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Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is generally welcoming to foreign investment, which is widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth and productivity. The United States is by far the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) for Australia. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the stock of U.S. FDI totaled USD 162 billion in January 2020. The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force in 2005, establishes higher thresholds for screening U.S. investment for most classes of direct investment.

While welcoming toward FDI, Australia does apply a “national interest” test to qualifying investment through its Foreign Investment Review Board screening process. Various changes to Australia’s foreign investment rules, primarily aimed at strengthening national security, have been made in recent years. This continued in 2020 with the passage of the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, which broadens the classes of foreign investments that require screening, with a particular focus on defense and national security supply chains. All foreign investments in these industries will now require screening, regardless of their value or national origin. The legislation also provides the Treasurer with new powers to require certain investments to be scrutinized even if they do not fall within existing guidelines. Additionally, in March 2020 the Australian government announced all foreign direct investment would be reviewed over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, a period which ceased when the Foreign Investment Reform legislation commenced in January 2021. Despite the increased focus on foreign investment screening, the rejection rate for proposed investments has remained low and there have been no cases of investment from the United States having been rejected in recent years.

In response to a perceived lack of fairness, the Australian government has tightened anti-tax avoidance legislation targeting multi-national corporations with operations in multiple tax jurisdictions. While some laws have been complementary to international efforts to address tax avoidance schemes and the use of low-tax countries or tax havens, Australia has also gone further than the international community in some areas.

Australia has a strong legal system grounded in procedural fairness, judicial precedent, and the independence of the judiciary. Property rights are well established and enforceable. The establishment of government regulations typically requires consultation with impacted stakeholders and requires approval by a central regulatory oversight body before progressing to the legislative phase. Anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws exist, and Australia performs well in measures of transparency. Australia’s business environment is generally conducive to foreign companies operating in the country, and the country ranks fourteenth overall in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index.

The Australian government is strongly focused on economic recovery from the COVID-driven recession Australia experienced in 2020, the country’s first in three decades. In addition to direct stimulus and business investment incentives, it has announced investment attraction incentives across a range of priority industries, including food and beverage manufacturing, medical products, clean energy, defense, space, and critical minerals processing. U.S. involvement and investment in these fields is welcomed.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 11 of 179 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 14 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 23 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 162 billion http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 55,100 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Australia is generally welcoming to foreign direct investment (FDI), with foreign investment widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth. Other than certain required review and approval procedures for designated types of foreign investment described below, there are no laws that discriminate against foreign investors.

A number of investment promotion agencies operate in Australia. The Australian Trade Commission (often referred to as Austrade) is the Commonwealth Government’s national “gateway” agency to support investment into Australia. Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to promote, attract, and facilitate FDI, supports Australian companies to grow their business in international markets, and delivers advice to the Australian Government on its trade, tourism, international education and training, and investment policy agendas. Austrade operates through a number of international offices, with U.S. offices primarily focused on attracting foreign direct investment into Australia and promoting the Australian education sector in the United States. Austrade in the United States operates from offices in Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. In addition, state and territory investment promotion agencies also support international investment at the state level and in key sectors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Within Australia, foreign and domestic private entities may establish and own business enterprises and may engage in all forms of remunerative activity in accordance with national legislative and regulatory practices. See Section 4: Legal Regime – Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment below for information on Australia’s investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment.

Other than the screening process described in Section 4, there are few limits or restrictions on foreign investment in Australia. Foreign purchases of agricultural land greater than AUD 15 million (USD 11 million) are subject to screening. This threshold applies to the cumulative value of agricultural land owned by the foreign investor, including the proposed purchase. However, the agricultural land screening threshold does not affect investments made under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). The current threshold remains AUD 1.216 billion (USD 940 million) for U.S. non-government investors. Investments made by U.S. non-government investors are subject to inclusion on the foreign ownership register of agricultural land and to Australian Tax Office (ATO) information gathering activities on new foreign investment.

The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), which advises Australia’s Treasurer, may impose conditions when approving foreign investments. These conditions can be diverse and may include: retention of a minimum proportion of Australian directors; certain requirements on business activities, such as the requirement not to divest certain assets; and certain taxation requirements. Such conditions are in keeping with Australia’s policy of ensuring foreign investments are in the national interest.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Australia has not conducted an investment policy review in the last three years through either the OECD or UNCTAD system. The WTO reviewed Australia’s trade policies and practices in 2019, and the final report can be found at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp496_e.htm .

The Australian Trade Commission compiles an annual “Why Australia Benchmark Report” that presents comparative data on investing in Australia in the areas of Growth, Innovation, Talent, Location, and Business. The report also compares Australia’s investment credentials with other countries and provides a general snapshot on Australia’s investment climate. See: http://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Resources/Benchmark-Report .

Business Facilitation

Business registration in Australia is relatively straightforward and is facilitated through a number of government websites. The government’s business.gov.au website provides an online resource and is intended as a “whole-of-government” service providing essential information on planning, starting, and growing a business. Foreign entities intending to conduct business in Australia as a foreign company must be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). As Australia’s corporate, markets, and financial services regulator, ASIC’s website provides information and guides on starting and managing a business or company in the country.

In registering a business, individuals and entities are required to register as a company with ASIC, which then gives the company an Australian Company Number, registers the company, and issues a Certificate of Registration. According to the World Bank “Starting a Business” indicator, registering a business in Australia takes two days, and Australia ranks 7th globally on this indicator.

Outward Investment

Australia generally looks positively towards outward investment as a way to grow its economy. There are no restrictions on investing abroad. Austrade, Export Finance Australia (EFA), and various other government agencies offer assistance to Australian businesses looking to invest abroad, and some sector-specific export and investment programs exist. The United States is the top destination, by far, for Australian investment overseas.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Australian Government utilizes transparent policies and effective laws to foster national competition and is consultative in its policy making process. The government generally allows for public comment of draft legislation and publishes legislation once it enters into force. Details of the Australian government’s approach to regulation and regulatory impact analysis can be found on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website: https://www.pmc.gov.au/regulation 

Regulations drafted by Australian Government agencies must be accompanied by a Regulation Impact Statement when submitted to the final decision maker (which may be the Cabinet, a Minister, or another decision maker appointed by legislation.) All Regulation Impact Statements must first be approved by the Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) which sits within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, prior to being provided to the relevant decision maker. They are required to demonstrate the need for regulation, the alternative options available (including non-regulatory options), feedback from stakeholders, and a full cost-benefit analysis. Regulations are subsequently required to be reviewed periodically. All Regulation Impact Statements, second reading speeches, explanatory memoranda, and associated legislation are made publicly available on Government websites. Australia’s state and territory governments have similar processes when making new regulations.

The Australian Government has tended to prefer self-regulatory options where industry can demonstrate that the size of the risks are manageable and that there are mechanisms for industry to agree on, and comply with, self-regulatory options that will resolve the identified problem. This manifests in various ways across industries, including voluntary codes of conduct and similar agreements between industry players.

The Australian Government has recognized the impost of regulations and has undertaken a range of initiatives to reduce red tape. This has included specific red tape reduction targets for government agencies and various deregulatory groups within government agencies. In 2019, the Australian Government established a Deregulation Taskforce within its Treasury Department, stating its goal was to “drive improvements to the design, administration and effectiveness of the stock of government regulation to ensure it is fit for purpose.”

Australian accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international standards. Accounting standards are formulated by the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB), an Australian Government agency under the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001. Under that Act, the statutory functions of the AASB are to develop a conceptual framework for the purpose of evaluating proposed standards; make accounting standards under section 334 of the Corporations Act 2001, and advance and promote the main objects of Part 12 of the ASIC Act, which include reducing the cost of capital, enabling Australian entities to compete effectively overseas and maintaining investor confidence in the Australian economy. The Australian Government conducts regular reviews of proposed measures and legislative changes and holds public hearings into such matters.

Australian government financing arrangements are transparent and well governed. Legislation governing the type of financial arrangements the government and its agencies may enter into is publicly available and adhered to. Updates on the Government’s financial position are regularly posted on the Department of Finance and Treasury websites. Issuance of government debt is managed by the Australian Office of Financial Management, which holds regular tenders for the sale of government debt and the outcomes of these tenders are publicly available. The Australian Government also publishes and adheres to strict procurement guidelines. Australia formally joined the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement in 2019.

International Regulatory Considerations

Australia is a member of the WTO, G20, OECD, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and became the first Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Dialogue Partner in 1974. While not a regional economic block, Australia’s free trade agreement with New Zealand provides for a high level of integration between the two economies with the ultimate goal of a single economic market. Details of Australia’s involvement in these international organizations can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website: https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/organisations/Pages/wto-g20-oecd-apec 

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Australian legal system is firmly grounded on the principles of equal treatment before the law, procedural fairness, judicial precedent, and the independence of the judiciary. Strong safeguards exist to ensure that people are not treated arbitrarily or unfairly by governments or officials. Property and contractual rights are enforced through the Australian court system, which is based on English Common Law. Australia’s judicial system is fully independent and separate from the executive branch of government.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Information regarding investing in Australia can be found in Austrade’s “Guide to Investing” at http://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Investor-guide . The guide is designed to help international investors and businesses navigate investing and operating in Australia.

Foreign investment in Australia is regulated by the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 and Australia’s Foreign Investment Policy. The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) is a non-statutory body, comprising independent board members advised by a division within the Treasury Department, established to advise the Treasurer on Australia’s foreign investment policy and its administration. The FIRB screens potential foreign investments in Australia above threshold values, and based on advice from the FIRB, the Treasurer may deny or place conditions on the approval of particular investments above that threshold on national interest grounds. In March 2020 the Treasurer announced thresholds would be reduced to zero for the period covering the COVID-19 crisis. In effect, this meant that all foreign investment would be screening over this period. This lower threshold ended with the introduction in January 2021 of new legislation, the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, which tightened Australia’s investment screening rules with respect to investments in sensitive national security businesses.

The Australian Government applies a “national interest” consideration in reviewing foreign investment applications. “National interest” covers a broader set of considerations than national security alone, and may include tax or competition implications of an investment. Further information on foreign investment screening, including screening thresholds for certain sectors and countries, can be found at FIRB’s website: https://firb.gov.au/ . Under the AUSFTA agreement, all U.S. greenfield investments are exempt from FIRB screening.

Australia has recently taken steps to increase the analysis of national security implications of foreign investment in certain sectors, particularly critical infrastructure and investments in defense or other national security supply chains. The new Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020 introduced the concept of a “national security business” and “national security land,” the acquisition of either triggering a FIRB review. The legislation also allows the Treasurer to “call in” any investment for FIRB review, meaning any investment can be screened regardless of whether it meets the criteria for a mandatory review.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) enforces the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and a range of additional legislation, promotes competition, and fair trading, and regulates national infrastructure for the benefit of all Australians. The ACCC plays a key role in assessing mergers to determine whether they will lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any market. The ACCC also engages in consumer protection enforcement and has, in recent years, been given expanded responsibilities to monitor energy assets, the national gas market, and digital industries.

Expropriation and Compensation

Private property can be expropriated for public purposes in accordance with Australia’s constitution and established principles of international law. Property owners are entitled to compensation based on “just terms” for expropriated property. There is little history of expropriation in Australia.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Australia is a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The International Arbitration Act 1974 governs international arbitration and the enforcement of awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is included in 11 of Australia’s 13 FTAs and 18 of its 21 BITs. AUSFTA establishes a dispute settlement mechanism for investment disputes arising under the Agreement. However, AUSFTA does not contain an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism that would allow individual investors to bring a case against the Australian government. Regardless of the presence or absence of ISDS mechanisms, there is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors in Australia.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Australia has an established legal and court system for the conduct or supervision of litigation and arbitration, as well as alternate dispute resolutions. Australia is a leader in the development and provision of non-court dispute resolution mechanisms. It is a signatory to all the major international dispute resolution conventions and has organizations that provide international dispute resolution processes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bankruptcy is a legal status conferred under the Bankruptcy Act 1966 and operates in all of Australia’s states and territories. Only individuals can be made bankrupt, not businesses or companies. Where there is a partnership or person trading under a business name, it is the individual or individuals who make up that firm that are made bankrupt. Companies cannot become bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act though similar provisions (called “administration and winding up”) exist under the Corporations Act 2001. Bankruptcy is not a criminal offense in Australia.

Creditor rights are established under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, the Corporations Act 2001, and the more recent Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016. The latter legislation commenced in two tranches over 2017 and aims to increase the efficiency of insolvency administrations, improve communications between parties, increase the corporate regulator’s oversight of the insolvency market, and “improve overall consumer confidence in the professionalism and competence of insolvency practitioners.” Under the combined legislation, creditors have the right to: request information during the administration process; give direction to a liquidator or trustee; appoint a liquidator to review the current appointee’s remuneration; and remove a liquidator and appoint a replacement.

The Australian parliament passed the Corporations Amendment (Corporation Insolvency Reforms) Act 2020 in December 2020. The legislation is a response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and is designed to both assist viable businesses remain solvent and simplify the liquidation process for insolvent businesses. The new insolvency process under this legislation came into effect in January 2021.

Australia ranks 20th globally on the World Bank’s Doing Business Report “resolving insolvency” measure.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Commonwealth Government and state and territory governments provide a range of measures to assist investors with setting up and running a business and undertaking investment. Types of assistance available vary by location, industry, and the nature of the business activity. Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to attracting FDI and is intended to serve as the national point-of-contact for investment inquiries. State and territory governments similarly offer a suite of financial and non-financial incentives.

The Commonwealth Government also provides incentives for companies engaging in research and development (R&D) and delivers a tax offset for expenditure on eligible R&D activities undertaken during the year. R&D activities conducted overseas are also eligible under certain circumstances, and the program is jointly administered by government’s AusIndustry program and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The Australian Government typically does not offer guarantees on, or jointly finance projects with, foreign investors.

The Australian government announced a new USD 1.1 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Strategy is primarily grants-based and provides funding to businesses to commercialize ideas and scale-up production in six target industries: resources technology and critical minerals processing; food and beverage; medical products; clean energy; defense; and space industry. Further details of the Strategy can be found on the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources’ website: https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/make-it-happen-the-australian-governments-modern-manufacturing-strategy/our-modern-manufacturing-strategy 

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Australia does not have any free trade zones or free ports.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As a general rule, foreign firms establishing themselves in Australia are not subject to local employment or forced localization requirements, performance requirements and incentives, including to senior management and board of directors. Proprietary companies must have at least one director resident in Australia, while public companies are required to have a minimum of two resident directors. See Section 12 below for further information on rules pertaining to the hiring of foreign labor.

Under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015, telecommunications service providers are required to: retain and secure, for two years, telecommunications data (not including content); protect retained data through encryption; and prevent unauthorized interference and access. The Bill limits the range of agencies allowed to access telecommunications data and stored communications, and establishes a “journalist information warrants regime.” Australia’s Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act prohibits the transfer of health data out of Australia in some situations.

The Australian parliament passed legislation in December 2018 that would require encrypted messaging services to provide decrypted communications to the government for selected national security purposes (the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018). Companies relying on or manufacturing secure encryption technologies have expressed concern about the impacts of this legislation on the security of the products and the lack of sufficient judicial oversight in reviewing government requests for access to encrypted data.

Australia has a strong framework for the protection of intellectual property (IP), including software source code. Foreign providers are not required to provide source code to the government in exchange for operating in Australia. In February 2021, the Australian parliament passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021, which among other things requires designated digital platforms to notify media companies of significant changes to their algorithms with at least 14-days’ notice of such changes. However, technology companies are not required to provide source code for algorithms, or any other such IP, to the government for any purpose.

Companies are generally not restricted in terms of how they store or transmit data within their operations. The exception to this is the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act (2012) which does require that certain personal health information is stored in Australia. The Privacy Act (1988) and associated legislation place restrictions on the communication of personal information between and within entities. The requirements placed on international companies, and the transmission of data outside of Australia, are not treated differently under this legislation. The Australian Attorney-General’s Department is the responsible agency for most legislation relating to data and storage requirements.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Strong legal frameworks protect property rights in Australia and operate to police corruption. Mortgages are commercially available, and foreigners are allowed to buy real property subject to certain registration and approval requirements. Property lending may be securitized, and Australia has one of the most highly developed securitization sectors in the world. Beyond the private sector property market, securitization products are being developed to assist local and state government financing. Australia has no legislation specifically relating to securitization, although issuers are governed by a range of other financial sector legislation and disclosure requirements.

Intellectual Property Rights

Australia generally provides strong intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement through legislation that, among other things, criminalizes copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting. Australia is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 report or on USTR’s Notorious Markets report.

Enforcement of counterfeit goods is overseen by the Australian Department of Home Affairs through the Notice of Objection Scheme, which allows the Australian Border Force to seize goods suspected of being counterfeit. Penalties for sale or importation of counterfeit goods include fines and up to five years imprisonment. The Australia Border Force reported seizing 190,000 individual items of counterfeit and pirated goods, worth approximately AUD 16.9 million (USD 11.8 million), during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, which is the last available year for which this data is provided.

IP Australia is the responsible agency for administering Australia’s responsibilities and treaties under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Australia is a member of a range of international treaties developed through WIPO. Australia does not have specific legislation relating to trade secrets, however common law governs information protected through such means as confidentiality agreements or other means of illegally obtaining confidential or proprietary information.

Australia was an active participant in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations and signed ACTA in October 2011. It has not yet ratified the agreement. ACTA would establish an international framework to assist Parties in their efforts to effectively combat the infringement of intellectual property rights, in particular the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy.

Under the AUSFTA, Australia must notify the holder of a pharmaceutical patent of a request for marketing approval by a third party for a product claimed by that patent. U.S. and Australian pharmaceutical companies have raised concerns that unnecessary delays in this notification process restrict their options for action against third parties that would infringe their patents if granted marketing approval by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). In March 2020 the government recommended changes to the notification process whereby generic product owners must notify the patent holder of an intent to market a new product at the point they lodge an application for evaluation with the TGA. These changes have not been legislated at the time of writing, however.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Australian Government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment with no restrictions on inward flows of debt or equity. Indeed, access to foreign capital markets is crucial to the Australian economy given its relatively small domestic savings. Australian capital markets are generally efficient and able to provide financing options to businesses. While the Australian equity market is one of the largest and most liquid in the world, non-financial firms face a number of barriers in accessing the corporate bond market. Large firms are more likely to use public equity, and smaller firms are more likely to use retained earnings and debt from banks and intermediaries. Australia’s corporate bond market is relatively small, driving many Australian companies to issue debt instruments in the U.S. market. Foreign investors are able to obtain credit from domestic institutions on market terms. Australia’s stock market is the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

Money and Banking System

Australia’s banking system is robust, highly evolved, and international in focus. Bank profitability is strong and has been supported by further improvements in asset performance. Total assets of Australian banks at the end of 2020 was USD4.1 trillion and the sector has delivered an annual average return on equity of around 10 percent.

According to Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the ratio of non-performing assets to total loans was approximately one percent at the end of 2020, having remained at around that level for the last five years after falling from highs of nearly two percent following the Global Financial Crisis. The RBA is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the stability of the financial sector, while the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) monitors individual institutions. The RBA is also responsible for monitoring and regulating payments systems in Australia.

Further details on the size and performance of Australia’s banking sector are available on the websites of the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) and the RBA:  https://www.apra.gov.au/statistics  https://www.rba.gov.au/chart-pack/banking-indicators.html 

Foreign banks are allowed to operate as a branch or a subsidiary in Australia. Australia has generally taken an open approach to allowing foreign companies to operate in the financial sector, largely to ensure sufficient competition in an otherwise small domestic market.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Commonwealth Government formulates exchange control policies with the advice of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and the Treasury. The RBA, charged with protecting the national currency, has the authority to implement exchange controls, although there are currently none in place.

The Australian dollar is a fully convertible and floating currency. The Commonwealth Government does not maintain currency controls or limit remittances. Such payments are processed through standard commercial channels, without governmental interference or delay.

Remittance Policies

Australia does not limit investment remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Australia’s main sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, is a financial asset investment fund owned by the Australian Government. The Fund’s objective is to enhance the ability of future Australian Governments to discharge unfunded superannuation (pension) liabilities. As a founding member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IFSWF), the Future Fund’s structure, governance, and investment approach is in full alignment with the Generally Accepted Principles and Practices for Sovereign Wealth Funds (the “Santiago principles”).

The Future Fund’s investment mandate is to achieve a long-term return of at least inflation plus 4-5 percent per annum. As of December 2020, the Fund’s portfolio consists of: 29 percent global equities, 7 percent Australian equities, 28 percent private equity (including 7 percent in infrastructure), and the remaining 36 percent in debt, cash, and alternative investments.

In addition to the Future Fund, the Australian Government manages five other specific-purpose funds: the DisabilityCare Australia Fund; the Medical Research Future Fund; the Emergency Response Fund; the Future Drought Fund; and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund. In total, these five funds have assets of AUD 47 billion (USD 37 billion), while the main Future Fund has assets of AUD 171 billion (USD 132 billion) as of December 31, 2020.

Further details of these funds are available at: https://www.futurefund.gov.au/ 

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In Australia, the term used for a Commonwealth Government State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) is “government business enterprise” (GBE). According to the Department of Finance, there are nine GBEs: two corporate Commonwealth entities and seven Commonwealth companies. (See: https://www.finance.gov.au/resource-management/governance/gbe/ ) Private enterprises are generally allowed to compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to markets, credit, and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies. Public enterprises are not generally accorded material advantages in Australia. Remaining GBEs do not exercise power in a manner that discriminates against or unfairly burdens foreign investors or foreign-owned enterprises.

Privatization Program

Australia does not have a formal and explicit national privatization program. Individual state and territory governments may have their own privatization programs. Foreign investors are welcome to participate in any privatization programs subject to the rules and approvals governing foreign investment.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is general business awareness and promotion of responsible business conduct (RBC) in Australia. The Commonwealth Government states that companies operating in Australia and Australian companies operating overseas are expected to act in accordance with the principles set out in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and to perform to the standards they suggest. In seeking to promote the OECD Guidelines, the Commonwealth Government maintains a National Contact Point (NCP), the current NCP being currently the General Manager of the Foreign Investment and Trade Policy Division at the Commonwealth Treasury, who is able to draw on expertise from other government agencies through an informal inter-governmental network. An NCP Web site links to the “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas” noting that the objective is to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral sourcing practices. The Commonwealth Government’s export credit agency, EFA, also promotes the OECD Guidelines as the key set of recommendations on responsible business conduct addressed by governments to multinational enterprises operating in or from adhering countries.

Australian companies have very few instances of human rights or labor rights abuses and domestic law prohibits such actions. In 2018 the Australian parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act, new legislation requiring large companies to assess risks of modern slavery in their supply chains and take action to limit these risks.

Australia began implementing the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2016.

Australia has ratified the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, and was a founding member of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers Association.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Australia maintains a comprehensive system of laws and regulations designed to counter corruption. In addition, the government procurement system is generally transparent and well regulated. Corruption has not been a factor cited by U.S. businesses as a disincentive to investing in Australia, nor to exporting goods and services to Australia. Non-governmental organizations interested in monitoring the global development or anti-corruption measures, including Transparency International, operate freely in Australia, and Australia is perceived internationally as having low corruption levels.

Australia is an active participant in international efforts to end the bribery of foreign officials. Legislation exists to give effect to the anti-bribery convention stemming from the OECD 1996 Ministerial Commitment to Criminalize Transnational Bribery. Legislation explicitly disallows tax deductions for bribes of foreign officials. At the Commonwealth level, enforcement of anti-corruption laws and regulations is the responsibility of the Attorney General’s Department.

The Attorney-General’s Department plays an active role in combating corruption through developing domestic policy on anti-corruption and engagement in a range of international anti-corruption forums. These include the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, APEC Anti-Corruption and Transparency Working Group, and the United Nations Convention against Corruption Working Groups. Australia is a member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery and a party to the key international conventions concerned with combating foreign bribery, including the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (Anti-Bribery Convention).

The legislation covering bribery of foreign officials is the Criminal Code Act 1995. Under Australian law, it is an offense to bribe a foreign public official, even if a bribe may be seen to be customary, necessary, or required. The maximum penalty for an individual is 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of AUD 1.8 million (approximately USD 1.4 million). For a corporate entity, the maximum penalty is the greatest of: 1) AUD 18 million (approximately USD 14.0 million); 2) three times the value of the benefits obtained; or 3) 10 percent of the previous 12-month turnover of the company concerned.

A number of national and state-level agencies exist to combat corruption of public officials and ensure transparency and probity in government systems. The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) has the mandate to prevent, detect, and investigate serious and systemic corruption issues in the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, the CrimTrac Agency, and prescribed aspects of the Department of Agriculture.

Various independent commissions exist at the state level to investigate instances of corruption. Details of these bodies are provided below.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Australia has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption and is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

Western Australia – Corruption and Crime Commission
86 St Georges Terrace
Perth, Western Australia
Tel. +61 8 9215 4888
https://www.ccc.wa.gov.au/ 

Queensland – Corruption and Crime Commission
Level 2, North Tower Green Square
515 St Pauls Terrace
Fortitude Valley, Queensland
Tel. +61 7 3360 6060
https://www.ccc.qld.gov.au/ 

Victoria – Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission
Level 1, North Tower, 459 Collins Street
Melbourne, Victoria
Tel. +61 1300 735 135
https://ibac.vic.gov.au 

New South Wales – Independent Commission against Corruption
Level 7, 255 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel. +61 2 8281 5999
https://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/ 

South Australia – Independent Commission against Corruption
Level 1, 55 Currie Street
Adelaide, South Australia
Tel. +61 8 8463 5173
https://icac.sa.gov.au 

10. Political and Security Environment

Political protests (including rallies, demonstrations, marches, public conflicts between competing interests) form an integral, though generally minor, part of Australian cultural life. Such protests rarely degenerate into violence.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Australia’s unemployment rate peaked at 7.5 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic and had fallen below 6 percent by early 2021. Average weekly earnings for full-time workers in Australia were AUD 1,767 (approximately USD 1,360) as of November 2020. The minimum wage is set annually and is significantly higher than that of the United States, currently sitting at AUD 19.50 (USD 15.20). Overall wage growth has been low in recent years, growing only slightly above the rate of inflation.

The Australian Government and its state and territory counterparts are active in assessing and forecasting labor skills gaps across industries. Tertiary education is subsidized by both levels of governments, and these subsidies are based in part on an assessment of the skills needed by industry. These assessments also inform immigration policy through the various working visas and associated skilled occupation lists. Occupations on these lists are updated annually based on assessment of the skills most needed by industry.

Immigration has always been an important source for skilled labor in Australia. The Department of Home Affairs publishes an annual list of occupations with skill shortages to be used by potential applicants seeking to work in Australia. The visas available to applicants, and length of stay allowed for, differ by occupation. The main working visa is the Temporary Skills Shortage visa (subclass 482). Applicants must have a nominated occupation when they apply which is applicable to their circumstances, and applications are subject to local labor market testing rules. These rules preference the hiring of Australian labor over foreign workers so long as local workers can be found to fill the advertised job. Immigration to Australia is currently not possible under COVID-19 border closures.

Most Australian workplaces are governed by a system created by the Fair Work Act 2009. Enterprise bargaining takes place through collective agreements made at an enterprise level covering terms and conditions of employment. Such agreements are widely used in Australia. A Fair Work Ombudsman assists employees, employers, contractors, and the community to understand and comply with the system. The Fair Work Act 2009 establishes a set of clear rules and obligations about how this process is to occur, including rules about bargaining, the content of enterprise agreements, and how an agreement is made and approved. Unfair dismissal laws also exist to protect workers who have been unfairly fired from a job. Australia is a founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and has ratified 58 of the ILO’s conventions.

Chapter 18 of the AUSFTA agreement deals with labor market issues. The chapter sets out the responsibilities of each party, including the commitment of each country to uphold its obligations as a member of the ILO and the associated ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up (1998).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $1.50 trillion 2019 $1.39 trillion www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $158 billion 2019 $162 billion BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $112 billion 2019 $81 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 53% 2019 51% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html  
 

* Source for Host Country Data: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 714,250 100% Total Outward 579,259 100%
USA 143,737 20% USA 102,160 18%
UK 89,061 12% UK 100,509 17%
Japan 81,341 11% New Zealand 58,576 10%
Netherlands 38,384 5% Canada 24,588 4%
Canada 33,007 5% Singapore 19,695 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 912,160 100% All Countries 621,379 100% All Countries 299,781 100%
United States 387,323 42% United States 298,353 48% United States 88,971 30%
United Kingdom 80,348 9% United Kingdom 44,312 7% United Kingdom 36,037 12%
Japan 50,190 5% Cayman Islands 32,567 5% Germany 20,219 7%
Cayman Islands 43,167 5% Japan 30,395 5% Japan 19,795 7%
Germany 31,475 3% France 18,586 3% Netherlands 15,307 5%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Counselor Doug Sonnek
U.S. Embassy Canberra
21 Moonah Place, Yarralumla, ACT
+61 2 6214 5759
SonnekDE@state.gov 

China

Executive Summary

In 2020, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) became the top global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) destination. As the world’s second-largest economy, with a large consumer base and integrated supply chains, China’s economic recovery following COVID-19 reassured investors and contributed to higher FDI and portfolio investments. In 2020, China took significant steps toward implementing commitments made to the United States on a wide range of IP issues and made some modest openings in its financial sector. China also concluded key trade agreements and implemented important legislation, including the Foreign Investment Law (FIL).

China remains, however, a relatively restrictive investment environment for foreign investors due to restrictions in key economic sectors. Obstacles to investment include ownership caps and requirements to form joint venture partnerships with local Chinese firms, industrial policies such as Made in China 2025 (MIC 2025) that target development of indigenous capacity, as well as pressure on U.S. firms to transfer technology as a prerequisite to gaining market access. PRC COVID-19 visa and travel restrictions significantly affected foreign businesses operations increasing their labor and input costs. Moreover, an increasingly assertive Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and emphasis on national companies and self-reliance has heightened foreign investors’ concerns about the pace of economic reforms.

Key investment announcements and new developments in 2020 included:

On January 1, the FIL went into effect and effectively replaced previous laws governing foreign investment.

On January 15, the U.S. and China concluded the Economic and Trade Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the People’s Republic of China (the Phase One agreement). Under the agreement, China committed to reforms in its intellectual property regime, prohibit forced transfer technology as a condition for market access, and made some openings in the financial and energy sector. China also concluded the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement on November 15 and reached a political agreement with the EU on the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) on December 30.

In mid-May, PRC leader Xi Jinping announced China’s “dual circulation” strategy, intended to make China less export-oriented and more focused on the domestic market.

On June 23, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) announced new investment “negative lists” to guide foreign FDI.

Market openings were coupled, however, with restrictions on investment, such as the Rules on Security Reviews on Foreign InvestmentsChina’s revised investment screening mechanism.

While Chinese pronouncements of greater market access and fair treatment of foreign investment are welcome, details and effective implementation are still needed to ensure foreign investors truly experience equitable treatment.

 

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

 

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 78 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 31 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 14 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 116.2 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 10,410 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

One of China’s WTO accession commitments was to establish an official journal dedicated to the publication of laws, regulations, and other measures pertaining to or affecting trade in goods, services, trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS), and the control of foreign exchange.  Despite mandatory 30-day public comment periods, Chinese ministries continue to post only some draft administrative regulations and departmental rules online, often with a public comment period of less than 30 days. As part of the Phase One Agreement, China committed to providing at least 45 days for public comment on all proposed laws, regulations, and other measures implementing the Phase One Agreement. While China has made some progress, U.S. businesses operating in China consistently cite arbitrary legal enforcement and the lack of regulatory transparency among the top challenges of doing business in China.

In China’s state-dominated economic system, the relationships are often blurred between the CCP, the Chinese government, Chinese business (state- and private-owned), and other Chinese stakeholders.  Foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs) perceive that China prioritizes political goals, industrial policies, and a desire to protect social stability at the expense of foreign investors, fairness, and the rule of law.  The World Bank   Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance gave China a composite score of 1.75 out 5 points, attributing China’s relatively low score to stakeholders not having easily accessible and updated laws and regulations; the lack of impact assessments conducted prior to issuing new laws; and other concerns about transparency.

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

International Regulatory Considerations

As part of its WTO accession agreement, China agreed to notify the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of all draft technical regulations.  However, China continues to issue draft technical regulations without proper notification to the TBT Committee.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Chinese legal system borrows heavily from continental European legal systems, but with “Chinese characteristics.”  The rules governing commercial activities are found in various laws, regulations, administrative rules, and Supreme People’s Court (SPC) judicial interpretations, among other sources. While China does not have specialized commercial courts, it has created specialized courts and tribunals for the hearing of intellectual property disputes (IP), including in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Hainan.  In 2020, the original IP Courts continued to be popular destinations for both Chinese and foreign-related IP civil and administrative litigation, with the IP court in Shanghai experiencing a year-on-year increase of above 100 percent. China’s constitution and laws, however, are clear that Chinese courts cannot exercise power independent of the Party.  Further, in practice, influential businesses, local governments, and regulators routinely influence courts.  U.S. companies may hesitate in challenging administrative decisions or bringing commercial disputes before local courts due to perceptions of futility or fear of government retaliation.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

China’s new investment law, the FIL, came into force on January 1, 2020, replacing China’s previous foreign investment framework. The FIL provides a five-year transition period for foreign enterprises established under previous foreign investment laws, after which all foreign enterprises will be subject to the same domestic laws as Chinese companies, such as the Company Law. The FIL standardized the regulatory regimes for foreign investment by including the negative list management system, a foreign investment information reporting system, and a foreign investment security review system all under one document. The FIL also seeks to address foreign investors complaints by explicitly banning forced technology transfers, promising better IPR, and the establishment of a complaint mechanism for investors to report administrative abuses. However, foreign investors remain concerned that the FIL and its implementing regulations provide Chinese ministries and local officials significant regulatory discretion, including the ability to retaliate against foreign companies.

In December 2020, China also issued a revised investment screening mechanism under the Rules on Security Reviews on Foreign Investments without any period for public comment or prior consultation with the business community. Foreign investors complained that China’s new rules on investment screening were expansive in scope, lacked an investment threshold to trigger a review, and included green field investments – unlike most other countries. Moreover, new guidance on Neutralizing Extra-Territorial Application of Unjustified Foreign Legislation Measures, a measure often compared to “blocking statutes” from other markets, added to foreign investors’ concerns over the legal challenges they would face in trying to abide by both their host-country’s regulations and China’s. Foreign investors complained that market access in China was increasingly undermined by national security-related legislation. In 2020, the State Council and various central and local government agencies issued over 1000 substantive administrative regulations and departmental/local rules on foreign investment. While not comprehensive, a list of published and official Chinese laws and regulations is available here .

FDI Requirements for Investment Approvals

Foreign investments in industries and economic sectors that are not explicitly restricted on China’s negative lists do not require MOFCOM pre-approval.  However, investors have complained that in practice, investing in an industry not on the negative list does not guarantee a foreign investor “national treatment,” or treatment no less favorable than treatment accorded to a similarly situated domestic investor.  Foreign investors must still comply with other steps and approvals such as receiving land rights, business licenses, and other necessary permits.  When a foreign investment needs ratification from the NDRC or a local development and reform commission, that administrative body is in charge of assessing the project’s compliance with a panoply of Chinese laws and regulations.  In some cases, NDRC also solicits the opinions of relevant Chinese industrial regulators and consulting agencies acting on behalf of Chinese domestic firms, creating potential conflicts of interest disadvantageous to foreign firms.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

To attract foreign investment, different provinces and municipalities offer preferential packages like a temporary reduction in taxes, import/export duties, land use, research and development subsidies, and funding for initial startups.  Often, these packages stipulate that foreign investors must meet certain benchmarks for exports, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements.  However, many economic sectors that China deems sensitive due to broadly defined national or economic security concerns remain closed to foreign investment.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In 2013, the State Council announced the Shanghai pilot FTZ to provide open and high-standard trade and investment services to foreign companies. China gradually scaled up its FTZ pilot program to a total of 20 FTZs and one Free Trade Port.  China’s FTZs are in: Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangdong, Fujian, Chongqing, Hainan, Henan, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Guangxi, Yunnan provinces, Beijing, Shanghai FTZ Lingang Special Area and Hainan Free Trade Port.  The goal of China’s FTZs/FTP is to provide a trial ground for trade and investment liberalization measures and to introduce service sector reforms, especially in financial services, that China expects to eventually introduce in other parts of the domestic economy. The FTZs promise foreign investors “national treatment” investment in industries and sectors not listed on China’s negative lists.  However, the 2020 FTZ negative list lacked substantive changes, and many foreign firms report that in practice, the degree of liberalization in FTZs is comparable to opportunities in other parts of China.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Chinese state owns all urban land, and only the state can issue long-term land leases to individuals and companies, including foreigners, subject to many restrictions.  Chinese property law stipulates that residential property rights renew automatically, while commercial and industrial grants renew if it does not conflict with other public interest claims. Several foreign investors have reported revocation of land use rights so that Chinese developers could pursue government-designated building projects.  Investors often complain about insufficient compensation in these cases.  In rural China, the registration system suffers from unclear ownership lines and disputed border claims, often at the expense of local farmers whom village leaders exclude in favor of “handshake deals” with commercial interests.  China’s Securities Law defines debtor and guarantor rights, including rights to mortgage certain types of property and other tangible assets, including long-term leases.  Chinese law does not prohibit foreigners from buying non-performing debt, but it must be acquired through state-owned asset management firms, and it is difficult to liquidate.

Intellectual Property Rights

China remained on the USTR Special 301 Report Priority Watch List in 2020 and was subject to continued Section 306 monitoring. Multiple Chinese physical and online markets were included in the 2020 USTR Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy. Of note, in 2020, China did take significant steps toward addressing long-standing U.S. concerns on a wide range of IP issues, from patents, to trademarks, to copyrights and trade secrets. The reforms addressed the granting and protection of IP rights as well as their enforcement, and included changes made in support of the Phase One Trade Agreement. In April 2020, China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) issued the 2020-2021 Plan for Implementing the Opinions on Strengthening IP Protection which contained 133 specific “steps” that CNIPA and other Chinese government entities intended to take in 2020 and 2021 – to strengthen IP protection and implement China’s IP-related commitments under Phase One. The 2020-2021 Implementing Plan, together with the work plans of the SPC’s and IP-related administrative organs, portended a year of aggressive IP reforms in China. The Chinese legislative, administrative, and judicial organs issued over 60 new and amended measures related to IP protection and enforcement, in both draft and final form, including amendments to core IP laws, such as the Copyright Law, the Patent Law, and the Criminal Law. Updates also included administrative measures addressing trademark and patent protection and enforcement, as well as enforcement of copyright and trade secrets.

Despite these reforms, IP rights remain subject to Chinese government policy objectives, which appear to have intensified in 2020. For U.S. companies in China, infringement remained both rampant and a low-risk “business strategy” for bad-faith actors. Further enforcement and regulatory authorities continue to signal to U.S. rights holders that application of China’s IP system remains subject to the discretion of the PRC government and its policy goals. High-level remarks by PRC leader Xi Jinping and senior leaders signaled China’s commitment to cracking down on IP infringement in the years ahead. However, they also reflected China’s vision of the IP system as an important tool for eliminating foreign ownership of critical technology and ensuring national security. While on paper China’s IP protection and enforcement mechanisms have inched closer to near parity with other foreign markets, in practice, fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory treatment will very likely continue to be denied to U.S. rights holders whose IP ownership and exploitation impede PRC industrial policy goals.

For detailed information on China’s environment for IPR protection and enforcement, please see the following reports:

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

China’s leadership has stated that it seeks to build a modern, highly developed, and multi-tiered capital market.  Since their founding over three decades ago, the Shanghai and Shenzhen Exchanges, combined, are ranked the third largest stock market in the world with over USD11 trillion in assets, according to statistics from World Federation of Exchanges.  China’s bond market has similarly expanded significantly to become the second largest worldwide, totaling approximately USD17 trillion.  In 2020, China fulfilled its promises to open certain financial sectors such as securities, asset management, and life insurance. Direct investment by private equity and venture capital firms has increased but has also faced setbacks due to China’s capital controls, which obfuscate the repatriation of returns. As of 2020, 54 sovereign entities and private sector firms, including BMW and Xiaomi Corporation, have since issued roughly USD41 billion in “Panda Bonds,” Chinese renminbi (RMB)-denominated debt issued by foreign entities in China.  China’s private sector can also access credit via bank loans, bond issuance, trust products, and wealth management. However, the vast majority of bank credit is disbursed to state-owned firms, largely due to distortions in China’s banking sector that have incentivized lending to state-affiliated entities over their private sector counterparts.  China has been an IMF Article VIII member since 1996 and generally refrains from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.  However, the government has used administrative and preferential policies to encourage credit allocation towards national priorities, such as infrastructure investments.

Money and Banking System

China’s monetary policy is run by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank.  The PBOC has traditionally deployed various policy tools, such as open market operations, reserve requirement ratios, benchmark rates and medium-term lending facilities, to control credit growth.  The PBOC had previously also set quotas on how much banks could lend but ended the practice in 1998.  As part of its efforts to shift towards a more market-based system, the PBOC announced in 2019 that it will reform its one-year loan prime rate (LPR), which would serve as an anchor reference for other loans.  The one-year LPR is based on the interest rate that 18 banks offer to their best customers and serves as the benchmark for rates provided for other loans.  In 2020, the PBOC requested financial institutions to shift towards use of the one-year LPR for their outstanding floating-rate loan contracts from March to August. Despite these measures to move towards more market-based lending, China’s financial regulators still influence the volume and destination of Chinese bank loans through “window guidance” – unofficial directives delivered verbally – as well as through mandated lending targets for key economic groups, such as small and medium sized enterprises. In 2020, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) also began issuing laws to regulate online lending by banks including internet companies such as Ant Financial and Tencent, which had previously not been subject to banking regulations.

The CBIRC oversees China’s 4,607 lending institutions, about USD49 trillion in total assets.  China’s “Big Five” – Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China, Bank of Communications, China Construction Bank, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China – dominate the sector and are largely stable, but over the past year, China has experienced regional pockets of banking stress, especially among smaller lenders.  Reflecting the level of weakness among these banks, in November 2020, the PBOC announced in “China Financial Stability Report 2020” that 12.4 percent of the 4400 banking financial institutions received a “fail” rating (high risk) following an industry-wide review in 2019.  The assessment deemed 378 firms, all small and medium sized rural financial institutions, “extremely risky.”  The official rate of non-performing loans among China’s banks is relatively low: 1.92 percent as of the end of 2020.  However, analysts believed the actual figure may be significantly higher.  Bank loans continue to provide the majority of credit options (reportedly around 60.2 percent in 2020) for Chinese companies, although other sources of capital, such as corporate bonds, equity financing, and private equity are quickly expanding in scope, reach, and sophistication in China.

As part of a broad campaign to reduce debt and financial risk, Chinese regulators have implemented measures to rein in the rapid growth of China’s “shadow banking” sector, which includes wealth management and trust products.  These measures have achieved positive results. In December 2020, CBIRC published the first “Shadow Banking Report,” and claimed that the size of China’s shadow banking had shrunk sharply since 2017 when China started tightening the sector. By the end of 2019, the size of China’s shadow banking by broad measurement dropped to 84.8 trillion yuan from the peak of 100.4 trillion yuan in early 2017. Shadow banking to GDP ratio had also dropped to 86 percent at the end of 2019, yet the report did not provide statistics beyond 2019. Foreign owned banks can now establish wholly-owned banks and branches in China, however, onerous licensing requirements and an industry dominated by local players, have limited foreign banks market penetration. Foreigners are eligible to open a bank account in China but are required to present a passport and/or Chinese government issued identification.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

While the central bank’s official position is that companies with proper documentation should be able to freely conduct business, in practice, companies have reported challenges and delays in obtaining approvals for foreign currency transactions by sub-national regulatory branches. Chinese authorities instituted strict capital control measures in 2016, when China recorded a surge in capital flight.  China has since announced that it would gradually reduce those controls, but market analysts expect they would be re-imposed if capital outflows accelerate again. Chinese foreign exchange rules cap the maximum amount of RMB individuals are allowed to convert into other currencies at approximately USD50,000 each year and restrict them from directly transferring RMB abroad without prior approval from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE).  SAFE has not reduced the USD50,000 quota, but during periods of higher-than-normal capital outflows, banks are reportedly instructed by SAFE to increase scrutiny over individuals’ requests for foreign currency and to require additional paperwork clarifying the intended use of the funds, with the intent of slowing capital outflows. China’s exchange rate regime is managed within a band that allows the currency to rise or fall by 2 percent per day from the “reference rate” set each morning.

Remittance Policies

According to China’s FIL, as of January 1, 2020, funds associated with any forms of investment, including profits, capital gains, returns from asset disposal, IPR loyalties, compensation, and liquidation proceeds, may be freely converted into any world currency for remittance. Based on the “2020 Guidance for Foreign Exchange Business under the Current Account” released by SAFE in August, firms do not need any supportive documents or proof that it is under USD50,000. For remittances over USD50,000, firms need to submit supportive documents and taxation records.  Under Chinese law, FIEs do not need pre-approval to open foreign exchange accounts and are allowed to retain income as foreign exchange or convert it into RMB without quota requirements. The remittance of profits and dividends by FIEs is not subject to time limitations, but FIEs need to submit a series of documents to designated banks for review and approval.  The review period is not fixed and is frequently completed within one or two working days of the submission of complete documents.  For remittance of interest and principal on private foreign debt, firms must submit an application, a foreign debt agreement, and the notice on repayment of the principal and interest.  Banks will then check if the repayment volume is within the repayable principal.  There are no specific rules on the remittance of royalties and management fees. Based on guidance for remittance of royalties and management fees, firms shall submit relevant contracts and invoice.  In October 2020, SAFE cut the reserve requirement for foreign currency transactions from 20 percent to zero, reducing the cost of foreign currency transactions as well as easing Renminbi appreciation pressure.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

China officially has only one sovereign wealth fund (SWF), the China Investment Corporation (CIC), which was launched in 2007 to help diversify China’s foreign exchange reserves. CIC is ranked the second largest SWF by total assets by Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute (SWFI). With USD200 billion in initial registered capital, CIC manages over USD1.04 trillion in assets as of 2020 and invests on a 10-year time horizon.  CIC has since evolved into three subsidiaries:

  • CIC International was established in September 2011 with a mandate to invest in and manage overseas assets.  It conducts public market equity and bond investments, hedge fund, real estate, private equity, and minority investments as a financial investor.
  • CIC Capital was incorporated in January 2015 with a mandate to specialize in making direct investments to enhance CIC’s investments in long-term assets.
  • Central Huijin makes equity investments in Chinese state-owned financial institutions.

China also operates other funds that function in part like sovereign wealth funds, including: China’s National Social Security Fund, with an estimated USD372 billion in assets; the China-Africa Development Fund (solely funded by the China Development Bank), with an estimated USD10 billion in assets; the SAFE Investment Company, with an estimated USD417.8 billion in assets; and China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund, established in December 2014 with USD40 billion in assets to foster investment in BRI partner countries.  Chinese state-run funds do not report the percentage of their assets that are invested domestically.  However, Chinese state-run funds follow the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles and participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs. While CIC affirms that they do not have any formal government guidance to invest funds consistent with industrial policies or designated projects, CIC is still expected to pursue government objectives.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

China has approximately 150,000 wholly-owned SOEs, of which 50,000 are owned by the central government, and the remainder by local or provincial governments.  SOEs, both central and local, account for 30 to 40 percent of total gross domestic product (GDP) and about 20 percent of China’s total employment.  Non-financial SOE assets totaled roughly USD30 trillion.  SOEs can be found in all sectors of the economy, from tourism to heavy industries.  State funds are spread throughout the economy and the state may also be the majority or controlling shareholder in an ostensibly private enterprise.  China’s leading SOEs benefit from preferential government policies aimed at developing bigger and stronger “national champions.” SOEs enjoy favored access to essential economic inputs (land, hydrocarbons, finance, telecoms, and electricity) and exercise considerable power in markets like steel and minerals.  SOEs have long enjoyed preferential access to credit and the ability to issue publicly traded equity and debt.  A comprehensive, published list of all Chinese SOEs does not exist.

PRC officials have indicated China intends to utilize OECD guidelines to improve the SOEs independence and professionalism, including relying on Boards of Directors that are free from political influence.  Other recent reforms have included salary caps, limits on employee benefits, and attempts to create stock incentive programs for managers who have produced mixed results.  However, analysts believe minor reforms will be ineffective if SOE administration and government policy remain intertwined, and Chinese officials make minimal progress in primarily changing the regulation and business conduct of SOEs.  SOEs continue to hold dominant shares in their respective industries, regardless of whether they are strategic, which may further restrain private investment in the economy.  Among central SOEs managed by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), senior management positions are mainly filled by senior party members who report directly to the CCP, and double as the company’s party secretary.  SOE executives often outrank regulators in the CCP rank structure, which minimizes the effectiveness of regulators in implementing reforms.  The lack of management independence and the controlling ownership interest of the state make SOEs de facto arms of the government, subject to government direction and interference.  SOEs are rarely the defendant in legal disputes, and when they are, they almost always prevail.  U.S. companies often complain about the lack of transparency and objectivity in commercial disputes with SOEs.

Privatization Program

Since 2013, the PRC government has periodically announced reforms to SOEs that included selling SOE shares to outside investors or a mixed ownership model, in which private companies invest in SOEs and outside managers are hired.  The government has tried these approaches to improve SOE management structures, emphasize the use of financial benchmarks, and gradually infuse private capital into some sectors traditionally monopolized by SOEs like energy, finance, and telecommunications.  In practice, however, reforms have been gradual, as the PRC government has struggled to implement its SOE reform vision and often preferred to utilize a SOE consolidation approach.  Recently, Xi and other senior leaders have increasingly focused reform efforts on strengthening the role of the state as an investor or owner of capital, instead of the old SOE model in which the state was more directly involved in managing operations.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Additional Resources

 

Department of State

Department of Labor

Since 2016, China established an RBC platform but general awareness of RBC standards (including environmental, social, and governance issues) is a relatively new concept, especially for companies that exclusively operate in China’s domestic market.  Chinese laws that regulate business conduct use voluntary compliance, are often limited in scope, and are frequently cast aside when other economic priorities supersede RBC priorities.  In addition, China lacks mature and independent non-governmental organizations (NGOs), investment funds, independent worker unions, and other business associations that promote RBC, further contributing to the general lack of awareness.  The Foreign NGO Law remains a concern for U.S. organizations, including those looking to promote RBC and corporate social responsibility (CSR) best practices, due to restrictions the Law places on their operations in China.  For U.S. investors looking to partner with a Chinese firm or expand operations, finding partners that meet internationally recognized standards in areas like labor rights, environmental protection, and manufacturing best practices can be a significant challenge.  However, the Chinese government has placed greater emphasis on protecting the environment and elevating sustainability as a key priority, resulting in more Chinese companies adding environmental concerns to their CSR initiatives.  As part of these efforts, Chinese ministries have signed several memoranda of understanding with international organizations such as the OECD to cooperate on RBC initiatives.

9. Corruption

Since 2012, China has undergone a large-scale anti-corruption campaign, with investigations reaching into all sectors of the government, military, and economy.  CCP General Secretary Xi labeled endemic corruption an “existential threat” to the very survival of the Party.  In 2018, the CCP restructured its Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) to become a state organ, calling the new body the National Supervisory Commission-Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (NSC-CCDI). The NSC-CCDI wields the power to investigate any public official.  From 2012 to 2020, the NSC-CCDI claimed it investigated 3.4 million cases. In 2020, the NSC-CCDI investigated 618,000 cases and disciplined 522,000 individuals, of whom 41 were at or above the provincial or ministerial level. Since 2014, the PRC’s overseas fugitive-hunting campaign, called “Operation Skynet,” has led to the capture of more than 8,350 fugitives suspected of corruption who were living in other countries, including over 2,200 CCP members and government employees. In most cases, the PRC did not notify host countries of these operations.  In 2020, the government reported apprehending 1,421 alleged fugitives and recovering approximately USD457 million through this program.

In June 2020 the CCP passed a law on Administrative Discipline for Public Officials, continuing their effort to strengthen supervision over individuals working in the public sector. The law further enumerates targeted illicit activities such as bribery and misuse of public funds or assets for personal gain. The CCP also issued Amendment 11 to the Criminal Law, which increased the maximum punishment for acts of corruption committed by private entities to life imprisonment, from the previous maximum of 15-year imprisonment. Anecdotal information suggests the PRC’s anti-corruption crackdown is inconsistently and discretionarily applied, raising concerns among foreign companies in China.  For example, to fight rampant commercial corruption in the medical/pharmaceutical sector, the PRC’s health authority issued “blacklists” of firms and agents involved in commercial bribery, including several foreign companies. While central government leadership has welcomed increased public participation in reporting suspected corruption at lower levels, direct criticism of central government leadership or policies remains off-limits and is seen as an existential threat to China’s political and social stability.  China ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005 and participates in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and OECD anti-corruption initiatives. China has not signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery, although Chinese officials have expressed interest in participating in the OECD Working Group on Bribery meetings as an observer.

 

Resources to Report Corruption

The following government organization receives public reports of corruption:   Anti-Corruption Reporting Center of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Ministry of Supervision, Telephone Number:  +86 10 12388.   10. Political and Security Environment

10. Political and Security Environment

Foreign companies operating in China face a low risk of political violence.  However, the ongoing PRC crackdown on virtually all opposition voices in Hong Kong and continued attempts by PRC organs to intimidate Hong Kong’s judges threatens the judicial independence of Hong Kong’s courts – a fundamental pillar for Hong Kong’s status as an international hub for investment into and out of China.  The CCP also punished companies that expressed support for Hong Kong protesters – most notably, a Chinese boycott of the U.S. National Basketball Association after one team’s general manager expressed his personal view supporting Hong Kong protesters. Apart from Hong Kong, the PRC government has also previously encouraged protests or boycotts of products from countries like the United States, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the Philippines, in retaliation for unrelated policy decisions such as the boycott campaigns against Korean retailer Lotte in 2016 and 2017 in response to the South Korean government’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD); and the PRC’s retaliation against Canadian companies and citizens for Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. PRC authorities also have broad authority to prohibit travelers from leaving China and have imposed “exit bans” to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate PRC investigations. U.S. citizens, including children, not directly involved in legal proceedings or wrongdoing have also been subject to lengthy exit bans in order to compel family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigations. Exit bans are often issued without notification to the foreign citizen or without clear legal recourse to appeal the exit ban decision.     11. Labor Policies and Practices

11. Labor Policies and Practices

For U.S. companies operating in China, finding, developing, and retaining domestic talent at the management and skilled technical staff levels remain challenging for foreign firms, especially as labor costs, including salaries and inputs continue to rise. Foreign companies also complain of difficulty navigating China’s labor and social insurance laws, including local implementation guidelines. Compounding the complexity, due to ineffective enforcement of labor laws, Chinese domestic employers often hire local employees without contracts, putting foreign firms at a disadvantage.  Without written contracts, workers struggle to prove employment, thus losing basic protections such as severance if terminated.  The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the only union recognized under PRC law.  Establishing independent trade unions is illegal.  The law allows for “collective bargaining,” but in practice, focuses solely on collective wage negotiations.  The Trade Union Law gives the ACFTU, a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo, control over all union organizations and activities, including enterprise-level unions.  ACFTU enterprise unions require employers to pay mandatory fees, often through the local tax bureau, equaling a negotiated minimum of 0.5 percent to a standard two percent of total payroll.  While labor laws do not protect the right to strike, “spontaneous” worker protests and work stoppages occur.  Official forums for mediation, arbitration, and other similar mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution often are ineffective in resolving labor disputes.  Even when an arbitration award or legal judgment is obtained, getting local authorities to enforce judgments is problematic.

The PRC has not ratified the International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, or forced labor, but it has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination. Uyghurs and members of other minority groups are subjected to forced labor in Xinjiang and throughout China via PRC government-facilitated labor transfer programs. In 2020, the U.S. government took additional actions to prevent the importation of products produced by forced labor into the United States, including by issuing a Xinjiang supply chain business advisory that outlined the legal, economic, and reputational risks of forced labor exposure in China-based supply chains. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection bureau issued multiple Withhold Release Orders  barring importation into the United States of products produced in Xinjiang, which were determined to be produced with prison or forced labor in violation of U.S. import laws.  The Commerce Department added Chinese commercial and government entities to its Entity List for their complicity in human rights abuses and the Department of Treasury sanctioned the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang. Some PRC firms continued to employ North Korean workers in violation of UN Security Council sanctions.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

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

Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $14,724,435 2019 $14,343,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $87,880 2019 $116,200 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $7,721,700 2019 $37,700 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 $16.5% 2019 12.4% UNCTAD data available at https://unctadstat.unctad.org/wds/TableViewer/tableView.aspx  https://unctadstat.unctad.org/CountryProfile/GeneralProfile/en-GB/156/index.html 

* Source for Host Country Data:

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $2,938,482 100% Total Outward $2,198,881 100%
China, P.R., Hong Kong $1,430,303 48.7% China, P.C., Hong Kong $1,132,549 51.5%
British Virgin Islands $316,836 10.8% Cayman Islands $259,614 11.8%
Japan $147,881 5.0% British Virgin Islands $127,297 5.8%
Singapore $102,458 3.5% United States $67,855 3.1%
Germany $67,879 2.3% Singapore $38,105 1.7%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Destinations (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $645,981 100% All Countries $373,780 100% All Countries $272,201 100%
China, P. R.: Hong Kong $226,426 35% China, P. R.: Hong Kong $166,070 44% United States $68,875 25%
United States $162,830 25% United States $93,955 25% China, P. R.: Hong Kong $60,356 22%
Cayman Islands $55,086 9% Cayman Islands $36,192 10% British Virgin Islands $43,486 16%
British Virgin Islands $45,883 7% United Kingdom $11,226 3% Cayman Islands $18,894 7%
United Kingdom $21,805 3% Luxembourg $9,092 2% United Kingdom $10,579 4%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S.  Embassy Beijing Economic Section

55 Anjialou Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, P.R.  China  +86 10 8531 3000

+86 10 8531 3000

Hong Kong

Executive Summary

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

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

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

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

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

Outward Investment

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

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

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

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

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

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

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

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

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

Competition and Antitrust Laws

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

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

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

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

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

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

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

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

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

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

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

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

Intellectual Property Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

There are no impediments to the free flow of financial resources.  Non-interventionist economic policies, complete freedom of capital movement, and a well-understood regulatory and legal environment make Hong Kong a regional and international financial center.  It has one of the most active foreign exchange markets in Asia.

Assets and wealth managed in Hong Kong posted a record high of USD 3.7 trillion in 2019 (the latest figure available), with two-thirds of that coming from overseas investors.  To enhance the competitiveness of Hong Kong’s fund industry, OFCs as well as onshore and offshore funds are offered a profits tax exemption.

The HKMA’s Infrastructure Financing Facilitation Office (IFFO) provides a platform for pooling the efforts of investors, banks, and the financial sector to offer comprehensive financial services for infrastructure projects in emerging markets.  IFFO is an advisory partner of the World Bank Group’s Global Infrastructure Facility.

Under the Insurance Companies Ordinance, insurance companies are authorized by the Insurance Authority to transact business in Hong Kong.  As of February 2021, there were 165 authorized insurance companies in Hong Kong, 70 of them foreign or mainland Chinese companies.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s total market capitalization surged by 24.0 percent to USD 6.1 trillion in 2020, with 2,538 listed firms at year-end.  Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited, a listed company, operates the stock and futures exchanges.  The Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), an independent statutory body outside the civil service, has licensing and supervisory powers to ensure the integrity of markets and protection of investors.

No discriminatory legal constraints exist for foreign securities firms establishing operations in Hong Kong via branching, acquisition, or subsidiaries.  Rules governing operations are the same for all firms.  No laws or regulations specifically authorize private firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association that limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control.

In 2020, a total of 291 Chinese enterprises had “H” share listings on the stock exchange, with combined market capitalization of USD 906 billion.  The Shanghai-Hong Kong and Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connects allow individual investors to cross trade Hong Kong and mainland stocks.  In December 2018, the ETF Connect, which was planned to allow international and mainland investors to trade in exchange-traded fund products listed in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, was put on hold indefinitely due to “technical issues.” However, China approved two cross-listings of ETFs between Shanghai Stock exchange and the Tokyo Stock Exchange in June 2019, and between Shenzhen Stock Exchange and Hong Kong Stock Exchange in October 2020.

By the end of 2020, 50 mainland mutual funds and 29 Hong Kong mutual funds were allowed to be distributed in each other’s markets through the mainland-Hong Kong Mutual Recognition of Funds scheme. Hong Kong also has mutual recognition of funds programs with Switzerland, Thailand, Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg.

Hong Kong has developed its debt market with the Exchange Fund bills and notes program.  Hong Kong Dollar debt stood at USD 292 billion by the end of 2020.  As of November 2020, RMB 1,203.5 billion (USD 180.5 billion) of offshore RMB bonds were issued in Hong Kong.  Multinational enterprises, including McDonald’s and Caterpillar, have also issued debt.  The Bond Connect, a mutual market access scheme, allows investors from mainland China and overseas to trade in each other’s respective bond markets through a financial infrastructure linkage in Hong Kong.  In the first eight months of 2020, the Northbound trading of Bond Connect accounted for 52 percent of foreign investors’ total turnover in the China Interbank Bond Market.  In December 2020, the HKMA and the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) set up a working group to drive the initiative of Southbound trading, with the target of launching it within 2021.

In June 2020, the PBoC, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, the China Securities Regulatory Commission, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, the HKMA and the Monetary Authority of Macau announced that they decided to implement a cross-boundary Wealth Management Connect pilot scheme in the Greater Bay Area (GBA), an initiative to economically integrate Hong Kong and Macau with nine cities in Guangdong Province.  Under the scheme, residents in the GBA can carry out cross-boundary investment in wealth management products distributed by banks in the GBA.  These authorities are still working on the implementation details for the scheme.

In December 2020, the SFC concluded its consultation on proposed customer due diligence requirements for OFCs.  The new requirements will enhance the anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism measures with respect to OFCs and better align the requirements for different investment vehicles for funds in Hong Kong.  Upon the completion of the legislative process, the new requirements will come into effect after a six-month transition period.

In February 2021, the HKG announced it would issue green bonds regularly and expand the scale of the Government Green Bond Program to USD 22.5 billion within the next five years.

The HKG requires workers and employers to contribute to retirement funds under the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) scheme.  Contributions are expected to channel roughly USD five billion annually into various investment vehicles.  By September of 2020, the net asset values of MPF funds amounted to USD 131 billion.

Money and Banking System

Hong Kong has a three-tier system of deposit-taking institutions: licensed banks (161), restricted license banks (17), and deposit-taking companies (12).  HSBC is Hong Kong’s largest banking group.  With its majority-owned subsidiary Hang Seng Bank, HSBC controls more than 50.9 percent of Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) deposits.  The Bank of China (Hong Kong) is the second-largest banking group, with 15.4 percent of HKD deposits throughout 200 branches.  In total, the five largest banks in Hong Kong had more than USD 2 trillion in total assets at the end of 2019.  Thirty-five U.S. “authorized financial institutions” operate in Hong Kong, and most banks in Hong Kong maintain U.S. correspondent relationships.  Full implementation of the Basel III capital, liquidity, and disclosure requirements completed in 2019.

Credit in Hong Kong is allocated on market terms and is available to foreign investors on a non-discriminatory basis.  The private sector has access to the full spectrum of credit instruments as provided by Hong Kong’s banking and financial system.  Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.  The HKMA, the de facto central bank, is responsible for maintaining the stability of the banking system and managing the Exchange Fund that backs Hong Kong’s currency.  Real Time Gross Settlement helps minimize risks in the payment system and brings Hong Kong in line with international standards.

Banks in Hong Kong have in recent years strengthened anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing controls, including the adoption of more stringent customer due diligence (CDD) process for existing and new customers.  The HKMA stressed that “CDD measures adopted by banks must be proportionate to the risk level and banks are not required to implement overly stringent CDD processes.”

In November 2020, the HKG launched a three-month public consultation on its proposed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance.  Among other proposed changes, the HKG suggested introducing a licensing regime for virtual asset services providers and a two-tier registration regime for precious assets dealers.  The HKG will analyze feedback from the public before introducing a draft bill to the LegCo.

The NSL granted police authority to freeze assets related to national security-related crimes.  In October 2020, the HKMA advised banks in Hong Kong to report any transactions suspected of violating the NSL, following the same procedures as for money laundering.  Hong Kong authorities reportedly asked financial institutions to freeze bank accounts of former lawmakers, civil society groups, and other political targets who appear to be under investigation for their pro-democracy activities.

The HKMA welcomes the establishment of virtual banks, which are subject to the same set of supervisory principles and requirements applicable to conventional banks.  The HKMA has granted eight virtual banking licenses by the end of January 2021.

The HKMA’s Fintech Facilitation Office (FFO) aims to promote Hong Kong as a fintech hub in Asia.  FFO has launched the faster payment system to enable bank customers to make cross-bank/e-wallet payments easily and created a blockchain-based trade finance platform to reduce errors and risks of fraud.  The HKMA has signed nine fintech co-operation agreements with the regulatory authorities of Brazil, Dubai, France, Poland, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Conversion and inward/outward transfers of funds are not restricted.  The HKD is a freely convertible currency linked via de facto currency board to the U.S. dollar.  The exchange rate is allowed to fluctuate in a narrow band between HKD 7.75 – HKD 7.85 = USD 1.

Remittance Policies

There are no recent changes to or plans to change investment remittance policies.  Hong Kong has no restrictions on the remittance of profits and dividends derived from investment, nor reporting requirements on cross-border remittances.  Foreign investors bring capital into Hong Kong and remit it through the open exchange market.

Hong Kong has anti-money laundering (AML) legislation allowing the tracing and confiscation of proceeds derived from drug-trafficking and organized crime.  Hong Kong has an anti-terrorism law that allows authorities to freeze funds and financial assets belonging to terrorists.  Travelers arriving in Hong Kong with currency or bearer negotiable instruments (CBNIs) exceeding HKD 120,000 (USD 15,385) must make a written declaration to the CED.  For a large quantity of CBNIs imported or exported in a cargo consignment, an advanced electronic declaration must be made to the CED.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Future Fund, Hong Kong’s wealth fund, was established in 2016 with an endowment of USD 28.2 billion.  The fund seeks higher returns through long-term investments and adopts a “passive” role as a portfolio investor.  About half of the Future Fund has been deployed in alternative assets, mainly global private equity and overseas real estate, over a three-year period.  The rest is placed with the Exchange Fund’s Investment Portfolio, which follows the Santiago Principles, for an initial ten-year period.  In February 2020, the HKG announced that it will deploy 10 percent of the Future Fund to establish a new portfolio, which is called the Hong Kong Growth Portfolio (HKGP), focusing on domestic investments to lift the city’s competitiveness in financial services, commerce, aviation, logistics and innovation.  Between December 2020 and January 2021, the HKMA conducted a market survey to better understand the profiles of private equity firms with interest to become a general partner for the HKGP.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Hong Kong has several major HKG-owned enterprises classified as “statutory bodies.” Hong Kong is party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of WTO.  Annex 3 of the GPA lists as statutory bodies the Housing Authority, the Hospital Authority, the Airport Authority, the Mass Transit Railway Corporation Limited, and the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, which procure in accordance with the agreement.

The HKG provides more than half the population with subsidized housing, along with most hospital and education services from childhood through the university level.  The government also owns major business enterprises, including the stock exchange, railway, and airport.

Conflicts occasionally arise between the government’s roles as owner and policymaker.  Industry observers have recommended that the government establish a separate entity to coordinate its ownership of government-held enterprises and initiate a transparent process of nomination to the boards of government-affiliated entities.  Other recommendations from the private sector include establishing a clear separation between industrial policy and the government’s ownership function and minimizing exemptions of government-affiliated enterprises from general laws.

The Competition Law exempts all but six of the statutory bodies from the law’s purview.  While the government’s private sector ownership interests do not materially impede competition in Hong Kong’s most important economic sectors, industry representatives have encouraged the government to adhere more closely to the Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-owned Enterprises of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Privatization Program

All major utilities in Hong Kong, except water, are owned and operated by private enterprises, usually under an agreement framework by which the HKG regulates each utility’s management.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange adopts a higher standard of disclosure – ‘comply or explain’ – about its environmental key performance indicators for listed companies.  Results of a consultation process to review its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting guidelines indicate strong support for enhancing the ESG reporting framework.  It has implemented proposals from the consultation process since July 2020.  Because Hong Kong is not a member of the OECD, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are not applicable to Hong Kong companies.  The HKG, however, commends enterprises for fulfilling their social responsibility.  Hong Kong is not a signatory of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies.  Under the Security Bureau, the Security and Guarding Services Industry Authority is responsible for formulating issuing criteria and conditions for security company licenses and security personnel permits and determining applications for security company licenses.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Mainland China ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in January 2006, and it was extended to Hong Kong in February 2006.  The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is responsible for combating corruption and has helped Hong Kong develop a track record for combating corruption.  U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI.  A bribe to a foreign official is a criminal act, as is the giving or accepting of bribes, for both private individuals and government employees.  Offenses are punishable by imprisonment and large fines.

The Hong Kong Ethics Development Center (HKEDC), established by the ICAC, promotes business and professional ethics to sustain a level-playing field in Hong Kong.  The International Good Practice Guidance – Defining and Developing an Effective Code of Conduct for Organizations of the Professional Accountants in Business Committee published by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) and is in use with the permission of IFAC.

Resources to Report Corruption

Simon Peh, Commissioner
Independent Commission Against Corruption
303 Java Road, North Point, Hong Kong
+852-2826-3111
Email: com-office@icac.org.hk

10. Political and Security Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Hong Kong’s unemployment rate stood at 6.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, with the unemployment rate of youth aged 15-19 rising to 17.6 percent.  In 2020, skilled personnel working as administrators, managers, professionals, and associate professionals accounted for 40.6 percent of the total working population.  At the end of 2019, there were about 399,320 foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong.  In 2020, about 8,842 foreign professionals came to work in the city, more than 10,089 fewer than the previous year.  The Employees Retraining Board provides skills re-training for local employees.  To address a shortage of highly skilled technical and financial professionals, the HKG seeks to attract qualified foreign and mainland Chinese workers.

The Employment Ordinance (EO) and the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance prohibit the termination of employment in certain circumstances: 1) Any pregnant employee who has at least four weeks’ service and who has served notice of her pregnancy; 2) Any employee who is on paid statutory sick leave and; 3) Any employee who gives evidence or information in connection with the enforcement of the EO or relating to any accident at work, cooperates in any investigation of his employer, is involved in trade union activity, or serves jury duty may not be dismissed because of those circumstances. Breach of these prohibitions is a criminal offense.

According to the EO, someone employed under a continuous contract for not less than 24 months is eligible for severance payment if: 1) dismissed by reason of redundancy; 2) under a fixed term employment contract that expires without being renewed due to redundancy; or 3) laid off.

Unemployment benefits are income- and asset-tested on an individual basis if living alone; if living with other family members, the total income and assets of all family members are taken into consideration for eligibility.  Recipients must be between the ages of 15-59, capable of work, and actively seeking full-time employment.

Parties in a labor dispute can consult the free and voluntary conciliation service offered by the Labor Department (LD).  A conciliation officer appointed by the LD will help parties reach a contractually binding settlement.  If there is no settlement, parties can start proceedings with the Labor Tribunal (LT), which can then be raised to the Court of First Instance and finally the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal.  The Court of Appeal can grant leave only if the case concerns a question of law of general public importance.

Local law provides for the rights of association and of workers to establish and join organizations of their own choosing.  The government does not discourage or impede the formation of unions.  As of 2019, Hong Kong’s 866 registered unions had 923,239 members, a participation rate of about 25.7 percent.  In 2020, 491 new worker unions formed to improve chances of winning seats in the legislature.  Hong Kong’s labor legislation is in line with international laws.  Hong Kong has implemented 41 conventions of the International Labor Organization in full and 18 others with modifications.  Workers who allege discrimination against unions have the right to a hearing by the Labor Relations Tribunal.  Legislation protects the right to strike.  Collective bargaining is not protected by Hong Kong law; there is no obligation to engage in it; and it is not widely used.  For more information on labor regulations in Hong Kong, please visit the following website: http://www.labour.gov.hk/eng/legislat/contentA.htm (Chapter 57 “Employment Ordinance”).

The LT has the power to make an order for reinstatement or re-engagement without securing the employer’s approval if it deems an employee has been unreasonably and unlawfully dismissed.  If the employer does not reinstate or re-engage the employee as required by the order, the employer must pay to the employee a sum amounting to three times the employee’s average monthly wages up to USD 9,300.  The employer commits an offense if he/she willfully and without reasonable excuse fails to pay the additional sum.

Starting from January 2019, male employees are entitled to five days’ paternity leave (increased from three days).

Starting from December 2020,  the statutory maternity leave increases to 14 weeks from ten weeks.

Effective May 1, 2019, the statutory minimum hourly wage rate increases from USD 4.4 to USD 4.8.

In February 2020, about 2,500 medical workers of the Hospital Authority took part in an industrial action, demanding the HKG close its border to mainland China to prevent the spread of  COVID-19.  They ended the strike a few days later without getting their demands realized.

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

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

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

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

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

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

14. Contact for More Information

Eveline Tseng, Consul, Economic Affairs
U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau
26 Garden Road, Central

Japan

Executive Summary

Japan is the world’s third largest economy, the United States’ fourth largest trading partner, and, as of 2019, the top provider of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States. The Japanese government actively welcomes and solicits inward foreign investment and has set ambitious goals for increasing inbound FDI. Despite Japan’s wealth, high level of development, and general acceptance of foreign investment, however, inbound FDI stocks, as a share of GDP, are the lowest in the OECD.

Japan’s legal and regulatory climate is highly supportive of investors in many respects. Courts are independent, but attorney-client privilege does not exist in civil, criminal or administrative matters, with the exception of limited application in cartel anti-trust investigations. There is no right to have counsel present during criminal or administrative interviews. The country’s regulatory system is improving transparency and developing new regulations in line with international norms. Capital markets are deep and broadly available to foreign investors. Japan maintains strong protections for intellectual property rights with generally robust enforcement. The country remains a large, wealthy, and sophisticated market with world-class corporations, research facilities, and technologies. Nearly all foreign exchange transactions, including transfers of profits, dividends, royalties, repatriation of capital, and repayment of principal, are freely permitted. The sectors that have historically attracted the largest foreign direct investment in Japan are electrical machinery, finance, and insurance.

On the other hand, foreign investors in the Japanese market continue to face numerous challenges. A traditional aversion towards mergers and acquisitions within corporate Japan has inhibited foreign investment, and weak corporate governance, among other factors, has led to low returns on equity and cash hoarding among Japanese firms, although business practices are improving in both areas. Investors and business owners must also grapple with inflexible labor laws and a highly regimented labor recruitment system that can significantly increase the cost and difficulty of managing human resources. The Japanese government has recognized many of these challenges and is pursuing initiatives to improve investment conditions.

Levels of corruption in Japan are low, but deep relationships between firms and suppliers may limit competition in certain sectors and inhibit the entry of foreign firms into local markets.

Future improvement in Japan’s investment climate is largely contingent on the success of structural reforms to raise economic growth, and, in the near term, the implementation of COVID-19 recovery measures.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 19 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 29 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 16 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 131,793 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 41,710 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Direct inward investment into Japan by foreign investors has been open and free since amendment of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act (FEFTA) 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 Act was amended in 2019, updating Japan’s foreign investment review regime.  The legislation became effective in May 2020 and lowered the ownership threshold for pre-approval notification to the government for foreign investors from ten percent to one percent in industries that could pose risks to Japanese national security. There are waivers for certain categories of investors.

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 2019, Japan’s inward FDI stock was JPY 33.9 trillion (USD 310 billion), a 10.4 percent increase over the previous year. The Suga 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.

The government’s “FDI Promotion Council,” composed of government ministers and private sector advisors, releases recommendations on improving Japan’s FDI environment. In a May 2018 report ( http://www.invest-japan.go.jp/documents/pdf/support_program_en.pdf ), the council decided to launch the Support Program for Regional Foreign Direct Investment in Japan, recommending that local governments formulate a plan to attract foreign companies to their regions.

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, although this varies by sector. These challenges include an insular and consensual business culture that has traditionally resisted unsolicited mergers and acquisitions (M&A), especially when initiated by non-Japanese entities; a lack of multiple independent directors on many company boards (even though board composition is changing); 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.

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 providers of broadcast infrastructure. 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, as amended, governs investment in sectors deemed to have national security or economic stability implications. If a foreign investor wants to acquire over one percent of the shares of a listed company in the sectors set out below, it must provide prior notification and obtain approval from the Ministry of Finance and the ministry that regulates the specific industry. Designated sectors include weapons manufacturers, nuclear power, agriculture, aerospace, forestry, petroleum, electric/gas/water utilities, telecommunications, and leather manufacturing. There are waivers for certain categories of investors.

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 November 2020 (available at directdoc.aspx (wto.org) ).

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

Business Facilitation

The Japan External Trade Organization 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 online, 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, although there are indications of change underway. When he took office in September 2020, Prime Minister Suga called for reforms to eliminate use of seals and paper-based process along with establishment of a new Digital Agency as part of his policy agenda of digitizing the provision of government services.

According to the 2020 World Bank “Doing Business” Report, it takes eleven 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. JETRO operates a one-stop business support center in Tokyo so that foreign companies can complete all necessary legal and administrative procedures in one location. In 2017, JETRO launched an online business registration system that allows businesses to register company documents but not immigration documentation.

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 for outward Japanese foreign direct investment. Most such 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 supports outward FDI projects 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 and third countries in Asia. More information is available at https://www.jbic.go.jp/en/index.html .

Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) supports outward investment by providing exporters and investors insurance that protects them against risks and uncertainty in foreign countries that is not covered by private-sector insurers. Together, JBIC and NEXI act as Japan’s export credit agency.

Japan also employs specialized agencies and public-private partnerships to target outward investment in specific sectors.  For example, the Fund Corporation for the Overseas Development of Japan’s Information and Communications Technology and Postal Services (JICT) supports overseas investment in global telecommunications, broadcasting, and postal businesses.

Similarly, the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development (JOIN) is a government-funded corporation to invest and participate in transport and urban development projects that involve Japanese companies.  The fund specializes in overseas infrastructure investment projects such as high-speed rail, airports, and smart city projects with Japanese companies, banks, governments, and other institutions (e.g., JICA, JBIC, NEXI).

Finally, the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) is a Japanese government entity administered by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy under METI.  JOGMEC provides equity capital and liability guarantees to Japanese companies for oil and natural gas exploration and production projects.

Japan places no restrictions on outbound investment.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The 1953 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation gives national treatment and most favored nation treatment to U.S. investments in Japan.

On January 1, 2021, the Japan-UK Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement entered into force, which includes a chapter on investment liberalization. The text of the agreement is available online ( https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/100111408.pdf ). In November 2020, Japan signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with the ten ASEAN nations, Australia, China, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand. RCEP also includes a chapter on investment. The text of the agreement is available online (https://rcepsec.org/legal-text/).

As of February 2021, Japan had concluded 35 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) (Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Egypt, Georgia, Hong Kong SAR, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Oman, and Kenya). In addition, Japan has a trilateral investment agreement with China and the Republic of Korea. Japan also has 18 economic partnership agreements (EPA) that include investment chapters (with Singapore, ASEAN, Mexico, Malaysia, Philippines, Chile, Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Switzerland, Vietnam, India, Peru, Australia and Mongolia, the Comprehensive and Progressive Partnership for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), UK and RCEP).

On February 1, 2019, the Japan – European Union Economic Partnership Agreement entered into force, which includes provisions related to investment. The text of the agreement is available online ( http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1684&title=EU-Japan-Economic-Partnership-Agreement-texts-of-the-agreement ). The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership went into effect on December 30, 2018. This agreement includes an investment chapter. The United States is not a signatory to this agreement. Japan is the current chair of the CPTPP commission, its second time since the agreement went into effect.

The United States and Japan have a double taxation treaty, which allows Japan to tax the business profits of a U.S. resident only to the extent that those profits are attributable to a permanent establishment in Japan. It also provides measures to mitigate double taxation. This permanent establishment provision, combined with Japan’s corporate tax rate that nears 30 percent, serves to encourage foreign and investment funds to keep their trading and investment operations offshore.

In January 2013, the United States and Japan signed a revision to the bilateral income tax treaty, to bring it into closer conformity with the current tax treaty policies of the United States and Japan. The revision went into effect in August 2019 after ratification by the U.S Congress.

Japan has concluded 79 double taxation treaties that cover 142 countries and jurisdictions, as of February 1, 2021. More information is available from the Ministry of Finance: http://www.mof.go.jp/english/tax_policy/tax_conventions/international_182.htm .

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 formal and informal connections between regulators and domestic firms to arrive at regulatory decisions. This may have the effect of disadvantaging foreign firms that 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 (NTE), 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, plays a central role in maintaining Japan Industrial Standards (JIS). JISC aims to align JIS with international standards. According to JISC, as of March 31, 2020, 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 basis of the system. Japan has a fully independent judiciary and a consistently applied body of commercial law. An Intellectual Property High Court was established in 2005 to expedite trial proceedings in 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 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 amended the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act in 2019.

Competition and Antitrust 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 finding. In fiscal year 2019, the JFTC investigated 99 suspected Antimonopoly Act (AMA) violations and completed 81 investigations. During this same time period, the JFTC issued 11 cease and desist orders and issued a total of 69.2 billion yen (USD 659 million) surcharge payment orders to 37 companies. In 2019, an amendment to the AMA passed the Diet that granted the JFTC discretion to incentivize cooperation with investigations and adjust surcharges according to the nature and extent of the violation.

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.” In December 2019, amended merger guidelines and policies were put into force to “deal with business combinations in the digital market.” Data is given consideration as a competitive asset under these new guidelines along with the network effects characteristic of digital businesses. The JFTC has expanded authority to review merger cases, including “Non-Notifiable Cases,” when the transaction value is more than JPY40 billion (USD 370 million) and the merger is expected to affect domestic consumers. Further, the amended policies suggest that parties consult with the JFTC voluntarily when the transaction value exceeds JPY40 billion and when one or more of the following factors is met: (i) When an acquired company has an office in Japan and/or conducts research and development in Japan;

(i) When an acquired company has an office in Japan and/or conducts research and development in Japan; (ii) When an acquired company conducts sales activities targeting domestic consumers, such as developing marketing materials (website, brochures, etc.) in the Japanese language; or

(ii) When an acquired company conducts sales activities targeting domestic consumers, such as developing marketing materials (website, brochures, etc.) in the Japanese language; or (iii) When the total domestic sales of an acquired company exceed JPY100 million (USD 920,000)

(iii) When the total domestic sales of an acquired company exceed JPY100 million (USD 920,000)

Expropriation and Compensation

Since 1945, the Japanese government has not expropriated any enterprise, 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

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 2020 “Doing Business” Report ranked Japan third 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.  This information is provided to credit card holders themselves through services provided by credit reporting/credit monitoring agencies.   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 with each other.  As such, consumer credit information is generally underutilized and vertically siloed.

A government-operated 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, 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.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) maintains an English-language list of national and local investment incentives available to foreign investors on their website: https://www.jetro.go.jp/en/invest/incentive_programs/ .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Japan no longer has free-trade zones or free ports. Customs authorities allow the bonding of warehousing and processing facilities adjacent to ports on a case-by-case basis.

The National Strategic Special Zones Advisory Council chaired by the Prime Minister has established a total of ten National Strategic Special Zones (NSSZ) to implement selected deregulation measures intended to attract new investment and boost regional growth. Under the NSSZ framework, designated regions request regulatory exceptions from the central government in support of specific strategic goals defined in each zone’s “master plan,” which focuses on a potential growth area such as labor, education, technology, agriculture, or healthcare. Foreign-owned businesses receive equal treatment in the NSSZs; some measures aim specifically to ease customs and immigration restrictions for foreign investors, such as the “Startup Visa” adopted by the Fukuoka NSSZ.

The Japanese government has also sought to encourage investment in the Tohoku (northeast) region, which was devastated by the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear “triple disaster” of March 11, 2011. Areas affected by the disaster have been included in a “Special Zone for Reconstruction” that features eased regulatory burdens, tax incentives, and financial support to encourage heightened participation in the region’s economic recovery.

A revision to add “advanced data technologies” as one of targeted growth areas for NSSZs, was approved by the Diet in May 2020 and went into effect on September 1, 2020. The revision will allow regions to create “Super City National Strategic Zones,” on the condition that the zone will provide advanced services to its citizens through utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), big data or other data linkage platforms. The Cabinet Office website cited remote schooling/healthcare, cashless payment services, and one-stop administrative services as examples of such projects. The Japanese government is accepting applications for “Super City Strategic Zone Project ” as well as requests for related regulatory reforms until April 16, 2021.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Japan does not maintain performance requirements or requirements for local management participation or local control in joint ventures.

Japan has no general restrictions on data storage. On January 1, 2020, the U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement went into effect and specifically prohibits data localization measures that restrict where data can be stored and processed. These rules are extended to financial service suppliers, in circumstances where a financial regulator has the access to data needed to fulfill its regulatory and supervisory mandate.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Secured interests in real property are recognized and enforced. Mortgages are a standard lien on real property and must be recorded to be enforceable. Japan has a reliable recording system. Property can be rented or leased but no sub-lease is legal without the owner’s consent. In the World Bank 2020 “Doing Business” Report, Japan ranks 43 out of 190 economies in the category of Ease of Registering Property. There are bureaucratic steps and fees associated with purchasing improved real property in Japan, even when it is already registered and has a clear title. The required documentation for property purchases can be burdensome. Additionally, it is common practice in Japan for property appraisal values to be lower than the actual sale value, increasing the deposit required of the purchaser, as the bank will provide financing only up to the appraisal value.

The Japanese Government is unsure of the titleholders to 4.1 million hectares of land in Japan, roughly 20 percent of all land and an area equivalent in size to the island of Kyushu. According to a think tank expert on land use, 25 percent of all the land in Japan is registered to people who are no longer alive or otherwise unreachable. In 2015, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism (MLIT) found that, of 400 randomly selected tracts of land, 46 percent was registered more than 30 years ago, and 20 percent was registered more than 50 years ago. A similar survey by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) found that 20 percent of farmland had a deceased owner and had not been re-registered. The government appointed a group of experts to study the matter, and the Unknown Land Owners Problem Study Group announced the results in a midterm report on June 26, 2017, and in a final report on December 13, 2017 ( http://www.kok.or.jp/project/fumei.html ). It estimated that by 2040 the amount of land without titleholders will increase to 7.2 million hectares. There are a number of reasons beyond the administrative difficulties of a title transfer as to why land lacks a clear title holder. They include: population decline, especially in rural areas; the difficulty of locating heirs, particularly if there are multiple heirs or if the deceased had no children; and the cost of reregistering land under a new name due to tax costs. Virtually all the large banks, as well as some other private companies, offer loans to purchase property in Japan.

Intellectual Property Rights

Japan maintains a comprehensive and sophisticated intellectual property (IP) regime recognized as among the strongest in the world. In 2020, Japan ranked sixth out of 53 countries evaluated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the strength of IP environments. The government has operated a dedicated “Intellectual Property High Court” to adjudicate IP-related cases since 2005, providing judges with enhanced access to technical experts and the ability to specialize in intellectual property law. However, certain shortcomings remain, notably in the transparency and predictability of its system for pricing on-patent pharmaceuticals. The discriminatory effect of healthcare reimbursement pricing measures implemented by the Japanese government continues to raise serious concerns about the ability of U.S. pharmaceutical companies to have full and fair opportunity to use and profit from their IP in the Japanese market. More generally, the weak deterrent effect of Japan’s relatively modest penalties for IP infringement remains a cause for concern.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo is aware of isolated claims of U.S. IP misappropriation by Japanese state-owned or affiliated entities and presumes, given the vast volume of bilateral trade, that additional cases across public and private sectors may exist. That said, the Japanese government has taken several steps in recent years to improve protection of trade secrets. Revisions to the Unfair Competition Prevention Act (UCPA) went into effect July 2019, which classifies the improper acquisition, disclosure, and use of specified protected data as an act of unfair competition, offering civil and criminal remedies to stakeholders. The revisions also extend the scope of unfair competition to include attempts to circumvent technological restriction measures. Japan has taken a leading role in promoting the expansion of IP rights in recent regional trade agreements, including:

  • RCEP: On November 15, 2020, Japan joined 10 ASEAN member states, plus Australia, China, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea, in signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This regional trade agreement includes a comprehensive IP chapter, much of it repeating norms set out in TRIPS, but also offering unique protections for genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and folklore.
  • Japan-UK CEPA: The Japan-UK Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed on October 23, 2020, and in force beginning January 1, 2021, contains an IP chapter including provisions on copyrights, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs, patents, regulatory test data exclusivity, new plant varieties, trade secrets, domain names, and enforcement.
  • Japan-EU EPA: The Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement, which went into effect February 1, 2019, also includes a substantial IP chapter.
  • CPTPP: As part of its 2018 accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan passed several substantive amendments to its copyright law, including measures that extended the term of copyright protection and strengthened technological protection rules.

Japan’s Customs and Tariff Bureau publishes a yearly report on goods seizures, available online in English ( http://www.customs.go.jp/mizugiwa/chiteki/pages/g_001_e.htm ). Japan seized an estimated $121.2 million worth of IP-infringing goods in 2019, a decrease of 5.2 percent over 2018. In June 2020, the Customs and Tariff Bureau of the Ministry of Finance announced the “SMART Customs Initiative 2020,” which aims to utilize cutting-edge technologies such as AI to improve the sophistication and efficiency of its operations. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Japan maintains no formal restrictions on inward portfolio investment except for certain provisions covering national security. Foreign capital plays an important role in Japan’s financial markets, with foreign investors accounting for the majority of trading shares in the country’s stock market. Historically, many company managers and directors have resisted the actions of activist shareholders, especially foreign private equity funds, potentially limiting the attractiveness of Japan’s equity market to large-scale foreign portfolio investment, although there are signs of change. Some firms have taken steps to facilitate the exercise of shareholder rights by foreign investors, including the use of electronic proxy voting. The Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) maintains an Electronic Voting Platform for Foreign and Institutional Investors. All holdings of TSE-listed stocks are required to transfer paper stock certificates into electronic form.

The Japan Exchange Group (JPX) operates Japan’s two largest stock exchanges – in Tokyo and Osaka – with cash equity trading consolidated on the TSE since July 2013 and derivatives trading consolidated on the Osaka Exchange since March 2014.

In January 2014, the TSE and Nikkei launched the JPX Nikkei 400 Index. The index puts a premium on company performance, particularly return on equity (ROE). Companies included are determined by such factors as three-year average returns on equity, three-year accumulated operating profits and market capitalization, along with others such as the number of external board members. Inclusion in the index has become an unofficial “seal of approval” in corporate Japan, and many companies have taken steps, including undertaking share buybacks, to improve their ROE. The Bank of Japan has purchased JPX-Nikkei 400 exchange traded funds (ETFs) as part of its monetary operations, and Japan’s massive Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) has also invested in JPX-Nikkei 400 ETFs, putting an additional premium on membership in the index.

Japan does not restrict financial flows and accepts obligations under IMF Article VIII.

Credit is available via multiple instruments, both public and private, although access by foreigners often depends upon visa status and the type of investment.

Money and Banking System

Banking services are easily accessible throughout Japan; it is home to many of the world’s largest private commercial banks as well as an extensive network of regional and local banks. Most major international commercial banks are also present in Japan, and other quasi-governmental and non-governmental entities, such as the postal service and cooperative industry associations, also offer banking services. For example, the Japan Agriculture Union offers services through its bank (Norinchukin Bank) to members of the organization. Japan’s financial sector is generally acknowledged to be sound and resilient, with good capitalization and with a declining ratio of non-performing loans. While still healthy, most banks have experienced pressure on interest margins and profitability as a result of an extended period of low interest rates capped by the Bank of Japan’s introduction of a negative interest rate policy in 2016.

The country’s three largest private commercial banks, often collectively referred to as the “megabanks,” are Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, Mizuho Financial, and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial. Collectively, they hold assets approaching close to USD 8 trillion at 2020 year end. Japan’s third largest bank by assets – with more than USD 2 trillion – is Japan Post Bank, a financial subsidiary of the Japan Post Group that is still majority state-owned, 56.9 percent as of September 2020. Japan Post Bank offers services via 23,831 Japan Post office branches, at which Japan Post Bank services can be conducted, as well as Japan Post’s network of about 32,000 ATMs nationwide.

A large number of foreign banks operate in Japan offering both banking and other financial services. Like their domestic counterparts, foreign banks are regulated by the Japan Financial Services Agency (FSA). According to the IMF, there have been no observations of reduced or lost correspondent banking relationships in Japan. There are 518 correspondent financial institutions that have current accounts at the country’s central bank (including 123 main banks; 11 trust banks; 50 foreign banks; and 247 credit unions).

Foreigners wishing to establish bank accounts must show a passport, visa, and foreigner residence card; temporary visitors may not open bank accounts in Japan. Other requirements (e.g., evidence of utility registration and payment, Japanese-style signature seal, etc.) may vary according to institution. Language may be a barrier to obtaining services at some institutions; foreigners who do not speak Japanese should research in advance which banks are more likely to offer bilingual services.

Japanese regulators are encouraging “open banking” interactions between financial institutions and third-party developers of financial technology applications through application programming interfaces (“APIs”) when customers “opt-in” to share their information.  As a result of the government having set a target to have 80 banks adopt API standards by 2020, more than 100 subject banks reportedly have done so  Many of the largest banks are participating in various proofs of concept using blockchain technology.  While commercial banks have not yet formally adopted blockchain-powered systems for fund settlement, they are actively exploring options, and the largest banks have announced intentions to produce their own virtual currencies at some point.  The Bank of Japan is researching blockchain and its applications for national accounts and established a “Fintech Center” to lead this effort.  The main banking regulator, the Japan Financial Services Agency also encourages innovation with financial technologies, including sponsoring an annual conference on “fintech” in Japan.  In April 2017, amendments to the Act on Settlements of Funds went into effect, permitting the use of virtual currencies as a form of payment in Japan, but virtual currency is still not considered legal tender (e.g., commercial vendors may opt to accept virtual currencies for transactional payments, though virtual currency cannot be used as payment for taxes owed to the government).  The law also requires the registration of virtual currency exchange businesses.  There are currently 27-registered virtual currency exchanges in Japan. In 2017, Japan accounted for approximately half of the world’s trades of Bitcoin, the most prevalent blockchain currency (digital decentralized cryptographic currency).

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Generally, all foreign exchange transactions to and from Japan—including transfers of profits and dividends, interest, royalties and fees, repatriation of capital, and repayment of principal—are freely permitted. Japan maintains an ex-post facto notification system for foreign exchange transactions that prohibits specified transactions, including certain foreign direct investments (e.g., from countries under international sanctions) or others that are listed in the appendix of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act.

Japan has a floating exchange rate and has not intervened in the foreign exchange markets since November 2011. It has joined statements of the G-7 and G-20 affirming that countries would not target exchange rates for competitive purposes.

Remittance Policies

Investment remittances are freely permitted.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Japan does not operate a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Japan has privatized most former state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Under the Postal Privatization Law, privatization of Japan Post group started in October 2007 by turning the public corporation into stock companies. The stock sale of the Japan Post Holdings Co. and its two financial subsidiaries, Japan Post Insurance (JPI) and Japan Post Bank (JPB), began in November 2015 with an IPO that sold 11 percent of available shares in each of the three entities. The postal service subsidiary, Japan Post Co., remains a wholly owned subsidiary of JPH. The Japanese government conducted an additional public offering of stock in September 2017, reducing the government ownership in the holding company to approximately 57 percent. There were no additional offerings of the stock in the bank, but there was an offering in the insurance subsidiary in April 2019. JPH currently owns 88.99 percent of the banking subsidiary and 64.48 percent of the insurance subsidiary. Follow-on sales of shares in the three companies will take place over time, as the Postal Privatization Law requires the government to sell a majority share (up to two-thirds of all shares) in JPH, and JPH to sell all shares of JPB and JPI, as soon as possible. The government planned to implement the third sale of its JPH share holdings in 2019 but did not do so due to sluggish share performance.

These offerings mark the final stage of Japan Post privatization begun under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi more than a decade ago and respond to long-standing criticism from commercial banks and insurers—both foreign and Japanese—that their government-owned Japan Post rivals have an unfair advantage.

While there has been significant progress since 2013 with regard to private suppliers’ access to the postal insurance network, the U.S. government has continued to raise concerns about the preferential treatment given to Japan Post and some quasi-governmental entities compared to private sector competitors and the impact of these advantages on the ability of private companies to compete on a level playing field. A full description of U.S. government concerns with regard to the insurance sector and efforts to address these concerns is available in the annual United States Trade Representative’s National Trade Estimate on Foreign Trade Barriers report for Japan.

Privatization Program

In sectors previously dominated by state-owned enterprises but now privatized, such as transportation, telecommunications, and package delivery, U.S. businesses report that Japanese firms sometimes receive favorable treatment in the form of improved market access and government cooperation.

Deregulation of Japan’s power sector took a step forward in April 2016 with the full liberalization of the retail electricity sector. This change has led to increased competition from new entrants. While the generation and transmission of electricity remain mostly in the hands of the legacy power utilities, new electricity retailers reached a 20- percent market share of the total volume of electricity sold as of January 2021. Japan implemented the third phase of its power sector reforms in April 2020 by requiring vertically integrated regional monopolies to “legally unbundle” the electricity transmission and distribution portions of their businesses from the power generation and retailing portions. The transmission and distribution businesses retain ownership of, and operational control over, the power grid in their regional service territories. In addition, many of the former vertically integrated regional monopolies created electricity retailers to compete in the fully deregulated retail market.

American energy companies have reported increased opportunities in this sector, but also report that the regional power utilities have advantages over new entrants with regard to understanding the regulatory regime, securing sufficient low-cost generation in the wholesale market, and accessing infrastructure. For example, while a wholesale market allows new retailers to buy electricity for sale to customers, legacy utilities, which control most of the generation, sell very little power into that market. This limits the supply and increases the cost of electricity that new retailers can sell to consumers. While the liquidity of the wholesale electricity market has increased in recent years, new entrants — including American companies — report that they have few other options for cost-effectively securing the electricity they need to meet their supply obligations. These market dynamics were exacerbated in January 2021, when high electricity demand and constrained LNG supply during a cold spell led to record-high wholesale electricity prices over the course of several days. In addition, as the large power utilities still control transmission and distribution lines, new entrants in power generation are not able to compete due to limited access to power grids.

More information on the power sector from the Japanese Government can be obtained at: http://www.enecho.meti.go.jp/en/category/electricity_and_gas/electric/electricity_liberalization/what/ 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Progress has been made through efforts by the Financial Services Agency (FSA) and Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) to introduce non-binding reforms through changes to Japan’s Companies Act in 2014 and adoption of a Corporate Governance Code (CSR) in 2015. Together with the Stewardship Code for institutional investors launched by the FSA in 2014, these initiatives have encouraged companies to put cash stockpiles to better use by increasing investment, raising dividends, and taking on more risk to boost Japan’s growth. Positive results of these efforts are evidenced by rising shareholder returns, unwinding of cross-shareholdings, and increasing numbers of independent board members.  According to a TSE survey conducted in December 2018, 85.3 percent of companies had a compliance rate of 90 percent out of the 66 principles of the new code. As of May 2019,  93.6 percent of TSE listed firms  have at least one independent director, according to TSE’s most recent White Paper on Corporate Governance. In December 2019, the Diet approved a revision of the Companies Act, which will enable companies to provide documents for shareholders’ meetings electronically. Listed companies will be obligated to have at least one outside director. The bill went into effect on March 1, 2021.

Following Stewardship Code revision in March 2020, TSE and FSA plan to revise the Corporate Governance Code in spring of 2021 to reflect the realignment of the TSE segmentations, which will be implemented in 2022. The revised guidelines are expected to require companies, to be listed in the “Prime Section,” a top-tier TSE section, to have more than one-third external directors. The guidelines are also expected to urge listed companies to have more diversity in mid-level and managerial posts, by hiring and training female and foreign workers. Awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) among both producers and consumers in Japan is high, and foreign and local enterprises generally follow accepted CSR principles. Business organizations also actively promote CSR. Japan encourages adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Japan’s penal code covers crimes of official corruption, and an individual convicted under these statutes is, depending on the nature of the crime, subject to prison sentences and possible fines. With respect to corporate officers who accept bribes, Japanese law also provides for company directors to be subject to fines and/or imprisonment, and some judgments have been rendered against company directors.

The direct exchange of cash for favors from government officials in Japan is extremely rare. However, the web of close relationships between Japanese companies, politicians, government organizations, and universities has been criticized for fostering an inwardly “cooperative”—or insular—business climate that is conducive to the awarding of contracts, positions, etc. within a tight circle of local players. This phenomenon manifests itself most frequently and seriously in Japan through the rigging of bids on government public works projects. However, instances of bid rigging appear to have decreased over the past decade. Alleged bid rigging between construction companies was discovered on the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka maglev high-speed rail project in 2017, and the case was prosecuted in March 2018.

Japan’s Act on Elimination and Prevention of Involvement in Bid-Rigging authorizes the Japan Fair Trade Commission to demand that central and local government commissioning agencies take corrective measures to prevent continued complicity of officials in bid rigging activities and to report such measures to the JFTC. The Act also contains provisions concerning disciplinary action against officials participating in bid rigging and compensation for overcharges when the officials caused damage to the government due to willful or grave negligence. Nevertheless, questions remain as to whether the Act’s disciplinary provisions are strong enough to ensure officials involved in illegal bid rigging are held accountable.

Japan has ratified the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention, which bans bribing foreign government officials.

For vetting potential local investment partners, companies may review credit reports on foreign companies available from many private-sector sources, including, in the United States, Dun & Bradstreet and Graydon International.  Additionally, a company may inquire about the International Company Profile (ICP), which is a background report on a specific foreign company that is prepared by commercial officers of the U.S. Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo.

Resources to Report Corruption

Businesses or individuals may contact the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC), with contact details at: http://www.jftc.go.jp/en/about_jftc/contact_us.html .

10. Political and Security Environment

Political violence is rare in Japan. Acts of political violence involving U.S. business interests are virtually unknown.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Government of Japan has provided extensive and expanded employment subsidies to companies to encourage them to maintain employment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the pandemic, worker shortages still remain in sectors such as construction, transportation, and nursing care. The unemployment rate as of December 2020 was 2.9 percent. The fact that Japan’s unemployment rate has risen so slowly during the pandemic is remarkable and likely due to the social contract between worker and employer in Japan, as well as the continued government subsidies. Traditionally, Japanese workers have been classified as either regular or non-regular employees. Companies recruit regular employees directly from schools or universities and provide an employment contract with no fixed duration, effectively guaranteeing them lifetime employment. Non-regular employees are hired for a fixed period. Companies have increasingly relied on such non-regular workers to fill short-term labor requirements and to reduce labor costs. The pandemic has particularly hurt non-regular workers whose employment was concentrated in hard-hit service sectors such as tourism, hospitality, restaurants, and entertainment.

Major employers and labor unions engage in collective bargaining in nearly every industry. Union members as of June 2020 made up 17.1 percent of employees (“koyo-sha”), up slightly compared to 2019 and an increase for the first time in 11 years, but still in decline from 25 percent of the workforce in 1990. The government provides benefits for workers laid off for economic reasons through a national employment insurance program. Some National Strategic Special Zones allow for special employment of foreign workers in certain fields, but those and all other foreign workers are still subject to the same national labor laws and standards as Japanese workers. Japan has comprehensive labor dispute resolution mechanisms, including labor tribunals, mediation, and civil lawsuits. A Labor Standards Bureau oversees the enforcement of labor standards through a national network of Labor Bureaus and Labor Standards Inspection Offices.

The number of foreign workers is rising, but at just over 1.72 million as of October 2020, they still represent a fraction of Japan’s 69-million-worker labor force. The Japanese government has made changes to labor and immigration laws to facilitate the entry of larger numbers of skilled foreign workers in selected sectors. A revision to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law in December 2018, implemented in April 2019, created the “Specified Skilled” worker program designed specifically for lower-skilled foreign workers. Prior to this change, Japan had never created a visa category for lower-skilled foreign workers and this law created two. Category 1 grants five-year residency to low-skilled workers who pass skills exams and meet Japanese language criteria and permits them to work in 14 designated industries identified by the Japanese government to be experiencing severe labor shortage. Category 2 is for skilled workers with more experience, granting them long-term residency and a path to long-term employment, but currently permitted only in a few designated industries.

The Japanese government also operates the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). Originally intended as an international skills-transfer program for workers from developing countries, TITP is currently used to address immediate labor shortages in over 80 designated occupations , such as jobs in the construction, agriculture, fishery, and elderly nursing care industries. As noted previously, the 2018 Immigration Control Law revision enabled TITP beneficiaries with at least three years of experience to qualify to apply for the Category 1 status of the Specified Skilled worker program without any exams.

To address the labor shortage resulting from population decline and a rapidly aging society, Japan’s government has pursued measures to increase participation and retention of older workers and women in the labor force. A law that went into force in April 2013 requires companies to introduce employment systems allowing employees reaching retirement age (generally set at 60) to continue working until 65. The law was revised again in March 2020 and will enter into force in April 2021, asking companies to “make efforts” to secure employment for workers between 65 and 70. Since 2013, the government has committed to increasing women’s economic participation. The Women’s Empowerment Law passed in 2015 requires large companies to disclose statistics about the hiring and promotion of women and to adopt action plans to improve the numbers. The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, had a disproportionate effect on women in Japan. Women were more likely than men to occupy non-regular positions, work in industries hardest hit by the downturn, and face greater pressure to prioritize family over work. As a result, women have experienced reductions in working hours, departure from the labor force, or furloughs in greater numbers than men, erasing part of the rise in their workforce participation through 2019. The Government of Japan has acknowledged this impact on women’s economic participation and has convened a study group to consider solutions.

In May 2019, a package law that revised the Women’s Empowerment Law, expanded the reporting requirements to SMEs that employ at least 101 persons (starting in April 2022) and increasing the number of disclosure items for larger companies ( as of June 2020). The package law also included several labor law revisions requiring companies to take preventive measures for power and sexual harassment in the workplace.

In June 2018, the Diet passed the Workstyle Reform package.  The three key provisions are:  (1) the “white collar exemption,” which eliminates overtime for a small number of highly paid professionals; (2) a formal overtime cap of 100 hours/month or 720 hours/year, with imprisonment and/or fines for violators; and (3) new “equal-pay-for-equal-work” principles to reduce gaps between regular and non-regular employees.

Japan has ratified 49 International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions (including six of the eight fundamental conventions). As part of its agreement in principle on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Japan agreed to adopt the fundamental labor rights stated in the ILO Declaration including freedom of association and the recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced labor and employment discrimination, and the abolition of child labor. The CPTPP entered into force on December 30, 2018.

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

U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) insurance and finance programs are not available in Japan. However, U.S. companies seeking to invest in other foreign countries with Japanese partners may have access to DFC programs and benefit from cooperative memorandums that the DFC has signed with Japanese Government entities to fund projects in third countries.

Japan is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). Japan’s capital subscription to MIGA is the second largest, after the United States.

Other foreign governments have very limited involvement in Japan’s domestic infrastructure development, and most financing and insurance is managed domestically.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $5,148,609 2019 $5,081,770 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $58,188 2019 $131,793 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $518,205  2019 $619,259 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 6.03% 2019 4.34% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html    

* Source for Host Country Data: *2019 Nominal GDP data from “Annual Report on National Accounts for 2019”, Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet Office, Japanese Government.  December, 2020. (Note: uses exchange rate of 109.01 Yen to 1 U.S. Dollar and Calendar Year Data)

The discrepancy between Japan’s accounting of U.S. FDI into Japan and U.S. accounting of that FDI can be attributed to methodological differences, specifically with regard to indirect investors, profits generated from reinvested earnings, and differing standards for which companies must report FDI. 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (IMF CDIS, 2019)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 220,785 100% Total Outward 1,769,193 100%
United States 58,220 26% United States 518,490 29%
France 34,805 16% United Kingdom 163,594 9%
Singapore 23,428 11% China 127,517 7%
Netherlands 18,966 9% Netherlands 116,189 7%
Cayman Islands 17,448 8% Singapore 81,874 5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (IMF CPIS, 2019 end)
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 4,610,836 100% All Countries 1,904,423 100% All Countries 2,706,413 100%
United States 1,806,516 39% Cayman Islands 735,339 39% United States 1,186,071 44%
Cayman Islands 948,100 21% United States 620,445 33% France 257,881 10%
France 294,758 6% Luxembourg 100,164 5% Cayman Islands 212,761 8%
United Kingdom 175,336 4% Ireland 50,507 3% United Kingdom 127,514 5%
Australia 153,130 3% United Kingdom 47,822 3% Australia 125,861 5%

14. Contact for More Information

Jerome Ryan
Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Tokyo
1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku,
Tokyo 107-8420
Japan
+81 03-3224-5485
ryanej@state.gov