Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria, with a growing population of over 110 million, approximately two-thirds of whom are under age 30. A reform-minded government, low-cost labor, a national airline with over 100 passenger connections, and growing consumer markets are key elements attracting foreign investment.
Ethiopia faced several economic challenges in 2021 related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a drought in the southern and eastern lowlands, political tension and unrest in parts of the country, and an ongoing conflict in the north. Ethiopia’s macroeconomic position was characterized by over 30 percent inflation, meager foreign exchange reserves, a large budget deficit, and plummeting credit ratings. The IMF estimated GDP growth at 2.0 percent in 2021, a significant drop from 6.0 percent in 2020 and double-digit growth for much of the past decade. During 2021, the Government of Ethiopia (GOE) made the first revisions in over 60 years to the commercial code, awarded a spectrum license to a private telecom operator, and took initial steps toward privatization of other state-owned sectors, including the telecom and sugar industries.
Ethiopia is a signatory of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and it has a climate resilience green economy strategy (CRGES) to build a green and resilient economy. Ethiopia has also formulated climate-resilient sectoral policies and strategies to provide specific strategic interventions in areas such as agriculture, forestry, transport, health, urban development, and housing.
In 2020-21, the GOE provided liquidity to private banks to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on businesses, to facilitate debt restructuring and to prevent bankruptcies and it also injected liquidity into the hotel and tourism sector through commercial banks. The GOE planned to allocate roughly $1 billion U.S. dollars during the same period for medical equipment purchases, healthcare worker salaries, quarantine and isolation facilities, and the procurement of disinfectants and personal protective equipment.
The challenges of doing business in Ethiopia remain daunting. Companies often face long lead-times importing goods and dispatching exports due to logistical bottlenecks, corruption, high land-transportation costs, and bureaucratic delays. An acute foreign exchange shortage (the Ethiopian birr is not a freely convertible currency) impedes companies’ ability to repatriate profits and obtain investment inputs. The lack of a capital market hinders private sector growth. Export performance remains weak, as the country struggles to develop exports beyond primary commodities (coffee, gold, and oil seeds) and the Ethiopian birr remains overvalued. Ethiopia is not a signatory of major intellectual property rights treaties such as the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks.
Insecurity and political instability associated with various ethnic conflicts – particularly the conflict in northern Ethiopia – have negatively impacted the investment climate and dissuaded foreign direct investment (FDI).
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Ethiopia needs significant inflows of FDI to meet its ambitious growth goals. Over the past year, to attract more foreign investment, the government passed a new investment law, acceded to the New York Convention on Arbitration, amended its 60-year-old commercial code, and digitized the commercial registration and business licensing processes. The government has also begun implementing the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Proclamation to allow for private investment in the power generation and road construction sectors.
The Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) has the mandate to promote and facilitate foreign investments in Ethiopia. To accomplish this task, the EIC is charged with 1) promoting the country’s investment opportunities to attract and retain investment; 2) issuing investment permits, business licenses, work permits, and construction permits; 3) issuing commercial registration certificates and renewals; 4) negotiating and signing bilateral investment agreements; and 5) registering technology transfer agreements. In addition, the EIC has the mandate to advise the government on policies to improve the investment climate and to hold regular and structured public-private dialogues with investors and their associations. At the local level, regional investment agencies facilitate regional investment.
The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) advances U.S. business interests in Ethiopia. AmCham provides a mechanism for coordination among American companies and facilitates regular meetings with government officials to discuss issues that hinder operations in Ethiopia. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce organizes a monthly business forum that enables the business community to discuss issues related to the investment climate with government officials.
Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish, acquire, own, and dispose of most forms of business enterprises. The Investment Proclamation and associated regulations outline the areas of investment reserved for government and local investors. There is no private ownership of land in Ethiopia. All land is technically owned by the state but can be leased for up to 99 years. Small-scale rural landholders have indefinite use rights, but cannot lease out holdings for extended periods, except in the Amhara Region. The 2011 Urban Land Lease Proclamation allows the government to determine the value of land in transfers of leasehold rights to curb speculation by investors.
A foreign investor intending to buy an existing private enterprise or shares in an existing enterprise needs to obtain prior approval from the EIC. While foreign investors have complained about inconsistent interpretation of the regulations governing investment registration (particularly relating to accounting for in-kind investments), they generally do not face undue screening of FDI, unfavorable tax treatment, denial of licenses, discriminatory import or export policies, or inequitable tariff and non-tariff barriers.
Over the past three years, the government has not undertaken any third-party investment policy review by a multilateral or non-governmental organization. The government has worked closely with some international stakeholders, such as the International Finance Corporation, in its attempt to modernize and streamline its investment regulations.
The EIC has attempted to establish itself as a “one-stop shop” for foreign investors by acting as a centralized location where investors can obtain the visas, permits, and paperwork they need, thereby reducing the time and cost of investing and acquiring business licenses. The EIC has worked with international consultants to modernize its operations and has adopted a customer management system to build lasting relationships and provide post-investment assistance to investors. Despite progress, the EIC admits that many bureaucratic barriers to investment remain. U.S. investors report that the EIC, as a federal organization, has little influence at regional and local levels.
Currently, more than 95 percent of Ethiopia’s trade passes through the Port of Djibouti, with residual trade passing through the Somaliland Port of Berbera or Port Sudan. Ethiopia concluded an agreement in March of 2018 with the Somaliland Ports Authority and DP World to acquire a 19 percent stake in the joint venture developing the Port of Berbera. The agreement will help Ethiopia secure an additional logistical gateway for its increasing import and export trade.
The GOE is working to improve business facilitation services by making the licensing and registration of businesses easier and faster. In February 2021, the Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration (MOTRI) launched an eTrade platform ( ) for business registration licensing to enable individuals to register their companies and acquire business licenses online. The amended commercial registration and licensing law eliminates the requirement to publicize business registrations in local newspapers, allows business registration without a physical address, and reduces some other paperwork burdens associated with business registration. U.S. companies can obtain detailed information for the registration of their business in Ethiopia from an online investment guide to Ethiopia: ( ) and the EIC’s website: ( ). MOTRI has target timeframes for the registration of new businesses, but it often fails to meet its deadlines.
There is no officially recorded outward investment by domestic investors from Ethiopia as citizens/local investors are not allowed to hold foreign accounts.
3. Legal Regime
Ethiopia’s regulatory system is generally considered fair, though there are instances in which burdensome regulatory or licensing requirements have prevented the local sale of U.S. exports, particularly health-related products. Investment decisions can involve multiple government ministries, lengthening the registration and investment process.
The Constitution is the highest law of the country. The parliament enacts proclamations, which are followed by regulations that are passed by the Council of Ministers and implementing directives that are passed by ministries or agencies. The government engages the public for feedback before passage of draft legislation through public meetings, and regulatory agencies request comments on proposed regulations from stakeholders. Ministries or regulatory agencies do neither impact assessments for proposed regulations nor ex-post reviews. Parties that are affected by an adopted regulation can request reconsideration or appeal to the relevant administrative agency or court. There is no requirement to periodically review regulations to determine whether they are still relevant or should be revised.
Legal matters related to the federal government are entertained by Federal Courts, while state matters go to state courts. To ensure consistency of legal interpretation and to promote predictability of the courts, the Federal Supreme Court Cassation Division is empowered to give binding legal interpretation on all federal and state matters. Though there are no publicly listed companies in Ethiopia, all banks and insurance companies are obliged to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).
Regulations related to human health and environmental pollution are often enforced. In January 2019, the Oromia Region’s Environment, Forest, and Climate Change Commission shut down three tanneries in the Oromia Region for what was said to be repeated environmental pollution offenses. The federal government also suspended the business license of MIDROC Gold Mining in May 2018 following weeks of protests by local communities who accused the company of causing health and environmental hazards in the Oromia Region. In February 2019, the Ethiopian Parliament passed a bill entitled ‘Food and Medicine Administration Proclamation number 1112/2019’, which bans smoking in all indoor workplaces, public spaces, and means of public transport and prohibits alcohol promotion on broadcasting media.
In April 2020, Ethiopia published the Administrative Procedure Proclamation number 1183/2020 (APP). The APP’s aim is to allow ordinary citizens who seek administrative redress to file suits in federal courts against government institutions. Potential redress includes financial restitution. The APP’s passage will require government institutions to set up offices that will handle such complaints. Complainants are required to follow an administrative appeal process, and only after exhausting administrative remedies will a person be allowed to file a suit in federal court. Four government institutions are exempt from the APP: the Ministry of Justice (MOJ); the Ethiopian Federal Police; the Ethiopian National Defense Force, and the intelligence agencies. To foster transparency, the APP obligates all government agencies’ regulations to be registered with MOJ (https://www.eag.gov.et/en-us/Home) and be widely accessible to the public. The enactment of the APP is widely viewed as a positive step in increasing confidence in the public sector and addressing the need for governmental institutions to adhere to the rule of law.
Ethiopia is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent . Foreign and national investors can find detailed information from the investment commission’s website ( ) on administrative procedures applicable to investing in Ethiopia.
The GOE provides accurate, comprehensive, and detailed information on the enacted budget and overall government debt. However, fiscal transparency in Ethiopia continues to have several deficiencies, including the unavailability of executive budget proposals, a lack of publicly available information on state-owned enterprise (SOE) debt, poor legislative oversight of budget preparation and execution, and limited budget execution reports.
In April 2020 Ethiopia became a member of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The AfCFTA aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of businesspersons and investments. Ethiopia is also a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a regional economic block, which has 21 member countries and has introduced a 10 percent tariff reduction on goods imported from member states. Ethiopia has not yet joined the COMESA free trade area, however. Ethiopia resumed its WTO accession process in 2018, which it originally began in 2003, but which later stagnated.
Ethiopian standards have a national scope and applicability and some of them, particularly those related to human health and environmental protection, are mandatory. The Ethiopian Standards Agency is the national standards body of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has codified criminal and civil laws, including commercial and contractual law. According to the contractual law, a contract agreement is binding between contracting parties. Disputes between the parties can be taken to court. There are, however, no specialized courts for commercial law cases, though there are specialized benches at both the federal and state courts.
While there have been allegations of executive branch interference in judiciary cases with political implications, there is no evidence of widespread interference in purely commercial disputes. The country has a procedural code for both civil and criminal court. Enforcement actions are appealable and there are at least three appeal processes from the lower courts to the Supreme Court. The Criminal Procedure Code follows the inquisitorial system of adjudication.
Companies that operate businesses in Ethiopia assert that courts lack adequate experience and staffing, particularly with respect to commercial disputes. While property and contractual rights are recognized, judges often lack understanding of commercial matters, including bankruptcy and contractual disputes. In addition, companies complain that these cases often face extended scheduling delays, and that contract enforcement remains weak. To address these issues, the federal Supreme Court issued a new court-led mediation directive, number 12/2021, which is expected to resolve disputes including commercial ones within a shortened period while reducing litigation costs for involved parties.
In March 2021, the parliament revised the Commercial Code for the first time in 60 years. The revised code modernizes and simplifies business regulations, develops regulations for new technologies not covered in the prior version, and seeks to implement greater transparency and accountability in commercial activities.
Investment Proclamation number 1180/2020 and its implementing regulation number 474/2020 are Ethiopia’s main legal regime related to FDI. These laws instituted the opening of new economic sectors to foreign investment, enumerated the requirements for FDI registration, and outlined the incentives that are available to investors.
The investment law allows foreign investors to invest in any investment area except those that are clearly reserved for domestic investors. A few specified investment areas are possible for foreign investors only as part of a joint venture with domestic investors or the government. The Investment Proclamation has introduced an Investment Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, to accelerate implementation of the new law and to address coordination challenges investors face at the federal and regional levels. Further, the new law expanded the mandate of the EIC by allowing it to provide approvals to foreign investors proposing to buy existing enterprises. The EIC now also delivers “one stop shop” services by consolidating investor services provided by other ministries and agencies. Still, the EIC delegates licensing of investments in some areas: air transport services (the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority), energy generation and transmission (the Ethiopian Energy Authority), and telecommunication services (the Ethiopian Communications Authority).
The EIC’s website ( ) provides information on the government’s policy and priorities, registration processes, and regulatory details. In addition, the Business Negarit website ( ) provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.
The MOJ Trade Competition and Consumer Protection Adjudicative Bench is responsible for reviewing merger and acquisition transactions and monopolistic business practices. The bench’s decisions can be appealed to the federal Supreme Court. Post is not aware any significant competition cases during the reporting period.
The 2020 Investment Proclamation stipulates that no investment by a domestic or foreign investor or enterprise can be expropriated or nationalized, wholly or partially, except when required by public interest in compliance with the law and provided adequate compensatory payment.
The former Derg military regime nationalized many properties in the 1970s. The current government’s position is that property seized lawfully by the Derg (by court order or government proclamation published in the official gazette) remains the property of the state. In most cases, property seized by oral order or other informal means is gradually being returned to the rightful owners or their heirs through a lengthy bureaucratic process. Claimants are required to pay for improvements made by the government during the time it controlled the property. The Public Enterprises Holding and Administration Agency stopped accepting requests from owners for return of expropriated properties in July of 2008.
The Commercial Code (Book III) outlines bankruptcy provisions and proceedings and establishes a court system that has jurisdiction over bankruptcy proceedings. The primary purpose of the law is to protect creditors, equity shareholders, and other contractors. Bankruptcy is not criminalized. However, there is limited application of bankruptcy procedures in Ethiopia as the process can take years to settle.
The Federal Ethics and Anticorruption Proclamation number 1236/2020 aims to combat corruption involving government officials and organizations, religious organizations, political parties, and international organizations. The Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) is accountable to parliament and charged with preventing corruption among government officials by providing ethics training and education. MOJ is responsible for investigating corruption crimes and prosecutions. The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for ensuring good governance and preventing administrative abuses by public offices.
Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures perceived levels of public sector corruption, rated Ethiopia’s corruption at 39 (the score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of zero to 100, with the former indicating highly corrupt and the latter indicating very clean). Its comparative rank in 2021 was 87 out of 180 countries, a seven-point improvement from its 2020 rank. In 2020 the American Chamber of Commerce in Ethiopia polled its members and asked what the leading business climate challenges were; transparency and governance ranked as the 4th leading business climate challenge, ahead of licensing and registration, and public procurement.
Ethiopian and foreign businesses routinely encounter corruption in tax collection, customs clearance, and land administration. Many past procurement deals for major government contracts, especially in the power generation, telecommunications, and construction sectors, were widely viewed as corrupt. Allegations of corruption in the allocation of urban land to private investors by government agencies are a major source of popular discontent in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Ethiopia is a signatory to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. Ethiopia is also member of the East African Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities. Ethiopia signed the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2003, which was eventually ratified in November 2007. It is a criminal offense to give or receive bribes, and bribes are not tax deductible.
Contacts at a government agency responsible for combating corruption:
Federal Police Commission
+251 11 861-9595
10. Political and Security Environment
Ethnic conflict – often sparked by historical grievances or resource competition, including land disputes – has resulted in varying levels of violence across Ethiopia. According to the 2022 Global Humanitarian Overview, there were an estimated 4.2 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Ethiopia at the end of 2021, with high levels of need also identified among non-displaced people living in conflict-affected areas. The primary cause of displacements was conflict and insecurity, followed by drought and seasonal floods and flash flooding.
Most significantly, in early November 2020, a conflict broke out between a regional political party in the Tigray Region and the federal government. The conflict quickly enlarged, with Eritrean troops present in parts of Tigray Region, and Amhara Region forces controlling much of Western Tigray. The conflict in northern Ethiopia has led to many deaths, widespread displacements, extensive destruction of infrastructure, widespread gross human rights violations, gender-based violence, a vast reduction in public services, and widespread hunger.
Insecurity, often driven by ethnic tensions, persists in many other areas, notably in the southern and western Oromia Region; eastern Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region; and in the Hararges on the border of the Somali Region. In western Oromia, the Oromo Liberation Army-Shane and other unidentified armed groups have intensified attacks against public and local government officials; this violence has spilled over into other parts of Oromia. In far western Ethiopia, ethnic violence and clashes in Benishangul-Gumuz Region have continued throughout 2021 and into early 2022, leaving hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Amhara has experienced altercations in 2022 between regional security forces and youth militias.
When Prime Minister Abiy came to power in 2018, political space opened significantly, although it has since regressed especially after the government declared a State of Emergency in November 2021. While the State of Emergency was lifted in February 2022, during its implementation thousands of people, mostly of Tigrayan ethnicity, were arbitrarily detained and freedom of the press was significantly curtailed. Constitutional rights, including freedoms of assembly and expression, are generally supported at the level of the federal government, though the protection of these rights remains uneven, especially at regional and local levels. While opposition parties mostly operate freely, authorities, especially at the sub-national level, have employed politically motivated procedural roadblocks to hinder opposition parties’ efforts to hold meetings or other party activities; this was especially true in the run-up to the June 2021 general election.
The space for media and civil society groups has generally become freer following reforms instituted by Prime Minister Abiy. Still, journalism in the country remains undeveloped, social media is often rife with unfounded rumors, and government officials occasionally react with heavy-handedness, especially to news they feel might spur social unrest, resulting in self-censorship. Civil society reforms have spurred an expansion of the sector, though many civil society groups continue to struggle with capacity and resource issues.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
The national unemployment rate in February 2021 was 8 percent according to the 2021 Labor Force and Migration Survey. The unemployment rates for men and women were 5 and 11.7 percent, respectively. The law only gives refugees and asylum seekers the opportunity to work on a development project supported by the international community that economically benefits both refugees and citizens or to earn wages through self-employment. The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupations. However, there are legal restrictions on women’s employment, including limitations on occupations deemed dangerous and in industries, such as mining and agriculture. Women have fewer employment opportunities than men. Around 46.3 percent of people were working in the informal sector nationally according to the 2021 Labor Force and Migration Survey.
According to a 2020 International Labor Organization labor market assessment across all sectors, there was a generally higher demand for highly skilled workers, followed by medium-skilled workers; low-skilled workers had the lowest demand, especially in construction and manufacturing sectors. In terms of supply, there was generally an oversupply of low- and medium-skilled workers across major sectors such as agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. The Ministry of Labor and Skills, in collaboration with other international and national stakeholders, provides trainings for technical and vocational trainers.
The investment law gives employment priority for nationals and provides that any investor may employ duly qualified expatriate experts in the positions of “higher management, supervision, trainers and other technical professions” required for the operation of business only when it is ascertained that Ethiopians possessing similar qualifications or experiences are not available.
There is no restriction on employers adjusting employment to respond to fluctuating market conditions. The labor law allows employers to terminate employment contracts with notice when demand falls for the employer’s products or services and reduces the volume of work or profit. The law differentiates between firing and layoffs.
The national labor law recognizes the right to collective bargaining, but this right was severely restricted under the law. Negotiations aimed at amending or replacing a collectively bargained agreement must take place within three months of its expiration; otherwise, the prior provisions on wages and other benefits cease to apply. The constitution and the labor law recognize the right of association for workers.
Labor divisions are established at the federal and regional level. Employers and workers may also introduce social dialogue to prevent and resolve labor disputes amicably. The Ministry of Labor and Skills assigns councilors or arbitrators when a dispute is brought to the attention of the Ministry or the appropriate authority by either of the parties to the dispute.