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. 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 elected in 2017 has continued its program of tighter screening of some forms of foreign investment and has moved to restrict the availability of permits for oil and gas exploration. 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.
The implementation of the CPTPP has eased the criteria for partner nations to seek approval for certain investments in New Zealand by increasing the monetary threshold when government approval is required. This has also been triggered by New Zealand’s ‘most favored nation’ obligation in their FTA with China once the upgrade to the 2008 agreement enters into force. A separate bilateral agreement with Australia allows for its threshold to be reviewed each year and is significantly higher before triggering the need for approval. Separate agreements with Australia and Singapore exempt their respective citizens from restrictions introduced in 2018 on the purchase of New Zealand residential property by non-residents. In this respect in the absence of a similar free-trade agreement with New Zealand, certain investments by United States citizens can be subject to higher scrutiny.
In 2019 the OIO approved 139 overseas investment applications, up from 94 the previous year. Net investment increased slightly from NZD 3.5 billion (USD 2.3 billion) to NZD 3.8 billion (USD 2.5 billion) while the total value of assets of approved applications more than doubled to NZD 2.3 billion (USD 1.5 billion) in 2018 to NZD 5.2 billion (USD 3.4 billion) in 2019. Over 22,000 hectares (86.7 square miles; 55,500 acres) of land was sold, leased, or granted forestry rights from 119 approvals. In 2018 there were fewer approvals (64) securing more land area of almost 50,000 hectares (193.1 square miles; 123,600 acres).
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 helps 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 aims to channel investment into regional areas of New Zealand to build capability and to promote opportunities outside of the country’s main cities.
Under certain conditions, foreign investors can bid alongside New Zealand businesses for contestable government funding for research and development (R&D) grants. For more see: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/science-and-technology/science-and-innovation/international-opportunities/new-zealand-r-d/. Most of the programs which are operated by NZTE, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), and Callaghan Innovation, provide financial assistance, and support through skills and knowledge, or supporting innovative business ventures in the early stages of operation. 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
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 infrastructure provider Chorus Limited.
Air New Zealand’s constitution requires that no person who is not a New Zealand national may 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.
The establishment of telecommunications infrastructure provider Chorus resulted from a demerger of provider Spark New Zealand Limited (Spark) in 2011. In 2019, Spark amended its constitution removing the requirement that half of the Spark Board be New Zealand citizens and, in accordance with NZX Listing Rules, requires at least two directors be ordinarily resident in New Zealand.
Chorus owns most of the telephone infrastructure in New Zealand, and provides wholesale services to telecommunications retailers, including Spark. The demerger freed Spark from its foreign ownership restrictions allowing it to compete with other retail providers which do not have such restrictions. The foreign ownership restrictions apply to Chorus as a natural monopoly and infrastructure provider.
Chorus’s constitution requires at least half of its Board be New Zealand citizens. It provides that without the approval of the Minister of Finance, no single shareholder may own more than 10 percent of the shares and no person who is not a New Zealand national may own more than 49.9 percent of the shares. To date, approval has been granted to two private entities to exceed the 10 percent threshold, increasing their interest in Chorus up to 15 percent.
New Zealand otherwise screens overseas investment to ensure quality investments are made that benefit New Zealand. Failure to obtain government approval 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 government approval be obtained by overseas persons wishing to acquire or invest in significant business assets, sensitive land, farmland, or fishing quota, as defined below.
Acquiring or investing in 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 65 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.
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 government 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, operating 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.
Investors subject to OIO screening must demonstrate in their application that 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 to assess the investment against 21 factors, which are set out in the Overseas Investment Act and Regulations. The OIO applies a counterfactual analysis to benefit factors where such analysis can be applied, and 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.
The screening thresholds are significantly higher for Australian investors and are reviewed each year in accordance with the 2013 Protocol on Investment to the New Zealand-Australia Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement. In the 2020 calendar year Australian non-government investors are screened at NZD 536 million (USD 348 million) and Australian government investors at NZD 112 million (USD 73 million).
New Zealand and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) concluded negotiations on an upgrade to their FTA in November 2019. A side letter confirms higher screening thresholds applicable to investments from the PRC in New Zealand significant business assets, following the entry into force of CPTPP. Due to New Zealand’s “Most Favored Nation” obligations in the existing 2008 bilateral FTA, the screening threshold for PRC non-government investments in New Zealand significant business assets is NZD 200 million (USD 130 million), while the threshold for PRC government investments in New Zealand significant business assets is NZD100 million (USD 65 million).
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 2019 as part of the second phase of overseas investment reform, the Government consulted on and released details for the addition of a National Interest test that will be added to the screening process to protect New Zealand assets deemed sensitive and “high-risk.” This will be discussed in the next chapter.
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.
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 2020 report New Zealand is ranked first in “Starting a Business,” and “Getting Credit,” and is ranked second for “Registering Property.” Compared to 2019, New Zealand received a lower score for “Resolving Insolvency.”
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. Phase 2 sectors which include lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, bookkeepers, and realtors have had to comply 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, see 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 39,000) 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 2019, legislation was enacted that requires non-resident suppliers of “low-value” import goods destined for New Zealand to register for GST, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold. Both are discussed in a later section.
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.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
* Source for Host Country Data: Host country statistics differ from USG and international sources due to calculation methodologies, and timing of exchange rate conversions. Almost a third of inbound foreign direct investment in New Zealand is in the financial and insurance services sector. Foreign direct investment data for March 2019 was released in September 2019. Statistics New Zealand data available at www.stats.govt.nz
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||75,158||100%||Total Outward||17,278||100%|
|China,P.R.:Hong Kong||7,433||10%||United States||2,357||14%|
|United States||4,931||7%||China,P.R.:Hong Kong||1,609||9%|
|United Kingdom||4,311||6%||United Kingdom||885||5%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||108,101||100%||All Countries||73,142||100%||All Countries||34,959||100%|
|United Kingdom||4,388||4%||United Kingdom||3,222||4%||Japan||1,793||5%|