Japan

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Direct inward investment into Japan by foreign investors has been open and free since the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act (the Forex Act) was amended in 1998.  In general, the only requirement for foreign investors making investments in Japan is to submit an ex post facto report to the relevant ministries.

The Japanese Government explicitly promotes inward FDI and has established formal programs to attract it.  In 2013, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced its intention to double Japan’s inward FDI stock to JPY 35 trillion (USD 318 billion) by 2020 and reiterated that commitment in its revised Japan Revitalization Strategy issued in August 2016.  At the end of June 2018, Japan’s inward FDI stock was JPY 29.9 trillion (USD 270 billion), a small increase over the previous year. The Abe Administration’s interest in attracting FDI is one component of the government’s strategy to reform and revitalize the Japanese economy, which continues to face the long-term challenges of low growth, an aging population, and a shrinking workforce.

In April 2014, the government established an “FDI Promotion Council” comprised of government ministers and private sector advisors.  The Council remains active and continues to release recommendations on improving Japan’s FDI environment. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) are the lead agencies responsible for assisting foreign firms wishing to invest in Japan.  METI and JETRO have together created a “one-stop shop” for foreign investors, providing a single Tokyo location—with language assistance—where those seeking to establish a company in Japan can process the necessary paperwork (details are available at http://www.jetro.go.jp/en/invest/ibsc/  ).  Prefectural and city governments also have active programs to attract foreign investors, but they lack many of the financial tools U.S. states and municipalities use to attract investment.

Foreign investors seeking a presence in the Japanese market or seeking to acquire a Japanese firm through corporate takeovers may face additional challenges, many of which relate more to prevailing business practices rather than to government regulations, though it depends on the sector.  These include an insular and consensual business culture that has traditionally been resistant to unsolicited mergers and acquisitions (M&A), especially when initiated by non-Japanese entities; exclusive supplier networks and alliances between business groups that can restrict competition from foreign firms and domestic newcomers; cultural and linguistic challenges; and labor practices that tend to inhibit labor mobility.  Business leaders have communicated to the Embassy that regulatory and governmental barriers are more likely to exist in mature, heavily regulated sectors than in new industries.

The Japanese Government established an “Investment Advisor Assignment System” in April 2016 in which a State Minister acts as an advisor to select foreign companies with “important” investments in Japan.  The system aims to facilitate consultation between the Japanese Government and foreign firms. Of the nine companies selected to participate in this initiative to date, seven are from the United States.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private enterprises have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.  Japan has gradually eliminated most formal restrictions governing FDI. One remaining restriction limits foreign ownership in Japan’s former land-line monopoly telephone operator, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), to 33 percent.  Japan’s Radio Law and separate Broadcasting Law also limit foreign investment in broadcasters to 20 percent, or 33 percent for broadcasters categorized as “facility-supplying.” Foreign ownership of Japanese companies invested in terrestrial broadcasters will be counted against these limits.  These limits do not apply to communication satellite facility owners, program suppliers or cable television operators.

The Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act governs investment in sectors deemed to have national security or economic stability implications.  If a foreign investor wants to acquire over 10 percent of the shares of a listed company in certain designated sectors, it must provide prior notification and obtain approval from the Ministry of Finance and the ministry that regulates the specific industry.  Designated sectors include agriculture, aerospace, forestry, petroleum, electric/gas/water utilities, telecommunications, and leather manufacturing.

U.S. investors, relative to other foreign investors, are not disadvantaged or singled out by any ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted its most recent review of Japan’s trade policies in March 2017 (available at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp451_e.htm  ).

The OECD released its biennial Japan economic survey results on April 15, 2019 (available at http://www.oecd.org/economy/surveys/japan-economic-snapshot/  ).

Business Facilitation

The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is Japan’s investment promotion and facilitation agency.  JETRO operates six Invest Japan Business Support Centers (IBSCs) across Japan that provide consultation services on Japanese incorporation types, business registration, human resources, office establishment, and visa/residency issues.  Through its website (https://www.jetro.go.jp/en/invest/setting_up  /), the organization provides English-language information on Japanese business registration, visas, taxes, recruiting, labor regulations, and trademark/design systems and procedures in Japan.  While registration of corporate names and addresses can be completed through the internet, most business registration procedures must be completed in person. In addition, corporate seals and articles of incorporation of newly established companies must be verified by a notary.

According to the 2018 World Bank “Doing Business” Report, it takes 12 days to establish a local limited liability company in Japan.  JETRO reports that establishing a branch office of a foreign company requires one month, while setting up a subsidiary company takes two months.  While requirements vary according to the type of incorporation, a typical business must register with the Legal Affairs Bureau (Ministry of Justice), the Labor Standards Inspection Office (Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare), the Japan Pension Service, the district Public Employment Security Office, and the district tax bureau.  In April 2015, JETRO opened a one-stop business support center in Tokyo so that foreign companies can complete all necessary legal and administrative procedures in one location; however, this arrangement is not common throughout Japan. JETRO has announced its intent to develop a full online business registration system, but it was not operational as of March 2019.

No laws exist to explicitly prevent discrimination against women and minorities regarding registering and establishing a business. Neither special assistance nor mechanisms exist to aid women or underrepresented minorities.

Outward Investment

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) provides a variety of support to Japanese foreign direct investment.  Most support comes in the form of “overseas investment loans,” which can be provided to Japanese companies (investors), overseas Japanese affiliates (including joint ventures), and foreign governments in support of projects with Japanese content, typically infrastructure projects.  JBIC often seeks to support outward FDI projects that aim to develop or secure overseas resources that are of strategic importance to Japan, for example, construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to facilitate sales to Japan. More information is available at https://www.jbic.go.jp/en/index.html  .

There are no restrictions on outbound investment; however, not all countries have a treaty with Japan regarding foreign direct investment (e.g., Iran).

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Japan operates a highly centralized regulatory system in which national-level ministries and government organs play a dominant role.  Regulators are generally sophisticated and there is little evidence of explicit discrimination against foreign firms. Most draft regulations and impact assessments are released for public comment before implementation and are accessible through a unified portal (http://www.e-gov.go.jp/  ).  Law, regulations, and administrative procedures are generally available online in Japanese along with regular publication in an official gazette.  The Japanese government also actively maintains a body of unofficial English translations of some Japanese laws (http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/  ).

Some members of the foreign business community in Japan continue to express concern that Japanese regulators do not seek sufficient formal input from industry stakeholders, instead relying on informal connections between regulators and domestic firms to arrive at regulatory decisions.  This may have the effect of disadvantaging foreign firms which lack the benefit of deep relationships with local regulators. The United States has encouraged the Japanese government to improve public notice and comment procedures, to ensure consistency and transparency in rule-making, and to give fair consideration to comments received.  The National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), contains a description of Japan’s regulatory regime as it affects foreign exporters and investors.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JISC), administered by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), plays a central role in maintaining the Japan Industrial Standard (JIS), the country’s main body of standards.  JISC aims to align JIS with international standards: in 2016, the organization estimated that 58 percent of Japan’s standards were harmonized with their international counterparts. Nonetheless, Japan maintains a large number of Japan-specific standards that can complicate efforts to introduce new products to the country.  Japan is a member of the WTO and notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of proposed regulations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Japan is primarily a civil law country based on codified law.  The Constitution and the five major legal codes (Civil, Civil Procedure, Commercial, Criminal, and Criminal Procedure) form the legal base of the system.  Japan has a fully independent judiciary and a consistently applied body of commercial law. However, if you are arrested in Japan, even for a minor offense, you may be held in detention without bail for several months or more during the investigation and legal proceedings.  An Intellectual Property High Court was established in 2005 to expedite trial proceedings in intellectual property (IP) cases.  Foreign judgments are recognized and enforced by Japanese courts under certain conditions.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Major laws affecting foreign direct investment (FDI) into Japan include the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act, the Companies Act, and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act.  The Japanese government actively encourages FDI into Japan and has sought over the past decades to ease legal and administrative burdens on foreign investors, including with major reforms to the Companies Act in 2005 and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act in 2008.  The Japanese government has not promulgated any significant new laws or regulations related to FDI in the past year.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) holds sole responsibility for enforcing Japanese competition and anti-trust law, although public prosecutors may file criminal charges related to a JFTC accusation.  The JFTC also reviews proposed “business combinations” (i.e. mergers, acquisitions, increased shareholdings, etc.) to ensure that transactions do not “substantially […] restrain competition in any particular field of trade.”   On March 12, 2019, a bill to revise the Anti-Monopoly Law for the first time in six years was submitted to the Diet, after obtaining Cabinet approval. The revisions include: (i) more flexible implementation of the leniency program; (ii) extension of maximum calculation period for penalty charges, from three to ten years; and (iii) increasing the cap for penal charges for obstruction of investigations, etc. If approved by the Diet, the law will take effect no later than 18 months after its promulgation. JFTC also plans to change its Commission rulesto introduce the Attorney-Client privilege, only in the limited scope of “unreasonable restraint of trade,” such as cartels. This revision would not require Diet approval.  The Government of Japan expects both changes to take effect by the end of 2020.

Expropriation and Compensation

In the post-war period since 1945, the Japanese government has not expropriated any enterprises, and the expropriation or nationalization of foreign investments in Japan is highly unlikely.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Japan has been a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) since 1967 and is also a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).

Enforcement of arbitral awards in Japan are provided for in Japan’s Arbitration Law.  Enforcement in other contracting states is also possible. The Supreme Court of Japan has denied the enforceability of awards for punitive damages, however.  The Arbitration Law provides that an arbitral award (irrespective of whether or not the seat of arbitration is in Japan) has the same effect as a final and binding judgment.  The Arbitration Law does not distinguish awards rendered in contracting states of the New York Convention and in non-contracting states.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

There have been no major bilateral investment disputes in the past ten years.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Japan Commercial Arbitration Association (JCAA) is the sole permanent commercial arbitral institution in Japan.  Japan’s Arbitration Law is based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law “Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration” (UNCITRAL Model Law).  Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards.

A wide range of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) organizations also exist in Japan.  The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has responsibility for regulating and accrediting ADR groups.  A Japanese-language list of accredited organizations is available on the MOJ website: http://www.moj.go.jp/KANBOU/ADR/index.html  .

Bankruptcy Regulations

The World Bank 2018 “Doing Business” Report ranked Japan first worldwide for resolving insolvency.  An insolvent company in Japan can face liquidation under the Bankruptcy Act or take one of four roads to reorganization: the Civil Rehabilitation Law; the Corporate Reorganization Law; corporate reorganization under the Commercial Code; or an out-of-court creditor agreement.  The Civil Rehabilitation Law focuses on corporate restructuring in contrast to liquidation, provides stronger protection of debtor assets prior to the start of restructuring procedures, eases requirements for initiating restructuring procedures, simplifies and rationalizes procedures for the examination and determination of liabilities, and improves procedures for approval of rehabilitation plans.

Out-of-court settlements in Japan tend to save time and expense but can lack transparency.  In practice, because 100 percent creditor consensus is required for out-of-court settlements and courts can sanction a reorganization plan with only a majority of creditors’ approval, the last stage of an out-of-court settlement is often a request for a judicial seal of approval.

There are three domestic credit reporting/credit monitoring agencies in Japan. They are not government-run.  They are: Japan Credit Information Reference Center Corp. (JICC; https://www.jicc.co.jp/english/index.html  ; member companies deal in consumer loans, finance, and credit); Credit Information Center (CIC; https://www.cic.co.jp/en/index.html  ; member companies deal in credit cards and credit); and Japan Bankers Association (JBA; https://www.zenginkyo.or.jp/pcic/  ; member companies deal in banking and bank-issued credit cards).  Credit card companies, such as Japan Credit Bureau (JCB), and large banks, such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), also maintain independent databases to monitor and assess credit.

Per Japan’s Banking Act, data and scores from credit reports and credit monitoring databases must be used solely by financial institutions for financial lending purposes.  They are not provided to consumers themselves or to those performing background checks, such as landlords.  Increasingly, however, to get around the law real estate companies partner with a “credit guarantee association” and encourage or effectively require tenants to use its services.  According to a 2017 report from the Japan Property Management Association (JPMA), roughly 80 percent of renters in Japan used such a service. While financial institutions can share data to the databases and receive credit reports by joining the membership of a credit monitoring agency, the agencies themselves, as well as credit card companies and large banks, generally do not necessarily share data between each other.  As such, consumer credit information is generally underutilized and vertically siloed.

A government-run database, the Juminhyo or the “citizen documentation database,” is used for voter registration; confirmation of eligibility for national health insurance, national social security, and child allowances; and checks and registrations related to scholarships, welfare protection, stamp seals (signatures), and immunizations.  The database is strictly confidential, government-controlled, and not shared with third parties or private companies.

For the credit rating of businesses, there are at least seven credit rating agencies (CRAs) in Japan that perform such services, including Moody’s Japan, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Japan, Tokyo Shoko Research, and Teikoku Databank.  See Section 9 for more information on business vetting in Japan.

Korea, Republic of

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The ROK government’s approach toward FDI is positive, and senior policymakers realize the value of foreign investment.  In a March 28, 2019, meeting with the foreign business community, President Moon Jae-in equated their success “with the Korean economy’s progress.”  Foreign investors in the ROK still face numerous hurdles, however, including insufficient regulatory transparency, inconsistent interpretation of regulations, ongoing regulatory revisions that the market cannot anticipate, underdeveloped corporate governance structures, high labor costs, an inflexible labor system, burdensome Korea-unique consumer protection measures, and market domination by large conglomerates, known as chaebol.

The 1998 Foreign Investment Promotion Act (FIPA) is the basic 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 features include:

  • Simplified procedures, including those for FDI notification and registration;
  • 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;
  • Establishment 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) actively facilitates foreign investment through its Invest Korea office (on the web at http://m.investkorea.org/m/index.do ).  For investments exceeding 100 million won (about USD 88,000), KOTRA assists in establishing a domestically-incorporated foreign-invested company. KOTRA and the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy (MOTIE) organize a yearly Foreign Investment Week to attract investment to South Korea.  KOTRA also recruits FDI by participating in overseas events such as the March 2019 “South by Southwest Festival” in Austin, Texas, to attract U.S. startups and investors. The ROK’s key official responsible for FDI promotion and retention is the Foreign Investment Ombudsman. The position is commissioned by the President and heads a grievance resolution body that: collects and analyzes information concerning problems foreign firms experience; requests cooperation from and recommends implementation of reforms to relevant administrative agencies; proposes new policies to improve the foreign investment promotion system; and carries out other necessary tasks to assist investor companies.  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 almost all forms of remunerative activity.  The number of industrial sectors open to foreign investors is well above the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average, according to MOTIE.  However, restrictions on foreign ownership remain for 30 industrial sectors, including three that are closed to foreign investment (see below). Under the KORUS FTA, South Korea treats U.S. companies like domestic entities in select sectors, including broadcasting and telecommunications.  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, but some implementation problems remain.

The following is a list of restricted sectors for foreign investment.  Figures in parentheses generally denote the Korean Industrial Classification Code, while those for the 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)

  • Publishing of daily newspapers (58121)  (Note: Other newspapers with the same industry code 58121 are restricted to less than 50 percent foreign equity)

Restricted Sectors (no more than 30 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)

  • Program 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 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 area (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://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S009-DP.aspx?language=E&CatalogueIdList=233680,233681,230967,230984,94925,
104614,89233,66927,82162,84639&CurrentCatalogueIdIndex=1&FullText
Hash=&HasEnglishRecord=True&HasFrenchRecord=True&HasSpanishRecord=True
 
.  The ROK has not undergone investment policy reviews or received policy recommendations 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) rated Smart Biz a low 2.5 on its 10-point evaluation scale and suggested improvements to provide clear and complete instructions for registering a limited liability company.  The GER rated the InvestKorea information portal even lower at 2.0/10. The Korea Commission for Corporate Partnership (http://www.winwingrowth.or.kr/  ) and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (http://www.mogef.go.kr/)seek to create a better business environment for minorities and women but do not offer any direct support program for those groups.  Some local governments provide guaranteed bank loans for women or disabled people, but a lack of data on those programs makes it difficult to measure their impact.

Outward Investment

The ROK does not have any restrictions on outward investment.  While Korea’s globally competitive firms complete their investment procedures in-house, the ROK has several offices to assist small business and middle-market firms.

  • 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 ROKG-funded, provides counseling and matchmaking support to Korean SMEs interested in investing in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
  • The Defense Acquisition Program Administration in 2019 opened an office to advise Korean SME defense firms on exporting unrestricted defense articles.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

ROK regulatory transparency has improved in recent years, due in part to Korea’s membership in the WTO and negotiated FTAs.  However, the foreign business community continues to face a large number of Korea-unique rules and regulations. Approximately 80 percent of regulations are introduced and passed by the National Assembly without a regulatory impact assessment (RIA) due to a loophole that requires only regulations written by ministries to undergo RIAs.  While these regulations may have well-intended social aims, such as consumer protection or the promotion of SMEs, they often have unintended consequences for the economy by creating new trade barriers. Laws and regulations are often framed in general terms and are subject to differing interpretations by government officials, who rotate frequently.  Regulatory authorities often issue oral or internal guidelines or other legally enforceable dictates that prove burdensome and difficult to follow for foreign firms. Intermittent ROKG deregulation plans intended to eliminate the use of oral guidelines or subject them to the same level of regulatory review as written regulations have not led to concrete changes.  Despite KORUS FTA provisions designed to address these issues, they remain persistent and prominent.

The ROK constitution allows both the National Assembly and the executive branch to introduce bills.  The legal norm is for regulations to be introduced in the form of an act. Subordinate statutes (presidential decree, ministerial decree, and administrative rules) largely govern matters delegated by acts and relevant enforcement.  Ministries are in charge of drafting such subordinate regulations. Acts and their subordinate regulations can all be relevant for foreign businesses. Administrative agencies shape policies and draft bills on matters under their respective jurisdictions.  Drafting ministries are required to clearly set policy goals and complete RIAs. When a ministry drafts a regulation, it is required to consult with other relevant ministries before it releases the regulation for public comment. The constitution also allows local governments to exercise self-rule legislative power to draft ordinances and rules within the scope of federal acts and subordinate statutes.  The enactment of acts 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 Legislation. Since 2011, all publicly listed companies have been required to follow International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS, or K-IFRS in South Korea). 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, proposed 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 with 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 through the National Assembly without rigorous quality control and solicitation of public comments.  The Korean language text of draft acts and regulations accompanied by executive summaries are published online in the Official Gazette and simultaneously posted on the websites of relevant ministries and the National Assembly. This is required under the ROK’s public notification process that includes a 40-day comment period. Foreign firms’ analyses and responses are delayed because of the need to translate complex documentation. The Ministry of Government Legislation reviews whether laws and regulations conform to the constitution and monitors government adherence to the Regulation on Legislative Process. All laws and regulations also undergo review by the Regulatory Reform Committee to minimize government intervention in the economy and to abolish all economic regulations that fall short of international standards or hamper national competitiveness.

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.  The program is managed by MOTIE; the Ministry of Science and ICT; and the Financial Services Commission, depending on the business sector in which a particular proposal falls. The program is open to Korean companies and to any foreign company with a Korean branch office; however, the first round of companies granted exemptions under the program were exclusively domestic firms.  Websites and applications are only offered in Korean. Despite its limited nature, the initiative is a welcome effort by regulators to spur innovation.

The ROKG 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. At times the CEOs of local branches can be held legally responsible for all actions of their company and have been arrested and charged for their companies’ crimes.

Business regulation in the ROK often lacks empirical cost-benefit analysis or impact assessment on the basis of scientific and data-driven assessment because regulations are finalized without sufficient stakeholder consultation or passed by the National Assembly without a regulatory impact assessment.  When ministries draft regulations, they must submit their RIA to the Regulatory Reform Committee for its determination on whether the regulation restricts rights or imposes excessive duties. These RIAs are usually not publicly available for comment, and comments received by regulators are not made public.  The ROK’s public finances and debt obligations are generally quite transparent, and the ROKG has proactively improved in this area in recent years. Some concerns regarding debt related to state-owned enterprises and pseudo-government debt remain, however.

International Regulatory Considerations

Though not part of any regional economic bloc, the ROK has revised various local regulations to implement commitments under international treaties and agreements including FTAs.  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 have repeatedly expressed a desire 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 ROKG to encourage ROK regulators to incorporate more regulatory analytics, increase transparency, and improve compliance with international standards.  Korea-unique rules and regulations continue to pose difficulties for foreign companies operating in the ROK, however. 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 to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The ROK amended the ministerial decree of the Customs Act in 2015, creating a committee charged with implementation of the TFA.  The ROK is a global leader in terms of modernized and streamlined procedures for the transportation and customs clearance of goods.   While the Korea Customs Service’s aggressive interpretation of rules of origin and extensive documentation requirements undermined KORUS benefits for U.S. exporters in the past, industry sources report that KCS has largely addressed this issue over the past year, and is now taking a rational approach to enforcing country of origin issues under KORUS.

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 only three specialized courts in the ROK: the patent, family, and administrative courts. In civil cases, courts deal with disputes surrounding the rights of property or legal relations.  The ROK court system is independent and not subject to government interference in cases that may affect foreign investors. Efforts are being made to ensure the judicial process is more fair and reliable. Foreign court judgments are not enforceable in the ROK. Rulings by district courts can be appealed to higher courts and the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Laws and regulations enacted within the past year include:

  • The Financial Services Commission (FSC) announced a Revised Regulation for Expansion of Cloud Usage in the Financial Sector in July 2018, allowing financial services companies to make use of cloud storage solutions to process personally identifiable information (PII); this change offered limited benefit for many foreign companies, however, as it was accompanied by restrictive data localization, data protection, and reporting obligations.
  • A revision to the Value-Added Tax Act passed in December 2018 and taking effect in July 2019 orders the National Tax Service to apply the standard 10 percent VAT tax on revenue earned in the ROK by foreign ICT firms.
  • A revision of the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Protection took effect in March 2019 and requires global ICT firms with more than one million daily users or annual sales exceeding USD 900 million to designate a “local agent” who can be held responsible in case of a data breach or other consumer protection violation.
  • A December 2018 revision to the FIPA mandated that the MOTIE Minister conduct a survey on job creation by foreign investors every three years.
  • The Restriction of Special Taxation Act was revised in December 2018 to remove certain tax breaks for foreign investments registered after December 31, 2018.  Industry analysts viewed this change as a move to get Korea off of the EU List of Non-cooperative Jurisdictions for Tax Purposes (NJTP). The ROK was added to the NJTP list in December 2017, and de-listed in March 2019.

Key pending/proposed laws and regulations as of April 2019 include:

  • The FSC plans to further relax restrictions on cloud computing in the financial sector, but has not announced the scope of reform or an implementation schedule.
  • Numerous regulations pertaining to the taxation of foreign ICT companies are currently under consideration and are popularly referred to collectively as “Google Tax” laws.  Various ministry officials have publicly recommended waiting for OECD consensus recommendations before implementing a comprehensive digital services tax.

There is no single website for investment-relevant laws and regulations.  However, more information is available at the following websites: https://www.better.go.kr/  , https://www.fsc.go.kr/  , and http://motie.go.kr/  .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act (KFTC Act) authorizes the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) to review and regulate competition-related and consumer safety matters.  A number of U.S. firms have raised serious concerns that the KFTC has targeted foreign companies with more aggressive enforcement efforts and that KFTC procedures and practices have inhibited their ability to defend themselves during KFTC investigatory proceedings.  The KFTC drafted the first full-scale amendment of the Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act in 38 years and submitted the bill to the National Assembly in December 2018. However the draft amendment act does not address concerns raised by U.S. and other foreign companies regarding procedural fairness and the right to an adequate defense.  Due to this omission, the U.S. Trade Representation called for the first-ever consultations under provisions of the KORUS FTA in 2019.

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 a public purpose – like developing new cities, building new industrial complexes, or constructing roads – and claimants are afforded due process.  Property owners are entitled to prompt compensation at fair market value. There have been many cases of private property expropriation in the ROK for public reasons and these were conducted in a non-discriminatory manner and claimants were compensated at or above fair market value; U.S. Embassy Seoul is not aware of any cases alleging a lack of due process. The ROKG 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.  There are no specific domestic laws providing for enforcement; however, 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.  ROK courts may ultimately be called upon to enforce an arbitrated settlement. When drafting contracts, it may be useful to provide for arbitration by a neutral body such as the International Commercial Arbitration Association.  U.S. companies should seek local expert legal counsel when drawing up any type of contract with a South Korean entity. The United States has a bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with the ROK that contains general provisions pertaining to business relations and investment.  The KORUS FTA contains strong, enforceable investment provisions that went into force in March 2012. There have been several serious investment disputes involving foreigners in Korea in recent years. In November 2012, U.S.-based Lone Star Funds, a worldwide private equity firm, brought an investor-state dispute lawsuit against the South Korean government with the ICSID in Washington D.C. under the investment chapter of the KORUS FTA, and this case is still pending.  The private equity firm blamed the ROK government for sharp declines in stock prices, claiming that it delayed the acquisition of the Korea Exchange Bank without cause. The ICSID was expected to make a ruling in 2017, but the ruling has been repeatedly postponed. 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. An arbitration panel under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) made a USD 68 million ruling against the ROKG in June 2018 in an investor-state dispute settlement filed by Entekhab, owned by Iranian investor Mohammad Reza Dayyani.  In July 2018, an American individual investor filed an investor-state dispute (ISD) lawsuit against the ROKG, claiming that the government had violated the KORUS FTA in expropriating her land. This case is still pending. Also in July 2018, U.S. activist fund Elliott Associates submitted a notice of arbitration over an ISD pertaining to the KORUS FTA. Elliott Associates claimed they had suffered at least USD 770 million in financial losses due to the merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries, stating the ROKG illicitly intervened by mobilizing the National Pension Service as a large shareholder in the process of approving the merger in 2015. In September 2018, Mason Capital Management, another American investor, filed for arbitration seeking USD 200 million in compensation for losses incurred from the same controversial merger.  Both cases pending before the UNCITRAL. In August 2018, Korea’s Higher Court found former President Park Geun-hye guilty of illegally intervening in the Samsung-Cheil merger.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Although commercial disputes can be adjudicated in a civil court, foreign businesses find this method impractical.  Proceedings are conducted in Korean, often without adequate interpretation. ROK law prohibits foreign lawyers who have not passed the Korean Bar Examination from representing clients in South Korean courts.  Civil procedures common in the United States, such as pretrial discovery, do not exist in the ROK. During litigation of a dispute, foreigners may be barred from leaving the country until a decision is reached.  Legal proceedings are expensive and time-consuming, and lawsuits often are contemplated 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.  The ROK has specialized courts, including family courts and administrative courts, as well as courts specifically dealing with patents and other intellectual property rights issues. Commercial disputes may also be taken to 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, an arbitration panel consisting of one to three arbitrators would be assigned to decide the case.  If one party is not resident in the ROK, either may request an arbitrator from a neutral country. If foreign arbitral awards or foreign courts’ rulings meet the requirements of Article 217 of the Civil Procedure Act, then those are enforceable by local courts. The U.S. Embassy is not aware of statistics involving state-owned enterprise investment dispute court rulings. Gale International (GI), a U.S. real estate development company, has had an ongoing investment dispute with Korean conglomerate POSCO since 2015.  GI claims it is owed USD 350 million and has filed criminal complaints in a Seoul court against POSCO alleging misappropriation of funds and approving documents with the GI seal without authorization.  The case is still pending, and GI has closed its office in the ROK.

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.  Creditors may be granted voting rights in the creditors’ group, as identified by the Custodial Committee. 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 2019 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. Under the revised DRBA enacted on March 28, 2017, Korea established the Seoul Bankruptcy Court (SBC) with nationwide jurisdiction to hear major bankruptcy or rehabilitation cases and to provide more effective, specialized and consistent guidance in bankruptcy proceedings.  Any Korean company with debt equal to or above KRW 50 billion KRW (about USD 44 million) and 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.

Malaysia

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Malaysia has one of the world’s most trade-dependent economies with exports and imports of goods and services reaching about 130 percent of annual GDP according to the World Trade Organization. The Malaysian government values foreign investment as a driver of continued national economic development, but has been hampered by restrictions in some sectors and an at-times burdensome regulatory regime.  Some of these restrictions may be lifted by the new government in an effort to attract FDI.

In 2009, Malaysia removed its former Foreign Investment Committee (FIC) investment guidelines, enabling transactions for acquisitions of interests, mergers, and takeovers of local companies by domestic or foreign parties without FIC approval. Although the FIC itself still exists, its primary role is to review of investments related to distributive trade (e.g., retail distributors) as a means of ensuring 30 percent of the equity in this economic segment is held by the bumiputera (ethnic Malays and other indigenous ethnicities in Malaysia).

Since 2009, the government has gradually liberalized foreign participation in the services sector to attract more foreign investment. Following removal of certain restrictions on foreign participation in industries ranging from computer-related consultancies, tourism, and freight transportation, the government in 2011 began to allow 100 percent foreign ownership across the following sectors: healthcare, retail, education as well as professional, environmental, and courier services. Some limits on foreign equity ownership remain in place across in telecommunications, financial services, and transportation.

Foreign investments in services, whether in sectors with no foreign equity limits 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. Nevertheless, the Ministerial Functions Act grants relevant ministries broad discretionary powers over the approval of specific investment projects. Investors in industries targeted by the Malaysian government often can negotiate favorable terms with ministries, or other bodies, regulating the specific 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 the various regulatory bodies and therefore can face greater bureaucratic obstacles.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The legal framework for foreign investment in Malaysia grants foreigners the right to establish businesses and hold equity stakes across all parts of the economy.  However, despite the progress of reforms to open more of the economy to a greater share of foreign investment, limits on foreign ownership remain in place across many sectors.

Telecommunications

Malaysia began allowing 100 percent foreign equity participation in Applications Service Providers (ASP) in April 2012.  However, for Network Facilities Providers (NFP) and Network Service Provider (NSP) licenses, a limit of 70 percent foreign participation remains in effect.  In certain instances, Malaysia has allowed a greater share of foreign ownership, but the manner in which such exceptions are administered is non-transparent.  Restrictions are still in force on foreign ownership allowed in Telekom Malaysia. The limitation on the aggregate foreign share is 30 percent or five percent for individual investors.

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.

Financial Services

Malaysia’s 10-year Financial Sector Blueprint envisages further opening to foreign institutions and investors, but 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, Malaysia’s Central Bank (Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM)), would allow a greater foreign ownership stake if the investment is determined to facilitate the consolidation of the industry.  The latest Blueprint, 2011-2020, helped to codify the 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 a 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.

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.

http://www.oecd.org/investment/countryreviews.htm  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp466_e.htm  

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 (ie, company charter); 2) a Declaration of Compliance (ie, compliance with provisions of the Companies Act); and 3) a Statutory Declaration (ie, no bankruptcies, no convictions).  The registration and business establishment process takes two weeks to complete, on average. The new government repealed GST and installed a new sales and services tax (SST), which began implementation 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 will need to apply through MIDA.

Manufacturing investors whose companies have annual revenue below RM50 million (approximately USD12.8 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 USD5.1 million) or fewer than 75 full-time employees will meet the SME definition.

[Reference]

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.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In July 2013, the Malaysian Government initiated a National Policy on Development and Implementation of Regulations (NPDIR).  Under this policy, the federal government embarked on a comprehensive approach to minimize redundancies in the country’s regulatory framework.  The benefits to the private sector thus far have largely been reduced licensing requirements, fees, and approval wait-times for construction projects.  The main components of the policy have been: 1) a regulatory impact assessment (a cost-benefit analysis of all newly proposed regulations); and 2) the creation of a regulations guide, PEMUDAH (similar to the role MIDA plays for prospective investors), to aid businesses and civil society organizations in understanding regulatory requirements affecting their organizations’ activities.  Under the NPDIR, the government has committed to reviewing all new regulations every five years to determine with the new regulations need to be adjusted or eliminated.

Despite this effort to make government more accountable for its rules and to make the process more inclusive, many foreign investors continue to criticize the lack of transparency in government decision making.  The implementation of rules on government procurement contracts are a recurring concern. Non-Malaysian pharmaceutical companies claim to have lost bids against bumiputera (ethnic Malay)-owned companies further claiming they’d offered more effective medicines at lower cost.

[Reference]

(http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/  provides data for 185 economies on whether governments publish or consult with public about proposed regulations)

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. For many years ahead of that date, and since, ASEAN’s economic policy leaders have met regularly to discuss promoting greater economic integration within the 10-country bloc.  Although trade within the 10-country bloc is 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 generally reflects English Law in that it consists of written and unwritten laws.  Written laws include the federal and state constitutions as well as laws passed by Parliament and state legislatures.  Unwritten laws are 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, although the Malaysian government has recently adopted measures, including high capital gains taxes, to prevent the real estate market from overheating.  Nevertheless, 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.

In 2007 the judiciary introduced dedicated intellectual property (IP) courts that consist of 15 “Sessions Courts” that sit in each state, and six ‘High Courts’ that sit in certain states (i.e. Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Perak, Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak).  Malaysia launched the IP courts to deter the use of IP-infringing activity to fund criminal activity and to demonstrate a commitment to IP development in support of the country’s goal to achieve high-income status. These lower courts hear criminal cases, and have the jurisdiction to impose fines for IP infringing acts.  There is no limit to the fines that they can impose. The higher courts are designated for civil cases to provide damages incurred by rights holders once the damages have been quantified post-trial. High courts have the authority to issue injunctions (i.e., to order an immediate cessation of infringing activity) and to award monetary damages.

Labor Courts, which the Ministry of Human Resources describes as “a quasi-judicial system that serves as an alternative to civil claims,” provide a means for workers to seek payment of wages and other financial benefits in arrears.  Proceedings are generally informal but conducted in accordance with civil court principles. The High Court has upheld decisions which Labor Courts have rendered.

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 has to 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.

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.

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. Summary judgment procedures (explained above) may be used to expedite the process.

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 Government of Malaysia established the Malaysia Investment Development Authority (MIDA) to attract foreign investment and to serve as a focal point for legal and regulatory questions.  Organized as part of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), MIDA serves as a guide to foreign investors interested in the manufacturing sector and in many services sectors.  Regional bodies providing support 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.

As noted, the Ministerial Functions Act authorizes government ministries to oversee investments under their jurisdiction.  Prospective investors in the services sector will need to follow requirements set by the relevant Malaysian Government ministry or agency over the sector in question.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

On April 21, 2010, the Parliament of Malaysia approved two bills, the Competition Commission Act 2010 and the Competition Act 2010.  The Acts took effect 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.

References:

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 46th on the World Bank Group’s Doing Business Rankings for Ease of Resolving Insolvency.

Mexico

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Mexico is open to foreign direct investment (FDI) in the vast majority of economic sectors and has consistently been one of the largest emerging market recipients of FDI.  Mexico’s macroeconomic stability, large domestic market, growing consumer base, rising skilled labor pool, welcoming business climate, and proximity to the United States all help attract foreign investors.

Historically, the United States has been one of the largest sources of FDI in Mexico.  According to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy, FDI flows to Mexico from the United States totaled USD 12.3 billion in 2018, nearly 39 percent of all inflows to Mexico (USD 31.6 billion).  The automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, financial services, and electronics sectors typically receive large amounts of FDI. Most foreign investment flows to northern states near the U.S. border, where most maquiladoras (export-oriented manufacturing and assembly plants) are located, or to Mexico City and the nearby “El Bajio” (e.g. Guanajuato, Queretaro, etc.) region.  In the past, foreign investors have overlooked Mexico’s southern states, although that may change if the new administration’s focus on attracting investment to the region gain traction.

The 1993 Foreign Investment Law, last updated in March 2017, governs foreign investment in Mexico.  The law is consistent with the foreign investment chapter of NAFTA. It provides national treatment, eliminates performance requirements for most foreign investment projects, and liberalizes criteria for automatic approval of foreign investment.  The Foreign Investment Law provides details on which business sectors are open to foreign investors and to what extent. Mexico is also a party to several Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreements covering foreign investment, notably the Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and the National Treatment Instrument.

The new administration stopped funding ProMexico, the government’s investment promotion agency, and is integrating its components into other ministries and offices.  PROMTEL, the government agency charged with encouraging investment in the telecom sector, is expected to continue operations with a more limited mandate. Its first director and four other senior staff recently left the agency.  In April 2019, the government sent robust participation to the 11th CEO Dialogue and Business Summit for Investment in Mexico sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Mexican equivalent, CCE. Cabinet-level officials conveyed the Mexican government’s economic development and investment priorities to dozens of CEOs and business leaders.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Mexico reserves certain sectors, in whole or in part, for the State including:  petroleum and other hydrocarbons; control of the national electric system, radioactive materials, telegraphic and postal services; nuclear energy generation; coinage and printing of money; and control, supervision, and surveillance of ports of entry.  Certain professional and technical services, development banks, and the land transportation of passengers, tourists, and cargo (not including courier and parcel services) are reserved entirely for Mexican nationals. See section six for restrictions on foreign ownership of certain real estate.

Reforms in the energy, power generation, telecommunications, and retail fuel sales sectors have liberalized access for foreign investors.  While reforms have not led to the privatization of state-owned enterprises such as Pemex or the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), they have allowed private firms to participate.

Hydrocarbons:  Private companies participate in hydrocarbon exploration and extraction activities through contracts with the government under four categories:  competitive contracts, joint ventures, profit sharing agreements, and license contracts. All contracts must include a clause stating subsoil hydrocarbons are owned by the State.  The government has held four separate bid sessions allowing private companies to bid on exploration and development of oil and gas resources in blocks around the country. In 2017, Mexico successfully auctioned 70 land, shallow, and deep water blocks with significant interest from international oil companies.  The Lopez Obrador administration decided to suspend all future auctions until 2022.

Telecommunications:  Mexican law states telecommunications and broadcasting activities are public services and the government will at all times maintain ownership of the radio spectrum.

Aviation:  The Foreign Investment Law limited foreign ownership of national air transportation to 25 percent until March 2017, when the limit was increased to 49 percent.

Under existing NAFTA provisions, U.S. and Canadian investors receive national and most-favored-nation treatment in setting up operations or acquiring firms in Mexico.  Exceptions exist for investments restricted under NAFTA. Currently, the United States, Canada, and Mexico have the right to settle any dispute or claim under NAFTA through international arbitration.  Local Mexican governments must also accord national treatment to investors from NAFTA countries.

Approximately 95 percent of all foreign investment transactions do not require government approval.  Foreign investments that require government authorization and do not exceed USD 165 million are automatically approved, unless the proposed investment is in a legally reserved sector.

The National Foreign Investment Commission under the Secretariat of the Economy is the government authority that determines whether an investment in restricted sectors may move forward.  The Commission has 45 business days after submission of an investment request to make a decision. Criteria for approval include employment and training considerations, and contributions to technology, productivity, and competitiveness.  The Commission may reject applications to acquire Mexican companies for national security reasons. The Secretariat of Foreign Relations (SRE) must issue a permit for foreigners to establish or change the nature of Mexican companies.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) completed a trade policy review of Mexico in February 2017 covering the period to year-end 2016.  The review noted the positive contributions of reforms implemented 2013-2016 and cited Mexico’s development of “Digital Windows” for clearing customs procedures as a significant new development since the last review.

The full review can be accessed via:  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp452_e.htm  .

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank, on average registering a foreign-owned company in Mexico requires 11 procedures and 31 days.  In 2016, then-President Pena Nieto signed a law creating a new category of simplified businesses called Sociedad for Acciones Simplificadas (SAS).  Owners of SASs will be able to register a new company online in 24 hours.  The Government of Mexico maintains a business registration website:  www.tuempresa.gob.mx  .  Companies operating in Mexico must register with the tax authority (Servicio de Administration y Tributaria or SAT), the Secretariat of the Economy, and the Public Registry.  Additionally, companies engaging in international trade must register with the Registry of Importers, while foreign-owned companies must register with the National Registry of Foreign Investments.

Outward Investment

In the past, ProMexico was responsible for promoting Mexican outward investment and provided assistance to Mexican firms acquiring or establishing joint ventures with foreign firms, participating in international tenders, and establishing franchise operations, among other services.  Various offices at the Secretariat of Economy and the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs now handle these issues. Mexico does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

International Regulatory Considerations

Generally speaking, the Mexican government has established legal, regulatory, and accounting systems that are transparent and consistent with international norms.  Still, the Lopez Obrador administration has publicly questioned the value of specific anti-trust and energy regulators. Furthermore, corruption continues to affect equal enforcement of some regulations.  The Lopez Obrador administration has an ambitious plan to centralize government procurement in an effort to root out corruption and generate efficiencies.  The administration estimates it can save up to USD 25 billion annually by consolidating government purchases in the Mexican Secretariat of Finance (Hacienda).  Under the current decentralized process, more than 70 percent of government contracts are sole-sourced, interagency consolidated purchases are uncommon, and the entire process is susceptible to corruption.  The Mexican government’s budget is published online and readily available.  The Bank of Mexico also publishes and maintains data about the country’s finances and debt obligations.

The Federal Commission on Regulatory Improvement (COFEMER), within the Secretariat of Economy, is the agency responsible for streamlining federal and sub-national regulation and reducing the regulatory burden on business.  Mexican law requires Secretariats and regulatory agencies to conduct impact assessments of proposed regulations. Assessments are made available for public comment via COFEMER’s website: www.cofemer.gob.mx  .  The official gazette of state and federal laws currently in force in Mexico is publicly available via:  http://www.ordenjuridico.gob.mx/  .

Mexico’s antitrust agency, the Federal Commission for Economic Competition (COFECE), plays a key role protecting, promoting, and ensuring a competitive free market in Mexico.  COFECE is responsible for eliminating barriers both to competition and free market entry across the economy (except for the telecommunications sector, which is governed by its own competition authority) and for identifying and regulating access to essential production inputs.

In addition to COFECE, the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) and National Hydrocarbon Commission (CNH) are both technically-oriented independent agencies that play important roles in regulating the energy and hydrocarbons sectors.  CRE regulates national electricity generation, coverage, distribution, and commercialization, as well as the transportation, distribution, and storage of oil, gas, and biofuels. CNH supervises and regulates oil and gas exploration and production and issues oil and gas upstream (exploration/production) concessions.

Investors are increasingly concerned the administration is undermining confidence in the “rules of the game,” particularly in the energy sector, by weakening the political autonomy of COFECE, CNH, and CRE.  The administration appointed four of seven CRE commissioners over the Senate’s objections, which voted twice to reject the nominees in part due to concerns their appointments would erode the CRE’s political autonomy.  The administration’s budget cuts resulted in significant layoffs, which has reportedly hampered the agencies’ ability to carry out its work, a key factor in investment decisions.

The Secretariat of Public Administration has made considerable strides in improving transparency in government, including government contracting and involvement of the private sector in enhancing transparency and fighting corruption.  The Mexican government has established four internet sites to increase transparency of government processes and to establish guidelines for the conduct of government officials: (1) Normateca (http://normatecainterna.sep.gob.mx  ) provides information on government regulations; (2) Compranet (https://compranet.funcionpublica.gob.mx  ) displays federal government procurement actions on-line; (3) Tramitanet (www.tramitanetmexico.com  ) permits electronic processing of transactions within the bureaucracy; and (4) Declaranet (https://declaranet.gob.mx/  ) allows federal employees to file income taxes online.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Since the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, Mexico has had an inquisitorial system adopted from Europe in which proceedings were largely carried out in writing and sealed from public view.  Mexico amended its Constitution in 2008 to facilitate change to an oral accusatorial criminal justice system to better combat corruption, encourage transparency and efficiency, while ensuring respect for the fundamental rights of both the victim and the accused.  An ensuing National Code of Criminal Procedure passed in 2014, and is applicable to all 32 states. The national procedural code is coupled with each state’s criminal code to provide the legal framework for the new accusatorial system, which allows for oral, public trials with the right of the defendant to face his/her accuser and challenge evidence presented against him/her, right to counsel, due process and other guarantees.  Mexico fully adopted the new accusatorial criminal justice system at the state and federal levels in June 2016.

Mexico’s Commercial Code, which dates back to 1889, was most recently updated in 2014.  All commercial activities must abide by this code and other applicable mercantile laws, including commercial contracts and commercial dispute settlement measures.  Mexico has multiple specialized courts regarding fiscal, labor, economic competition, broadcasting, telecommunications, and agrarian law.

The judicial branch is nominally independent from the executive.  Following a reform passed in February 2014, the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduria General de la Republica or PGR) became autonomous of the executive branch, as the Prosecutor General’s Office (Fiscalia General de la Republica or FGR).  The Mexican Senate confirmed Mexico’s first Fiscal on January 18, 2019.  The Fiscal will serve a nine-year term, intended to insulate his office from the executive branch, whose members serve six-year terms.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Mexico’s Foreign Investment Law sets the rules governing foreign investment into the country.  The National Commission for Foreign Investments, formed by several cabinet-level ministries including Interior (SEGOB), Foreign Relations (SRE), Finance (Hacienda), Economy (SE), and Social Development (SEDESOL), establishes the criteria for administering investment rules.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Mexico has two constitutionally autonomous regulators to govern matters of competition – the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) and the Federal Commission for Economic Competition (COFECE).  IFT governs broadcasting and telecommunications, while COFECE regulates all other sectors. For more information on competition issues in Mexico, please visit COFECE’s bilingual website at: www.cofece.mx  .

Expropriation and Compensation

Mexico may not expropriate property under NAFTA, except for public purpose and on a non-discriminatory basis.  Expropriations are governed by international law and require rapid fair market value compensation, including accrued interest.  Investors have the right to international arbitration for violations of this or any other rights included in the investment chapter of NAFTA.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Mexico ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) in 1971 and has codified this into domestic law.  Mexico is also a signatory to the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (1975 Panama Convention) and the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.  Mexico is not a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States (ICSID Convention), even though many of the investment agreements signed by Mexico include ICSID arbitration as a dispute settlement option.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Chapters 11, 19, and 20 of the existing NAFTA cover international dispute resolution.  Chapter 11 allows a NAFTA Party investor to seek monetary damages for violations of its provisions.  Investors may initiate arbitration against the NAFTA Party under the rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL Model Law) or through the ICSID Convention.  A NAFTA investor may also choose to use the domestic court system to litigate their case. The USMCA contains revisions to these chapters, but will not enter into force until all three countries have ratified the agreement.

Since NAFTA’s inception, there have been 17 cases filed against Mexico by U.S. and Canadian investors who allege expropriation and/or other violations of Mexico’s NAFTA obligations.  Details of the cases can be found at: https://www.state.gov/s/l/c3742.htm.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Arbitration Center of Mexico (CAM) is a specialized, private institution administering commercial arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism.  The average duration of an arbitration process conducted by CAM is 14 months. The Commercial Code dictates an arbitral award, regardless of the country where it originated, must be recognized as binding.  The award must be enforced after a formal written petition is presented to a judge.

The internal laws of both Pemex and CFE state all national disputes of any nature will have to be resolved by federal courts.  State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) and their productive subsidiaries may opt for alternative dispute settlement mechanisms under applicable commercial legislation and international treaties of which Mexico is a signatory.  When contracts are executed in a foreign country, Pemex and CFE have the option to follow procedures governed by non-Mexican law, to use foreign courts, or to participate in arbitration.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Mexico’s Reorganization and Bankruptcy Law (Ley de Concursos Mercantiles) governs bankruptcy and insolvency.  Congress approved modifications in 2014 in order to shorten procedural filing times and convey greater juridical certainty to all parties, including creditors.  Declaring bankruptcy is legal in Mexico and it may be granted to a private citizen, a business, or an individual business partner. Debtors, creditors, or the Attorney General can file a bankruptcy claim.  Mexico ranked 32 out of 190 countries for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business report. The average bankruptcy filing takes 1.8 years to be resolved and recovers 64.7 cents per USD, which compares favorably to average recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean of just 30.9 cents per USD.  “Buró de Crédito” is Mexico’s main credit bureau.  More information on credit reports and ratings can be found at:  http://www.burodecredito.com.mx/  .

Morocco

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies towards Foreign Direct Investment

Morocco actively encourages foreign investment through macro-economic policies, trade liberalization, structural reforms, infrastructure improvements, and incentives for investors.  Law 18-95 of October 1995, constituting the Investment Charter, which can be found online at http://www.usa-morocco.org/Charte.htm  , is the principal Moroccan text governing investment and applies to both domestic and foreign investment (direct and portfolio).  Morocco’s 2014 Industrial Acceleration Plan, a new approach to industrial development based on establishing “ecosystems” that integrate value chains and supplier relationships between large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs;), has guided Ministry of Industry policy for the last five years.  The plan runs through 2020. Morocco’s Investment and Export Development Agency (AMDIE) is the primary agency responsible for the development and promotion of investments and exports. The Agency’s website aggregates relevant information for interested investors and includes investment maps, procedures for creating a business, production costs, applicable laws and regulations, and general business climate information, among other investment services.  Further information about Morocco’s investment laws and procedures is available on AMDIE’s website at http://www.amdie.gov.ma/en/  .  For further information on agricultural investments, visit the Agricultural Development Agency (ADA) website (http://www.ada.gov.ma/)   or the National Agency for the Development of Aquaculture (ANDA) website (https://www.anda.gov.ma/  ).

Moroccan legislation governing FDI applies equally to Moroccan and foreign legal entities, with the exception of certain protected sectors.

When Morocco acceded to the OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises in November 2009, Morocco guaranteed national treatment of foreign investors (i.e., according equal treatment for both foreign and national investors in like circumstances).  The only exception to this national treatment of foreign investors is in those sectors closed to foreign investment (noted below), which Morocco delineated upon accession to the Declaration. Per a Moroccan notice published in 2014, the lead agency on adherence to the Declaration is AMDIE.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities may establish and own business enterprises, barring some sector restrictions.  While the U.S. Mission is not aware of any economy-wide limits on foreign ownership, Morocco places a 49 percent cap on foreign investment in air and maritime transport companies and maritime fisheries.  Morocco prohibits foreigners from owning agricultural land, though they can lease it for up to 99 years. The Moroccan government holds a monopoly on phosphate extraction through the 95 percent state-owned Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP).  The Moroccan state also has a discretionary right to limit all foreign majority stakes in the capital of large national banks, but does not appear to have ever exercised that right. In the oil and gas sector, the National Agency for Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) retains a compulsory share of 25 percent of any exploration license or development permit.  The Moroccan Central Bank (Bank Al-Maghrib) may use regulatory discretion in issuing authorizations for the establishment of domestic and foreign-owned banks. As set forth in the 1995 Investment Charter, there is no requirement for prior approval of FDI, and formalities related to investing in Morocco do not pose a meaningful barrier to investment. The U.S. Mission is not aware of instances in which the Moroccan government turned away foreign investors for national security, economic, or other national policy reasons.  The U.S. Mission is not aware of any U.S. investors disadvantaged or singled out by ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms, relative to other foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) 2016 Trade Policy Review (TPR) of Morocco found that the trade reforms implemented since the last TPR in 2009 have contributed to the economy’s continued growth by stimulating competition in domestic markets, encouraging innovation, creating new jobs, and contributing to growth diversification. The WTO 2016 TPR can be found at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp429_e.htm   .  The U.S. Mission is not aware of any other investment policy reviews in the past three years.

Business Facilitation

In the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report (http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/morocco   ), Morocco ranks 60 out of 190 economies worldwide in terms of ease of doing business, rising nine places since the 2018 report.  Since 2012, Morocco has implemented a number of reforms facilitating business registration, such as eliminating the need to file a declaration of business incorporation with the Ministry of Labor, reducing company registration fees, and eliminating minimum capital requirements for limited liability companies.  Morocco maintains a business registration website that is accessible through the various Regional Investment Centers (CRI – Centre Regional d’Investissement at https://rabat.eregulations.org/procedure/4/7?l=fr).  The business registration process is generally streamlined and clear.

Foreign companies may utilize the online business registration mechanism.  Foreign companies, with the exception of French companies, are required to provide an apostilled Arabic translated copy of its articles of association and an extract of the registry of commerce in its country of origin.  Moreover, foreign companies must report the incorporation of the subsidiary a posteriori to the Foreign Exchange Board (Office National de Change) to facilitate repatriation of funds abroad such as profits and dividends. According to the World Bank, the process of registering a business in Morocco takes an average of nine days (significantly less time than the Middle East and North Africa regional average of 21 days).  Including all official fees and fees for legal and professional services, registration costs 3.7 percent of Morocco’s annual per capita income (significantly less than the region’s average of 22.6 percent). Moreover, Morocco does not require that the business owner deposit any paid-in minimum capital.

On December 11, 2018, the lower house of parliament adopted draft law 88-17 on the electronic creation of businesses.  The final implementation decrees are expected to be ready by mid-2019.  The new system will allow the creation of businesses online via an electronic platform managed by the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property (OMPIC). Once launched, all procedures related to the creation, registration, and publication of company data will be required to be carried out via this platform.  The creator of the company will be exempt from filing physical documents. A separate decree will determine the list of documents required during the electronic business creation process. A new national commission will monitor the implementation of the new procedures.

The business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in the economy.  Notably, according to the World Bank, the length of time and cost to register a new business is equal for men and women in Morocco.  The U.S. Mission is not aware of any special assistance provided to women and underrepresented minorities through the business registration mechanisms.  In cooperation with the Moroccan government, civil society, and the private sector, there have been a number of initiatives aimed at improving gender quality in the workplace and access to the workplace for foreign migrants, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa.

Outward Investment

In 2017, Morocco’s FDI in Africa was USD 2.57 billion, representing a 12 percent increase over 2016.  The African Development Bank ranks Morocco as the second biggest African investor in Sub-Saharan Africa, after South Africa, with up to 85 percent of Moroccan FDI going to the region.  The U.S. Mission is not aware of a standalone outward investment promotion agency, though AMDIE’s mission includes supporting Moroccan exporters and investors seeking to invest outside of Morocco. Nor is the U.S. Mission aware of any restrictions for domestic investors attempting to invest abroad.   However, under the Moroccan investment code, repatriation of funds is limited to convertible Moroccan Dirham accounts. Capital controls limit the ability of residents to convert dirham balances into foreign currency or to move funds offshore.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and a mixed legal system of civil law based primarily on French law, with some influences from Islamic law.  Legislative acts are subject to judicial review by the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court has the power to determine the constitutionality of legislation, excluding royal decrees (Dahirs).  Legislative power in Morocco is vested in both the government and the two chambers of Parliament, the Chamber of Representatives (Majlis Al-Nuwab) and the Chamber of Councillors (Majlis Al Mustashareen).  The King can issue royal decrees, which have the force of law. The principal sources of commercial legislation in Morocco are the Code of Obligations and Contracts of 1913 and Law No. 15-95 establishing the Commercial Code.  The Competition Council and the National Authority for Detecting, Preventing, and Fighting Corruption (INPPLC) have responsibility for improving public governance and advocating for further market liberalization. All levels of regulations exist (local, state, national, and supra-national).  The most relevant regulations for foreign businesses depend on the sector in question. Ministries develop their own regulations and draft laws, including those related to investment, through their administrative departments, with approval by the respective minister. Each regulation and draft law is made available for public comment.  Key regulatory actions are published in their entirety in Arabic and usually French in the official bulletin on the website (at http://www.sgg.gov.ma/Accueil.aspx  ) of the General Secretariat of the Government.  Once published, the law is final. Public enterprises and establishments can adopt their own specific regulations provided they comply with regulations regarding competition and transparency.

Morocco’s regulatory enforcement mechanisms depend on the sector in question, and enforcement is legally reviewable.  The National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (ANRT), for example, created in February 1998 under Law No. 24-96, is the public body responsible for the control and regulation of the telecommunications sector.  The agency regulates telecommunications by participating in the development of the legislative and regulatory framework. Morocco does not have specific regulatory impact assessment guidelines, nor are impact assessments required by law.  Morocco does not have a specialized government body tasked with reviewing and monitoring regulatory impact assessments conducted by other individual agencies or government bodies.

The World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report indicates that Morocco implemented reforms in 2018 aimed at reducing regulatory complexity and strengthening legal institutions.  The U.S. Mission is not aware of any informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations. The Moroccan Ministry of Finance posts quarterly statistics (compiled in accordance with IMF recommendations) on public finance and debt on their website (https://www.finances.gov.ma/en/Pages/Finances-publiques.aspx?m=ACTIVITIES&p=402  )

International Regulatory Considerations

Morocco joined the WTO since January 1995 and reports technical regulations that could affect trade with other member countries to the WTO.  Morocco is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (https://www.tfadatabase.org/members/morocco  ) and has a 92 percent implementation rate of TFA requirements.  European standards are widely referenced in Morocco’s regulatory system.  In some cases, U.S. or international standards, guidelines, and recommendations are also accepted.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Moroccan legal system is a hybrid of civil law (French system) and Islamic law, regulated by the Decree of Obligations and Contracts of 1913 as amended, the 1996 Code of Commerce, and Law No. 53-95 on Commercial Courts.  These courts also have sole competence to entertain industrial property disputes, as provided for in Law No. 17-97 on the Protection of Industrial Property, irrespective of the legal status of the parties. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s 2015 Morocco Commercial Law Assessment Report, Royal Decree No. 1-97-65 (1997) established commercial court jurisdiction over commercial cases including insolvency.  Although this led to some improvement in the handling of commercial disputes, companies have complained of the lack of training for judges on general commercial matters to remain a key challenge to effective commercial dispute resolution in the country. In general, some report litigation procedures to be time consuming and resource-intensive, and lacking legal requirement with respect to case publishing. Disputes may be brought before one of eight Commercial Courts (located in Rabat, Casablanca, Fes, Tangier, Marrakech, Agadir, Oujda, and Meknes), and one of three Commercial Courts of Appeal (located in Casablanca, Fes, and Marrakech).  There are other special courts such as the Military and Administrative Courts. Title VII of the Constitution provides that the judiciary shall be independent from the legislative and executive branches of government. The 2011 Constitution also authorized the creation of the Supreme Judicial Council, headed by the King, which has the authority to hire, dismiss, and promote judges. Enforcement actions are appealable at the Courts of Appeal, which hear appeals against decisions from the court of first instance.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The principal sources of commercial legislation in Morocco are the 1913 Royal Decree of Obligations and Contracts, as amended; Law No. 18-95 that established the 1995 Investment Charter; the 1996 Code of Commerce; and Law No. 53-95 on Commercial Courts.  These courts have sole competence to hear industrial property disputes, as provided for in Law No. 17-97 on the Protection of Industrial Property, irrespective of the legal status of the parties. Morocco’s CRI and AMDIE provide users with various investment related information on key sectors, procedural information, calls for tenders, and resources for business creation.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Morocco’s Competition Law No. 06-99 on Free Pricing and Competition (June 2000) outlines the authority of the Competition Council   as an independent executive body with investigatory powers.  Together with the INPPLC, the Competition Council is one of the main actors charged with improving public governance and advocating for further market liberalization.  Law No. 20-13, adopted on August 7, 2014, amended the powers of the Competition Council to bring them in line with the 2011 constitution.  The Competition Council’s responsibilities include:  (1) making decisions on anti-competition practices and controlling concentrations, with powers of investigation and sanction; (2) providing opinions in official consultations by government authorities; and (3) publishing reviews and studies on the state of competition.  After four years of delays, the Moroccan Government nominated and approved all members of the Competition Council in December of 2018.

Expropriation and Compensation

Expropriation may only occur in the context of public interest for public use by a state entity, although in the past, private entities that are public service “concessionaires,” mixed economy companies, or general interest companies have also been granted expropriation rights.  Article 3 of Law No. 7-81 (May 1982) on expropriation, the associated Royal Decree of May 6, 1982, and Decree No. 2-82-328 of April 16, 1983 regulate government authority to expropriate property. The process of expropriation has two phases. In the administrative phase, the State declares public interest in expropriating specific land, and verifies ownership, titles, and value of the land, as determined by an appraisal.  If the State and owner are able to come to agreement on the value, the expropriation is complete. If the owner appeals, the judicial phase begins, whereby the property is taken, a judge oversees the transfer of the property, and payment compensation is made to the owner based on the judgment. The U.S. Mission is not aware of any recent, confirmed instances of private property being expropriated for other than public purposes (eminent domain), or being expropriated in a manner that is discriminatory or not in accordance with established principles of international law.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Morocco is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and signed its convention in June 1967.  Morocco is also a party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Law No. 08-05 provides for enforcement of awards made under these conventions.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Morocco is signatory to over 60 bilateral treaties recognizing binding international arbitration of trade disputes, including one with the United States.  Law No. 08-05 established a system of conventional arbitration and mediation, while allowing parties to apply the Code of Civil Procedure in their dispute resolution.  Foreign investors commonly rely on international arbitration to resolve contractual disputes. Commercial courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitrations awards. Generally, investor rights are backed by a transparent, impartial procedure for dispute settlement.  There have been no claims brought by foreign investors under the investment chapter of the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement since it came into effect in 2006. The U.S. Mission is aware of approximately five cases of business disputes over the past ten years involving U.S. investors, three of which were resolved.

Morocco officially recognizes foreign arbitration awards issued against the government.  Domestic arbitration awards are also enforceable subject to an enforcement order issued by the President of the Commercial Court, who verifies that no elements of the award violate public order or the defense rights of the parties.  As Morocco is a member of the New York Convention, international awards are also enforceable in accordance with the provisions of the convention. Morocco is also a member of the Washington Convention for the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and as such agrees to enforce and uphold ICSID arbitral awards.  The U.S. Mission is not aware of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Morocco has a national commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) with a mandate to regulate mediation training centers and develop mediator certification systems.  Morocco seeks to position itself as a regional center for arbitration in Africa, but the capacity of local courts remains a limiting factor. The Moroccan government established the Center of Arbitration and Mediation in Rabat and the Casablanca International Mediation and Arbitration Center (CIMAC).  The U.S. Mission is not aware of any investment disputes involving state owned enterprises (SOEs).

Bankruptcy Regulations

Morocco’s bankruptcy law is based on French law.  Commercial courts have jurisdiction over all cases related to insolvency, as set forth in Royal Decree No. 1-97-65 (1997).  The Commercial Court in the debtor’s place of business holds jurisdiction in insolvency cases. The law gives secured debtors priority claim on assets and proceeds over unsecured debtors, who in turn have priority over equity shareholders.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized. The World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business report ranked Morocco 71 out of 190 economies in “Resolving Insolvency,” a significant improvement from Morocco’s 134th place ranking in 2018.  One contributing factor to this improvement is the Moroccan Government’s revision of the national insolvency code in March of 2018.

Netherlands

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Netherlands is the sixteenth-largest economy in the world and the fifth largest in the European Monetary Union (the eurozone), with a gross domestic product (GDP) of over USD 900 billion (773 billion euros).  According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Netherlands is consistently among the three largest source and recipient economies for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world, although the Netherlands is not the ultimate destination for the majority of this investment.  The government of the Netherlands maintains liberal policies toward FDI, has established itself as a platform for third-country investment with some 145 investment agreements in force, and adheres to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Codes of Liberalization and Declaration on International Investment, including a National Treatment commitment and adherence to relevant guidelines.

The Netherlands is the recipient of eight percent of all FDI inflow into the EU.  Of all EU member states, it is the top recipient of U.S. FDI, at over 16 percent of all U.S. FDI abroad as of 2017.  The Netherlands has become a key export platform and pan-regional distribution hub for U.S. firms. Roughly 60 percent of total U.S. foreign-affiliate sales in the Netherlands are exports, with the bulk of them going to other EU members.

In 2014, foreign-owned companies made inward direct investment worth USD 15.8 billion (14.2 billion euros) – just over 30 percent of total corporate investment in durable goods in the Netherlands.  Foreign investors provide 19 percent of Dutch employment in the private sector (860,200 jobs). U.S. firms contribute the most among foreign firms to employment, responsible for 214,000 jobs. In its 2017 investment report, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) identified the Netherlands as the world’s fifth largest destination of global FDI inflows and the third largest source of FDI outflows.

Although policy makers fear that a Brexit will be detrimental for the Dutch economy, so far the Netherlands is benefitting from companies exiting the United Kingdom in anticipation of Brexit.  According to the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), the number of companies interested in moving to the Netherlands because of Brexit increased from 80 in 2017 to 150 in 2018 to 250 in 2019.  The companies are coming mainly from the health, creative industry, financial services, and logistics sectors.  The Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) has predicted Amsterdam will emerge as a main post-Brexit financial trading center in Europe for automated trading platforms and other ‘fintech’ firms, allowing these companies to keep their European trading within the confines of the EU after Brexit.

Dutch tax authorities provide a high degree of customer service to foreign investors, seeking to provide transparent, precise tax guidance that makes long-term tax obligations more predictable.  Advance Tax Rulings (ATR) and Advance Pricing Agreements (APA) are guarantees given by local tax inspectors regarding long-term tax commitments for a particular acquisition or Greenfield investment.  Dutch tax policy continues to evolve as the EU seeks to harmonize tax measures across members states. A more detailed description of Dutch tax policy for foreign investors can be found at http://investinholland.com/incentives-and-taxes/   and http://investinholland.com/incentives-and-taxes/fiscal-climate/  .

Dutch corporations and branches of foreign corporations are currently subject to a corporate tax rate of 25 percent on taxable profits, which puts the Netherlands in the middle third among EU countries’ corporate tax rates and below the tax rates of its larger neighbors.  Profits up to USD 240,000 (200,000 euros) are taxed at a rate of 19 percent.  In October 2018, the Dutch government announced it would lower its corporate tax rate to 20.5 percent in 2021, with profits up to USD 240,000 taxed at a 15 percent rate from 2021 onwards.

Dutch corporate taxation generally allows for exemption of dividends and capital gains derived from a foreign subsidiary.  Surveys of the corporate tax structure of EU member states note that both the corporate tax rate and the effective corporate tax rate in the Netherlands are around the EU average.  Nevertheless, the Dutch corporate tax structure ranks among the most competitive in Europe considering other beneficial measures such as ATAs and/or APAs. The Netherlands also has no branch profit tax and does not levy a withholding tax on interest and royalties.

Maintaining an investment-friendly reputation is a high priority for the Dutch government, which provides public information and institutional assistance to prospective investors through the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) (https://investinholland.com/  ). Historically, over a third of all “Greenfield” FDI projects that NFI attracts to the Netherlands originate from U.S. companies.  Additionally, the Netherlands business gateway at https://business.gov.nl/   – maintained by the Dutch government – provides information on regulations, taxes, and investment incentives that apply to foreign investors in the Netherlands and clear guidance on establishing a business in the Netherlands.

The NFIA maintains six regional offices in the United States (Washington, DC; Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; New York City; and San Francisco).  The American Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands (https://www.amcham.nl/  ) also promotes U.S. and Dutch business interests in the Netherlands.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

With few exceptions, the Netherlands does not discriminate between national and foreign individuals in the establishment and operation of private companies.  The government has divested its complete ownership of many public utilities, but in a number of strategic sectors, private investment – including foreign investment – may be subject to limitations or conditions.  These include transportation, energy, defense and security, finance, postal services, public broadcasting, and the media.

Air transport is governed by EU regulation and subject to the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement.  U.S. nationals can invest in Dutch/European carriers as long as the airline remains majority-owned by EU governments or nationals from EU member states.  Additionally, the EU and its member states reserve the right to limit U.S. investment in the voting equity of an EU airline on a reciprocal basis that the United States allows for foreign nationals in U.S. carriers.

In concert with the European Union, the Dutch government is considering how to best protect its economic security but also continue as one of the world’s most open economies.  The Netherlands has no formal foreign investment screening mechanism, but the government has begun discussions about developing targeted investment-screening for certain vital sectors that could represent national security vulnerabilities.  The government is in the process of finalizing legislation that will establish investment screening mechanisms in the first of those vital sectors: telecommunications. The Netherlands has certain limitations on foreign ownership in sectors that are deemed of vital national interest (transportation, energy, defense and security, finance, postal services, public broadcasting, and the media).  There is no requirement for Dutch nationals to have an equity stake in a Dutch registered company.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Netherlands has not recently undergone an investment policy review by the OECD, World Trade Organization (WTO), or UNCTAD.

Business Facilitation

All companies must register with the Chamber of Commerce and apply for a fiscal number with the tax administration, which allows expedited registration for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 50 employees:  https://www.kvk.nl/english/ordering-products-from-the-commercial-register/  .

The World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks the Netherlands as number 22 in starting a business.  The Netherlands ranks better than the OECD average on registration time, the number of procedures, and required minimum capital.

The Netherlands business gateway at https://business.gov.nl/   – maintained by the Dutch government – provides a general checklist for starting a business in the Netherlands: https://business.gov.nl/starting-your-business/checklists-for-starting-a-business/general-checklist-for-starting-a-business-in-the-netherlands/  .  The Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT) from 1956 gives U.S. citizens preferential treatment to operate a business in the Netherlands, providing ease of establishment that most other non-EU nationals do not enjoy.  U.S. entrepreneurs applying under the DAFT do not need to satisfy a strict, points-based test and do not have to meet pre-conditions related to providing an innovative product. U.S. entrepreneurs setting up a sole proprietorship only have to register with the Chamber of Commerce and demonstrate a minimum investment of 4,500 euros.  DAFT entrepreneurs receive a two-year residence permit, with the possibility of renewal for five subsequent years.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Dutch commercial laws and regulations accord with international legal practices and standards; they apply equally to foreign and Dutch companies.  The rules on acquisition, mergers, takeovers, and reinvestment are nondiscriminatory. The Social Economic Council (SER)–an official advisory body consisting of employers’ representatives, labor representatives, and government appointed independent experts–administers Dutch mergers and acquisitions rules.  The SER’s rules serve to protect the interests of stakeholders and employees. They include requirements for the timely announcement of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and for discussions with trade unions.

As an EU member and Eurozone country, the Netherlands is firmly integrated in the European regulatory system, with national and European institutions exercising authority over specific markets, industries, consumer rights, and competition behavior of individual firms.

Financial markets are regulated in an interconnected EU and national system of prudential and behavioral oversight.  The domestic regulators are the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) and the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Market (AFM).  Their EU counterparts are the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA).

Traditionally, public consultation in drafting new laws is achieved by invitation of various civil society bodies, trade associations, and organizations of stakeholders.  In addition, the SER has a formal mandate to provide the government with advice, both solicited and of its own accord. New laws and regulations are subject to legal review by the Council of State and must be approved by the Second and First Chambers of Parliament.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Netherlands is a member of the WTO and does not maintain any measures that are inconsistent with obligations under Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMs).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Dutch contract law is based on the principle of party autonomy and full freedom of contract.  Signing parties are free to draft an agreement in any form and any language, based on the legal system of their choice.

Dutch corporate law provides for a legal and fiscal framework that is designed to be flexible.  This element of the investment climate makes the Netherlands especially attractive to foreign investors.

The Dutch civil court system has a chamber dedicated to business disputes, called the Enterprise Chamber.  The Enterprise Chamber includes judges who are experts in various commercial fields. They resolve a wide range of corporate disputes, from corporate governance disputes to high-profile shareholder conflicts over mergers or hostile take-overs.  In 2017, as part of its takeover bid of AkzoNobel, U.S. paint manufacturer PPG appealed the AkzoNobel Board’s decision to reject PPG’s takeover offer in the Commercial Court but was unsuccessful.

On January 1, 2019, the Enterprise Chamber established an English-language commercial court.  The Netherlands Commercial Court (NCC) and its appellate chamber (NCCA) offer parties the opportunity to litigate in English and will provide judgments in English.  Both the NCC and NCCA will focus primarily on major international commercial cases. See also: https://www.rechtspraak.nl/English/NCC/Pages/default.aspx  

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Dutch government has demonstrated a growing concern with the protection of its open, market-based economy against foreign state malign activity and currently the Netherlands is in the process of finalizing legislation that will allow for the establishment of formal investment screening mechanisms for certain vital sectors that could represent national security vulnerabilities.  In March 2019, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (MOE) submitted to Parliament its long-awaited proposal for an investment screening law in the telecommunications sector. The law is expected to come into force in late 2019 or 2020. This would be the first law to establish an investor-screening mechanism in sectors of vital interest to Dutch national security.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Structural and regulatory reforms are an integral part of Dutch economic policy.  Laws are routinely developed for stimulating market forces, liberalization, deregulation, and tightening competition policy.

As an EU and Eurozone member, the Netherlands is firmly integrated in the European regulatory system with national and European institutions exercising authority over specific markets, industries, consumer rights, and competition behavior of individual firms.

The Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) provides regulatory oversight in three key areas:  consumer protection, post and telecommunications, and market competition.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Netherlands maintains strong protection on all types of property, including private and intellectual property, and the right of citizens to own and use property.  Expropriation of corporate assets or the nationalization of industry requires a special act of Parliament, as demonstrated in the nationalization of ABN AMRO during the 2008 financial crisis (the government returned it to public shareholding through a 2016 IPO).  In the event of expropriation, the Dutch government follows customary international law, providing prompt, adequate, and effective compensation, as well as ample process for legal recourse. The U.S. Mission to the Netherlands is unaware of any recent expropriation claims involving the Dutch government and a U.S. or other foreign-owned company.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

As a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the Netherlands accepts binding arbitration between foreign investors and the state.  The Netherlands is one of the initial signatories of the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (UNCITRAL) and permits local enforcement of arbitration judgments decided in other signatory countries.

The Hague is the seat of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), an intergovernmental organization that is not a court, but like the ICSID, is a facilitator of independent arbitral tribunals to resolve conflicts between PCA member states, including the United States.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Netherlands has maintained a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with the United States since 1957 that provides for national treatment and free entry for foreign investors, with certain exceptions.  The Embassy is not aware of any American company raising an investment dispute with the Netherlands over the last 10 years.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Dutch bankruptcy law is governed by the Dutch Bankruptcy Code, which applies both to individuals and to companies.  The code covers three separate legal proceedings: 1) bankruptcy, which has a goal of liquidating the company’s assets; 2) receivership, aimed at reaching an agreement between the creditors and the company; and 3) debt restructuring, which is only available to individuals.

The World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks the Netherlands as number 7 in resolving insolvency.  The Netherlands ranks better than the OECD average on bankruptcy time, cost, and recovery rate.

New Zealand

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign investment in New Zealand is generally encouraged without discrimination.  New Zealand has an open and transparent economy, where businesses and investors can generally make commercial transactions with ease.  Successive governments accept that foreign investment is an important source of financing for New Zealand and a means to gain access to foreign technology, expertise, and global markets.  Some restrictions do apply in a few areas of critical interest including certain types of land, significant business assets, and fishing quotas. These restrictions are facilitated by a screening process conducted by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), described in the next section.

New Zealand has a rapidly expanding network of bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements that include investment components.  New Zealand also has a well-developed legal framework and regulatory system, and the judicial system is generally effective in enforcing property and contractual rights.  Investment disputes are rare, and there have been no major disputes in recent years involving U.S. companies.

The Labour Party-led government has embarked on a program of tighter screening of some forms of foreign investment.  It has also focused on different aspects of trade agreement negotiation compared with the previous government, such as an aversion to investor-state dispute settlement provisions, and moved to restrict the availability of permits for oil and gas exploration.  This will be discussed below in a later section.

Crown entity New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) is New Zealand’s primary investment promotion agency.  In addition to its New Zealand central and regional presence, it has 40 international locations, including four offices in the United States.  Approximately half of the NZTE staff is based overseas. The NZTE offers to help investors develop their plans, access opportunities, and facilitate connections with New Zealand-based private sector advisors: https://www.nzte.govt.nz/investment-and-funding/how-we-help.  Once investors independently complete their negotiations, due diligence, and receive confirmation of their investment, the NZTE offers aftercare advice. The NZTE works to channel investment into regional areas of New Zealand to build capability and to promote opportunities outside of the country’s main cities. 

In recent years new visa categories were created for investors and for entrepreneurs, and measures introduced to allow foreign investors – under certain circumstances – to bid alongside New Zealand businesses for contestable government funding for research and innovation grants.  Most of the programs which are operated by NZTE, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), and Callaghan Innovation, provide support through skills and knowledge, or supporting innovative business ventures. Grants are available, but many are co-funded, requiring some investment by the business owner, and extra conditions apply to non-resident applicants.  For more see: https://www.business.govt.nz/how-to-grow/getting-government-grants/what-can-i-get-help-with/

The New Zealand-United States Council, established in 2001, is a non-partisan organization funded by business and the government.  It fosters a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between New Zealand and the United States through both government-to-government contacts, and business-to-business links.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland provides a platform for New Zealand and U.S. businesses to network among themselves and with government agencies.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

[Sectors:]

The New Zealand government does not discriminate against U.S. or other foreign investors in their rights to establish and own business enterprises.  It has placed separate limitations on foreign ownership of airline Air New Zealand and telecommunications provider Spark New Zealand (Spark).

Air New Zealand’s constitution requires that no person who is not a New Zealand national hold 10 percent or more of the voting rights without the consent of the Minister of Transport.  There must be between five and eight board directors, at least three of which must reside in New Zealand. In 2013 the government sold a partial stake in Air New Zealand reducing its equity interest from 73 percent to 53 percent.

Spark’s constitution requires at least half of its Board be New Zealand citizens, and at least one director must live in New Zealand.  It requires no person shall have a relevant interest in 10 percent or more of the voting shares without the consent of the Minister of Finance and the Spark Board, and no person who is not a New Zealand national can purchase a relevant interest in more than 49.9 percent of the total voting shares without approval from the Minister of Finance.  This telecommunications service obligation (TSO) – formerly known as the “Kiwishare obligation” – has been in operation since Spark’s privatization in 1990, and was motivated in part because of the vital emergency call service it provides. There are TSOs for charge-free local calling (provided by Spark and supported by Chorus), and for the services for deaf, hearing impaired, and speech impaired people (provided by Sprint International).

The establishment of telecommunications infrastructure provider Chorus resulted from a demerger of Spark in 2011.  Chorus owns most of the telephone infrastructure in New Zealand, and provides wholesale services to telecommunications retailers, including Spark.  The demerger freed Spark from the TSO, but obligated Chorus as a natural monopoly and infrastructure provider. To date the New Zealand government has granted approval to two private companies – in April 2012 and December 2017 – to exceed the 10 percent threshold, and increase their interest in Chorus up to 15 percent.

[National Security: TICSA]

New Zealand screens overseas investment mainly for economic reasons, but has legislation that outlines a framework to protect the national security of telecommunication networks.  The Telecommunications (Interception and Security) Act 2013 (TICSA) sets out the process for network operators to work with the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – in accordance with Section 7   – to prevent, sufficiently mitigate, or remove security risks arising from the design, build, or operation of public telecommunications networks; and interconnections to or between public telecommunications networks in New Zealand or with networks overseas.   In April 2019 the government signaled it would be considering a “national interest” restriction on foreign investment, when it issued a document for public consultation  .

[Economic Security: OIO]

New Zealand otherwise screens overseas investment to ensure quality investments are made that benefit New Zealand.  Failure to obtain consent before purchase can lead to significant financial penalties. The Overseas Investment Office (OIO) is responsible for screening foreign investment that falls within certain criteria specified in the Overseas Investment Act 2005. 

The OIO requires consent be obtained by overseas persons wishing to acquire or invest in significant business assets, sensitive land, farm land, or fishing quota, as defined below.

A “significant business asset” includes: acquiring 25 percent or more ownership or controlling interest in a New Zealand company with assets exceeding NZD 100 million (USD 68 million); establishing a business in New Zealand that will be operational more than 90 days per year and expected costs of establishing the business exceeds NZD 100 million; or acquiring business assets in New Zealand that exceed NZD 100 million. 

OIO consent is required for overseas investors to purchase “sensitive land” either directly or acquiring a controlling interest of 25 percent or more in a person who owns the land.  Non-residential sensitive land includes land that: is non-urban and exceeds five hectares (12.35 acres); is part of or adjoins the foreshore or seabed; exceeds 0.4 hectares (1 acre) and falls under of the Conservation Act of 1987 or it is land proposed for a reserve or public park; is subject to a Heritage Order, or is a historic or wahi tapu area (sacred Maori land); or is considered “special land” that is defined as including the foreshore, seabed, riverbed, or lakebed and must first be offered to the Crown.  If the Crown accepts the offer, the Crown can only acquire the part of the “sensitive land” that is “special land,” and can acquire it only if the overseas person completes the process for acquisition of the sensitive land.

The Waitangi Tribunal was established by the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 to hear Maori claims relating to the loss of land and resources as a result of historical breaches by the Crown of the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840.  Maori land claims may not be lodged relating to privately owned land and affect only land owned by the Crown. Some private land titles are noted with a memorial recording that the land, when Crown land, would be subject to a claim and therefore repurchased by the Crown for market value at some future time.  No land in New Zealand has to date been the subject of a repurchase decision.

Where a proposed acquisition involves “farm land” (land used principally for agricultural, horticultural, or pastoral purposes, or for the keeping of bees, poultry, or livestock), the OIO can only grant approval if the land is first advertised and offered on the open market in New Zealand to citizens and residents.  The Crown can waive this requirement in special circumstances at the discretion of the relevant Minister.

Commercial fishing in New Zealand is controlled by the Fisheries Act, which sets out a quota management system that prohibits commercial fishing of certain species without the ownership of a fishing quota which specifies the quantity of fish that may be taken.  OIO legislation together with the Fisheries Act, requires consent from the relevant Ministers in order for an overseas person to obtain an interest in a fishing quota, or an interest of 25 percent or more in a business that owns or controls a fishing quota.

For investments that require OIO screening, the investor must demonstrate in their application they meet the criteria for the “Investor Test” and the “Benefit to New Zealand test.” The former requires the investor to display the necessary business experience and acumen to manage the investment, demonstrate financial commitment to the investment, and be of “good character” meaning a person who would be eligible for a permit under New Zealand immigration law.

The “Benefit to New Zealand test” requires the OIO assess the investment against 21 factors, which are set out in the OIO Act and Regulations.  The OIO applies a counterfactual analysis to those benefit factors that are capable of having a counterfactual applied, the onus is upon the investor to consider the likely counterfactual if the overseas investment does not proceed.  Economic factors are given weighting, particularly if the investment will create new job opportunities, retain existing jobs, and lead to greater efficiency or productivity domestically.

For all four categories the threshold is higher for Australian investors.  Australian non-government investors are screened at NZD 530 million (USD 360 million) and Australian government investors at NZD 111 million (USD 75 million) for 2019, with both amounts reviewed each year in accordance with the 2013 Protocol on Investment to the New Zealand-Australia Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement.  Separately, non-government investors from CPTPP countries face a screening threshold of NZD 200 million (USD 136 million).

The OIO Regulations set out the fee schedule for lodging new applications which can be costly, currently ranging between NZD 13,000 (USD 8,800) to NZD 54,000 (USD 36,700).  The Overseas Investment Act does not prescribe timeframes within which the OIO must make a decision on any consent applications, and current processing times regularly exceed six months.  In recent years some investors have abandoned their applications, and have been vocal in their frustration with costs and time frames involved in obtaining OIO consent.

The OIO monitors foreign investments after approval.  All consents are granted with reporting conditions, which are generally standard in nature.  Investors must report regularly on their compliance with the terms of the consent. Offenses include: defeating, evading, or circumventing the OIO Act; failure to comply with notices, requirements, or conditions; and making false or misleading statements or omissions.  If an offense has been committed under the Act, the High Court has the power to impose penalties, including monetary fines, ordering compliance, and ordering the disposal of the investor’s New Zealand holdings.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

New Zealand has not conducted an Investment Policy Review through the OECD or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in the past three years.  New Zealand’s last Trade Policy Review was in 2015 and the next will take place in 2021: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp416_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

The New Zealand government has shown a strong commitment to continue efforts to streamline business facilitation.  According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2019 report New Zealand is ranked first in “Starting a Business,” “Registering Property,” “Getting Credit,” and is ranked second for “Protecting Minority Investors.”

There are no restrictions on the movement of funds into or out of New Zealand, or on the repatriation of profits.  No additional performance measures are imposed on foreign-owned enterprises, other than those that require OIO approval.  Overseas investors must adhere to the normal legislative business framework for New Zealand-based companies, which includes the Commerce Act 1986, the Companies Act 1993, the Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013, the Financial Reporting Act 2013, and the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 (AML/CFT).  The Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 was passed to modernize and consolidate existing legislation underpinning contracts and commercial transactions. 

The tightening of anti-money laundering laws has impacted the cross-border movement of remittance orders from New Zealanders and migrant workers to the Pacific Islands.  Banks, non-bank institutions, and people in occupations that typically handle large amounts of cash, are required to collect additional information about their customers and report any suspicious transactions to the New Zealand Police.  If an entity is unable to comply with the AML/CFT in its dealings with a customer, it must not do business with that person. For banks this would mean not processing certain transactions, withdrawing the banking products and services it offers, and choosing not to have that person as a customer.  This has resulted in some banks charging higher fees for remittance services in order to reduce their exposure to risks, which has led to the forced closing of accounts held by some money transfer operators. Phase 1 sectors which include financial institutions, remitters, trust and company service providers, casinos, payment providers, and lenders have had to comply with the AML/CFT since 2013.  Under Phase 2 the AML/CFT was extended to lawyers, conveyancers from July 2018, accountants, and bookkeepers from October 2018, and realtors from January 2019.

In order to combat the increasing use of New Zealand shell companies for illegal activities, the Companies Amendment Act 2014 and the Limited Partnerships Amendment Act 2014 introduced new requirements for companies registering in New Zealand.  Companies must have at least one director that either lives in New Zealand, or lives in Australia and is a director of a company incorporated in Australia. New companies incorporated must provide the date and place of birth of all directors, and provide details of any ultimate holding company.  The Acts introduced offences for serious misconduct by directors that results in serious losses to the company or its creditors, and aligns the company reconstruction provisions in the Companies Act with the Takeovers Act 1993 and the Takeovers Code Approval Order 2000.

The Companies Office holds an overseas business-related register, and provides that information to persons in New Zealand who intend to deal with the company or to creditors in New Zealand.  The information provided includes where and when the company was incorporated, if there is any restriction on its ability to trade contained in its constitutional documents, names of the directors, its principal place of business in New Zealand, and where and on whom documents can be served in New Zealand.  For further information on how overseas companies can register in New Zealand: https://www.companiesoffice.govt.nz/companies/learn-about/starting-a-company/register-an-overseas-company-other 

The New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) Act 2016 allows the allocation of unique identifiers to eligible entities to enable them to conduct business more efficiently, interact more easily with the government, and to protect the entity’s security and confidentiality of information.  All companies registered in New Zealand have had NZBNs since 2013, and are also available to other types of businesses such as sole traders and partnerships.

Tax registration is recommended when the investor incorporates the company with the Companies Office, but is required if the company is registering as an employer and if it intends to register for New Zealand’s consumption tax, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is currently 15 percent.  Companies importing into New Zealand or exporting to other countries which have a turnover exceeding NZD 60,000 (USD 40,800) over a 12-month period, or expect to pass NZD 60,000 in the next 12 months, must register for GST. Non-resident businesses that conduct a taxable activity supplying goods or services in New Zealand and make taxable supplies in New Zealand, must register for GST:  https://www.ird.govt.nz/index/all-tasks. From 2014, non-resident businesses that do not make taxable supplies in New Zealand have been able to claim GST if they meet certain criteria  

To comply with GST registration, overseas companies need two pieces of evidence to prove their customer is a resident in New Zealand, such as their billing address or IP address, and a GST return must be filed every quarter even if the company does not make any sales.

In 2016 mandatory GST registration was extended to non-resident suppliers of “remote services” to New Zealand customers, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold.  In 2018, the government introduced legislation that if enacted, will require non-resident suppliers of low-value import goods to register for GST, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold.  Both are discussed in a later section.

Outward Investment

The New Zealand government does not place restrictions on domestic investors to invest abroad.

NZTE is the government’s international business development agency.  It promotes outward investment and provides resources and services for New Zealand businesses to prepare for export and advice on how to grow internationally.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and Customs New Zealand each operates business outreach programs that advise businesses on how to maximize the benefit from FTAs to improve the competitiveness of their goods offshore, and provides information on how to meet requirements such as rules of origin.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The New Zealand government policies and laws governing competition are transparent, non-discriminatory, and consistent with international norms.  New Zealand ranks high on the World Bank’s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance, scoring 4.25 out of a possible 5, but is marked down in part for a lack of transparency in departments’ individual forward regulatory plans, and the development of the government’s annual legislative program (for primary laws), for which the Ministers responsible do not make public. 

While regulations are not in a centralized location in a form similar to the United States Federal Register, the New Zealand government requires the major regulatory departments to publish an annual regulatory stewardship strategy.

Draft bills and regulations including those relating to FTAs and investment law, are generally made available for public comment, through a public consultation process.  In a few instances there has been criticism of New Zealand governments choosing: following a “truncated” or shortened public consultation process or adding a substantive legislative change after public consultation through the process of adding a Supplementary Order Paper to the Bill. 

The Regulatory Quality Team within the New Zealand Treasury is responsible for the strategic coordination of the Government’s regulatory management system.  Treasury exercises stewardship over the regulatory management system to maintain and enhance the quality of government-initiated regulation. The Treasury’s responsibilities include the oversight of the performance of the regulatory management system as a whole and making recommendations on changes to government and Parliamentary systems and processes.  These functions complement the Treasury’s role as the government’s primary economic and fiscal advisor. New Zealand’s seven major regulatory departments are the Department of Internal Affairs, IRD, MBIE, Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Justice, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and the Ministry of Transport. 

In recent years there has been a revision to the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) requirements in order to help New Zealand’s regulatory framework keep up with global standards.  To improve transparency in the regulatory process, RIAs are published on the Treasury’s website at the time the relevant bill is introduced to Parliament or the regulation is gazetted, or at the time of Ministerial release.  A RIA provides a high-level summary of the problem being addressed, the options and their associated costs and benefits, the consultation undertaken, and the proposed arrangements for implementation and review.

MBIE is responsible for the stewardship of 16 regulatory systems covering about 140 statutes.  In 2018 the government introduced three omnibus bills that contain amendments to legislation administered by MBIE, including economic development, employment relations, and housing:  https://www.mbie.govt.nz/cross-government-functions/regulatory-stewardship/regulatory-systems-amendment-bills/. The government’s objective with this package of Regulatory Systems Amendment Bills is to ensure that they are effective, efficient, and accord with best regulatory practice by providing a process for making continuous improvements to regulatory systems that do not warrant standalone bills. 

The vast majority of standards are developed through Standards New Zealand, which is a business unit within MBIE, operating on a cost-recovery basis rather than a membership subscription service as previously.  The Standards and Accreditation Act 2015 set out the role and function of the Standards Approval Board which commenced from March 2016. The majority of standards in New Zealand are set in coordination with Australia.

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) has drawn criticism from both foreign and domestic investors as a barrier to investment in New Zealand.  The RMA regulates access to natural and physical resources such as land and water. Critics contend that the resource management process mandated by the law is unpredictable, protracted, and subject to undue influence from competitors and lobby groups.  In some cases companies have been found to exploit the RMA’s objections submission process to stifle competition. Investors have raised concerns that the law is unequally applied between jurisdictions because of the lack of implementing guidelines. The Resource Management Amendment Act 2013 and the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 were passed to help address these concerns.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (RLAA) is considered the most comprehensive set of reforms to the RMA.  It contains almost 40 amendments and makes significant changes to five different Acts including the RMA, the Conservation Act 1986, Reserves Act 1977, Public Works Act 1981, and the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2013.  Broadly, the RLAA attempts to balance environmental management with the need to increase capacity for housing development. It also aims to align resource consent processes in a consistent manner among New Zealand’s 78 local councils, by providing a stronger national direction, a more responsive planning process, and improved consistency with other legislation.

The Public Works Act (PWA) 1981 enables the Crown to acquire land for public works by agreement or compulsory acquisition and prescribes landowner compensation.  New Zealand continues to face a significant demand for large-scale infrastructure works and the PWA is designed to ensure project delivery and enable infrastructure development.  Compulsory acquisition is exercised only after an acquiring authority has made all reasonable endeavors to negotiate in good faith the sale and purchase of the owner’s land, without reaching an agreement.  The land owner retains the right to have their objection heard by the Environment Court, but only in relation to the taking of the land, not to the amount of compensation payable. The RLAA amendment to the PWA aims to improve the efficiency and fairness of the compensation, land acquisition, and Environment Court objection provisions.

The Land Transfer Act came into force in November 2018.  It aims to simplify and modernize the law to make it more accessible and to improve certainty of property rights.  It empowers courts with limited discretion to restore a landowner’s registered title in cases of manifest injustice.

New Zealand enhanced its accountability and transparency by joining the Open Government Partnership in 2014.  Some of the 12 areas of commitment outlined in New Zealand’s third National Action Plan 2018-2020 include: make New Zealand’s secondary legislation readily accessible, public participation in policy development, and increase the visibility of government’s data stewardship:  http://ogp.org.nz/new-zealands-plan/third-national-action-plan-2018-2020/. In March 2018, New Zealand signed the Open Data Charter, which has been adopted by 69 governments. Statistics New Zealand is responsible for the management of the Government’s Open Government Information and Data Program:  https://www.data.govt.nz/open-data/open-government-data-programme/open-data-nz/. 

The Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) enables people to request official information held by Ministers and specified government agencies.  It contains rules on how such requests be handled and provides a right to complain to the Ombudsman in certain situations. The Office of the Ombudsman, the Ministry of Justice and, more recently, the State Services Commission provide guidance to help improve agencies’ performance on OIA practice and reporting on their compliance with the OIA.

The government is determining whether a full review of the OIA is needed by conducting a targeted engagement facilitated by the Ministry of Justice.  A public consultation process is open for a six week period in early 2019. This is in response to criticism of the government’s failure to be fully transparent on the performance of departments responding to OIA requests within the 20-working day deadline, with requests to the NZ Police (who receive about one-third of all OIA requests) being excluded from statistics reported by the State Services Commission (SSC).  In the last six months of 2018, NZ Police and the Earthquake Commission were responsible for more than half of all late OIA responses. The SSC also removes NZ Defense Force requests from the reporting statistics. In addition to timeliness, quality was found to be an issue in a media investigation that found of the 723 complaints to the Ombudsman during the same six months, only one fifth related to delays, more than half (51 per cent) of complaints related to requests being partially or fully refused:  https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/111181806/redacted–our-official-information-problems-and-how-to-fix-them.

The Government of New Zealand is generally transparent about its public finances and debt obligations.  The annual budget for the government and its departments publish assumptions, and implications of explicit and contingent liabilities on estimated government revenue and spending.

International Regulatory Considerations

In recent years the Government of New Zealand has introduced laws to enhance regulatory coordination with Australia as part of their Single Economic Market agenda agreed to in 2009.  In February 2017 the Patents (Trans-Tasman Patent Attorneys and Other Matters) Amendment Act took effect creating a single body to regulate patent attorneys in both countries. Other areas of regulatory coordination include insolvency law, financial reporting, food safety, competition policy, consumer policy and the 2013 Trans-Tasman Court Proceedings and Regulatory Enforcement Treaty, which allows the enforcement of civil judgements between both countries. 

New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority (Medsafe), a business unit within the Ministry of Health, rules on applications for consent to distribute new and changed medicines and therapeutic products in New Zealand.  In their guidelines, Medsafe advises applicants that the technical data requirements applying in New Zealand are closely aligned with those currently applying in the European Union: https://medsafe.govt.nz/regulatory/current-guidelines.asp.  Medsafe also recognizes the technical guidelines published by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When guidelines issued by the International Conference on Harmonization, or the Committee for Proprietary Medicinal Products, or the FDA are formally adopted and come into force in the EU or the United States, then they are recognized by Medsafe.  While there is substantial harmonization between New Zealand and Australia for requirements showing evidence of the quality, safety and efficacy of medicines, there are Australian-specific requirements for some aspects of the quality control and stability data that are not relevant to New Zealand.

The Privacy Bill – if enacted – aims to bring New Zealand privacy law into line with international best practice, including the 2013 OECD Privacy Guidelines and the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In 2016 the Financial Markets Authority issued two notices, the Disclosure Using Overseas Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) Exemption and the Overseas Registered Banks and Licensed Insurers Exemption Notice, which ease compliance costs on overseas entities by allowing them under certain circumstances to use United States statutory accounting principles (overseas GAAP) rather than New Zealand GAAP, and the opportunity to use an overseas approved auditor rather than require a New Zealand qualified auditor.

In 2019, the government introduced the Financial Markets (Derivatives Margin and Benchmarking) Reform Amendment Bill to Parliament to better align New Zealand’s financial markets law with new international regulations, to help strengthen the resilience of global financial markets.  If enacted, the bill will help financial institutions maintain access to offshore funding markets and help ensure institutions – that rely on derivatives to hedge against currency and other risks – can invest and raise funds efficiently.

New Zealand is a Party to WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).  Standards New Zealand is responsible for operating the TBT Enquiry Point on behalf of MFAT.  From 2016, Standards New Zealand became a business unit within MBIE administered under the Standards and Accreditation Act 2015.  Standards New Zealand establishes techniques and processes built from requirements under the Act and from the International Organization for Standardization.

The Standards New Zealand TBT Enquiry Point operates as a service for producers and exporters to search for proposed TBT Notifications and associated documents such as draft or actual regulations or standards.  They also provide contact details for the Trade Negotiations Division of MFAT to respond to businesses concerned about proposed measures. https://www.standards.govt.nz/international-engagement/technical-barriers-to-trade/  

In 2017 the government established a website to provide a centralized point of contact for businesses to access information and support on non-tariff trade barriers (NTB).  The online portal allows exporters to report issues, seek government advice and assistance with NTBs and other export issues. Exporters can confidentially register a trade barrier, and the website serves to track and trace the assignment and resolution across agencies on their behalf.  It also provides the government with an accurate and timely report of NTBs and other trade issues encountered by exporters, and involves the participation of Customs, MFAT, MPI, MBIE, and NZTE. https://tradebarriers.govt.nz/  

New Zealand ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in September 2015 and entered into force in February 2017.  New Zealand was already largely in compliance with the TFA which is expected to benefit New Zealand agricultural exporters and importers of perishable items to enhanced procedures for border clearances.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

New Zealand’s legal system is derived from the English system and comes from a mix of common law and statute law.  The judicial system is independent of the executive branch and is generally open, transparent, and effective in enforcing property and contractual rights.  The highest appeals court is a domestic Supreme Court, which replaced the Privy Council in London and began hearing cases July 1, 2004. New Zealand courts can recognize and enforce a judgment of a foreign court if the foreign court is considered to have exercised proper jurisdiction over the defendant according to private international law rules.  New Zealand has well defined and consistently applied commercial and bankruptcy laws. Arbitration is a widely used dispute resolution mechanism and is governed by the Arbitration Act of 1996, Arbitration (Foreign Agreements and Awards) Act of 1982, and the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1979.

In 2016, the omnibus Judicature Modernization Bill was passed to improve and consolidate older pieces of legislation governing the New Zealand court system.  The legislation enables the sharing of court information, the establishment of a new judicial panel to hear certain commercial cases, increases the monetary limit of the District Court’s civil jurisdiction, and improves accessibility to final written judgments by publishing them online.

In 2018, the government continued efforts to modernize and improve the efficiency of the courts and tribunals system, by passing the Court Matters Bill and the Tribunal Powers and Procedures Legislation Bill.  Legislation to modernize and consolidate laws underpinning contracts and commercial transactions came into effect on September 1, 2017. The Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 consolidates and repeals 12 acts that date between 1908 and 2002.  The Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Act, passed in December 2017, clarifies which jurisdiction’s law is applicable in actions of tort and abolishes certain common law rules, and establishes the general rule that the applicable law will be the law of the country in which the events constituting the tort in question occur.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Overseas investments in New Zealand assets are screened only if they are defined as sensitive within the Overseas Investment Act 2005, as mentioned in the previous section.  The OIO, a dedicated unit located within Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), administers the Act. The Overseas Investment Regulations 2005 set out the criteria for assessing applications, provide the framework for applicable fees, and whether the investment will benefit New Zealand.  Ministerial Directive Letters are issued by the Government to instruct the OIO on their general policy approach, their functions, powers, and duties as regulator. Letters have been issued in December 2010 and November 2017. Substantive changes, such as inclusion of another asset type within “sensitive land,” requires a legislative amendment to the Act. 

The government ministers for finance, land information, and primary industries (where applicable) are responsible for assessing OIO recommendations and can choose to override OIO recommendations on approved applications.  Ministers’ decisions on OIO applications can be appealed by the applicant in the New Zealand High Court. For more see: http://www.linz.govt.nz/regulatory/overseas-investment

In situations where New Zealand companies are acquiring capital injections from overseas investors that require OIO approval, they must meet certain criteria regarding disclosure to shareholders and fulfil other responsibilities under the Companies Act 1993.  Failure to do so can affect the overseas company’s application process with the OIO.

The OIO Act allows for instances when Ministers may confer a discretionary exemption from the requirement to seek OIO consent.  Section 61D is sufficiently broad to enable Ministers to exercise their exemption power for unexpected or unusual circumstances that may not otherwise be provided for:  http://legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2005/0082/latest/LMS112019.html . Overseas persons seeking an exemption must contact the OIO before submitting their application.

The LINZ website reports on enforcement actions they have taken against foreign investors, including the number of compliance letters issued, the number of warnings and their circumstances, referrals to professional conduct body in relation to an OIO breach, and disposal of investments:  https://www.linz.govt.nz/overseas-investment/enforcement/enforcement-action-taken .

The government has made several changes to regulations and legislation governing foreign investment over the past year, and has signaled further changes by issuing a discussion document for public consultation. 

In December 2017, the government introduced regulatory changes that place greater emphasis on the assessment of significant economic benefits to New Zealand.  For forestry investments, the OIO is required to place importance on investments that result in increased domestic processing of wood and advance government strategies.  For rural land, importance is placed on the generation of economic benefits which were previously seldom applied for lifestyle rural property purchases that previously relied on non-economic benefits to gain OIO approval.

In addition to placing emphasis on economic benefits, the government issued new rules that reduced the area threshold for foreign purchases of rural land so that approval is required for rural land of an area over five hectares, rather than the previous metric of farm land “more than ten times the average farm size,” which was about 7,146 hectares for sheep and beef farms, and 1,987 hectares for dairy farms.  Foreign investors can still purchase rural land less than five hectares but the government said it intends to introduce other measures to discourage “land bankers,” or investors holding onto land for speculative purposes. In its final report the Tax Working Group recommended a land tax to be levied by councils as a local tax. A feasibility report is expected in November 2019.

In the same Directive Letter from December 2017, the government issued new rules that overseas investors intending to reside in New Zealand, move within 12 months and become ordinarily resident within 24 months.

[OIO: Residential Property Land:]

As part of the government’s policy to improve housing affordability and reduce speculative behavior in the housing market, the Overseas Investment Amendment Act passed in August 2018 to bring residential land within the category of “sensitive land.” Residential land is defined as land that has a category of residential or lifestyle within the relevant district valuation roll; and includes a residential flat (apartment) in a building owned by a flat-owning company which could be on residential or non-residential land. 

From October 2018 the Overseas Investment Act generally requires persons who are not ordinarily resident in New Zealand to get OIO consent to purchase residential homes on residential land.  Australian and Singaporean citizens are exempt due to existing bilateral trade agreements. To avoid breaching the Act, contracts to purchase residential land must be conditional on getting consent under the Act – entering into an unconditional contract will breach the Act.  All purchasers of residential land (including New Zealanders) will need to complete a statement confirming whether the Act applies, and solicitors/conveyancers cannot lodge land transfer documents without that statement. The government introduced a standing consent for qualifying overseas purchasers who may be granted pre-approval in advance of finding a specific property to buy.  A standing consent cannot be used for land that is sensitive for another reason such as land that adjoins a reserve. 

Overseas persons wishing to purchase one home on residential land will need to fulfil a “commitment to reside test.”  Applicants must hold the appropriate non-temporary visa (those on student visas, work visas, or visitor visas cannot apply), have lived in New Zealand for the immediate preceding 12 months and intend to reside in the property being purchased.  If the applicant stops living in New Zealand they will have to sell the property: https://www.linz.govt.nz/overseas-investment/information-for-buying-or-building-one-home-live 

OIO applicants not intending to reside will generally need to show: (1) they will convert the land to another use such as a business and are able to demonstrate this would have wider benefits to New Zealand; or (2) they will be developing the land and adding to New Zealand’s housing supply.  Applicants seeking approval under the latter – the “increased housing test” – must intend to increase the number of dwellings on the property by one or more, and they cannot live in the dwelling/s once built (the “non-occupation condition”). If approved, applicants must also on-sell the dwelling/s, unless they are building 20 or more new residential dwellings and they intend to provide a shared equity, rent-to-buy, or rental arrangement (the “on-sale condition”).

The amended Act also imposes restrictions on overseas persons buying into new residential property developments.  Where pre-sales of the new residential dwellings are an essential aspect of the development funding, overseas purchasers may be able to rely on the “increased housing” test, although they will be subject to the on-sale and non-occupation conditions.  Otherwise, individual purchasers must apply for OIO consent and meet the “commitment to reside test,” or make their purchase conditional on receiving an “exemption certificate” held by an apartment developer. 

According to the OIO Regulations, developers can apply for an exemption certificate allowing them to sell 60 percent of the apartments “off the plan” to overseas buyers without those buyers requiring OIO consent:  http://legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/2005/0220/latest/LMS109607.html . The overseas buyer would not have to fulfil the on-sale condition but will have to meet the non-occupation condition. A purchaser wishing to buy an apartment to which the exemption certificate does not apply, must apply for consent and if approved comply with the on-sale and non-occupation conditions according to Schedule 3 Section 4 (5) under the OIO Act:  http://legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2005/0082/latest/LMS111210.html  .

Ministers may exercise discretion to waive the on-sale condition if an overseas person is applying for consent to acquire an ownership interest in an entity that holds residential land in New Zealand, if the overseas person is acquiring less than a 50 percent ownership interest or if they are acquiring an indirect ownership interest (i.e.  through another entity). Exemptions can also apply for long-term accommodation facilities, hotel lease-back arrangements, retirement village developments, and for network utility companies needing to acquire residential land to provide essential services.

[OIO: Forestry]

The elected government in 2017 indicated that forestry would be a priority in boosting regional development, and introduced it as its own portfolio:  https://www.beehive.govt.nz/portfolio/labour-led-government-2017-2020/forestry . The government also included the Forest Land directive as mentioned in the previous page.

In March 2018, the government announced forestry cutting rights be brought into the OIO screening regime, similar to the screening of investments that exists for leasehold and freehold forestry land.  In the OIO Amendment Act passed in August 2018, forestry rights and residential land, were brought in under the asset class of sensitive land: http://legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2018/0025/latest/DLM7512906.html .  Overseas investors wanting to purchase up to 1,000 hectares of forestry rights per year or any forestry right of less than three years duration, do not generally require OIO approval. 

Overseas investors can apply for consent to buy or lease land that is in forestry, or land to be used for forestry, or to buy forestry rights.  In addition to meeting the “benefit to New Zealand test”, applicants have two other options if they wish to buy or lease land for forestry purposes (including converting farmland to forestry) or purchase forestry rights, the Special Forestry Test, and the Modified benefits test. 

The Special Forestry Test is the most streamlined test, and is used to buy forestry land and continue to operate it with existing arrangements remaining in place, such as public access, protection of habitat for indigenous plants and animals, and historic places, as well as log supply arrangements.  The investor would be required to replant after harvest, unless exempted, and use the land exclusively or nearly exclusively for forestry activities. The land can be used for accommodation only to support forestry activities.

The modified benefits test is suitable for investors who will use the land only for forestry activities, but cannot maintain existing arrangements relating to the land, such as public access.  The investor would need to pass the “benefit to New Zealand” test, replant after harvest, and use the land exclusively or nearly exclusively for forestry activities. 

[OIO Phase 2: Monopolies]

In April 2019 the government signaled it would be considering a “national interest” restriction on foreign investment, when it issued a document for public consultation:  https://treasury.govt.nz/publications/consultation/glance-overseas-investment-new-zealand . The rules would increase ministers’ ability to decline applications from foreign investors wanting to buy New Zealand assets, on the grounds of national security.  The government said they were mainly focusing the level of discretion on blocking the sale of large pieces of infrastructure that had “monopoly characteristics” and that were important to the functioning of the wider economy, on “national interest” grounds.  Public consultations will take place in 2019 and the government plans to pass any changes to the law it decides on in 2020. 

[OIO Phase 2: Water Bottling]

After campaigning in the general election on introducing a “water tax,” the government announced in April 2019 as part of its second phase of the overseas investment review whether more consideration be given to the regulations around planned water extraction or bottling on environmental, economic, and cultural wellbeing.  There has been concern about the extraction of water, particularly for water bottling for export, and the profit that overseas companies gain from a high-value resource without paying a charge. Water bottling is a small industry in New Zealand, accounting for less than 0.02 percent of total New Zealand water use in 2016. Currently, only a small proportion of water bottled is for export purposes, with the majority of consumption occurring within New Zealand.  The consultation document outlines two options to regulate water bottling for export.

[Non-OIO: Bright Line Test for Residential Investment:]

Outside of the OIO framework, the previous government passed the Taxation (Bright-line Test for Residential Land) Bill.  Under this Act, properties bought after October 1, 2015 will accrue tax on any gain earned if the house is bought and sold within two years, unless it is the owner’s main home.  The bill requires foreign purchasers to have both a New Zealand bank account and an IRD tax number, and will not be entitled to the “main home” exception. The purchaser will also need to submit other taxpayer identification number held in countries where they pay tax on income.  To assist the IRD in ensuring investors meet their tax obligations, legislation was passed in 2016 that empowered LINZ to collect additional information when residential property is bought and sold, and to pass this information to the IRD.

In March 2018, the new government passed legislation to extend the “bright-line test” from two to five years as a measure to further deter property speculation in the New Zealand housing market.

[Non-OIO: Oil and Gas Ban:]

In the Energy and Mining sector the government passed the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Act in November 2018, to restrict the acreage available for new oil and gas exploration permits to the onshore Taranaki region only.  The policy is part of the government’s efforts to transition away from fossil fuels, and achieve their goal to have net zero emissions by 2050. The annual Oil and Gas Block Offers program has been operational since 2012 as a means to raise New Zealand’s profile among international investors in the allocation of petroleum exploration permits. 

There are currently about 20 offshore permits covering 38,000 square miles that will have the same rights and privileges as before the law came into force, and will continue operation until 2030.  If those permit holders are successful in their exploration, the companies could extract oil and gas from the areas beyond 2030. The ban does not cover the Taranaki area onland, where exploration licenses will still be available for the next three years.

The government estimates there is ten years’ worth of gas to be explored or mined under consented reserves, and also additional supplies from gas discovered in existing permits.  Analysis on the impact to the New Zealand economy has been primarily limited to the fiscal impact to the Government through taxes and royalties which is contained in the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) prepared in support of the law.  The RIS was conducted after the policy had already been announced in April 2018. 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Commerce Act of 1986 prohibits contracts, arrangements, or understandings that have the purpose, or effect, of substantially lessening competition in a market, unless authorized by the Commerce Commission, an independent Crown entity.  Before granting such authorization, the Commerce Commission must be satisfied that the public benefit would outweigh the reduction of competition. The Commerce Commission has legislative power to deny an application for a merger or takeover if it would result in the new company gaining a dominant position in the New Zealand market.  In addition, the Commerce Commission enforces a number of pieces of legislation that, through regulation, aim to provide the benefits of competition in markets with certain natural monopolies, such as the dairy, electricity, gas, airports, and telecommunications industries. In order to monitor the changing competitive landscapes in these industries, the Commerce Commission conducts independent studies, currently including fiber networks (https://comcom.govt.nz/regulated-industries/telecommunications/regulated-services/fibre-regulation/fibre-services-study ), mobile phones (https://comcom.govt.nz/regulated-industries/telecommunications/projects/mobile-market-study ), and retail petrol (https://comcom.govt.nz/about-us/our-role/competition-studies/market-study-into-retail-fuel )

In 2018 the government passed the Commerce Amendment Act to empower the Commerce Commission to undertake market (“competition”) studies where this is in the public interest in order to improve the agency’s enforcement actions without having to go to court.  The Government introduced a market studies power to align the Commerce Commission with competition authorities in similar jurisdictions.

Market studies may be initiated by the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, or by the Commerce Commission on its own initiative.  The Act allows settlements to be registered as enforceable undertakings so breaches can be quickly penalized by the courts, and saves the Commission from the expense and uncertainty of litigation.  The amendment also repeals the cease-and-desist regime in the 1986 Commerce Act, and strengthens the information disclosure regulations for airports.

In November 2018, Parliament amended the Telecommunications Act to regulate the new fiber networks being rolled out for the national ultrafast broadband initiative:  https://comcom.govt.nz/regulated-industries/telecommunications/regulated-services/fibre-regulation/implementation-of-the-new-regulatory-framework-for-telecommunications .  The Act introduced a utility-style regulatory regime, similar to what exists for energy networks and airports, and has set the Commerce Commission the task of also regulating fiber networks, which they will implement a framework for over the next three years. 

The Dairy Industry Restructuring Act of 2001 (DIR) authorized the amalgamation of New Zealand’s two largest dairy co-operatives to create Fonterra Co-operative Group Limited (Fonterra).  The DIR is designed to manage Fonterra’s dominant position in the dairy market, until sufficient competition has emerged. A review by the Commerce Commission in 2016 found competition was not yet sufficient to warrant the removal of the DIR provisions, but it made recommendations to create a pathway to deregulation.  One of the most contentious issues in the Act was the issue of open entry, which requires Fonterra to accept all milk from new suppliers. The co-operative claims this part of the legislation is no longer needed because the dairy industry had become highly competitive in recent years. The government is continuing its review of the DIR it embarked on in 2017 to determine if the Act still meets its objectives, if it has created unintended consequences, and if it is still needed in its current form:  https://www.mpi.govt.nz/law-and-policy/legal-overviews/primary-production/dairy-industry-restructuring-act/dairy-industry-restructuring-act-2001-review/ 

The Commerce Commission is also charged with monitoring competition in the telecommunications sector.  Under the 1997 WTO Basic Telecommunications Services Agreement, New Zealand has committed to the maintenance of an open, competitive environment in the telecommunications sector. 

Following a four-year government review of the Telecommunications Act of 2001, the Telecommunications (New Regulatory Framework) Amendment Bill passed in November 2018.  It establishes a regulatory framework for fiber fixed line access services; removes unnecessary copper fixed line access service regulation in areas where fiber is available; streamline regulatory processes; and provides more regulatory oversight of retail service quality.  The amendment requires the Commerce Commission to implement the new regulatory regime by January 2022. 

Chorus won government contracts to build 70 percent of New Zealand’s new ultra-fast broadband fiber-optic cable network and has received subsidies.  Chorus is listed on the NZX stock exchange and the Australian Stock Exchange. From 2020, Chorus and the local fiber companies are required under their open access deeds to offer an unbundled mass-market fiber service on commercial terms.

The telecommunications service obligations (TSO) regulatory framework established under the Telecommunications Act of 2001 enables certain telecommunications services to be available and affordable.  A TSO is established through an agreement under the Telecommunications Act between the Crown and a TSO provider. Currently there are two TSOs. Spark (supported by Chorus) is the TSO Provider for the local residential telephone service, which includes charge-free local calling.  Sprint International is the TSO Provider for the New Zealand relay service for deaf, hearing impaired and speech impaired people. Under the Telecommunications (New Regulatory Framework) Amendment Bill, the TSOs which apply to Chorus and Spark will cease to apply in areas which have fiber.  Consumers in these areas will have access to affordable fiber-based landline and broadband services.

Radio Spectrum Management (RSM) is a business unit within MBIE that is responsible for providing advice to the government on the allocation of radio frequencies to meet the demands of emerging technologies and services.  Spectrum is allocated in a manner that ensures radio spectrum provides the greatest economic and social benefit to New Zealand society. The allocation of spectrum is a core regulatory issue for the deployment of 5G in New Zealand.  The Commerce Commission is conducting a study during 2019 of the mobile network operators, and in part will look into whether the process for 5G spectrum allocation will impact the ability of new mobile network operators to enter the market.

In March 2019, the government announced it freed up space on the spectrum in order for a fourth mobile network operator to compete with the three existing ones.  In order to do so, the three existing operators lost parts of their spectrum, for which sources criticized the government, claiming they supported competition in principle but questioned the ability of the New Zealand market to cope with another operator:  https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/111304958/government-clears-path-for-new-entrant-to-take-on-spark-vodafone-and-2degrees . The Government claims it needs to keep some of that spectrum in reserve to retain flexibility and it might be used for new technologies or by the emergency services network.  The Government announced the first auction of 5G spectrum will be in early 2020, and ready for use by November 2022. The Government is also considering a cap on the amount of 5G spectrum given to a single operator to prevent monopolistic behavior, but also to set aside spectrum to deal with potential Treaty of Waitangi issues. 

The Commerce Commission has a regulatory role to promote competition within the electricity industry under the Commerce Act and the Fair Trading Act 1986.  As natural monopolies, the electricity transmission and distribution businesses are subject to specific additional regulations, regarding pricing, sales techniques, and ensuring sufficient competition in the industry.  The Commerce Commission is in the process of setting the default price-quality path that will apply to electricity distributors from 2020 to 2025. In its five-yearly review of the New Zealand energy market, the International Energy Agency made recommendations in 2017 for the structure, governance and regulation of the electricity distribution service sector, and for network regulation and retail market reforms to ensure efficient transmission pricing.  The New Zealand government has commissioned an independent Expert Advisory Panel to lead a review into electricity prices to investigate whether the electricity market is delivering a fair and equitable price to end-consumers. The review will also consider possible improvements to ensure the market and its governance structure will be appropriate in a changing technological environment. 

The New Zealand motor fuel market became more concentrated after Shell New Zealand sold its transport fuels distribution business in 2010, and Chevron sold its retail brands Caltex and Challenge to New Zealand fuel distributor Z-Energy in 2016.  The Commerce Commission approved Z-Energy’s application to acquire 100 percent of the shares in Chevron New Zealand on the condition it divest 19 of its retail sites and one truck stop in locations where it considered competition would be substantially reduced as a result of the merger.  Z-Energy holds almost half of the market share for fuel distribution in New Zealand. In December 2018 the Commerce Commission commenced a market study looking into the factors that may affect competition for the supply of retail petrol and diesel used for land transport throughout New Zealand.  The purpose of the study is to consider and evaluate whether competition in the retail fuel market is promoting outcomes that benefit New Zealand consumers over the long-term. A final report is due December 2019. 

In August 2017 the Commerce (Cartels and Other Matters) Amendment Act was passed to enable easier enforcement action against international cartels.  It created a new clearance regime allowing firms to test their proposed collaboration with the Commerce Commission and get greater legal certainty before they enter into the arrangements.  It expanded prohibited conduct to include price fixing, restricting output, and allocating markets, and expands competition oversight to the international liner shipping industry. It empowers the Commerce Commission to apply to the New Zealand High Court for a declaration to determine if the acquisition of a controlling interest in a New Zealand company by an overseas person will have an effect of “substantially lessening” competition in a market in New Zealand.

In April 2019, the government passed the Commerce (Criminalization of Cartels) Amendment Bill to criminalize cartel behavior – a provision was removed from the 2017 amendment part-way through its passage through the Parliament.  The amendment means that individuals convicted of engaging in cartel conduct – price fixing, restricting output, or allocating markets – will face fines of up to NZD 500,000 (USD 340,000) and/or up to seven years imprisonment. Business have been given two years to ensure compliance before the criminal sanctions enter into force.  While not a significant issue in New Zealand, the government believes criminalizing cartel behavior provides a certain and stable operating environment for businesses to compete, and aligns New Zealand with overseas jurisdictions that impose criminal sanctions for cartel conduct, enhancing the ability of the Commerce Commission to cooperate with its overseas counterparts in investigations of international cartels.

In January 2019, the Government announced proposed amendments to section 36 of the Commerce Act, which relates to the misuse of market power.  The government is seeking consultation on repealing sections of the Commerce Act that shield some intellectual property arrangements from competition law, in order to prevent dominant firms misusing market power by enforcing their patent rights in a way they would not do if it was in a more competitive market.  It also seeks to strengthen laws and enforcement powers against the misuse of market power by aligning it with Australia and other developed economies, particularly because New Zealand competition law currently does not prohibit dominant firms from engaging in conduct with an anti-competitive effect. Section 36 of the Act only prohibits conduct with certain anti-competitive purposes.

The Commerce Commission has international cooperation arrangements with Australia since 2013 and Canada since 2016, to allow the sharing of compulsorily acquired information, and provide investigative assistance.  The arrangements help effective enforcement of both competition and consumer law.

Expropriation and Compensation

Expropriation is generally not an issue in New Zealand, and there are no outstanding cases.  New Zealand ranks first in the World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business report for “registering property” and for “protecting minority investors.”

The government’s KiwiBuild program aims to build 100,000 affordable homes over ten years, with half being in Auckland.  The government has indicated it will use compulsory acquisition under the PWA if necessary, to achieve planned government housing development. 

The lack of precedent for due process in the treatment of residents affected by liquefaction of residential land caused by the Canterbury earthquake in 2011 resulted in drawn out court cases against the Government based largely on the compensation offered.  Several large areas of residential land in Christchurch were deemed “red zones,” meaning there had to be significant and extensive area wide land damage, the extent of the damage required an area-wide solution, engineering solutions would be uncertain, disruptive, not timely, and not cost-effective, and the health and well being of residents was at risk from remaining in the area for prolonged periods. 

In August 2015 the Government offered the 2007 value of all land and of insured homes, but did not offer to pay for uninsured homes, affecting about 100 homeowners.  More than 7,000 people accepted red-zone buy-out offers, about 135 did not, with some wanting to stay on in their homes. The Christchurch City council is legally required to provide services to the red zone, such as collecting sewage which it did initially did.  A group of 16 red-zone residents who had sold their uninsured properties ultimately won a case in 2017, when a Court of Appeal judgment ruled the Government made an “unlawful” decision to discriminate against uninsured homeowners. A previous offer made in 2012, for 50 per cent of the rateable value to owners of uninsured Christchurch red zone land was deemed unlawful in the Court of Appeal in 2013.  The government has demolished about 7,000 homes in the flat land red zone, or about 99 per cent of Crown owned properties: https://www.linz.govt.nz/crown-property/types-crown-property/christchurch-residential-red-zone.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

New Zealand is a party to both the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (the Washington Convention), and to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.

Proceedings taken under the Washington Convention are administered under the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1979.  Proceedings taken under the New York Convention are now administered under the Arbitration Act 1996.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investment disputes are rare, and there have been no major disputes in recent years involving U.S. companies.  The mechanism for handling disputes is the judicial system, which is generally open, transparent and effective in enforcing property and contractual rights.

Investment disputes brought against other foreigners by the New Zealand government have been largely due to non-compliance of the investors’ obligations under the OIO Act or their failure to gain OIO approval before making their investment.

Most of New Zealand’s recently enacted FTAs contain Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, and to date no claims have been filed against New Zealand.  The current Government has signaled it will seek to remove ISDS from future FTAs, having secured exemptions with several CPTPP signatories in the form of side letters.  ISDS claims challenging New Zealand’s tobacco control measures – under the Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Standardized Packaging) Amendment Act 2016 – cannot be made against New Zealand under CPTPP.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitrations taking place in New Zealand (including international arbitrations) are governed by the Arbitration Act 1996.  The Arbitration Act includes rules based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and its 2006 amendments.  Parties to an international arbitration can opt out of some of the rules, but the Arbitration Act provides the default position.

The Arbitration Act also gives effect to the New Zealand government’s obligations under the Protocol on Arbitration Clauses (1923), the Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1927), and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958).  Obligations under the Washington Convention are administered under the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1979 as mentioned previously.

The New Zealand Dispute Resolution Centre (NZDRC) is the leading independent, nationwide provider of private commercial, family and relationship dispute resolution services in New Zealand.  It also provides international dispute resolution services through its related entity, the New Zealand International Arbitration Centre (NZIAC). The NZDRC is willing to act as an appointing authority, as is the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Association of New Zealand (AMINZ).

Forms of dispute resolution available in New Zealand include formal negotiations, mediation, expert determination, court proceedings, arbitration, or a combination of these methods.  Arbitration methods include ‘ad hoc,’ which allows the parties to select their arbitrator and agree to a set of rules, or institutional arbitration, which is run according to procedures set by the institution.  Institutions recommended by the New Zealand government include the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the American Arbitration Association (AAA), and the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA).

An amendment to the Arbitration Act 1996 in March 2017 provided for the appointment of an “appointed body” to exercise powers which were previously powers of the High Court.  It also provides for the High Court to exercise the powers in the event that the appointed body does not act, or there is a dispute about the process of the appointed body. Since then the Minister of Justice has appointed the AMINZ the default authority for all arbitrations sited in New Zealand in place of the High Court.  In 2017 AMINZ issued its own Arbitration Rules based on the latest editions of rules published in other Model Law jurisdictions, to be used in both domestic and international arbitrations, and consistent with the 1996 Act.

In May 2019 the Arbitration Amendment Bill was passed to bring New Zealand’s policy of preserving the confidentiality of trust deed clauses in line with foreign arbitration legislation and case law.  The amendment means arbitration clauses in trust deeds are given effect to extend the presumption of confidentiality in arbitration to the presumption of confidentiality in related court proceedings under the Act because often such cases arise from sensitive family disputes. 

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bankruptcy is addressed in the Insolvency Act 2006, the Receiverships Act 1993, and the Companies Act 1993.  The Insolvency (Cross-border) Act 2006 implements the Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency adopted by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law in 1997.  It also provides the framework for facilitating insolvency proceedings when a person is subject to insolvency administration (whether personal or corporate) in one country, but has assets or debts in another country; or when more than one insolvency administration has commenced in more than one country in relation to a person.  New Zealand bankrupts are subject to conditions on borrowing and international travel, and violations are considered offences and punishable by law. 

The registration system operated by the Companies Office within MBIE, is designed to enable New Zealand creditors to sue an overseas company in New Zealand, rather than forcing them to sue in the country’s home jurisdiction.  This avoids attendant costs, delays, possible language problems and uncertainty due to a different legal system. An overseas company’s assets in New Zealand can be liquidated for the benefit of creditors. All registered ‘large’ overseas companies are required to file financial statements under the Companies Act of 1993.  See: https://www.companiesoffice.govt.nz/companies/learn-about/overseas-companies/managing-an-overseas-company-in-new-zealand

The Insolvency and Trustee Service (the Official Assignee’s Office) is a business unit of MBIE.  The Official Assignee is appointed under the State Sector Act of 1988 to administer the Insolvency Act of 2006, the insolvency provisions of the Companies Act of1993 and the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act of 2009.  The Official Assignee administers all bankruptcies, No Asset Procedures, Summary Installment Orders, and some liquidations. The Official Assignee administers bankruptcies and liquidations by collecting and selling assets to repay creditors.  It will ask the bankrupt or company directors for information to help them identify and deal with the assets. The money recovered is paid to creditors who have made a claim, and the order in which payments are made is set out in the relevant Acts.  Creditors can log in to the Insolvency and Trustee Service website to track the progress of the administration and how long it is likely to take. The time will depend on several things such as the type and number of assets the debtor has.

In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 Report New Zealand is ranked 31st in “resolving insolvency”.  Despite a high recovery rate (84.1 cents per dollar compared with 70.5 cents for the average across high-income OECD countries), New Zealand scores lower on the strength of its insolvency framework.  Specific weaknesses identified in the survey include the management of debtors’ assets, the reorganization proceedings, and particularly on the participation of creditors. The survey notes New Zealand’s insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for sale of substantial assets, nor does it provide creditors the right to request information from the insolvency representative.

In August 2018, the government revived the Insolvency Practitioners Bill by reopening public consultation and Select Committee review, after the bill stalled in 2013.  The government has made significant changes to the bill, aiming to introduce a coregulatory licensing framework, rather than a “negative licensing system” that would have empowered the Registrar of Companies to ban people from acting as a liquidator or receiver.  As the revised bill currently stands, insolvency practitioners would be required to be licensed by an accredited body under a new stand-alone Act. In addition, the bill requires that insolvency practitioners would have to provide information and assistance to an insolvency practitioner that replaces them; imposes obligations on insolvency practitioners to provide detailed reports on insolvency engagements; and empowers courts to compensate people suffering as a result of an insolvency practitioner’s failure to comply with any relevant laws and sanction insolvency practitioners who fail to comply with any relevant laws.

Switzerland and Liechtenstein

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

With the exception of a heavily protected agricultural sector, foreign investment into Switzerland is generally not hampered by significant barriers, with no reported discrimination against foreign investors or foreign-owned investments.  Incidents of trade discrimination do exist, for example with regards to agricultural goods such as bovine genetics products. Some city and cantonal governments offer access to an ombudsman, who may address a wide variety of issues involving individuals and the government, but does not focus exclusively on investment issues.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic enterprises may engage in various forms of remunerative activities in Switzerland and may freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises in Switzerland.  There are, however, some investment restrictions in areas under state monopolies, including certain types of public transportation, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain types of insurance and banking services, and the trade in salt.  Restrictions (in the form of domicile requirements) also exist in air and maritime transport, hydroelectric and nuclear power, operation of oil and gas pipelines, and the transportation of explosive materials. Additionally, the following legal restrictions apply within Switzerland:

Corporate boards: The board of directors of a company registered in Switzerland must consist of a majority of Swiss citizens residing in Switzerland; at least one member of the board of directors who is authorized to represent the company (i.e., to sign legal documents) must be domiciled in Switzerland.  If the board of directors consists of a single person, this person must have Swiss citizenship and be domiciled in Switzerland. Foreign controlled companies usually meet these requirements by nominating Swiss directors who hold shares and perform functions on a fiduciary basis. Mitigating these requirements is the fact that the manager of a company need not be a Swiss citizen and, with the exception of banks, company shares can be controlled by foreigners.  The establishment of a commercial presence by persons or enterprises without legal status under Swiss law requires an establishment authorization according to cantonal law. The aforementioned requirements do not generally pose a major hardship or impediment for U.S. investors.

Hostile takeovers: Swiss corporate shares can be issued both as registered shares (in the name of the holder) or bearer shares.  Provided the shares are not listed on a stock exchange, Swiss companies may, in their articles of incorporation, impose certain restrictions on the transfer of registered shares to prevent hostile takeovers by foreign or domestic companies (article 685a of the Code of Obligations).  Hostile takeovers can also be annulled by public companies; however, legislation introduced in 1992 made this practice more difficult.  Public companies must cite in their statutes significant justification (relevant to the survival, conduct, and purpose of their business) to prevent or hinder a takeover by a foreign entity.  Furthermore, public corporations may limit the number of registered shares that can be held by any shareholder to a percentage of the issued registered stock. In practice, many corporations limit the number of shares to 2-5 percent of the relevant stock.  Under the public takeover provisions of the 2015 Federal Act on Financial Market Infrastructures and Market Conduct in Securities and Derivatives Trading and its 2019 amendments, a formal notification is required when an investor purchases more than 3 percent of a Swiss company’s shares.  An “opt-out” clause is available for firms which do not want to be taken over by a hostile bidder, but such opt-outs must be approved by a super-majority of shareholders and must take place well in advance of any takeover attempt.

Banking: Those wishing to establish banking operations in Switzerland must obtain prior approval from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), a largely independent agency, administered under the Swiss Federal Department of Finance.  FINMA promotes confidence in financial markets and works to protect customers, creditors, and investors. FINMA approval of bank operations is generally granted if the following conditions are met: reciprocity on the part of the foreign state; the foreign bank’s name must not give the impression that the bank is Swiss; the bank must adhere to Swiss monetary and credit policy; and a majority of the bank’s management must have their permanent residence in Switzerland.  Otherwise, foreign banks are subject to the same regulatory requirements as domestic banks.

Banks organized under Swiss law must inform FINMA before they open a branch, subsidiary, or representation abroad.  Foreign or domestic investors must inform FINMA before acquiring or disposing of a qualified majority of shares of a bank organized under Swiss law.  If exceptional temporary capital outflows threaten Swiss monetary policy, the Swiss National Bank, the country’s independent central bank, may require other institutions to seek approval before selling foreign bonds or other financial instruments.  On December 20, 2008, government deposit insurance of individual current accounts held in Swiss banks was raised from CHF 30,000 to CHF 100,000.

Insurance: A federal ordinance requires the placement of all risks physically situated in Switzerland with companies located in the country.  Therefore, it is necessary for foreign insurers wishing to provide liability coverage in Switzerland to establish a subsidiary or branch in-country.

U.S. investors have not identified any specific restrictions that create market access challenges for foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) September 2017 Trade Policy Review of Switzerland and Liechtenstein includes investment information.  Other reports containing elements referring to the investment climate in Switzerland include the OECD Economic Survey of November 2017.

Business Facilitation

The Swiss government-affiliated non-profit organization Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE) has a nationwide mandate to attract foreign business to Switzerland on behalf of the Swiss Confederation.  SGE promotes Switzerland as an economic hub and fosters exports, imports, and investments. Larger regional offices include the Greater Geneva-Berne Area (that covers large parts of Western Switzerland), the Greater Zurich Area, and the Basel Area.  Each canton has a business promotion office dedicated to helping facilitate real estate location, beneficial tax arrangements, and employee recruitment plans. These regional and cantonal investment promotion agencies do not require a minimum investment or job-creation threshold in order to provide assistance. However, these offices generally focus resources on attracting medium-sized entities that have the potential to create between 50 and 249 jobs in their region.

References:

Switzerland has a dual system for granting work permits and allowing foreigners to create their own companies in Switzerland.  Employees who are citizens of the EU/EFTA area can benefit from the EU Free Movement of Persons Agreement. U.S. citizens who are not citizens of an EU/EFTA country and want to become self-employed in Switzerland must meet Swiss labor market requirements.  The criteria for admittance, usually not creating a hindrance for U.S. persons, are contained in the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (FNA), the Decree on Admittance, Residence and Employment (VZAE) and the provisions of the FNA and the VZAE.

Setting up a company in Switzerland requires registration at the relevant cantonal Commercial Registry.  The cost for registering a company is typically USD 1,300 – USD 15,200, depending on the company type. These costs mainly cover the Public Notary and entry into the Commercial Registry.

Other steps/procedures for registration include: 1) placing paid-in capital in an escrow account with a bank; 2) drafting articles of association in the presence of a notary public; 3) filing a deed certifying the articles of association with the local commercial register to obtain a legal entity registration; 4) paying the stamp tax at a post office or bank after receiving an assessment by mail; 5) registering for VAT; and 6) enrolling employees in the social insurance system (federal and cantonal authorities).

The World Bank Doing Business Report 2019 ranks Switzerland 38th in the ease of doing business among the 190 countries surveyed, and  77th in the ease of starting a business, with a  six-step registration process and 10 days required to set up a company.

Outward Investment

While Switzerland does not explicitly promote or incentivize outward investment, Switzerland’s export promotion agency Switzerland Global Enterprise facilitates overseas market entry for Swiss companies through its Swiss Business Hubs in several countries, including the United States.  Switzerland does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Swiss government uses transparent policies and effective laws to foster a competitive investment climate.  Proposed laws and regulations are open for three-month public comment from interested parties, interest groups, cantons, and cities before being discussed within the bicameral parliament.  Proposals may be subject to facultative or automatic referenda that allow Swiss voters to reject or accept the proposals. Only in rare instances such as the case of the extension of a moratorium until 2021 on planting GMO crops are regulations reviewed on the basis of political or customer preferences rather than solely on the basis of scientific analysis.

Transparency of Public Finances and Debt Obligations

The Swiss government regularly publishes financial reports that provide transparency regarding planned expenditures and/or expenditures that have been approved and carried out, as well as projected and realized receipts.  Through its annual budgeting and financial planning exercises, the Swiss government approves expenditures and receipts and forecasts spending and revenue in the three years following the budget period. A financial plan is published every four years in accordance with the legislative period plan.  In addition, supplementary funding is submitted to parliament for urgent new tasks or budget extensions that do not emerge during the budget year. The Federal Council creates extrapolations outlining the probable annual results during a budget period and submits an account of the public finances to parliament the following year together with the federal financial statements.

International Regulatory Considerations

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.  However, Switzerland adopts many EU standards.

The WTO concluded in 2017 that Switzerland has regularly notified its draft technical regulations, ordinances, and conformity assessment procedures to the WTO TBT Committee.  Switzerland has been a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) since September 2, 2015.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Swiss civil law is codified in the Swiss Civil Code (which governs the status of individuals, family law, inheritance law, and property law) and in the Swiss Code of Obligations (which governs contracts, torts, commercial law, company law, law of checks and other payment instruments).  Switzerland’s civil legal system is divided into public and private law. Public law governs the organization of the state, as well as the relationships between the state and private individuals or other entities, such as companies. Constitutional law, administrative law, tax law, criminal law, criminal procedure, public international law, civil procedure, debt enforcement, and bankruptcy law are sub-divisions of public law.  Private law governs relationships among individuals or entities. Intellectual property law (copyright, patents, trademarks, etc.) is an area of private law. Labor is governed by both private and public law.

All cantons have a high court, which includes a specialized commercial court in four cantons (Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen and Aargau).  The organization of the judiciary differs by canton; smaller cantons have only one court, while larger cantons have multiple courts.  Cantonal high court decisions can be appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court. The court system is independent, competent, and fair.

Switzerland is party to a number of bilateral and multilateral treaties governing the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.  The Lugano Convention, a multilateral treaty tying Switzerland to European legal conventions, entered into force in 2011 (replacing an older legal framework by the same name).  A set of bilateral treaties is also in place to handle judgments of specific foreign courts. While no such agreement is in place between the United States and Switzerland, Switzerland operates under the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under specific circumstances.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The major laws governing foreign investment in Switzerland are the Swiss Code of Obligations, the Lex Friedrich/Koller, Switzerland’s Securities Law, the Cartel Law and the Financial Market Infrastructure Act.  There is no specific screening of foreign investment beyond a normal anti-trust review. Citing Switzerland’s existing comprehensive and effective set of rules to prevent unwanted takeovers in critical infrastructure sectors,  the Federal Council decided on February 19, 2019 against adopting an investment screening mechanism, arguing it would not bring additional benefits to Switzerland, and recommended maintaining the status quo with further monitoring and review of the situation over four years.  There are few sectoral or geographic incentives or restrictions; exceptions are described below in the section on performance requirements and incentives.

Some former public monopolies retain their historical market dominance despite partial or full privatization. Foreign investors sometimes find it difficult to enter these markets due to high entry costs and the relatively small size and linguistic divisions of the Swiss market (e.g., certain types of public transportation, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain types of insurances and banking services, and the trade in salt).

There is no pronounced interference in the court system that should affect foreign investors.

Useful websites:

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Swiss Competition Commission   and the Swiss Takeover Board   review competition-related concerns.  In 2017, the Swiss Takeover Board concluded that Chinese conglomerate HNA had failed to list the HNA co-founders correctly as beneficial owners in its acquisition prospectus of Swiss airline caterer gategroup Holding AG and tasked the Swiss financial regulator and stock exchange with investigating potential breaches of Swiss financial regulations.  HNA was found guilty and was sentenced to pay a financial penalty of CHF 50,000 (USD 50,000).

Expropriation and Compensation

There are no known cases of expropriation within Switzerland.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Switzerland has been a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since June 14, 1968, and a member of the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law since June 1, 1965.  Switzerland’s Federal Act on Private International Law (Art. 190 and 194) sets a minimum standard for the implementation of international arbitration awards in Switzerland.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Based on Switzerland’s membership in the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law, local courts are entitled to enforce international arbitration awards.  According to Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Switzerland has never been a party to an investment dispute involving international arbitration.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Swiss courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards in the framework of the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards  Post has no knowledge of any investor disputes in Switzerland involving U.S. persons within the last 10 years.

As business associations organized at the cantonal level, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, of Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Lugano, Neuchâtel, and Zurich have established the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution.  This entity offers dispute resolution based on Swiss Rules of International Arbitration and Swiss Rules of Commercial Mediation. According to the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution, 100 cases were submitted in 2015 (latest available data); 89 of these cases involved foreign parties.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Switzerland’s bankruptcy law does not criminalize bankruptcy.  Under the bankruptcy law, the same rights and obligations apply to foreign and Swiss contract holders.

Swiss authorities provide information about Swiss residents and companies regarding debts registered with the debt collection register.

The World Bank’s 2019 “Doing Business” survey ranks Switzerland 46th out of 190 countries in resolving insolvency.  The average time to close a business in Switzerland is three years (compared to 1.7 years average across the OECD), with an average of 46.7 cents on the dollar recovered by claimants from insolvent firms (compared to 71.2 cents OECD average).

The Swiss Federal Statute on Private International Law (PILS, Art. 166-175, in force since January 1, 1989) governs Swiss recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings, including bankruptcies, foreign composition, and arrangements.  Swiss law requires reciprocity for recognition of foreign insolvency.

Federal Statute on Debt Enforcement and Bankruptcy of 11 April 1889 (https://wipolex.wipo.int/en/details.jsp?id=17092   in German, French and Italian).