and international investments. The government maintains close engagement with investors through the EDB, which provides feedback to other government agencies to ensure that infrastructure and public services remain efficient and cost-competitive. The EDB maintains 18 international offices, including Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

Exceptions to Singapore’s general openness to foreign investment exist in sectors considered critical to national security, including telecommunications, broadcasting, domestic news media, financial services, legal and accounting services, ports, airports, and property ownership. Under Singaporean law, articles of incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in such entities by foreign persons.

Telecommunications 

Since 2000, the Singapore telecommunications market has been fully liberalized. This move has allowed foreign and domestic companies seeking to provide facilities-based (e.g., fixed line or mobile networks) or services-based (e.g., local and international calls and data services over leased networks) telecommunications services to apply for licenses to operate and deploy telecommunication systems and services. Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel) – majority owned by Temasek, a state-owned investment company with the Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder – faces competition in all market segments. However, its main competitors, M1 and StarHub, are also SOEs. In April 2019, Australian company TPG Telecom began rolling out telecommunications services.  Approximately 30 mobile virtual network operator services (MVNOs) have also entered the market. The four Singapore telecommunications companies compete primarily on MVNO partnerships and voice and data plans.

As of April 2021, Singapore has 76 facilities-based operators offering telecommunications services. Since 2007, Singtel has been exempted from dominant licensee obligations for the residential and commercial portions of the retail international telephone services. Singtel is also exempted from dominant licensee obligations for wholesale international telephone services, international managed data, international intellectual property transit, leased satellite bandwidth (including VSAT, DVB-IP, satellite TV Downlink, and Satellite IPLC), terrestrial international private leased circuit, and backhaul services. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) granted Singtel’s exemption after assessing the market for these services had effective competition. IMDA operates as both the regulatory agency and the investment promotion agency for the country’s telecommunications sector. IMDA conducts public consultations on major policy reviews and provides decisions on policy changes to relevant companies.

To facilitate the 5th generation mobile network (5G) technology and service trials, IMDA waived frequency fees for companies interested in conducting 5G trials for equipment testing, research, and assessment of commercial potential. In April 2020, IMDA granted rights to build nationwide 5G networks to Singtel and a joint venture between StarHub and M1. IMDA announced a goal of full 5G coverage by the end of 2025.  These three companies, along with TPG Telecom, are also now permitted to launch smaller, specialized 5G networks to support specialized applications, such as manufacturing and port operations.  Singapore’s government did not hold a traditional spectrum auction, instead charging a moderate, flat fee to operate the networks and evaluating proposals from the MVNOs based on their ability to provide effective coverage, meet regulatory requirements, invest significant financial resources, and address cybersecurity and network resilience concerns. The announcement emphasized the importance of the winning MVNOs using multiple vendors, to ensure security and resilience.  Singapore has committed to being one of the first countries to make 5G services broadly available, and its tightly managed 5G-rollout process continues apace, despite COVID-19.  The government views this as a necessity for a country that prides itself on innovation, even as these private firms worry that the commercial potential does not yet justify the extensive upfront investment necessary to develop new networks.

Media  

The local free-to-air broadcasting, cable, and newspaper sectors are effectively closed to foreign firms. Section 44 of the Broadcasting Act restricts foreign equity ownership of companies broadcasting in Singapore to 49 percent or less, although the act does allow for exceptions. Individuals cannot hold shares that would make up more than five percent of the total votes in a broadcasting company without the government’s prior approval. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act restricts equity ownership (local or foreign) of newspaper companies to less than five percent per shareholder and requires that directors be Singapore citizens. Newspaper companies must issue two classes of shares, ordinary and management, with the latter available only to Singapore citizens or corporations approved by the government. Holders of management shares have an effective veto over selected board decisions.

Singapore regulates content across all major media outlets through IMDA. The government controls the distribution, importation, and sale of media sources and has curtailed or banned the circulation of some foreign publications. Singapore’s leaders have also brought defamation suits against foreign publishers and local government critics, which have resulted in the foreign publishers issuing apologies and paying damages. Several dozen publications remain prohibited under the Undesirable Publications Act, which restricts the import, sale, and circulation of publications that the government considers contrary to public interest. Examples include pornographic magazines, publications by banned religious groups, and publications containing extremist religious views. Following a routine review in 2015, the IMDA predecessor, Media Development Authority, lifted a ban on 240 publications, ranging from decades-old anti-colonial and communist material to adult interest content.

Singaporeans generally face few restrictions on the internet, which is readily accessible. The government, however, subjected all internet content to similar rules and standards as traditional media, as defined by the IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice. Internet service providers are required to ensure that content complies with the code. The IMDA licenses the internet service providers through which local users are required to route their internet connections. However, the IMDA has blocked various websites containing objectionable material, such as pornography and racist and religious-hatred sites. Online news websites that report regularly on Singapore and have a significant reach are individually licensed, which requires adherence to requirements to remove prohibited content within 24 hours of notification from IMDA. Some view this regulation as a way to censor online critics of the government.

In April 2019, the government introduced legislation in Parliament to counter “deliberate online falsehoods.” The legislation, called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) entered into force on October 2, 2019, requires online platforms to publish correction notifications or remove online information that government ministers classify as factually false or misleading, and which they deem likely to threaten national security, diminish public confidence in the government, incite feelings of ill will between people, or influence an election. Non-compliance is punishable by fines and/or imprisonment and the government can use stricter measures such as disabling access to end-users in Singapore and forcing online platforms to disallow persons in question from using its services in Singapore. Opposition politicians, bloggers, and alternative news websites have been the target of the majority of POFMA cases thus far and many of them used U.S. social media platforms. Besides those individuals, U.S. social media companies were issued most POFMA correction orders and complied with them. U.S. media and social media sites continue to operate in Singapore, but a few major players have ceased running political ads after the government announced that it would impose penalties on sites or individuals that spread “misinformation,” as determined by the government.

Pay-Television 

Mediacorp TV is the only free-to-air TV broadcaster and is 100 percent owned by the government via Temasek Holdings (Temasek). Mediacorp reported that its free-to-air channels are viewed weekly by 80 percent of residents. Local pay-TV providers are StarHub and Singtel, which are both partially owned by Temasek or its subsidiaries. Local free-to-air radio broadcasters are Mediacorp Radio Singapore, which is also owned by Temasek Holdings, SPH Radio, owned by the publicly held Singapore Press Holdings, and So Drama! Entertainment, owned by the Singapore Ministry of Defense. BBC World Services is the only foreign free-to-air radio broadcaster in Singapore.

To rectify the high degree of content fragmentation in the Singapore pay-TV market and shift the focus of competition from an exclusivity-centric strategy to other aspects such as service differentiation and competitive packaging, the IMDA implemented cross-carriage measures in 2011, requiring pay-TV companies designated by IMDA to be Receiving Qualified Licensees (RQL) – currently Singtel and StarHub – to cross-carry content subject to exclusive carriage provisions. Correspondingly, Supplying Qualified Licensees (SQLs) with an exclusive contract for a channel are required to carry that content on other RQL pay-TV companies. In February 2019, the IMDA proposed to continue the current cross-carriage measures. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) has expressed concern this measure restricts copyright exclusivity. Content providers consider the measures an unnecessary interference in a competitive market that denies content holders the ability to negotiate freely in the marketplace, and an interference with their ability to manage and protect their intellectual property. More common content is now available across the different pay-TV platforms, and the operators are beginning to differentiate themselves by originating their own content, offering subscribed content online via personal and tablet computers, and delivering content via fiber networks.

Streaming services have entered the market, which MPA has found leads to a significant reduction in intellectual property infringements. StarHub and Singtel have both partnered with multiple content providers, including U.S. companies, to provide streaming content in Singapore and around the region.

Banking and Finance 

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) regulates all banking activities as provided for under the Banking Act. Singapore maintains legal distinctions between foreign and local banks and the type of license (i.e., full service, wholesale, and offshore banks) held by foreign commercial banks. As of April 2021, 30 foreign full-service licensees and 90 wholesale banks operated in Singapore. An additional 24 merchant banks are licensed to conduct corporate finance, investment banking, and other fee-based activities. Offshore and wholesale banks are not allowed to operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities. Only full banks and “Qualifying Full Banks” (QFBs) can operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities but are subject to restrictions on their number of places of business, ATMs, and ATM networks. Additional QFB licenses may be granted to a subset of full banks, which provide greater branching privileges and greater access to the retail market than other full banks. As of April 2021, there are 10 banks operating QFB licenses. China Construction Bank received the most recent QFB award in December 2020.

Following a series of public consultations conducted by MAS over a three year period, the Banking Act 2020 came into operation on February 14, 2020. The amendments include, among other things, the removal of the Domestic Banking Unit (DBU) and Asian Currency Unit (ACU) divide, consolidation of the regulatory framework of merchant banks, expansion of the grounds for revoking bank licenses and strengthening oversight of banks’ outsourcing arrangements. Newly granted digital banking licenses under foreign ownership apply only to wholesale transactions.

The government initiated a banking liberalization program in 1999 to ease restrictions on foreign banks and has supplemented this with phased-in provisions under the USSFTA, including removal of a 40 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of local banks and a 20 percent aggregate foreign shareholding limit on finance companies. The minister in charge of MAS must approve the merger or takeover of a local bank or financial holding company, as well as the acquisition of voting shares in such institutions above specific thresholds of 5, 12, or 20 percent of shareholdings.

Although Singapore’s government has lifted the formal ceilings on foreign ownership of local banks and finance companies, the approval for controllers of local banks ensures that this control rests with individuals or groups whose interests are aligned with the long-term interests of the Singapore economy and Singapore’s national interests. Of the 30 full-service licenses granted to foreign banks, three have gone to U.S. banks. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, only one U.S.-licensed full-service banks has obtained QFB status. U.S. and foreign full-service banks with QFB status can freely relocate existing branches and share ATMs among themselves. They can also provide electronic funds transfer and point-of-sale debit services and accept services related to Singapore’s compulsory pension fund. In 2007, Singapore lifted the quota on new licenses for U.S. wholesale banks.

Locally and non-locally incorporated subsidiaries of U.S. full-service banks with QFB status can apply for access to local ATM networks. However, no U.S. bank has come to a commercial agreement to gain such access. Despite liberalization, U.S. and other foreign banks in the domestic retail-banking sector still face barriers. Under the enhanced QFB program launched in 2012, MAS requires QFBs it deems systemically significant to incorporate locally. If those locally incorporated entities are deemed “significantly rooted” in Singapore, with a majority of Singaporean or permanent resident members, Singapore may grant approval for an additional 25 places of business, of which up to ten may be branches. Local retail banks do not face similar constraints on customer service locations or access to the local ATM network. As noted above, U.S. banks are not subject to quotas on service locations under the terms of the USSFTA.

Credit card holders from U.S. banks incorporated in Singapore cannot access their accounts through the local ATM networks. They are also unable to access their accounts for cash withdrawals, transfers, or bill payments at ATMs operated by banks other than those operated by their own bank or at foreign banks’ shared ATM network. Nevertheless, full-service foreign banks have made significant inroads in other retail banking areas, with substantial market share in products like credit cards and personal and housing loans.

In January 2019, MAS announced the passage of the Payment Services Bill after soliciting public feedback. The bill requires more payment services such as digital payment tokens, dealing in virtual currency, and merchant acquisition, to be licensed and regulated by MAS. In order to reduce the risk of misuse for illicit purposes, the new law also limits the amount of funds that can be held in or transferred out of a personal payment account (e.g., mobile wallets) in a year. Regulations are tailored to the type of activity preformed and addresses issues related to terrorism financing, money laundering, and cyber risks. In December 2020, MAS granted four digital bank licenses: two to Sea Limited and a Grab/Singtel consortium for full retail banking and two to Ant Group and the Greenland consortium (a China-based conglomerate).

Singapore has no trading restrictions on foreign-owned stockbrokers. There is no cap on the aggregate investment by foreigners regarding the paid-up capital of dealers that are members of the SGX. Direct registration of foreign mutual funds is allowed provided MAS approves the prospectus and the fund. The USSFTA relaxed conditions foreign asset managers must meet in order to offer products under the government-managed compulsory pension fund (Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme).

Legal Services 

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) under the Ministry of Law oversees the regulation, licensing, and compliance of all law practice entities and the registration of foreign lawyers in Singapore. Foreign law firms with a licensed Foreign Law Practice (FLP) may offer the full range of legal services in foreign law and international law, but cannot practice Singapore law except in the context of international commercial arbitration. U.S. and foreign attorneys are allowed to represent parties in arbitration without the need for a Singapore attorney to be present. To offer Singapore law, FLPs require either a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license, a Joint Law Venture (JLV) with a Singapore Law Practice (SLP), or a Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with a SLP. The vast majority of Singapore’s 130 foreign law firms operate FLPs, while QFLPs and JLVs each number in the single digits.

The QFLP licenses allow foreign law firms to practice in permitted areas of Singapore law, which excludes constitutional and administrative law, conveyancing, criminal law, family law, succession law, and trust law. As of December 2020, there are nine QFLPs in Singapore, including five U.S. firms. In January 2019, the Ministry of Law announced the deferral to 2020 of the decision to renew the licenses of five QFLPs, which were set to expire in 2019, so the government can better assess their contribution to Singapore along with the other four firms whose licenses were also extended to 2020. Decisions on the renewal considers the firms’ quantitative and qualitative performance such as the value of work that the Singapore office will generate, the extent to which the Singapore office will function as the firm’s headquarter for the region, the firm’s contributions to Singapore, and the firm’s proposal for the new license period.

A JLV is a collaboration between a Foreign Law Practice and Singapore Law Practice, which may be constituted as a partnership or company. The director of legal services in the LSRA will consider all the relevant circumstances including the proposed structure and its overall suitability to achieve the objectives for which Joint Law Ventures are permitted to be established. There is no clear indication on the percentage of shares that each JLV partner may hold in the JLV.

Law degrees from designated U.S., British, Australian, and New Zealand universities are recognized for purposes of admission to practice law in Singapore. Under the USSFTA, Singapore recognizes law degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Michigan. Singapore will admit to the Singapore Bar law school graduates of those designated universities who are Singapore citizens or permanent residents, and ranked among the top 70 percent of their graduating class or have obtained lower-second class honors (under the British system).

Engineering and Architectural Services 

Engineering and architectural firms can be 100 percent foreign-owned. Engineers and architects are required to register with the Professional Engineers Board and the Board of Architects, respectively, to practice in Singapore. All applicants (both local and foreign) must have at least four years of practical experience in engineering, of which two are acquired in Singapore. Alternatively, students can attend two years of practical training in architectural works and pass written and/or oral examinations set by the respective board.

Accounting and Tax Services 

Many major international accounting firms operate in Singapore. Registration as a public accountant under the Accountants Act is required to provide public accountancy services (i.e., the audit and reporting on financial statements and other acts that are required by any written law to be done by a public accountant) in Singapore, although registration as a public accountant is not required to provide other accountancy services, such as accounting, tax, and corporate advisory work. All accounting entities that provide public accountancy services must be approved under the Accountants Act and their supply of public accountancy services in Singapore must be under the control and management of partners or directors who are public accountants ordinarily resident in Singapore. In addition, if the accounting entity firm has two partners or directors, at least one of them must be a public accountant. If the business entity has more than two accounting partners or directors, two-thirds of the partners or directors must be public accountants.

Energy 

Singapore further liberalized its gas market with the amendment of the Gas Act and implementation of a Gas Network Code in 2008, which were designed to give gas retailers and importers direct access to the onshore gas pipeline infrastructure. However, key parts of the local gas market, such as town gas retailing and gas transportation through pipelines remain controlled by incumbent Singaporean firms. Singapore has sought to grow its supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd (acquired by Royal Dutch Shell in February 2016) was appointed in 2008 as the first aggregator with an exclusive franchise to import LNG to be sold in its re-gasified form in Singapore. In October 2017, Shell Eastern Trading Pte Ltd and Pavilion Gase Pte Ltd were awarded import licenses to market up to 1 million tons per annum or for three years, whichever occurs first. This also marked the conclusion of the first exclusive franchise awarded to BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd.

Beginning in November 2018 and concluding in May 2019, Singapore launched an open electricity market (OEM). Previously, Singapore Power was the only electricity retailer. As of October 2019, 40 percent of resident consumers had switched to a new electricity retailer and were saving between 20 and 30 percent on their monthly bills.  During the second half of 2020, the government significantly reduced tariffs for household consumption and encouraged consumer OEM adoption. To participate in OEM, licensed retailers must satisfy additional credit, technical, and financial requirements set by Energy Market Authority in order to sell electricity to households and small businesses. There are two types of electricity retailers: Market Participant Retailers (MPRs) and Non-Market Participant Retailers (NMPRs). MPRs have to be registered with the Energy Market Company (EMC) to purchase electricity from the National Electricity Market of Singapore (NEMS) to sell to contestable consumers. NMPRs need not register with EMC to participate in the NEMS since they will purchase electricity indirectly from the NEMS through the Market Support Services Licensee (MSSL). As of April 2020, there were 12 retailers in the market, including foreign and local entities.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and local entities may readily establish, operate, and dispose of their own enterprises in Singapore subject to certain requirements. A foreigner who wants to incorporate a company in Singapore is required to appoint a local resident director; foreigners may continue to reside outside of Singapore. Foreigners who wish to incorporate a company and be present in Singapore to manage its operations are strongly advised to seek approval from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before incorporation. Except for representative offices (where foreign firms maintain a local representative but do not conduct commercial transactions in Singapore) there are no restrictions on carrying out remunerative activities. As of October 2017, foreign companies may seek to transfer their place of registration and be registered as companies limited by shares in Singapore under Part XA (Transfer of Registration) of the Companies Act ( https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/CoA1967 ). Such transferred foreign companies are subject to the same requirements as locally incorporated companies.

All businesses in Singapore must be registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). Foreign investors can operate their businesses in one of the following forms: sole proprietorship, partnership, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, incorporated company, foreign company branch or representative office. Stricter disclosure requirements were passed in March 2017 requiring foreign company branches registered in Singapore to maintain public registers of their members. All companies incorporated in Singapore, foreign companies, and limited liability partnerships registered in Singapore are also required to maintain beneficial ownership in the form of a register of controllers (generally individuals or legal entities with more than 25 percent interest or control of the companies and foreign companies) aimed at preventing money laundering.

While there is currently no cross-sectional screening process for foreign investments, investors are required to seek approval from specific sector regulators for investments in certain firms. These sectors include energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal services, public accounting services, ports and airports, and property ownership. Under Singapore law, Articles of Incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in corporations by foreign persons.

Singapore does not maintain a formalized investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment. There are no reports of U.S. investors being especially disadvantaged or singled out relative to other foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Singapore underwent a trade policy review with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in July 2016, after which no major policy recommendations were raised. (https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/countries_e/singapore_e.htm )

The OECD and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) released a joint report in February 2019 on the ASEAN-OECD Investment Program. The program aims to foster dialogue and experience sharing between OECD countries and Southeast Asian economies on issues relating to the business and investment climate. The program is implemented through regional policy dialogue, country investment policy reviews, and training seminars. (http://www.oecd.org/investment/countryreviews.htm )

The OECD released a Transfer Pricing Country Profile for Singapore in June 2018. The country profiles focus on countries’ domestic legislation regarding key transfer pricing principles, including the arm’s length principle, transfer pricing methods, comparability analysis, intangible property, intra-group services, cost contribution agreements, transfer pricing documentation, administrative approaches to avoiding and resolving disputes, safe harbors and other implementation measures. (https://www.oecd.org/tax/transfer-pricing/transfer-pricing-country-profile-singapore.pdf)

The OECD released a peer review report in March 2018 on Singapore’s implementation of internationally agreed tax standards under Action Plan 14 of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project. Action 14 strengthens the effectiveness and efficiency of the mutual agreement procedure, a cross-border tax dispute resolution mechanism. (http://www.oecd.org/corruption-integrity/reports/singapore-2018-peer-review-report-transparency-exchange-information-aci.html )

As of April 2021, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has not conducted a policy review of Singapore’s intellectual property rights regime. (http://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/Investment%20Policy%20Reviews/Investment-Policy-Reviews.aspx )

Business Facilitation

Singapore’s online business registration process is clear and efficient and allows foreign companies to register branches. All businesses must be registered with ACRA through Bizfile, its online registration and information retrieval portal ( https://www.bizfile.gov.sg/),  including any individual, firm or corporation that carries out business for a foreign company. Applications are typically processed immediately after the application fee is paid, but could take between 14 to 60 days, if the application is referred to another agency for approval or review. The process of establishing a foreign-owned limited liability company in Singapore is among the fastest in the world.

ACRA ( www.acra.gov.sg ) provides a single window for business registration. Additional regulatory approvals (e.g., licensing or visa requirements) are obtained via individual applications to the respective ministries or statutory boards. Further information and business support on registering a branch of a foreign company is available through the EDB ( https://www.edb.gov.sg/en/how-we-help/setting-up.html ) and GuideMeSingapore, a corporate services firm Hawskford ( https://www.guidemesingapore.com /).

Foreign companies may lease or buy privately or publicly held land in Singapore, though there are some restrictions on foreign property ownership. Foreign companies are free to open and maintain bank accounts in foreign currency. There is no minimum paid-in capital requirement, but at least one subscriber share must be issued for valid consideration at incorporation.

Business facilitation processes provide for fair and equal treatment of women and minorities, and there are no mechanisms that provide special assistance to women and minorities.

Outward Investment

Singapore places no restrictions on domestic investors investing abroad. The government promotes outward investment through Enterprise Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. It provides market information, business contacts, and financial assistance and grants for internationalizing companies. While it has a global reach and runs overseas centers in major cities across the world, a large share of its overseas centers are located in major trading and investment partners and regional markets like China, India, the United States, and ASEAN.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The government establishes clear rules that foster competition. The USSFTA enhances transparency by requiring regulatory authorities to consult with interested parties before issuing regulations, and to provide advance notice and comment periods for proposed rules, as well as to publish all regulations. Singapore’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Rule-making authority is vested in the parliament to pass laws that determine the regulatory scope, purpose, rights and powers of the regulator and the legal framework for the industry. Regulatory authority is vested in government ministries or in statutory boards, which are organizations that have been given autonomy to perform an operational function by legal statutes passed as acts of parliament, and report to a specific ministry. Local laws give regulatory bodies wide discretion to modify regulations and impose new conditions, but in practice agencies use this positively to adapt incentives or other services on a case-by-case basis to meet the needs of foreign as well as domestic companies. Acts of parliament also confer certain powers on a minister or other similar persons or authorities to make rules or regulations in order to put the act into practice; these rules are known as subsidiary legislation.  National-level regulations are the most relevant for foreign businesses. Singapore, being a city-state, has no local or state regulatory layers.

Before a ministry instructs the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to draft a new bill or make an amendment to a bill, the ministry has to seek in-principle approval from the cabinet for the proposed bill. The AGC legislation division advises and helps vet or draft bills in conjunction with policymakers from relevant ministries.  Public and private consultations are often requested for proposed draft legislative amendments. Thereafter, the cabinet’s approval is required before the bill can be introduced in parliament.  All bills passed by parliament (with some exceptions) must be forwarded to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights for scrutiny, and thereafter presented to the President for assent. Only after the President has assented to the bill does it become law.

While ministries or regulatory agencies do conduct internal impact assessments of proposed regulations, there are no criteria used for determining which proposed regulations are subjected to an impact assessment, and there are no specific regulatory impact assessment guidelines. There is no independent agency tasked with reviewing and monitoring regulatory impact assessments and distributing findings to the public. The Ministry of Finance publishes a biennial Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review (http://www.mof.gov.sg/Resources/Singapore-Public-Sector-Outcomes-Review-SPOR ), focusing on broad outcomes and indicators rather than policy evaluation. Results of scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted in review of policies and regulations are not made publicly available.

Industry self-regulation occurs in several areas, including advertising and corporate governance.  Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) (https://asas.org.sg/), an advisory council under the Consumers Association of Singapore, administers the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, which focuses on ensuring that advertisements are legal, decent, and truthful. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange (SGX) Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code. Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code, and, if their practices vary from any provisions of the Code, they must note the reason for the variation and explain how the practices they have adopted are consistent with the intent of the relevant principle. The SGX plays the role of a self-regulatory organization (SRO) in listings, market surveillance, and member supervision to uphold the integrity of the market and ensure participants’ adherence to trading and clearing rules. There have been no reports of discriminatory practices aimed at foreign investors.

Singapore’s legal and accounting procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms and rank similar to the U.S. in international comparisons (http://worldjusticeproject.org/rule-of-law-index ). The prescribed accounting standards for Singapore-incorporated companies applying to be or are listed in the public market, Singapore Exchange, are known as Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS(I)), which are identical to those of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). Non-listed Singapore-incorporated companies can voluntarily apply for SFRS(I). Otherwise, they are required to comply with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS), which are also aligned with those of IASB. For the use of foreign accounting standards, the companies are required to seek approval of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

For foreign companies with primary listings on the Singapore Exchange, the SGX Listing Rules allow the use of alternative standards such as International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or the U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (U.S. GAAP). Accounts prepared in accordance with IFRS or U.S. GAAP need not be reconciled to SFRS(1). Companies with secondary listings on the Singapore Exchange need only reconcile their accounts to SFRS(I), IFRS, or U.S. GAAP.

Notices of proposed legislation to be considered by parliament are published, including the text of the laws, the dates of the readings, and whether or not the laws eventually pass. The government has established a centralized Internet portal (www.reach.gov.sg ) to solicit feedback on selected draft legislation and regulations, a process that is being used with increasing frequency. There is no stipulated consultative period.  Results of consultations are usually consolidated and published on relevant websites. As noted in the “Openness to Foreign Investment” section, some U.S. companies, in particular in the telecommunications and media sectors, are concerned about the government’s lack of transparency in its regulatory and rule-making process.  However, many U.S. firms report they have opportunities to weigh in on pending legislation that affects their industries.  These mechanisms also apply to investment laws and regulations.

The Parliament of Singapore website (https://www.parliament.gov.sg/parliamentary-business/bills-introduced ) publishes a database of all bills introduced, read, and passed in Parliament in chronological order as of 2006. The contents are the actual draft texts of the proposed legislation/legislative amendments. All statutes are also publicly available in the Singapore Statutes Online website (https://sso.agc.gov.sg ). However, there is no centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published. Regulatory actions are published separately on websites of Statutory Boards.

Enforcement of regulatory offences is governed by both acts of parliament and subsidiary legislation. Enforcement powers of government statutory bodies are typically enshrined in the act of Parliament constituting that statutory body. There is accountability to Parliament for enforcement action through question time, where members of parliament may raise questions with the ministers on their respective ministries’ responsibilities.

Singapore’s judicial system and courts serve as the oversight mechanism in respect of executive action (such as the enforcement of regulatory offences) and dispense justice based on law. The Supreme Court, which is made up of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, hears both civil and criminal matters. The Chief Justice heads the Judiciary. The President appoints the Chief Justice, the Judges of Appeal and the Judges of the High Court if she, acting at her discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister.

No systemic regulatory reforms or enforcement reforms relevant to foreign investors were announced in 2020. The Monetary Authority of Singapore focuses enforcement efforts on timely disclosure of corporate information, business conduct of financial advisors, compliance with anti-money laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism requirements, deterring stock market abuse, and insider trading. In March 2019, MAS published its inaugural Enforcement Report detailing enforcement measures and publishes recent enforcement actions on its website (https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/enforcement/enforcement-actions ).

International Regulatory Considerations

Singapore was the 2018 chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is working towards the 2025 ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint aimed at achieving a single market and production base, with a free flow of goods, services, and investment within the region. While ASEAN is working towards regulatory harmonization, there are no regional regulatory systems in place; instead, ASEAN agreements and regulations are enacted through each ASEAN Member State’s domestic regulatory system.  While Singapore has expressed interest in driving intra-regional trade, the dynamics of ASEAN economies are convergent.

The WTO’s 2016 trade policy review notes that Singapore’s guiding principle for standardization is to align national standards with international standards, and Singapore is an elected member of the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Councils. Singapore encourages the direct use of international standards whenever possible. Singapore standards (SS) are developed when there is no appropriate international standard equivalent, or when there is a need to customize standards to meet domestic requirements. At the end of 2015, Singapore had a stock of 553 SS, about 40 percent of which were references to international standards. Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore Food Agency, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry are the three national enquiry points under the TBT Agreement. There are no known reports of omissions in reporting to TBT.

A non-exhaustive list of major international norms and standards referenced or incorporated into the country’s regulatory systems include Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, Common Reporting Standards (CRS), Basel III, EU Dual-Use Export Control Regulation, Exchange of Information on Request, 27 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on labor rights and governance, UN conventions, and WTO agreements.

Singapore is signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The WTO reports that Singapore has fully implemented the TFA (https://www.tfadatabase.org/members/singapore ).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Singapore’s legal system has its roots in English common law and practice and is enforced by courts of law. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. In the 2020 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, it is ranked overall twelfth in the world, first on order and security, third on regulatory enforcement, third in absence of corruption, sixth on civil and criminal justice, twenty-ninth on constraints on government powers, twenty-sixth on open government, and thirty-second on fundamental rights. Singapore’s legal procedures are ranked first in the world in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business sub-indicator on contract enforcement which measures speed, cost, and quality of judicial processes to resolve a commercial dispute. The judicial system remains independent of the executive branch and the executive does not interfere in judiciary matters.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore strives to promote an efficient, business-friendly regulatory environment. Tax, labor, banking and finance, industrial health and safety, arbitration, wage, and training rules and regulations are formulated and reviewed with the interests of both foreign investors and local enterprises in mind. Starting in 2005, a Rules Review Panel, comprising senior civil servants, began overseeing a review of all rules and regulations; this process will be repeated every five years. A Pro-Enterprise Panel of high-level public sector and private sector representatives examines feedback from businesses on regulatory issues and provides recommendations to the government. (https://www.mti.gov.sg/PEP/About)

The Cybersecurity Act, which came into force in August 2018, establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework for cybersecurity. The Act provides the Commissioner of Cyber Security with powers to investigate, prevent, and assess the potential impact of cyber security incidents and threats in Singapore.  These can include requiring persons and organizations to provide requested information, requiring the owner of a computer system to take any action to assist with cyber investigations, directing organizations to remediate cyber incidents, and, if safeguards have been met, authorizing officers to enter premises, and installing software and take possession of computer systems to prevent serious cyber-attacks in the event of severe threat. The Act also establishes a framework for the designation and regulation of Critical Information Infrastructure (CII). Requirements for CII owners include a mandatory incident reporting regime, regular audits and risk assessments, and participation in national cyber security stress tests. In addition, the Act will establish a regulatory regime for cyber security service providers and required licensing for penetration testing and managed security operations center (SOC) monitoring services. U.S. business chambers have expressed concern about the effects of licensing and regularly burdens on compliance costs, insufficient checks and balances on the investigatory powers of the authorities, and the absence of a multidirectional cyber threat sharing framework that includes protections from liability. Under the law, additional measures, such as the Cybersecurity Labelling Scheme, continue to be introduced.  Authorities stress that, “in view of the need to strike a good balance between industry development and cybersecurity needs, the licensing framework will take a light-touch approach.”

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry and is tasked with administering and enforcing the Competition Act. The act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices; abuse of dominance; enforcement and appeals process; and mergers and acquisitions. The Competition Act was enacted in 2004 in accordance with U.S-Singapore FTA commitments, which contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that Singapore’s government linked companies (GLC) will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the FTA. A 2018 addition to the act gives the CCCS additional administrative power to protect consumers against unfair trade practices.

The most recent infringement decision issued by CCCS occurred in January 2019 when three competing hotel operators, including a major British hospitality company, exchanged “commercially sensitive” information. The operators were fined a total financial penalty of $1.1 million for conduct potentially resulting in reduced competitive pressure on the market. No other cases tied to commercial behavior in 2019 or the first quarter of 2020 have received penalties from CCCS.

Expropriation and Compensation

Singapore has not expropriated foreign-owned property and has no laws that force foreign investors to transfer ownership to local interests. Singapore has signed investment promotion and protection agreements with a wide range of countries. These agreements mutually protect nationals or companies of either country against certain non-commercial risks, such as expropriation and nationalization and remain in effect unless otherwise terminated. The USSFTA contains strong investor protection provisions relating to expropriation of private property and the need to follow due process; provisions are in place for an owner to receive compensation based on fair market value. No disputes are pending.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards (1958 New York Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. Singapore acceded to the 1958 New York Convention in August 1986 and gives effect to it via the International Arbitration Act (IAA). The 1958 New York Convention is annexed to the IAA as the Second Schedule. Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention. ( http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3f833e8e-722a-4fca-8393-f35e59ed1440 )

Domestic arbitration in Singapore is governed by the Arbitration Act (Cap 10). The Arbitration Act was enacted to align the laws applicable to domestic arbitration with the model law.

Singapore is also a party to the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, further referred to as the “Convention.” This Convention provides a process for parties to enforce or invoke an international commercial mediated settlement agreement once the conditions and requirements of the Convention are met. Singapore has put in place domestic legislation, the Singapore Convention on Mediation Bill 2020, which was passed in Parliament on 4 February 2020. On 25 February 2020, Singapore and Fiji were the first two countries to deposit their respective instruments of ratification of the Convention at the United Nations Headquarters. The Convention will enter into force six months after the third State deposits its instrument of ratification, acceptance and approval or accession. Singapore’s arbitration center settled a record high number of cases in 2020 and opened a New York City office.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

After Singapore’s accession to the New York Convention of 1958 on August 21, 1986, it re-enacted most of its provisions in Part III of the IAA. By acceding to the New York Convention, Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the Convention. Singapore is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and, under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (RECJA), recognizes judgments made in the United Kingdom, as well as jurisdictions that are part of the Commonwealth and with which Singapore has reciprocal arrangements for the recognition and enforcement of judgments. The Act lists the countries with which such arrangements exist, and of the 53 countries that are members of the Commonwealth, nine have been listed. ( https://sso.agc.gov.sg/SL/RECJA1921-N1?DocDate=19990701 ) Singapore also has reciprocal recognition of foreign judgements with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. The ICSID Convention has an enforcement mechanism for arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 New York Convention. Investor-State dispute settlement provisions in Singapore’s trade agreements, including the USSFTA, refer to ICSIID rules as one of the possible options for resolving disputes. Investor-State arbitration under rules other than ICSID’s would result in an arbitration award that may be enforced using the 1958 New York Convention.

Singapore has had no investment disputes with U.S. persons or other foreign investors in the past ten years that have proceeded to litigation. Any disputes settled by arbitration/mediation would remain confidential. There have been no claims made by U.S. investors under the USSFTA. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors. The government is investing in establishing Singapore as a global mediation hub.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Dispute resolution (DR) institutions include the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), and the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA). Singapore’s extensive dispute resolution institutions and integrated dispute resolution facilities at Maxwell Chambers have contributed to its development as a regional hub for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The SIAC is the major arbitral institution and its increasing caseload reflects Singapore’s policy of encouraging the use of alternative modes of dispute resolution, including arbitration.

Arbitral awards in Singapore, for either domestic or international arbitration, are legally binding and enforceable in Singapore domestic courts, as well as in jurisdictions that have ratified the 1958 New York Convention.

The International Arbitration Act (IAA) regulates international arbitrations in Singapore. Domestic arbitrations are regulated by the Arbitration Act (AA). The IAA is heavily based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, with a few significant differences. For example, arbitration agreements must be in writing. This requirement is deemed to be satisfied if the content is recorded in any form, including electronic communication, regardless of whether the arbitration agreement was concluded orally, by conduct, or by other means (e.g. an arbitration clause in a contract or a separate agreement can be incorporated into a contract by reference). The AA is also primarily based on the UNCITRAL Model Law. There have been no reported complaints about the partiality or transparency of court processes in investment and commercial disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Singapore has bankruptcy laws allowing both debtors and creditors to file a bankruptcy claim. Singapore ranks number 27 for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index. While Singapore performed well in recovery rate and time of recovery following bankruptcies, the country did not score well on cost of proceedings or insolvency frameworks. In particular, the insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for sale of substantial assets of the debtor or approval by the creditors for selection or appointment of the insolvency representative.

Singapore has made several reforms to enhance corporate rescue and restructuring processes, including features from Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Amendments to the Companies Act, which came into force in May 2017, include additional disclosure requirements by debtors, rescue financing provisions, provisions to facilitate the approval of pre-packaged restructurings, increased debtor protections, and cram-down provisions that will allow a scheme to be approved by the court even if a class of creditors oppose the scheme, provided the dissenting class of creditors are not unfairly prejudiced by the scheme.

The Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act passed in 2018, but the expected effective date of the bill has been delayed from the first half of 2019 into 2020. It updates the insolvency legislation and introduces a significant number of new provisions, particularly with respect to corporate insolvency. It mandates licensing, qualifications, standards, and disciplinary measures for insolvency practitioners. It also includes standalone voidable transaction provisions for corporate insolvency and, a new wrongful trading provision. The act allows ‘out of court’ commencement of judicial management, permits judicial managers to assign the proceeds of certain insolvency related claims, restricts the operation of contractual ‘ipso facto clauses’ upon the commencement of certain restructuring and insolvency procedures, and modifies the operation of the scheme of arrangement cross class ‘cram down’ power. Authorities continue to seek public consultations of subsidiary legislation to be drafted under the act.

Two MAS-recognized consumer credit bureaus operate in Singapore: the Credit Bureau (Singapore) Pte Ltd and Experian Credit Bureau Singapore Pte Ltd. U.S. industry advocates enhancements to Singapore’s credit bureau system, in particular, adoption of an open admission system for all lenders, including non-banks. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Singapore. ( https://www.acra.gov.sg/CA_2017/ )

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The EDB is the lead investment promotion agency facilitating foreign investment into Singapore ( https://www.edb.gov.sg ). The EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development, and works with international businesses, both foreign and local, by providing information, connection to partners, and access to government incentives for their investments. The Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore’s lead public sector agency focused on economic-oriented research to advance scientific discovery and innovative technology. ( https://www.a-star.edu.sg ) The National Research Foundation (NRF) provides competitive grants for applied research through an integrated grant management system. ( https://researchgrant.gov.sg/pages/index.aspx ) Various government agencies (including Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS, NRF, and EDB) provide venture capital co-funding for startups and commercialization of intellectual property.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Singapore has nine free-trade zones (FTZs) in five geographical areas operated by three FTZ authorities. The FTZs may be used for storage and repackaging of import and export cargo, and goods transiting Singapore for subsequent re-export. Manufacturing is not carried out within the zones. Foreign and local firms have equal access to the FTZ facilities.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements are applied uniformly and systematically to both domestic and foreign investors. Singapore has no forced localization policy requiring domestic content in goods or technology. The government does not require investors to purchase from local sources or specify a percentage of output for export. There are no rules forcing the transfer of technology. There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. The industry regulator is the IMDA, a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information.

In May 2020, Singapore tightened requirements for hiring foreign workers, including raising minimum salary thresholds and additional enforcement of penalties for employers not giving “fair consideration” to local applicants before hiring foreign workers. Personal data matters are independently overseen by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers and enforces the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) of 2012. The PDPA governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data by the private sector and covers both electronic and non-electronic data. Singapore is currently reviewing the PDPA to ensure that it keeps pace with the evolving needs of businesses and individuals in a digital economy such as introducing an enhanced framework for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data and a mandatory data breach notification regime.

Singapore does not have a data localization policy. Singapore participates in various regional and international frameworks that promote interoperability and harmonization of rules to facilitate cross-border data flows. The ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance (FDFG) is one example. Under FDFG, Singapore will focus on developing model contractual clauses and certification for cross border data flows within the ASEAN region. Another is Singapore’s participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) and Privacy Recognition for Processors systems, to facilitate data transfers for certified organizations across APEC economies.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are enforced in Singapore. Residents have access to mortgages and liens, with reliable recording of properties. In the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, Singapore ranks first in the world in enforcing contracts and number 21st in registering property.

Foreigners are not allowed to purchase public housing in Singapore, and prior approval from the Singapore Land Authority is required to purchase landed residential property and residential land for development. Foreigners can purchase non-landed, private sector housing (e.g., condominiums or any unit within a building) without the need to obtain prior approval. However, they are not allowed to acquire all the apartments or units in a development without prior approval. These restrictions also apply to foreign companies.

There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of industrial and commercial real estate. Since July 2018, foreigners who purchase homes in Singapore are required to pay an additional effective 20 percent tax on top of standard buyer’s taxes. However, U.S. citizens are accorded national treatment under the FTA, meaning only second and subsequent purchases of residential property will be subject to 12 and 15 percent additional duties, equivalent to Singaporean citizens.

The availability of covered bond legislation under MAS Notice 648 has provided an incentive for Singapore financial institutions to issue covered bonds. Under Notice 648, only a bank incorporated in Singapore may issue covered bonds. The three main Singapore banks: DBS, OCBC, and UOB, all have in place covered bond programs, with the issues offered to private investors. The banking industry has made suggestions to allow the use of covered bonds in repossession transactions with the central bank and to increase the encumbrance limit, currently at four percent. ( http://www.mas.gov.sg/regulations/notices/notice-648 )

Intellectual Property Rights

Singapore maintains one of the strongest intellectual property rights regimes in Asia. The chief executive of Singapore’s Intellectual Property Office was elected director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in April 2020. However, some concerns remain in certain areas such as business software piracy, online piracy, and enforcement.

Effective January 1, 2020, all patent applications must be fully examined by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) to ensure that any foreign-granted patents fully satisfy Singapore’s patentability criteria. The Registered Designs (Amendment) Act broadens the scope of registered designs to include virtual designs and color as a design feature and will stipulate the default owner of designs to be the designer of a commissioned design, rather than the commissioning party.

The USSFTA ensures that government agencies will not grant regulatory approvals to patent- infringing products, but Singapore does allow parallel imports. Under the Patents Act, with regards to pharmaceutical products, the patent owner has the right to bring an action to stop an importer of “grey market goods” from importing the patent owner’s patented product, provided that the product has not previously been sold or distributed in Singapore, the importation results in a breach of contract between the proprietor of the patent and any person licensed by the proprietor of the patent to distribute the product outside Singapore and the importer has knowledge of such.

The USSFTA ensures protection of test data and trade secrets submitted to the government for regulatory approval purposes. Disclosure of such information is prohibited. Such data may not be used for approval of the same or similar products without the consent of the party who submitted the data for a period of five years from the date of approval of the pharmaceutical product and 10 years from the date of approval of an agricultural chemical. Singapore has no specific legislation concerning protection of trade secrets. Instead, it protects investors’ commercially valuable proprietary information under common law by the Law of Confidence as well as legislation such as the Penal Code (e.g., theft) and the Computer Misuse Act (e.g., unauthorized access to a computer system to download information). U.S. industry has expressed concern that this provision is inadequate.

As a WTO member, Singapore is party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It is a signatory to other international intellectual property rights agreements, including the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Madrid Protocol, and the Budapest Treaty. The WIPO Secretariat opened a regional office in Singapore in 2005. ( http://www.wipo.int/about-wipo/en/offices/singapore/)  Amendments to the Trademark Act, which were passed in January 2007, fulfilled Singapore’s obligations in WIPO’s revised Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks.

Singapore ranked 11th out of 53 in the world in the 2020 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International Intellectual Property (IP) Index. The index noted that Singapore’s key strengths include an advanced national IP framework and efforts to accelerate research, patent examination, and grants. The index also lauded Singapore as a global leader in patent protection and online copyright enforcement. Despite a decrease in estimated software piracy from 35 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2020, the index noted that piracy levels remain high for a developed, high-income country. Lack of transparency and data on customs seizures of IP-infringing goods is also noted as a key area of weakness.

Singapore does not publicly report the statistics on seizures of counterfeit goods and does not rate highly on enforcement of physical counterfeit goods, online sales of counterfeit goods or digital online piracy, according to the 2018 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index. Singapore is not listed in USTR’s 2020 Special 301 Report, but some Singapore-based online retailers are named in USTR’s 2019 Review of Notorious Markets. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

10. Political and Security Environment

Singapore’s political environment is stable and there is no recent history of incidents involving politically motivated damage to foreign investments in Singapore. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has dominated Singapore’s parliamentary government since 1959 and currently controls 83 of the 89 regularly contested parliamentary seats. Singaporean opposition parties, which currently hold six regularly contested parliamentary seats and three additional seats reserved to the opposition by the constitution, do not usually espouse views that are radically different from mainstream public opinion.

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

Under the 1966 Investment Guarantee Agreement with Singapore, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) offers insurance to U.S. investors in Singapore against currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and losses arising from war.  Singapore became a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1998.  In March 2019, Singapore and the United States signed a MOU aimed at strengthening collaboration between the infrastructure agency of Singapore, Infrastructure Asia, and OPIC.  Under the agreement, both countries will work together on information sharing, deal facilitation, structuring and capacity building initiatives in sectors of mutual interest such as energy, natural resource management, water, waste, transportation, and urban development.  The aim is to enhance Singapore-based and U.S. companies’ access to project opportunities, while building on Singapore’s role as an infrastructure hub in Asia.

Singapore’s domestic public infrastructure projects are funded primarily via Singapore government reserves or capital markets, reducing the scope for direct project financing subsidies by foreign governments.

DFC maintains a regional office in Singapore to better coordinate with Southeast Asia’s leading financial institutions but has no projects in Singapore.

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) 2020 $374,131 2019 $372,063 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $358,888 2019 $287,951 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $18,295 2019 $21,060 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 394.3% 2020 469.3% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report  

* Source for Host Country Data: https://www.singstat.gov.sg/ 

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 1,465,070 100% Not Available Amount 100%
United States 297,065 20% Not Available Amount X%
Cayman Islands 157,225 11% Not Available Amount X%
British Virgin Islands 107,393 7% Not Available Amount X%
Japan 96,282 7% Not Available Amount X%
Bermuda 66,395 5% Not Available Amount X%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 1,421,608 100% All Countries 681,831 100% All Countries 739,777 100%
United States 376,454 26% United States 137,354 20% United States 239,100 32%
China 174,975 12% China 111,997 16% China 62,978 9%
Republic of Korea 60,368 4% Japan 39,856 6% Korea 33,534 5%
India 53,899 4% Cayman Islands 38,030 6% United Kingdom 23,488
Caymen Islands 52,216 4% India 31,684 5% India 22,215 3%

South Korea

Executive Summary

The Republic of Korea (ROK) offers foreign investors political stability, public safety, world-class infrastructure, a highly skilled workforce, and a dynamic private sector.  Following market liberalization measures in the 1990s, foreign portfolio investment has grown steadily, exceeding 36 percent of the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) total market capitalization as of February 2021.

Studies by the Korea International Trade Association, however, have shown that the ROK underperforms in attracting FDI relative to the size and sophistication of its economy due to a complicated, opaque, and country-specific regulatory framework, even as low-cost producers, most notably China, have eroded the ROK’s competitiveness in the manufacturing sector.  A more benign regulatory environment will be crucial to foster innovations such as fifth generation (5G) mobile communications that enable smart manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things – technologies that could fail to mature under restrictive regulations that do not align with global standards.  The ROK government has taken steps to address regulatory issues over the last decade, notably with the establishment of a Foreign Investment Ombudsman to address the concerns of foreign investors.  In 2019, the ROK government created a “regulatory sandbox” program to spur creation of new products in the financial services, energy, and tech sectors.  Industry observers recommend additional procedural steps to improve the investment climate, including Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) and wide solicitation of substantive feedback from foreign investors and other stakeholders.

The revised U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) entered into force January 1, 2019, and helps secure U.S. investors broad access to the ROK market.  Types of investment assets protected under KORUS include equity, debt, concessions, and intellectual property rights.  With a few exceptions, U.S. investors are treated the same as ROK investors in the establishment, acquisition, and operation of investments in the ROK.  Investors may elect to bring claims against the government for alleged breaches of trade rules under a transparent international arbitration mechanism.

The ROK’s COVID-19 response has been exemplary, serving as a global role model.  It has been science-driven, with the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency leading from day one; transparent, with public health experts briefing the public almost every day; and trusted, with public compliance on social distancing guidelines, including universal mask-wearing.  Largely due to successful handling of COVID-19, including through sound fiscal and monetary responses, the ROK was able to manage the pandemic without shutting down the economy, and GDP dropped a mere one percent in 2020.  The ROK government was also aggressive in pursuing economic stimulus, devoting more than USD 220 billion to stimulus in 2020.  As a result, the Korean domestic economy fared better than nearly all its OECD peers.  The risk of a COVID resurgence still looms, and Korea’s export-oriented economy remains vulnerable to external shocks, including supply chain disruptions, going forward.  The attention of the public, the government, and the health establishment has now turned to the task and logistics of mass vaccination.  In late February, the Moon administration launched the vaccination program nationwide, with the goal of achieving herd immunity by November.  President Moon has promised to inoculate all residents for free in 2021, beginning with front-line healthcare workers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 33 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2020
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 5 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 10 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $61,822 https://www.selectusa.gov/servlet/servlet.FileDownload?file=015t0000000LKNs

https://www.bea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/dici0720_0.pdf

World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $33,790 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The ROK government welcomes foreign investment.  In a March 2019 meeting, President Moon Jae-in equated the foreign business community’s success with the Korean economy’s progress.  The ROK government offers incentives to foreign companies bringing in technology and investments contributing to the ROK’s manufacturing sector.  Hurdles for foreign investors in the ROK include regulatory opacity, inconsistent interpretation of regulations, unanticipated regulatory changes, underdeveloped corporate governance, rigid labor policies, Korea-specific consumer protection measures, and the political influence of large conglomerates, known as chaebol.

The 1998 Foreign Investment Promotion Act (FIPA) is the principal law pertaining to foreign investment in the ROK.  FIPA and related regulations categorize business activities as open, conditionally- or partly-restricted, or closed to foreign investment.  FIPA also includes:

  • Simplified procedures to apply to invest in the ROK;
  • Expanded tax incentives for high-technology investments;
  • Reduced rental fees and lengthened lease durations for government land (including local government land);
  • Increased central government support for local FDI incentives;
  • Creation of “Invest KOREA,” a one-stop investment promotion center within the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) to assist foreign investors; and
  • Establishment of a Foreign Investment Ombudsman to assist foreign investors.

The ROK National Assembly website provides a list of laws pertaining to foreigners, including FIPA, in English (http://korea.assembly.go.kr/res/low_03_list.jsp?boardid=1000000037).

The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) facilitates foreign investment through its Invest KOREA office (also on the web at http://investkorea.org).  For investments exceeding 100 million won (about USD 88,000), KOTRA helps investors establish domestically-incorporated foreign-invested companies.  KOTRA and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) organize a yearly Foreign Investment Week to attract investment to South Korea.  In February 2021, Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee met with representatives of foreign-invested firms in the ROK and noted the critical role they play in the ROK economy and job creation.  The ROK’s key official responsible for FDI promotion and retention is the Foreign Investment Ombudsman.  The position is commissioned by the ROK President and heads a grievance resolution body that collects and analyzes concerns from foreign firms; coordinates reforms with relevant administrative agencies; and proposes new policies to promote foreign investment.  More information on the Ombudsman can be found at http://ombudsman.kotra.or.kr/eng/index.do.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own business enterprises and engage in remunerative activity across many sectors of the economy.  However, under the Foreign Exchange Transaction Act (FETA), restrictions on foreign ownership remain for 30 industrial sectors, including three that are closed to foreign investment (see below).  Relevant ministries must approve investments in conditionally- or partially-restricted sectors.  Most applications are processed within five days; cases that require consultation with more than one ministry can take 25 days or longer.  The ROK’s procurement processes comply with the World Trade Organization (WTO) Government Procurement Agreement.

The following is a list of restricted sectors for foreign investment.  Figures in parentheses generally denote the Korean Industrial Classification Code, while those for air transport industries are based on the Civil Aeronautics Laws:

Completely Closed

  •  Nuclear power generation (35111)
  •  Radio broadcasting (60100)
  •  Television broadcasting (60210)

Restricted Sectors (no more than 25 percent foreign equity)

  •  News agency activities (63910)

Restricted Sectors (less than 30 percent foreign equity)

  • Newspaper publication, daily (58121)  (Note: Other newspapers with the same industry code 58121 are restricted to less than 50 percent foreign equity.)
  • Hydroelectric power generation (35112)
  • Thermal power generation (35113)
  • Solar power generation (35114)
  • Other power generation (35119)

Restricted Sectors (no more than 49 percent foreign equity)

  • Newspaper publication, non-daily (58121)  (Note: Daily newspapers with the same industry code 58121 are restricted to less than 30 percent foreign equity.)
  • Television program/content distribution (60221)
  • Cable networks (60222)
  • Satellite and other broadcasting (60229)
  • Wired telephone and other telecommunications (61210)
  • Mobile telephone and other telecommunications (61220)
  • Other telecommunications (61299)

Restricted Sectors (no more than 50 percent foreign equity)

  • Farming of beef cattle (01212)
  • Transmission/distribution of electricity (35120)
  • Wholesale of meat (46313)
  • Coastal water passenger transport (50121)
  • Coastal water freight transport (50122)
  • International air transport (51)
  • Domestic air transport (51)
  • Small air transport (51)
  • Publishing of magazines and periodicals (58122)

Open but Separately Regulated under Relevant Laws

  • Growing of cereal crops and other food crops, except rice and barley (01110)
  • Other inorganic chemistry production, except fuel for nuclear power generation (20129)
  • Other nonferrous metals refining, smelting, and alloying (24219)
  • Domestic commercial banking, except special banking areas (64121)
  • Radioactive waste collection, transportation, and disposal, except radioactive waste management (38240)

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The WTO conducted its seventh Trade Policy Review of the ROK in October 2016.  The Review does not contain any explicit policy recommendations.  It can be found at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp446_e.htm

The ROK has not undergone investment policy reviews from the OECD or United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) within the past three years.

Business Facilitation

Registering a business remains a complex process that varies according to the type of business being established, and requires interaction with KOTRA, court registries, and tax offices.  Foreign corporations can enter the market by establishing a local corporation, local branch, or liaison office.  The establishment of local corporations by a foreign individual or corporation is regulated by FIPA and the Commercial Act; the latter recognizes five types of companies, of which stock companies with multiple shareholders are the most common.  Although registration can be filed online, there is no centralized online location to complete the process.  For small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-enterprises, the online business registration process takes approximately three to four days and is completed through Korean language websites.  Registrations can be completed via the Smart Biz website, https://www.startbiz.go.kr/.  The UN’s Global Enterprise Registration (GER), which evaluates whether a country’s online registration process is clear and complete, awarded Smart Biz 2.5 of 10 possible points and suggested improvements in registering limited liability companies.  The Invest KOREA information portal received 2 of 10 points.  The Korea Commission for Corporate Partnership and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (http://www.mogef.go.kr/) are charged with improving the business environment for minorities and women.  Some local governments provide guaranteed bank loans for women and/or the disabled.

Outward Investment

The ROK does not have any restrictions on outward investment.  The ROK has several institutions to assist small business and middle-market firms with such investments.

  • KOTRA has an Outbound Investment Support Office that provides counseling to ROK firms and holds regular investment information sessions.
  • The ASEAN-Korea Centre, which is primarily funded by the ROK government, provides counseling and business introduction services to Korean SMEs considering investments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
  • The Defense Acquisition Program Administration opened an office in 2019 to advise Korean defense SMEs on exporting unrestricted defense articles.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

As of March 2021, the ROK has 17 FTAs in force, encompassing trade with 57 countries including the United States, and 94 bilateral investment treaties.  The ROK has signed (but not ratified) additional FTAs in 2020 with 15 other countries, including 14 Asian countries under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and a bilateral FTA with Indonesia; negotiations for bilateral FTAs with Cambodia and Israel have concluded, but the agreements are not yet signed.  Ongoing FTA negotiations include an ROK-China-Japan trilateral FTA, and bilateral FTAs with Ecuador, Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur), the Philippines, Russia, and Malaysia.  Negotiations are also in-progress to expand the ROK-China FTA services and investment chapter and to enhance existing FTAs with ASEAN, India, and Chile.  The ROK also agreed to begin FTA negotiations with Uzbekistan, the Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan) and the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Peru, Columbia, and Chile).  Separately, the ROK has entered into negotiations on a possible digital trade agreement with Singapore.  President Moon said in January 2021 his government will examine participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As of March 2021, the ROK had signed bilateral tax agreements with 93 countries.  The ROK National Tax Service has a special unit dedicated to processing Advance Pricing Agreement and Mutual Agreement Procedure requests from North America, Europe, and Australia, as timely processing of these requests has historically been a frequent subject of disputes.  The U.S.-ROK bilateral income tax treaty entered into force in 1979.  A complete list of countries and economies with which South Korea has concluded bilateral investment protection agreements, such as BITs and FTAs with investment chapters, is available at http://www.mofa.go.kr/www/wpge/m_3834/contents.do and http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA.

Despite formal tax agreements and dispute resolution mechanisms, U.S. investors have raised concerns about discrimination and lack of transparency in tax investigations by ROK authorities.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

ROK regulatory transparency has improved, due in part to Korea’s membership in the WTO and negotiated FTAs.  However, the foreign business community continues to face numerous rules and regulations unique to the ROK.  National Assembly legislation on environmental protection or the promotion of SMEs has created new trade barriers that disadvantage foreign companies.  Also, some laws and regulations lack sufficient detail and are subject to differing interpretations by government regulatory officials.  In other cases, ministries issue non-legally binding guidelines on implementation of regulations, yet these become the bases for legal decisions in ROK courts.  Regulatory authorities also issue oral or internal guidelines or other legally-enforceable dictates that prove burdensome for foreign firms.  Intermittent ROK government deregulation plans to eliminate oral guidelines or impose the same level of regulatory review as written regulations have not led to concrete changes.  Despite KORUS FTA provisions designed to address transparency issues, they remain persistent and prominent.

The ROK constitution allows both the legislative and executive branches to introduce bills.  Ministries draft subordinate statutes (presidential decrees, ministerial decrees, and administrative rules), which largely govern the procedural matters addressed by the respective laws.  Administrative agencies shape policies and draft bills on matters within their respective jurisdictions.  Drafting ministries must clearly define policy goals and complete regulatory impact assessments (RIAs).  When a ministry drafts a regulation, it must consult with other relevant ministries before it releases the regulation for public comment.  The constitution also allows local governments to exercise self-rule legislative authority to draft ordinances and rules within the scope of federal acts and subordinate statutes.  The enactment of laws and their subordinate statutes, ranging from the drafting of bills to their promulgation, must follow formal ROK legislative procedures in accordance with the Regulation on Legislative Process enacted by the Ministry of Government Legislation.  Since 2011, all publicly listed companies must follow International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS, or K-IFRS in the ROK).  The Korea Accounting Standards Board facilitates ROK government endorsement and adoption of IFRS and sets accounting standards for companies not subject to IFRS.  According to the Administrative Procedures Act, authorities proposing laws and regulations (acts, presidential decrees, or ministerial decrees) must seek public comments at least 40 days prior to their promulgation.  Regulations are sometimes promulgated after only the minimum required comment period and with minimal consultation with industry.

Regulatory changes originating from legislation proposed by members of the National Assembly are not subject to public comment periods.  As a result, 80 percent of all new regulations are written and passed by the National Assembly without rigorous consideration of possible effects or solicitation of public comments.  The Official Gazette and the websites of relevant ministries and the National Assembly simultaneously post the Korean language text of draft acts and regulations, accompanied by executive summaries, for a 40-day comment period.  Comments are not made public, and firms may struggle to translate complex documentation, analyze, and respond adequately before the expiration of this period.  After the comment period, the Ministry of Government Legislation reviews the laws and regulations to ensure they conform to the constitution and monitors government adherence to the Regulation on Legislative Process.  While the Regulatory Reform Committee (RRC) reviews all laws and regulations to minimize government intervention in the economy and to abolish all economic regulations that fall short of international standards or hamper national competitiveness, the committee has been less active in recent years.

In January 2019, Korea introduced a “regulatory sandbox” program intended to reduce the regulatory burden on companies that seek to test innovative ideas, products, and services.  Depending on the business sector in which a particular proposal falls, either MOTIE, the Ministry of Science and ICT, or the Financial Services Commission manages the program.  The program is open to Korean companies and foreign companies with Korean branch offices.  Websites and applications are only available in Korean.  The business community has welcomed this effort by regulators to spur innovation.

The ROK government enforces regulations through penalties (either fines or criminal charges) in the case of violations of the law.  The government’s enforcement actions can be challenged through an appeal process or administrative litigation.  The CEOs of local branches can be held legally responsible for all actions of their company and at times have been arrested and charged for their companies’ infractions.  Foreign CEOs have cited this as a significant burden to their business operations in Korea.

The ROK’s public finances and debt obligations are generally transparent, with the exception of state-owned enterprise debt.

International Regulatory Considerations

The ROK has revised local regulations to implement commitments under international treaties and trade agreements.  Treaties duly concluded and promulgated in accordance with the constitution and the generally recognized rules of international law are accorded the same standing as domestic laws.  ROK officials consistently express intent to harmonize standards with global norms by benchmarking the United States and the EU.  The U.S., U.K., and Australian governments exchange regulatory reform best practices with the ROK government to encourage local regulators to employ more regulatory analytics, increase transparency, and improve compliance with international standards; however, unique local rules and regulations continue to pose difficulties for foreign companies operating in the ROK.  The ROK is a member of the WTO and notifies the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of all draft technical regulations.  The ROK is also a signatory of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  The ROK amended the ministerial decree of the Customs Act in 2015, creating a committee charged with implementing the TFA.  The ROK is a global leader of modernized and streamlined procedures for transportation and customs clearance.  Industry sources report the Korea Customs Service enforces rules of origin issues largely in compliance with ROK obligations under its free trade agreements.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The ROK legal system is based on civil law.  Subdivisions within the district and high courts govern commercial activities and bankruptcies and enforce property and contractual rights with monetary judgments, usually levied in the domestic currency.  The ROK has a written commercial law, and matters regarding contracts are covered by the Civil Act.  There are also three specialized courts in the ROK: patent, family, and administrative courts.  The ROK court system is independent and not subject to government interference in cases that may affect foreign investors.  Foreign court judgments, with the exception of foreign arbitral rulings that meet certain conditions, are not enforceable in the ROK.  Rulings by district courts can be appealed to higher courts and to the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The ROK has a transparent legal system with a strong rule-of-law tradition and an independent judiciary.  FIPA is the principal basic law pertaining to foreign investment in the ROK.  The Invest KOREA website (http://investkorea.org) provides information on relevant laws, rules, and procedures for foreign investment in the ROK.

Laws and regulations enacted within the past year include:

  • On August 5, 2020, three new data protection laws took effect: the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), the Promotion of Information Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection Act (the “Network Act”), and the Use and Protection of Credit Information Act (the “Credit Information Act”).  These laws are intended to strengthen privacy rights by reducing unnecessary collection of personal information and prohibiting its unauthorized use or disclosure.
  • On April 6, 2021, an amended Labor Standards Act (LSA) took effect. The amendments modify certain restrictions on allowable work hours for employees and add certain health and safety requirements for overtime labor.

Key pending/proposed laws and regulations as of April 2021 include:

  • On September 28, 2020, the Ministry of Justice proposed bills expanding the scope of class action lawsuits and to provide for punitive damages.
  • On December 9, 2020, the National Assembly passed amendments to the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act (TULRAA). The revised TULRAA is intended to bring ROK law into compliance with International Labor Organization standards and is scheduled to take effect on July 6, 2021.
  • On January 6, 2021, the Personal Information Protection Committee (PIPC) of the National Assembly proposed an amendment to the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) to define how businesses may use personal information and to strengthen protection of personal information.
  • On January 8, 2021, the National Assembly passed the Serious Accident Penalty Act (SAPA), to take effect one year after promulgation. The SAPA establishes new health-and-safety obligations for businesses and executives and imposes stiff penalties on those that fail to comply.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act (MRFTA) authorizes the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) to review and regulate competition and consumer safety matters.

KFTC has a broad mandate that includes promoting competition, strengthening consumers’ rights, and creating a suitable environment for SMEs.  In addition to investigating corporate and financial restructuring, the KFTC can levy sizeable administrative fines for violations of law and for failure to cooperate with investigators.  Decisions by KFTC are subject to appeal in Korean courts.  As part of KORUS implementation, KFTC instituted a “consent decree” process in 2014, whereby firms can settle disputes with KFTC without resorting to the court system.

Over the last several years, a number of U.S. firms have raised concerns that KFTC targets foreign companies with aggressive enforcement.  An amendment to the MRFTA in September 2020 improved the administrative decision-making process by the KFTC, including permitting access to confidential business information, limited to outside legal counsel, in order to protect possible trade secrets.

Expropriation and Compensation

The ROK follows generally-accepted principles of international law with respect to expropriation.  ROK law protects foreign-invested enterprise property from expropriation or requisition.  Private property can be expropriated for public purposes such as urban redevelopment, new industrial complexes, or constructing roads, and claimants are afforded due process and compensation.  Private property expropriation in the ROK for public use is generally conducted in a non-discriminatory manner, with claimants compensated at or above market value.  Embassy Seoul is aware of one case in which a U.S. investor filed an investor-state dispute lawsuit in 2018 against the ROK government, claiming that the government had violated the KORUS FTA in expropriating the investor’s land.  The case was dismissed in the ROK judicial system on jurisdictional grounds in September 2019.  The ROK government allotted USD 20 billion in its 2019 budget for land expropriation – a 38 percent increase from the previous year.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The ROK acceded to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1967 and the New York Arbitration Convention in 1973.  While there are no specific domestic laws on enforcement, South Korean courts have made rulings based on the ROK’s membership in the conventions.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The ROK is a member of the International Commercial Arbitration Association and the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.  These bodies can call upon ROK courts to enforce an arbitrated settlement.  When drafting contracts, some firms choose arbitration by a third party such as the International Commercial Arbitration Association.  Companies have access to local expert legal counsel when drawing up contracts with a South Korean entity.  The KORUS FTA contains strong, enforceable investment provisions.  The United States also has a bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with the ROK with general provisions pertaining to business relations and investment.  Foreign court judgments, with the exception of foreign arbitral rulings that meet certain conditions, are not enforceable in the ROK.  There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.  As noted above, one U.S. investor filed an investor-state dispute (ISD) lawsuit in 2018 against the ROK government, claiming that the government had violated the KORUS FTA in expropriating the investor’s land.  The case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds in September 2019.  A U.S. activist fund submitted a notice of arbitration over an ISD pertaining to the KORUS FTA, also in 2018.  This firm claimed to have suffered serious financial losses due to the merger of two large conglomerates, stating the ROK government illicitly intervened by mobilizing the National Pension Service as a large shareholder in the process of approving the merger.  Another U.S. investor filed for arbitration seeking compensation for losses incurred from the same controversial merger.  Both cases are pending before a United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) tribunal.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

ROK civil courts can adjudicate commercial disputes, though foreign firms note the following impediments to litigation:

  • Proceedings are conducted in Korean;
  • ROK law prohibits foreign lawyers who have not passed the Korean Bar Examination from representing clients in ROK courts;
  • Civil procedures common in the United States such as pretrial discovery do not exist in the ROK; and
  • During litigation of a dispute, courts may bar foreign citizens from leaving the country until the court reaches a decision.

Due to the expense and time required to obtain judgement, lawsuits are generally initiated only as a last resort, signaling the end of a business relationship.  ROK law governs commercial activities and bankruptcies, with the judiciary serving as the means to enforce property and contractual rights, usually through monetary judgments levied in the domestic currency.

Firms may also bring commercial disputes before the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board (KCAB).  The Korean Arbitration Act and its implementing rules outline the following sequential steps in the arbitration process: 1) Parties may request the KCAB to act as an informal intermediary to a settlement; 2) if informal arbitration is unsuccessful, either or both parties may request formal arbitration, in which the KCAB appoints a mediator to conduct conciliatory talks for 30 days; and 3) if formal arbitration is unsuccessful, the KCAB assigns an arbitration panel consisting of one-to-three arbitrators to decide the case.  If either party is not resident in the ROK, either may request an arbitrator from a neutral country.  If foreign arbitral awards or foreign court rulings meet the requirements of Civil Procedure Act Article 217, local courts can enforce their terms.  ROK authorities emphasize non-discriminatory arbitration of disputes, but statistics on outcomes are unavailable.  Embassy Seoul is not aware of statistics on court rulings on investment disputes with state-owned enterprises.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Debtor Rehabilitation and Bankruptcy Act (DRBA) stipulates that bankruptcy is a court-managed liquidation procedure where both domestic and foreign entities are afforded equal treatment.  The procedure commences after a filing by a debtor, creditor, or a group of creditors, and determination by the court that a company is bankrupt.  The court designates a Custodial Committee to take an accounting of the debtor’s assets, claims, and contracts.  The Custodial Committee may grant voting rights among creditors.  Shareholders and contract holders may retain their rights and responsibilities based on shareholdings and contract terms.  The World Bank ranked ROK policies and mechanisms to address insolvency 11th among 190 economies in its 2020 Doing Business report.  Debtors may be subject to arrest once a bankruptcy petition has been filed, even if the debtor has not been declared bankrupt.  Individuals found guilty of negligent or false bankruptcy are subject to criminal penalties.  The Seoul Bankruptcy Court (SBC) has nationwide jurisdiction to hear major bankruptcy or rehabilitation cases and to provide effective, specialized, and consistent guidance in bankruptcy proceedings.  Any Korean company with debt equal to or above KRW 50 billion (about USD 44 million) and/or 300 or more creditors may file for bankruptcy rehabilitation with the SBC.  Thirteen local district courts continue to oversee smaller bankruptcy cases in areas outside Seoul.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The ROK government provides the following general incentives for foreign investors:

  • Cash incentives for qualified foreign investments in free trade zones, foreign investment zones, free economic zones, industrial complexes, and similar facilities;
  • Tax and cash incentives for the creation and expansion of workplaces for high-tech businesses, factories, and research and development centers;
  • Reduced rent for land and site preparation;
  • Grants for establishment of community facilities for foreigners;
  • Reduced rent for state or public property; and
  • Preferential financial support for investing in major infrastructure projects.

Additionally, the ROK government provides incentives for investments that would increase ROK-based production of materials, parts, and equipment in six critical industrial sectors: semiconductors, displays, automobiles, electronics, machinery, and chemicals.  The Seoul Metropolitan government provides separate support for SMEs, high-technology businesses, and the biomedical industry.

Note that corporate tax exemption for foreign direct investment is limited to firms registered by the end of 2018.  The ROK government does not issue guarantees or jointly finance foreign direct investment projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF) administers tax and other incentives to stimulate advanced technology transfer and investment in high-technology services.  There are three types of special areas for foreign investment – Free Economic Zones, Free Investment Zones, and Tariff-Free Zones – where favorable tax incentives and other support for investors are available.  The ROK aims to attract more foreign investment by promoting its seven Free Economic Zones: Incheon (near Incheon airport); Busan/Jinhae (in South Gyeongsang Province); Gwangyang Bay (in South Gyeongsang Province); Gyeonggi (in Gyeonggi Province); Daegu/Gyeongbuk (in North Gyeongsang Province); East Coast (in Donghae and Gangneung); and Chungbuk (in North Chungcheong Province).  Additional information is available at http://www.fez.go.kr/global/en/index.do.  There are also 26 Foreign Investment Zones designated by local governments to accommodate industrial sites for foreign investors.  Special considerations for foreign investors vary among these zones.  In addition, there are four foreign-exclusive industrial complexes in Gyeonggi Province designed to provide inexpensive land, with the national and local governments providing assistance for leasing or selling in the sites at discounted rates.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no ROK requirements that firms hire local workers.  Foreigners planning to work during their stay in the ROK are required by law to apply for a visa.  Sponsoring employers file work permits and visa applications.  Hiring firms are required to confirm that prospective employees of foreign nationality have a valid work permit prior to making a job offer.  Once approved, the Ministry of Justice will issue a Certificate of Confirmation of Visa Issuance (CCVI) to the foreign worker.  The worker submits this certificate with the relevant visa application forms to the ROK embassy or consulate in the applicant’s country of residence.  Work visas are usually valid for one year, and issuance generally takes two to four weeks.  Changing a tourist visa to a work visa is not possible within the ROK; applicants for work visas must submit their applications to an ROK embassy or consulate.  The ROK has not imposed performance requirements on new foreign investment since 1992; there are no performance requirements regarding local content, local jobs, R&D activity, or domestic shares in the company’s capital.  Other conditions to invest in the ROK are elaborated in FIPA.

Recent ROK-specific security regulations on the use of cloud computing by public services (broadly defined) effectively deter U.S. firms from offering cloud services in the ROK.  In January 2016, the ROK government announced guidelines requiring Common Criteria Certification for cloud computing services for ROK government agencies or public institutions; the IT Security Certification Center may require disclosure of source code as part of Common Criteria Certification, which renders it difficult for U.S. cloud service providers to enter the Korean public cloud market.  Furthermore, restrictive ROK data privacy law governs any companies that collect, use, transfer, outsource, or process personal information.  The Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) imposes strict conditions on transferring personal information out of the country, requiring data controllers to obtain each end-user’s consent to transfer personal information out of the ROK.  In the case of overseas transfer of personal information for the purpose of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) outsourcing, the data controller may forgo obtaining each individual’s consent if the data controller discloses in its privacy policy certain information about the overseas transfer, including the purpose and destination of the overseas transfer; similar requirements apply to transfer of personal information of end-users to a third party within the ROK.  In addition, regulations prohibit financial companies in the ROK from transferring customers’ personal information and related financial transaction data overseas.  As such, this financial transaction data cannot be outsourced to overseas ICT vendors, and financial companies in the ROK must store customers’ financial transaction data locally in the ROK.  The Financial Services Commission sets Korea’s financial policies and directs the Financial Supervisory Service in the enforcement of those policies.  The ROK government and legislature are considering further restrictions on the use of personal information.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are enforced under the Civil Act.  The Alien Land Acquisition Act (amended in 1998) extends to non-resident foreigners and foreign corporations the same rights as Koreans in land purchase and use.  The Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) Act supports indirect investments in real estate and restructuring of corporations.  The REIT Act allows investors to invest funds through an asset management company and in real property such as office buildings, business parks, shopping malls, hotels, and serviced apartments.  Property rights are enforced, and there is a reliable system for registering mortgages and liens, managed by the courts.  Legally-purchased property cannot revert to other owners.  Squatters may have limited rights to cultivation of unoccupied land.

Intellectual Property Rights

Four ROK ministries share responsibility for protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR):  The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST); the Korea Copyright Protection Agency (KCOPA); the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO); and the Korea Customs Service (KCS).  Since being removed from USTR’s Special 301 Watch List in 2009, the ROK has become a regional leader of legal IPR frameworks  and enforcement of IPR.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced in January 2021 a plan to fully revise the Copyright Act to reflect a move toward online platforms.  The amendments aim to implement a system of extended collective licensing, remuneration management, adoption of rights of publicity, updated concepts of digital transmission, and data mining for promotion of machine learning and big data analysis.

Industry sources have expressed overall satisfaction with the ROK legal framework, calling the ROK a model for IPR protection in Asia.  In July 2019, an amendment to the Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act entered into force with the following broad effects: Reduced requirements for secrecy by information owners, broadened scope of what constitutes “theft,” and increased statutory punishments for trade secret theft.  KIPO suspended 10,446 online transactions in 2020, up from 7,662 cases in 2019, and closed 394 illegal online shopping malls in 2020, up from 340 in 2019.  Since April 2019, KIPO rewards private citizens for reporting counterfeit goods for sale online, identifying 121,536 cases in 2019 and 126,542 in 2020.  KCS handled 176 border enforcement cases in 2020 for goods worth an estimated USD 237 million.  Trademark enforcement accounted for over 88 percent of cases, mostly for counterfeit watches, handbags, and apparel.  KCS focused its enforcement efforts on online overseas direct purchases, which rose 40 percent by volume and 20 percent by value year-on-year in 2020.  KCS also promoted IPR protection by posting public service announcements on public transportation and social media.

Some industry sources have expressed concern that the ROK’s low prosecution-to-indictment ratio in IPR violation cases, light sentencing standards, and low punitive damage assessments may not sufficiently deter infringement activity.  Stakeholders continue to express concern about Korea’s pharmaceutical reimbursement policy, specifically that it is not conducted in a fair and transparent manner that fully recognizes the value of innovation.

The ROK was not listed in the 2020 Special 301 Report, nor were any ROK-based physical or online markets included in the 2019 Notorious Markets List.  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/.

10. Political and Security Environment

Relations between the ROK and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are tense despite rapprochement efforts in 2018, and the two Koreas maintain one of the world’s most heavily-fortified borders.  The United States has had a security alliance with the ROK since 1953, with over 28,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in the ROK.  The presence of U.S. forces has ensured stability on the Korean Peninsula since 1953 and has enabled the ROK to grow into a modern, prosperous democracy boasting one of the world’s largest economies in 2020.  The two Koreas committed at an April 2018 inter-Korean summit to reduce military tensions on the border and to work toward a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.  Likewise, in the June 2018 Singapore Summit between former President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, the United States and DPRK agreed to work toward the transformation of U.S.-DPRK relations, the construction of a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the recovery and repatriation of POW/MIA remains from the Korean War.  A subsequent summit in Hanoi in February 2019 and a meeting at the inter-Korean Joint Security Area in June 2019 did not result in further breakthroughs.

The ROK’s relations with Japan remained strained in 2021, primarily due to the ROK Supreme Court’s 2018 decisions directing Japanese companies to compensate South Koreans subjected to forced labor during World War II, including the court-directed seizure of defendant company assets, as well as Japan’s subsequent tightening of export controls against the ROK in 2019.   This prompted consumer boycotts in the ROK against Japanese goods, causing a significant drop in local sales for certain products, including beer and automobiles, as well as at certain Japanese retail chains.

Public health experts and economists gave the ROK government under President Moon Jae-in overall high marks on its management of the COVID-19 pandemic, as infections were kept to lower levels than many other OECD countries without the adoption of draconian restrictions.  In the first few years of the Moon administration the ruling Democratic Party (DP), with its near-super majority in the National Assembly, was able to unilaterally advance many of its policy priorities, particularly in the area of judicial reform.  By the start of 2021, steep rises in the price of housing and a string of scandals involving Moon’s senior officials and DP lawmakers, including a high-profile land speculation scandal that broke weeks before key by-elections in Seoul and Busan, damaged the standing of the ruling party and resulted in rising public support for the main opposition People Power Party.  Nevertheless, the Moon administration welcomed the arrival of the Biden-Harris administration and its renewed focus on strengthening strategic alliances, with both governments exploring renewed cooperation in topics such as climate change, public health, supply chain cooperation, and cyber issues.

The ROK does not have a history of political violence directed against foreign investors.  There have not been reports of politically-motivated threats of damage to foreign-invested projects or foreign-affiliated installations of any sort, nor of any incidents that might be interpreted as having targeted foreign investments.  Labor violence unrelated to the issue of foreign ownership, however, has occurred in foreign-owned facilities in the past.  There have also been protests in the past directed at U.S. economic, political, and military interests (e.g., beef imports in 2008 or deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense in 2017 with protests continuing into 2021).  The ROK is a modern democracy with active public political participation, and well-organized political demonstrations are common.  For example, large-scale rallies were a regular occurrence throughout former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment proceedings in 2016 and 2017.  The protests were peaceful and orderly.  The presidential by-election and transition that followed Park’s impeachment proceeded smoothly and without incident.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 1,646,330 2019 $1,646,739 https://data.worldbank.org/country/korea-rep
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $35,933 2019 $39,105 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $120,808 2019 $61,822 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 13.6% 2019 14.5% UNCTAD data available at

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

*ROK Sources: GDP – http://ecos.bok.or.kr (as of March 2021); inbound FDI – http://www.motie.go.kr (as of March 2021); outbound FDI – http://www.koreaexim.go.kr (as of March 2021); portfolio investment – http://www.fss.or.kr (as of March 2021)

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 $219,137 100% Total Outward $418,832 100%
Japan $53,951 24.6% United States $100,239 23.9%
United States $35,102 16% China, P.R. (Mainland) $82,323 19.7%
Netherlands $20,249 9.2% Vietnam $24,501 5.8%
Singapore $16,287 7.4% Cayman Islands $18,764 4.5%
United Kingdom $15,535 7% Singapore $18,653 4.5%

Note that ROK data differs significantly due to different calculation methods and data sources. 

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $572,011 100% All Countries $344,704 100% All Countries $227,308 100%
United States $254,129 44% United States $161,543 47% United States $92,586 41%
United Kingdom $36,100 6% Luxembourg $24,458 7% France $18,724 8%
Luxembourg $30,373 5% Japan $19,396 6% United Kingdom $16,901 7%
France $27,897 5% United Kingdom $19,199 6% Brazil $10,538 5%
Japan $26,878 5% Cayman Islands $14,024 4% Australia $9,944 4%

Note that ROK data differs significantly due to different calculation methods and data sources.

Taiwan

Executive Summary

Taiwan is an important market in regional and global trade and investment. It is one of the world’s top 25 economies in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) and was the United States’ 9th largest trading partner in 2020. An export-dependent economy of 23 million people with a highly skilled workforce, Taiwan is also a critical link in global supply chains, a central hub for shipments and transshipments in East Asia, and a major center for advanced research and development (R&D).

Taiwan welcomes and actively courts foreign direct investment (FDI) and partnerships with U.S. and other foreign firms. The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen aims to promote economic growth in part by increasing domestic investment and FDI. Taiwan authorities offer investment incentives and seek to leverage Taiwan’s strengths in advanced technology, manufacturing, and R&D. Expanded investment by the central authorities in physical and digital infrastructure across Taiwan complements this investment promotion strategy. The authorities convene a monthly interagency meeting to address common investment issues, such as land scarcity. Some Taiwan and foreign investors regard Taiwan as a strategic relocation alternative to insulate themselves against potential supply chain disruptions resulting from regional trade frictions. In January 2019, the Taiwan authorities launched a reshoring initiative to lure Taiwanese companies to shift production back to Taiwan from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in response to rising tariffs on Taiwan’s critical electronics manufacturing industry and to diversify risks.

Taiwan’s finance, wholesale and retail, and electronics sectors remain top targets of inward FDI. Taiwan attracts a wide range of U.S. investors, including in advanced technology, digital, traditional manufacturing, and services sectors. The United States is Taiwan’s second-largest single source of FDI after the Netherlands, through which some U.S. firms choose to invest. In 2019, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data, the total stock of U.S. FDI in Taiwan reached USD 17.3 billion. U.S. services exports to Taiwan totaled USD 8.9 billion in 2020. Leading services exports from the United States to Taiwan were intellectual property, transport, and financial services.

Structural impediments in Taiwan’s investment environment include: excessive or inconsistent regulation; market influence exerted by domestic and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the utilities, energy, postal, transportation, financial, and real estate sectors; foreign ownership limits in sectors deemed sensitive; and regulatory scrutiny over the possible participation of PRC-sourced capital. Taiwan has among the lowest levels of private equity investment in Asia, although private equity firms are increasingly pursuing opportunities in the market. Foreign private equity firms have expressed concern about a lack of transparency and predictability in the investment approvals and exit processes, and regulators’ reliance on administrative discretion in rejecting some transactions. These challenges are especially apparent in sectors deemed sensitive for national security reasons, but that allow foreign ownership. Businesses have questioned the feasibility of Taiwan’s long-term energy policy in light of plans to phase out nuclear power by 2025 and increase the use of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and renewables.

Taiwan is at the center of regional high-technology supply chains due to its dominant role in the international technology supply chain with its advanced R&D capability in developing products for emerging technologies such as semiconductor, 5G telecommunication, AI, and the Internet of Things (IoT.) Taiwan authorities have been actively launching initiatives for partnerships with foreign investors in fostering a resilient production network in the region. Taiwan in late 2016 implemented new rules mandating a 60-day public comment period for draft laws and regulations emanating from regulatory agencies, but the new rules have not been consistently applied. Proposed amendments to foreign investment regulations, if passed, would help promote inward investment through streamlined reporting and approval procedures.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 28 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 15 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD17,353 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 N/A http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Promoting inward FDI has been an important policy goal for the Taiwan authorities because of Taiwan’s self-imposed public debt ceiling limiting public spending and its low levels of private investment. Despite the global economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan’s domestic private investment continued to rise by 5.0 percent in 2020 due to increased reshoring investment by overseas Taiwan companies since late 2018. Taiwan has pursued various measures to attract FDI from both foreign companies and Taiwan firms operating overseas. A network of science and industrial parks, technology industrial zones, and free trade zones aim to expand trade and investment opportunities by granting tax incentives, tariff exemptions, low-interest loans, and other favorable terms. Incentives tend to be more prevalent for investment in the manufacturing sector.

In January 2019, Taiwan launched a reshoring incentive program to attract Taiwan firms operating in the PRC to return to Taiwan and has received favorable responses from Information Communication Technology (ICT) manufacturers. The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) Department of Investment Services (DOIS) Invest in Taiwan Center serves as Taiwan’s investment promotion agency and provides streamlined procedures for foreign investors, including single-window services and employee recruitment. For investments over New Taiwan Dollar (NTD) 500 million (USD 17.6 million), authorities will assign a dedicated project manager to the investment process. DOIS services are available to all foreign investors. The Centre’s website contains an online investment aid system (https://investtaiwan.nat.gov.tw/smartIndexPage?lang=eng) to help investors retrieve all the required application forms based on various investment criteria and types. Taiwan also passed the Foreign Talent Retention Act to attract foreign professionals with a relaxed visa and work permit issuance process and tax incentives. In the past two years, over 2000 foreigners have received the Taiwan Employment Gold Card, which is a government initiative to attract highly skilled foreign talent to Taiwan (https://goldcard.nat.gov.tw/en/). The MOEA is drafting a proposed amendment to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals, which would replace the existing pre-approval investment review process with an ex-post reporting mechanism and strengthen screening of investment in industries of national security concerns.

Taiwan maintains a negative list of industries closed to foreign investment because the authorities assert relate to national security and environmental protection, including public utilities, power distribution, natural gas, postal service, telecommunications, mass media, and air and sea transportation. These sectors constitute less than one percent of the production value of Taiwan’s manufacturing sector and less than five percent of the services sector. Railway transport, freight transport by small trucks, pesticide manufactures, real estate development, brokerage, leasing, and trading are open to foreign investment. The negative list of investment sectors, last updated in February 2018, is available at http://www.moeaic.gov.tw/download-file.jsp?do=BP&id=ZYi4SMROrBA=.

The Taiwan authorities have been actively promoting the “5+2 Innovative Industries” and six strategic industries development program to accelerate industrial transformation that would boost domestic demand and external market expansion. Target industries include smart machinery, biomedicine, IoT, green energy, national defense, advanced agriculture, circular economy, and semiconductors, among other key sectors. Taiwan authorities also offer subsidies for the research and development expenses for Taiwan-foreign partnership projects. The central authorities take a cautious approach to approving foreign investment in innovative industries that utilize new and potentially disruptive business models, such as the sharing economy.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan (AmCham Taiwan) meets regularly with Taiwan agencies such as the National Development Council (NDC) to promote the resolution of concerns highlighted in the AmCham Taiwan’s annual White Paper. The authorities also regularly meet with other foreign business groups. Some U.S. investors have expressed concerns about a lack of transparency, consistency, and predictability in the investment review process, particularly regarding private equity investment transactions. Current guidelines on foreign investment state that those private equity investors seeking to acquire companies in “important industries” must provide, for example, a detailed description of the investor’s long-term operational commitment, relisting choices, and the investment’s impact on competition within the sector. U.S. investors have claimed to experience lengthy review periods for private equity transactions and redundant inquiries from the MOEA Investment Commission and its constituent agencies. Some report that public hearings convened by Taiwan regulatory agencies about specific private equity transactions have appeared to advance opposition to private equity rather than foster transparent dialogue. Private equity transactions and other previously approved investments have, in the past, attracted Legislative Yuan scrutiny, including committee-level resolutions opposing specific transactions.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign entities are entitled to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity as local firms unless otherwise specified in relevant regulations. Taiwan sets foreign ownership limits in certain industries, such as a 60 percent limit on foreign ownership of wireless and fixed-line telecommunications firms, including a direct foreign investment limit of 49 percent in that sector. State-controlled Chunghwa Telecom, which controls 97 percent of the fixed-line telecom market, maintains a 49 percent limit on direct foreign investment and a 55 percent limit on overall foreign investment, including indirect ownership. There is a 20 percent limit on foreign direct investment in cable television broadcasting services, and foreign ownership of up to 60 percent is allowed through indirect investment via a Taiwan entity. In practice, however, this kind of investment is subject to heightened regulatory and political scrutiny. In addition, there is a foreign ownership limit of 49.99 percent for satellite television broadcasting services and piped distribution of natural gas and a 49 percent limit for high-speed rail services. The foreign ownership cap on airport ground services firms, air-catering companies, aviation transportation businesses (airlines), and general aviation businesses (commercial helicopters and business jet planes) is less than 50 percent, with a separate limit of 25 percent for any single foreign investor. Foreign investment in Taiwan-flagged merchant shipping services is limited to 50 percent for Taiwan shipping companies operating international routes.

Taiwan has opened more than two-thirds of its aggregate industrial categories to PRC investors, with 97 percent of manufacturing sub-sectors and 51 percent of construction and services sub-sectors open to PRC capital. PRC nationals are prohibited from serving as chief executive officer in a Taiwan company, although a PRC board member may retain management control rights. The Taiwan authorities regard PRC investment in media or advanced technology sectors, such as semiconductors, as a national security concern. The Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services and the Cross-Strait Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Enhancement of Tax Cooperation were signed in 2013 and 2015, respectively, but have not taken effect. Negotiations on the Agreement on Trade in Goods halted in 2016.

The Investment Commission screens applications for FDI, mergers, and acquisitions. Taiwan authorities claim that 95 percent of investments not subject to the negative list and, with capital less than NTD 500 million (USD 17.6 million), obtain approval at the Investment Commission staff level within two to four days. Investments between NTD 500 million (USD 17.6 million) and NTD 1.5 billion (USD 53 million) in capital take three to five days to screen. The approval authority for these types of transactions rests with the Investment Commission’s executive secretary. For investment in restricted industries, in cases where the investment amount or capital increase exceeds NTD 1.5 billion, or for mergers, acquisitions, and spin-offs, screening takes 10 to 20 days and includes review by relevant supervisory ministries. Final approval rests with the Investment Commission’s executive secretary. Screening for foreign investments involving cross-border mergers and acquisitions or other special situations takes 20-30 days, as these transactions require interagency review and deliberation at the Investment Commission’s monthly meeting.

The screening process provides Taiwan’s regulatory agencies opportunities to attach conditions to investments to mitigate concerns about ownership, structure, or other factors. Screening may also include an assessment of the impact of proposed investments on a sector’s competitive landscape and protection of the rights of local shareholders and employees. Screening is also used to detect investments with unclear funding sources, especially PRC-sourced capital. To ensure monitoring of PRC-sourced investment in line with Taiwan law and public sentiment, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau has participated in every PRC-related investment review meeting regardless of the size of the investment. Blocked deals in recent years have reflected the authorities’ increased focus on national security concerns beyond the negative-list industries. The proposed revisions to the principal investment statute would, if passed, allow the authorities to apply political, social, and cultural sensitivity considerations in their investment review process.

Foreign investors must submit an application form containing the funding plan, business operation plan, entity registration, and documents certifying the inward remittance of investment funds. Applicants and their agents must provide a signed declaration certifying that any PRC investors in a proposed transaction do not hold more than a 30 percent ownership stake and do not retain managerial control of the company. When an investment fails review, an investor may re-apply when the reason for the denial no longer exists. Foreign investors may also petition the regulatory agency that denied approval or may appeal to the Administrative Court.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Taiwan has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 2002. In September 2018, the WTO conducted the fourth review of the trade policies and practices of Taiwan. Related reports and documents are available at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp477_crc_e.htm

Business Facilitation

MOEA has taken steps to improve the business registration process and has been finalizing amendments to the Company Act to make business registration more efficient. Since 2014, the application review period for company registration has been shortened to two days. Applications for a taxpayer identification number, labor insurance (for companies with five or more employees), national health insurance, and pension plans can be processed at the same time and granted decisions within five to seven business days. Since January 1, 2017, foreign investors’ company registration applications are processed by the MOEA’s Central Region Office.

In recent years, the Taiwan authorities revised rules to improve the business climate for startups. To develop Taiwan into a startup hub in Asia, Taiwan authorities launched an entrepreneur visa program allowing foreign entrepreneurs to remain in Taiwan if they meet one of the following requirements: raise at least NTD 2 million (USD 70,400) in funding; hold patent rights or a professional skills certificate; operate in an incubator or innovation park in Taiwan; win prominent startup or design competitions; or receive grants from Taiwan authorities. Starting from 2019, startup entrepreneurs can use intellectual property (IP) as collateral to obtain bank loans, which applies to foreign investors. In September 2020, the Taiwan authorities proposed a new draft amendment to relax the criteria to attract more foreign professionals working in Taiwan.

By the end of 2020, nearly 2,000 people had obtained the Employment Gold Card, which includes a residency permit for the applicant and his/her immediate relatives (parents, spouse, children), a work permit for three years, an alien resident certificate, and a re-entry permit. More than 30 percent of the recipients were Americans. The Employment Gold Card policy helped alleviate recruiting companies’ liability in work permit applications and associated administrative expenditures.

Further details about business registration process can be found in Invest Taiwan Center’s business one-stop service request website at http://onestop.nat.gov.tw/oss/web/Show/engWorkFlow.do

The Investment Commission website lists the rules, regulations, and required forms for seeking foreign investment approval: https://www.moeaic.gov.tw/businessPub.view?lang=en&op_id_one=1

Approval from the Investment Commission is required for foreign investors before proceeding with business registration. After receiving an approval letter from the Investment Commission, an investor can apply for capital verification and then file an application for a corporate name and proceed with business registration. The new company must register with the Bureau of Labor Insurance and the Bureau of National Health Insurance before recruiting and hiring employees.

For the manufacturing, construction, and mining industries, the MOEA defines small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as companies with less than NTD 80 million (USD 2.8 million) of paid-in capital and fewer than 200 employees. For all other industries, SMEs are defined as having less than NTD 100 million (USD 3.5 million) of paid-in capital and fewer than 100 employees. Taiwan runs a Small and Medium Enterprise Credit Guarantee Fund to help SMEs obtain financing from local banks. Firms established by foreigners in Taiwan may receive a guarantee from the Fund. Taiwan’s National Development Fund has set aside NTD 10 billion (USD 350 million) to invest in SMEs.

Outward Investment

The PRC used to be the top destination for Taiwan companies’ overseas investment given the low cost of factors of production there, such as wages and land. With rising trade tensions between the United States and the PRC starting in 2018, the Taiwan authorities have intensified their efforts to assist Taiwan firms to diversify production by either relocating back home or to other markets, including in Southeast Asia. The Tsai administration launched the New Southbound Policy to enhance Taiwan’s economic connection with 18 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific. In 2020, Taiwan companies’ investment in the 18 countries totaled USD 2.8 billion. The Taiwan authorities seek investment agreements with these countries to incentivize Taiwan firms’ investment in those markets. Invest in Taiwan provides consultation and loan guarantee services to Taiwan firms operating overseas. Taiwan’s financial regulators have urged Taiwan banks to expand their presence in Southeast Asian economies either by setting up branches or acquiring subsidiaries.

According to the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, all Taiwan individuals, juridical persons, organizations, or other institutions must obtain approval from the Investment Commission to invest in or have any technology-oriented cooperation with the PRC. The Taiwan authorities maintain a negative list for Taiwan firms’ investment and have special rules governing technology cooperation in the PRC. The Taiwan authorities, Taiwan companies, and foreign investors in Taiwan are increasingly vigilant about the threat of IP theft and illegal talent poaching in key strategic industries, such as the semiconductor industry.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Taiwan generally maintains transparent regulatory and accounting systems that conform to international standards. Publicly listed Taiwan companies have fully adopted International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) since 2015 and adopted IFRS 16 in January 2019. Taiwan’s Financial Supervisory Commission has affirmed that Taiwan will begin implementing IFRS 17 in January 2026. Ministries generally originate business-related draft legislation and submit it to the Executive Yuan for review. Following approval by the Executive Yuan, draft legislation is forwarded to the Legislative Yuan for consideration. Legislators can also propose legislation. While the cabinet-level agencies are the primary contact windows for foreign investors before entry, foreign investors also need to abide by local government rules, including those related to transportation services and environmental protection, among others.

Draft laws, rules, and orders are published on The Executive Yuan Gazette Online for public comment. On December 25, 2015, the Taiwan authorities first instituted a 14-day public comment period for new rules but extended it to no less than 60 days beginning December 29, 2016. All draft regulations and laws are required to be available for public comment and advanced notice unless they meet specific criteria allowing a shorter window. While welcomed by the U.S. business community, the 60-day comment period is not uniformly applied. Draft laws and regulations of interest to foreign investors are regularly shared with foreign chambers of commerce for their comments. For the ongoing amendment to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals, the authorities held several regional public hearings and professional consultation meetings before finalizing its draft for the Executive Yuan review.

These announcements are also available for public comment on the NDC’s public policy open discussion forum at https://join.gov.tw/index. Foreign chambers of commerce and Taiwan business groups’ comments on proposed laws and regulations, and Taiwan ministries’ replies, are posted publicly on the NDC website. In October 2017, the NDC launched a separate policy discussion forum specifically for startups, which can be found online at http://law.ndc.gov.tw/, serving as the central platform to harmonize regulatory requirements governing innovative businesses and startups operation.

The Executive Yuan Legal Affairs Committee oversees the enforcement of regulations. Ministries are responsible for enforcement, impact analysis, draft amendments to existing laws, and petitions to laws pursuant to their respective authorities. Impact assessments may be completed by in-house or private researchers. To enhance Taiwan’s regulatory coherence in the wake of regional economic integration initiatives, the NDC in August 2017 released a Regulatory Impact Analysis Operational Manual as a practical guideline for central government agencies.

Taiwan regularly discloses government finance data to the public, including all debts incurred by all levels of government. Past information is also retrievable in a well-maintained fiscal database. Taiwan’s national statistics agency also publishes contingent debt information each year.

International Regulatory Considerations

Taiwan is not a member of any regional economic agreements but is a full member of international economic organizations such as the WTO, APEC, ADB, and Egmont Group. Although Taiwan is not a member of many international organizations, it voluntarily adheres to or adopts international norms, including in the area of finance, such as IFRS. MOEA in July 2014 notified other Taiwan agencies of the requirement to notify the WTO of all draft regulations covered by the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. Taiwan is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has met some of the customs facilitation requirements specified in the TFA, such as single-window customs services and preview of the origin. In January 2018, citing tax parity for domestic retailers and the risk of fraud, Taiwan lowered the de minimis threshold from NTD 3,000 (USD 150) to NTD 2,000 (USD 70), an approach regarded as contrary to facilitating customs clearance and trade, especially for small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses. NDC is in the process of drafting a proposed amendment to the Personal Information Protection Act and related regulations to meet the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standards and obtain adequacy status.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Taiwan has a codified system of law. In addition to the specialized courts, Taiwan has a three-tiered court system composed of the District Courts, the High Courts, and the Supreme Court. The Compulsory Enforcement Act provides a legal basis for enforcing the ownership of property. Taiwan does not have discrete commercial or contract laws. Various laws regulate businesses and specific industries, such as the Company Law, the Commercial Registration Law, the Business Registration Law, and the Commercial Accounting Law. Taiwan’s Civil Code provides the basis for enforcing contracts.

Taiwan’s court system is generally viewed as independent and free from overt interference by other branches of government. Taiwan established its Intellectual Property Court in July 2008 in response to the need for a more centralized and professional litigation system for IPR disputes. There are also specialized labor courts at every level of the court system to deal with labor disputes. Foreign court judgments are final and binding and enforced on a reciprocal basis. Companies can appeal regulatory decisions in the court system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Regulations governing FDI principally derive from the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals and the Statute for Investment by Overseas Chinese. These two laws permit foreign investors to transact either in foreign currency or the NTD. The laws specify that foreign-invested enterprises must receive the same regulatory treatment accorded to local firms. Foreign companies may invest in state-owned firms undergoing privatization and are eligible to participate in publicly financed R&D programs.

Amendments the Legislative Yuan passed in June 2015 to the Merger and Acquisition Act clarified investment review criteria for mergers and acquisition transactions. The Investment Commission is drafting amendments to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals to simplify the investment review process. Included is an amendment that would replace a pre-investment approval requirement with a post-investment reporting system for investments under a USD 1 million threshold, which many stakeholders consider too low. Exante approval would still be required for investments in restricted industries and those exceeding the threshold. The new proposal would also allow the authorities to impose various penalties for violations of the law. Guidance that previously required special consideration of the impact of a private equity fund’s investment has been folded into the set of general evaluation criteria for foreign investment in important industries. The MOEA in November 2016 released a supplementary document to clarify required certification for different types of investment applications. This document, which was last revised in 2018 and in Chinese only, can be found at http://www.moeaic.gov.tw/download-file.jsp?do=BP&id=5dRl9fU97Fk=

In December 2020, Taiwan authorities amended the Regulations Governing the Approval of PRC Investment in Taiwan to ensure the complex structure of foreign investments by investors from the PRC do not circumvent the investment control through any indirect investment structure. The new PRC investment rules introduced stricter criteria for identifying PRC investment through third-area intermediary, expanded the scope of investment subject to the authorities’ approval, and forbid PRC investment with any political or military affiliation.

All foreign investment-related regulations, application forms, and explanatory information can be found on the Investment Commission’s website, at http://run.moeaic.gov.tw/MOEAIC-WEB-SRC/OfimDownloadE.aspx

The Invest in Taiwan Portal also provides other relevant legal information of interest to foreign investors, such as labor, entry and exit regulations, at https://investtaiwan.nat.gov.tw/showPageeng1031003?lang=eng&search=1031003

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Taiwan’s Fair Trade Act was enacted in 1992. Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission (TFTC) examines business practices that might impede fair competition. Parties may appeal a TFTC decision directly to the High Administrative Court. After the High Administrative Court issues its opinion, either party may file an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court, which will only review decisions to determine if the lower court failed to apply the law.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to Taiwan law, the authorities may expropriate property whenever it is deemed necessary for the public interest, such as for national defense, public works, and urban renewal projects. The U.S. government is not aware of any recent cases of nationalization or expropriation of foreign-invested assets in Taiwan. There are no reports of indirect expropriation or any official actions tantamount to expropriation. Under Taiwan law, no venture with 45 percent or more foreign investment may be nationalized, as long as the 45 percent capital contribution ratio remains unchanged for 20 years after establishing the foreign business. Taiwan law requires fair compensation must be paid within a reasonable period when the authorities expropriate constitutionally protected private property for public use.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In part due to its unique political status, Taiwan is neither a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) nor a signatory to the 1966 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). It also is not a signatory to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Foreign investment disputes with the Taiwan authorities are rare. Taiwan resolves disputes according to its domestic laws and based on national treatment or investment guarantee agreements. Taiwan has entered into bilateral investment agreements with Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, India, and Vietnam. Taiwan does not have an investment agreement with the United States. Taiwan’s bilateral investment agreements serve to promote and protect foreign investments. DOIS is not aware of investment disputes involving U.S. investors, although there have been reports of disputes between U.S. investors and their local Taiwan partners.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Parties to a dispute may pursue mediation by a court, a town or city mediation committee, and/or the Public Procurement Commission. Mediation is generally non-binding unless parties agree otherwise. Civil mediation approved by a court has the same power as a binding ruling under civil litigation. The Judicial Yuan has been promoting alternative dispute resolution, one of its judiciary reform goals. Arbitration associations in Taiwan include the Chinese Arbitration Association, Taiwan Construction Arbitration Association, Labor Dispute Arbitration Association, and Chinese Construction Industry Arbitration Association in Taiwan.

A court order on recognition and enforcement must be obtained before a foreign arbitral award can be enforced in Taiwan. Any foreign arbitral award may be enforceable in Taiwan, provided that it meets the requirements of Taiwan’s Arbitration Act. In November 2015, the Legislative Yuan amended the Arbitration Act to stipulate that a foreign arbitral award, after a court has granted an application for recognition, shall be binding on the parties and have the same force as a final judgment of a court, and is enforceable. Taiwan referred to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law when the Arbitration Act was revised in 1998.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Taiwan has a bankruptcy law that guarantees creditors the right to share a bankrupt debtor’s assets on a proportional basis. Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced through a registration system. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Taiwan. Corporate bankruptcy is generally governed by the Company Act and the Bankruptcy Act, while the Consumer Debt Resolution Act governs personal bankruptcy. The quasi-public Joint Credit Information Center is the only credit-reporting agency in Taiwan. In 2020, there were 200 rulings on bankruptcy petitions.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Statute for Industrial Innovation provides the legal basis for offering tax credits for companies’ R&D expenditures. MOEA also operates several R&D subsidy programs. MOEA’s target industries for investment are IoT (including Asia Silicon Valley-related investments), smart machinery, biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals, green energy, national defense, the circular economy, and agriculture. Investors can receive tax incentives for investing in free trade zones, public construction, and biotechnology or biopharmaceuticals. Investment support from the central authorities may be available for priority projects. Industrial zones, export processing zones, science parks, and local governments offer various subsidies, financing, and tax deductions. Investors may receive low-interest loans or subsidies for participating in industrial R&D and industry revitalization programs. R&D tax credits, equivalent to 15 percent of total R&D expenditures, are available only to companies who file corporate income taxes in Taiwan. The Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals passed in October 2017 and took effect in 2018 offers relaxed visa requirements and high-earner tax deductions to foreign professionals. For a detailed list of investment incentives programs, please refer to the Invest in Taiwan website at https://investtaiwan.nat.gov.tw/showPage?lang=eng&search=1031001 In promotion of Taiwan’s green energy industry, Taiwan authorities are considering a national guarantee mechanism to facilitate financing green energy investment.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are seven free trade/free port zones: Anping, Kaohsiung, Keelung, Suao, Taichung, Taipei, and Taoyuan International Airport. The authorities have relaxed restrictions on the movement of merchandise, capital, and personnel into and out of these zones. As part of a broader restructuring and to increase the competitiveness of Taiwan’s ports, the Ministry of Transportation and Communication established the Taiwan International Ports Corporation (TIPC) in 2012 to manage commercial activities of Taiwan’s ports and free trade zones. TIPC facilitates cooperation with foreign shipping operations and related businesses. In addition to preferential tariffs and fees, the foreign labor ceiling for manufacturers in the free ports zones is 40 percent. Kaohsiung Port also serves as a London Metal Exchange (LME) delivery port of primary aluminum, aluminum alloy, copper, lead, nickel, tin, and zinc.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Taiwan does not mandate local employment, but the authorities have incentivized foreign companies to hire more local staff with preferential measures, such as in the mutual fund industry. Except for restricted industries on the negative list, there is no restriction on foreigners taking roles in senior management or on boards of directors. Foreign investors have long expressed concerns over difficulties in recruiting skilled executives and professionals. The Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals, which took effect in 2018 aims to attract foreign professionals through simplified policies regarding work, visa, and residence and increased benefits on retirement, insurance, and tax obligations.

With one prominent counterexample, Taiwan does not mandate any forced localization or performance requirements and does not ask software firms to disclose their source code. In this counterexample, the National Communications Commission prohibited a local telecom carrier from contracting a PRC cloud services company due to concerns over personal data protection. Positive examples of data mobility include new businesses such as Uber and Food Panda and mobile payment firms like Apple Pay, all of which freely transmit data cross-border. The authorities may, subject to strict legal proceedings based on Personal Data Protection Act to examine financial crime data from services providers. In September 2019, the Taiwan Financial Supervisory Commission amended rules to allow banks to store data on overseas cloud servers, as long as Taiwan regulators can obtain information for such operations and maintain the right to execute on-site examinations.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property interests are enforced in Taiwan, and it maintains a reliable recording system for mortgages and liens. Taiwan law protects the land use rights of indigenous peoples. Taiwan’s Land Act stipulated that forests, fisheries, hunting grounds, salt fields, mineral deposits, water sources, and lands lying within fortified and military areas and those adjacent to national frontiers may not be transferred or leased to foreigners. Based on the Ministry of Interior’s (MOI) Operational Regulations for Foreigners to Acquire Land Rights in Taiwan, foreigners coming from countries that provide Taiwan residents the same land rights will be allowed to acquire or set the same rights in Taiwan. In May 2015, the Cadastral Clearance Act was passed to promote better land registration management. As in other investment categories, Taiwan has specific regulations governing property acquisition by PRC investors.

Intellectual Property Rights

Taiwan has established a Patent Act, Trademark Act, Copyright Act, and Trade Secrets Act, and instituted the pharmaceutical patent linkage system in mid-2019. The Intellectual Property Rights Protection Corps of the Criminal Investigation Brigade (CIB), National Police Administration (NPA), receives IP infringing reporting through a toll-free direct line of 0800-016-597; and email: 0800016597@iprp.spsh.gov.tw. IP infringement cases will be investigated and prosecuted through the Ministry of Justice and be judged by District Courts and the specialized IP Court. Violators of trademark or copyright cases could receive criminal penalties of up to three years; trade secrets cases are subject to penalties of up to 10 years.

Taiwan is a member of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the WTO and the Intellectual Property Rights Experts’ Group (IPEG) of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In addition, Taiwan harmonizes its IPR regulations as much as possible with that from international IP treaties and conventions, including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, The Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, the European Patent Convention (EPC), the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), and the Bern Convention.

To prepare for joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in the future, Taiwan has proposed separate draft amendments of the Trademark Act, Patent Act, and Copyright Act. Proposed changes would comply with related rules in CPTPP in which the Trademark Act amendment draft adds criminal punishment on counterfeit labeling, the Patent Act draft grants new-drug patent holder the rights to file infringement litigation, and the Copyright Act draft grants competent authorities legal power to prosecute major copyright infringements without compliant. Those amendments are pending the Executive Yuan’s review.

The Trade Secrets Act amendment, enacted in January 2020, allows a foreign juristic person to file a complaint to initiate prosecution or ia civil suit against alleged trade secrets misappropriation. Additionally, this amendment contains provisions that allowa prosecutor to issue confidentiality orders during investigation proceedings. A person violating a confidentiality order may be sentenced to up to three years and/or be fined up to USD 35,000 (NTD 1 million). Taiwan also passed an amendment to the National Intelligence Work Act in 2019 to allow Taiwan’s intelligence agencies to conduct investigations on persons who illegally obtain trade secrets on behalf of foreign countries. Taiwan’s emphasis on improving its trade secrets protection regime has resulted in not only amendments to the Trade Secrets Act but also a significant judicial ruling in favor of a U.S.-based investor over a local firm in a high-profile trade secrets theft case.

Taiwan is not listed on the USTR’s Special 301 Report.

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/ .

10. Political and Security Environment

Taiwan is a young and vibrant multi-party democracy. The transitions of power in both local and presidential elections have been peaceful and orderly. There are no recent examples of politically motivated damage to foreign investment. 11. Labor Policies and Practices

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $611,255 2018 $608,132 https://unctad.org/en/Pages/statistics.aspx 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $24,876 2019 $17,353 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $22,159 2019 $11,099 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 27.5 2019 16.4 UNCTAD data available at https://unctadstat.unctad.org/wds/ReportFolders/reportFolders.aspx?sCS_ChosenLang=en 

* Source for Host Country Data: GDP: Directorate General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics; FDI: Investment Commission, Ministry of Economic Affairs

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Data not available.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available. 14. Contact for More Information

Thailand

Executive Summary

Thailand is an upper middle-income country with a half-trillion-dollar economy, pro-investment policies, and well-developed infrastructure. General Prayut Chan-o-cha was elected by Parliament as Prime Minister on June 5, 2019. Thailand celebrated the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn May 4-6, 2019, formally returning a King to the Head of State of Thailand’s constitutional monarchy. Despite some political uncertainty, Thailand continues to encourage foreign direct investment as a means of promoting economic development, employment, and technology transfer. In recent decades, Thailand has been a major destination for foreign direct investment, and hundreds of U.S. companies have invested in Thailand successfully. Thailand continues to encourage investment from all countries and seeks to avoid dependence on any one country as a source of investment.

The Foreign Business Act (FBA) of 1999 governs most investment activity by non-Thai nationals. Many U.S. businesses also enjoy investment benefits through the U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, signed in 1833 and updated in 1966. The Treaty allows U.S. citizens and U.S. majority-owned businesses incorporated in the United States or Thailand to maintain a majority shareholding or to wholly own a company, branch office, or representative office located in Thailand, and engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies (national treatment). The Treaty exempts such U.S.-owned businesses from most FBA restrictions on foreign investment, although the Treaty excludes some types of businesses. Notwithstanding their Treaty rights, many U.S. investors choose to form joint ventures with Thai partners who hold a majority stake in the company, leveraging their partner’s knowledge of the Thai economy and local regulations.

The Thai government maintains a regulatory framework that broadly encourages investment. Some investors have nonetheless expressed views that the framework is overly restrictive, with a lack of consistency and transparency in rulemaking and interpretation of law and regulations.

The Board of Investment (BOI), Thailand’s principal investment promotion authority, acts as a primary conduit for investors. BOI offers businesses assistance in navigating Thai regulations and provides investment incentives to qualified domestic and foreign investors through straightforward application procedures. Investment incentives include both tax and non-tax privileges.

The government passed laws on cybersecurity and personal data protection in 2019; as of April 2021, they are still in the process of drafting implementing regulations. The government unveiled in January 2021 a Made In Thailand initiative that will set aside 60 percent of state projects for locally made products.

Gratuity payments to civil servants responsible for regulatory oversight and enforcement remain a common practice, though some government agencies enforce strict “gift” bans. Firms that refuse to make such payments can be placed at a competitive disadvantage to other firms that do engage in such practices. The government launched its Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development plan in 2017. The EEC is a part of the “Thailand 4.0” economic development strategy introduced in 2016. Many planned infrastructure projects, including a high-speed train linking three airports, U-Tapao Airport commercialization, and Laem Chabang Port expansion, could provide opportunities for investments and sales of U.S. goods and services. In support of its “Thailand 4.0” strategy, the government offers incentives for investments in twelve targeted industries: next-generation automotive vehicles; intelligent electronics; advanced agriculture and biotechnology; food processing; tourism; advanced robotics and automation; digital technology; integrated aviation; medical hub and total healthcare services; biofuels/biochemical; defense manufacturing; and human resource development.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 104 of 179 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 21 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 44 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 17,738 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 7,260 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Americans planning to invest in Thailand are advised to obtain qualified legal advice. Thai business regulations are governed predominantly by criminal, not civil, law. Foreigners are rarely jailed for improper business activities, yet violations of business regulations can carry heavy criminal penalties. Thailand has an independent judiciary and government authorities are generally not permitted to interfere in the court system once a case is in process.

Thailand continues to generally welcome investment from all countries and seeks to avoid dependence on any one country as a source of investment. However, the FBA prescribes a wide range of business that may not be conducted by foreigners without additional licenses or exemptions. The term “foreigner” includes Thai-registered companies in which half or more of the capital is held by non-Thai individuals and foreign-registered companies. Although the FBA prohibits majority foreign ownership in many sectors, U.S. investors registered under the United States-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations (AER) are exempt. Nevertheless, the AER’s privileges do not extend to U.S. investments in the following areas: communications; transportation; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; the exploitation of land or other natural resources; domestic trade in indigenous agricultural products; and the practice of professions reserved for Thai nationals.

The Board of Investment (BOI) assists Thai and foreign investors to establish and conduct businesses in targeted economic sectors by offering both tax and non-tax incentives. In recent years Thailand has taken steps to reform its business regulations and has improved processes and reduced time required to start a business from 29 days to 6 days. Thailand has steadily improved its ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report in the last several years and now occupies the 21st position out of 190 countries in the 2019 ranking, trailing only Singapore (2) and Malaysia (12) in the ASEAN bloc. Thai officials routinely make themselves available to investors through discussions with foreign chambers of commerce.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Various Thai laws set forth foreign-ownership restrictions in certain sectors. These restrictions primarily concern services such as banking, insurance, and telecommunications. The FBA details the types of business activities reserved for Thai nationals. Foreign investment in those businesses must comprise less than 50 percent of share capital, unless specially permitted or otherwise exempt.

The following three lists detail FBA-restricted businesses for foreigners.

List 1.  This contains activities non-nationals are prohibited from engaging in, including: newspaper and radio broadcasting stations and businesses; agricultural businesses; forestry and timber processing from a natural forest; fishery in Thai territorial waters and specific economic zones; extraction of Thai medicinal herbs; trading and auctioning of antique objects or objects of historical value from Thailand; making or casting of Buddha images and monk alms bowls; and land trading.

List 2. This contains activities related to national safety or security, arts and culture, traditional industries, folk handicrafts, natural resources, and the environment. Restrictions apply to the production, distribution and maintenance of firearms and armaments; domestic transportation by land, water, and air; trading of Thai antiques or art objects; mining, including rock blasting and rock crushing; and timber processing for production of furniture and utensils. A foreign majority-owned company can engage in List 2 activities if Thai nationals or legal persons hold not less than 40 percent of the total shares and the number of Thai directors is not less than two-fifths of the total number of directors. Foreign companies also require prior approval and a license from the Council of Ministers (Cabinet).

List 3. Restricted businesses in this list include accounting, legal, architectural, and engineering services; retail and wholesale; advertising businesses; hotels; guided touring; selling food and beverages; and other service-sector businesses. A foreign company can engage in List 3 activities if a majority of the limited company’s shares are held by Thai nationals. Any company with a majority of foreign shareholders (more than 50 percent) cannot engage in List 3 activities unless it receives an exception from the Ministry of Commerce under its Foreign Business License (FBL) application.

Aside from these general categories, Thailand does not maintain a national security screening mechanism for investment, and investors can receive additional incentives/privileges if they invest in priority areas, such as high-technology industries. Investors should contact the Board of Investment [https://www.boi.go.th/index.php?page=index] for the latest information on specific investment incentives.

The U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations allows approved businesses to engage in FBA restricted businesses detailed above in Lists 1, 2, and 3. However, the Treaty does not exempt U.S. investments from restrictions applicable to: owning land; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; inland communications & transportation; exploitation of land and other natural resources; and domestic trade in agricultural products.

To operate restricted businesses as defined by the FBA’s List 2 and 3, non-Thai entities must obtain a foreign business license. These licenses are approved by the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) and/or Director-General of the MOC’s Department of Business Development, depending on the business category.

Every year, the MOC reviews business categories on the three FBA lists. Businesses no longer subject to restrictions include regional office services and contractual services provided to government bodies and state-owned enterprises. In an effort to further reduce obstacles to foreign investment, four business types under List 3, otherwise supervised by specific acts, were removed from the restricted list in 2019 and 2020. Those businesses include telecommunication services for license type 1 (telecommunication business operator without its own network for services); financial centers; aviation/aircraft maintenance; and software development.

American investors who wish to take majority shares or wholly own businesses under FBA’s Annex 3 list may apply for benefits under the U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity. https://2016.export.gov/thailand/treaty/index.asp#P5_233 

The U.S. Commercial Service, U.S. Embassy Bangkok is responsible for issuing a certification letter to confirm that a U.S. company is qualified to apply for benefits under the Treaty of Amity. The applicant must first obtain documents verifying that the company has been registered in compliance with Thai law. Upon receipt of the required documents, the U.S. Commercial Service office will then certify to the Foreign Administration Division, Department of Business Development, Ministry of Commerce (MOC) that the applicant is seeking to register an American-owned and managed company or that the applicant is an American citizen and is therefore entitled to national treatment under the provisions of the Treaty. For more information on how to apply for benefits under the Treaty of Amity, please e-mail ktantisa@trade.gov.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization conducted a Trade Policy Review of Thailand in November 2020 (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp500_e.htm). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) concluded its Investment Policy Review for Thailand in January 2021 (https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/c4eeee1c-en/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/c4eeee1c-en).

Business Facilitation

The MOC’s Department of Business Development (DBD) is generally responsible for business registration. Registration can be performed online or manually. Registration documentation must be submitted in the Thai language. Many foreign entities hire a local law firm or consulting firm to handle their applications. Firms engaging in production activities also must register with the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.

A company is required to have registered capital of two million Thai baht per foreign employee in order to obtain work permits. Additionally, foreign companies may have no more than 20% foreign employees on staff. Companies that have obtained special BOI investment incentives may be exempted from this requirement. Foreign employees must enter the country on a non-immigrant visa and then submit work permit applications directly to the Department of Labor. Application processing takes approximately one week. For more information on Thailand visas, please refer to http://www.mfa.go.th/main/en/services/4908/15388-Non-Immigrant-Visa- percent22B percent22-for-Business-and.html.

In February 2018, the Thai government launched a Smart Visa program for investors in targeted industries and foreigners with expertise in specialized technologies. Under this program, foreigners can be granted a maximum four-year visa to work in Thailand without having to obtain a work permit or re-entry permit. Other relaxed immigration rules include having visa holders report to the Bureau of Immigration just once per year (instead of every 90 days) and providing the visa holder’s spouse and children many of the same privileges as the primary visa holder. More information is available online at https://smart-visa.boi.go.th/home_detail/general_information.php and by telephone at +662-209-1100 ext. 1109-1110.

Outward Investment

In 2020, Thai companies continued to expand and invest overseas despite the pandemic. These investments primarily target neighboring ASEAN countries, China, the United States, and Europe. A relatively strong domestic currency, rising cash holdings, and subdued domestic growth prospects are helping to drive outward investment. The baht depreciated over 4 percent against the dollar in Q1 2021. Faced with the effects of the pandemic, the government may prioritize domestic investment to stimulate the economy.

Previously, food, ago-industry, energy, and chemical sectors accounted for the main share of outward flows. Purchasing shares, developing partnerships, and making acquisitions help Thai investors acquire technologies for parent companies and expand supply chains in international markets. Thai corporate laws allow outbound investments to be made by an independent affiliate (foreign company), a branch of a Thai legal entity, or by any Thai company in the case of financial investments abroad. BOI and the MOC’s Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) share responsibility for promoting outward investment. BOI focuses on outward investment in ASEAN (especially Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam) and emerging economies. DITP covers smaller markets.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The 1966 U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations allows U.S. citizens and U.S. majority-owned businesses to engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies (national treatment). The Treaty exempts qualified companies from most of the foreign investment restrictions imposed by Thailand’s Foreign Business Act (FBA). As described above, the Treaty does not exempt U.S. investments from restrictions applicable to owning land; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; inland communications & transportation; exploitation of land and other natural resources; and domestic trade in agricultural products.

In October 2002, the United States and Thailand signed a bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). The TIFA established a regular government-to-government forum to discuss bilateral trade and investment issues. These have included intellectual property rights, customs, market-access barriers, and other areas of mutual concern.

Thailand has bilateral investment treaties with Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Netherlands, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation (signed, not in force), Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan (signed, not in force), Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe (signed, not in force).

Thailand has free trade agreements (FTAs) with Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Peru, Chili, and Hong Kong. As of 2020, Thailand is pursuing FTA discussions with the European Union, Turkey, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. Thailand belongs to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional free-trade and economic bloc comprising a total population of 600 million. ASEAN has free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Korea, and Hong Kong. ASEAN also has a comprehensive economic partnership with Japan and is pursuing FTA discussions with the EU, Pakistan, and Canada.

Thailand’s Parliament approved ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free-trade bloc of 15 Indo-Pacific nations expected to take effect in 2021. Thailand has expressed interest in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force on December 30, 2018. In April 2020, however, Thailand shelved plans to negotiate near-term accession in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In February 2021 Thailand’s International Economic Policy Committee announced it will review the findings of a nine-month internal study on the costs and benefits of CPTPP membership.

Thailand and the United States concluded a bilateral tax treaty in 1996. The United States and Thailand signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2016. The IGA will enter into force once all steps have been completed by both sides for ratification.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Generally, Thai regulations are readily available to the public. Foreign investors have, on occasion, expressed frustration that draft regulations are not made public until they are finalized. Comments that stakeholders submit on draft regulations are not always taken into consideration. Non-governmental organizations report; however, the Thai government actively consults them on policy, especially in the health sector and on intellectual property issues. In other areas, such as digital and cybersecurity laws, the Thai government has taken stakeholders’ comments into account and amended draft laws accordingly.

U.S. businesses have repeatedly expressed concerns about Thailand’s customs regime. Complaints center on lack of transparency, the significant discretionary authority exercised by Customs Department officials, and a system of giving rewards to officials and non-officials for seized goods based on a percentage of their sales price. Specifically, the U.S. government and private sector have expressed concern about inconsistent application of Thailand’s transaction valuation methodology and the Customs Department’s repeated use of arbitrary values. Thailand’s latest Customs Act, which entered into force on November 13, 2017, is a moderate step forward. The Act removed the Customs Department Director General’s discretion to increase the customs value of imports. I t also reduced the percentage of remuneration awarded to officials and non-officials from 55 percent to 40 percent of the sale price of seized goods (or of the fine amount) with an overall limit of five million baht (USD160,000). While a welcome development, reduction of this remuneration is insufficient to remove the personal incentives given Customs officials to seize goods nor to address the conflicts of interest the system entails. Thai Customs is expected to announce new revisions to the Customs Act in 2021.

Consistent and predictable enforcement of government regulations remains problematic. In 2017, the Thai government launched a “regulatory guillotine” initiative to cut down on red tape, licenses, and permits. The policy focused on reducing and amending outdated regulations in order to improve Thailand’s ranking on the World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” report. The regulatory guillotine project has helped improve Thailand’s ranking and, although making slow progress, is still underway.

Gratuity payments to civil servants responsible for regulatory oversight and enforcement remain a common practice despite stringent gift bans at some government agencies. Firms that refuse to make such payments can be placed at a competitive disadvantage to other firms that do engage in such practices.

The Royal Thai Government Gazette (www.ratchakitcha.soc.go.th) is Thailand’s public journal of the country’s centralized online location of laws, as well as regulation notifications.

International Regulatory Considerations

Thailand is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and notifies most draft technical regulations to the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Committee. However, Thailand does not always follow WTO and other international standard-setting norms or guidance but prefers to set its own standards in many cases. In October 2015, the country ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, which came into effect in February 2017.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Thailand’s legal system is primarily based on the civil law system with a strong common law influence. Thailand has an independent judiciary that is generally effective in enforcing property and contractual rights. Most commercial and contractual disputes are generally governed by the Civil and Commercial Codes. The legal process is slow in practice and monetary compensation is based on actual damage that resulted directly from the wrongful act. Decisions of foreign courts are not accepted or enforceable in Thai courts.

There are three levels to the judicial system in Thailand: The Court of First Instance, which handles most matters at inception; the Court of Appeals; and the Supreme Court. There are also specialized courts, such as the Labor Court, Family Court, Tax Court, the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, and the Bankruptcy Court.

The Specialized Appeal Court handles appeals from specialized courts. The Supreme Court has discretion whether to take a case that has been decided by the Specialized Appeal Court. If the Supreme Court decides not to take up a case, the Specialized Appeal Court decision stands.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Foreign Business Act or FBA (described in detail above) governs most investment activity by non-Thai nationals. Other key laws governing foreign investment are the Alien Employment Act (1978) and the Investment Promotion Act (1977). However, as explained above, many U.S. businesses enjoy investment benefits through the U.S.-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations (often referred to as the ‘Treaty of Amity’), which was established to promote friendly relations between the two nations. Pursuant to the Treaty, American nationals are entitled to certain exceptions to the FBA restrictions.

Pertaining to the services sector, the 2008 Financial Institutions Business Act unified the legal framework and strengthened the Bank of Thailand’s (the country’s central bank) supervisory and enforcement powers. The Act allows the Bank of Thailand to raise foreign ownership limits for existing local banks from 25 percent to 49 percent on a case-by-case basis. The Minister of Finance can authorize foreign ownership exceeding 49 percent if recommended by the central bank. Details are available at  https://www.bot.or.th/English/AboutBOT/LawsAndRegulations/SiteAssets/Law_E24_Institution_Sep2011.pdf.

Apart from acquiring shares of existing (traditional) local banks, foreign banks can enter the Thai banking system by obtaining new licenses. The Ministry of Finance issues such licenses, following a consultation process with the Bank of Thailand. The Thai central bank is currently studying new licenses for digital-only banks, a tool meant to enhance financial inclusion and keep pace with consumer needs in the digital age. Digital-only banks can operate at a lower cost and offer different services than traditional banks.

The 2008 Life Insurance Act and the 2008 Non-Life Insurance Act apply a 25 percent cap on foreign ownership of insurance companies. Foreign boards of directors’ membership is also limited to 25 percent. However, in January 2016 the Office of the Insurance Commission (OIC), the primary insurance industry regulator, notified that Thai life or non-life insurance companies wishing to exceed these limits may apply to the OIC for approval. Any foreign national wishing to hold more than 10 percent of the voting shares in an insurance company must seek OIC approval. With approval, a foreign national can acquire up to 49 percent of the voting shares. Finally, the Finance Minister, with OIC’s positive recommendation, has discretion to permit greater than 49 percent foreign ownership and/or a majority of foreign directors, when the operation of the insurance company may cause loss to insured parties or to the public. OIC launched an insurtech sandbox in 2017 to allow industry to test new products. While OIC has not issued a new insurance license in the past 20 years, OIC is now contemplating issuing new virtual licenses for entrants wishing to sell insurance digitally without an intermediary, and digital licenses for existing insurers wishing to switch to digital sales only. Full details have not yet been announced.

The Board of Investment offers qualified investors several benefits and provides information to facilitate a smoother investment process in Thailand. Information on the BOI’s “One Start One Stop” investment center can be found at  http://osos.boi.go.th. A physical office is located on the 18th floor of Chamchuri Square on Rama 4/Phayathai Road in Bangkok.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Thailand updated the Trade Competition Act on October 5, 2017. The updated Act covers all business activities, except state-owned enterprises exempted by law or cabinet resolution; specific activities related to national security, public benefit, common interest and public utility; cooperatives, agricultural and cooperative groups; government agencies; and other enterprises exempted by the law. The Act broadens the definition of a business operator to include affiliates and group companies, and broadens the liability of directors and management, subjecting them to criminal and administrative sanctions if their actions (or omissions) resulted in violations. The Act also provides details about penalties in cases involving administrative court or criminal court actions. The amended Act has been noted as an improvement over the prior legislation and a step towards Thailand’s adoption of international standards in this area.

The Office of Trade Competition Commission (OTCC) is an independent agency and the main enforcer of the Trade Competition Act B.E. 2560 (2018). The OTCC is comprised of seven members nominated by a selection committee and endorsed by the Cabinet. The Commission has the following responsibilities: advises the government on issuance of relevant regulations; ensures fair and free trade practices; investigates cases and complaints of unfair trade; and pursues criminal and disciplinary actions against those found guilty of unfair trade practices stipulated in the law. The law focuses on the following areas: unlawful exercise of market dominance; mergers or collusion that could lead to monopoly; unfair competition and restricting competition; and unfair trade practices. In November 2020, OTCC approved conglomerate Charoen Pokphand’s (CP Group) USD 10 billion acquisition of retail giant Tesco Lotus. Academics and consumer groups claim this merger would allow CP Group to hold more than 80 percent market share of Thailand’s wholesale and retail sector in some provinces, which would be non-compliant with the Trade Competition Act that aims to prevent any operator from holding more than 50 percent of the market share in any sector.

The Thai government, through the Central Commission on Price of Goods and Services, has the legal authority to control prices or set de facto price ceilings for selected goods and services, including staple agricultural products and feed ingredients (such as, pork, cooking oil, wheat flour, feed wheat, distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGs), and feed quality barley), liquefied petroleum gas, medicines, and sound recordings. In February 2020, the government added surgical masks, polypropylene (spunbond) for surgical mask production, alcohol for hand sanitizer, and wastepaper or recycled paper to the price-controlled products list. The controlled list is reviewed at least annually, but the price-control review mechanisms are non-transparent. In practice, Thailand’s government influences prices in the local market through its control of state monopoly suppliers of products and services, such as in the petroleum, oil, and gas industry sectors.

Expropriation and Compensation

Thai laws provide guarantees regarding protection from expropriation without compensation and non-discrimination for some, but not all, investors. Thailand’s Constitution provides protection from expropriation without fair compensation and requires the government to pass a specific, tailored expropriation law if the expropriation is required for the purpose of public utilities, national defense, acquisition of national resources, or for other public interests. The Investment Promotion Act also guarantees the government shall not nationalize the operations and assets of BOI-promoted investors.

The Expropriation of Immovable Property Act (EIP), most recently amended in 2019, applies to all property owners, whether foreign or domestic nationals. The Act provides a framework and clear procedures for expropriation; sets forth detailed provision and measures for compensation of landowners, lessees and other persons that may be affected by an expropriation; and recognizes the right to appeal decisions to Thai courts. The 2019 EIP requires the government to return land that was expropriated but has not been used back to the original property owners. However, the EIP and Investment Promotion Act do not protect against indirect expropriation and do not distinguish between compensable and non-compensable forms of indirect expropriation.

Thailand has a well-established system for land rights that is generally upheld in practice, but the legislation governing land tenure still significantly restricts foreigners’ rights to acquire land.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Thailand is a signatory to the New York Convention, which means that investors can enforce arbitral awards in any other signatory country. Thailand signed the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes in 1985 but has not ratified it. Therefore, most foreign investors covered under Thailand’s treaties with investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions that are limited to ICSID arbitration have not been able to bring ISDS claims against Thailand under these treaties.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Thailand is party to bilateral investment treaties with 46 nations. Two treaties – with the Netherlands and United States (Treaty of Amity) – do not include binding dispute resolution provisions. This means that investors covered under these treaties are unable to pursue international arbitration proceedings against the Thai government without first obtaining the government’s consent. There have been two notable cases of investor-state disputes in the last fifteen years, neither of which involved U.S. companies. The first case involved a concession agreement for a construction project filed under the Germany-Thailand bilateral investment treaty. In the second case, Thailand is engaged in a dispute over the government’s invocation of special powers to shut down a gold mine in early 2017.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Thailand’s Arbitration Act of 2002, modeled in part after the UNCITRAL Model Law, governs domestic and international arbitration proceedings. The Act states that “in cases where an arbitral award was made in a foreign country, the award shall be enforced by the competent court only if it is subject to an international convention, treaty, or agreement to which Thailand is a party.” Any arbitral award between parties subject to the New York Convention should thus be enforced. The following organizations provide arbitration services in Thailand: the Thai Arbitration Institute of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Office; Office of the Judiciary; and the Office of the Arbitration Tribunal of the Board of Trade of Thailand. In addition, the semi-public Thai Arbitration Center offers mediation and arbitration for civil and commercial disputes. An amendment to the Arbitration Act that allows foreign arbitrators to take part in cases involving foreign parties came into force on April 15, 2019. Under very limited circumstances, a court can set aside an arbitration award.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Thailand’s bankruptcy law is modeled after that of the United States. The law authorizes restructuring proceedings that require trained judges who specialize in bankruptcy matters to preside. According to the law, bankruptcy is defined as a state in which courts permit the distribution of assets belonging to a debtor among the creditors within the parameters of the law. Thailand’s bankruptcy law allows for corporate restructuring similar to U.S. Chapter 11 and does not criminalize bankruptcy. The law also distinguishes between secured and unsecured claims, with the former prioritized. While bankruptcy is under consideration, creditors can request the following ex parte applications from the Bankruptcy Court: an examination by the receiver of all the debtor’s assets and/or that the debtor attend questioning on the existence of assets; a requirement that the debtor provide satisfactory security to the court; and immediate seizure of the debtor’s assets and/or evidence in order to prevent the loss or destruction of such items.

The law stipulates that all applications for repayment must be made within one month after the Bankruptcy Court publishes the appointment of an official receiver. If a creditor eligible for repayment does not apply within this period, the creditor forfeits his/her right to receive payment or the court may cancel the order to reorganize the business. If any person opposes a filing, the receiver shall investigate the matter and approve, partially approve, or dismiss the application. Any objections to the orders issued by the receiver may be filed with the court within 14 days after learning of the issued order.

Within bankruptcy proceedings, it is also possible to undertake a “composition” in order to avoid a long and protracted process. A composition takes place when a debtor expresses in writing a desire to settle his/her debts, either partially or in any other manner, within seven days of submitting an explanation of matters related to the bankruptcy or during a time period prescribed by the receiver. After the proposal for a composition has been submitted, the receiver calls for a meeting among creditors to consider whether or not to accept the proposal. If the proposal is accepted, the court will approve the composition in order to legally execute the proposal; however, it will only do so if the proposal includes clear provisions for the repayment of debts. Despite these laws, some U.S. businesses complain that Thailand’s bankruptcy courts in practice can slow legislative processes to the detriment of outside firms seeking to acquire assets liquidated in bankruptcy processes.

The National Credit Bureau of Thailand (NCB) provides the financial services industry with information on consumers and businesses. The NCB is required to provide the financial services sector with payment history information from utility companies, retailers and merchants, and trade creditors.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Board of Investment:

The Board of Investment offers investment incentives to qualified domestic and foreign investors. To upgrade the country’s technological capacity, the BOI presently gives more weight to applications in high-tech, innovative, and sustainable industries. These include digital technology, “smart agriculture” and biotechnology, aviation and logistics, automation and robotics, medical and wellness tourism, and other high-value services.

The most significant privileges offered by the BOI for promoted projects include: corporate income tax exemptions; tariff reductions or exemptions on imports of machinery used in the investment; tariff-free treatment on imported raw materials used in production for export.

  • corporate income tax exemptions; tariff reductions or exemptions on imports of machinery used in the investment; tariff-free treatment on imported raw materials used in production for export.
  • permission to own land; permission to bring foreign experts; and visa and work permit facilitation.

Investment projects with a significant R&D, innovation, or human resource development component may be eligible for additional grants and incentives. Moreover, grants are provided to support targeted technology development under the Competitive Enhancement Act. BOI offers a one-stop service to expedite multiple business processes for investors.

For additional information, contact the Office of Board of Investment on 555 Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900 and telephone at +662-553-8111 or website at www.boi.go.th.

Office of the Eastern Economic Corridor:

Thailand’s flagship investment zone, the “Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC),” spans the provinces of Chachoengsao, Chonburi, and Rayong (5,129 square miles). The EEC leverages the developed infrastructure networks of the adjacent Eastern Seaboard industrial area, Thailand’s primary investment destination for more than 30 years. The Thai government foresees the EEC as a primary investment and infrastructure hub in ASEAN and a gateway to east and south Asia. Among the EEC development projects are smart cities; an innovation district (EECi); a digital park (EECd); an aerotropolis (EEC-A); a medical hub (EECmd); and other state-of-the-art facilities. The EEC is targeting twelve key industries:

  • Next-generation automotive
  • Intelligent electronics
  • Advanced agriculture and biotechnology
  • Food processing
  • Tourism
  • Advance robotics and automation
  • Integrated aviation industry
  • Medical hub and total healthcare services
  • Biofuels and biochemicals
  • Digital technology
  • Defense industry
  • Human resource development

The EEC Act authorized investment incentives and privileges. Investors can obtain long-term land leases of 99 years (with an initial lease of up to 50 years and a renewal of up to 49 years). The EEC Act shortens the public-private partnership approval process to approximately nine months.

The BOI works in cooperation with the EEC Office. BOI offers corporate income tax exemptions of up to 13 years for strategic projects in the EEC area. Foreign executives and experts who work in targeted industries in the EEC are subject to a maximum personal income tax rate of 17 percent.

For additional information, contact the Eastern Economic Corridor Office at 25th floor, CAT Tower, 72 Soi Wat Maungkhae, Charoenkrung Road, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, telephone at +662-033-8000 and website at: https://eng.eeco.or.th/en.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT), a state-enterprise under the Ministry of Industry, develops suitable locations to accommodate industrial properties. IEAT has an established network of industrial estates in Thailand, including Laem Chabang Industrial Estate in Chonburi Province and Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong Province in Thailand’s eastern seaboard region, a common location for foreign-owned factories due to its proximity to seaport facilities and Bangkok. Foreign-owned firms generally have the same investment opportunities in the industrial zones as Thai entities. While the IEAT Act requires that in the case of foreign-owned firms, the IEAT Committee must consider and approve the amount of space/land bought or leased in industrial estates, in practice, there is no record of disapproval for requested land. Private developers are heavily involved in the development of these estates.

The IEAT currently operates 14 estates, plus 45 more in conjunction with the private sector, in 16 provinces nationwide. Private-sector developers independently operate over 50 industrial estates, most of which have received promotion privileges from the Board of Investment. Amata Industrial Estate and WHA Industrial Development are Thailand’s leading private industrial estate developers. Most major foreign manufacturing investors, including U.S. manufacturers, are located in these two companies’ industrial estates and in the eastern seaboard region.

The IEAT has established 12 special IEAT “free trade zones” reserved for industries manufacturing exclusively for export. Businesses may import raw materials into, and export finished products from, these zones free of duty (including value added tax). These zones are located within industrial estates and many have customs facilities to speed processing. The free trade zones are located in Chonburi, Lampun, Pichit, Songkhla, Samut Prakarn, Bangkok (at Lad Krabang), Ayuddhya, and Chachoengsao. In addition to these zones, factory owners may apply for permission to establish a bonded warehouse within their premises to which raw materials, used exclusively in the production of products for export, may be imported duty-free.

The Thai government also established Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in ten provinces bordering neighboring countries: Tak, Nong Khai, Mukdahan, Sa Kaeo, Trad, Narathiwat, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Phanom, Songkhla, and Kanchanaburi. Business sectors and industries that can benefit from tax and non-tax incentives offered in the SEZs include logistics; warehouses near border areas; distribution; services; labor-intensive factories; and manufacturers using raw materials from neighboring countries. These SEZs support Thai government goals for closer economic ties with neighboring countries and allow investors to tap into abundant migrant labor; however, these SEZs have proven less attractive to overseas investors due to their remote locations far from Bangkok and other major cities.

In 2019, Thai Customs implemented three measures to improve trade and customs processing efficiency: Pre-Arrival Processing (PAP); an “e-Bill Payment” electronic payment system; and an e-Customs system that waives the use of paper customs declaration copies. The measures comply with the World Trade Organizations (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), adopted in February 2016, which requires WTO members to adopt procedures for pre-arrival processing for imports and to authorize electronic submission of customs documents, where appropriate. The measures have also improved Thailand’s ranking in the World Bank’s “Doing Business: Trading Across Borders 2020” index.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Thai government does not have specific laws or policies regarding performance or data localization requirements. Foreign investors are not required to use domestic content in goods or technology, but the Thai government has encouraged such an approach through domestic preferences in government procurement proceedings. In March 2021, Thailand announced the “Made in Thailand” initiative, which will direct government agencies to procure at least 60 percent of their goods from local producers.

There are currently no requirements for foreign IT providers to localize their data, turn over source code, or provide access to surveillance. However, the Thai government in 2019 passed new laws and regulations on cybersecurity and personal data protection that have raised concerns about Thai authorities’ broad power to potentially demand confidential and sensitive information. IT operators and analysts have expressed concern with private companies’ legal protections, ability to appeal, or ability to limit such access. IT providers have expressed concern that the new laws might place unreasonable burdens on them and have introduced new uncertainties in the technology sector. As of April 2021, the government is still in the process of considering and implementing regulations to enforce laws on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection. Thailand has implemented a requirement that all debit transactions processed by a domestic debit card network must use a proprietary chip.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights are guaranteed by the Constitution. While the government provides fair compensation in instances of expropriation, Thai policy generally does not permit foreigners to own land. There have been instances, however, of granting such permission to foreigners under certain laws or ministerial regulations for residential, business, or religious purposes. Foreign ownership of condominiums and buildings is permitted under certain laws. Foreigners can freely lease land. Relevant articles of the Civil and Commercial Codes do not distinguish between foreign and Thai nationals in the exercise of lease rights. Secured interests in property, such as mortgage and pledge, are recognized and enforced. Unoccupied property legally owned by foreigners or Thais may be subject to adverse possession by squatters who stay on that property for at least 10 years.

Intellectual Property Rights

Thailand remained on the Special 301 Watch List in 2020 although its single physical market listed in the Notorious Markets Report dropped off in 2020. USTR highlights Thailand’s absence of accession to major international IP treaties, the unauthorized activities of collective management organizations, online piracy from streaming devices and applications, the use of unauthorized software in the public and private sectors, and a continued backlog in pharmaceutical patent applications as the main challenges confronting the country’s protection of intellectual property rights.

The National Committee on Intellectual Property Policy sets Thailand’s overall Intellectual Property (IP) policy. The National Committee is chaired by the Prime Minister with two Deputy Prime Ministers as vice chairs while 18 heads of government agencies serve as committee members. In 2017, this Committee approved a 20-year IP Roadmap to reform the country’s IP system. The Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) is responsible for IP-related administration, including registration and recording of IP rights and coordination of IP enforcement activities. DIP also acts as the secretary of the National Committee on Intellectual Property Policy.

Thailand has a robust legal and enforcement regime for IP rights. Thailand is a member of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Thailand’s patent regime generally provides protection for most new inventions. The process of patent examination through issuance of patents is slow, taking on average six to eight years. The patenting process may take longer for certain technology sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Thailand protects trademarks, traditional marks, and sound marks. As a member of the “Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks” (Madrid Protocol), Thailand allows trademark owners to apply for trademark registrations in Thailand directly at DIP or through international applications under the Madrid Protocol. DIP historically takes 10 to 14 months to register a trademark. As Thailand is a member of the “Berne Convention,” copyright works are protected automatically. However, copyright owners may record their works with DIP to establish proof of ownership. Thailand joined the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled in January 2019. Thailand’s Geographical Indications (GI) Act has been in force since April 2004. Thailand protects GIs, which identify goods by their specific geographical origins. The geographical origins identified by a GI must be directly attributable to the reputation, qualities, or characteristics of the good. In Thailand, a registered trademark does not prevent a similar geographical name to be registered as a GI.

As of March 2021, Thailand remained in the process of amending its Patent Act to streamline the patent registration process, to reduce patent backlog and pendency, and to help prepare for accession to the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs. Furthermore, Thailand has increased the number of examiners to reduce the patent backlog. Thailand is also amending its Copyright Act to prepare for accession to the WIPO Internet Treaties. To address the use of unlicensed software in the public sector, Thailand adopted guidelines in November 2020 on the government acquisition of legitimate software. DIP recently adopted a new system of voluntary registration of copyright (collective management) agents to curb illegal activities of rogue agents. To register, an agent must meet certain qualifications and undergo prescribed training. The roster of registered agents along with associated licensed copyrights is available on the DIP website. Thailand also organized an MOU in January 2021 between internet platforms, DIP, and rightsholders, to streamline the process of removing IP-infringing and counterfeit goods from the country’s most popular online marketplaces.

Thailand maintains a database on seizures of counterfeit goods that is updated monthly (https://www.ipthailand.go.th/en/statistics). In 2020, the Royal Thai Police conducted 1,685 raids and seized 330,607 items, the Department of Special Investigation conducted four raids on trademark violations resulting in 512,621 items being seized, and the Customs Department had 1,541 seizures that stopped 52,517,596 IP-infringing items from entering Thailand.

Thailand’s Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court (CIPIT) is the court of first instance that has the jurisdiction over both civil and criminal intellectual property cases and the appeals from DIP administrative decisions. The Court of Appeal for Specialized Cases hears appeals from the CIPIT.

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

10. Political and Security Environment

Periodic street protests against the government occurred throughout 2020, though they were generally peaceful and did not result in property damage.

Violence related to an ongoing ethno-nationalist insurgency in Thailand’s southernmost provinces has claimed more than 7,000 lives since 2004. Although the number of deaths and violent incidents has decreased year-over-year, efforts to end the insurgency have so far been unsuccessful. The government is currently engaged in preliminary talks with the leading insurgent group. Almost all attacks have occurred in the three southernmost provinces of the country.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International
Source of Data: BEA; IMF;
Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $543,478 2019 $543,549 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international
Source of data: BEA; IMF;
Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $18,345 2019 $17,738 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $8,015 2019 $1,904 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 50.2% 2019 46.8% UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/Economic
Trends/Fdi.html
 

* Source for Host Country Data: Bank of Thailand (http://bot.or.th/)

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 $259,830 100% Total Outward $134,022 100%
Japan $89,682 34.5% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $25,059 18.7%
Singapore $41,464 16.0% Singapore $13,486 10.1%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong $22,669 8.7% The Netherlands $10,481 7.8%
United States $17,232 6.6% Vietnam $7,693 5.7%
The Netherlands $14,298 5.5% Mauritius $7,553 5.6%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $662319 100% All Countries $37625 100% All Countries $28606 100%
United States $9,423 14% Luxembourg $7,473 19% China, P.R. Mainland $6565 23%
Luxembourg $7951 12% United States $7,209 19% Japan $3,072 11%
Singapore $4429 7% Singapore $3723 10% Laos 2452 9%
Ireland $4,063 6% Ireland $4,000 10% United States

UAE

$2214 8%
Japan $3387 5% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $1,202 3% UAE $2,026 7%

Vietnam

Executive Summary

Vietnam continues to welcome foreign direct investment (FDI), and the government has policies in place that are broadly conducive to U.S. investment. Factors that attract foreign investment include recently-signed free trade agreements, political stability, ongoing economic reforms, a young and increasingly urbanized population, and competitive labor costs. Vietnam has received USD 231 billion in FDI from 1988 through 2020, per the Ministry of Public Affairs (MPI), which oversees foreign investments.

Vietnam’s exceptional handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has included proactive management of health policy, fiscal stimulus, and monetary policy, combined with supply chain shifts, contributed to Vietnam receiving USD 19.9 billion in FDI in 2020 – almost as much as the USD 20.3 billion received in 2019. Of the 2020 investments, 48 percent went into manufacturing – especially in the electronics, textiles, footwear, and automobile parts industries; 18 percent in utilities and energy; 15 percent in real estate; and smaller percentages in assorted industries. The government approved the following significant FDI projects in 2020: Delta Offshore’s USD 4 billion investment in the Bac Lieu liquified natural gas (LNG) power plant; Siam Cement Group’s (SCG) USD 1.8 billion investment in the Long Son Integrated Petrochemicals Complex; a Daewoo-led, South Korean consortium’s USD 774 million investment in the West Lake Capital Township real estate development in Hanoi; and Taiwan-based Pegatron’s USD 481 million investment in electronics production.

Vietnam recently moved forward on free trade agreements that will likely make it easier to attract future FDI by providing better market access for Vietnamese exports and encouraging investor-friendly reforms. The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) came into force August 1, 2020. Vietnam signed the UK-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement on December 31, 2020, which will come into effect May 1, 2021. On November 15, 2020, Vietnam signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). While these agreements lower certain trade and investment barriers for companies from participating countries, U.S. companies may find it more difficult to compete without similar advantages.

In February 2021, the 13th Party Congress of the Communist Party approved a ten-year economic strategy that calls for shifting foreign investments to high-tech industries and ensuring those investments include provisions relating to environmental protection. On January 1, 2021, Vietnam’s Securities Law and new Labor Code Law, which the National Assembly originally approved in 2019, came into force. The Securities Law formally states the government’s intention to remove foreign ownership limits for investments in most industries, and the new Labor Code provides more contract flexibility – including provisions that make it easier for an employer to dismiss an employee and allow workers to join independent trade unions – although no such independent trade unions yet exist in Vietnam. On June 17, 2020, Vietnam passed a revised Investment Law and a new Public Private Partnership Law, both designed to encourage foreign investment into large infrastructure projects, reduce the burden on the government to finance such projects, and increase linkages between foreign investors and the Vietnamese private sector.

Despite a comparatively high level of FDI inflow as a percentage of GDP – 7.3 percent in 2020 – significant challenges remain in Vietnam’s investment climate. These include corruption, weak legal infrastructure, poor enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR), a shortage of skilled labor, restrictive labor practices, and the government’s slow decision-making process.

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 104 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 70 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 42 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 2,615 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 2,590 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Since Vietnam embarked on economic reforms in 1986 to transition to a market-based economy, the government has welcomed FDI, recognizing it as a key component of Vietnam’s high rate of economic growth over the last two decades. Foreign investments continue to play a crucial role in the economy: according to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office (GSO), Vietnam exported USD 281 billion in goods in 2020, of which 72 percent came from projects utilizing FDI.

The Politburo issued Resolution 55 in 2019 to increase Vietnam’s attractiveness to foreign investment. This Resolution aims to attract USD 50 billion in new foreign investment by 2030. In 2020, the government revised laws on investment and enterprise, in addition to passing the Public Private Partnership Law, to further the goals of this Resolution. The revisions encourage high-quality investments, use and development of advanced technologies, and environmental protection mechanisms.

While Vietnam’s revised Investment Law says the government must treat foreign and domestic investors equally, foreign investors have complained about having to cross extra hurdles to get ordinary government approvals. The government continues to have foreign ownership limits (FOLs) in industries Vietnam considers important to national security. In January 2020, the government removed FOLs on companies in the eWallet sector and reformed electronic payments procedures for foreign firms. Some U.S. investors report that these changes have provided more regulatory certainty, which has, in turn, instilled greater confidence as they consider long-term investments in Vietnam.U.S. investors continue to cite concerns about confusing tax regulations and retroactive changes to laws – including tax rates, tax policies, and preferential treatment of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). In 2020, members of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hanoi noted that fair, transparent, stable, and effective legal frameworks would help Vietnam better attract U.S. investment.

The Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) is the country’s national agency charged with promoting and facilitating foreign investment; most provinces and cities also have local equivalents. MPI and local investment promotion offices provide information and explain regulations and policies to foreign investors. They also inform the Prime Minister and National Assembly on trends in foreign investment. However, U.S. investors should still consult lawyers and/or other experts regarding issues on regulations that are unclear.

The Prime Minister, along with other senior leaders, has stated that Vietnam prioritizes both investment retention and ongoing dialogue with foreign investors. Vietnam’s senior leaders often meet with foreign governments and private-sector representatives to emphasize Vietnam’s attractiveness as an FDI destination. The semiannual Vietnam Business Forum includes meetings between foreign investors and Vietnamese government officials; the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council (USABC), AmCham, and other U.S. associations also host multiple yearly missions for their U.S. company members, which allow direct engagement with senior government officials. Foreign investors in Vietnam have reported that these meetings and dialogues have helped address obstacles.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Both foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises in Vietnam and engage in most forms of legal remunerative activity in non-regulated sectors.

Vietnam has some statutory restrictions on foreign investment, including FOLs or requirements for joint partnerships, projects in banking, network infrastructure services, non-infrastructure telecommunication services, transportation, energy, and defense. By law, the Prime Minister can waive these FOLs on a case-by-case basis. In practice, however, when the government has removed or eased FOLs, it has done so for the whole industry sector rather than for a specific investment.

MPI plays a key role with respect to investment screening. All FDI projects require approval by the provincial People’s Committee in which the project would be located. By law, large-scale FDI projects must also obtain the approval of the National Assembly before investment can proceed. MPI’s approval process includes an assessment of the investor’s legal status and financial strength; the project’s compatibility with the government’s long- and short-term goals for economic development and government revenue; the investor’s technological expertise; environmental protection; and plans for land use and land clearance compensation, if applicable. The government can, and sometimes does, stop certain foreign investments if it deems the investment harmful to Vietnam’s national security.

The following FDI projects also require the Prime Minister’s approval: airports; grade 1 seaports (seaports the government classifies as strategic); casinos; oil and gas exploration, production, and refining; telecommunications/network infrastructure; forestry projects; publishing; and projects that need approval from more than one province. In the period between this year’s Investment Climate Statement and last year’s, the government removed the requirement that the Prime Minister needs to approve investments over USD 271 million or investments in the tobacco industry.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Recent third-party investment policy reviews include the World Bank’s Review from 2020: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33598 

https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33598 

And OECD’s 2018 Review: https://www.oecd.org/countries/vietnam/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-viet-nam-2017-9789264282957-en.htm 

https://www.oecd.org/countries/vietnam/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-viet-nam-2017-9789264282957-en.htm 

UNCTAD released a report in 2009: https://unctad.org/webflyer/investment-policy-review-viet-nam 

https://unctad.org/webflyer/investment-policy-review-viet-nam 

Business Facilitation

The World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index ranked Vietnam 70 of 190 economies. The World Bank reported that in some factors Vietnam lags behind other Southeast Asian countries. For example, it takes businesses 384 hours to pay taxes in Vietnam compared with 64 in Singapore, 174 in Malaysia, and 191 in Indonesia.

In May 2021, USAID and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) released the Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) 2020 Report, which examined trends in economic governance: http://eng.pcivietnam.org/ . This annual report provides an independent, unbiased view on the provincial business environment by surveying over 8,500 domestic private firms on a variety of business issues. Overall, Vietnam’s median PCI score improved, reflecting the government’s efforts to improve economic governance and the quality of infrastructure, as well as a decline in the prevalence of corruption (bribes).

Outward Investment

The government does not have a clear mechanism to promote or incentivize outward investment, nor does it have regulations restricting domestic investors from investing abroad. Vietnam does not release periodical statistics on outward investment, but reported that by the end of 2019 total outward FDI investment from Vietnam was USD 21 billion in more than 1,300 projects in 78 countries. Laos received the most outward FDI, with USD 5 billion, followed by Russia and Cambodia with USD 2.8 billion and USD 2.7 billion, respectively. SOEs like PetroVietnam, Viettel, and SOCB are Vietnam’s largest sources of outward FDI, and have invested more than USD 13 billion in outward FDI, per media reports.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

U.S. companies continue to report that they face frequent and significant challenges with inconsistent regulatory interpretation, irregular enforcement, and an unclear legal framework. AmCham members have consistently voiced concerns that Vietnam lacks a fair legal system for investments, which affects U.S. companies’ ability to do business in Vietnam. The 2020 PCI report documented companies’ difficulties dealing with land, taxes, and social insurance issues, but also found improvements in procedures related to business administration and anti-corruption.

Accounting systems are inconsistent with international norms, and this increases transaction costs for investors. The government had previously said it intended to have most companies transition to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) by 2020. Unable to meet this target, the Ministry of Finance in March 2020 extended the deadline to 2025.

In Vietnam, the National Assembly passes laws, which serve as the highest form of legal direction, but often lack specifics. Ministries provide draft laws to the National Assembly. The Prime Minister issues decrees, which provide guidance on implementation. Individual ministries issue circulars, which provide guidance on how a ministry will administer a law or decree.

After implementing ministries have cleared a particular law to send the law to the National Assembly, the government posts the law for a 60-day comment period. However, in practice, the public comment period is sometimes truncated. Foreign governments, NGOs, and private-sector companies can, and do, comment during this period, after which the ministry may redraft the law. Upon completion of the revisions, the ministry submits the legislation to the Office of the Government (OOG) for approval, including the Prime Minister’s signature, and the legislation moves to the National Assembly for committee review. During this process, the National Assembly can send the legislation back to the originating ministry for further changes. The Communist Party of Vietnam’s Politburo reserves the right to review special or controversial laws.

In practice, drafting ministries often lack the resources needed to conduct adequate data-driven assessments. Ministries are supposed to conduct policy impact assessments that holistically consider all factors before drafting a law, but the quality of these assessments varies.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is in charge of ensuring that government ministries and agencies follow administrative procedures. The MOJ has a Regulatory Management Department, which oversees and reviews legal documents after they are issued to ensure compliance with the legal system. The Law on the Promulgation of Legal Normative Documents requires all legal documents and agreements to be published online and open for comments for 60 days, and to be published in the Official Gazette before implementation.

Business associations and various chambers of commerce regularly comment on draft laws and regulations. However, when issuing more detailed implementing guidelines, government entities sometimes issue circulars with little advance warning and without public notification, resulting in little opportunity for comment by affected parties. In several cases, authorities allowed comments for the first draft only and did not provide subsequent draft versions to the public. The centralized location where key regulatory actions are published can be found here:   http://vbpl.vn/  .

While general information is publicly available, Vietnam’s public finances and debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) are not transparent. The National Assembly set a statutory limit for public debt at 65 percent of nominal GDP, and, according to official figures, Vietnam’s public debt to GDP ratio in late 2020 was 55.3 percent – down from 56 percent the previous year. However, the official public-debt figures exclude the debt of certain large SOEs. This poses a risk to Vietnam’s public finances, as the government is liable for the debts of these companies. Vietnam could improve its fiscal transparency by making its executive budget proposal, including budgetary and debt expenses, widely and easily accessible to the general public long before the National Assembly enacts the budget, ensuring greater transparency of off-budget accounts, and by publicizing the criteria by which the government awards contracts and licenses for natural resource extraction.

International Regulatory Considerations

Vietnam is a member of ASEAN, a 10-member regional organization working to advance economic integration through cooperation in economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields. Within ASEAN, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has the goal of establishing a single market across ASEAN nations (similar to the EU’s common market), but member states have not made significant progress. To date, AEC’s greatest success has been in reducing tariffs on most products traded within the bloc.

Vietnam is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), an inter-governmental forum for 21 member economies in the Pacific Rim that promotes free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region. APEC aims to facilitate business among member states through trade facilitation programming, senior-level leaders’ meetings, and regular dialogue. However, APEC is a non-binding forum. ASEAN and APEC membership has not resulted in Vietnam incorporating international standards, especially when compared with the EU or North America.

Vietnam is a party to the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has been implementing the TFA’s Category A provisions. Vietnam submitted its Category B and Category C implementation timelines on August 2, 2018. According to these timelines, Vietnam will fully implement the Category B and C provisions by the end of 2023 and 2024, respectively.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Vietnam’s legal system mixes indigenous, French, and Soviet-inspired civil legal traditions. Vietnam generally follows an operational understanding of the rule of law that is consistent with its top-down, one-party political structure and traditionally inquisitorial judicial system.

The hierarchy of the country’s courts is: 1) the Supreme People’s Court; 2) the High People’s Court; 3) Provincial People’s Courts; 4) District People’s Courts, and 5) Military Courts. The People’s Courts operate in five divisions: criminal, civil, administrative, economic, and labor. The Supreme People’s Procuracy is responsible for prosecuting criminal activities as well as supervising judicial activities.

Vietnam lacks an independent judiciary and separation of powers among Vietnam’s branches of government. For example, Vietnam’s Chief Justice is also a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. According to Transparency International, there is significant risk of corruption in judicial rulings. Low judicial salaries engender corruption; nearly one-fifth of surveyed Vietnamese households that have been to court declared that they had paid bribes at least once. Many businesses therefore avoid Vietnamese courts as much as possible.

The judicial system continues to face additional problems: for example, many judges and arbitrators lack adequate legal training and are appointed through personal or political contacts with party leaders or based on their political views. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and appeals are adjudicated in the national court system. Through a separate legal mechanism, individuals and companies can file complaints against enforcement actions under the Law on Complaints.

The 2005 Commercial Law regulates commercial contracts between businesses. Specific regulations prescribe specific forms of contracts, depending on the nature of the deals. If a contract does not contain a dispute-resolution clause, courts will have jurisdiction over a dispute. Vietnamese law allows dispute-resolution clauses in commercial contracts explicitly through the Law on Commercial Arbitration. The law follows the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law as an international standard for procedural rules.

Vietnamese courts will only consider recognition of civil judgments issued by courts in countries that have entered into agreements on recognition of judgments with Vietnam or on a reciprocal basis. However, with the exception of France, these treaties only cover non-commercial judgments.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The legal system includes provisions to promote foreign investment. Vietnam uses a “negative list” approach to approve foreign investment, meaning foreign businesses are allowed to operate in all areas except for six prohibited sectors – from which domestic businesses are also prohibited. These include illicit drugs, wildlife trade, prostitution, human trafficking, human cloning, and debt collection services.

The law also requires that foreign and domestic investors be treated equally in cases of nationalization and confiscation. However, foreign investors are subject to different business-licensing processes and restrictions, and companies registered in Vietnam that have majority foreign ownership are subject to foreign-investor business-license procedures.

The new Labor Code, which came into effect January 1, 2021, provides greater flexibility in contract termination, allows employees to work more overtime hours, increases the retirement age, and adds flexibility in labor contracts.

The Investment Law, revised in June 2020, stipulated Vietnam would encourage FDI, through incentives, in university education, pollution mitigation, and certain medical research. Public Private Partnership Law, passed in June 2020 lists transportation, electricity grid and power plants, irrigation, water supply and treatment, waste treatment, health care, education and IT infrastructure as prioritized sectors for FDI and private public partnerships.

Vietnam has a “one-stop-shop” website for investment that provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors:  https://vietnam.eregulations.org/  

Competition and Antitrust Laws

In 2018, Vietnam passed a new Law on Competition, which came into effect on July 1, 2019, replacing Vietnam’s Law on Competition of 2004. The Law includes punishments – such as fines – for those who violate the law. The government has not prosecuted any person or entity under this law since it came into effect, though there were prosecutions under the old law in the early 2000s. The law does not appear to have affected foreign investment. On March 24, 2020, Decree 35, the second decree to implement the Law on Competition, came into effect. Decree 35 addresses issues on anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominance, and merger control. For merger control, the decree replaces the single market share threshold for when parties must notify a merger with an approach that puts forward four alternative benchmarks based on the value of assets, transaction value, revenue, and market share. The decree also provides details on merger filing assessment.

Expropriation and Compensation

Under the law, the government of Vietnam can only expropriate investors’ property in cases of emergency, disaster, defense, or national interest, and the government is required to compensate investors if it expropriates property. Under the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, Vietnam must apply international standards of treatment in any case of expropriation or nationalization of U.S. investor assets, which includes acting in a non-discriminatory manner with due process of law and with prompt, adequate, and effective compensation. The U.S. Mission in Vietnam is unaware of any current expropriation cases involving U.S. firms.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Vietnam has not acceded to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention but is a member of UN Commission on International Trade Laws for the period 2019-2025. MPI has submitted a proposal to the government to join the ICSID, but the government has not moved forward on it. Vietnam is a party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”), meaning that Vietnam courts should recognize foreign arbitral awards rendered by a recognized international arbitration institution without a review of cases’ merits.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Vietnam has signed 67 bilateral investment treaties, is party to 26 treaties with investment provisions, and is a member of 15 free trade agreements in force. Some of these include provisions for Investor-State Dispute Settlement. As a signatory to the New York Convention, Vietnam is required to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards within its jurisdiction, with few exceptions. Technically, foreign and domestic arbitral awards are legally enforceable in Vietnam; however, foreign investors in Vietnam generally prefer international arbitration for predictability. Vietnam courts may reject foreign arbitral awards if the award is contrary to the basic principles of domestic laws. The new Investment law provides that only Vietnam arbitration and courts can solve disputes between investors and government authorities, while investors can select foreign or mutually agreed arbitrations to solve their disputes.

According to UNCTAD, over the last 10 years, there were two dispute cases against the Vietnamese government involving U.S. companies.  The courts decided in favor of the government in one case, and the parties decided to discontinue the other.  The government is currently in two pending, active disputes (with the UK and South Korea). More details are available at  https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/investment-dispute-settlement/country/229/viet-nam.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

With an underdeveloped legal system, Vietnam’s courts are often ineffective in settling commercial disputes. Negotiation between concerned parties or arbitration are the most common means of dispute resolution. Since the Law on Arbitration does not allow a foreign investor to refer an investment dispute to a court in a foreign jurisdiction, Vietnamese judges cannot apply foreign laws to a case before them, and foreign lawyers cannot represent plaintiffs in a court of law. The Law on Commercial Arbitration of 2010 permits foreign arbitration centers to establish branches or representative offices (although none have done so).

There are no readily available statistics on how often domestic courts rule in favor of SOEs. In general, the court system in Vietnam works slowly. International arbitration awards, when enforced, may take years from original judgment to payment. Many foreign companies, due to concerns related to time, costs, and potential for bribery, have reported that they have turned to international arbitration or have asked influential individuals to weigh in.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Under the 2014 Bankruptcy Law, bankruptcy is not criminalized unless it relates to another crime. The law defines insolvency as a condition in which an enterprise is more than three months overdue in meeting its payment obligations. The law also provides provisions allowing creditors to commence bankruptcy proceedings against an enterprise and procedures for credit institutions to file for bankruptcy. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report, Vietnam ranked 122 out of 190 for resolving insolvency. The report noted that it still takes, on average, five years to conclude a bankruptcy case in Vietnam. The Credit Information Center of the State Bank of Vietnam provides credit information services for foreign investors concerned about the potential for bankruptcy with a Vietnamese partner.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Foreign investors are exempt from import duties on goods imported for their own use that cannot be procured locally, including machinery; vehicles; components and spare parts for machinery and equipment; raw materials; inputs for manufacturing; and construction materials. Remote and mountainous provinces and special industrial zones are allowed to provide additional tax breaks and other incentives to prospective investors.

Investment incentives, including lower corporate income tax rates, exemption of some import tariffs, or favorable land rental rates, are available in the following sectors: advanced technology; research and development; new materials; energy; clean energy; renewable energy; energy saving products; automobiles; software; waste treatment and management; and primary or vocational education.

The government rarely issues guarantees for financing FDI projects; when it does so, it is usually because the project links to a national security priority. Joint financing with the government occurs when a foreign entity partners with an SOE. The government’s reluctance to guarantee projects reflects its desire to stay below a statutory 65 percent public debt-to-GDP ratio cap, and a desire to avoid incurring liabilities from projects that would not be economically viable without the guarantee. This has delayed approval of many large-scale FDI projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Vietnam has prioritized efforts to establish and develop foreign trade zones (FTZs) over the last decade. Vietnam currently has more than 350 industrial zones (IZs) and export processing zones (EPZs). Many foreign investors report that it is easier to implement projects in IZs because they do not have to be involved in site clearance and infrastructure construction. Enterprises in FTZs pay no duties when importing raw materials if they export the finished products. Customs warehouse companies in FTZs can provide transportation services and act as distributors for the goods deposited.

Additional services relating to customs declaration, appraisal, insurance, reprocessing, or packaging require the approval of the provincial customs office. In practice, the time involved for clearance and delivery of goods by provincial custom officials can be lengthy and unpredictable. Companies operating in economic zones are entitled to more tax reductions as measures to incentivize investments.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Vietnamese law states that employers can only recruit foreign nationals for high-skilled positions such as manager, managing director, expert, or technical worker. Local companies must also justify that their efforts to hire suitable local employees were unsuccessful before recruiting foreigners, and local authorities and/or the national government must approve these justifications in writing. This does not apply to board members elected by shareholders or capital contributors.

The government has implemented entry suspension and quarantine regulations for foreigners since March 2020, as a measure to contain COVID-19. Vietnam’s borders are closed for all foreign nationals with only few exceptions for diplomatic, experts, and special cases determined by the government. Foreign nationals travelling to Vietnam are subject to testing, quarantine, and lockdowns with little or no advance notice.

On June 17, 2020, the National Assembly passed the Law on Investment (LOI) 2020, which prescribes market entry conditions for foreign investors, particularly in “conditional” sectors. All investors, foreign or domestics, must obtain formal approval, in the form of business licenses or other certifications, to satisfy “necessary conditions for reasons of national defense, security or order, social safety, social morality, and health of the community.” These sectors are listed in Appendix IV (“List of Conditional Investments and Businesses”) of the Law.

LOI 2020 includes two conditions for foreign investors investing in or acquiring capital/share in a Vietnamese company:

  • The investment must not compromise national defense and security of Vietnam; and
  • The investment must comply with the conditions relating to the use of islands, border areas, and coastal areas in accordance with the applicable laws.

The LOI does not define “national defense and security.”

On January 1, 2019, the Law on Cybersecurity (LOCS) came into effect, requiring cross-border services providers to store data of Vietnamese users in Vietnam – despite sustained international and domestic opposition to the regulation. The July 2019 draft of the LOCS implementing decree by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) sparked concerns among foreign digital services firms regarding the draft decree’s provisions on data localization and local presence for a broad range of services in the Internet economy – from cloud computing to email. Provisions of the LOCS require firms to provide unencrypted user information upon request by law enforcement. However, application of this requirement hinges on issuance of the implementing Decree, which is still pending as of April 2021.

In September 2020, MPS released a revised LOCS decree draft, which requires all local companies to comply with data localization requirements and forces foreign services providers to localize their data and establish local presence when they violate Vietnamese laws and fail to cooperate with MPS to address violations. U.S. companies complain that the data localization regulations are impractical, and if implemented, would be unnecessarily burdensome.

The 2019 Law on Tax Administration, which came into force July 1, 2020, requires foreign entities that employ digital platforms without a permanent physical presence in Vietnam to register as tax-paying entities in Vietnam. The Ministry of Finance released a draft circular with guidance on implementation of the Law in March 2021, and is working to revise the law based on stakeholder comments, as of April 2021. American companies have expressed concerns that the original draft circular included unnecessarily complex and unclear regulations of Corporate Income Tax (CIT) and Value Added Tax (VAT) collections, and does not address areas that overlap with Vietnam’s international tax treaties already in force.

In early 2020, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) released a draft outline of the Personal Data Protection Decree (PDPD) and published the first full draft in February 2021 for public comment with an expected effective date of December 1, 2021. Industry and human rights activists have major concerns about data localization provision for personal data, including requirements for local presence, licensing, and registration procedures. If implemented as written, the regulations of cross-border transfer of personal data would affect a wide range of companies.

The Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) released a draft of Decree 72 on Internet Services and Information Content Online for public comment on April 19, 2020. Foreign companies reported concerns regarding the draft Decree provisions on mandatory licensing requirements; tightened regulations on social media companies; compulsory content review; and policies requiring responses to government takedown requests within 24 to 48 hours. The draft Decree requires local Internet service providers to terminate services for companies that fail to cooperate with the new regulations. The revised decree is scheduled to go into effect in late 2021. The Ministry of Public Security has applied the broadest possible definition of “data,” in the decree, which could threaten some activities of U.S. payment and financial services companies.

MIC is also revising Decree 06 on Management, Provision and Utilization of Radio and Television Services, which applies specifically to streaming services. The first draft, released August 2019, required onerous licensing procedures, local-presence requirements, local-content quotas, content preapproval, compulsory translation, and local advertising agents that are inconsistent with Vietnam’s commitments under the World Trade Organization (WTO). The latest, December 2020, draft continues to include licensing requirements for cross-border over-the-top (OTT) services providers and pre-check content censorship.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The State collectively owns and manages all land in Vietnam, and therefore neither foreigners nor Vietnamese nationals can own land. However, the government grants land-use and building rights, often to individuals. According to the Ministry of National Resources and Environment (MONRE), as of September 2018 – the most recent time period in which the government has made figures available – the government has issued land-use rights certificates for 96.9 percent of land in Vietnam. If land is not used according to the land-use rights certificate or if it is unoccupied, it reverts to the government. If investors do not use land leased within 12 consecutive months or delay land use by 24 months from the original investment schedule, the government is entitled to reclaim the land. Investors can seek an extension of delay but not for more than 24 months. Vietnam is building a national land-registration database, and some localities have already digitized their land records.

State protection of property rights are still evolving, and the law does not clearly demarcate circumstances in which the government would use eminent domain. Under the Housing Law and Real Estate Business Law of November 2014, the government can take land if it deems it necessary for socio-economic development in the public or national interest if the Prime Minister, the National Assembly, or the Provincial People’s Council approves such action. However, the law loosely defines “socio-economic development.”

Disputes over land rights continue to be a significant driver of social protests in Vietnam. Foreign investors also may be exposed to land disputes through merger and acquisition activities when they buy into a local company or implement large-scale infrastructure projects.

Foreign investors can lease land for renewable periods of 50 years, and up to 70 years in some underdeveloped areas. This allows titleholders to conduct property transactions, including mortgages on property. Some investors have encountered difficulties amending investment licenses to expand operations onto land adjoining existing facilities. Investors also note that local authorities may seek to increase requirements for land-use rights when current rights must be renewed, particularly when the investment in question competes with Vietnamese companies.

Intellectual Property Rights

Vietnam does not have a strong record on protecting and enforcing intellectual property (IP). Lack of coordination among ministries and agencies responsible for enforcement is a primary obstacle, and capacity constraints related to enforcement persist, in part, due to a lack of resources and IP expertise. Vietnam continues to rely heavily on administrative enforcement actions, which have consistently failed to deter widespread counterfeiting and piracy.

There were some positive developments in 2020-2021, such as the issuance of a national IP strategy, public awareness campaigns and training activities, and reported improvements on border enforcement in some parts of the country. Overall, however,IP enforcement continues to be a challenge.

The United States is closely monitoring and engaging with the Vietnamese government in the ongoing implementation of amendments to the 2015 Penal Code, particularly with respect to criminal enforcement of IP violations. Counterfeit goods are widely available online and in physical markets. In addition, issues continue to persist with online piracy (including the use of piracy devices and applications to access unauthorized audiovisual content), book piracy, lack of effective criminal measures for cable and satellite signal theft, and both private and public-sector software piracy..

Vietnam’s system for protecting against the unfair commercial use and unauthorized disclosure of undisclosed tests or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products needs further clarification.  The United States is monitoring the implementation of IP provisions of the CPTPP, which the National Assembly ratified in November 2018, and the EVFTA, which Vietnam’s National Assembly ratified in June 2020. The EVFTA grandfathered prior users of certain cheese terms from the restrictions in the geographical indications provisions of the EVFTA, and it is important that Vietnam ensure market access for prior users of those terms who were in the Vietnamese market before the grandfathering date of January 1, 2017.

In its international agreements, Vietnam committed to strengthen its IP regime and is in the process of drafting implementing legislation and other measures in a number of IP-related areas, including in preparation for acceding to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.  In September 2019, Vietnam acceded to the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, and the United States will monitor implementation of that agreement.

The United States, through the U.S.-Vietnam Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and other bilateral fora, continues to urge Vietnam to address IP issues and to provide interested stakeholders with meaningful opportunities for input as it proceeds with these reforms. The United States and Vietnam signed a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement in December 2019, which will facilitate bilateral cooperation in IP enforcement.

In 2020, the Intellectual Property Office of Vietnam (IP Vietnam) reported receiving 119,986 IP applications of all types (down 0.7 percent from 2019), of which 76,072 were registered for industrial property rights (up 1.7 percent from 2019). IP Vietnam reported granting 4,591 patents in 2020 (up 63 percent from 2019). Industrial designs registrations reached 2,054 in 2020 (down 5.4 percent from 2019). In total, IP Vietnam granted more than 47,168 protection titles for industrial property, out of 76,072 applications in 2020 (up 15.6 percent from 2019). The General Department of Market Management in 2020 detected 7,442 cases relating to counterfeit goods on physical and online markets, copyright and IP violations, imposing fines of USD 5 million. The Copyright Office of Vietnam received and settled 12 copyright petitions and five requests for copyright assessment in 2020. In 2020, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism’s Inspector General carried out inspections for software licensing compliance, resulting in total fines of USD 23,000. For more information, please see the following reports from the U.S. Trade Representative:

  • Special 301 Report:  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2020_Special_301_Report.pdf
  • Notorious Markets Report: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2020_Special_301_Report.pdf
  • For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at .

10. Political and Security Environment

Vietnam is a unitary single-party state, and its political and security environment is largely stable. Protests and civil unrest are rare, though there are occasional demonstrations against perceived or real social, environmental, labor, and political injustices.

In August 2019, online commentators expressed outrage over the slow government response to an industrial fire in Hanoi that released unknown amounts of mercury. Other localized protests in 2019 and early 2020 broke out over alleged illegal dumping in waterways and on public land, and the perceived government attempts to cover up potential risks to local communities.

Citizens sometimes protest actions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), usually online. For example, in June 2019, when PRC Coast Guard vessels harassed the operations of Russian oil company Rosneft in Block 06-01, Vietnam’s highest-producing natural gas field, Vietnamese citizens protested via Facebook and, in a few instances, in public.

In April 2016, after the Formosa Steel plant discharged toxic pollutants into the ocean and caused a large number of fish deaths, affected fishermen and residents in central Vietnam began a series of regular protests against the company and the government’s lack of response to the disaster. Protests continued into 2017 in multiple cities until security forces largely suppressed the unrest. Many activists who helped organize or document these protests were subsequently arrested and imprisoned.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

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) (millions USD) 2020 2370 2020 3400 General Statistics Office (GSO) for Host Country and IMF for International Source https://www.imf.org/en/Countries/VNM#countrydata 
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 ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 10,418 2019 2,615 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 N/A 2019 57 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 N/A 2019 49.3 UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/ountry-Fact-Sheets.aspx  
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

* General Statistics Office (GSO)

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 Amount 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
Singapore 6,828 32%
South Korea 2,946 14%
China 2,070 10%
Hong Kong 1,737 8%
Taiwan 1,707 8%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Data not available.

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars) (From MPI)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries Amount 100% N/A N/A
Singapore 2,166 29%
Japan 1,149 15%
South Korea 1,003 13%
Netherlands 445 6%
China 390 5%
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment