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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 163 billion in January 2019.

Mining and resources attract, by far, the largest share of FDI from the United States.  Real estate investment is the second largest recipient of FDI from the United States, although it remains much smaller than mining investment in absolute terms.  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.  The Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 and  the related Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms were both introduced in 2018 with the aim of increasing the security of critical infrastructure and protecting against foreign investments deemed to not be in Australia’s interests.  In March 2020 the Australian government announced all foreign direct investment would be reviewed for a six-month period, the government’s assumed timing for the COVID-19 crisis.  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 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 14th overall in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index.

The Australian government is strongly focused on boosting economic productivity, particularly through increased use of digital and other emerging technologies.  It recently released a Digital Economy Strategy, a Blockchain Roadmap, and a Critical Minerals Strategy, and has launched the new Australian Space Agency, among other initiatives.  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 2019 12 of 180 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 2019 22 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country (historical stock positions) 2018 USD 163 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 53,230 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 certain 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 AUD15 million (USD 9 million) are subject to screening.  This threshold applies to the cumulative value of agricultural land owned by the foreign investor, including the proposed purchase.  The agricultural land screening threshold does not, however, affect investments made under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA).  The current threshold remains AUD 1.154 billion (USD 690 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 Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s business.gov.au web site 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 2 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.

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.

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 a six-month period covering the COVID-19 crisis.  In effect, this meant that all foreign investment would be screened over this period.

The Australian Government applies a “national interest” consideration in reviewing foreign investment applications.  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.  In January 2017, the Australian Government established the Critical Infrastructure Centre (CIC) to better manage the risks to Australia’s critical infrastructure assets.  A key role of the CIC is to advise the FIRB on risks associated with foreign investment in infrastructure assets, particularly telecommunications, electricity, water, and port assets.  While the CIC’s role in the foreign investment process signals the Government’s focus on these assets, its role is limited to providing advice to the Government; the approval framework itself was not changed when the CIC was established.   Further changes to investments in electricity assets and agricultural land were announced in early 2018.  Under these changes, electricity infrastructure is now formally viewed as “critical infrastructure”, and foreign purchases will face additional scrutiny and conditions, while agricultural land is now required to be “marketed widely” to Australian buyers before being sold to a foreign buyer. There have been no formal changes to rules governing foreign investments in data-intensive companies, however, the FIRB has publicly indicated it is paying close attention to such transactions, including in healthcare and data centers.

There have been very few instances of foreign investment applications being rejected by the Treasurer.  Of the 11,855 applications considered between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018 (the 2018 Australian financial year), only two were rejected; both related to residential real estate investment.  In November 2018, the Treasurer rejected the buyout of APA, a major gas pipeline owner in Australia, by the Hong Kong-based CKI Group, citing concerns that the purchase would create “undue concentration of foreign ownership by a single company group in our most significant gas transmission business.”  Analysis justifying rejections is typically not published by the Government.

Competition and Anti-Trust 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 nine of Australia’s eleven 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.

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 AusIndustry (Government agency) and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).  The Australian Government typically does not offer guarantees on, or jointly finance projects with, foreign investors.

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); to protect retained data through encryption; and to prevent unauthorized interference and access.  The Bill limits the range of agencies that are able to access telecommunications data and stored communications, 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 Government introduced legislation to Parliament in 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).  This legislation is subject to review by a parliamentary committee at the time of writing.  Companies relying on 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.  A current government enquiry is investigating the competition impacts of digital platforms, including the market implications of the algorithms used by these platforms and options for mandating the disclosure of these algorithms to regulators.

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 and no Australian physical or online markets are identified in USTR’s 2019 Notorious Markets List.

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, 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 announced 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.  This significantly brings forward the notification point as generic owners were previously not required to notify a patent owner until after the evaluation had been completed.

The Australian Parliament introduced two amendments to the Copyright Act in 2018.  In June 2018, the Australian Parliament passed the Copyright Amendment (Service Providers) Bill 2017.  This amendment extends safe harbor provisions in the Act to the disability, education, library, archive, and cultural sectors, protecting organizations in these sectors from legal liability where they can demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to deal with copyright infringement by users of their online platforms.  However, the legislation specifically excludes online platforms such as Google and Facebook from safe harbor provisions.  Prior to this extension, the safe harbor provisions, set out in Division 2AA of Part V of the Copyright Act, applied only to carriage service providers.  Carriage service providers were broadly defined as telecommunications network providers, but do not include online platforms such as Google and Facebook.  Having passed the amendment, the Australian Government has indicated it will not revisit legislation to extend the safe harbor provisions to cover service providers in the near future.  In November 2018, the Australian Parliament passed the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2018.  This legislation reduces the threshold for capturing overseas online locations under the Copyright Act and makes it easier for individuals to seek injunctions against material distributed online, including against online search engines making that material publicly available.  The legislation allows the Communications Minister to exempt certain search engines or classes of search engines.

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 fixed income markets.  Australian capital markets are generally efficient and are 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 do 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.

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 is USD 3.0 trillion and the sector has delivered an average annual return on equity of just over 11 percent.

According to Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the ratio of non-performing assets to total loans was just under one percent at the end of 2018, 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 expected after 2020, when an ageing population is likely to place significant pressures on Government finances.  As a founding member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Fund (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 2019, 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 Disability Care 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 44 billion (USD 27 billion), while the main Future Fund has assets of AUD 168 billion (USD 104 billion) as of December 31, 2019.

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 ANCP 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.

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

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).

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 2.1 million (approximately USD 1.3 million).  For a corporate entity, the maximum penalty is the greatest of:  1) AUD 21 million (approximately USD 13.0 million); 2) three times the value of the benefits obtained; or 3) 10 percent of the previous 12-month turnover of the company concerned.

The legislation covering bribery of foreign officials is the Criminal Code Act 1995.  In 2019, the Commonwealth Government introduced an amendment to the Act that would expand the list of activities considered foreign bribery, but the amendment has not been legislated at the time of publishing.  Information on the amendment can be found at the following link: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=s1246 

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 (e.g., 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 has hovered between 5.0-5.3 percent for the last year, sitting at 5.1 percent in March 2020.   The impact of COVID-19 is expected to see this rise sharply, although the government has implemented large stimulus packages targeted to keeping businesses operating and employees in work.  Average weekly earnings for full time workers in Australia were AUD 1,659 (approximately USD 1,030) as of November 2019.  The minimum wage is set annually and is significantly higher than that of the United States (approximately twice the U.S. minimum wage).  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.

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).

There were 135 industrial disputes nationwide in 2019, down from 158 in 2018.  Total working days lost to disputes in 2019 fell 40 percent to 64,000 days.

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) 2019 USD 1.18 trillion 2018 USD 1.43 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 (stock positions) 2018 USD 133 billion 2018 USD 163 billion https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (stock positions) 2018 USD 75 billion 2018 USD 66 billion https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 51% 2018 48% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
 

*Australian Bureau of Statistics, based on most recently available data.  Year-end foreign investment data is published in May of the following year.

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 682,865 100% Total Outward 490,986 100%
USA 151,247 22% USA 85,161 22%
Japan 74,743 11% UK 83,749 14%
UK 69,696 10% New Zealand 39,808 11%
Netherlands 34,769 6% Canada 23,866 3%
China 28,306 5% Papua New Guinea 17,248 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 808,049 100% All Countries 503,254 100% All Countries 290,608 100%
United States 331,582 42% United States 237,697 47% United States 93,886 32%
United Kingdom 68,034 9% United Kingdom 37,575 7% United Kingdom 30,460 10%
Japan 40,307 5% Japan 24,267 5% Germany 20,360 7%
Cayman Islands 40,425 5% France 19,287 4% Japan 16,040 6%
Canada 30,068 4% Switzerland 10,085 2% Netherlands 12,930 4%

14. Contact for More Information

Deputy Economic Counselor Steven Dyokas
U.S. Embassy Canberra
21 Moonah Place, Yarralumla, ACT
+61 2 6214 5810
DyokasSM@state.gov

India

Executive Summary

India’s GDP growth in 2019 declined to the slowest rate in over six years. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Monetary Fund had reduced its growth prediction for FY 2020 to 4.8 percent from a previous estimate of 6.1 percent. The slowing growth reflected a sharp decline in private sector consumption and reduced activity in manufacturing, agriculture, and construction. The stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) in India has declined a full percentage point over the last six years according to data from the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT). This mirrors a similar drop in Indian private investment during the same period.

Non-performing assets continue to hold back banks’ profits and restrict their lending, particularly in the state banking sector. The collapse of the non-bank financial company Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) in 2018 led to a credit crunch that largely continued throughout 2019 and hampered consumer lending.

Demographic increases mean India must generate over ten million new jobs every year – a challenge for the economy and policy makers. While difficult to measure, given the large size of the informal economy, several recent studies, in 2017-18 suggest India’s unemployment rate has risen significantly, perhaps event to a 40-year high.

The Government of India has announced several measures to stimulate growth, including lowering the corporate tax rate, creating lower personal income tax brackets, implementing tax exemptions for startups, establishing ambitious targets for divestment of state-owned enterprises, withdrawing a surcharge imposed on foreign portfolio investors, and providing cash infusions into public sector banks. India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), also adopted a monetary policy that was accommodative of growth, reducing interest rates by a cumulative 135 basis points throughout 2019 to 5.15 percent. However, transmission remained a problem as banks, already struggling with large volumes of non-performing assets pressuring their balance sheets, were hesitant to lend or pass on the RBI’s rate cuts to consumers.

The government actively courts foreign investment. In 2017, the government implemented moderate reforms aimed at easing investments in sectors such as single brand retail, pharmaceuticals, and private security. It also relaxed onerous rules for foreign investment in the construction sector. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures removing restrictions on FDI in multiple sectors to help spur the slowing economy. The new measures included permitting investments in coal mining and contract manufacturing through the so-called Automatic Route. India has continued to make major gains in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings in 2019, moving up 14 places to number 63 out of 190 economies evaluated. This jump follows India’s gain of 23 places in 2018 and 30 places in 2017.

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

In addition to the RBI data localization directive for payments companies, the government formally introduced its draft Data Protection Bill in December 2019, which contains restrictions on all cross-border transfers of personal data in India. The Bill is currently under review by a Joint Parliamentary Committee and stipulates that personal data that are considered “critical” can only be stored in India. The Bill is based on the conclusions of a ten-person Committee of Experts, established by the Ministry of Information Technology (MeitY) in July 2017.

On December 26, 2018, India unveiled new restrictions on foreign-owned e-commerce operations without any prior notification or opportunity to submit public comments. While Indian officials argue that these restrictions were mere “clarifications” of existing policy, the new guidelines constituted a major regulatory change that created several extensive new regulatory requirements and onerous compliance procedures. The disruption to foreign investors’ businesses was exacerbated by the refusal to extend the February 1, 2019 deadline for implementation.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 80 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/
cpi2019
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 63 of 190 https://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings?region=south-asia
Global Innovation Index 2019 52 of 127 https://www.wipo.int/
global_innovation_index/en/2019/
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $44,458 https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $2009.98 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies toward Foreign Direct Investment

Changes in India’s foreign investment rules are notified in two different ways: (1) Press Notes issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) for the vast majority of sectors, and (2) legislative action for insurance, pension funds, and state-owned enterprises in the coal sector. (Note: in January 2019, the government of India changed the name of DIPP to Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT). End Note). FDI proposals in sensitive sectors will, however, require the additional approval of the Home Ministry.

The DPIIT, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is the nodal investment promotion agency, responsible for the formulation of FDI policy and the facilitation of FDI inflows. It compiles all policies related to India’s FDI regime into a single document to make it easier for investors to understand, and this consolidated policy is updated every year. The updated policy can be accessed at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-direct-investment/foreign-direct-investment-policy.  DPIIT, through the Foreign Investment Implementation Authority (FIIA), plays an active role in resolving foreign investors’ project implementation problems and disseminates information about the Indian investment climate to promote investments. The Department establishes bilateral economic cooperation agreements in the region and encourages and facilitates foreign technology collaborations with Indian companies and DPIIT oftentimes consults with ministries and stakeholders, but some relevant stakeholders report being left out of consultations.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

In most sectors, foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own businesses and engage in remunerative activities. Several sectors of the economy continue to retain equity limits for foreign capital as well as management and control restrictions, which deter investment. For example, the 2015 Insurance Act raised FDI caps from 26 percent to 49 percent, but also limits for foreign capital as well as management and control restrictions, which deter investment. For example, the 2015 Insurance Act raised FDI caps from 26 percent to 49 percent, but also mandated that insurance companies retain “Indian management and control.” Similarly, in 2016, India allowed up to 100 percent FDI in domestic airlines; however, the issue of substantial ownership and effective control (SOEC) rules which mandate majority control by Indian nationals have not yet been clarified. A list of investment caps is accessible at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-direct-investment/foreign-direct-investment-policy .

In 2017, the government implemented moderate reforms aimed at easing investments in sectors including single-brand retail, pharmaceuticals, and private security. It also relaxed onerous rules for foreign investment in the construction sector. All FDI must be reviewed under either an “Automatic Route” or “Government Route” process. The Automatic Route simply requires a foreign investor to notify the Reserve Bank of India of the investment. In contrast, investments requiring review under the Government Route must obtain the approval of the ministry with jurisdiction over the appropriate sector along with the concurrence of DPIIT. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures removing restrictions on FDI in multiple additional sectors to help spur the slowing economy. The new measures included permitting investments in coal mining and contract manufacturing through the Automatic Route. The new rules also eased restrictions on investment in single-brand retail.

Screening of FDI

Since the abolition of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board in 2017, appropriate ministries have screened FDI. FDI inflows were mostly directed towards the largest metropolitan areas – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai – and the state of Gujarat. The services sector garnered the largest percentage of FDI. Further FDI statistics available at: http://dipp.nic.in/publications/fdi-statistics. 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

2019 OECD Economic Survey of India: http://www.oecd.org/economy/india-economic-snapshot/ 

2015 WTO Trade Policy Review: https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S009-  DP.aspx?language=E&CatalogueIdList=131827,6391,16935,35446,11982&CurrentCatal  ogueIdIndex=0&FullTextHash=&HasEnglishRecord=True&HasFrenchRecord=True&H  asSpanishRecord=True 

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

Business Facilitation

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

Invest India  is the official investment promotion and facilitation agency of the Government of India, which is managed in partnership with DPIIT, state governments, and business chambers. Invest India specialists work with investors through their investment lifecycle to provide support with market entry strategies, deep dive industry analysis, partner search, and policy advocacy as required. Businesses can register online through the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website: http://www.mca.gov.in/ . After the registration, all new investments require industrial approvals and clearances from relevant authorities, including regulatory bodies and local governments. To fast-track the approval process, especially in case of major projects, Prime Minister Modi has started the Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI initiative) – a digital, multi-modal platform to speed the government’s approval process. Per the Prime Minister’s Office as of November 2019 a total of 265 project proposals worth around $169 billion related to 17 sectors were cleared through PRAGATI. Prime Minister Modi personally monitors the process, to ensure compliance in meeting PRAGATI project deadlines. In December 2014, the Modi government also approved the formation of an Inter-Ministerial Committee, led by the DPIIT, to help track investment proposals that require inter-ministerial approvals. Business and government sources report this committee meets informally and on an ad hoc basis as they receive reports from business chambers and affected companies of stalled projects.

Outward Investment

According to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), India’s central bank, the total overseas direct investment (ODI) outflow from India till December 2019 was $18.86 billion. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Indian direct investment into the U.S. was $9.9 billion in 2017. RBI contends that the growth in magnitude and spread (in terms of geography, nature and types of business activities) of ODI from India reflects the increasing appetite and capacity of Indian investors.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

India made public a new model Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in December 2015. This followed a string of rulings against Indian firms in international arbitration. The new model BIT does not allow foreign investors to use investor-state dispute settlement methods, and instead requires foreign investors to first exhaust all local judicial and administrative remedies before entering into international arbitration. The Indian government also announced its intention to abrogate all BITs negotiated on the earlier model BIT. The government has served termination notices to roughly 58 countries, including EU countries and Australia. Currently 14 BITs are in force. The Ministry of Finance said the revised model BIT will be used for the renegotiation of existing and any future BITs and will form the investment chapter in any Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements (CECAs)/Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements (CEPAs)/Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

In September 2018, Belarus became the first country to execute a new BIT with India. The Belarus – India BIT is predominantly based on the new Model BIT. In December 2018, Taipei Cultural & Economic Centre (TECC) in India signed a BIT with India Taipei Association (ITA) in Taipei. The TECC is the representative office of the government in Taipei in India and is responsible for promoting bilateral relations between Taiwan and India. By December 2019, two BITs/ JIS have been concluded but not yet signed with Brazil and Cambodia. Several BITs and joint interpretative statements are under discussion such as with Iran, Switzerland, Morocco, Kuwait, Ukraine, UAE, San Marino, Hong Kong, Israel, Mauritius and Oman. The complete list of agreements can be found at: https://dea.gov.in/bipa. 

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Some government policies are written in a way that can be discriminatory to foreign investors or favor domestic industry; for example, approval for higher FDI in the insurance sector came with a new requirement for “Indian management and control.” On most occasions the rules are framed after thorough discussions by the competent government authorities and require the approval of the cabinet and, in some cases, the Parliament as well. Policies pertaining to foreign investments are framed by DPIIT, and implementation is undertaken by lead federal ministries and sub-national counterparts.

In December 2018, India unveiled new “Guidelines” on foreign-owned e-commerce operations that imposed restrictions disproportionately affecting over $20 billion in combined investments by U.S. companies. As of February 1, 2019, these platforms may not offer exclusive discounts; sell products from companies in which they own a stake; or have any vendor who sources more than 25 percent of their retail stock from a single source. The Guidelines were issued without prior notification or opportunity to provide public comments. While Indian officials argue this was a mere “clarification” of existing policy, the new Guidelines constituted a major regulatory change that severely affected U.S. investors’ operations and business models. The refusal of Indian authorities to extend the deadline for implementation beyond just over one month, further exacerbated the undue and unnecessary disruption to U.S. investors.

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

International Regulatory Considerations

India is a member of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an eight- member regional block in South Asia. India’s regulatory systems are aligned with SAARC economic agreements, visa regimes, and investment rules. Dispute resolution in India has been through tribunals, which are quasi-judicial bodies. India has been a member of the WTO since 1994, and generally notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade; however, at times there are delays in publishing the notifications. The Governments of India and the United States cooperate in areas such as standards, trade facilitation, competition, and antidumping practices.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The government has a policy framework on FDI, which is updated every year and formally notified as the Consolidated FDI Policy (http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-direct-investment/foreign- direct-investment-policy). DPIIT makes policy pronouncements on FDI through Press Notes/Press Releases, which are notified by the RBI as amendments to the Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by Persons Resident Outside India) Regulations, 2000 (Notification No. FEMA 20/2000-RB dated May 3, 2000). These notifications are effective on the date of the issued press release, unless otherwise specified. The judiciary does not influence FDI policy measures.

The government has introduced a “Make in India” program as well as investment policies designed to promote manufacturing and attract foreign investment. “Digital India” aims to open up new avenues for the growth of the information technology sector. The “Start-up India” program created incentives to enable start-ups to commercialize and grow. The “Smart Cities” project intends to open up new avenues for industrial technological investment opportunities in select urban areas. The U.S. Government continues to urge the Government of India to foster an attractive and reliable investment climate by reducing barriers to investment and minimizing bureaucratic hurdles for businesses.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The central government has been successful in establishing independent and effective regulators in telecommunications, banking, securities, insurance, and pensions. The Competition Commission of India (CCI), India’s antitrust body, is now taking cases against mergers, cartels, and abuse of dominance, as well as conducting capacity-building programs for bureaucrats and business officials. Mergers meeting certain thresholds must be notified to the CCI for its review. Upon receipt of a complaint, or upon its own enquiry, if the CCI is of the opinion that there exists a prima facie case, it must direct its investigative arm (the Director General) to investigate. Currently the Director General is required to seek the approval of the local chief metropolitan magistrate for any search and seizure operations. The Securities and Exchange Bureau of India (SEBI) enforces corporate governance standards and is well-regarded by foreign institutional investors. The RBI, which regulates the Indian banking sector, is also held in high regard. Some Indian regulators, including SEBI and the RBI, engage with industry stakeholders through periods of public comment, but the practice is not consistent across the government.

Expropriation and Compensation

The government has taken steps to provide greater clarity in regulation. In 2016, the government successfully carried out the largest spectrum auction in the country’s history. India also has transfer pricing rules that apply to related party transactions. The government implemented the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in July 2017, which reduced the complexity of tax codes and eliminated multiple taxation policies. It also enacted the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code in 2016, which offers uniform, comprehensive insolvency legislation for all companies, partnerships and individuals (other than financial firms).

Though land is a State Government (sub-national) subject, “acquisition and requisitioning of property” is in the concurrent list, thus both the Indian Parliament and State Legislatures can make laws on this subject. Legislation approved by the Central Government is used as guidance by the State Governments. Land acquisition in India is governed by the Land Acquisition Act (2013), which entered into force in 2014, but continues to be a complicated process due to the lack of an effective legal framework. Land sales require adequate compensation, resettlement of displaced citizens, and 70% approval from landowners. The displacement of poorer citizens is politically challenging for local governments.

Dispute Settlement

India made resolving contract disputes and insolvency easier with the establishment of a modern bankruptcy regime with the enactment in 2016 and subsequent implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). Among the areas where India has improved the most in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Ranking the past three years has been under the resolving insolvency metric. The World Bank Report noted that the 2016 law has introduced the option of insolvency resolution for commercial entities as an alternative to liquidation or other mechanisms of debt enforcement, reshaping the way insolvent companies can restore their financial well-being or close down. The Code has put in place effective tools for creditors to successfully negotiate and effectuated greater chances for creditors to realize their dues. As a result, the overall recovery rate for creditors jumped from 26.5 to 71.6 cents on the dollar and the time taken for resolving insolvency also came down significantly from 4.3 years to 1.6 years. (https://www.ibbi.gov.in/uploads/publication/62a9cc46d6a96690e4c8a3c9ee3ab862.pdf 

India enacted the Arbitration and Conciliation Act in 1996, based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law model, as an attempt to align its adjudication of commercial contract dispute resolution mechanisms with most of the world. Judgments of foreign courts are enforceable under multilateral conventions, including the Geneva Convention. The government established the International Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ICADR) as an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Law and Justice to promote the settlement of domestic and international disputes through alternate dispute resolution. The World Bank has also funded ICADR to conduct training for mediators in commercial dispute settlement.

India is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). It is not unusual for Indian firms to file lawsuits in domestic courts in order to delay paying any arbitral award. Seven cases are currently pending, the oldest of which dates to 1983. India is not a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague and the Indian Law Ministry agreed in 2007 to establish a regional PCA office in New Delhi, although no progress has been made in establishing the office. The office would provide an arbitration forum to match the facilities offered at The Hague but at a lower cost.

In November 2009, the Department of Revenue’s Central Board of Direct Taxes established eight dispute resolution panels across the country to settle the transfer-pricing tax disputes of domestic and foreign companies. In 2016 the government also presented amendments to the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Act to establish specialized commercial divisions within domestic courts to settle long-pending commercial disputes.

InvestorState Dispute Settlement

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, India has been a respondent state for 25 investment dispute settlement cases, of which 11 remain pending (http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/ISDS/CountryCases/96?partyRole=2 ).

Though India is not a signatory to the ICSID Convention, current claims by foreign investors against India can be pursued through the ICSID Additional Facility Rules, the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL Model Law) rules, or through the use of ad hoc proceedings.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Since formal dispute resolution is expensive and time consuming, many businesses choose methods, including ADR, for resolving disputes. The most commonly used ADRs are arbitration and mediation. India has enacted the Arbitration and Conciliation Act based on the UNCITRAL Model Laws of Arbitration. Experts agree that the ADR techniques are extra-judicial in character and emphasize that ADR cannot displace litigation. In cases that involve constitutional or criminal law, traditional litigation remains necessary.

Dispute Resolutions Pending

An increasing backlog of cases at all levels reflects the need for reform of the dispute resolution system, whose infrastructure is characterized by an inadequate number of courts, benches and judges, inordinate delays in filling judicial vacancies, and only 14 judges per one million people. Almost 25 percent of judicial vacancies can be attributed to procedural delays.

Bankruptcy Regulations

According to the World Bank, it used to take an average of 4.3 years to recover funds from an insolvent company in India, compared to 2.6 years in Pakistan, 1.7 years in China and 1.8 years in OECD countries. The introduction and implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) in 2016 led to an overhaul of the previous framework on insolvency and paved the way for much-needed reforms. The IBC focused on creditor-driven insolvency resolution, and offers a uniform, comprehensive insolvency legislation encompassing all companies, partnerships and individuals (other than financial firms).

The law, however, does not provide for U.S. style Chapter 11 bankruptcy provisions. The government is proposing a separate framework for bankruptcy resolution in failing banks and financial sector entities. Supplementary legislation would create a new institutional framework, consisting of a regulator, insolvency professionals, information utilities, and adjudicatory mechanisms that would facilitate formal and time-bound insolvency resolution process and liquidation.

In August 2016, the Indian Parliament passed amendments to the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act, and the Debt Recovery Tribunals Act. These amendments were geared at improving the effectiveness of debt recovery laws and helping address the problem of rising bad loans for domestic and multilateral banks. It will also help banks and financial institutions recover loans more effectively, encourage the establishment of more asset reconstruction companies (ARCs) and revamp debt recovery tribunals.

4. Industrial Policies

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

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The government established several foreign trade zone initiatives to encourage export-oriented production.  These include Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Export Processing Zones (EPZs), Software Technology Parks (STPs), and Export Oriented Units (EOUs).  In 2018, the Indian government announced guidelines for the establishment of the National Industrial and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs), envisaged as integrated industrial townships to be managed by a special purpose vehicle and headed by a government official.  So far, three NIMZs have been accorded final approval and 13 have been accorded in-principle approval.  In addition, eight investment regions along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DIMC) have also been 12 established as NIMZs.  SEZs are treated as foreign territory; businesses operating within SEZs are not subject to customs regulations, nor have FDI equity caps.  They also receive exemptions from industrial licensing requirements and enjoy tax holidays and other tax breaks.  EPZs are industrial parks with incentives for foreign investors in export-oriented businesses.  STPs are special zones with similar incentives for software exports. EOUs are industrial companies, established anywhere in India, that export their entire production and are granted the following: duty-free import of intermediate goods, income tax holidays, exemption from excise tax on capital goods, components, and raw materials, and a waiver on sales taxes. These initiatives are governed by separate rules and granted different benefits, details of which can be found at: http://www.sezindia.nic.in,  https://www.stpi.in/  http://www.fisme.org.in/export_schemes/DOCS/B- 1/EXPORT%20ORIENTED%20UNIT%20SCHEME.pdf and http://www.makeinindia.com/home. 

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

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

  1. Current guidelines emphasize that the promotion of domestic manufacturing is the objective of PMA, while the original premise focused on the linkages between equipment procurement and national security.
  2. Current guidelines on PMA implementation are limited to hardware procurement only. Former guidelines were applicable to both products and services.
  3. Current guidelines widen the pool of eligible PMA bidders, to include authorized distributors, sole selling agents, authorized dealers or authorized supply houses of the domestic manufacturers of electronic products, in addition to OEMs, provided they comply with the following terms:
    1. The bidder shall furnish the authorization certificate by the domestic manufacturer for selling domestically manufactured electronic products.
    2. The bidder shall furnish the affidavit of self-certification issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency declaring that the electronic product is domestically manufactured in terms of the domestic value addition prescribed.
    3. It shall be the responsibility of the bidder to furnish other requisite documents required to be issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency as per the policy.
  4. The current guidelines establish a ceiling on fees linked with the complaint procedure. There would be a complaint fee of INR 200,000 ($3000) or one percent of the value of the Domestically Manufactured Electronic Product being procured, subject to a maximum of INR 500,000 ($7500), whichever is higher.

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

Research and Development

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

Data Storage & Localization

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

In addition to the RBI data localization directive for payments companies and banks, the government formally introduced its draft Data Protection Bill in December 2019, which contains restrictions on all cross-border transfers of personal data in India.  The Bill is currently under review by a Joint Parliamentary Committee and stipulates that personal data that is considered “critical” can only be stored in India.  The Bill is based on the conclusions of a ten-person Committee of Experts, established by MeitY in July 2017.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Several cities, including the metropolitan cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai have grown according to a master plan registered with the central government’s Ministry of Urban Development. Property rights are generally well-enforced in such places, and district magistrates—normally senior local government officials—notify land and property registrations. Banks and financial institutions provide mortgages and liens against such registered property.

In other urban areas, and in areas where illegal settlements have been built up, titling often remains unclear. As per the Department of Land Resources, in 2008 the government launched the National Land Records Modernization Program (NLRMP) to clarify land records and provide landholders with legal titles. The program requires the government to survey an area of

the National Land Records Modernization Program (NLRMP) to clarify land records and provide landholders with legal titles. The program requires the government to survey an area of approximately 2.16 million square miles, including over 430 million rural households, 55 million urban households, and 430 million land records. Initially scheduled for completion in 2016, the program is now scheduled to conclude in 2021. Traditional land use rights, including communal rights to forests, pastures, and agricultural land, are sanctioned according to various laws, depending on the land category and community residing on it. Relevant legislation includes the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, the Tribal Rights Act, and the Tribal Land Act.

In 2016, India introduced its first regulator in the real estate sector in the form of the Real Estate Act. The Real Estate Act, 2016 aims to protect the rights and interests of consumers and promote uniformity and standardization of business practices and transactions in the real estate sector. Details are available at: http://mohua.gov.in/cms/TheRealEstateAct2016.php 

Foreign and domestic private entities are permitted to establish and own businesses in trading companies, subsidiaries, joint ventures, branch offices, project offices, and liaison offices, subject to certain sector-specific restrictions. The government does not permit foreign investment in real estate, other than company property used to conduct business and for the development of most types of new commercial and residential properties. Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) can now invest in initial public offerings (IPOs) of companies engaged in real estate. They can also participate in pre-IPO placements undertaken by such real estate companies without regard to FDI stipulations.

To establish a business, various government approvals and clearances are required, including incorporation of the company and registration under the State Sales Tax Act and Central and State Excise Acts. Businesses that intend to build facilities on land they own are also required to take the following steps: register the land; seek land use permission if the industry is located outside an industrially zoned area; obtain environmental site approval; seek authorization for electricity and financing; and obtain appropriate approvals for construction plans from the respective state and municipal authorities. Promoters must also obtain industry-specific environmental approvals in compliance with the Water and Air Pollution Control Acts. Petrochemical complexes, petroleum refineries, thermal power plants, bulk drug makers, and manufacturers of fertilizers, dyes, and paper, among others, must obtain clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The Foreign Exchange Management Regulations and the Foreign Exchange Management Act set forth the rules that allow foreign entities to own immoveable property in India and convert foreign currencies for the purposes of investing in India. These regulations can be found at: https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/Fema.aspx . Foreign investors operating under the automatic route are allowed the same rights as an Indian citizen for the purchase of immovable property in India in connection with an approved business activity.

In India, a registered sales deed does not confer title ownership and is merely a record of the sales transaction. It only confers presumptive ownership, which can still be disputed. The title is established through a chain of historical transfer documents that originate from the land’s original established owner. Accordingly, before purchasing land, buyers should examine all documents that establish title from the original owner. Many owners, particularly in urban areas, do not have access to the necessary chain of documents. This increases uncertainty and risks in land transactions.

Intellectual Property Rights

In 2018, India became a signatory to the WIPO Centralized Access to Search and Examination (CASE) and Digital Access Service (DAS) agreements.  The CASE system enables patent offices to securely share and search examination documentation related to patent applications, and DAS provides details of the types of applications managed by individual digital libraries together with any operational procedures and technical requirements.  However, the provision of Indian law prescribing criminal penalties for failure to furnish information pertaining to applications for a patent for the “same or substantially the same invention” filed in any country outside India remains in place.

Prime Minister Modi’s courtship of multinationals to invest and “Make in India” has not yet addressed longstanding hesitations over India’s lack of effective intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement.  Despite the release of the National IPR Policy and the establishment of India’s first intellectual property (IP) crime unit in Telangana in 2016, India’s IP regime continues to fall short of global best practices and standards.  U.S. engagement has not yet translated into the progress and/or actions on IPR that were anticipated under the previous U.S. administration.  Some “Notorious Markets” across the country continue to operate, while many smaller stores sell or deal with pirated content across the country. U.S. and Indian Government officials continued to engage on IPR issues.  U.S. government representatives continued to meet government officials and industry stakeholders on IPR-related matters in 2018 and 2019, including during visits to India by officials from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the U.S. Patent Trademark Office (USPTO), the U.S.  Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, and the Departments of State, Commerce, and Agriculture. India has made efforts to streamline its IP framework through administrative actions and awareness programs and is in the process of reducing its decade-long backlog of patent and trademark applications.  India also addresses IPR in its recently established Commercial Courts, Commercial Divisions, and Commercial Appellate Divisions within India’s High Courts.

U.S. and Indian Government officials continued to engage on IPR issues.  U.S. government representatives continued to meet government officials and industry stakeholders on IPR-related matters in 2018 and 2019, including during visits to India by officials from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the U.S. Patent Trademark Office (USPTO), the U.S.  Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, and the Departments of State, Commerce, and Agriculture. India has made efforts to streamline its IP framework through administrative actions and awareness programs and is in the process of reducing its decade-long backlog of patent and trademark applications.  India also addresses IPR in its recently established Commercial Courts, Commercial Divisions, and Commercial Appellate Divisions within India’s High Courts.

Although India’s copyright laws were amended in 2012, the amendments have not been fully implemented. Without an active copyright board in place to determine royalty rates for authors, weak enforcement of copyright regulations, and the widespread issue of pirated copyrighted materials are all contributing factors to why copyright law requires more emphasis on implementation.

The Delhi High Court diluted the publishing industry’s and authors’ rights and expanded the definition of fair use judgment, by allowing photocopiers to copy an entire book for educational purposes without seeking prior permission of the copyright holder.  The movie industry identified new illegal cam cording hubs of operation in Indore and Noida, and the Telangana police cracked down on two syndicates that used under-age children to illegally record movies.  After years of advocacy by industry groups, especially the Indian office of the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the GOI released a draft Cinematography Bill for comment in December 2018, which contained anti-cam cording legislation.  Industry groups welcomed this move, which included criminal and financial penalties for offenders.  The bill is now awaiting Parliamentary approval.  However, the penalties for infringement and IP theft are significantly weakened from those suggested in the initial draft legislation in 2013.

The music industry remains concerned about a Section 31D memorandum that the Department of Industry and Policy Promotion (DIPP), now DPIIT,-issued announced in September 2016 to announce that all online transmissions fall under the statutory licensing provisions of section 31D of the Copyright Act.  The memo places internet service providers on par with radio broadcasters, allowing them to provide music on their websites by paying the same royalties to copyright societies, two percent of ad revenues.  The industry argues that most of the websites have little to no ad revenue, and some may be hosted on servers outside India, which makes collection of royalties challenging.  However, in February 2017, India issued a notice to all event organizers that they would have to pay music royalties to artists when played at an event. On a more positive note, in April 2019, the Bombay High Court issued its decision in Tips Industries LTD v. Wynk Music LTD (Airtel) that statutory licensing under section 31D of the Copyright Act does not cover Internet transmissions (streaming), but rather is limited to traditional television and radio broadcasts.  The Court also stated that Section 31D was an exception to copyright and must be distinctly interpreted.   It is not clear if this judgement will move the Government of India to withdraw DPIIT’s 2016 memo. However, in 2019, the DPIIT proposed amendments to the Copyright Rules that would, in contravention to the plain statutory text, broaden the scope of the statutory licensing exception to encompass not only radio and television broadcasting, but also Internet broadcasting.

2018 was a year of great difficulty in the agriculture and biotechnology space, which has been reeling from the aftermath of a coordinated attack in 2016 and 2017 on the Monsanto Corporation’s India operations (reported in our 2016 and 2017 Special 301 submissions).  In 2017, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act (PPVFRA) removed the long-standing requirement for breeders to produce a “No-Objection-Certificate” from the patentee of a particular genetically modified (GM) trait.  The move was nearly unprecedented and removed a key preemptive tool for breeders to diligently ensure stakeholders are consulted and patentee’s innovations are not being infringed upon or used without permission.

In April 2018, the Delhi High Court judgment struck down a patent held by Monsanto in a summary judgment.  In a series of decisions on this matter, most recently in August, 2019, the Supreme Court overturned Delhi High Court Divisional Bench judgement of April 2018 and reinstated the March 2017 Single Judge decision, pointing to the Divisional Bench failing to have confined itself to the examination of the validity of the order of injunction granted by the Single Judge 2017 decision.   Issues remain complex and unsettled.  The GM Licensing Guidelines remain in draft form but could have significant and wide-ranging implications for Monsanto and many other IP holders.  Moreover, follow-on decisions and administrative legal actions could set important Indian legal precedents for stopping a patent, the role of the PVPFRA and its relationship to biological innovation, the application of administrative regulations regarding price and term of a patent, and the interplay between the Patents Act, PVPFRA, and the Biodiversity Act.  It is worth noting that in December 2015, Monsanto terminated more than 40 of its license agreements with Indian companies for nonpayment of licensing fees.  The Indian licensees subsequently challenged Monsanto’s patents in court on several grounds, including challenging the validity of the patent and efficacy of the technology.

The Government of India’s refusal to repudiate Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare’s GM licensing guidelines has already resulted in withdrawal of next-generation innovative biotechnology from the Indian marketplace and has given pause to many other companies who seek to protect their innovative products.  Other biotech-led industries are also following this development and are greatly concerned, as the action reaches beyond compulsory licensing under the Patents Act.

Indian law still does not provide any statutory protection for trade secrets. After a workshop conducted in October 2016, DIPP agreed to provide guidance to start-ups on trade secrets.  The Designs Act allows for the registration of industrial designs and affords a 15-year term of protection.

Other long-standing concerns remain. Since 2012, outstanding concerns that have not been addressed either in the IP Policy or by Government of India include; Section 3(d) of India’s Patent Act, which creates confusing criteria on “enhanced efficacy” for the patentability of pharmaceutical products;  draft biotechnology licensing regulations from the Ministry of Agriculture which are mandatory, overly prescriptive, and  severely limit the value of IPR; remaining lack of clarity on the conditions under which compulsory licensing may be allowed; lack of a copyright board; lack of a trade secrets law; lack of data exclusivity legislation; lack of an early dispute resolution mechanism for patents ; lack of a legislative framework facilitating public-private partnership in government-funded research  (along the lines of  Bayh-Dole in the United States); weak IP enforcement; and overall unwillingness to make IPR a priority within the Indian government.  All these measures across various sectors create uncertainty at best, and at worst perceptions of a hostile business environment.

In addition, the Patent Act requires patentees to regularly report on a commercial scale “the working” of their patents.  This is implemented by filing a required annual form called Form 27 on patent working.  The current requirement to file Form 27 is not only onerous and costly for patentees and ill-suited to the reality of patented technology, it also hinders any incentives to invent and advance innovation.

Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) and fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) licensing criteria and systems are another concerning area.  Discussions on FRAND licensing terms restarted in 2019 but did not include stakeholders.  Several cases are pending before the Delhi High Court surrounding the issue of royalty payments for standard essential patents.  While initial indications from Delhi High Court proceedings are encouraging, a 2016 GOI discussion paper on SEPs raised concerns related to active government involvement in setting standards and determining FRAND royalties.  Some decisions from the Competition Commission of India (CCI) have been inconsistent with the Delhi High Court, creating confusion related to the development of SEP policy and practices in India.

Another area of concern is the global blocking order against “Intermediaries”.  A Delhi High Court judge issued an interim injunction directing Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other “intermediaries” to remove – on a global basis – content uploaded to their platforms allegedly defaming the guru Baba Ramdev.  The judgment moved beyond traditional “geo-blocking,” in which take down orders are limited to specific geographic regions.  Facebook has challenged the judgment before a Division Bench.

In 2019, we observed that public notice and comment procedures on policy – including on IPR related issues – were often not followed.  Stakeholders were not properly notified of meetings with agencies to discuss concerns, including for changes to critical issues like price controls on medical devices or changes to key policies.  Moreover, Mission India remains concerned that when stakeholder input is solicited, it is often disregarded and/or ignored during the final determination of a policy.

India actively engages at multilateral negotiations, including the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council.  As a result, in April 2017, the MOHFW issued a notification that amended the manufacturing license form (Form 44), taking out any requirement to notify the regulator if the drug, for which manufacturing approval was being sought, is under patent or not.  The GOI cited their view that Form 44 provisions were outside the scope of their WTO TRIPS agreement commitments as justification for the change.  Industry contracts point to the clear benefit this change has delivered to the Indian generic pharmaceutical industry, which now has an even easier path to manufacture patented drugs for years, while IP holders are forced to discover the violation and challenge the infringement in separate courts.  These negotiations will have an impact on innovation, trade, and investment in IP-intensive products and services.

Developments Strengthening the Rights of IP Holders

Clarification of Patentability Criteriathe Delhi High Court added clarity on the matter of the patentability criterion under Section 3(k) of the India Patents Act, ruling in Ferid Allani vs UOI & Ors that there is no absolute bar on the patentability of computer programs.  Additionally, ‘technical effect’ or ‘technical contribution’ must be taken into consideration during examination when determining the patent eligibility of a computer program.

Bombay High Court Clarifies 31(D) of the Copyright Act: Ruling on “Tips Industries vs. Wynk Music,” the Bombay High Court stated that the extension of the Copyright Act, 2016’s Section 31(D) to the internet is flawed logic and unsound in law.  The court also noted that Section 31(D) is an exception to copyright and must be strictly interpreted.  It is to be seen if this judgement helps Government of India in withdrawing of DPIIT memo of 2016.

Delhi High Court Confronts Online Piracy: The Delhi High Court decided that approved site take down requests will apply to those sites with addresses specifically listed in the request as well as similar sites that operate under different addresses.  This “dynamic injunction” is meant to eliminate the need for complainants to approach courts with new requests should a banned site reappear under a new address.

The Delhi High Court in July 2019 took steps to address the “gridlock” of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB).  IPAB was established in 2003 to adjudicate appeals over patents, trademarks, copyrights, and other decisions, but lacked the necessary number of technical members to form a quorum and make judgements, resulting in a significant backlog.  To clear the backlog of cases, the court decided that until the appointments were filled, the chairman and available technical members could issue decisions despite lacking a quorum.  If no technical members were available, the IPAB chairman could consult a scientific advisor from the panel of scientific advisors appointed under Section 115 of the 1970 Patents Act.  Additionally, in October 2019, the court permitted the current IPAB chairman to serve past his term – which ended in September 2019, reinstating him until a replacement takes over.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Total market capitalization of the Indian equity market stood around $2.2 trillion as of December 31, 2019. The benchmark Standard and Poor’s (S&P) BSE (erstwhile Bombay Stock Exchange) Sensex recorded gains of about 14 percent in 2019. Nonetheless, Indian equity markets were tumultuous throughout 2019. The BSE Sensex generally gained from the beginning of the year until July 5, when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced a tax increase on foreign portfolio investment in her post-election Union Budget for the remainder for FY 2020.  The Sensex declined, erasing all previous gains for the year as the new tax led to a rapid exodus of foreign portfolio investors from the market.  The market continued to fluctuate even after the tax increase was repealed on August 23 until September 20, when the Finance Minister made a surprise announcement to slash corporate tax rates.  After that, the Sensex surged and hit a record high of 41,854 on December 20. However, even as the benchmark Sensex hit record highs, the midcap and small cap indices disappointed investors with a year of negative returns.  The Sensex’s advance was driven by a handful of stocks; two in particular Reliance Industries Ltd. and ICICI Bank Ltd. accounted for about half the gain.   Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs), pumped a net of over $14 billion into India’s equity markets in 2019, making it their highest such infusion in six years.  In 2018, FPIs pulled out $ 4.64 billion from the market.  Domestic money also continued to flow into equity markets via systematic investment plans (SIP) of mutual funds.  SIP assets under management hit an all-time high of $43.94 billion in November, according to data from the Association of Mutual Funds of India.

Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs), pumped a net of over $14 billion into India’s equity markets in 2019, making it their highest such infusion in six years.  In 2018, FPIs pulled out $ 4.64 billion from the market.  Domestic money also continued to flow into equity markets via systematic investment plans (SIP) of mutual funds.  SIP assets under management hit an all-time high of $43.94 billion in November, according to data from the Association of Mutual Funds of India.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is considered one of the most progressive and well-run of India’s regulatory bodies.  It regulates India’s securities markets, including enforcement activities, and is India’s direct counterpart to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  SEBI oversees three national exchanges: the BSE Ltd. (formerly the Bombay Stock Exchange), the National Stock Exchange (NSE), and the Metropolitan Stock Exchange.  SEBI also regulates the three national commodity exchanges: the Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX), the National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Limited, and the National Multi-Commodity Exchange.

Foreign venture capital investors (FVCIs) must register with SEBI to invest in Indian firms.  They can also set up domestic asset management companies to manage funds.  All such investments are allowed under the automatic route, subject to SEBI and RBI regulations, and to FDI policy.  FVCIs can invest in many sectors, including software, information technology, pharmaceuticals and drugs, biotechnology, nanotechnology, biofuels, agriculture, and infrastructure.  Companies incorporated outside India can raise capital in India’s capital markets through the issuance of Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs) based on SEBI guidelines.  Standard Chartered Bank, a British bank which was the first foreign entity to list in India in June 2010, remains the only foreign firm to have issued IDRs.

Companies incorporated outside India can raise capital in India’s capital markets through the issuance of Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs) based on SEBI guidelines.  Standard Chartered Bank, a British bank which was the first foreign entity to list in India in June 2010, remains the only foreign firm to have issued IDRs.  External commercial borrowing (ECB), or direct lending to Indian entities by foreign institutions, is allowed if it conforms to parameters such as minimum maturity, permitted and non-permitted end-uses, maximum all-in-cost ceiling as prescribed by the RBI, funds are used for outward FDI, or for domestic investment in industry, infrastructure, hotels, hospitals, software, self-help groups or microfinance activities, or to buy shares in the disinvestment of public sector entities: https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=47736.

Total external commercial borrowings through both the approval and automatic route increased 61.45 percent year-on-year to $50.15 billion as of December 2019, according to the Reserve Bank of India’s data.

The RBI has taken a number of steps in the past few years to bring the activities of the offshore Indian rupee market in Non Deliverable Forwards (NDF) onshore, in order to deepen domestic markets, enhance downstream benefits, and generally obviate the need for an NDF market.  FPIs with access to currency futures or the exchange-traded currency options market can hedge onshore currency risks in India and may directly trade in corporate bonds. In October 2019, the RBI allowed banks to freely offer foreign exchange quotes to non-resident Indians at all times and said trading on rupee derivatives would be allowed and settled in foreign currencies in the International Financial Services Centers (IFSCs).  This was based on the recommendations of the task force on offshore rupee markets to examine and recommend appropriate policy measures to ensure the stability of the external value of the Rupee (https://m.rbi.org.in/Scripts/PublicationReportDetails.aspx?UrlPage=&ID=937).    The International Financial Services Centre at Gujarat International Financial Tec-City (GIFT City) in Gujarat is being developed to compete with global financial hubs.  The BSE was the first to start operations there, in January 2016.  The NSE and domestic banks including Yes Bank, Federal Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, IDBI Bank, State Bank of India, and IndusInd Bank have started IFSC banking units in GIFT city.  Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of America started operations in GIFT City in 2019.

The International Financial Services Centre at Gujarat International Financial Tec-City (GIFT City) in Gujarat is being developed to compete with global financial hubs.  The BSE was the first to start operations there, in January 2016.  The NSE and domestic banks including Yes Bank, Federal Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, IDBI Bank, State Bank of India, and IndusInd Bank have started IFSC banking units in GIFT city.  Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of America started operations in GIFT City in 2019.

Money and Banking System

The public sector remains predominant in the banking sector, with public sector banks (PSBs) accounting for about 66 percent of total banking sector assets. Although most large PSBs are listed on exchanges, the government’s stakes in these banks often exceeds the 51 percent legal minimum. Aside from the large number of state-owned banks, directed lending and mandatory holdings of government paper are key facets of the banking sector. The RBI requires commercial banks and foreign banks with more than 20 branches to allocate 40 percent of their loans to priority sectors which include agriculture, small and medium enterprises, export-oriented companies, and social infrastructure. Additionally, all banks are required to invest 18.25 percent of their net demand and time liabilities in government securities. The RBI plans to reduce this by 25 basis points every quarter until the investment requirement reaches 18 percent of their net demand and time liabilities.

PSBs currently face two significant hurdles: capital constraints and poor asset quality. As of September 2019, gross non-performing loans represented 9.3 percent of total loans in the banking system, with the public sector banks having an even larger share at 12.7 percent of their loan portfolio. The PSBs’ asset quality deterioration in recent years is driven by their exposure to a broad range of industrial sectors including infrastructure, metals and mining, textiles, and aviation. With the new bankruptcy law (IBC) in place, banks are making progress in non-performing asset recognition and resolution. As of December 2019, the resolution processes have been approved in 190 cases Lengthy legal challenges have posed the greatest obstacle, as time spent on litigation was not counted against the 270 day deadline.

In July 2019, Parliament amended the IBC to require final resolution within 330 days including litigation time. To address asset quality challenges faced by public sector banks, the government injected $30 billion into public sector banks in recent years. The capitalization largely aimed to address the capital inadequacy of public sector banks and marginally provide for growth capital. Following the recapitalization, public sector banks’ total capital adequacy ratio (CRAR) improved to 13.5 percent in September 2019 from 12.2 in March 2019. In 2019, the Indian authorities also announced a consolidation plan entailing a merger of 10 public sector banks into 4, thereby reducing the total number of public sector banks from 18 to 12.

Women in the Financial Sector

Women in India receive a smaller portion of financial support relative to men, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. In 2015, the Modi government started the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Ltd. (MUDRA), which supports the development of micro-enterprises. The initiative encourages women’s participation and offers collateral-free loans of around $15,000. The Acting Finance Minister Piyush Goyal while delivering the 2019 budget speech mentioned that 70 percent of the beneficiaries of MUDRA initiative are women. Under the MUDRA initiative, 155.6 million loans have been disbursed amounting to $103 billion. Following the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) 2017, government agency the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), launched a Women’s Entrepreneurship Platform, https://wep.gov.in/, a single window information hub which provides information on a range of issues including access to finance, marketing, existing government programs, incubators, public and private initiatives, and mentoring. About 5,000 members are currently registered and using the services of the portal said a NITI Aayog officer who has an oversight of the project.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The RBI, under the Liberalized Remittance Scheme, allows individuals to remit up to $250,000 per fiscal year (April-March) out of the country for permitted current account transactions (private visit, gift/donation, going abroad on employment, emigration, maintenance of close relatives abroad, business trip, medical treatment abroad, studies abroad) and certain capital account transactions (opening of foreign currency account abroad with a bank, purchase of property abroad, making investments abroad, setting up Wholly Owned Subsidiaries and Joint Ventures outside of India, extending loans). The INR is fully convertible only in current account transactions, as regulated under the Foreign Exchange Management Act regulations of 2000 (https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/Fema.aspx ).

Foreign exchange withdrawal is prohibited for remittance of lottery winnings; income from racing, riding or any other hobby; purchase of lottery tickets, banned or proscribed magazines; football pools and sweepstakes; payment of commission on exports made towards equity investment in Joint Ventures or Wholly Owned Subsidiaries of Indian companies abroad; and remittance of interest income on funds held in a Non-Resident Special Rupee Scheme Account (https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_ViewMasDirections.aspx?id=10193#sdi ). Furthermore, the following transactions require the approval of the Central Government: cultural tours; remittance of hiring charges for transponders for television channels under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and Internet Service Providers under the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology; remittance of prize money and sponsorship of sports activity abroad if the amount involved exceeds $100,000; advertisement in foreign print media for purposes other than promotion of tourism, foreign investments and international bidding (over $10,000) by a state government and its public sector undertakings (PSUs); and multi-modal transport operators paying remittances to their agents abroad. RBI approval is required for acquiring foreign currency above certain limits for specific purposes including remittances for: maintenance of close relatives abroad; any consultancy services; funds exceeding 5 percent of investment brought into India or USD $100,000, whichever is higher, by an entity in India by way of reimbursement of pre-incorporation expenses.

Capital account transactions are open to foreign investors, though subject to various clearances. NRI investment in real estate, remittance of proceeds from the sale of assets, and remittance of proceeds from the sale of shares may be subject to approval by the RBI or FIPB.

FIIs may transfer funds from INR to foreign currency accounts and back at market exchange rates. They may also repatriate capital, capital gains, dividends, interest income, and compensation from the sale of rights offerings without RBI approval. The RBI also authorizes automatic approval to Indian industry for payments associated with foreign collaboration agreements, royalties, and lump sum fees for technology transfer, and payments for the use of trademarks and brand names. Royalties and lump sum payments are taxed at 10 percent.

The RBI has periodically released guidelines to all banks, financial institutions, NBFCs, and payment system providers regarding Know Your Customer (KYC) and reporting requirements under Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)/Common Reporting Standards (CRS). The government’s July 7, 2015 notification (https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/content/pdfs/CKYCR2611215_AN.pdf ) amended the Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Rules, 2005, (Rules), for setting up of the Central KYC Records Registry (CKYCR)—a registry to receive, store, safeguard and retrieve the KYC records in digital form of clients.

Remittance Policies

Remittances are permitted on all investments and profits earned by foreign companies in India once taxes have been paid. Nonetheless, certain sectors are subject to special conditions, including construction, development projects, and defense, wherein the foreign investment is subject to a lock-in period. Profits and dividend remittances as current account transactions are permitted without RBI approval following payment of a dividend distribution tax.

Foreign banks may remit profits and surpluses to their headquarters, subject to compliance with the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. Banks are permitted to offer foreign currency-INR swaps without limits for the purpose of hedging customers’ foreign currency liabilities. They may also offer forward coverage to non-resident entities on FDI deployed since 1993.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The FY 2016 the Indian government established the National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), touted as India’s first sovereign wealth fund to promote investments in the infrastructure sector. The government agreed to contribute $3 billion to the fund, while an additional $3 billion will be raised from the private sector primarily from sovereign wealth funds, multilateral agencies, endowment funds, pension funds, insurers, and foreign central banks. So far, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Australian Super, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Temasek, Axis Bank, HDFC Group, ICICI Bank and Kotak Mahindra Life Insurance have committed investments into the NIIF Master Fund, alongside Government of India. NIIF Master Fund now has $2.1 billion in commitments with a focus on core infrastructure sectors including transportation, energy and urban infrastructure.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The government owns or controls interests in key sectors with significant economic impact, including infrastructure, oil, gas, mining, and manufacturing. The Department of Public Enterprises (http://dpe.gov.in ), controls and formulates all the policies pertaining to SOEs, and is headed by a minister to whom the senior management reports. The Comptroller and Auditor General audits the SOEs. The government has taken a number of steps to improve the performance of SOEs, also called the Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), including improvements to corporate governance. Reforms carried out in the 1990s focused on liberalization and deregulation of most sectors and disinvestment of government shares. These and other steps to strengthen CPSE boards and enhance transparency evolved into a more comprehensive governance approach, culminating in the Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-Owned Enterprises issued in 2007 and their mandatory implementation beginning in 2010. Governance reforms gained prominence for several reasons: the important role that CPSEs continue to play in the Indian economy; increased pressure on CPSEs to improve their competitiveness as a result of exposure to competition and hard budget constraints; and new listings of CPSEs on capital markets.

According to the Public Enterprise Survey 2018-19 as of March 2019 there were 348 central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) with a total investment of $234 billion, of which 248 are operating CPSEs. The report puts the number of profit-making CPSEs at 178, while 70 CPSEs were incurring losses. The government tried to unsuccessfully privatize the state-run loss- incurring airline Air India.

Foreign investments are allowed in the CPSEs in all sectors. The Master List of CPSEs can be accessed at http://www.bsepsu.com/list-cpse.asp.  While the CPSEs face the same tax burden as the private sector, on issues like procurement of land they receive streamlined licensing that private sector enterprises do not.

Privatization Program

Despite the financial upside to disinvestment in loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the government has not generally privatized its assets as they have led to job losses in the past, and therefore engender political risks. Instead, the government has adopted a gradual disinvestment policy that dilutes government stakes in public enterprises without sacrificing control. Such disinvestment has been undertaken both as fiscal support and as a means of improving the efficiency of SOEs.

In recent years, however the government has begun to look to disinvestment proceeds as a major source of revenue to finance its fiscal deficit. For the first time in seven years, the government met its disinvestment target in fiscal year 2017-18, generating $15.38 billion against a target of $11.15 billion. For FY 2020, the government increased the disinvestment target of $12.3 billion but managed to generate only $2.5 billion till December 2019 The Government of India’s plan to sell state-owned carrier Air India could not happen in FY 2020. The Indian Government constituted inter-ministerial panel recommended 100 percent stake sale in Air India to make it more lucrative as against a 76 percent stake sale last year. Government did say that they have received some good bids, but the process might go to a back burner because of the COVID19 pandemic and its resulting impact on the economy.

Foreign institutional investors can participate in these disinvestment programs subject to these limits: 24 percent of the paid-up capital of the Indian company and 10 percent for non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin. The limit is 20 percent of the paid-up capital in the case of public sector banks. There is no bidding process. The shares of the SOEs being disinvested are sold in the open market. Detailed policy procedures relating to disinvestment in India can be accessed at: https://dipam.gov.in/disinvestment-policy 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Among Indian companies there is a general awareness of standards for responsible business conduct. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) administers the Companies Act of 2013 and is responsible for regulating the corporate sector in accordance with the law. The MCA is also responsible for protecting the interests of consumers by ensuring competitive markets.

The Companies Act of 2013 also established the framework for India’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) laws. While the CSR obligations are mandated by law, non-government organizations (NGOs) in India also track CSR activities provide recommendations in some cases for effective use of CSR funds. MCA released the National Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct, 2018 (NGRBC) on March 13, 2019 (an improvement over the existing National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental & Economic Responsibilities of Business, 2011), as a means to nudge businesses to contribute towards wider development goals while seeking to maximize their profits. The NGRBC is dovetailed with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs).

A CRISIL study reported that cumulative spending on CSR since it was mandated is more than $ 7 billion (Rs.50,000 crores) including $ 4.85 billion (Rs. 34,000 crores) by listed companies and nearly $ 2.7 billion (Rs.19,000 crores) by unlisted ones. The study further noted that overall, 1,913 companies met the government’s eligibility criteria but 667 of them could not spend for various reasons. About 153 companies spent 3 percent or more as against the mandated 2 percent of profits. In terms of spending, energy companies were front runners to spend $ 322 million (Rs. 2,253 crore) or 23 percent of the overall spending followed by manufacturing, financial services and information technology services. The preferred spending heads were education, skill development, healthcare, and sanitation and preferred areas being National Capital region, Karnataka and Maharashtra. The study however noted that there could be shrink both in terms of number of companies and their total spend after the Companies (Amendment) Act 2017 where the eligibility criteria is now based on financials of the “immediately preceding financial year” rather than the earlier stipulation of “any three preceding “immediately preceding financial year” rather than the earlier stipulation of “any three preceding financial years.”

India does not adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. There are provisions to promote responsible business conduct throughout the supply chain.

India is not a member of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) nor is it a member of Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

9. Corruption

India is a signatory to the United Nation’s Conventions Against Corruption and is a member of the G20 Working Group against corruption. India showed marginal improvement and scored 41 out of 100 in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index, with a ranking of 78 out of the 180 countries surveyed (as compared to a score of 40 out of 100 and ranked 81 in 2017).

Corruption is addressed by the following laws: the Companies Act, 2013; the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002; the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; the Code of Criminal Procedures, 1973; the Indian Contract Act, 1872; and the Indian Penal Code of 1860. Anti- corruption laws amended since 2004 have granted additional powers to vigilance departments in government ministries at the central and state levels. The amendments also elevated the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to be a statutory body. In addition, the Comptroller and Auditor General is charged with performing audits on public-private-partnership contracts in the infrastructure sector on the basis of allegations of revenue loss to the exchequer.

In November 2016, the Modi government ordered that INR 1000 and 500 notes, comprising approximately 86 percent of cash in circulation, be demonetized to curb “black money,” corruption, and the financing of terrorism. An August 2018 RBI report stated 99 percent of demonetized cash was deposited in legitimate bank accounts, leading analysts to question if the exercise enabled criminals to launder money into the banking system. Digital transactions increased due to demonetization, as mobile banking inclusion jumped from 40 percent to 60 percent of the populace. India is investigating 1.8 million bank accounts and 200 individuals associated with unusual deposits during demonetization, and banks’ suspicious transaction reports quadrupled to 473,000 in 2016. On August 7, SEBI directed stock exchanges to restrict trading and audit 162 suspected shell companies on the basis of large cash deposits during demonetization.

The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act of 2016 entered into effect in November 2016, and strengthened the legal and administrative procedures of the Benami Transactions Act 1988, which was ultimately never notified. (Note: A benami property is held by one person, but paid for by another, often with illicit funds.) Analysts expect the government to issue a roadmap in 2017-2018 to begin implementing the Act. In May 2017, the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 came into effect. The Act will regulate India’s real estate sector, which is notorious for its corruption and lack of transparency.

In November 2016, India and Switzerland signed a joint declaration to enter into an Agreement on the Exchange of Information (AEOI) to automatically share financial information on accounts held by Indian residents, beginning in 2018. India also amended its Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Singapore, Cyprus, and Mauritius in 2016 to prevent income tax evasion. The move follows the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015, which replaced the Income Tax (IT) Act of 1961 regarding the taxation of foreign income. The new Act penalizes the concealment of foreign income, as well as provides criminal liability for foreign income tax evasion.

In February 2014, the government enacted the Whistleblower Act, intended to protect anti- corruption activists, but it has yet to be implemented. Experts believe that the prosecution of corruption has been effective only among the lower levels of the bureaucracy; senior bureaucrats have generally been spared. Businesses consistently cite corruption as a significant obstacle to FDI in India and identify government procurement as a process particularly vulnerable to corruption. To make the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014 more effective, the government proposed an amendment bill in 2015. This bill is still pending with the Upper House of Parliament; however anti-corruption activists have expressed concern that the bill will dilute the Act by creating exemptions for state authorities, allowing them to stay out of reach of whistleblowers.

The Companies Act of 2013 established rules related to corruption in the private sector by mandating mechanisms for the protection of whistle blowers, industry codes of conduct, and the appointment of independent directors to company boards. As yet, the government has established no monitoring mechanism, and it is unclear the extent to which these protections have been instituted. No legislation focuses particularly on the protection of NGOs working on corruption issues, though the Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2011, may afford some protection once it has been fully implemented.

In 2013, Parliament enacted the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, which created a national anti- corruption ombudsman and requires states to create state-level ombudsmen within one year of the law’s passage. Till December 2018, the government had not appointed an ombudsman. (Note: An ombudsman was finally appointed in March 2019.)

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

India is a signatory to the United Nations Conventions against Corruption and is a member of the G20 Working Group against Corruption. India is not party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

Matt Ingeneri
Economic Growth Unit Chief U.S. Embassy New Delhi Shantipath, Chanakyapuri New Delhi
+91 11 2419 8000 ingeneripm@state.gov

Ashutosh Kumar Mishra
Executive Director
Transparency International, India
Lajpat Bhawan, Room no.4
Lajpat Nagar,
New Delhi – 110024 +91 11 2646 0826
info@transparencyindia.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Prime Minister Modi’s BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government won a decisive mandate in the May 2019 elections, winning a larger majority in the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) than in 2014. The new government’s first 100 days of its second term were marked by the removal of special constitutional status from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) The government’s decision to remove J&K autonomy was preceded by a heavy paramilitary build-up in the State, arrests of local opposition leaders, and cutting of mobile phone and Internet services. Internet connections have since been largely opened, but with continued severe limitations on data download speeds to the extent that everyday activities of Kashmiris often take hours or need to be completed outside the region.

A number of areas of India suffered from terrorist attacks by separatists, including Jammu and Kashmir and some states in India’s northeast.

In December 2019, the government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which promises fast-tracked citizenship to applicants from six minority religious groups from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, but does not offer a similar privilege to Muslims from these countries. The new law sparked widespread protests that sometimes-included violence by demonstrators, government supporters, and security services.

Travelers to India are invited to visit the U.S. Department of State travel advisory website at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/india.html for the latest information and travel resources.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Although there are more than 20 million unionized workers in India, unions still represent less than 5 percent of the total work force. Most of these unions are linked to political parties. Unions are typically strong in state-owned enterprises. A majority of the unionized work force can be found in the railroads, port & dock, banking and insurance sectors. According to provisional figures form the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE), over 1.74 million workdays were lost to strikes and lockouts during 2018. Labor unrest occurs throughout India, though the reasons and affected sectors vary widely. A majority of the labor problems are the result of workplace disagreements over pay, working conditions, and union representation.

India’s labor regulations are very stringent and complex, and over time have limited the growth of the formal manufacturing sector. In an effort to reduce the number of labor related statutes, the Indian parliament passed the Code on Wages legislation in 2019. This Code combines four previously existing statutes- The Payment of Wages Act, the Minimum Wages Act, the Payment of Bonus Act, and the Equal Renumeration Act- into one code to simplify compliance procedures for employers. Minimum industrial wages vary by state, ranging from about $2.20 per day for unskilled laborers to over $9.30 per day for skilled production workers.  Retrenchment, closure, and layoffs are governed by the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947, which requires prior government permission to lay off workers or close businesses employing more than 100 people, although some states including Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra have increased the threshold to 300 people. RBI approval is also required for foreign banks to close branches.  Permission is generally difficult to obtain, which has resulted in the increasing use of contract workers (i.e. non- permanent employees) to circumvent the law.  Private firms successfully downsize through voluntary retirement schemes.

Since the current government assumed office in 2014, much of the movement on labor laws has taken place at the state level, particularly in Rajasthan, where the government has passed major amendments to allow for quicker hiring, firing, laying off, and shutting down of businesses. The Ministry of Labor and Employment launched a web portal in 2014 to assist companies in filing a single online report on compliance with 16 labor-related laws. The government has also drafted a Code on Industrial Relations that is currently being reviewed by a parliamentary committee. India’s major labor unions have opposed labor reforms, arguing that they compromise workers’ safety and job security.

In March 2017, the Maternity Benefits Act was amended to increase the paid maternity leave for women from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.  The amendment also makes it mandatory for all industrial establishments employing 50 or more workers to have a creche for babies to enable nursing mothers to feed the child up to 4 times in a day.

In August 2016, the Child Labor Act was amended establishing a minimum age of 14 years for work and 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work. In December 2016, the government promulgated legislation enabling employers to pay worker salaries through checks or e-payment in addition to the prevailing practice of cash payment.

There are no reliable unemployment statistics for India due to the informal nature of most employment. A 2019 report from India’s National Statistics Commission claimed that the official unemployment rate in India rose to 6.1 percent in 2018, a 45-year high. In contrast, the unemployment rate was only 2.2 percent the last time when the commission conducted this survey in 2012. The government acknowledges a shortage of skilled labor in high-growth sectors of the economy, including information technology and manufacturing. The current government has established a Ministry of Skill Development and has embarked on a national program to increase skilled labor.

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

The United States and India signed an Investment Incentive Agreement in 1987. This agreement covered the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and its successor agency, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). DFC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, launched in January 1, 2020, to incorporate OPIC’s programs as well as the Direct Credit Authority of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since 1974, DFC (under its predecessor agency, OPIC) has provided support to over 200 projects in India in the form of loans, investment funds, and political risk insurance.

As of March 2020, DFC’s current outstanding portfolio in India comprises more than $1.7 billion, across 50 projects. These commitments are concentrated in utilities, financial services (including microfinance), and impact investments that include agribusiness and healthcare. 13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

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) 2019 $2.92 trillion 2018 $2.791 trillion https://data.worldbank.org/
country/india
 
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 (stock positions) 2019 $28.34*billion 2019 $45.9 billion https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (stock positions) 2015 $9.2*billion 2018 $5.0 billion https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 15.1% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

*The Indian government source for GDP is: https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/economicsurvey/doc/Statistical-Appendix-in-English.pdf  The Indian government source for FDI statistics is: http://dipp.nic.in/publications/fdi-statistics  and the figure is the cumulative FDI from April 2000 to December 2017. The DIPP figures include equity inflows, reinvested earnings and “other capital,” and are not directly comparable with the BEA data. Outward FDI data has been sourced from: http://ficci.in/study-  page.asp?spid=20933&deskid=54531  

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 456,911 100% Total Outward N/A 100%
Mauritius 141,925 31% N/A N/A N/A
Singapore 94,651 21% N/A N/A N/A
Japan 33,081 7% N/A N/A N/A
Netherlands 30,884 7% N/A N/A N/A
United States 28,349 6% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Note: Outward Direct InvestmentAccording to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) of the Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the outward FDI from India in equity, loan and guaranteed issue stood at US$ 12.59 billion in FY2018-19.
Source: Inward FDI DIPP, Ministry of Commerce and Industry
Outward Investments (July 2018-December 2018) RBI

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 3,374 100% All Countries 2,010 100% All Countries 1,723 100%
United States 2218 59% United States 614 31% United States 1604 93%
China, P.R. Mainland 605 16% China, P.R. Mainland 605 30% Brazil 51 3%
Luxembourg 317 8% Luxembourg 317 16% Mauritius 27 2%
Mauritius 144 4% Mauritius 117 6% France 20 1%
Indonesia 63 2% Indonesia 63 3% United Kingdom 19 1%

14. Contact for More Information

Matt Ingeneri
Economic Growth Unit Chief
U.S. Embassy New Delhi
Shantipath, Chanakyapuri New Delhi +91 11 2419 8000
+91 11 2419 8000
IngeneriPM@state. gov

Indonesia

Executive Summary

Indonesia’s population of 268 million, GDP over USD 1 trillion, growing middle class, and stable economy all serve as attractive features to U.S. investors; however, different entities have noted that investing in Indonesia remains challenging.  Since 2014, the Indonesian government under President Joko (“Jokowi”) Widodo, now in his second and final five-year term,  has prioritized boosting infrastructure investment and human capital development to support Indonesia’s economic growth goals.  As he began his second term in October 2019, President Jokowi announced sweeping plans to pass omnibus laws aimed at improving Indonesia’s economic competitiveness by lowering corporate taxes, reforming rigid labor laws, and reducing bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to investment.  However, with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, the government shifted its focus to providing fiscal and monetary stimulus to support the economy.  Regardless of the outcome of further reforms, factors such as a decentralized decision-making process, legal and regulatory uncertainty, economic nationalism, and powerful domestic vested interests in both the private and public sectors, create a complex investment climate.  Other factors relevant to investors include: government requirements, both formal and informal, to partner with Indonesian companies, and to manufacture or purchase goods and services locally; restrictions on some imports and exports; and pressure to make substantial, long-term investment commitments.  Despite recent limits placed on its authority, the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) continues to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.  However, investors still cite corruption as an obstacle to pursuing opportunities in Indonesia.

Other barriers to foreign investment that have been reported include difficulties in government coordination, the slow rate of land acquisition for infrastructure projects, weak enforcement of contracts, bureaucratic inefficiency, and ambiguous legislation in regards to tax enforcement. Businesses also face difficulty from changes to rules at government discretion with little or no notice and opportunity for comment, and lack of consultation with stakeholders in the development of laws and regulations.  Investors have noted that many new regulations are difficult to understand and often not properly communicated to those affected.  In addition, companies have complained about the complexity of inter-ministerial coordination that continues to delay some processes important to companies, such as securing business licenses and import permits.  In response, in July 2018 the government launched a “one stop shop” for licenses and permits via an online single submission (OSS) system at the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM).  Indonesia restricts foreign investment in some sectors through a Negative Investment List that Indonesian officials have indicated will be scrapped as part of omnibus legislation.  The latest version, issued in 2016, details the sectors in which foreign investment is restricted and outlines the foreign equity limits in a number of other sectors.  The 2016 Negative Investment List allows greater foreign investments in some sectors, including e-commerce, film, tourism, and logistics.  In health care, the 2016 list loosens restrictions on foreign investment in categories such as hospital management services and manufacturing of raw materials for medicines, but tightens restrictions in others such as mental rehabilitation, dental and specialty clinics, nursing services, and the manufacture and distribution of medical devices. Companies have reported that energy and mining still face significant foreign investment barriers.

Indonesia began to abrogate its more than 60 existing Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in 2014, allowing some of the agreements to expire in order to be renegotiated.  The United States does not have a BIT with Indonesia.

Despite the challenges that industry has reported, Indonesia continues to attract significant foreign investment.  Singapore, Netherlands, United States, Japan and Hong Kong were among the top sources of foreign investment in the country in 2018 (latest available full-year data). Private consumption is the backbone of the largest economy in ASEAN, making Indonesia a promising destination for a wide range of companies, ranging from consumer products and financial services, to digital start-ups and franchisors.  Indonesia has ambitious plans to improve its infrastructure with a focus on expanding access to energy, strengthening its maritime transport corridors, which includes building roads, ports, railways and airports, as well as improving agricultural production, telecommunications, and broadband networks throughout the country. Indonesia continues to attract U.S. franchises and consumer product manufacturers.  UN agencies and the World Bank have recommended that Indonesia do more to grow financial and investor support for women-owned businesses, noting obstacles that women-owned business sometimes face in early-stage financing.

Table 1
Measure Year Index or Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions index 2019 85 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2019
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 73 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 85 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $11,140 M  https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $3,840 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=ID

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

With GDP growth of 5.02 percent in 2019, Indonesia is an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) due to its young population, strong domestic demand, stable political situation, and well-regarded macroeconomic policy.  Indonesian government officials often state that they welcome increased FDI, aiming to create jobs and spur economic growth, and court foreign investors, notably focusing on infrastructure development and export-oriented manufacturing.  Foreign investors, however, have complained about vague and conflicting regulations,  bureaucratic inefficiencies, ambiguous legislation in regards to  tax enforcement, poor existing infrastructure, rigid labor laws, sanctity of contract issues, and corruption.

The Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board, or BKPM, serves as an investment promotion agency, a regulatory body, and the agency in charge of approving planned investments in Indonesia.  As such, it is the first point of contact for foreign investors, particularly in manufacturing, industrial, and non-financial services sectors.  BKPM’s OSS system streamlines 492 licensing and permitting processes through the issuance of Government Regulation No.24/2018 on Electronic Integrated Business Licensing Services.  While the OSS system is operational, overlapping authority for permit issuance across ministries and government institutions, both at the national and subnational level, remains challenging.  Special expedited licensing services are available for investors meeting certain criteria, such as making investments in excess of approximately IDR100 billion (USD 6.6 million) or employing 1,000 local workers. The government has provided investment incentives particularly for “pioneer” sectors, (please see the section on Industrial Policies)

To further improve the investment climate, the government drafted an omnibus law on job creation to amend dozens of prevailing laws deemed to hamper investment.  In February 2020, the draft omnibus law was submitted to the legislature for deliberation.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Restrictions on FDI are, for the most part, outlined in Presidential Decree No.44/2016, commonly referred to as the Negative Investment List or the DNI. The DNI aims to consolidate FDI restrictions from numerous decrees and regulations, in order to create greater certainty for foreign and domestic investors.  The 2016 revision to the list eased restrictions in a number of previously closed or restricted fields.  Previously closed sectors, including the film industry (including filming, editing, captioning, production, showing, and distribution of films), on-line marketplaces with a value in excess of IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million), restaurants, cold chain storage, informal education, hospital management services, and manufacturing of raw materials for medicine, are now open for 100 percent foreign ownership.  The 2016 list also raises the foreign investment cap in the following sectors, though not fully to 100 percent:  online marketplaces under IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million), tourism sectors, distribution and warehouse facilities, logistics, and manufacturing and distribution of medical devices.  In certain sectors, restrictions are liberalized for foreign investors from other ASEAN countries.  Though the energy sector saw little change in the 2016 revision, foreign investment in construction of geothermal power plants up to 10 MW is permitted with an ownership cap of 67 percent, while the operation and maintenance of such plants is capped at 49 percent foreign ownership.  For investment in certain sectors, such as mining and higher education, the 2016 DNI is useful only as a starting point for due diligence, as additional licenses and permits are required by individual ministries.  A number of sensitive business areas, involving, for example, alcoholic beverages, ocean salvage, certain fisheries, and the production of some hazardous substances, remain closed to foreign investment or are otherwise restricted.

Foreign investment in small-scale and home industries (i.e. forestry, fisheries, small plantations, certain retail sectors) is reserved for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) or requires a partnership between a foreign investor and local entity.  Even where the 2016 DNI revisions lifted limits on foreign ownership, certain sectors remain subject to other restrictions imposed by separate laws and regulations.  As part of President Jokowi’s second-term economic reform agenda, Indonesian ministers have stated their interest in revising the 2016 DNI through a new presidential regulation that will be issued in 2020.  This new Investment Priorities List, or DPI, will incentivize investment into certain sectors, notably export-oriented manufacturing, digital technology projects, labor-intensive industries, and value-added processing, with the aim to spur innovation and reduce Indonesia’s current account deficit.  The government also intends to shorten the list of restricted sectors to six categories including cannabis, gambling, and chemical weapons..

In 2016, Bank Indonesia issued Regulation No.18/2016 on the implementation of payment transaction processing.  The regulation governs all companies providing the following services: principal, issuer, acquirer, clearing, final settlement operator, and operator of funds transfer.  The BI regulation capped foreign ownership of payments companies at 20 percent, though it contained a grandfathering provision.  BI’s 2017 Regulation No.19/2017 on the National Payment Gateway (NPG) subsequently imposed a 20 percent foreign equity cap on all companies engaging in domestic debit switching transactions.  Firms wishing to continue executing domestic debit transactions are obligated to sign partnership agreements with one of Indonesia’s four NPG switching companies.

Foreigners may purchase equity in state-owned firms through initial public offerings and the secondary market. Capital investments in publicly listed companies through the stock exchange are not subject to the DNI.

The government issued Trade Minister Regulation 71/2019 to revoke the requirement for eighty percent local content and limitation of outlet numbers in the franchise industry.  Nevertheless, the government encourages companies to utilize domestic goods and services that meet franchisor quality standards.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The latest World Trade Organization (WTO) Investment Policy Review of Indonesia was conducted in April 2013 and can be found on the WTO website: http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp378_e.htm 

The last OECD Investment Policy Review of Indonesia, conducted in 2010, can be found on the OECD website:

http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investmentfordevelopment/indonesia-investmentpolicyreview-oecd.htm 

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

Business Facilitation

In order to conduct business in Indonesia, foreign investors must be incorporated as a foreign-owned limited liability company (PMA) through the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.  Once incorporated, a PMA must register through the OSS system.  Upon registration, a company will receive a business identity number (NIB) along with proof of participation in the Workers Social Security Program (BPJS) and endorsement of any Foreign Worker Recruitment Plans (RPTKA).  An NIB remains valid as long as the business operates in compliance with Indonesian laws and regulations.  Existing businesses will eventually be required to register through the OSS system.  In general, the OSS system simplified processes for obtaining NIB from three days to one day upon the completion of prerequisites.

Once an investor has obtained a NIB, he/she may apply for a business license.  At this stage, investors must:  document their legal claim to the proposed project land/location; provide an environmental impact statement (AMDAL); show proof of submission of an investment realization report; and provide a recommendation from relevant ministries as necessary. Investors also need to apply for commercial and/or operational licenses prior to commencing commercial operations.  Special expedited licensing services are also available for investors meeting certain criteria, such as making investments in excess of approximately IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million) or employing 1,000 local workers.  After obtaining a NIB, investors in some designated industrial estates can immediately start project construction.

Foreign investors are generally prohibited from investing in MSMEs in Indonesia, although the 2016 Negative Investment List opened some opportunities for partnerships in farming and catalog and online retail.  In accordance with the Indonesian SMEs Law No. 20/2008, MSMEs are defined as enterprises with net assets less than IDR10 billion (USD 0.7 million) or with total annual sales under IDR50 billion (USD 3.3 million).  However, the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics defines MSMEs as enterprises with fewer than 99 employees.  The government provides assistance to MSMEs, including: expanded access to business credit for MSMEs in farming, fishery, manufacturing, creative business, trading and services sectors; a tax exemption for MSMEs with annual sales under IDR 200 million (USD 13,000); and assistance with international promotion.

The Ministry of Law and Human Rights’ implementation of an electronic business registration filing, and notification system has dramatically reduced the number of days needed to register a company.  Foreign firms are not required to disclose proprietary information to the government.

BKPM is responsible for issuing “investment licenses” (the term used to encompass both NIB and business licenses) to foreign entities and has taken steps to simplify the application process. The OSS serves as an online portal which allows foreign investors to apply for and track the status of licenses and other services online.  The OSS coordinates many of the permits issued by more than a dozen ministries and agencies required for investment approval.  In November 2019, the government through Presidential Instruction 7/2019 appointed BKPM as the main institution to issue business permits and to grant investment incentives which have been delegated from all ministries and government institutions. BKPM has also been tasked to review policies deemed unfavorable for investors.  In addition, BKPM now issues soft-copy investment and business licenses.  While the OSS’s goal is to help streamline investment approvals, investments in the mining, oil and gas, plantation, and most other sectors still require multiple licenses from related ministries and authorities.  Likewise, certain tax and land permits, among others, typically must be obtained from local government authorities.  Though Indonesian companies are only required to obtain one approval at the local level, businesses report that foreign companies often must seek additional approvals in order to establish a business.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform, and BKPM issued a circular in 2010 to clarify which government offices are responsible for investment that crosses provincial and regional boundaries.  Investment in a regency (a sub-provincial level of government) is managed by the regency government; investment that lies in two or more regencies is managed by the provincial government; and investment that lies in two or more provinces is managed by the central government, or central BKPM.  BKPM has plans to roll out its one-stop-shop structure to the provincial and regency level to streamline local permitting processes at more than 500 sites around the country.

Outward Investment

Indonesia’s outward investment is limited, as domestic investors tend to focus on the domestic market.  BKPM has responsibility for promoting and facilitating outward investment, to include providing information about investment opportunities in and policies of other countries.  BKPM also uses their investment and trade promotion centers abroad to match Indonesian companies with potential investment opportunities.  The government neither restricts nor provides incentives for outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Indonesia continues to bring its legal, regulatory, and accounting systems into compliance with international norms and agreements, but progress is slow.  Notable developments included passage of a comprehensive anti-money laundering law in 2010 and a land acquisition law in 2012.  Although Indonesia continues to move forward with regulatory system reforms foreign investors have indicated they still encounter challenges in comparison to domestic investors and have criticized the current regulatory system for its failure to establish clear and transparent rules for all actors.  Certain laws and policies, including the DNI, establish sectors that are either fully off-limits to foreign investors or are subject to substantive conditions.

Decentralization has introduced another layer of bureaucracy for firms to navigate, resulting in what companies have identified as additional red tape.  Certain businesses claim that Indonesia encounters challenges in launching bureaucratic reforms due to ineffective management, resistance from vested interests, and corruption.  U.S. businesses cite regulatory uncertainty and a lack of transparency as two significant factors hindering operations.  Government ministries and agencies, including the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR), continue to publish many proposed laws and regulations in draft form for public comment; however, not all draft laws and regulations are made available in public fora and it can take years for draft legislation to become law.  Laws and regulations are often vague and require substantial interpretation by the implementers, leading to business uncertainty and rent-seeking opportunities.

U.S. companies note that regulatory consultation in Indonesia is inconsistent, despite the existence of Law No. 12/2011 on the Development of Laws and Regulations and its implementing Government regulation 87/204, which states that the community is entitled to provide oral or written input into draft laws and regulations.  The law also sets out procedures for revoking regulations and introduces requirements for academic studies as a basis for formulating laws and regulations.  Nevertheless, the absence of a formal consultation mechanism has been reported to lead to different interpretations among policy makers of what is required.

In 2016, the Jokowi administration repealed 3,143 regional bylaws that overlapped with other regulations and impeded the ease of doing business.  However, a 2017 Constitutional Court ruling limited the Ministry of Home Affairs’ authority to revoke local regulations and allowed local governments to appeal the central government’s decision.  The Ministry continues to play a consultative function in the regulation drafting stage, providing input to standardize regional bylaws with national laws.

In 2017, the government issued Presidential Instruction No. 7/2017, which aims to improve the coordination among ministries in the policy-making process.  The new regulation requires lead ministries to coordinate with their respective coordinating ministry before issuing a regulation.  Presidential Instruction No. 7 also requires Ministries to conduct a regulatory impact analysis and provide an opportunity for public consultation.  The presidential instruction did not address the frequent lack of coordination between the central and local governments.  Pursuant to various Indonesian economy policy reform packages over the past several years, the government has eliminated 220 regulations as of September 2018.  Fifty-one of the eliminated regulations are at the Presidential level and 169 at the ministerial or institutional level.

In July 2018, President Jokowi issued Presidential Regulation No. 54/2018, updating and streamlining the National Anti-Corruption Strategy to synergize corruption prevention efforts across ministries, regional governments, and law enforcement agencies.  The regulation focuses on three areas: licenses, state finances (primarily government revenue and expenditures), and law enforcement reform.  An interagency team, including KPK, leads the national strategy’s implementation efforts.

In October 2018, the government issued Presidential Regulation No. 95/2018 on e-government that requires all levels of government (central, provincial, and municipal) to implement online governance tools (e-budgeting, e-procurement, e-planning) to improve budget efficiency, government transparency, and the provision of public services.

International Regulatory Considerations

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

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

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

Judges are not bound by precedent and many laws are open to various interpretations.  A lack of clear land titles has plagued Indonesia for decades, although the land acquisition law No.2/2012 enacted in 2012 included legal mechanisms designed to resolve some past land ownership issues.  In addition, companies find Indonesia to have a poor track record on the legal enforcement of contracts, and civil disputes are sometimes criminalized.  Government Regulation No. 79/2010 opened the door for the government to remove recoverable costs from production sharing contracts.  Indonesia has also required mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work to include higher royalties, more divestment to local partners, more local content, and domestic processing of mineral ore.

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

FDI in Indonesia is regulated by Law No. 25/2007 (the Investment Law). Under the law, any form of FDI in Indonesia must be in the form of a limited liability company, with the foreign investor holding shares in the company. In addition, the government outlines restrictions on FDI in Presidential Decree No. 44/2016, commonly referred to as the 2016 Negative Investment List or DNI. It aims to consolidate FDI restrictions in certain sectors from numerous decrees and regulations to provide greater certainty for foreign and domestic investors. The 2016 DNI enables greater foreign investment in some sectors like film, tourism, logistics, health care, and e-commerce. A number of sectors remain closed to investment or are otherwise restricted. The 2016 DNI contains a clause that clarifies that existing investments will not be affected by the 2016 revisions. The website of the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) provides information on investment requirements and procedures: http://www2.bkpm.go.id/ .  Indonesia mandates reporting obligations for all foreign investors through BKPM Regulation No.7/2018.  See section two for Indonesia’s procedures for licensing foreign investment.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Indonesian Competition Authority (KPPU) implements and enforces the 1999 Indonesia Competition Law. The KPPU reviews agreements, business practices and mergers that may be deemed anti-competitive, advises the government on policies that may affect competition, and issues guidelines relating to the Competition Law. Strategic sectors such as food, finance, banking, energy, infrastructure, health, and education are KPPU’s priorities. In April 2017, the Indonesia DPR began deliberating a new draft of the Indonesian antitrust law, which would repeal the current Law No. 5/1999 and strengthen KPPU’s enforcement against monopolistic practices and unfair business competition.

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

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

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Indonesia seeks to facilitate investment through fiscal incentives, non-fiscal incentives, and other benefits. Fiscal incentives are in the form of tax holidays, tax allowances, and exemptions of import duties for capital goods and raw materials for investment. As part of the Economic Policy Package XVI, Indonesia issued a modified tax holiday scheme in November 2018 through Ministry of Finance (MOF) Regulation 150/2018, which revokes MOF Regulation 35/2018.  This regulation is intended to attract more direct investment in pioneer industries and simplify the application process through the OSS. The period of the tax holiday is extended up to 20 years; the minimum investment threshold is IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million), a significant reduction from the previous regulation at IDR 500 billion (USD 33 million). In addition to the tax holiday, depending on the investment amount, this regulation also provides either 25 or 50 percent income tax reduction for the two years after the end of the tax holiday. The following table explains the parameters of the new scheme:

Provision New Capital Investment IDR 100 billion to less than IDR 500 billion New Capital Investment IDR more  than IDR 500 billion
Reduction in Corporate Income Tax Rate 50% 100%
Concession Period 5 years 5-20 years
Transition Period 25% Corporate Income Tax Reduction for the next 2 years 50% Corporate Income Tax Reduction for the next 2 years

Based on BKPM Regulation 1/2019 as amended by BKPM Regulation 8/2019, the coverage of pioneer sectors was expanded to the digital economy, agricultural, plantation, and forestry, bringing the total to eighteen industries:

  1. Upstream basic metals;
  2. Oil and gas refineries;
  3. Petrochemicals derived from petroleum, natural gas, and coal;
  4. Inorganic basic chemicals;
  5. Organic basic chemicals;
  6. Pharmaceutical raw materials;
  7. Semi-conductors and other primary computer components;
  8. Primary medical device components;
  9. Primary industrial machinery components;
  10. Primary engine components for transport equipment;
  11. Robotic components for manufacturing machines;
  12. Primary ship components for the shipbuilding industry;
  13. Primary aircraft components;
  14. Primary train components;
  15. Power generation including waste-to-energy power plants;
  16. Economic infrastructure;
  17. Digital economy including data processing; and
  18. Agriculture, plantation, and forestry-based processing

Government Regulation No. 9/2016 expanded regional tax incentives for certain business categories in 2016. Apparel, leather goods, and footwear industries in all regions are now eligible for the tax incentives. In this regulation, existing tax facilities are maintained, including:

  • Deduction of 30 percent from taxable income over a six-year period
  • Accelerated depreciation and amortization
  • Ten percent of withholding tax on dividend paid by foreign taxpayer or a lower rate according to the avoidance of double taxation agreement
  • Compensation losses extended from 5 to 10 years with certain conditions for companies that are:
    1. Located in industrial or bonded zone;
    2. Developing infrastructure;
    3. Using at least 70 percent domestic raw material;
    4. Absorbing 500 to 1000 laborers;
    5. Doing research and development (R&D) worth at least 5 percent of the total investment over 5 years;
    6. Reinvesting capital; or,
    7. Exporting at least 30 percent of their product.

On March 31, 2020, Indonesia issued Government Regulation in Lieu of Law No. 1 of 2020 on State Financial Policy and the Stability of Financial Systems for the Handling of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic (Perppu 1/2020). Among its provisions are plans to regulate electronic based trading activity (e-trading) and to charge value-added taxes (VAT) on taxable intangible goods and services from foreign e-commerce parties and other highly-digitalized businesses. Income tax will also be imposed upon foreign e-commerce parties that are judged to meet a “significant economic presence” threshhold, based on consolidated gross circulation of a business group, total sales value, or active Indonesian users. The regulation also introduces an electronic transaction tax (ETT) that will be imposed on foreign entities that are subject to income tax obligations under the aformentioned threshhold but would not otherwise be subject to corporate income tax in Indonesia in the absence of a permanent establishment, where taxing such transactions is prohibited by bilateral tax treaties.  Industry representatives have expressed concern that such provisions seek to circumvent bilateral tax treaties intended to avoid double taxation, including the tax treaty between Indonesia and the United States.  They have also noted a lack of clarity over the Perppu’s implementation and concerns over administrative sanctions and the high cost to comply with new measures.  The new regulation will also also cut the corporate income tax rate, lowering it to 22 percent for 2020 and 2021, and to 20 percent for 2022. In addition, a company can claim a further 3 percent reduction if it is publicly listed, with a total number of shares traded on an Indonesian stock exchange of at least 40 percent.

The government provides the facility of Government-Borne Import Duty (Bea Masuk Ditanggung Pemerintah /BMDTP) with zero percent import duty to improve industrial competitiveness and public goods procurement in high value added, labor intensive, and high growth sectors. MOF Regulation 12/2020 provides zero import duty for imported raw materials in 36 sectors including plastics, cosmetics, polyester, resins, other chemical materials, machinery for agriculture, electricity, toys, vehicle components including for electric vehicles, telecommunications, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals until December 2020.

To cope with soaring demand and to improve domestic production of medical devices and supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the government through BKPM Regulation 86/2020 streamlined licensing requirement for manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. The Ministry of Health also accelerated product registration and certification for medical devices and household health supplies. Moreover, the Ministry of Trade issued Regulation 28/2020 to relax import requirements for certain medical-related products.

 At present, Indonesia does not have formal regulations granting national treatment to U.S. and other foreign firms participating in government-financed or subsidized research and development programs. The Ministry of Research and Technology handles applications on a case-by-case basis.

Indonesia’s vast natural resources have attracted significant foreign investment over the last century and continues to offer significant prospects. However, some companies report that a variety of government regulations have made doing business in the resources sector increasingly difficult, and Indonesia now ranks 64th of 76 jurisdictions in the Fraser Institute’s 2019 Mining Policy Perception Index. In 2012, Indonesia banned the export of raw minerals, dramatically increased the divestment requirements for foreign mining companies, and required major mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work with the government. A ban on the export of raw minerals went into effect in January 2014. However, in July 2014, the government issued regulations that allowed, until January 2017, the temporary export of copper and several other mineral concentrates with export duties and other conditions imposed. When the full export ban came back into effect in January 2017, the government again issued new regulations that allowed exports of copper concentrate and other specified minerals, but imposed more onerous requirements. Of note for foreign investors, provisions of the regulations require that to be able to export non-smelted mineral ores, companies with contracts of work must convert to mining business licenses—and thus be subject to prevailing regulations—and must commit to build smelters within the next five years. Also, foreign-owned mining companies must gradually divest 51 percent of shares to Indonesian interests over ten years, with the price of divested shares determined based on a “fair market value” determination that does not take into account existing reserves. In January 2020, the government banned the export of  nickel ore for all mining companies, foreign and domestic, in the hopes of encouraging construction of domestic nickel smelters. The 2009 mining law devolved the authority to issue mining licenses to local governments, who have responded by issuing more than 10,000 licenses, many of which have been reported to overlap or be unclearly mapped. In the oil and gas sector, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court disbanded the upstream regulator in 2012, injecting confusion and more uncertainty into the natural resources sector. Until a new oil and gas law is enacted, upstream activities are supervised by the Special Working Unit on Upstream Oil and Gas (SKK Migas).

During President Jokowi’s first term, the Indonesian government invested more than  USD 350 billion in infrastructure to connect Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands. The investments included toll roads, seaports, airports, power generation, telecommunications, and upgrades to Indonesia’s social infrastructure, such as, clean water and sanitation, and housing projects.  President Jokowi has emphasized that he will continue this infrastructure program during his second five-year term, aiming to increase Indonesia’s infrastructure stock from 43 percent of GDP in 2019 to 50 percent in 2024.

Despite high-level attention from Indonesian policymakers, many U.S. companies and investors report that the current institutional arrangement for infrastructure development still suffers from functional overlap, lack of capacity for public-private partnership (PPP) projects in regional governments, lack of solid value-for-money methodologies, crowding out of the private sector by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), legal uncertainty, lack of a solid land-acquisition framework, long-term operational risks for the private sector, unwillingness from stakeholders to be the first ones to test a new policy approach, corruption, and a relatively small Indonesian private sector. As a result of these challenges, the World Bank estimates that Indonesia faces a USD 1.5 trillion infrastructure gap in comparison to other emerging market economies.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Trade/ Trade Facilitation

Indonesia offers numerous incentives to foreign and domestic companies that operate in special economic and trade zones throughout Indonesia. The largest zone is the free trade zone (FTZ) island of Batam, located just south of Singapore. Neighboring Bintan Island and Karimun Island also enjoy FTZ status. Investors in FTZs are exempted from import duty, income tax, VAT, and sales tax on imported capital goods, equipment, and raw materials. Fees are assessed on the portion of production destined for the domestic market which is “exported” to Indonesia, in which case fees are owed only on that portion.  Foreign companies are allowed up to 100 percent ownership of companies in FTZs. Companies operating in FTZs may lend machinery and equipment to subcontractors located outside of the zone for a maximum two-year period.

Indonesia also has numerous Special Economic Zones (SEZs), regulated under Law No. 39/2009, Government Regulation No. 1/2020 on SEZ management, and Government Regulation No. 12/2020 on SEZ facilities. These benefits include a reduction of corporate income taxes for a period of years (depending on the size of the investment), income tax allowances, luxury tax, customs duty and excise, and expedited or simplified administrative processes for import/export, expatriate employment, immigration, and licensing. As of  February 2020, Indonesia has identified fifteen SEZs in manufacturing and tourism centers that are operational or under construction. Eleven SEZs are operational (though development is sometimes limited) at: 1) Sei Mangkei, North Sumatera; 2) Tanjung Lesung, Banten; 3) Palu, Central Sulawesi; 4) Mandalika, West Nusa Tenggara; 5) Arun Lhokseumawe, Aceh; 6) Galang Batang, Bintan, Riau Islands; 7) Tanjung Kelayang, Pulau Bangka, Bangka Belitung Islands; 8) Bitung, North Sulawesi; 9) Morotai, North Maluku; 10) Maloy Batuta Trans Kalimantan, East Kalimantan; and 11) Sorong, Papua. Four more SEZs are under construction: Tanjung Api-Api, South Sumatera; Singhasari, East Java; Kendal, Central Java; and Likupang, North Sulawesi. In 2016, the government began the process of transitioning Batam from an FTZ to SEZ in order to provide further investment incentives. The Indonesian government announced in December 2018 that it plans to transition management of the Batam FTZ to the local government, creating a single regulatory authority on the island. The conversion to an SEZ is still ongoing  and will not affect the status of the neighboring FTZs on Bintan and Karimun islands.

Indonesian law also provides for several other types of zones that enjoy special tax and administrative treatment.  Among these are Industrial Zones/Industrial Estates (Kawasan  Industri), bonded stockpiling areas (Tempat Penimbunan Berikat), and Integrated Economic Development Zones (Kawasan Pengembangan Ekonomi Terpadu).  Indonesia is home to 103 industrial estates that host thousands of industrial and manufacturing companies.  Ministry of Finance Regulation No. 105/2016 provides several different tax and customs facilities available to companies operating out of an industrial estate, including corporate income tax reductions, tax allowances, VAT exemptions, and import duty exemptions depending on the type of industrial estate.  Bonded stockpile areas include bonded warehouses, bonded zones, bonded exhibition spaces, duty free shops, bonded auction places, bonded recycling areas, and bonded logistics centers. Companies operating in these areas enjoy concessions in the form of exemption from certain import taxes, luxury goods taxes, and value added taxes, based on a variety of criteria for each type of location. Most recently, bonded logistics centers (BLCs) were introduced to allow for larger stockpiles, longer temporary storage (up to three years), and a greater number of activities in a single area. The Ministry of Finance issued Regulation 28/2018, providing additional guidance on the types of BLCs and shortening approval for BLC applications. By October 2019, Indonesia had designated 106 BLCs in 159 locations, with plans to designate more in eastern Indonesia.  In 2018, Ministry of Finance and the Directorate General for Customs and Excise (DGCE) issued regulations (MOF Regulation No. 131/2018 and DGCE Regulation No. 19/2018) to streamline the licensing process for bonded zones.  Together the two regulations are intended to reduce processing times and the number of licenses required to open a bonded zone.

Shipments from FTZs and SEZs to other places in the Indonesia customs area are treated similarly to exports and are subject to taxes and duties.  Under MOF Regulation 120/2013, bonded zones have a domestic sales quota of 50 percent of the preceding realization amount on export, sales to other bonded zones, sales to free trade zones, and sales to other economic areas (unless otherwise authorized by the Indonesian government).  Sales to other special economic areas are only allowed for further processing to become capital goods, and to companies which have a license from the economic area organizer for the goods relevant to their business.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

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

Indonesia recently made significant changes to its foreign worker regulations. Under Presidential Regulation No. 20/2018, issued in March 2018, the Ministry of Manpower now has two days to approve a complete RPTKA application, and an RPTKA is not required for commissioners or executives. An RPTKA’s validity is now based on the duration of a worker’s contract (previously it was valid for a maximum of five years). The new regulation no longer requires expatriate workers to go through the intermediate step of obtaining a Foreign Worker Permit (IMTA). Instead, expatriates can use an endorsed RPTKA to apply with the immigration office in their place of domicile for a Limited Stay Visa or Semi-Permanent Residence Visa (VITAS/VBS). Expatriates receive a Limited Stay Permit (KITAS) and a blue book, valid for up to two years and renewable for up to two extensions without leaving the country. Regulation No. 20/2018 also abolished the requirement for all expatriates to receive a technical recommendation from a relevant ministry. However, ministries may still establish technical competencies or qualifications for certain jobs, or prohibit the use of foreign worker for specific positions, by informing and obtaining approval from the Ministry of Manpower. Foreign workers who plan to work longer than six months in Indonesia must apply for employee social security and/or insurance.

Regulation No. 20/2018 provides for short-term working permits (maximum six months) for activities such as conducting audits, quality control, inspections, and installation of machinery and electrical equipment. Ministry of Manpower issued Regulation No.10/2018 to implement Regulation 20/2018, revoking its Regulation No. 16/2015 and No. 35/2015. Regulation 10/2018 provides additional details about the types of businesses that can employ foreign workers, sets requirements to obtain health insurance for expatriate employees, requires companies to appoint local “companion” employees for the transfer of technology and skill development, and requires employers to “facilitate” Indonesian language training for foreign workers. Any expatriate who holds a work and residence permit must contribute USD 1,200 per year to a fund for local manpower training at regional manpower offices. The Ministry of Manpower issued Decree 228/2019 to widen the number of jobs open for foreign workers across 18 sectors, ranging from construction, transportation, education, telecommunication, and professionals. Foreign workers  have to obtain approval from Manpower Minister or designated officials for applying positions not listed in the decree. Some U.S. firms report difficulty in renewing KITASs for their foreign executives. In February 2017, the Ministry of Energy and Natural resources abolished regulations specific to the oil and gas industry, bringing that sector in line with rules set by the Ministry of Manpower.

With the passage of a defense law in 2012 and subsequent implementing regulations in 2014, Indonesia established a policy that imposes offset requirements for procurements from foreign defense suppliers. Current laws authorize Indonesian end users to procure defense articles from foreign suppliers if those articles cannot be produced within Indonesia, subject to Indonesian local content and offset policy requirements. On that basis, U.S. defense equipment suppliers are competing for contracts with local partners. The 2014 implementing regulations still require substantial clarification regarding how offsets and local content are determined. According to the legislation and subsequent implementing regulations, an initial 35 percent of any foreign defense procurement or contract must include local content, and this 35 percent local content threshold will increase by 10 percent every five years following the 2014 release of the implementing regulations until a local content requirement of 85 percent is achieved. The law also requires a variety of offsets such as counter-trade agreements, transfer of technology agreements, or a variety of other mechanisms, all of which are negotiated on a per-transaction basis. The implementing regulations also refer to a “multiplier factor” that can be applied to increase a given offset valuation depending on “the impact on the development of the national economy.” Decisions regarding multiplier values, authorized local content, and other key aspects of the new law are in the hands of the Defense Industry Policy Committee (KKIP), an entity comprising Indonesian interagency representatives and defense industry leadership. KKIP leadership indicates that they still determine multiplier values on a case-by-case basis, but have said that once they conclude an industry-wide gap analysis study, they will publish a standardized multiplier value schedule. According to government officials, rules for offsets and local content apply to major new acquisitions only, and do not apply to routine or recurring procurements such as those required for maintenance and sustainment.

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

In October 10, 2019, Indonesia issued Government Regulation No. 71 (GR71) to replace Regulation No. 82/2012 which classifies electronic system operators (ESO) into two categories: public and private. Public ESOs are either a state institution or an institution assigned by a state institution but not a financial sector regulator or supervision authority. Private ESOs are individuals, businesses and communities that operate electronic system. Public ESOs are required to manage, process, and store their data in Indonesia, unless the storing technology is not available locally.  Private ESOs have the option to choose where they will manage, process, and store their data. However, if private ESOs choose to process data outside of Indonesia, they are required to provide access to their systems and data for government supervision and law enforcement purposes. For private financial sector ESOs, GR71 provides  that such firms are “further regulated” by Indonesia’s financial sector supervisory authorities with regards to the private sector’s ESO systems, data processing, and data storage.

In March 2020, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) published a proposed draft implementing regulation of GR 71 for private ESOs. Article 6 of the draft requires private ESOs to obtain approval from MCIT before they can manage, process, and store their data outside of Indonesia. This provision has been widely criticized by foreign firms and is more restrictive than the original government regulation (GR71) which allows offshore data storage. Post continues to monitor this issue.

Additionally, pursuant to GR71, the Financial Services Authority (OJK) issued Regulation 13/2020, an amendment to Regulation 38/2016, which allows banks to operate their electronic data processing systems and disaster recovery centers outside of Indonesia, provided that the system receives approval from OJK.  Furthermore, OJK will evaluate whether the arrangement for offshore data could diminish its supervisory efficiency, negatively affect the bank’s performance, and if the data center complies with Indonesia’s laws and regulations. The regulation became effective March 31, 2020.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Basic Agrarian Law of 1960, the predominant body of law governing land rights, recognizes the right of private ownership and provides varying degrees of land rights for Indonesian citizens, foreign nationals, Indonesian corporations, foreign corporations, and other legal entities. Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution states that all natural resources are owned by the government for the benefit of the people. This principle was augmented by the passage of a land acquisition bill in 2011 that enshrined the concept of eminent domain and established mechanisms for fair market value compensation and appeals. The National Land Agency registers property under Regulation No. 24/1997, though the Ministry of Forestry administers all ”forest land.” Registration is sometimes complicated by local government requirements and claims, as a result of decentralization. Registration is also not conclusive evidence of ownership, but rather strong evidence of such. Government Regulation No.103/2015 on house ownership by foreigners domiciled in Indonesia allows foreigners to have a property in Indonesia with the status of a “right to use” for a maximum of 30 years, with extensions available for up to 20 additional years.

As part of President Jokowi’s second-term economic reform agenda, the Indonesian government has introduced an omnibus bill on job creation that aims to reduce uncertainty around the roles of the central and local governments, including around spatial planning and environmental and social impact assessments (AMDALs).

Intellectual Property Rights

In the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report released on April 29, 2020, Indonesia remains on the priority watch list due to the  lack of adequate and effective IP protection and enforcement. Indonesia’s patent law continues to raise serious concerns, including with respect to patentability criteria and compulsory licensing. Further, counterfeiting and piracy continue to be pervasive, IP enforcement remains weak, and there are continued market access restrictions for IP-intensive industries. According to U.S. stakeholders, Indonesia’s failure to effectively protect intellectual property and enforce IP rights laws has resulted in high levels of physical and online piracy. Local industry associations have reported large amounts of pirated films, music, and software in circulation in Indonesia in recent years, causing potentially billions of dollars in losses.  Indonesian physical markets, such as Mangga Dua Market, and online markets Tokopedia, Bukalapak, were included in USTR’s Notorious Markets List in 2019.

Indonesia improved market access by amending a troubling provision within the 2016 Patent Law related to compulsory licenses (CLs). Ministry of Law and Human Right (MLHR) Regulation 30/2019 aims to provide more clarity on the criteria for CLs, including provisions on the non-transferability of CLs to third parties, specific purposes, and duration. The provisions also clarify conditions where CLs can be granted based on determination of “detriment to society”, including insufficient supply and unfordable prices of patented products. The new regulation incorporates Regulation 15/2018’s renewable exemption for patent holders to delay local manufacturing requirements. While industry contacts viewed this regulation as an improvement, they still have concerns that this regulation may undermine the overall level of protection that patent holders receive by registering their patents in Indonesia.

MLHR’s Director General of Intellectual Property (DGIP)  said the GOI will further amend the 2016 Patent Law through the pending omnibus bill and a future Patent Law amendment. The job creation omnibus bill would remove a requirement under Article 20 to produce a patented product in Indonesia within 36 months of the grant of a patent. Previously, MLHR allowed a five-year exemption from local production requirements under Regulation 15/2018. The Patent Law amendment will contain revisions to Article 4 on second use and Article 82 on compulsory licensing. The 2016 Patent Law contains several other concerning provisions, including a restrictive definition of “invention” that potentially imposes an additional “meaningful benefit” requirement for patents on new forms of existing compounds, an expansive national interest test for proposed patent licenses, and disclosure of genetic information and traditional knowledge to promote access and benefit sharing.  Observers expect the omnibus bill to be passed in 2020.  Aside from the Article 20 revision in the omnibus bill, there is no concrete timeline for the Patent Law amendment. DGIP reports it is currently drafting guidelines for patent examiners on pharmacy, computer, and biotechnology patents that will be released in 2020.

DGIP has relaxed its more aggressive efforts to collect patent annuity fees by offering extensions to the deadline.  On August 16, 2018, DGIP issued a circular letter warning stakeholders that it may refuse to accept new patent applications from rights holders that have not paid patent annuity fee debts. The letter gave rights holders until February 16, 2019, to settle unpaid patent annuity payments. On February 17, 2019, DGIP issued another circular letter on its website extending the deadline to August 17, 2019. DGIP has since announced a further extension to settle any unpaid annuities to July 31, 2020. However, in order to benefit from the latest extension, companies were required to send a “commitment letter” to DGIP by January 31, 2020 indicating their intention to pay the outstanding annuities.  The U.S. government continues to monitor implementation of this policy with DGIP and industry stakeholders.

Indonesia deposited its instrument of accession to the Madrid Protocol with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in October 2017 and issued implementing regulations in June 2018. Under the new rules, applicants desiring international mark protection under the Madrid Protocol are required to first register their application with DGIP , and must be Indonesian citizens, domiciled in Indonesia, or have clear industrial or commercial interests in Indonesia. Although the Trademark Law of 2016 expanded recognition of non-traditional marks, Indonesia still does not recognize certification marks. In response to stakeholder concerns over a lack of consistency in treatment of international well-known trademarks, the Supreme Court issued Circular Letter 1/2017, which advised Indonesian judges to recognize cancellation claims for well-known international trademarks with no time limit stipulation.

Following the issuance of Ministry of Finance (MOF) Regulation No.40/2018, on December 10, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled on MOF Regulation No. 6/2019, which further granted DGCE the legal authority to hold shipments believed to contain imitation goods for up to two days, pending inspection. Under Regulation No.6/2019, rights holders are notified by DGCE (through the recordation system) when an incoming shipment is suspected of containing infringing products. If the inspection reveals an infringement, the rights holder has four days to file a court injunction to request a suspension of the shipment. Rights holders are required to provide a refundable monetary guarantee of IDR 100 million (approximately USD 6,600) when they file a claim with the court. Rights holders can apply for a 10-day (extendable for an additional 10 days) temporary suspension of the shipment until the completion of a commercial court review.  Once the commercial court examines the evidence, the court can make a ruling that same day whether to maintain the temporary hold or to cancel the judgement.  If the court sides with the rights holder, then the guarantee money will be returned to the applicant. Despite  business stakeholder concerns, the GOI retained a requirement that only companies with offices domiciled in Indonesia may use the recordation system.

In 2015, DGIP and KOMINFO jointly released implementing regulations under the Copyright Law to provide for rights holders to report websites that offer IP-infringing products and sets forth procedures for blocking IP-infringing sites. Also in 2015, Indonesia’s Creative Economy Agency (BEKRAF) launched an anti-piracy task force with film and music industry stakeholders. BEKRAF reported that the task force remained focused on coordinating the review of complaints from industry about infringing websites in 2018.  MCIT reported that it blocked 1,946 infringing websites in 2019, a significant increase from the previous  year’s 442 cases. IndoXXI and LayarIndo21, two of the largest online pirated entertainment providers,  reportedly closed in early January. After the IndoXXI shutdown was announced, Video Coalition of Indonesia (VCI) found 200 new infringing websites with similar content. A YouGov survey published by the Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA) revealed that 63 percent of Indonesians access infringing websites for entertainment purposes. MCIT senior officials stated the Ministry is working with the Indonesia National Police Cybercrime Unit and industry groups, including AVIA, to determine and identify the source host, but admitted MCIT does not have the capability to track down the perpetrators and bring criminal charges,

DGIP reports that its directorate of investigation has increased staffing to 187 investigators, including 40 nationwide investigators and 147 staff certified to act as local investigators in 33 provinces when needed for a pending case, and saw the number of investigations double from 30 in 2018 to 47 in 2019. Trademark, Patent, and Copyright legislation requires a rights-holder complaint for investigations, and DGIP and BPOM investigators lack the authority to make arrests so must rely on police cooperation for any enforcement action.

Resources for Rights Holders

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX) index has 668 listed companies as of December 2019 with a daily trading volume of USD 650 million and market capitalization of USD 521 billion. Over the past five years, there has been a 34 percent increase of the number listed companies, but the IDX is dominated by its top 20 listed companies, which represent 59.26 percent of the market cap. There were 50 initial public offerings in 2019 – seven fewer than 2018. As of January 2020, domestic entities conducted more than 67.97 percent  of total IDX stock trades.

In November 2018, IDX introduced T+2 settlement, with sellers now receiving proceeds within two days instead of the previous standard of three days (T+3). In 2011, the IDX launched the Indonesian Sharia Stock Index (ISSI), its first index of sharia-compliant companies, primarily to attract greater investment from Middle East companies and investors. This was followed in 2017 by the IDX’s introduction the first online sharia stock trading platform. As of December 2019, the ISSI is composed of 429 stocks that are a part of IDX’s Jakarta Composite Index (JCI), with a total market cap of USD 267 billion.

Government treasury bonds are the most liquid bonds offered by Indonesia. Corporate bonds are less liquid due to less public knowledge of the product. The government also issues sukuk (Islamic treasury notes) treasury bills as part of its effort to diversify Islamic debt instruments and increase their liquidity. Indonesia’s sovereign debt as of December 2019 was rated as BBB- by Standard and Poor, BBB by Fitch Ratings and Baa2 by Moody’s.

OJK began overseeing capital markets and non-banking institutions in 2013, replacing the Capital Market and Financial Institution Supervisory Board. In 2014, OJK also assumed BI’s supervisory role over commercial banks. Foreigners have access to the Indonesian capital markets and are a major source of portfolio investment (including 38.57 percent of government securities). Indonesia respects International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Foreign ownership of Indonesian companies may be limited in certain industries or sectors, such as those outlined in the DNI.

Money and Banking System

Although there is some concern regarding the operations of the many small and medium sized family-owned banks, the banking system is generally considered sound, with banks enjoying some of the widest net interest margins in the region. As of August 2019, the 10 top banks had IDR 5,210 trillion (USD 372 billion) in total assets. Loans grew 6.08 percent in 2019 compared to 11.5 percent in2018. Gross non-performing loans in December 2019 remained at 2.53 percent from 2.4 percent the previous year. For 2020, the Financial Services Authority (OJK) project annual credit growth at 12-14 percent and deposit growth around 10-12 percent for Indonesia’s banking industry.

OJK Regulation No.56/03/2016 limits bank ownership to no more than 40 percent by any single shareholder, applicable to foreign and domestic shareholders. This does not apply to foreign bank branches in Indonesia. Foreign banks may establish branches if the foreign bank is ranked among the top 200 global banks by assets.  A special operating license is required from OJK in order to establish a foreign branch. The OJK granted an exception in 2015 for foreign banks buying two small banks and merging them. To establish a representative office, a foreign bank must be ranked in the top 300 global banks by assets. In 2017, HSBC, which previously registered as a foreign branch, changed its legal status to a Limited Liability Company and merged with a local bank subsidiary which it had purchased in 2008.

On March 16, OJK  issued OJK Regulation Number 12/POJK.03/2020 on commercial bank consolidation. The regulation aims to strengthen the structure, and competitiveness of the national banking industry by increasing bank capital and the encouraging consolidation of banks in Indonesia. This regulation generally consists of two main regulations concerning bank consolidation policies, as well as  increasing minimum core capital for commercial banks and increasing Capital Equivalency Maintained Assets for foreign banks with branch offices by least IDR 3 trillion, by December 31, 2022.

In 2015, OJK eased rules for foreigners to open a bank account in Indonesia. Foreigners can open a bank account with a balance between USD 2,000-50,000 with just their passport. For accounts greater than USD 50,000, foreigners must show a supporting document such as a reference letter from a bank in the foreigner’s country of origin, a local domicile address, a spousal identity document, copies of a contract for a local residence, and/or credit/debit statements.

Growing digitalization of banking services, spurred on by innovative payment technologies in the financial technology (fintech) sector, complements the conventional banking sector. Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending companies recorded a triple-digit increase in 2008 and e-payment services have grown more than six-fold since 2012. Indonesian policymakers are hopeful that these fintech services can reach underserved or unbanked populations and micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), with estimates that in 2020, fintech lending will hit IDR 223 trillion (USD 13.61 billion) in loan disbursements.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The rupiah (IDR), the local currency, is freely convertible. Currently, banks must report all foreign exchange transactions and foreign obligations to the central bank, Bank Indonesia (BI). With respect to the physical movement of currency, any person taking rupiah bank notes into or out of Indonesia in the amount of IDR 100 million (approximately USD 6,600) or more, or the equivalent in another currency, must report the amount to DGCE. The limit for any person or entity to bring foreign currency bank notes into or out of Indonesia is the equivalent of IDR 1 billion (USD 66,000).

Banks on their own behalf or for customers may conduct derivative transactions related to derivatives of foreign currency rates, interest rates, and/or a combination thereof. BI requires borrowers to conduct their foreign currency borrowing through domestic banks registered with BI. The regulations apply to borrowing in cash, non-revolving loan agreements, and debt securities.

Under the 2007 Investment Law, Indonesia gives assurance to investors relating to the transfer and repatriation of funds, in foreign currency, on:

  • capital, profit, interest, dividends and other income;
  • funds required for (i) purchasing raw material, intermediate goods or final goods, and (ii) replacing capital goods for continuation of business operations;
  • additional funds required for investment;
  • funds for debt payment;
  • royalties;
  • income of foreign individuals working on the investment;
  • earnings from the sale or liquidation of the invested company;
  • compensation for losses; and
  • compensation for expropriation.

U.S. firms report no difficulties in obtaining foreign exchange.

BI began in 2012 to require exporters to repatriate their export earnings through domestic banks within three months of the date of the export declaration form. Once repatriated, there are currently no restrictions on re-transferring export earnings abroad. Some companies report this requirement is not enforced.

In 2015, the government announced a regulation requiring the use of the rupiah in domestic transactions. While import and export transactions can still use foreign currency, importers’ transactions with their Indonesian distributors must now use rupiah, which has impacted some U.S. business operations. The central bank may grant a company permission to receive payment in foreign currency upon application, and where the company has invested in a strategic industry.

Remittance Policies

The government places no restrictions or time limitations on investment remittances. However, certain reporting requirements exist. Banks should adopt Know Your Customer (KYC) principles to carefully identify customers’ profile to match transactions. Carrying rupiah bank notes of more than IDR 100 million (approximately USD 6,600) in cash out of Indonesia requires prior approval from BI, as well as verifying the funds with Indonesian Customs upon arrival. Indonesia does not engage in currency manipulation.

As of 2015, Indonesia is no longer subject to the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) monitoring process under its on-going global Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) compliance process. It continues to work with the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) to further strengthen its AML/CTF regime. In 2018, Indonesia was granted observer status by FATF, a necessary milestone toward becoming a full FATF member.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

As of mid-2020, Indonesia is still preparing to establish a sovereign wealth fund, despite macroeconomic and budgetary pressures from the pandemic response. When established, it is expected the fund will operate as a state-owned investment fund that will aim to attract foreign capital, including from foreign sovereign wealth funds, and invest that capital in long-term Indonesian assets. According to Indonesian government officials, the fund will consist of a master portfolio with sector-specific sub-funds, such as infrastructure, oil and gas, health, tourism, and digital technologies. The sovereign wealth fund will be authorized by the planned passage of the omnibus bill on job creation, which includes 14 articles to set up the fund and facilitate greater cooperation with foreign partners. This cooperation includes authorizing the fund to be set up in foreign jurisdictions and allowing foreigners as general partners of the fund.

In 2015, the Finance Ministry authorized one of those SOEs, PT Sarana Multi Infrastruktur (SMI) to manage the assets of the Pusat Investasi Pemerintah (PIP), or Government Investment Center (which had previously been seen as a potential sovereign wealth fund). Indonesia does not participate in the IMF’s Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Indonesia had 114 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and 28 subsidiaries divided into 12 sectors as of December 2019, 10 of which contributed more than 85 percent of total SOE profit. Of the 114 SOEs, 17 are listed on the Indonesian stock exchange. In addition, 14 are special purpose entities under the SOE Ministry (BUMN), with one SOE, the Indonesian Infrastructure Guarantee Fund, under the Ministry of Finance. Since mid-2016, the Indonesian government has been publicizing plans to consolidate SOEs into six holding companies based on sector of operations. In November 2017, Indonesia announced the creation of a mining holding company, PT Inalum, the first of the six planned SOE-holding companies.

Since his appointment by President Jokowi in November 2019, Minister of SOEs Erick Thohir  has underscored the need to reform SOEs in line with President Jokowi’s second-term economic agenda. Thohir has noted the need to liquidate underperforming SOEs, ensure that SOEs improve their efficiency by focusing on core business operations, and introduce better corporate governance principles. Thohir has spoken publicly about his intent to push SOEs to undertake initial public offerings (IPOs) on the IDX.

Information regarding the SOEs can be found at the SOE Ministry website (http://www.bumn.go.id/ ) (Indonesian language only).

There are also an unknown number of SOEs owned by regional or local governments. SOEs are present in almost all sectors/industries including banking (finance), tourism (travel), agriculture, forestry, mining, construction, fishing, energy, and telecommunications (information and communications).

In the third quarter of 2019 (the most recent data available), SOEs have contributed USD 22 billion of tax payments, non-tax payments, and dividends to the Indonesian state. SOEs also contributed a profit of USD 131 billion, with total assets of 626 billion, liabilties of USD 429 billion, and equities of USD 196 billion.

Indonesia is not a party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement. Private enterprises can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations. However, in reality, many sectors report that SOEs receive strong preference for government projects. SOEs purchase some goods and services from private sector and foreign firms. SOEs publish an annual report and are audited by the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK), the Financial and Development Supervisory Agency (BPKP), and external and internal auditors.

Privatization Program

While some state-owned enterprises have offered shares on the stock market, Indonesia does not have an active privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Indonesian businesses are required to undertake responsible business conduct (RBC) activities under Law 40/2007 concerning Limited Liability Companies. In addition, sectoral laws and regulations have further specific provisions on RBC. Indonesian companies tend to focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs offering community and economic development, and educational projects and programs. This is at least in part caused by the fact that such projects are often required as part of the environmental impact permits (AMDAL) of resource extraction companies, which undergo a good deal of domestic and international scrutiny of their operations. Because a large proportion of resource extraction activity occurs in remote and rural areas where government services are reported to be limited or absent, these companies face very high community expectations to provide such services themselves. Despite significant investments – especially by large multinational firms – in CSR projects, businesses have noted that there is limited general awareness of those projects, even among government regulators and officials.

The government does not have an overarching strategy to encourage or enforce RBC, but regulates each area through the relevant laws (environment, labor, corruption, etc.). Some companies report that these laws  are not always enforced evenly. In 2017, the National Commission on Human Rights launched a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in Indonesia, based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

OJK regulates corporate governance issues, but the regulations and enforcement are not yet up to international standards for shareholder protection.

Indonesia does not adhere to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the government is not known to have encouraged adherence to those guidelines. Many companies claim that the government does not encourage adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas or any other supply chain management due diligence guidance. Indonesia does participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Indonesia was suspended by the EITI Board due to a missed deadline for its first EITI report, but the suspension was lifted following publication of its 2012-2013 EITI Report in 2015.

9. Corruption

President Jokowi was elected in 2014 on a strong good-governance platform. However, corruption remains a serious problem according to some U.S. companies. The Indonesian government has issued detailed directions on combating corruption in targeted ministries and agencies, and the 2018 release of the updated and streamlined National Anti-Corruption Strategy mandates corruption prevention efforts across the government in three focus areas (licenses, state finances, and law enforcement reform). The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) was established in 2002 as the lead government agency to investigate and prosecute corruption.  KPK is one of the most trusted and respected institutions in Indonesia. The KPK has taken steps to encourage companies to establish effective internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of public officials. By law, the KPK is authorized to conduct investigations, file indictments, and prosecute corruption cases involving law enforcement officers, government executives, or other parties connected to corrupt acts committed by those entities; attracting the “attention and the dismay” of the general public; and/or involving a loss to the state of at least IDR 1 billion (approximately USD 66,000).  The government began prosecuting companies who engage in public corruption under new corporate criminal liability guidance issued in a 2016 Supreme Court regulation, with the first conviction of a corporate entity in January 2019.  Presidential decree No. 13/2018 issued in March 2018 clarifies the definition of beneficial ownership and outlines annual reporting requirements and sanctions for non-compliance.

Indonesia’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2019 improved to 85 out of 180 countries surveyed, compared to 89 out of 180 countries in 2018.  Indonesia’s score of public corruption in the country, according to Transparency International, improved to 40 in 2019 (scale of 0/very corrupt to 100/very clean).  At the beginning of President Jokowi’s term in 2014, Indonesia’s score was  34. Indonesia ranks 4th of the 10 ASEAN countries.

Nonetheless, according to certain reports, corruption remains pervasive despite laws to combat it. Some have noted that KPK leadership, along with the commission’s investigators and prosecutors, are sometimes harassed, intimidated, or attacked due to their anticorruption work. In early 2019, a Molotov cocktail and bomb components were placed outside the homes of two KPK commissioners, and in 2017 unidentified assailants committed an acid attack against a senior KPK investigator. Police have not identified the perpetrators of either attack. The Indonesian National Police and Attorney General’s Office also investigate and prosecute corruption cases; however, neither have the same organizational capacity or track-record of the KPK. Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal act, with possible fines ranging from USD 3,850 to USD 77,000 and imprisonment up to a maximum of 20 years or life imprisonment, depending on the severity of the charge.

On September 2019, the Indonesia House of Representatives (DPR) passed Law No. 19/2019 on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) which revised the KPK’s original charter. This revised law introduced several changes relating to the authority and supervision of the KPK, including KPK’s status as a state agency under the authority of the executive branch (it was previously an independent body outside of the judicial, legislative, or executive branches) and establishment of a Supervisory Council to oversee certain KPK activities.  The new law also changed the KPK’s status as a separate law enforcement authority and mandated the KPK to provide performance review reports to the President, the DPR RI, and the supervisory board.  Finally, the KPK’s previous independent authority to terminate corruption investigations and prosecutions, as well as authorize wiretaps, searches, arrests, and asset seizures, has now been transferred to the Supervisory Council.  Many observers view these changes as limiting KPK’s ability to pursue corruption investigations without political interference.

Indonesia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in September 2006. Indonesia has not yet acceded to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, but attends meetings of the OECD Anti-Corruption Working Group. In 2014, Indonesia chaired the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral platform to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and strengthen governance. Several civil society organizations function as vocal and competent corruption watchdogs, including Transparency International Indonesia and Indonesia Corruption Watch.

Resources to Report Corruption

Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Anti-Corruption Commission)
Jln. Kuningan Persada Kav 4, Setiabudi
Jakarta Selatan 12950
Email: informasi@kpk.go.id

Indonesia Corruption Watch
Jl. Kalibata Timur IV/D No. 6 Jakarta Selatan 12740
Tel: +6221.7901885 or +6221.7994015
Email: info@antikorupsi.org

10. Political and Security Environment

As in other democracies, politically motivated demonstrations occasionally occur throughout Indonesia, but are not a major or ongoing concern for most foreign investors.

Since the large-scale Bali bombings in 2002 that killed over 200 people, Indonesian authorities have aggressively and successfully continued to pursue terrorist cells throughout the country, disrupting multiple aspirational plots. Despite these successes, violent extremist networks and terrorist cells remain intact and have the capacity to become operational and conduct attacks with little or no warning, as do lone wolf-style ISIS sympathizers.

According to the industry, foreign investors in Papua face certain unique challenges. Indonesian security forces occasionally conduct operations against the Free Papua Movement, a small armed separatist group that is most active in the central highlands region. Low-intensity communal, tribal, and political conflict also exists in Papua and has caused deaths and injuries. Anti-government protests have resulted in deaths and injuries, and violence has been committed against employees and contractors of a U.S. company there, including the death of a New Zealand citizen in an attack on March 30, 2020. Additionally, racially-motivated attacks against ethnic Papuans living in East Java province led to violence in Papua and West Papua in late 2019, including riots in Wamena, Papua that left dozens dead and thousands more displaced.

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

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Companies have reported that the Indonesian labor market faces a number of structural barriers, including skills shortages and lagging productivity, restrictions on the use of contract workers, and reduced gaps between minimum wages and average wages. Recent significant increases in the minimum wage for many provinces have made unskilled and semi-skilled labor more costly. In the bellwether Jakarta area, the minimum wage was raised again from IDR 3.6 million (USD 256.6) per month in 2018 to IDR 3.94 million (USD 260) per month in 2019. Unions staged largely peaceful protests across Indonesia in 2018 demanding the government increase the minimum wage, decrease the price for basic needs, and stop companies from outsourcing and employing foreign workers. Under the new wage setting policy adopted as part of the 2018 economic stimulus package, annual minimum wage increases will be indexed directly to inflation and GDP growth. Previously, minimum wage adjustments were subject to negotiations between local governments, industry, and unions, and the changes varied widely from year to year and from region to region.

As only about 7.6 percent of the workforce is unionized, the benefits of union advocacy (including increases in minimum wage) do not always filter down to the rest of the workforce. While restrictions on the use of contract workers remain in place, continued labor protests focusing on this issue suggest that government enforcement continues to be lax. Until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment has remained steady at 4.38 percent. Unemployment tends to be higher than the national average among young people.

Indonesian labor is relatively low-cost by world standards, but inadequate skills training and complicated labor laws combine to make Indonesia’s competitiveness lag behind other Asian competitors. Investors frequently cite high severance payments to dismissed employees, restrictions on outsourcing and contract workers, and limitations on expatriate workers as significant obstacles to new investment in Indonesia.

Employers also note that the skills provided by the education system is lower than that of neighboring countries, and successive Labor Ministers have listed improved vocational training as a top priority. Labor contracts are relatively straightforward to negotiate but are subject to renegotiation, despite the existence of written agreements. Local courts often side with citizens in labor disputes, contracts notwithstanding. On the other hand, some foreign investors view Indonesia’s labor regulatory framework, respect for freedom of association, and the right to unionize as an advantage to investing in the country. Expert local human resources advice is essential for U.S. companies doing business in Indonesia, even those only opening representative offices.

Minimum wages vary throughout the country as provincial governors set an annual minimum wage floor and district heads have the authority to set a higher rate. Indonesia’s highly fractured and historically weak labor movement has gained strength in recent years, evidenced by significant increases in the minimum wage. As noted above, recent changes to the minimum wage setting system may make the process less dependent on political factors and more aligned with actual changes in inflation and GDP growth. Labor unions are independent of the government. The law, with some restrictions, protects the rights of workers to join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Indonesia has ratified all eight of the core ILO conventions underpinning internationally accepted labor norms. The Ministry of Manpower maintains an inspectorate to monitor labor norms, but enforcement is stronger in the formal than in the informal sector. A revised Social Security Law, which took effect in 2014, requires all formal sector workers to participate. Subject to a wage ceiling, employers must contribute an amount equal to 4 percent of workers’ salaries to this plan. In 2015, Indonesia established the Social Security Organizing Body of Employment (BPJS-Employment), a national agency to support workers in the event of work accident, death, retirement, or old age.

The government has proposed an omnibus bill on labor reforms intended to attract investors, boost economic growth and create jobs.  The bill covers foreign workers, wages, work hours, redundancy and social security.

A proposed revision to Indonesia’s 2003 labor law may establish more stringent restrictions on outsourcing, currently used by many firms to circumvent some formal-sector job benefits.

Additional information on child labor, trafficking in persons, and human rights in Indonesia can be found online through the following references:

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

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and its predecessor, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), have invested USD 2.35 billion across 116 projects in Indonesia since 1974, including in the power generation, financial services, and agricultural sectors. The DFC’s current portfolio is USD 123.8 million across five projects in Indonesia. The bulk of its exposure is in the DFC-financed UPC Renewables Sidrap Bayu wind power plant in South Sulawesi, where a USD 120 million investment supported the construction of Indonesia’s first commercial wind farm. The project demonstrates DFC’s commitment to help eliminate blackouts and diversify Indonesia’s energy supply. On March 12, 2020, DFC approved a USD 190 million loan to Trans Pacific Networks (TPN) to support the world’s longest telecommunications cable. The cable will directly connect Singapore, Indonesia, and the United States and have the capability to serve several markets in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Indonesia is one of the DFC’s priority markets and the DFC remains interested in projects in the transportation, energy, and digital economy sectors. In January 2020, DFC CEO Adam Boehler visited Indonesia as part of his first overseas visit since the DFC’s formal launch. His visit followed other senior visits by DFC officials to identify projects for DFC support, including the first-ever, DFC-led, U.S.-Australia-Japan trilateral infrastructure business development mission in August 2019.

Indonesia has joined the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). MIGA, a part of the World Bank Group, is an investment guarantee agency to insure investors and lenders against losses relating to currency transfer restrictions, expropriation, war and civil disturbance, and breach of contract. In 2018, MIGA provided a guarantee loan to Indonesian state-owned financial institutions and financed a hydroelectric power plant.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $1,118 2018 $1,042 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/Indonesia

*Indonesia Statistic Agency, GDP from the host country website is converted into USD with the exchange rate 14,156 for 2019

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 $989.3 2018 $11,140 https://www.bea.gov/
international/di1usdbal
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 $350 https://www.bea.gov/
international/di1fdibal
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 2.5% 2018 22.1% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

*Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), January 2020

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

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment 2018 Outward Direct Investment 2018
Total Inward 224,717 100% Total Outward 72,995 100%
Singapore 55,067 24.5% Singapore 29,823 40.8%
Netherlands 36,990 16.5% China (PR Mainland) 16,971 23.2%
United States 27,271 12.1% France 15,225 20.8%
Japan 23,930 10.6% Cayman Islands 3,399 4.6%
China (PR Hong Kong) 12,735 5.7% China (PR Hong Kong) 711 1%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source:  IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey for inward and outward investment data.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets 2018
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 22,094 100% All Countries 7,180 100% All Countries 14,914 100%
Netherlands 7,036 31.8% United States 2,760 38.4% Netherlands 7,032 47.1%
United States 3,669 16.6% India 1,847 25.7% Luxembourg 1,962 13.1%
Luxembourg 1,963 8.9% China (PR Mainland) 933 13.0% United States 909 6.1%
India 1,857 8.4% China (PR Hong Kong) 644 9.0% Singapore 641 4.3%
China (Mainland) 1,086 4.9% Australia 426 5.9% China (Mainland) 553 3.7%

Source: IMF Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey, 2018. Sources of portfolio investment are not tax havens.
The Bank of Indonesia published comparable data.

14. Contact for More Information

Reggie Singh
Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Jakarta
+62-21-50831000
BusinessIndonesia@state.gov

Japan

Executive Summary

Japan is the world’s third largest economy, the United States’ fourth largest trading partner,

and was the third largest contributor to U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2018.  The Japanese government actively welcomes and solicits 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, 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.  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 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 changes in Japan’s investment climate are largely contingent on the success of structural reforms to the Japanese economy. Efforts to strengthen corporate governance and increase female and senior citizen labor force participation have the potential to improve Japan’s economic performance.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 18 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 29 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 15 of 127 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2017 USD 129,064  https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 41,310 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Direct inward investment into Japan by foreign investors has been open and free since the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act (the Forex Act) was amended in 1998.  In general, the only requirement for foreign investors making investments in Japan is to submit an ex post facto report to the relevant ministries. The Act was amended in 2019, updating Japan’s foreign investment review regime.  The legislation becomes effective in May 2020 and lowers the ownership threshold for pre-approval notification to the government for foreign investors to 1 percent from 10 percent in industries that could pose risks to 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 2018, Japan’s inward FDI stock was JPY 30.7 trillion (USD 285 billion), 6.2 percent increase over the previous year. The Abe Administration’s interest in attracting FDI is one component of the government’s strategy to reform and revitalize the Japanese economy, which continues to face the long-term challenges of low growth, an aging population, and a shrinking workforce.

The government’s “FDI Promotion Council,” comprised 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, though it depends on the sector.  These include an insular and consensual business culture that has traditionally been resistant to unsolicited mergers and acquisitions (M&A), especially when initiated by non-Japanese entities; a lack of independent directors on many company boards (even though this 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.

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

The Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act governs investment in sectors deemed to have national security or economic stability implications.  If a foreign investor wants to acquire over one percent of the shares of a listed company in certain designated sectors, it must provide prior notification and obtain approval from the Ministry of Finance and the ministry that regulates the specific industry.  Designated sectors include 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 March 2017 (available at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp451_e.htm ).

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

Business Facilitation

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

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 cannot be used for the registration of 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 to Japanese foreign direct investment.  Most support comes in the form of “overseas investment loans,” which can be provided to Japanese companies (investors), overseas Japanese affiliates (including joint ventures), and foreign governments in support of projects with Japanese content, typically infrastructure projects.  JBIC often seeks to support outward FDI projects that aim to develop or secure overseas resources that are of strategic importance to Japan, for example, construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to facilitate sales to Japan.  More information is available at https://www.jbic.go.jp/en/index.html .

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.

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 bullet trains, airports, and green city projects with Japanese companies, banks, institutions (i.e., JICA, JBIC, NEXI), and governments.

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.

As of April 2020, Japan had concluded 34 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) (Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Egypt, Hong Kong SAR, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, South 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 South Korea.  Japan also has 16 economic partnership agreements (EPA) that include investment chapters (Singapore, ASEAN, Mexico, Malaysia, Philippines, Chile, Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Switzerland, Vietnam, India, Peru, Australia and Mongolia).

On February 1, 2019, 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 (CPTPP) went into effect on December 30, 2018.  This agreement includes an investment chapter.  The United States is not a signatory of this agreement.

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 76 double taxation treaties that cover 136 countries and jurisdictions, as of March 1, 2020.  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 informal connections between regulators and domestic firms to arrive at regulatory decisions.  This may have the effect of disadvantaging foreign firms which lack the benefit of deep relationships with local regulators.  The United States has encouraged the Japanese government to improve public notice and comment procedures, to ensure consistency and transparency in rule-making, and to give fair consideration to comments received.  The National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), contains a description of Japan’s regulatory regime as it affects foreign exporters and investors.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JISC), administered by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), plays a central role in maintaining Japan Industrial Standards (JIS).  JISC aims to align JIS with international standards.  According to JISC, as of December 31, 2017, 54 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 (FDI) into Japan include the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act, the Companies Act, and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act.  The Japanese government actively encourages FDI into Japan and has sought over the past decades to ease legal and administrative burdens on foreign investors, including with major reforms to the Companies Act in 2005 and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act in 2008.  The Japanese government amended the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act in 2019.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) holds sole responsibility for enforcing Japanese competition and anti-trust law, although public prosecutors may file criminal charges related to a JFTC finding.  In fiscal year 2018, the JFTC opened investigations against 143 suspected Antimonopoly Act (AMA) violations and completed 120 investigations.  During this same time period, the JFTC issued eight cease and desist orders and issued a total of 261.1 million yen (USD 2.4 million) surcharge payment orders to 18 companies.  In 2019, an amendment to the AMA passed the Diet which 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 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;

(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)

Expropriation and Compensation

Since 1945, the Japanese government has not expropriated any enterprises, and the expropriation or nationalization of foreign investments in Japan is highly unlikely.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

A wide range of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) organization also exists 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 2019 “Doing Business” Report ranked Japan first worldwide for resolving insolvency.  An insolvent company in Japan can face liquidation under the Bankruptcy Act or take one of four roads to reorganization: the Civil Rehabilitation Law; the Corporate Reorganization Law; corporate reorganization under the Commercial Code; or an out-of-court creditor agreement.  The Civil Rehabilitation Law focuses on corporate restructuring in contrast to liquidation, provides stronger protection of debtor assets prior to the start of restructuring procedures, eases requirements for initiating restructuring procedures, simplifies and rationalizes procedures for the examination and determination of liabilities, and improves procedures for approval of rehabilitation plans.

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

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

Per Japan’s Banking Act, data and scores from credit reports and credit monitoring databases must be used solely by financial institutions for financial lending purposes.  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-run database, the Juminhyo or the “citizen documentation database,” is used for voter registration; confirmation of eligibility for national health insurance, national social security, and child allowances; and checks and registrations related to scholarships, welfare protection, stamp seals (signatures), and immunizations.  The database is strictly confidential, government-controlled, and not shared with third parties or private companies.

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

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.  Any exceptions approved by the central government can be implemented by other NSSZs in addition to the requesting zone.   A revision that would add “advanced data technologies” as one of targeted growth areas for NSSZs is pending Diet approval as of May 1, 2020.   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.

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 2019 “Doing Business” Report, Japan ranks 29 out of 189 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 advanced to sixth place out of 53 countries evaluated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the strength of IP environments as measured by 50 unique indicators.  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, weaknesses remain in some areas of Japan’s IP regime, notably in the transparency and predictability of its system for pricing on patented pharmaceuticals.  The discriminatory effect of healthcare reimbursement pricing measures implemented by the GOJ continues to raise serious concerns about the ability of both small and large U.S. pharmaceutical companies, as owners of IP, 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.

The GOJ has also taken notable 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.  Post is not aware of any significant threat to U.S. corporations of trade secret theft by Japanese state-sponsored or corporate-sponsored groups.

Japan has taken a leading role in promoting the expansion of IP rights in recent regional trade agreements.  As part of its 2018 accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Japan passed several substantive amendments to its copyright law, including measures which extended the term of copyright protection and strengthen technological protections.  The Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which went into effect February 1, 2019, includes a substantial IP chapter, as well as inclusion of many additional geographic indications.

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 13.5 billion yen (USD 124 million) of goods in 2018, an increase of 19.5 percent over 2017.  China is the largest source of seized goods in Japan, accounting for 87 percent of all seizure cases and 80 percent of all seized goods by value.

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 comprising 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.  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 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 USD 7 trillion.  Japan’s second 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 2019.  Japan Post Bank offers services via 24,367 Japan Post office branches, at which Japan Post Bank services can be conducted, as well as Japan Post’s network of 29,800 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.  According to the IMF, there have been no observations of reduced or lost correspondent banking relationships in Japan.  There are 438 correspondent banking relationships available to the country’s central bank (main banks: 123; trust banks: 13; foreign banks: 50; credit unions: 248; other: 4).

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.

In 2017 Japan accounted for approximately half of the world’s trades of Bitcoin, the most prevalent blockchain currency (digital decentralized cryptographic currency).  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.  The government has set a target to have 80 banks adopt API standards by 2020.  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 (FSA) 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 22-registered virtual currency exchanges in Japan.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

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, and 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 in their insurance subsidiary which took place 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 on the back of sluggish share performance.

These offerings mark the final stage of Japan Post privatization begun under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi almost 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 United States Trade Representative’s National Trade Estimate (NTE) 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 sector.  This has led to increased competition from new entrants in the retail electricity market.  While the generation and transmission of electricity remain in the hands of the legacy power utilities, new electricity retailers reached a 16 per cent market share of the total volume of electricity sold as of September 2019.  Japan expects to implement the third phase of its power sector reforms in April 2020 by “unbundling” legacy monopolies and legally separating the transmission and distribution businesses from the vertically integrated power utility companies.

American energy companies have reported increased opportunities in this sector, but the legacy power utilities still have an unfair advantage over the regulatory regime, market, and 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 of electricity that new retailers can sell to consumers  Also, as the large power utilities still control transmission and distribution lines, new entrants in power generation are not be 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

Japanese corporate governance has often been criticized for failing to sufficiently prioritize shareholder interests, due in part due to a lack of independent corporate directors and to cross-shareholding agreement among firms.  The Abe government has made corporate governance reform a core element of its economic agenda with the goal to reinvigorate Japan’s business sector by encouraging a stronger focus by management on earnings and shareholder value.

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 to adopt of a Corporate Governance Code (CSR) by in 2015.  Together with the Stewardship Code for institutional investors launched by the FSA in 2014, these initiatives encourage 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 creasing 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 one  or more independent directors, according to TSE’s 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 will go into force no later than June 11, 2021.

Awareness of corporate social responsibility 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.

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 is currently being prosecuted.

Japan’s Act on Elimination and Prevention of Involvement in Bid-Rigging authorizes the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) 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 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, which bans bribing foreign government officials.  However, there are continuing concerns over the effectiveness of Japan’s anti-bribery enforcement efforts, particularly the very small number of cases prosecuted by Japanese authorities compared to other OECD members.

For vetting potential local investment partners, companies may review credit reports on foreign companies which are 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

Japan currently faces one of the tightest labor markets in decades, in part due to demographic decline, with a shortage of workers in sectors such as information services, hospitality, construction, transportation, maintenance, and security.  The unemployment rate as of March 2020 is 2.5 percent.  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 non-regular workers to fill short-term labor requirements and to reduce labor costs.

Major employers and labor unions engage in collective bargaining in  nearly every industry..  Though union members today make up 17 percent of the labor force, it is a decline from 25 percent 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 1.66 million as of October 2019, 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. The law created two new visa categories.  Category 1 grants five-year residency to low-skilled workers who fulfill certain education and Japanese language criteria.  Category 2 is for highly skilled workers, granting them long-term residency and a path to long-term employment.

The Japanese government also operates the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP).  Originally intended as a skills-transfer program for workers from developing countries, TITP is used to address immediate labor shortages in specific sectors, such as construction, agriculture, and nursing.  As noted previously, the 2018 Immigration Control Law revision enabled TITPs, 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.  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.

In May 2019, a package law which revised the Women’s Empowerment Law, expanded the reporting requirements to SMEs that employ at least 101 persons (to begin April 2022) and increasing the number of disclosure items for larger companies (to begin 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 (CPTPP) 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.  CPTPP entered into force in December 30, 2018.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance 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) 2017 USD 4,955,654 2017 USD 4,859,950 World Bank
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) 2017 USD 59,695 2017 USD 129,064 BEA
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD, stock positions) 2017 USD 490,608 2017 USD 476,878 BEA
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 5.2% 2017 4.17% OECD

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

*2017 Nominal GDP data from “Annual Report on National Accounts for 2017”, Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet Office, Japanese Government.  January 25, 2018. (Note: uses exchange rate of 110.0 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.

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (IMF CDIS, 2017)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 202,441 100% Total Outward 1,497,525 100%
United States 50,033 24.7% United States 479,995 32%
France 30,108 14.9% United Kingdom 151,634 10.1%
Netherlands 26,642 13.2% China 117,568 7.9%
Singapore 17,831 8.8% Netherland 114,317 7.6%
United Kingdom 13,734 6.8% Australia 68,042 4.5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (IMF CPIS, June 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 2,435,531 100% All Countries 1,578,257 100% All Countries 893,493 100%
United States 1,095,979 45.0% United States 862,284 54.6% United States 233,695 26.2%
United Kingdom 179,273 7.4% United Kingdom 126,848 8.0% France 113,093 12.7%
Luxembourg 158,063 6.5% Luxembourg 113,881 7.2% Hong Kong 58,509 6.5%
France 142,979 5.9% Ireland 79,597 5.0% United Kingdom 52,425 5.9%
Ireland 115,650 4.7% Cayman Islands 45,090 2.9% Luxembourg 44,182 4.9%
  Portfolio Investment Liabilities (IMF CPIS, June 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 2,754,252 100% All Countries 1,856,556 100% All Countries 1,466,360 100%
United States 918,352 33.3% United States 932,010 50.2% United States 309,668 21.1%
United Kingdom 327,174 11.9% United Kingdom 252,465 13.6% Belgium 202,066 13.8%
Luxembourg 282,413 10.3% Luxembourg 101,212 5.5% Luxembourg 175,561 12.0%
Belgium 136,695 5.0% Belgium 64,898 3.5% China Mainland 129,378 8.8%
France 134,562 4.9% Canada 59,856 3.2%  United Kingdom 102,592 7.0%

14. Contact for More Information

Michael Daschbach
Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Tokyo
1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420
Japan
+81 03-3224-5035

Malaysia

Executive Summary

Since an unexpected political transition in March, Malaysia’s new government under Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has focused its attention on the unprecedented set of challenges facing Malaysia in 2020, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a sharp drop in global oil prices.  In response to the economic damage wrought by COVID-19 restrictions, the Malaysian government has approved over USD 60 billion in stimulus measures designed to protect Malaysian citizens and businesses, and has laid out plans to prioritize the country’s economic recovery following the lockdown period for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021.

The Malaysian government has traditionally encouraged foreign direct investment (FDI), and the Prime Minister and many cabinet ministers have signaled their openness to foreign investment since taking office.  Government officials have called for investments in high technology and research and development, focusing on artificial intelligence, Internet of Things device design and manufacturing, smart cities, electric vehicles, automation of the manufacturing industry, telecommunications infrastructure, and other “catalytic sub-sectors,” such as aerospace.  The government also seeks to further develop traditional sectors such as oil and gas; palm oil and rubber; wholesale and retail operations, including e-commerce; financial services; tourism; electrical and electronics (E&E); business services; communications content and infrastructure; education; agriculture; and health care.

Under the previous administration, inbound FDI had been steady in nominal terms, though Malaysia’s performance in attracting FDI relative to both earlier decades and the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had slowed.  According to the 2013 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Investment Policy Review of Malaysia, FDI to Malaysia began to decline in 1992, and private investment overall started to slide in 1997 following the Asian financial crises.  In the intervening years, domestic demand has increasingly been the source of Malaysia’s economic performance, with foreign investment receding as a driver of GDP growth.  The OECD concluded in its Review that Malaysia’s FDI levels in recent years had reached record high levels in absolute terms but were at low levels as a percentage of GDP.  The current government estimates that GDP will shrink 0.5 percent in 2020.

The business climate in Malaysia is generally conducive to U.S. investment.  Increased transparency and structural reforms that will prevent future corrupt practices could make Malaysia a more attractive destination for FDI in the long run.  The largest U.S. investments are in the oil and gas sector, manufacturing, and financial services.  Firms with significant investment in Malaysia’s oil and gas and petrochemical sectors include ExxonMobil, Caltex, ConocoPhillips, Hess Oil, Halliburton, Dow Chemical and Eastman Chemicals.  Major semiconductor manufacturers, including ON Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, Intel, and others have substantial operations in Malaysia, as do electronics manufacturers Western Digital, Honeywell, St. Jude Medical Operations (medical devices), and Motorola.  In recent years Malaysia has attracted significant investment in the production of solar panels, including from U.S. firms.  Many of the major Japanese consumer electronics firms (Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Matsushita, etc.) have facilities in Malaysia.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 51 of 183 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 12 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 35 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 $13,581 https://www.bea.gov/system/
files/2019-07/fdici0719.pdf
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $10,591 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

Prior to the government transition in March, the previous government had announced plans to overhaul its existing incentive framework, including a revamp of the Promotion of Investments

Act of 1986 and incentives under the Income Tax Act of 1967.  It is unclear whether the new government will continue with this plan.

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

Finance

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

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

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

Information & Communication

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

Manufacturing Industries

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

Oil and Gas

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

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

http://www.oecd.org/investment/countryreviews.htm 

https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp466_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

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

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

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

Manufacturing investors whose companies have annual revenue below RM50 million (approximately USD12.8 million) or with fewer than 200 full-time employees meet the definition of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and will generally be eligible for government SME incentives.  Companies in the services or other sectors that have revenue below RM20 million (approximately USD5.1 million) or fewer than 75 full-time employees also meet the SME definition.

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Outward Investment

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

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

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

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

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

It is also important to note the role of the administrative state in the promulgation of new laws and regulations in Malaysia.  Pursuant to the Interpretation Act of 1948 and 1967,

“Any proclamation, rule, regulation, order, notification, bye-law, or other instrument made under any Act, Enactment, Ordinance or other lawful authority and having legislative effect.”  Thus, the various ministries and agencies can be delegated lawmaking authority by an Act of a legislature with the legal right to make laws.

The Malaysian government’s strides toward improving transparency are evident in its embrace of internationally accepted standards in various highly regulated fields, including auditing, accounting, and law.  In that vein, the Malaysian Accounting Standards Board (MASB) introduced the Malaysian Financial Reporting Standards (MFRS) framework, which came into effect on January 1, 2012.  The MFRS framework is fully compliant with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) framework; this compliance serves to enhance the credibility and transparency of financial reporting in Malaysia.  According to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report (the “WEF 2019 Report”), Malaysia ranks 29th out of 141 countries in terms of its strength of auditing and accounting standards.

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

Publicly listed companies in Malaysia must comply with standard international reporting requirements.  The IFRS framework converged with the Malaysian auditing framework in 2012, compelling compliance by Malaysian publicly listed companies.  The IFRS framework has obtained force of law through Section 7 of the Financial Reporting Act (FRA) of 1997, which allows the MASB to issue approved accounting standards for application in Malaysia.  The FRA requires that financial statements prepared or lodged with the Central Bank, Securities Commission, or Registrar of Companies are required to comply with the standards issued by MASB.  Thus, the MASB’s adoption of the IFRS framework is legally binding.

In theory, pieces of legislation are to be made available for public comment through a multi-stage system of rulemaking.  The Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) published the Guideline on Public Consultation Procedures in 2014 (the “Guideline”), which expanded upon information contained in the Best Practice Regulation Handbook of 2013 in furtherance of GRP.  The Guideline clarifies the roles of government and stakeholders in the consultation process and provides the guiding principles for Malaysia’s public consultation approach.  Additionally, the Guideline provides robust examples of the information that should be included in consultation papers, furnishes information on enforcement, and details the timeline of the consultation process.  As it pertains to foreign investment, the consultation procedures apply to investment laws and regulations, which usually fall under the purview of the Malaysian Securities Commission (SC), the Bursa Malaysia, or the Malaysian Central Bank.  The SC, for example, keeps public consultation papers on its website, easily accessible by stakeholders.  These papers generally contain the rationale for the proposed regulations, as well as potential impacts, and provide a list of questions for stakeholders to explain their views to regulators.

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

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

There is a non-governmental website that publishes Malaysian bills and amendments from 2013 onward: https://www.cljlaw.com/?page=latestmybill&year=2019.  The site publishes the full text of the documents.  However, to the best of our knowledge, no such government-run clearinghouse of historical regulatory action exists.  However, Malaysia took a large step forward on this front in 2019, as in association with the World Bank, the MPC created a website that contains all ongoing pieces of legislation and allows public comment thereon.  The website, called the Uniform Public Consultation Portal (http://upc.mpc.gov.my/csp/sys/bi/%25cspapp.bi.index.cls?home=1), does not appear to contain legislation that was completed or implemented before 2019, but is a positive move toward standardizing and emphasizing the public consultation process.  The website is user-friendly and allows searching by due date, implementing agency, and phase of consultation.

Malaysia has a multi-faceted approach to ensuring governmental compliance with regulatory requirements.  The most important enforcement mechanism is access to judicial review.  The WEF 2019 Report lists Malaysia as the 12th ranked country in efficiency of the legal framework in challenging regulations.  Through ease in accessing administrative and judicial courts, aggrieved parties in Malaysia are able to compel action by the regulator.  Additionally, PEMUDAH (the Malaysian government’s Special Task Force to Facilitate Business) serves as an advocacy role during the various phases of the consultation process to ensure that the private sector’s voice is being heard.

Throughout the administrative state, various avenues exist through which aggrieved parties may seek recourse.  Different governmental organisms have their own enforcement mechanisms to handle specific issues they face.  For instance, the Central Bank has a dedicated “Complaints Unit,” which deals with consumer complaints against banking institutions.  The Bank lists enforcement options as “a public or private reprimand; an order to comply; an administrative and civic penalty; restitution to customer; or prosecution.  By contrast, the Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia (tax agency) has a an organism called the Special Commissioners of Income Tax, to which taxpayers may file appeals concerning judgments and new regulations.  The Malaysian Companies Commission (which regulates laws relating to companies registered in Malaysia) is also engaged in enforcement proceedings, as is the Malaysian Securities Commission.  On matters of procurement, aggrieved bidders may complain to the Public Complaints Bureau, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Malaysian Competition Commission, or the National Audit Department.

In addition to the various agency-led enforcement mechanisms, aggrieved parties may also go through administrative courts.  The rulings of these courts have force of law pursuant to various Acts of Parliament, and Malaysia has taken measures to increase their efficacy in order to improve its reputation as an international business hub.  The decisions of these administrative courts are subject to judicial review on grounds of illegality, irrationality, and procedural impropriety.

Reference:

International Regulatory Considerations

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Malaysia’s legal system consists of written laws, such as the federal and state constitutions and laws passed by Parliament and state legislatures, and unwritten laws derived from court cases and local customs. The Contract Law of 1950 still guides the enforcement of contracts and resolution of disputes.  States generally control property laws for residences, although the Malaysian government has recently adopted measures, including high capital gains taxes, to prevent the real estate market from overheating.  Nevertheless, through such programs as the Multimedia Super Corridor, Free Commercial Zones, and Free Industrial Zones, the federal government has substantial reach into a range of geographic areas as a means of encouraging foreign investment and facilitating ownership of commercial and industrial property.

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

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

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

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of Malaysia established the Malaysia Investment Development Authority (MIDA) to attract foreign investment and to serve as a focal point for legal and regulatory questions.  Organized as part of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), MIDA serves as a guide to foreign investors interested in the manufacturing sector and in many services sectors.  Regional bodies providing support to investors include: Invest Kuala Lumpur, Invest Penang, Invest Selangor, the Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA), and the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation, among others.

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

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

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

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

References:

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

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

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

The distribution of proceeds from the liquidation of a bankrupt company’s assets generally adheres to the “priority matters and persons” identified by the Companies Act of 2016.  After the bankruptcy process legal costs are covered, recipients of proceeds are: employees, secured creditors (i.e., creditors of real assets), unsecured creditors (i.e., creditors of financial instruments), and shareholders.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Malaysia. The country ranks 46th on the World Bank Group’s Doing Business Rankings for Ease of Resolving Insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

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

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

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

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

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

For more information, please visit https://mydftz.com 

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

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

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

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

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

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

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

Malaysia seeks to attract foreign investment in biotechnology but sends a mixed message on agricultural and food biotechnology.  On July 8, 2010, the Malaysian Ministry of Health posted amendments to the Food Regulations 1985 [P.U. (A) 437/1985] that require strict mandatory labeling of food and food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology.  The amendments also included a requirement that no person shall import, prepare, or advertise for sale, or sell any food or food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology without the prior written approval of the Director.  There is no ‘threshold’ level on the labeling requirement.  Labeling of “GMO Free” or “Non-GMO” is not permitted.  The labeling requirements only apply to foods and food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology but not to food produced with GMO feed.  The labeling regulation was supposed to go into force in 2014, but remains to date with no date announced.  A copy of the law and regulations respectively can be found at: http://www.biosafety.nre.gov.my/BiosafetyAct2007.html , and http://www.biosafety.nre.gov.my/BIOSAFETY percent20REGULATIONS percent202010.pdf .

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

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Land administration is shared among federal, state, and local government.  State governments have their own rules about land ownership, including foreign ownership.  Malaysian law affords strong protections to real property owners. Real property titles are recorded in public records and attorneys review transfer documentation to ensure efficacy of a title transfer.  There is no title insurance available in Malaysia. Malaysian courts protect property ownership rights.  Foreign investors are allowed to borrow using real property as collateral.  Foreign and domestic lenders are able to record mortgages with competent authorities and execute foreclosure in the event of loan default.  Malaysia ranks 29th (ranked 42nd in 2018) in ease of registering property according to the Doing Business 2019 report, right behind Finland and ahead of Hungary, thanks to changes it made to its registration procedures.

[Reference]

http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings 

Intellectual Property Rights

In December 2011, the Malaysian Parliament passed amendments to the copyright law designed to bring the country into compliance with the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonogram Treaty, define Internet Service Provider (ISP) liabilities, and prohibit unauthorized recording of motion pictures in theaters.  Malaysia subsequently acceded to the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonogram Treaty in September 2012.  In addition, the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism (MDTCC) took steps to enhance Malaysia’s enforcement regime, including active cooperation with rights holders on matters pertaining to IPR enforcement, ongoing training of prosecutors for specialized IPR courts, and the 2013 reestablishment of a Special Anti-Piracy Taskforce.  On December 27, 2019, Malaysia’s new Trademarks Act came into force bringing Malaysia’s trademark protections in line with the Madrid Protocol for international registration of trademarks, allowing U.S. trademark holders to more easily register their trademarks within Malaysia.

The government, acting through the Property Association of Malaysia (MyIPO), is currently preparing an overhaul of the 1976 Trade Marks Act and revisions to the 1983 Patents Act and 1987 Copyright Act in an effort to bring the country’s IP rules in line with its adoption of the Doha Declaration on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. While some amendments are expected to bring it in closer adherence to global standards under proposed compulsory license provisions, Malaysian private enterprises would be able to export products produced under a compulsory license to foreign markets that also have compulsory licenses in place.

In response to trends of rising internet piracy, the interagency Special Anti-Piracy Task Force established a Special Internet Forensics Unit (SIFU) within MDTCC. The SIFU team’s responsibilities include monitoring for sites suspected of being, or known as, purveyors of infringing content.  This organization follows MDTCC’s practice of launching investigations based on information and complaints from legitimate host sites and content providers. Capacity building remains a priority for the SIFU.  Coordination with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), which has responsibility for overall regulation of internet content, has been improving according to many rights holders in Malaysia.  The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is proactively combatting illegal streaming sites which provide content that breaches copyrights and is taking action against owners of non-certified Android TV boxes that are used to stream illegal content.

Despite Malaysia’s success in improving IPR enforcement, key issues remain. There is relatively widespread availability of pirated and counterfeit products in Malaysia and there are concerns that the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (RMC) is not always effectively identifying counterfeit goods in transit.  According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s statistics, Malaysia ranked as the ninth largest source country for IPR seizures. Although the $4,647,447 USD worth of items seized during fiscal year 2018 was a significant increase from the previous reporting year, it still only represents a small fraction of total seized counterfeit goods.  Limited interagency cooperation and a lack a knowledge of IPR laws among RMC officers remain impediments to effective enforcement.  The MTDCC’s Enforcement Division effectively targeted counterfeit alcohol, tobacco, and other products sold domestically; however, cases are not always brought to prosecution effectively.

The September 2017 authorization of a compulsory license for U.S. pharmaceutical Gilead Sciences’ sofosbuvir, a medicine used to treat the hepatitis C virus infection, has raised serious concerns among rights holders due to the lack of transparency and due process. While the compulsory license is set to expire in October 2020, the government has not taken proactive steps to end the compulsory license following the expiration of its tender with the foreign company producing Malaysia’s sofosbuvir medication.

USTR conducted an Out-of-Cycle Review of Malaysia in 2019 to consider the extent to which Malaysia is providing adequate and effective IP protection and enforcement, including with respect to patents. During this review, the United States and Malaysia have held numerous consultations to resolve outstanding issues. In 2020, USTR extended the out of cycle review until November 2020.

The United States continues to encourage Malaysia to accede to the WIPO Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure.  Additionally, the United States urges Malaysia to provide effective protection against unfair commercial use and unauthorized disclosure of test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products, and an effective system to address patent issues expeditiously in connection with applications to market pharmaceutical products.

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

Foreigners may trade in securities and derivatives.  Malaysia houses one of Asia’s largest corporate bond markets and is the largest sukuk (Islamic bond) market in East Asia.  Both domestic and foreign companies regularly access capital in Malaysia’s bond market.  Malaysia provides tax incentives for foreign companies issuing Islamic bonds and financial instruments in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s stock market (Bursa Malaysia) is open to foreign investment and foreign corporation issuing shares.  However, foreign issuers remain subject to Bumiputera ownership requirements of 12.5 percent if the majority of their operations are in Malaysia.  Listing requirements for foreign companies are similar to that of local companies, although foreign companies must also obtain approval of regulatory authorities of foreign jurisdiction where the company was incorporated and valuation of assets that are standards applied in Malaysia or International Valuation Standards and register with the Registrar of Companies under the Companies Act 1965 or 2016.

Malaysia has taken steps to promote good corporate governance by listed companies.  Publicly listed companies must submit quarterly reports that include a balance sheet and income statement within two months of each financial quarter’s end and audited annual accounts for public scrutiny within four months of each year’s end.  An individual may hold up to 25 corporate directorships.  All public and private company directors are required to attend classes on corporate rules and regulations.

Legislation also regulates equity buybacks, mandates book entry of all securities transfers, and requires that all owners of securities accounts be identified.  A Central Depository System (CDS) for stocks and bonds established in 1991 makes physical possession of certificates unnecessary. All shares traded on the Bursa Malaysia must be deposited in the CDS.  Short selling of stocks is prohibited.

Money and Banking System

International investors generally regard Malaysia’s banking sector as dynamic and well regulated.  Although privately owned banks are competitive with state-owned banks, the state-owned banks dominate the market.  The five largest banks – Maybank, CIMB, Public Bank, RHB, and AmBank – account for an estimated 75 percent of banking sector loans.  According to the World Bank, total banking sector lending for 2017 was 140.27 percent of GDP, and 1.5 percent of the Malaysian banking sector’s loans were non-performing for 2017.

Bank Negara prohibits hostile takeovers of banks, but the Securities Commission has established non-discriminatory rules and disclosure requirements for hostile takeovers of publicly traded companies.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

In December 2016, the central bank, began implementing new foreign exchange management requirements.  Under the policy, exporters are required to convert 75 percent of their export earnings into Malaysian ringgit.  The goal of this policy was to deepen the market for the currency, with the goal of reducing exchange rate volatility.  The policy remains in place, with the Central Bank giving case-by-case exceptions.  All domestic trade in goods and services must be transacted in ringgit only, with no optional settlement in foreign currency.  The Central Bank has demonstrated little flexibility with respect to the ratio of earnings that exporters hold in ringgit.  Post is unaware of any instances where the requirement for exporters to hold their earnings in ringgit has impeded their ability to remit profits to headquarters.

Remittance Policies

Malaysia imposes few investment remittances rules on resident companies.  Incorporated and individual U.S. investors have not raised concerns about their ability to transfer dividend payments, loan payments, royalties or other fees to home offices or U.S.-based accounts.  Tax advisory firms and consultancies have not flagged payments as a significant concern among U.S. or foreign investors in Malaysia.  Foreign exchange administration policies place no foreign currency asset limits on firms that have no ringgit-denominated debt.  Companies that fund their purchases of foreign exchange assets with either onshore or offshore foreign exchange holdings, whether or not such companies have ringgit-denominated debt, face no limits in making remittances.  However, a company with ringgit-denominated debt will need approval from the Central Bank for conversions of RM50 million or more into foreign exchange assets in a calendar year.

The Treasury Department has not identified Malaysia as a currency manipulator.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Malaysian Government established government-linked investment companies (GLICs) as vehicles to harness revenue from commodity-based industries and promote growth in strategic development areas.  Khazanah is the largest of the GLICs, and the company holds equity in a range of domestic firms as well as investments outside Malaysia.  The other GLICs – Armed Forces Retirement Fund (LTAT), National Capital (PNB), Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Pilgrimage Fund (Tabung Haji), Public Employees Retirement Fund (KWAP) – execute similar investments but are structured as savings vehicles for Malaysians.  Khazanah follows the Santiago Principles and participates in the International Forum on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

Khazanah was incorporated in 1993 under the Companies Act of 1965 as a public limited company with a charter to promote growth in strategic industries and national initiatives.  As of December 31, 2018, Khazanah reported a 21 percent drop in its net worth and a decline in its “realizable” assets to RM136 billion (from USUSD 39.3 billion to USUSD 32.9 billion).  Khazanah also recorded a pre-tax loss of RM6.27 billion (USUSD 1.52 billion) compared to a pre-tax profit of RM2.89 billion (USUSD 723 million) the previous year.  The sectors comprising its major holdings include telecommunications and media, airports, banking, real estate, health care, and the national energy utility.  According to its Annual Review 2019 presentation, in 2018, Khazanah’s mandate and objectives were refreshed, and the company will now pursue its two distinct objectives (commercial vs. strategic) through a dual-fund investment structure: (1) an intergenerational wealth fund to meet its commercial objectives (which will include public and private assets); and (2) a strategic fund to meet its strategic objective (which will include strategic assets and developmental ones).

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises which in Malaysia are called government-linked companies (GLCs), play a very significant role in the Malaysian economy.  Such enterprises have been used to spearhead infrastructure and industrial projects.  A 2017 analysis by the University of Malaya estimated that the government owns approximately 42 percent of the value of firms listed on the Bursa Malaysia through its seven Government-Linked Investment Corporations (GLICs), including a majority stake in a number of companies.  Only a minority portion of stock is available for trading for some of the largest publicly listed local companies.  Khazanah, often considered the government’s sovereign wealth fund, owns stakes in companies competing in many of the country’s major industries including aerospace, construction, energy, finance, information & communication, and marine technologies.  The Prime Minister  chairs Khazanah’s Board of Directors.  PETRONAS, the state-owned oil and gas company, is Malaysia’s only Fortune Global 500 firm.

As part of its Government Linked Companies (GLC) Transformation Program, the Malaysian Government embarked on a two-pronged strategy to reduce its shares across a range of companies and to make those companies more competitive through improved corporate governance.  The Transformation Program pushes for more independent and professionalized board membership, but the OECD noted in 2018 that in practice shareholder oversight is lax an government officials exert influence over corporate boards.

Among the notable divestments of recent years, Khazanah offloaded its stake in the national car company Proton to DRB-Hicom Bhd in 2012.  In 2013, Khazanah divested its holdings in telecommunications services giant Time Engineering Bhd.  Khazanah’s annual report for 2017 noted only that the fund had completed 12 divestments that produced a gain of RM 2.5 billion (USD 625 million).  In 2018, Khazanah partially divested its shares in IHH Healthcare Berhad, saw two successful IPOs, and issued USUSD 321 million in exchangeable sukuk.  However, significant losses at domestic companies including at Axiata, Telekom Malaysia, Tenaga Nasional, IHH Healthcare Berhad, CIMB Bank, and Malaysia Airports led to the pre-tax loss of USD  1.52 billion the company experienced in 2018.  In April 2019, Khazanah sold 1.5 percent of its stake in Tenaga Nasional on Bursa Malaysia, after which Khazanah still owned 27.27 percent of the national electric company.  In its most recent annual review, Khazanah noted a 607% increase in divestment revenue from the prior year with total divestments for 2019 of RM 9.9 billion (USD 2.25 billion).

Reference: https://www.khazanah.com.my/Media-Downloads/Downloads 

GLCs with publicly traded shares must produce audited financial statements every year.  These SOEs must also submit filings related to changes in the organization’s management.  The SOEs that do not offer publicly traded shares are required to submit annual reports to the Companies Commission.  The requirement for publicly reporting the financial standing and scope of activities of SOEs has increased their transparency.  It is also consistent with the OECD’s guideline for Transparency and Disclosure.  Moreover, many SOEs prioritize operations that maximize their earnings.

The close relationships SOEs have with senior government officials, however, blur the line between strictly commercial activity pursued for its own sake and activity that has been directed to advance a policy interest.  For example, Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS) is both an SOE in the oil and gas sector and the regulator of the industry.  Malaysia Airlines (MAS), in which the government previously held 70 percent but now holds 100 percent, required periodic infusions of resources from the government to maintain the large numbers of company’s staff and senior executives.  As of April, 2020, the government’s sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah, has shortlisted 4 of 9 bids to acquire the airline.

The Ministry of Finance holds significant minority stakes in five companies including a 50% stake in the financial guarantee insurer Danajamin Nasional Berhad.  The government also holds a golden share in 32 companies from key industries such as aerospace, marine technology, energy industries and ports.  The Ministry of Finance maintains a list of 70 companies directly controlled by the Minister of Finance Incorporated, known as MOF Inc, the largest Government Linked Investment Company (GLIC).  The seven GLICs in Malaysia are also listed.  However, a comprehensive list of the more than 200 GLCs that are controlled by these seven investment companies is not readily available.

https://www1.treasury.gov.my/index.php/en/contactus/faqs/gic.html 

With formal and informal ties between board members and government, Malaysian SOEs (GLCs) may have access to capital and financial protection from bankruptcy as well as reduced pressure to deliver profits to government shareholders.  The legal framework establishing GLCs under Malaysian law specifically seeks economic opportunity for Bumiputera entrepreneurs. There is some empirical evidence, published by the Asian Development Bank, that SOEs crowd out private investment in Malaysia.

Malaysia participates in OECD corporate governance engagements and continues to work on full adherence to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs through its Government Linked Companies (GLC) Transformation Program.  The National Resource Governance Institute’s Resource Governance Index rates Malaysia as weak on governance of its oil and gas sector; however, Malaysia also ranks as 27th among 89 rated countries, in the top third.

Privatization Program

In several key sectors, including transportation, agriculture, utilities, financial services, manufacturing, and construction, Government Linked Corporations (GLCs) continue to dominate the market.  However, the Malaysian Government remains publicly committed to the continued, eventual privatization, though it has not set a timeline for the process and faces substantial political pressure to preserve the roles of the GLCs.  The Malaysian Government established the Public-Private Partnership Unit (UKAS) in 2009 to provide guidance and administrative support to businesses interested in privatization projects as well as large-scale government procurement projects.  UKAS, which used to be a part of the Office of the Prime Minister, is now under the Ministry of Finance.  UKAS oversees transactions ranging from contracts and concessions to sales and transfers of ownership from the public sector to the private sector.

Foreign investors may participate in privatization programs, but foreign ownership is limited to 25 percent of the privatized entity’s equity.  The National Development Policy confers preferential treatment to the Bumiputera, which are entitled to at least 30 percent of the privatized entity’s equity.

The privatization process is formally subject to public bidding.  However, the lack of transparency has led to criticism that the government’s decisions tend to favor individuals and businesses with close ties to high-ranking officials.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The development of RBC programs in Malaysia has transformed from a government-led initiative into a concept embraced by the private sector.  Through the efforts of the Bursa Malaysia and other governmental bodies, awareness of corporate responsibility now exists across wide swathes of the private sector in Malaysia.

The government initially viewed RBC through the lens of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and philanthropic activities.  In 2006, the Malaysian Securities Commission published a CSR framework for all publicly listed companies (PLCs), which are required to disclose their CSR programs in their annual financial reports.  In 2007, the Women, Family and Community Ministry launched the Prime Minister’s CSR Awards to encourage the spread of CSR programs, and to honor those companies whose commitment to CSR had made a difference in their respective communities.

In 2011, the Malaysian government began to take a more holistic approach to RBC, using it as a way to facilitate change in Malaysian society.  That year the government launched the 1Malaysia Training Plan (SL1M), an employment incentive program that allows businesses to double the permitted tax deduction for expenses incurred in hiring and training graduates from rural areas and low-income families.  The Business Council for Sustainable Development Malaysia (BCSDM) (formerly known as the Board for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Malaysia) also supplanted the Institute for Corporate Responsibility Malaysia as the focal point for the country’s RBC programs.  This was an important development on the road to meeting international norms, as BCSDM is the local affiliate of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and aims to meet the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Goals.  Additionally, BCSDM has laid out its own Vision 2050 plan, which aims to facilitate an improvement in global living standards through the implementation of a series of environmentally responsible steps.

In the arena of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues related to RBC, Bursa Malaysia has been the main catalyst in the drive to enhance corporate accountability.  In 2014, Bursa Malaysia launched the FTSE4Good Bursa Malaysia Index, which is composed of companies selected from the top 200 Malaysian stocks in the FTSE Bursa Malaysia EMAS Index.  These companies are screened in accordance with transparent and defined ESG criteria, and the index provides an avenue for investors to make ESG-focused investments and increase ESG exposure in their investment portfolios, thereby putting indirect pressure on companies to behave more responsibly.

In a subsequent step in 2015, Bursa Malaysia launched a Sustainability Framework, which was comprised of amendments to the Listing Requirement (which all PLCs must meet), and the publication of a Sustainability Reporting Guide Toolkit.  As part of their new responsibilities, PLCs were required to disclose sustainability statements in their annual reports, incorporating ESG issues related to their respective businesses.  In 2018 Bursa Malaysia launched a 2nd edition of the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, which include recommendations for PLCs regarding how to integrate sustainability into their businesses, and how to conduct more extensive reporting on material Economic, Environmental, and Social (EES) risks and opportunities.

Various governmental entities have enacted measures to encourage RBC.  In 2015, SUHAKAM, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, published a framework for a national plan of action on business and human rights (BHR Framework).  The goal of the BHR Framework was to facilitate the adoption and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by both state and non-state actors in Malaysia.  Subsequent to the creation of the BHR Framework, Parliament passed an amended Companies Act in 2016, which included the optional disclosure of a business review, containing information about: (i) environmental matters, including the impact of the company’s business on the environment; (ii) the company’s employees; and (iii) social and community issues.   In the wake of the Companies Act 2016, The Companies Commission of Malaysia similarly sought to push RBC, by developing a best practices circular that promotes adherence to international sustainability reporting standards.  This circular endorses specific international standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The push toward effectuating RBC by the government has not only involved human rights, but has also addressed environmental concerns.  The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment & Climate Change (MESTECC) has published multiple roadmaps to that end, including: Green Technology Master Plan Malaysia 2017-2030; Malaysia’s Roadmap towards Zero Single-use Plastics 2018-2030; and National Energy Efficiency Master Plan.  Despite the efforts across multiple ministries to emphasize RBC, there is nothing in Malaysia’s official procurement policy that mentions it as a factor in government contracting.

In September 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO), thereby suspending imports of medical gloves from WRP Asia Pacific, a Malaysian manufacturer, citing widespread reports of the company’s use of forced labor to produce the gloves.  This came on the heels of a December 2018 report by The Guardian accusing WRP and another Malaysian glove manufacturer, Top Glove, of “forced labor, forced overtime, debt bondage, withheld wages and passport confiscation.”  Malaysia is the world’s largest exporter of medical gloves, and the U.S. is its largest export market, so the response from the Malaysian government to the WRO was prompt.   Soon after the WRO, then-Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran vowed to include a chapter on forced labor in the amended  Employment Act  to protect workers’ rights; however, the amendment to the Employment Act has not come before parliament.  Irrespective of the internal steps that the Malaysian government may have taken to codify protection of workers, CBP provided feedback to WRP to adjust its manufacturing and labor practices to ensure they are compliant with U.S. and international labor standards.  In March 2020, CBP revoked the WRO on WRP-produced rubber gloves, citing information “showing the company is no longer producing the rubber gloves under forced labor conditions.”

A 2019 chemical dumping incident paints a blurry picture regarding Malaysia’s ability to effectively and fairly enforce domestic laws on environmental protection.  In the state of Johor in March 2019, a lorry dumped a mixture of toxic chemicals into the Kim Kim River, causing the hospitalization of almost 3,000 individuals.  The overwhelming majority of those hospitalized did not get sick after the initial dumping, but rather days later aided by strong winds.  The authorities did not immediately remove the chemicals from the river due to the costliness of the procedure, leading to a political backlash.  The state government took straightforward legal steps against the responsible parties, and completed its investigation in a thorough and impartial manner.  The Johor government charged the driver of the lorry under the Environmental Quality Act 1974, and charged the owners of the factory responsible for the dumping pursuant to the Environment Quality Regulations (Scheduled Wastes) 2005 and Environmental Quality Regulations (Clean Air) Regulations 2014.

The Malaysian Securities Commission leads issues regarding corporate governance and shareholder protection.  In furtherance of its goal of safeguarding investors, in 2017 the SC released an updated version of the Malaysian Code of Corporate Governance (MCCG).  This -document includes principles on board leadership and effectiveness, audit and risk management, integrity in corporate reporting, and meaningful relationships with stakeholders.  The SC publishes an annual report called the CG Monitor to ascertain which of their suggested best practices in the MCCG are being implemented.  The CG Monitor evaluates issues ranging from executive compensation standards to the quality of disclosures made by PLCs.  The SC also issues policy papers on a range of related issues, including rules on takeovers, mergers, and acquisitions, with an eye on protecting shareholders.

Bursa Malaysia is similarly interested in ensuring shareholder protection, and has a dedicated chapter in its Listing Requirements to corporate governance.  This chapter lays out in detail the requirements for listed companies concerning board composition, rights of directors, and auditing practices.  The Listing Requirements circle back to the MCCG, and require that the board of PLCs disclose which of the best practices annunciated in the MCCG the company is following.

Promotion of RBC in Malaysia has been increasing due to pressure from institutional investors and government-linked investment funds.  In 2014, the Minority Shareholders Watch Group (an independent research organization on corporate governance matters, originally funded by four state-owned investment funds) (MSWG) and the SC worked together to draft the Malaysian Code for Institutional Investors (MCII).  The MCII includes six principles of effective stewardship by institutional investors, as well as guidance to facilitate implementation.   Furthermore, the MCII encourages institutional investors to invest responsibly by taking stock of the RBC and corporate governance standards of the company.  As a response to the MCII, the Institutional Investor Council (IIC) was formed in 2015.  The IIC is an industry-led initiative that represents the common interests of institutional investors in Malaysia, and promotes good governance (including ESG considerations) to PLCs.

The interest in RBC and good governance has taken hold not only in industry, but in governmental funds as well.  The government of Malaysia’s strategic investment fund (Khazanah Nasional Berhad), the government pension fund (KWAP), and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) are signatories to the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).  As signatories, they are required to carry out PRI principles, including taking ESG into consideration during the due diligence phase before making a potential investment, and ensuring that ESG best practices are met in companies in which they invest.

Post is not aware of any governmental interference in the efforts of regulators, business associations, and investors to improve responsible business practices amongst Malaysian corporations.

9. Corruption

The Malaysian government established the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2008 and the Whistleblower Protection Act in 2010 and considers bribery a criminal act.  Malaysia’s anti-corruption law prohibits bribery of foreign public officials, permits the prosecution of Malaysians for offense committed overseas, prohibits bribes from being deducted from taxes, and provides for the seizure of property.

The MACC conducts investigations, but prosecutorial discretion remains with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC).  There is no systematic requirement for public officials to disclose their assets and the Whistleblower Protection Act does not provide protection for those who disclose allegations to the media.

The former Pakatan Harapan government prioritized anti-corruption efforts in its campaign manifesto.  After taking office in May 2018, it established Royal Commissions of Inquiry into alleged corruption at the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA), the Council of Trust for the People (MARA), and the Hajj Pilgrims Fund (Tabung Haji), all government or government-linked agencies.  On May 21, 2018 the MACC established a 1MDB taskforce, including the police and central bank.  The government subsequently charged former Prime Minister Najib with 42 counts of money laundering, criminal breach of trust, and abuse of power for his alleged involvement in the 1MDB corruption scandal.  The current Prime Minister Muhyiddin has said to the media that his Perikatan Nasional (PN) government will continue to implement the National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP) put in place by the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government.  It remains to be seen how robustly this plan will be implemented.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:

Datuk Seri Azam Baki -Chief Commissioner
Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission
Block D6, Complex D, Pusat Pentadbiran
Kerajaan Persekutuan, Peti Surat 6000
62007 Putrajaya
+6-1800-88-6000
Email: info@sprm.gov.my

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:

Cynthia Gabriel, Director
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
C Four Consultancies Sdn Bhd
A-2-10, 8 Avenue
Jalan Sg Jernih 8/1, Seksyen 8, 46050 Petaling Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia
Email: info@c4center.org

10. Political and Security Environment

There have been no significant incidents of political violence since the 1969 national elections.  The May 9, 2018 national election led to the first transition of power between coalitions since independence and was peaceful.  The Pakatan Harapan administration collapsed on February 24, 2020 and was replaced by the Perikatan Nasional coalition led by Muhyiddin Yassin.  In April 2012, the Peaceful Assembly Act took effect, which outlaws street protests and places other significant restrictions on public assemblies.  Following the July 2014 Israeli incursion into Gaza, several Malaysian non-governmental entities organized a boycott of McDonald’s.  Over a several week period, protestors picketed at several McDonalds restaurants, at times taunting and harassing employees.  Periodically, Malaysian groups will organize modest protests against U.S. government policies, usually involving demonstrations outside the U.S. embassy.  To date, these have remained peaceful and localized, with a strong police presence.  Likewise, several non-governmental organizations have organized mass rallies in major cities in peninsular and East Malaysia related to domestic policies that have been peaceful.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Malaysia’s two million documented and 3.9 to 5.5 million undocumented foreign workers make up over 30 percent of the country’s workforce.  The previous government pledged to reduce Malaysia’s reliance on foreign labor while bringing the nation’s laws up to international standards, and had taken steps toward reforming a foreign worker recruitment process plagued by allegations of corruption and debt bondage before being replaced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s government in March.

Malaysia’s shortage of skilled labor is the most frequently mentioned impediment to economic growth cited in numerous studies.  Malaysia has an acute shortage of highly qualified professionals, scientists, and academics.  U.S. firms operating in Malaysia have echoed this sentiment, noting that the shortage of skilled labor has resulted in more on-the-job training for new hires.

The Malaysian labor market, traditionally accustomed to operating at or near full employment, has been heavily impacted by the prolonged shutdown as part of the government’s response to the global pandemic.  The unemployment rate reached five percent in April 2020, Malaysia’s highest in over 30 years, with economic observers predicting it will climb higher during the year.

Malaysia is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO).  Labor relations in Malaysia are generally non-confrontational.  While  a system of government controls strongly discourages strikes and restricts the formation of unions, the new government has created a National Labor Advisory Council – comprised of the Malaysian Trade Unions Congress and Malaysian Employer’s Federation – to increase labor participation in unions.  The government amended its Trade Unions Act and Industrial Relations Act in July 2019 to increase freedom of association in Malaysia.  Some labor disputes are settled through negotiation or arbitration by an industrial court.  Malaysian authorities have pledged to move forward with amendments to the country’s labor laws as a means of boosting the economy’s overall competitiveness and combatting forced labor conditions.  The previous government prohibited outsourcing companies, improved oversight of employment agencies, and brought the Employment Act, Children and Young Persons Act, and Occupational Safety and Health Act in line with ILO principles.

Although national unions are currently proscribed due to sovereignty issues within Malaysia, there are a number of territorial federations of unions (the three territories being Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak).  The government has prevented some trade unions, such as those in the electronics and textile sectors, from forming territorial federations.  Instead of allowing a federation for all of Peninsular Malaysia, the electronics sector is limited to forming four regional federations of unions, while the textile sector is limited to state-based federations of unions, for those states which have a textile industry.  Proposed changes to the Trade Unions Act should address this issue and allow unions to form.  Employers and employees share the costs of the Social Security Organization (SOSCO), which covers an estimated 12.9 million workers and has been expanded to cover foreign workers.  No systematic welfare programs or government unemployment benefits exist; however, the Employee Provident Fund, which employers and employees are required to contribute to, provides retirement benefits for workers in the private sector.  Civil servants receive pensions upon retirement.

The regulation of employment in Malaysia, specifically as it affects the hiring and redundancy of workers, remains a notable impediment to employing workers in Malaysia.  The high cost of terminating employees, even in cases of wrongdoing, is a source of complaint for domestic and foreign employers.  The former prime minister formed an Independent Committee on Foreign Workers to study foreign worker policies.  The Committee submitted 40 recommendations for streamlining the hiring of foreign workers and protecting employees from debt bondage and forced labor conditions.  It is unclear whether or how the new government will act on these recommendations.

Executives at U.S. companies operating in Malaysia have reported that the government monitors the ethnic balance among employees and enforces an ethnic quota system for hiring in certain areas.  Race-based preferences in hiring and promotion are widespread in government, government-owned universities, and government-linked corporations.

The former government increased and standardized the minimum wage across the country to RM 1100 (USD 275), a raise from RM 1,000 (USD 250) in Peninsular Malaysia and RM 920 (USD 230) in East Malaysia.

In 2018, the Department of Labor’s Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) listing of goods produced with child labor and forced labor included Malaysian palm oil (forced and child labor), electronics (forced labor), and garments (forced labor).  Senior officials across the Malaysian interagency have taken this listing seriously and have been working with the private sector and civil society to address concerns relating to the recruitment, hiring, and management of foreign workers in all sectors of the Malaysian economy, including palm oil and electronics.

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

Malaysia has a limited investment guarantee agreement with the United States under the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the predecessor agency to the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), for which it has qualified since 1959.  Few investors have sought OPIC insurance in Malaysia.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) N/A N/A 2019 $364,700 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $10,849 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $981 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 46.3% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
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 152,510 100% Total Outward 118,886 100%
Singapore 29,038 19% Singapore 23,388 20%
Japan 18,202 12% Indonesia 11,273 9%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong 17,954 12% Cayman Islands 7,244 6%
The Netherlands 10,345 7% United Kingdom 5,925 5%
United States 9,876 6% Australia 5,731 5%
“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 95,283 100% All Countries 72,518 100% All Countries 22,765 100%
United States 19,567 21% United States 14,688 20% United States 4,879 21%
Singapore 10,746 11% Singapore 8,768 12% Singapore 1,978 9%
China P.R.: Hong Kong 6,541 7% China, P.R.: Hong Kong 5,679 8% Cayman Islands 1,971 9%
United Kingdom 5,592 6% China, P.R.: Mainland 4,545 6% Australia 1,788 8%
China, P.R. Mainland 5,123 5% United Kingdom 4,485 6% Indonesia 1,425 6%

14. Contact for More Information

Embassy Kuala Lumpur Economic Section
376 Jalan Tun Razak / 50400 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
+6-03-2168-5153
Email: KualaLumpurEcon@state.gov

New Zealand

Executive Summary

New Zealand has an international reputation for an open and transparent economy where businesses and investors can make commercial transactions with ease.  Major political parties are committed to an open trading regime and sound rule of law practices.  This is regularly reflected in high global rankings in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report and Transparency International’s Perceptions of Corruption index.

Successive governments accept that foreign investment is an important source of financing for New Zealand and a means to gain access to foreign technology, expertise, and global markets.  Some restrictions do apply in a few areas of critical interest including certain types of land, significant business assets, and fishing quotas. These restrictions are facilitated by a screening process conducted by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).

The current government welcomes productive, sustainable, and inclusive foreign investment, but since elected in October 2017, there has been a modest shift in economic priorities to social initiatives while continuing to acknowledge New Zealand’s dependence on trade and foreign investment.  The current focus is on securing foreign capital for investment in forestry and infrastructure, as well as securing multilateral agreements and rules for e-commerce in the evolving digital economy.

In 2019, the government initiated the second phase of its overseas investment law reform.  This followed 2018’s tighter screening for residential housing and farmland and restrictions on the availability of permits for oil and gas exploration in 2018. The Government aims to align its overseas investment regime with international best practice by introducing a National Interest and Public Order test to certain assets of strategic and critical importance to New Zealand.  The Government has accelerated this reform in 2020 to protect vulnerable businesses falling in value as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The implementation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and imminent ratification of an upgrade to the New Zealand-China FTA has given those countries an advantage over others with which New Zealand does not have an agreement.  The ten CPTPP countries, and in the future China, will not need to seek OIO approval for investments less than NZD 200 million (USD 130 million).  These investments, however, are still subject to a National Interest and Public Order test.  For other countries the default threshold is NZD 100 million (USD 65 million).  CPTPP has triggered most-favored nation obligations New Zealand has under some agreements in addition to China, including bilateral FTAs with Australia and Singapore whose citizens are not subject to screening of residential property purchase or investment.

The Government has introduced a new infrastructure agency to administer a significant number of large projects following the announcement of funding equal to 5 percent of New Zealand’s GDP.  While it has an established history of non-discriminatory practice in awarding contracts for procurement, it has nevertheless embarked on a reform of its public-private partnership (PPP) scheme.

The Government has sought to level the playing field for New Zealand business by requiring online businesses selling to New Zealanders to charge and submit the New Zealand 15 percent Goods and Services Tax (GST).  In a similar populist move the Government continues to hint at the introduction of a digital services tax (DST) on the revenues earned by large multinational companies, despite the Government still participating in the OECD’s DST process.

The OIO approved many overseas applications, due in part to incentivized investment in the forestry sector and the restrictions on foreign buyers of residential property.  In 2019 New Zealand successfully made their first conviction of an offence under the Overseas Investment Act in the 14 years the law has been in effect.

COVID-19 has and will continue to have a major impact on the Government’s approach.  Ithas moved quickly to enhance businesses’ access to credit, to accelerate some legislation including overseas investment and privacy law, and to suspend provisions in other laws such as those related to business insolvency.  New Zealand also closed its borders in March due to COVID-19 and as of early June 2020 was still deciding when to reopen.  Non-citizens/residents must apply for a waiver to enter and although there are “significant economic value” waivers being issued they are limited and most businesses requiring travel to New Zealand must anticipate reduced access.  Anyone entering New Zealand at this current time is subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine at the expense of the New Zealand government.  Any change in government after the September 2020 general election is unlikely to cause a major shift in policy during New Zealand’s economic recovery and reliance on trade to help buffer negative impacts.

The 2020 Investment Climate Statement for New Zealand uses the exchange rate of NZD 1 = USD 0.65

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 1 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 1 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 25 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 $11,289  https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $40,640 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign investment in New Zealand is generally encouraged without discrimination.  New Zealand has an open and transparent economy.  Some restrictions do apply in a few areas of critical interest including certain types of land, significant business assets, and fishing quotas. These restrictions are facilitated by a screening process conducted by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), described in the next section.

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

The Labour Party-led government elected in 2017 has continued its program of tighter screening of some forms of foreign investment and has moved to restrict the availability of permits for oil and gas exploration.  It has also focused on different aspects of trade agreement negotiation compared with the previous government, such as an aversion to investor-state dispute settlement provisions.

The implementation of the CPTPP has eased the criteria for partner nations to seek approval for certain investments in New Zealand by increasing the monetary threshold when government approval is required.  This has also been triggered by New Zealand’s ‘most favored nation’ obligation in their FTA with China once the upgrade to the 2008 agreement enters into force.  A separate bilateral agreement with Australia allows for its threshold to be reviewed each year and is significantly higher before triggering the need for approval.  Separate agreements with Australia and Singapore exempt their respective citizens from restrictions introduced in 2018 on the purchase of New Zealand residential property by non-residents.  In this respect in the absence of a similar free-trade agreement with New Zealand, certain investments by United States citizens can be subject to higher scrutiny.

In 2019 the OIO approved 139 overseas investment applications, up from 94 the previous year. Net investment increased slightly from NZD 3.5 billion (USD 2.3 billion) to NZD 3.8 billion (USD 2.5 billion) while the total value of assets of approved applications more than doubled to NZD 2.3 billion (USD 1.5 billion) in 2018 to NZD 5.2 billion (USD 3.4 billion) in 2019.  Over 22,000 hectares (86.7 square miles; 55,500 acres) of land was sold, leased, or granted forestry rights from 119 approvals.  In 2018 there were fewer approvals (64) securing more land area of almost 50,000 hectares (193.1 square miles; 123,600 acres).

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

Under certain conditions, foreign investors can bid alongside New Zealand businesses for contestable government funding for research and development (R&D) grants.  For more see: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/science-and-technology/science-and-innovation/international-opportunities/new-zealand-r-d/.  Most of the programs which are operated by NZTE, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), and Callaghan Innovation, provide financial assistance, and support through skills and knowledge, or supporting innovative business ventures in the early stages of operation. For more see: https://www.business.govt.nz/how-to-grow/getting-government-grants/what-can-i-get-help-with/.

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

The establishment of telecommunications infrastructure provider Chorus resulted from a demerger of provider Spark New Zealand Limited (Spark) in 2011.  In 2019, Spark amended its constitution removing the requirement that half of the Spark Board be New Zealand citizens and, in accordance with NZX Listing Rules, requires at least two directors be ordinarily resident in New Zealand.

Chorus owns most of the telephone infrastructure in New Zealand, and provides wholesale services to telecommunications retailers, including Spark.  The demerger freed Spark from its foreign ownership restrictions allowing it to compete with other retail providers which do not have such restrictions.  The foreign ownership restrictions apply to Chorus as a natural monopoly and infrastructure provider.

Chorus’s constitution requires at least half of its Board be New Zealand citizens.  It provides that without the approval of the Minister of Finance, no single shareholder may own more than 10 percent of the shares and no person who is not a New Zealand national may own more than 49.9 percent of the shares.  To date, approval has been granted to two private entities to exceed the 10 percent threshold, increasing their interest in Chorus up to 15 percent.

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

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

Acquiring or investing in a “significant business asset” includes:  acquiring 25 percent or more ownership or controlling interest in a New Zealand company with assets exceeding NZD 100 million (USD 65 million); establishing a business in New Zealand that will be operational more than 90 days per year and expected costs of establishing the business exceeds NZD 100 million; or acquiring business assets in New Zealand that exceed NZD 100 million.

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

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

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

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

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

The screening thresholds are significantly higher for Australian investors and are reviewed each year in accordance with the 2013 Protocol on Investment to the New Zealand-Australia Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement.  In the 2020 calendar year Australian non-government investors are screened at NZD 536 million (USD 348 million) and Australian government investors at NZD 112 million (USD 73 million).

New Zealand and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) concluded negotiations on an upgrade to their FTA in November 2019.  A side letter confirms higher screening thresholds applicable to investments from the PRC in New Zealand significant business assets, following the entry into force of CPTPP.  Due to New Zealand’s “Most Favored Nation” obligations in the existing 2008 bilateral FTA, the screening threshold for PRC non-government investments in New Zealand significant business assets is NZD 200 million (USD 130 million), while the threshold for PRC government investments in New Zealand significant business assets is NZD100 million (USD 65 million).

New Zealand screens overseas investment mainly for economic reasons but has legislation that outlines a framework to protect the national security of telecommunication networks.  The Telecommunications (Interception and Security) Act 2013 (TICSA) sets out the process for network operators to work with the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – in accordance with Section 7 – to prevent, sufficiently mitigate, or remove security risks arising from the design, build, or operation of public telecommunications networks and interconnections to or between public telecommunications networks in New Zealand or with networks overseas.

In 2019 as part of the second phase of overseas investment reform, the Government consulted on and released details for the addition of a National Interest test that will be added to the screening process to protect New Zealand assets deemed sensitive and “high-risk.”  This will be discussed in the next chapter.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

The New Zealand government has shown a strong commitment to continue efforts to streamline business facilitation.  According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2020 report New Zealand is ranked first in “Starting a Business,” and “Getting Credit,” and is ranked second for “Registering Property.”  Compared to 2019, New Zealand received a lower score for “Resolving Insolvency.”

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

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

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

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

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

Tax registration is recommended when the investor incorporates the company with the Companies Office, but is required if the company is registering as an employer and if it intends to register for New Zealand’s consumption tax, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is currently 15 percent.  Companies importing into New Zealand or exporting to other countries which have a turnover exceeding NZD 60,000 (USD 39,000) over a 12-month period or expect to pass NZD 60,000 in the next 12 months, must register for GST.  Non-resident businesses that conduct a taxable activity supplying goods or services in New Zealand and make taxable supplies in New Zealand, must register for GST:  https://www.ird.govt.nz/index/all-tasks.  From 2014, non-resident businesses that do not make taxable supplies in New Zealand have been able to claim GST if they meet certain criteria.

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

In 2016 mandatory GST registration was extended to non-resident suppliers of “remote services” to New Zealand customers, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold.  In 2019, legislation was enacted that requires non-resident suppliers of “low-value” import goods destined for New Zealand to register for GST, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold.  Both are discussed in a later section.

Outward Investment

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

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

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

MBIE is responsible for the stewardship of 16 regulatory systems covering about 140 statutes.  In 2018 the government introduced three omnibus bills that contain amendments to legislation administered by MBIE, including economic development, employment relations, and housing:  https://www.mbie.govt.nz/cross-government-functions/regulatory-stewardship/regulatory-systems-amendment-bills/.  The government’s objective with this package of legislation is to ensure that they are effective, efficient, and accord with best regulatory practice by providing a process for making continuous improvements to regulatory systems that do not warrant standalone bills.  In November 2019, the Regulatory Systems (Economic Development) Amendment Act 2019 passed and amended about 14 Acts including laws regarding business insolvency, takeovers, trademarks, and limited partnerships.

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

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

The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (RLAA) is considered the most comprehensive set of reforms to the RMA.  It contains almost 40 amendments and makes significant changes to five different Acts including the RMA and the Public Works Act (PWA) 1981.  Its aim is to balance environmental management with the need to increase capacity for housing development and to align resource consent processes in a consistent manner among New Zealand’s 78 local councils, by providing a stronger national direction, a more responsive planning process, and improved consistency with other legislation.  Further amendments to the RMA are expected during 2020 to reduce regulatory barriers in order to reduce the time for significant infrastructure projects to gain approval.

The PWA enables the Crown to acquire land for public works by agreement or compulsory acquisition and prescribes landowner compensation.  New Zealand continues to face a significant demand for large-scale infrastructure works and the PWA is designed to ensure project delivery and enable infrastructure development.  In December 2019, a NZD 12 billion (USD 7.8 billion) upgrade fund was announced, amounting to 4 percent of New Zealand’s GDP.  Further funding was added in the Government’s Budget delivered in May 2020.  Compulsory acquisition of private land is exercised only after an acquiring authority has made all reasonable endeavors to negotiate in good faith the sale and purchase of the owner’s land, without reaching an agreement.  The landowner retains the right to have his or her objection heard by the Environment Court, but only in relation to the taking of the land, not to the amount of compensation payable. The RLAA amendment to the PWA aims to improve the efficiency and fairness of the compensation, land acquisition, and Environment Court objection provisions.

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

The Privacy Bill which, if enacted, would repeal the existing Privacy Act 1993, aims to bring New Zealand privacy law into line with international best practice, including the 2013 OECD Privacy Guidelines and the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

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

In August 2019, the government passed the Financial Markets (Derivatives Margin and Benchmarking) Reform Amendment Act to better align New Zealand’s financial markets law with new international regulations, to help strengthen the resilience of global financial markets.  The Act amended several pieces of legislation relating to financial market regulation to help financial institutions maintain access to offshore funding markets and help ensure institutions – that rely on derivatives to hedge against currency and other risks – can invest and raise funds efficiently.

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

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

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

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

Legislation to modernize and consolidate laws underpinning contracts and commercial transactions came into effect in September 2017.  The Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 consolidates and repeals 12 acts that date between 1908 and 2002.  The Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Act, passed in December 2017, clarifies which jurisdiction’s law is applicable in actions of tort and abolishes certain common law rules, and establishes the general rule that the applicable law will be the law of the country in which the events constituting the tort in question occur.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Overseas investments in New Zealand assets are screened only if they are defined as sensitive according to the definitions within the Overseas Investment Act 2005, as mentioned in the previous section.  The OIO, a dedicated unit located within Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), administers the Act.  The Overseas Investment Regulations 2005 set out the criteria for assessing applications, provide the framework for applicable fees, and criteria to determine if the investment will benefit New Zealand.  Ministerial Directive Letters are issued by the Government to instruct the OIO on their general policy approach, their functions, powers, and duties as regulator.  Letters have been issued in December 2010 and November 2017. Substantive changes, such as inclusion of another asset type within “sensitive land,” requires a legislative amendment to the Act.  New Zealand companies seeking capital injections from overseas investors that require OIO approval must meet certain criteria regarding disclosure to shareholders and fulfil other responsibilities under the Companies Act 1993.

The government ministers for finance, land information, and primary industries (where applicable) are responsible for assessing OIO recommendations and can choose to override OIO recommendations on approved applications.  Ministers’ decisions on OIO applications can be appealed by the applicant in the New Zealand High Court.  Ministers have the power to confer a discretionary exemption from the requirement for a prospective investor to seek OIO consent under certain circumstances.  For more see: http://www.linz.govt.nz/regulatory/overseas-investment

The OIO Regulations set out the fee schedule for lodging new applications which can be costly and current processing times regularly exceed six months.  In recent years, some foreign investors have abandoned their applications, due to the costs and time frames involved in obtaining OIO consent.

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

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

In February 2020 New Zealand reported its first conviction under the Overseas Investment Act.  The offender was charged for obstructing an OIO investigation which was initiated because he had not obtained OIO consent for his property purchase and for later submitting a fraudulent application.

In 2017 the Government announced a reform of the Overseas Investment Act shortly after being elected and has already implemented Phase 1 reforms with strengthened requirements for screening foreign investment in residential houses, building residential housing developments, and farmland acreage.  Screening for investments in forestry were eased slightly to help meet the Government’s One Billion Tree policy.  Phase 2 began in 2019 when the Government consulted on and released details for the introduction of a National Interest test to the screening process to protect New Zealand assets deemed sensitive and “high-risk.”

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

New rules reduced the area threshold for foreign purchases of rural land so that OIO approval is required for rural land of an area over five hectares, rather than the previous metric of farm land “more than ten times the average farm size,” which was about 7,146 hectares for sheep and beef farms, and 1,987 hectares for dairy farms.  Foreign investors can still purchase rural land less than five hectares, but the government said it intends to introduce other measures to discourage “land bankers,” or investors holding onto land for speculative purposes.

The government issued new rules regarding residency for overseas investors intending to reside in New Zealand, that they move to New Zealand within 12 months and become ordinarily resident within 24 months.

In 2018, the Overseas Investment Amendment Act passed in order to help address housing affordability and reduce speculative behavior in the housing market.  The 2005 Act was amended to bring residential land within the category of “sensitive land.”  Residential land is defined as land that has a category of residential or lifestyle within the relevant district valuation roll; and includes a residential flat (apartment) in a building owned by a flat-owning company which could be on residential or non-residential land.

Since October 2018, the Overseas Investment Act generally requires persons who are not ordinarily resident in New Zealand to get OIO consent to purchase residential homes on residential land.  Australian and Singaporean citizens are exempt due to existing bilateral trade agreements.  To avoid breaching the Act, contracts to purchase residential land must be conditional on getting consent under the Act – entering into an unconditional contract will breach the Act.  All purchasers of residential land (including New Zealanders) will need to complete a statement confirming whether the Act applies, and solicitors/conveyancers cannot lodge land transfer documents without that statement.

Overseas persons wishing to purchase one home on residential land will need to fulfill a “Commitment to Reside Test.”  Applicants must hold the appropriate non-temporary visa (those on student visas, work visas, or visitor visas cannot apply), have lived in New Zealand for the immediate preceding 12 months and intend to reside in the property being purchased.  If the applicant stops living in New Zealand they will have to sell the property.  OIO applicants not intending to reside will generally need to show: (1) they will convert the land to another use and demonstrate this would have wider benefits to New Zealand; or (2) they will be adding to New Zealand’s housing supply.  Applicants seeking approval under the latter – the “Increased Housing Test” – must intend to increase the number of dwellings on the property by one or more, and they cannot live in the dwelling/s once built (the “non-occupation condition”).  Applicants must then on-sell the dwellings, unless they are building 20 or more new residential dwellings and they intend to provide a shared equity, rent-to-buy, or rental arrangement (the “On-Sale Condition”).

The Amendment also imposes restrictions on overseas persons buying into new residential property developments.  Where pre-sales of the new residential dwellings are an essential aspect of the development funding, overseas purchasers may be able to rely on the “Increased Housing” Test, although they will be subject to the on-sale and non-occupation conditions.  Otherwise, individual purchasers must apply for OIO consent and meet the “commitment to reside test,” or make their purchase conditional on receiving an “exemption certificate” held by an apartment developer.  According to the OIO Regulations, developers can apply for an exemption certificate allowing them to sell 60 percent of the apartments “off the plan” to overseas buyers without those buyers requiring OIO consent but whom would have to meet the non-occupation condition.

Ministers may exercise discretion to waive the on-sale condition if an overseas person is applying for consent to acquire an ownership interest in an entity that holds residential land in New Zealand, if they are acquiring less than a 50 percent ownership interest, or if they are acquiring an indirect ownership interest.  Exemptions can also apply for long-term accommodation facilities, hotel lease-back arrangements, retirement village developments, and for network utility companies needing to acquire residential land to provide essential services.  In 2019 the OIO issued several warnings and fines to overseas buyers of residential property who had failed to apply for OIO consent.

The government coalition formed after the 2017 elections indicated that forestry would be a priority in boosting regional development.  In March 2018, the government announced forestry cutting rights would be brought into the OIO screening regime, similar to the requirements for investment in leasehold and freehold forestry land.  In addition to residential land, the Overseas Investment Amendment Act 2018 classified “forestry rights” within the asset class of “sensitive land.”

Overseas investments involving the purchase up to 1,000 hectares of forestry rights per year or any forestry right of less than three years duration do not generally require OIO approval.

Overseas investors can apply for consent to buy or lease land that is in forestry, or land to be used for forestry, or to buy forestry rights.  In addition to meeting the “Benefit to New Zealand Test,” applicants wishing to buy or lease land for forestry purposes, convert farmland to forestry land, or purchase forestry rights, must meet either the “Special Forestry Test,” or the “Modified Benefits Test.”

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

The Modified Benefits Test is suitable for investors who will use the land only for forestry activities, but who cannot maintain existing arrangements relating to the land, such as public access.  The investor would need to pass the Benefit to New Zealand Test, replant after harvest, and use the land exclusively or nearly exclusively for forestry activities.

By 2019 the OIO issued several warnings and fines to overseas investors purchasing forestry rights for failing to comply with conditions or failing to apply for OIO approval.

Phase 2 Reforms

In April 2019, the government signaled it would consider a “national interest” restriction on foreign investment.  It issued a document for public consultation and, in November 2019, decided on New Zealand’s most “strategically important assets.”  The government aims to bring New Zealand in line with international best practice by applying a National Interest Test to overseas investors wishing to purchase New Zealand high-risk, sensitive or monopoly assets such as ports and airports, telecommunications infrastructure, electricity, and other critical infrastructure.

Current legislation does not provide for the review of National Security or Public Order investments under NZD 100 million (USD 65 million).

A “call in” power would apply to the sale of New Zealand’s most strategically important assets, such as firms developing military technology and direct suppliers to New Zealand defense and security agencies.  This would apply to assets not currently screened under the Overseas Investment Act.  The tests could also be used to control investments in significant media entities if they are likely to damage New Zealand security or democracy.

Phase 2 includes other measures to protect New Zealand’s interests announced in November 2019, such as equipping the OIO with enhanced enforcement powers and increasing the maximum penalties for non-compliance NZD 300,000 (USD 195,000) to NZD 10 million (USD 6.5 million) for corporates.  The legislation will also include a requirement that overseas investors in farmland show substantial benefit to New Zealand, by adding something substantially new or creating additional value to the New Zealand economy.  In recognition of complaints regarding cost and time to gain OIO consent, the government will set specific timeframes to give investors greater certainty and exempt a range of low risk transactions, such as some involving companies that are majority owned and controlled by New Zealanders.

There has been controversy and concern about water extraction investment by overseas investors in New Zealand, particularly water bottling to export, earning overseas companies profits from a high-value New Zealand resource without paying a charge.  Under Phase 2 the Government will require overseas investors in water extraction take into consideration the environmental, economic, and cultural impact of their investment, and its effect on local water quality and the overall sustainability of a water bottling enterprise.

In February 2020, the Treasury released all documents online, including the Cabinet Paper that recommended the Phase 2 reform.

Phase 2 Reforms – Fast-Tracked Legislation

On May 14, 2020, the government fast-tracked those elements of Phase 2 deemed necessary to protect key New Zealand assets from falling into foreign ownership as business values suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It introduced the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill (No 3), which quickly passed its first reading and and then moved to the Select Committee stage with public submissions closing August 31.  The Overseas Investment (Urgent Measures) Amendment Bill also moved quickly to the Select Committee stage with public submissions closing May 17.  The Committee amended the bill so that 45 days after the emergency regime has been in force, the Government will consider the operation of the emergency power and if necessary, options to improve its efficiency and effectiveness.  The bill passed its third reading on May 29, and once it receives Royal Assent it will become law after 14 days, around mid-June.  For more see: https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_97807/overseas-investment-amendment-bill-no-3 and https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_97805/overseas-investment-urgent-measures-amendment-bill

The changes bring forward the introduction of a national interest test to strategically important assets, and the temporary application of that test to any foreign investments that result in more than a 25 percent ownership interest, or that increases an existing interest to or beyond 50 percent, 75 percent or 100 percent in a New Zealand business, in each case regardless of dollar value.

The temporary power will operate as a simple notification requirement and is designed to ensure investment is not unduly delayed while protecting New Zealand businesses during a vulnerable time.  It will be reviewed every 90 days and remain in place as long as the pandemic and its economic aftermath continue to have significant impact. Certain other investments in strategically important assets will also have to be notified to protect New Zealand’s national security.  Once the temporary measures end, a national interest test will remain for business transactions at a minimum threshold of NZD100 million (USD 65 million) (or higher for certain countries with which New Zealand has negotiated trade agreements), as well as investments in sensitive land and fishing quota.

The Bill and supporting regulations will help meet New Zealand businesses’ increased demand for capital and will also ensure that many low-risk transactions are no longer screened. This includes purchases by “fundamentally New Zealand companies” and small changes in existing shareholdings.  In addition, the Government will use regulations to extend existing exemptions and remove screening from two further classes of low risk lending and portfolio management transactions.

Non-OIO Legislation Governing Foreign Investment

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

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

In November 2018, the government passed the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Act, to stop new exploration permits being granted offshore and onshore outside of the Taranaki province on the west coast of the North Island.  The policy is part of the government’s efforts to transition away from fossil fuels and achieve their goal to have net zero emissions by 2050.  The annual Oil and Gas Block Offers program has been operational since 2012 to raise New Zealand’s profile among international investors in the energy and mining sector and has been a significant source of government revenue.

There are currently about 20 offshore permits covering 38,000 square miles that will have the same rights and privileges as before the law came into force and will continue operation until 2030.  If those permit holders are successful in their exploration, the companies could extract oil and gas from the areas beyond 2030.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Commerce Act 1986 prohibits contracts, arrangements, or understandings that have the purpose, or effect, of substantially lessening competition in a market, unless authorized by the Commerce Commission, an independent Crown entity.  Before granting such authorization, the Commerce Commission must be satisfied that the public benefit would outweigh the reduction of competition.  The Commerce Commission has legislative power to deny an application for a merger or takeover if it would result in the new company gaining a dominant position in the New Zealand market.

In addition, the Commerce Commission enforces certain pieces of legislation that, through regulation, aim to provide the benefits of competition in markets with certain natural monopolies, such as the dairy, electricity, gas, airports, and telecommunications industries.  In order to monitor the changing competitive landscapes in these industries, the Commerce Commission conducts independent studies, currently including fiber networks (https://comcom.govt.nz/regulated-industries/telecommunications/regulated-services/fibre-regulation/fibre-services-study), mobile phones (https://comcom.govt.nz/regulated-industries/telecommunications/projects/mobile-market-study), and retail petrol (https://comcom.govt.nz/about-us/our-role/competition-studies/market-study-into-retail-fuel).

The Commerce Amendment Act 2018 empowers the Commerce Commission to undertake market (“competition”) studies where this is in the public interest in order to improve the agency’s enforcement actions without having to go to court.  The Government introduced a market studies power to align the Commerce Commission with competition authorities in similar jurisdictions.  The Act allows settlements to be registered as enforceable undertakings so breaches can be quickly penalized by the courts and saves the Commission from the expense and uncertainty of litigation.  The amendment also strengthens the information disclosure regulations for airports.

The Dairy Industry Restructuring Act of 2001 (DIR) established dairy co-operative Fonterra Co-operative Group Limited (Fonterra).  The DIR is designed to manage Fonterra’s dominant position in the domestic dairy market, until sufficient competition has emerged.  A review by the Commerce Commission in 2016 found competition insufficient, but the findings from a subsequent review in 2018 resulted in the introduction of the DIR Amendment Bill (No 3) which passed its first reading in August 2019, and was advanced to the Select Committee stage for scrutiny on March 20, 2020.

This amendment, if passed, will ease the requirement that Fonterra accept all milk from new suppliers, allowing the cooperative the option to refuse milk if it does not meet environmental standards or if it comes from newly converted dairy farms.  The bill would also limit Fonterra’s discretion in calculating the base milk price.

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

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

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

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

Radio Spectrum Management (RSM) is a business unit within MBIE that is responsible for providing advice to the government on the allocation of radio frequencies to meet the demands of emerging technologies and services.  Spectrum is allocated in a manner that ensures radio spectrum provides the greatest economic and social benefit to New Zealand society.  The allocation of spectrum is a core regulatory issue for the deployment of 5G in New Zealand.  The Commerce Commission completed a two-year study in September 2019 of mobile network operators (MNOs) in New Zealand in order to assess the process for 5G spectrum allocation and whether it will impact the ability of new mobile network operators to enter the market.  It found no case to support regulatory intervention to promote a fourth national MNO to enter the market, but that the spectrum allocation process should not preclude new parties from obtaining spectrum.

In March 2019, the government announced it freed up space on the spectrum for a fourth mobile network operator to compete with the three existing ones.  In order to do so, the three existing operators lost parts of their spectrum, for which sources criticized the government, claiming they supported competition in principle but questioned the ability of the New Zealand market to cope with another operator.  The Government claims it needs to keep some of that spectrum in reserve to retain flexibility and it might be used for new technologies or by the emergency services network.

The Government’s first auction of 5G spectrum planned for 2020 – and ready for use by November 2022 – was cancelled in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Government directly allocated spectrum to the three MNOs, with these rights expiring in October 2022 after which the scheme will switch to long-term rights that will be gained in a separate auction process.  The government determined the allocations in such a way as to prevent a single operator to prevent monopolistic behavior, but it also to set aside spectrum to deal with potential Treaty of Waitangi issues.

The Commerce Commission has a regulatory role to promote competition within the electricity industry under the Commerce Act 1986 and the Fair Trading Act 1986.  As natural monopolies, the electricity transmission and distribution businesses are subject to specific additional regulations, regarding pricing, sales techniques, and ensuring sufficient competition in the industry.  The Commerce Commission completed a project in March 2020 that set the default price-quality path to determine the price caps that will apply to the 17 electricity distributors in New Zealand from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2025.  Due to increased expenditure for distributors to accommodate new technology, the Commerce Commission also recommended new recoverable costs to incentivize ongoing innovation in the electricity sector.

The New Zealand motor fuel market became more concentrated after Shell New Zealand sold its transport fuels distribution business in 2010 and Chevron sold its retail brands Caltex and Challenge in 2016 to New Zealand fuel distributor Z-Energy.  Z-Energy holds almost half of the market share in New Zealand.  A two-year study by the Commerce Commission was completed in December 2019 that evaluated whether competition in the retail fuel market is promoting outcomes that benefit New Zealand consumers over the long-term.  They found that the lack of an active wholesale market in New Zealand has weakened price competition in the retail market and that the major fuel companies’ joint infrastructure network and supply relationships gave them an advantage over other fuel importers.  The wholesale supply relationships, including restrictive contract terms between the majors and resellers, limits the ability of resellers to switch supplier.

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

The Commerce (Criminalization of Cartels) Amendment Act was passed in April 2019 to align New Zealand law with other jurisdictions – particularly Australia – by criminalizing cartel behavior.  Individuals convicted of engaging in cartel conduct – price fixing, restricting output, or allocating markets – will face fines of up to NZD 500,000 (USD 325,000) and/or up to seven years imprisonment.  For companies, the fines can be up to NZD 10 million (USD 6.5 million), or higher based on turnover.  Business have been given two years to ensure compliance before the criminal sanctions enter into force.  While not a significant issue in New Zealand, the government believes criminalizing cartel behavior provides a certain and stable operating environment for businesses to compete, and aligns New Zealand with overseas jurisdictions that impose criminal sanctions for cartel conduct, enhancing the ability of the Commerce Commission to cooperate with its overseas counterparts in investigations of international cartels.

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

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

In May 2020, the Commerce Commission issued guidance easing restrictions on businesses to collaborate in order to ensure the provision of essential goods and services to New Zealand consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Expropriation and Compensation

Expropriation is generally not an issue in New Zealand, and there are no outstanding cases.  New Zealand ranks second in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report for “registering property” and third for “protecting minority investors.”

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

The lack of precedent for due process in the treatment of residents affected by liquefaction of residential land caused by the Canterbury earthquake in 2011 resulted in prolonged court cases against the Government based largely on the amount of compensation offered to insured home and/or land owners and the lack of any compensation for uninsured owners.  Several large areas of residential land in Christchurch were deemed Residential Red Zones (RRZ) meaning there had to be significant and extensive area wide land damage, the extent of the damage required an area-wide solution, engineering solutions would be uncertain, disruptive, not timely, and not cost-effective.  One offer made by the government to uninsured Christchurch RRZ landowners for 50 percent of the rated value of their property was deemed unlawful in the Court of Appeal in 2013.  A later offer was made by the government to uninsured residents, but only for the value of their land and not their house.

In 2018, the government opted to settle with a group of uninsured home and landowners, but some objected to the compensation because it was based on 2007/08 rating valuations.  There were also reports some insurance companies paid out less to policy holders than the full value of some houses if they found based on the structural characteristics of the house that it was repairable, even though the repairs would be legally prohibited if in the RRZ.

LINZ currently manages Crown-owned land in the RRZ and can temporarily agree short-term leases of this land under the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Act 2016 but does not make offers to buy properties from RRZ residents. From June 2020 ownership and management of the land is progressively transitioning from the Crown back to the Christchurch City Council, according to the terms under an agreement made in September 2019 and to be legislated as an amendment to the 2016 Act.  LINZ must review the interests of each of the 5,500 titles in the RRZ to check if anyone has rights to the land, such as an easement, a covenant, or a mortgage.  For more see: https://www.linz.govt.nz/crown-property/types-crown-property/christchurch-residential-red-zone.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

Investment disputes brought against other foreigners by the New Zealand government have been largely due to investors failing to comply with the conditions of their OIO approval, failure to comply with the Overseas Investment Act, or failure to gain OIO approval before making their investment.

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

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

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

The Arbitration Amendment Act 2016 empowered the Minister of Justice to create an “appointed body” to exercise powers which were previously powers of the High Court.  It also provides for the High Court to exercise the powers if the appointed body does not act, or there is a dispute about the process of the appointed body. The Minister of Justice has appointed the AMINZ the default authority for all arbitrations sited in New Zealand in place of the High Court.  In 2017 AMINZ issued its own Arbitration Rules based on the latest editions of rules published in other Model Law jurisdictions, to be used in both domestic and international arbitrations, and consistent with the 1996 Act.

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

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

The Insolvency and Trustee Service (the Official Assignee’s Office) is a business unit of MBIE.  The Official Assignee is appointed under the State Sector Act of 1988 to administer the Insolvency Act of 2006, the insolvency provisions of the Companies Act of 1993 and the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act of 2009.  The Official Assignee administers all bankruptcies, No Asset Procedures, Summary Installment Orders, and some liquidations by collecting and selling assets to repay creditors.  The bankrupt or company directors will be asked for information to help identify and deal with the assets. The money recovered is paid to creditors who have made a claim, in order according to the relevant Acts.  Creditors can log in to the Insolvency and Trustee Service website to track the progress of their claim and how long it is likely to take.

In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report New Zealand slipped in the rankings for “resolving insolvency” from 31st last year to 36th.  Despite a high recovery rate (79.7 cents per dollar compared with 70.2 cents for the average across high-income OECD countries), New Zealand scores lower based on the strength of its insolvency framework.  Specific weaknesses identified in the survey include the management of debtors’ assets, the reorganization proceedings, and the participation of creditors.

The government has recognized the need for more insolvency law reform beyond the 2006 Act which repealed the Insolvency Act 1967.  The Regulatory Systems (Economic Development) Amendment Act which passed in November 2019 included amendments to the Insolvency Act that strengthened some regulations and assigned more powers to the Official Assignee.  After the previous government established an Insolvency Working Group in 2015, MBIE published a proposed set of reforms in November 2019, based on the group’s recommendations from 2017.  The current government plans to introduce an insolvency law reform bill in early 2020. The omnibus COVID-19 Response (Further Management Measures) Legislation Bill passed on May 15 included provisions to provide temporary relief for businesses facing insolvency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

New Zealand has no specific economic incentive regime because of its free trade policy.  The New Zealand government, through its bodies such as Tourism New Zealand and NZTE, assists certain sectors such as tourism and the export of locally manufactured goods.  The government generally does not have a practice of jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.

In the Media and Entertainment sector, the New Zealand Film Commission administers a grant for international film and television productions on behalf of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and MBIE.  Established in 2014, the New Zealand Screen Production Grant provides rebates for international productions of 20 percent on specified goods and services purchased in New Zealand. An additional five percent is available for productions that meet a significant economic benefit points test for New Zealand.

Callaghan Innovation is a stand-alone Crown Entity established in February 2013.  It connects businesses with research organizations offering services, and the opportunity to apply for government funding and grants that support business innovation and capability building.  Callaghan Innovation requires businesses applying for any of their research and development grants to have at least one director who is resident in New Zealand and to have been incorporated in New Zealand, have a center of management in New Zealand, or have a head office in New Zealand.  For more information see: http://www.business.govt.nz/support-and-advice/grants-incentives.

The government does not have a state policy on issuing guarantees on foreign direct investment projects.  It provides some opportunities and initiatives for overseas investors to apply for joint financing mainly if the projects involve R&D, science and innovation that will ultimately benefit the New Zealand economy.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

New Zealand does not have any foreign trade zones or duty-free ports.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government of New Zealand does not maintain any measures that are alleged to violate the Trade Related Investment Measures text in the WTO.  There are no government mandated requirements for company performance or local employment, and foreign investors that do not require OIO approval are treated equally with domestic investors.  Overseas investors that require OIO approval must comply with legal obligations governing the OIO and the conditions of its approval including: satisfying the benefit to New Zealand test through local employment, using domestic content in goods, or promising the introduction of a new technology to New Zealand.

Investors requiring OIO approval also must maintain “good character”, and reporting requirements.  Investors are generally required to report annually to the OIO for up to five years following approval, but if benefits are expected to occur after that five-year period, monitoring will reflect the time span within which benefits will occur.  Failure to meet obligations under the investors’ consent can result in fines, court orders, or forced disposal of their investment.  A government-commissioned independent review in 2016 found the good character test to be robust after questions were asked whether it was being used consistently and accurately

In 2019 the New Zealand High Court imposed civil penalties on a director for breaching the good character conditions of his company’s consent when it bought a controlling interest (50.2 percent) in New Zealand’s largest agricultural services company in 2011.  The breach arose because the director was investigated by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and found to have violated United States securities law.  As part of the settlement reached with the OIO, the director’s company agreed to divest its interest in the company below 50 percent (to 46.5 percent).

Businesses wanting to establish in New Zealand and seeking to relocate their employees to New Zealand will need to apply for and satisfy the conditions of the Employees of Relocating Business Resident Visa:  https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/relocating-with-an-employer-resident-visa.  These conditions include providing evidence the business is up and running, have the support of NZTE, and provide a letter from the business CEO.  Immigration New Zealand may grant temporary work visas to key employees to get the business established and resident visas once the business is operating.  Applicants must provide evidence the business is up and running, such as a certificate of incorporation, tax records, and documents showing a business site has been purchased or leased.  Immigration New Zealand also considers if the relocation benefits New Zealand, if the business is trading profitably (or has the potential to do so in the next 12 months), and contributing to economic growth by, for example introducing new technology, management or technical skills; enhancing existing technology, management or technical skills; introducing new products or services; enhancing existing products or services; creating new export markets;  expanding existing export markets; creating at least one full-time job for a New Zealander.  Visa holders can bring family, and after meeting conditions of the visa may be eligible to live and work in New Zealand indefinitely.

As part of the KIWI Act U.S. Public Law 115-226, enacted on August 1, 2018, accorded nationals of New Zealand to E-1 and E-2 status for treaty trader/treaty investor purposes if the Government of New Zealand provides similar nonimmigrant status to nationals of the United States. The State Department confirmed that New Zealand offers similar nonimmigrant status to U.S. nationals and E visas may be issued to nationals of New Zealand beginning on June 10, 2019. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/fees/treaty.html#16

New Zealand supports the ability to transfer data across borders, and to not force businesses to store their data within any particular jurisdiction.  While data localization and cloud computing is not specifically legislated for, all businesses must comply with the Privacy Act 1993 to protect customers’ “personal information.”  Under certain circumstances, however, approval is required from the Commissioner of Inland Revenue to store electronic business and tax records outside of New Zealand, and under Section 23 of the Tax Administration Act 1994.  Alternatively, taxpayers can use an IRD authorized third party to store their information without having to seek individual approval.  It remains the taxpayer’s responsibility to meet their obligations to retain business records for the retention period (usually seven years) required under the Act.

Under CPTPP the New Zealand government has retained the ability to maintain and amend regulations related to data flows with CPTPP countries, but in such a way that does not create barriers to trade.  These rules come with a “public policy safeguard”, which gives CPTPP governments the discretion to control the movement and storage of data for legitimate public policy objectives to ensure governments can respond to the changing technology in areas such as privacy, data protection, and cybersecurity.

As part of CPTPP, New Zealand has committed not to impose ‘localization requirements’ that would force businesses to build data storage centers or use local computing facilities in CPTPP markets in order to provide certainty to businesses considering their investment choices.  Another provision requires CPTPP countries not to impede companies delivering cloud computing and data storage services.

New Zealand is considering e-commerce issues in trade agreements beyond CPTPP, including upgrades of existing FTAs, and in January 2019 joined other WTO members to launch negotiations on E-Commerce.

The Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) which is yet to enter into force for Singapore, New Zealand and Chile, includes a series of modules covering measures that affect the digital economy.  Module 4 on Data Issues includes binding provisions on personal data protection and cross-border data flows that build on the CPTPP.  In addition to the CPTPP obligations, DEPA encourages the adoption of data protection trust-marks for businesses to verify conformance with privacy standards.  The agreement is an open plurilateral one that allows other countries to join the agreement as a whole, select specific modules to join, or replicate the modules in other trade agreements.

The Customs and Excise Act 2018 allows customers who are required to keep Customs-related records to apply to Customs New Zealand, to store their business records outside of New Zealand.  Under the repealed 1996 Act it was an offence for businesses to not store physical records in New Zealand or their electronic records with a New Zealand-based cloud storage provider.  Under the Act, a business can apply for permission to keep their Customs-related business records outside New Zealand, including in a cloud storage facility that is not based in New Zealand.  Businesses denied permission must still be required to store business records in New Zealand, including with New Zealand-based cloud providers.

In March 2018, the government introduced the Privacy Bill to repeal and replace the Privacy Act 1993.  The bill which passed its second reading in August 2019, aims to strengthen the protection of confidential and personal information and modernize privacy regulations.  It also aims to incorporate provisions included in the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), however the select committee report on the bill released in March 2019 advised against strict alignment with the GDPR.

In its current form, the Bill would apply to all actions by a New Zealand agency regardless of where that agency is located, and would apply to all personal information collected or held by a New Zealand agency regardless of where that information is collected or held, or where the relevant individual is located.

The bill extends the current law to apply to agencies located outside of New Zealand as long as that agency is “carrying on business in New Zealand.” It would apply to personal information collected in the course of such business, again regardless of where the agency is located and where the information is held.  Additionally, it will apply regardless of whether that agency charges monetary payment or makes a profit from its business in New Zealand. The intent is to ensure that global businesses doing business in New Zealand, irrespective of where the individual or the agency is located, comply with the new Privacy Act.

For most businesses, the most notable change in the new Act will be the introduction of a requirement to report serious privacy breaches. Notifiable privacy breaches will require organizations to notify the Privacy Commissioner and any affected individuals if there is a breach that has caused serious harm or poses a risk of causing someone serious harm. In March 2020, an amendment to the bill was proposed to all the new legislation apply from November 1, 2020.

A provision affecting cloud service providers places the onus of liability for privacy breaches on the customer, as long as the provider is not using or disclosing that customer’s information for its own purposes.  The Search and Surveillance Act 2012 includes powers to search and notification requirements of search power in connection to a “remote access search” defined in the Act as a search of a thing such as an Internet data storage facility that does not have a physical address that a person can enter and search.  Such mandatory demands as mentioned are legal obligations that must be complied with and are made under a search warrant.  The Privacy Act permits disclosure in such a case. The organization can only disclose the information requested and any excess information provided will be in breach of the Privacy Act unless it is able to be provided as part of a voluntary request.

New Zealand does not have any requirements for foreign information technology (IT) providers to turn over source code or provide access to encryption.  There may be obligations on individuals to assist authorities under Section 130 of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012. An agency with search authority in terms of data held in a computer system or other data storage device may require a specified person to provide access information that is reasonable to allow the agency exercising the search power to access that data.  This could include a requirement that they decrypt information which is necessary to access a particular device. The search power cannot be used to require the specified person to give information intending to incriminate them. Failure to assist a person exercising a search power under section 130(1), without reasonable excuse, is a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment for up to three months.

The Customs and Excise Act 2018 sets specific legal thresholds for Customs officers to search passengers’ electronic devices and imposes a fine of NZD 5,000 (USD 3,250) if they refuse to hand over passwords, pins, or encryption keys to access the device.  The officer must have “reasonable cause to suspect,” that the passenger has been or is about to be involved in the commission of relevant offending.

There is not a particular government agency that enforces all privacy law, however the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is empowered through the Privacy Act 1993 and has a wide ability to consider developments or actions that affect personal privacy.  Separately, New Zealand courts have developed a privacy tort allowing individuals to sue another for breach of privacy.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

New Zealand recognizes and enforces secured interest in property, both movable and real.  Most privately owned land in New Zealand is regulated by the Land Transfer Act 2017. These provisions set forth the issuance of land titles, the registration of interest in land against land titles, and guarantee of title by the State.  The Registrar-General of Land develops standards and sets an assurance program for the land rights registration system. New Zealand’s legal system protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights.

The Land Transfer Act 2018 repealed law from 1952 but maintains the Torrens system of land title in which land ownership is transferred through registration of title instead of deeds, a system which has been in operation in New Zealand since the nineteenth century.  The Act aims to improve the certainty of property rights, modernize, simplify and consolidate land transfer legislation. It empowers courts with limited discretion to restore a landowner’s registered title in rare cases, in the event of fraud or other illegality, where it is warranted to avoid a manifestly unjust result.  The Act includes new provisions to prevent mortgage fraud, to protect Maori freehold land, and to extend the Registrar-General’s powers to withhold personal information to protect personal safety.

Land leasing by foreign or non-resident investors is governed by the OIO Act.  About eight percent of New Zealand land is owned by the Crown. The Land Act 1948 created pastoral leases which run for 33 years and can be continually renewed.  Rent is reviewed every 11 years, basing the rent on how much stock the land can carry for pastoral farming.  The Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 and its amendments contain provisions governing pastoral leases that apply to foreign and domestic lease holders.  Holders of pastoral leases have exclusive possession of the land, and the right to graze the land, but require permission to carry out other activities on their lease.

Foreign and domestic lessees can gain freehold title over part of the land under a voluntary process known as tenure review.  Under this process, specified land areas of the lease can be restored to full Crown ownership, usually to be managed by the Department of Conservation.  In February 2019, however, the government announced an end to tenure review because it has resulted in more intensive farming and subdivision on the 353,000 hectares of freehold land which has been affecting the landscape and biodiversity of the land.  With tenure review ending, the remaining Crown pastoral lease properties, currently 171 covering 1.2 million hectares of Crown pastoral land which is just under 5 percent of New Zealand’s land area, will continue to be managed under the regulatory system for Crown pastoral lands. In April 2019 there had been 2,500 submissions for feedback to the government on the future management of the South Island high country.

The types of land ownership in New Zealand are: Freehold title, Leasehold title, Unit title, Strata title, and cross-lease.  The majority of land in New Zealand is freehold. LINZ holds property title records that show a property’s proprietors, legal description and the rights and restrictions registered against the property title, such as a mortgage, easement or covenant.  A title plan is the plan deposited by LINZ when the title was created. Property titles do not contain information about the value of the property.

No land tax is payable, but the local government authorities are empowered to levy taxes, termed as “rates,” on all properties within their territorial boundaries.  Rates are assessed on either assessed annual rental value, land value or capital value. There is no stamp duty in New Zealand.

Mortgages and liens are available in New Zealand.  There is no permanent government policy as such that discriminates lending to foreigners.  The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ), however, introduced a macro-prudential tool as a means to curb rising house prices.  In October 2013, the RBNZ introduced temporary loan-to-valuation ratio restrictions on banks’ lending to (domestic and foreign) investors and owner-occupiers wanting to purchase residential housing. During 2018 and 2019 the RBNZ began easing these lending restrictions on banks.

In April 2020, the RBNZ announced a 12-month suspension of these restrictions on banks’ lending to investors and owner-occupiers to apply from May 1, in order to improve the equity positions of mortgage borrowers, so that fewer borrowers will have to sell their house or default on their mortgage as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

A registered memorandum of mortgage is the usual form used to create a lien on real estate to secure an indebtedness.  There is no mortgage recording or mortgage tax in New Zealand. However, since October 2018 all non-resident purchasers must complete a Residential Land Statement declaring they are eligible to buy residential property in New Zealand, before signing any sale and purchase agreement.

There are some statutory controls imposed on the amount of interest which may be charged on a loan secured by real property (and private and government agencies that monitor and report on interest charges) that ensure that interest rates and costs are not excessive or illegal.  There are no laws that that restrict the ability to make a borrower or guarantor personally liable for indebtedness secured by real property.

Property legally purchased but unoccupied can generally not revert to other owners.  The Land Transfer Act 2017 repealed an Act from 1963 which previously outlined the process for cases of “adverse possession” or “squatters’ rights.”  Under Section 155 of the Act, a person can apply to the Registrar-General of Land for a record of title in that person’s name as owner of the freehold estate in land if: a record of title has already been created for the estate; the person has been in adverse possession of the land for a continuous period of at least 20 years and continues in adverse possession of the land; and the possession would have entitled the person to apply for a title to the freehold estate in the land if the land were not subject to the Act.  The section applies to diverse instances, such as the case where an entire section is being occupied by someone unconnected to the registered owner, or in the case of a “boundary adjustment” between two properties. Section 159 of the Act lists instances when applications may not be made, such as land owned by the Crown, Māori land, or land occupied by the applicant – where the applicant owns an adjoining property – because of a mistaken marking of a boundary.

Intellectual Property Rights

New Zealand has a generally strong record on intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and is an active participant in international efforts to strengthen IPR enforcement globally.  It is a party to nine World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties and participates in the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council.

In March 2019, New Zealand entered into force the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, the Budapest Treaty and the Berne Convention.  It implemented the Madrid Treaty in December 2012, allowing New Zealand companies to file international trademarks through the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ).  Since 2013, an online portal hosted on the IPONZ and IP Australia websites has allowed applicants to apply for patent protection simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand with a single examiner assessing both applications according to the respective countries’ laws.

The New Zealand Government announced its intention to join the Marrakesh Treaty in June 2017 and the Copyright (Marrakesh Treaty Implementation) Amendment Act entered into force January 4, 2020.  It amends the Copyright Act 1994 and the Copyright (General Matters) Regulations 1995 to implement New Zealand’s obligations under the Marrakesh Treaty.  The legislation is administered by MBIE.

There are about ten statutes that provide civil and criminal enforcement procedures for IPR owners in New Zealand.  The Copyright Act 1994 and the Trade Marks Act 2002 impose civil liability for activities that constitute copyright and trademark infringement.  Both Acts also contain criminal offences for the infringement of copyright works in the course of business and the counterfeiting of registered trademarks for trade purposes.  The Fair Trading Act 1986 imposes criminal liability for the forging of a trademark, falsely using a trademark or sign in a way that is likely to mislead or deceive, and trading in products bearing misleading and deceptive trade descriptions.

The government is reviewing the Copyright Act 1994 in light of significant technological changes since the last review in 2004. New Zealand had agreed to tougher IPR and copyright protections under the TPP agreement, but the CPTPP suspended some of the original TPP copyright obligations, such as increasing rights protection from 50 years to 70 years; requiring stronger protection for technological protection measures (TPMs) which act as “digital locks” to protect copyright work; nor alter its internet service provider liability provisions for copyright infringement.

In November 2018, MBIE, which administers the Act, released a 135-page Issues Paper which summarizes the operation of the New Zealand copyright regime, its shortcomings, and the wide range of issues that need to be addressed.  MBIE is reviewing the issues raised from the public consultation which closed in April 2019.  For more see: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/business-and-employment/business/intellectual-property/copyright/review-of-the-copyright-act-1994/

New Zealand has amended some legislation to comply with obligations under CPTPP.  Customs New Zealand has had its powers to act on its own initiative to temporarily detain imported or exported goods that it suspects infringe copyright or trademarks and to inspect and detain any goods in its control suspected of being pirated.  The New Zealand High Court has been empowered to award additional damages for trademark infringement, and unless exceptional circumstances exist, the courts must order the destruction of counterfeit goods. This is in addition to the existing availability of compensatory damages under the Trade Marks Act 2002.

The CPTPP will require New Zealand to provide a 12-month grace period for patent applicants.  Under this requirement, inventors will not be deprived of their ability to be granted a patent in New Zealand if an inventor makes their invention public, provided the inventor files the patent application within 12 months of disclosure.  In addition, pharmaceutical patent holders (who have provided their details to Medsafe) will have to be informed of someone seeking to use their drug’s clinical trial data before marketing approval is granted.

The Copyright Tribunal hears disputes about copyright licensing agreements under the Act and applications about illegal uploading and downloading of copyrighted work.  The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act 2011 put in place a three-notice regime, issuing alleged infringers up to three warnings within a nine-month period, before ruling that infringement has occurred.  The legislation enables copyright owners to seek the suspension of the internet account for up to six months through the District Court.

The Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Standardized Packaging) Amendment Act 2016 and from June 2018, all tobacco packets are required to be the same standard dark brown/green background color as Australia from June 2018.  It requires the removal of all tobacco company marketing imagery. The Smoke-free Environments Regulations 2017 standardize the appearance of tobacco manufacturers’ brand names.

New Zealand meets the minimum requirements of the TRIPS Agreement, providing patent protection for 20 years from the date of filing.  The Patents Act 2013 brought New Zealand patent law into substantial conformity with Australian law.  Consistent with Australian patent law, an ‘absolute novelty’ standard is introduced as well as a requirement that all applications be examined for “obviousness” and utility.  The Patents Act stops short of precluding from patentability all computer software and has a provision for patenting “embedded software.”

In June 2019, MBIE released a discussion paper regarding a proposed Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill.  The omnibus bill intends to make technical amendments to the Patents Act 2013, the Trade Marks Act 2002, the Designs Act 1953, and their associated regulations.  The Bill is not intended to be a full policy review of these Acts, or to review the criteria for granting patents, or registering trademarks and designs.  For more see: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/business-and-employment/business/intellectual-property/proposed-intellectual-property-laws-amendment-bill

New Zealand currently provides data exclusivity of five years from the date of marketing approval for a new pharmaceutical under Section 23B of the Medicines Act 1981.  Data protection on pharmaceuticals applies from the date of marketing approval, regardless of whether it is granted before or after the expiration of the 20-year patent.

From July 2017 New Zealand wine and spirit makers can register the geographical origins of their products under the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act 2006 allows New Zealand wine and spirit makers to register the geographical origins of their products.  The 2006 Act and its amendments are administered by IPONZ and aims to protect wine and spirit markers’ products, to allow the registration of New Zealand geographical indications (GIs) overseas, and to enforce action for falsely claiming a product comes from a certain region.

In 2019, MFAT released a discussion paper on proposed changes to New Zealand’s regulatory framework for protecting GIs as part of New Zealand’s free trade agreement negotiations with the European Union (EU).  The EU has proposed that New Zealand adopt a regulatory framework for protecting GIs that is similar to the existing EU framework. The discussion paper, jointly prepared by MFAT and MBIE, outlines the EU’s proposals for protecting GIs and seeks public submissions until March 27, 2020. IF the EU framework is accepted it would require significant changes to New Zealand’s existing laws protecting GIs.  For more see: https://www.mfat.govt.nz/en/trade/free-trade-agreements/agreements-under-negotiation/eu-fta/geographical-indications/

The most commonly intercepted counterfeit item by Customs New Zealand is fake toys, according to an Official Information Act request.   Electronics were the second most intercepted item, followed by clothing and accessories.  Most items originate from China, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, and Hong Kong.

New Zealand is not listed on USTR’s Special 301 Report.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

New Zealand policies generally facilitate the free flow of financial resources to support the flow of resources in the product and factor markets.  Credit is generally allocated on market terms, and foreigners are able to obtain credit on the local market.  The private sector has access to a limited variety of credit instruments.  New Zealand has a strong infrastructure of statutory law, policy, contracts, codes of conduct, corporate governance, and dispute resolution that support financial activity. The banking system, mostly dominated by foreign banks, is rapidly moving New Zealand into a “cashless” society.

New Zealand adheres to International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII and does not place restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions.

New Zealand has a range of other financial institutions, including a securities exchange, investment firms and trusts, insurance firms and other non-bank lenders.  Non-bank finance institutions experienced difficulties during the global financial crisis (GFC) due to risky lending practices, and the government of New Zealand subsequently introduced legal changes to bring them into the regulatory framework.  This included the introduction of the Non-bank Deposit Takers Act 2013 and associated regulations which impose requirements on exposure limits, minimum capital ratios, and governance.  It requires non-bank institutions be licensed and have suitable directors and senior officers.  It also provides the RBNZ with powers to detect and intervene if a non-bank institution becomes distressed or fails.

The RBNZ is the prudential regulator and supervisor of all insurers carrying on insurance business in New Zealand and is responsible for administering the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act 2010.  The RBNZ administers the Act to promote the maintenance of a sound and efficient insurance sector; and promoting public confidence in the insurance sector.

The GFC also prompted New Zealand to introduce broad-based financial market law reform which included the establishment of the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) in 2014.  The Financial Markets Conduct Act (FMC) 2013 provided a new licensing regime to bring New Zealand financial market regulations in line with international standards.  It expanded the role of the FMA as the primary regulator of fair dealing conduct in financial markets, provided enforcement for parts of the Financial Advisers Act 2008, and made the FMA one of the three supervisors for AML/CFT, alongside the RBNZ and the Department of Internal Affairs.  The FMA supervises approximately 800 reporting entities.

Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent.  Financial accounting standards are issued by the New Zealand Accounting Standards Board (NZASB), which is a committee of the External Reporting Board established under the Crown Entities Act 2004.  The NZASB has the delegated authority to develop, adopt and issue accounting standards for general purpose financial reporting in New Zealand and are based largely on international accounting standards, and GAAP.

Smaller companies (except issuers of securities and overseas companies) that meet proscribed criteria face less stringent reporting requirements.  Entities listed on the stock exchange are required to produce annual financial reports for shareholders. Stocks in a number of New Zealand listed firms are also traded in Australia and in the United States.  Small, publicly held companies not listed on the NZX may include in their constitution measures to restrict hostile takeovers by outside interests, domestic, or foreign. However, NZX rules generally prohibit such measures by its listed companies.

In December 2019, the government introduced the Financial Market Infrastructure Bill to establish a new regulatory regime for financial market infrastructures (FMI), and to provide certain FMIs with legal protections relating to settlement finality, netting, and the enforceability of their rules.  The bill aims to maintain a sound and efficient financial system; avoid significant damage to the financial system resulting from problems with an FMI, an operator of an FMI, or a participant of an FMI; promote the confident and informed participation of businesses, investors, and consumers in the financial markets; and promote and facilitate the development of fair, efficient, and transparent financial markets.  The bill if passed would be administered jointly by the RBNZ and the FMA.  The bill passed its first reading in February 2020 and is with the select committee.

In 2018, the market capitalization of listed domestic companies in New Zealand was 42 percent of GDP, at USD 86 billion.  The small size of the market reflects in part the risk averse nature of New Zealand investors, preferring residential property and bank term deposits over equities or credit instruments for investment.  New Zealand’s stock of investment in residential property is valued at NZD 1.19 trillion (USD 774 billion).

Money and Banking System

The Reserve Bank (RBNZ) regulates banks in New Zealand in accordance with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1989.  The RBNZ is statutorily independent and is responsible for conducting monetary policy and maintaining a sound and efficient financial system.  The New Zealand banking system consists of 26 registered banks, and more than 90 percent of their combined assets are owned by foreign banks, mostly Australian.  There is no requirement in New Zealand for financial institutions to be registered to provide banking services, but an institution must be registered to call itself a bank.

In November 2017, the government announced it would undertake the first ever review of the RBNZ Act.  In December 2018, the government passed an amendment to the Act to broaden the legislated objective of monetary policy beyond price stability, to include supporting maximum sustainable employment.  It also requires that monetary policy be decided by a consensus of a Monetary Policy Committee, which must also publish records of its meetings.  While policy decisions at the RBNZ have been made by the Governing Committee for several years before the amendment, the Act had laid individual accountability with the Governor, who could be removed from office for inadequate performance according to the goals set through the Policy Targets Agreement.

Applicants for bank registration must meet qualitative and quantitative criteria set out in the RBNZ Act.  Applicants who are incorporated overseas are required to have the approval of their home supervisor to conduct banking business in New Zealand, and the applicant must meet the ongoing prudential requirements imposed on it by the overseas supervisor.  Accordingly, the conditions of registration that apply to branch banks mainly focus on compliance with the overseas supervisor’s regulatory requirements.

The RBNZ introduced a Dual Registration Policy for Small Foreign Banks in December 2016.  Foreign-owned banks are permitted to apply for dual registration – operating both a branch and a locally incorporated subsidiary in New Zealand – provided both entities comply with relevant prudential requirements.  Locally incorporated subsidiaries are separate legal entities from the parent bank.  They are required, among other things, to maintain minimum capital requirements in New Zealand and have their own board of directors, including independent directors.  In contrast, bank branches are essentially an extension of the parent bank with the ability to leverage the global bank balance sheet for larger lending transactions. Capital and governance requirements for branch banks are established by the home regulatory authority.  There are no local capital or governance requirements for registered bank branches in New Zealand.

In addition to registered banks, the RBNZ supervises and regulates insurance companies in accordance with the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act 2010 and non-bank lending institutions.  Non-bank deposit takers are regulated under the Non-bank Deposit Takers Act 2013.

New Zealand has no permanent deposit insurance scheme and the RBNZ has no requirement to guarantee the viability of a registered bank.  The RBNZ operates the Open Bank Resolution (OBR) which allows a distressed bank to be kept open for business, while placing the cost of a bank failure primarily on the bank’s shareholders and creditors, rather than on taxpayers.  While the scheme has been generally successful, in 2010 the government paid out NZD 1.6 billion (USD 1 billion) to cover investor losses when New Zealand’s largest locally-owned finance company at the time, went into receivership.  There have since been bailouts of several insurance companies and other small finance companies.

New Zealand’s banking system relies on offshore wholesale funding markets as a result of low levels of domestic savings.  Banks can raise funds in international markets relatively easily at reasonable cost, but are vulnerable to global market volatility, geopolitics, and domestic economic conditions.  Domestically, banks face exposure due to the concentration of New Zealand exports in a small number of commodity-based sectors which can be subject to considerable price volatility. Residential mortgage and agricultural lending exposures have also presented risk.

The four largest banks (ASB, ANZ, BNZ and Westpac) control 88 percent of the retail and commercial banking market measured in terms of total banking assets.  With the addition of Kiwibank, that rises to 91 percent. Kiwibank launched in 2002 and is majority owned by NZ Post (53 percent), with the NZ Superannuation Fund (25 percent), and the Accident Compensation Corporation (22 percent).

The RBNZ report the total assets of registered banks to be about NZD 631 billion (USD 410 billion) as of March 2020.  Assets of insurance companies’ assets were valued at NZD 81 billion (USD 53 billion) and NZD 14.4 billion (USD 9.4 billion) for non-bank lending institutions.  The RBNZ estimate approximately 0.6 percent of bank loans are non-performing.  Agriculture loans make up about 13 percent of bank lending and has seen higher rates of non-performing loans – particularly dairy farms – in 2019.  The RBNZ expect non-performing to rise again having recovered only in the past few years from the Global Financial Crisis.

The four banks have capital generally above the regulatory requirements.  The initial findings from a RBNZ review of bank capital requirements released in March 2017 found New Zealand banks to be “in the pack” in terms of capital ratios relative to international peers.  There have since been subsequently four rounds of consultations revisiting capital requirements after the Australian Financial System Inquiry made recommendations that were subsequently accepted by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority to improve the resilience of the Australian banks.  While this contributes to the ultimate soundness of the New Zealand subsidiaries, it does not directly strengthen their balance sheets.

In February 2019, the RBNZ proposed to almost double capital requirements for the four big banks.  The RBNZ proposed to require banks’ Tier 1 capital to be comprised solely of equity and to increase from the current minimum of 8.5 percent of total capital to 16 percent over five years.  It also wants Tier 1 capital to be pure equity, rather than hybrid-type securities that usually behave as debt, but which can be converted into equity if required, and which are about a fifth of the cost of pure equity.  Since the GFC, the minimum tier 1 capital has already been raised from 4 percent of risk-weighted assets to 8.5 percent.

In December 2019, the RBNZ announced the minimum total capital ratio will increase from 10.5 percent currently to 18 percent for the four largest banks, and 16 percent for the smaller local banks.  For the largest banks, at least 16 percent must consist of tier 1 capital, and within this at least 13.5 percent must be common equity. For the small banks, the requirements are 14 percent and 11.5 percent respectively.  Debt instruments that can be converted to equity will no longer count towards regulatory capital. However, banks will able to make greater use of redeemable preference shares.  Initially in order to give the banks time to accumulate capital through retained earnings the changes were to be phased in over a seven-year period starting from July 2020.  The RBNZ has delayed the introduction until July 1, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The penetration of New Zealand’s major banks has improved since the introduction of the voluntary superannuation scheme, KiwiSaver in 2007.  The increase in their market share is also a result of the appointment of three additional banks as default KiwiSaver providers in 2014. People who start a new job are automatically enrolled in KiwiSaver and must opt-out if they do not want to be a member.  Contributions are made by the employee, the employer and if eligible from the government in the form of a tax credit.  In 2019 there were over 2.9 million KiwiSaver members, and the amount invested in KiwiSaver schemes is estimated to be NZD 64 billion (USD 42 billion).  The government spent NZD 778 million (USD 506 million) in the form of member tax credits in 2019.  While funds can only be withdrawn at the age of 65 with very few exceptions, members can shift their funds.  In March 2020 as markets dropped, KiwiSavers shifted NZD 1.4 billion (USD 910 million) from share-heavy funds to cash or conservative funds.

There are some restrictions on opening a bank account in New Zealand that include providing proof of income and needing to be a permanent New Zealand resident of 18 years old or above.  Access to money in the account will not be granted until the individual presents one form of photo ID and a proof of address in-person at a branch of the bank in New Zealand. Some banks will require a copy of the applicant’s visa.  If the applicant does not apply for an IRD number, the tax rate on income earned will default to the highest rate of 33 percent. New Zealand banks typically have a dedicated branch for migrants and businesses to set up banking arrangements.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

New Zealand has revoked all foreign exchange controls.  Accordingly, there are no such restrictions – beyond those that seek to prevent money laundering and financing of terrorism – on the transfer of capital, profits, dividends, royalties or interest into or from New Zealand.  Full remittance of profits and capital is permitted through normal banking channels and there is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange. However, withholding taxes can apply to certain payments out of New Zealand including dividends, interest, and royalties, and may apply to capital gains for non-residents and on the payment of profits to certain non-resident contractors.

New Zealand operates a free-floating currency.  As a small nation that relies heavily on trade and global financial and geopolitical conditions, the New Zealand currency experiences more fluctuation when compared with other developed high-income countries.

Remittance Policies

The Pacific Islands are the main destination of New Zealand remittances from residents and from temporary workers participating in the Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.  The RSE allows the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from nine Pacific Island nations for seasonal work when there are not enough New Zealand workers. Other people who use remittance services include recently resettled refugees, and other migrant workers particularly in the hospitality and construction sectors.

Anti-money laundering and combatting terrorism financing laws have made access to cross-border financial services difficult for some Pacific island countries.  Banks, non-bank institutions, and people in occupations that typically handle large amounts of cash, are required to collect additional information about their customers and report any suspicious transactions to the New Zealand Police.

Financial institutions have had to comply with the AML/CFT Act since 2013 including remitters, trust and company service providers, payment providers, and other lending institutions.  If a bank is unable to comply with the Act in its dealings with a customer, it must not do business with that person. This would include not processing certain transactions, withdrawing the banking products and services it offers, and choosing not to have that person or entity as a customer.  Since then New Zealand banks have been reducing their exposure to risks and charging higher fees for remittance services, which in some instances has led to the forced closing of accounts held by money transfer operators (MTOs).

The New Zealand government is working with banks to improve the bankability of small MTOs, and to develop low cost products for seasonal migrant workers in the RSE.  New Zealand is also using its membership in global fora to encourage a coordinated approach to addressing high remittance costs, and is working with Pacific Island governments to find ways to lower costs in the receiving country, such as the adoption and use of an electronic payments systems infrastructure.

The New Zealand Treasury released a report in March 2017 to explore feasible policy options to address the issues in the New Zealand remittance market that would maintain access and reduce costs of remitting money from New Zealand to the Pacific.

In 2018, the New Zealand and Australian governments hosted a series of roundtable meetings in Auckland, Sydney, and Tonga, with the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund that included officials from banks, MTOs, and regulators from Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific, senior officials from international financial institutions, and training providers to discuss the issue and identify practical solutions to address the costs and risks of transferring remittances to Pacific countries and difficulties in undertaking cross-border transactions.

Barriers to remittances to Pacific nations remain a significant public policy issue during 2019, and work is underway led by MFAT and involving financial regulators in New Zealand and overseas, to address some of these barriers.  A pilot of a Know Your Customer and Customer Due Diligence Utility is being planned for remittances between Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund was established in September 2003 under the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001.  The fund was designed to partially provide for the future cost of New Zealand Superannuation, which is a universal benefit paid by the New Zealand government to eligible residents over the age of 65 years irrespective or income or asset levels.

The Act also created the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, a Crown entity charged with managing and administering the fund.  It operates by investing government contributions and the associated returns in New Zealand and internationally, in order to grow the size of the fund over the long term.  Between 2003 and 2009, the government contributed NZD 14.9 billion (USD 9.7 billion) to the fund, after which it temporarily halted contributions during the Global Financial Crisis. In December 2017, the newly elected government resumed contributions, with plans to resume contributions to the full amount according to the formula set out in the 2001 Act from 2022.  The Fund received an estimated NZD 500 million (USD 325 million) payment in the year to June 2018, and a NZD 1 billion (USD 650 million) contribution in the year to June 2019.

Planned contributions for the year to June 2020 will be NZD 1.5 billion (USD 975 million) according to Budget 2020 announced in May.  This increases to NZD 2.1 billion (USD 1.4 billion) in the year to June 2021 and NZD 2.4 billion (USD 1.6 billion) in the year to June 2022.  The legislated formula suggests lower contributions be made due to the impact of COVID-19 on GDP forecasts.  Between fiscal years 2019/20 and 2022/23, Budget 2020 transfers small amounts of the capital contributions to a new fund administered by the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, which will invest via the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund Limited (NZVIF).  The government has not indicated it will suspend its contributions during the economic impact of the pandemic.

In June 2019, the fund was valued at NZD 43.1 billion (USD 28 billion) of which 48.8 percent was in North America, 17.3 percent in Europe, 12.9 percent in New Zealand, 10.9 percent in Asia excluding Japan, 6 percent in Japan, and 1.6 percent in Australia. During 2018/19 the fund earned a pre-tax return of 7 percent.  In the first four months of 2020, the fund made losses of NZD 4.6 billion (USD 3 billion).

The guardians have a stated commitment to responsible investment, including environmental, social and governance factors, which is closely aligned to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment.  It is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds and is signed up to the Santiago Principles.

The fund operates its own Environmental, Social, and Governance principles with a Responsible Investment Framework. Companies that are directly involved in the following activities are excluded from the Fund: the manufacture of cluster munitions, testing of nuclear explosive devices, and anti-personnel mines; the manufacture of tobacco; the processing of whale meat; recreational cannabis; and the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts. As of December 2019, the fund does not make investments in 14 countries, mainly located in Africa and the Middle East.

Following the attack on two Christchurch mosques by a gunman using legally obtained guns on March 15, the fund divested NZD 19 million (USD 13 million) from seven companies (including four U.S. companies), involved in the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts that are prohibited under recently enacted New Zealand law.  Due to the live-stream of the attack the NZSF announced on March 20, 2019 it had joined up with other New Zealand wealth funds as a shareholder of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube owner Alphabet, to strengthen controls to prevent the live-streaming of objectionable content.  The NZSF aims to achieve this from the collective action from New Zealand’s investor sector with a global coalition of shareholders as well as the pressure put on the companies by other stakeholder groups.  The NZSF will undertake discussions with the companies concerned in confidence and will report on milestones achieved in future Annual Reports. For further information including a full list of participants see: https://nzsuperfund.nz/how-we-invest-responsible-investmentcollaboration/social-media-collaborative-engagement

In recent years the NZSF has explicitly excluded companies that are directly involved in the manufacture of: cluster munitions, testing of nuclear explosive devices, anti-personnel mines, tobacco, recreational cannabis, and the processing of whale meat.  In 2013, the fund divested a group of five U.S. companies due to their involvement with nuclear weapons.  In 2007, the fund divested NZD 37.6 million (USD 24.4 million) in 20 tobacco companies.

In June 2017, the fund transitioned NZD 14 billion (USD 9 billion) passive global equity portfolio (constituting 40 percent of the fund) to low carbon, selling passive holdings in 297 companies worth NZD 950 million (USD 617 million).  The aim of the Climate Change Investment Strategy is to reduce exposure to investments in carbon and fossil fuels. The guardians applied their carbon exclusion methodology again in June 2018 and June 2019.

The government manages two other wealth funds that also aim to reduce future liability and burden on New Zealanders.  The Government Superannuation Fund (GSF) aims to meet the cost of 57,000 state sector employees who worked between 1948 to 1995 and are entitled to an additional fixed retirement income.  The GSF was valued at NZD 4.5 billion (USD 2.9 billion) in June 2019.  The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) covers all New Zealanders and visitors’ costs if they are injured in an accident under a no-fault scheme.  In addition to ACC levies paid by workers and businesses, the ACC operates a fund to meet the future costs of injuries. As of June 2019, it was valued at NZD 44 billion (USD 29 billion), of which about 72 percent in New Zealand and 4 percent in Australia.  Over 2018/19 the fund earned a return of 13.1 percent.  ACC is one of the largest investors, owning about 2.6 percent of the market capitalization of the New Zealand share market, and directly owns 22 percent of Kiwibank.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Commercial Operations group in the New Zealand Treasury is responsible for monitoring the Crown’s interests as a shareholder in, or owner of organizations that are required to operate as successful businesses, or that have mixed commercial and social objectives.  Each entity monitored by the Treasury has a primary legislation that defines its organizational framework, which include: State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), Crown-Owned Entity Companies, Crown Research Institutions, Crown Financial Institutions, Other Crown Entity Companies, and Mixed Ownership Model Companies.

SOEs are subject to the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986, are registered as companies, and are bound by the provisions of the Companies Act 1993.  The board of directors of each SOE reports to two ministers, the Minister of Finance and the relevant portfolio minister. A list of SOEs and information on the Crown’s financial interest in each SOE is made available in the financial statements of the government at the end of each fiscal year.  For a list of the SOEs see: http://www.treasury.govt.nz/statesector/commercial/portfolio/bytype/soes

In the 12 months to June 30, 2019 New Zealand State-Owned Enterprises held NZD 70.8 billion (USD 46 billion) assets, earned NZD 18.6 billion (USD 12.1 billion) in revenue and yielded an operating gain of NZD 3.4 billion (USD 2.2 billion).  Crown entities held NZD 166 billion (USD 108 billion) assets, earned NZD 43.3 billion (USD 28.1 billion) and yielded an operating loss of NZD 9.2 billion (USD 6 billion). KiwiRail Holdings Limited made the largest net gain for the financial year of NZD 2.6 billion (USD 1.7 billion).

Most of New Zealand’s SOEs are concentrated in the energy and transportation sectors.  Private enterprises can compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to markets, credit, and other business operations.  Under SOE Continuous Disclosure Rules, SOEs are required to continuously report on any matter that may materially affect their commercial value.

Privatization Program

New Zealand governments have embarked on several privatization programs since the 1980s, to reduce government debt, move non-strategic businesses to the private sector to improve efficiency, and raise economic growth.

In 2014 the government completed a program of asset sales to raise funds to reduce public debt.  It involved the partial sale of three energy companies and Air New Zealand, with the government retaining its majority share in each.  The bulk of the initial share float was made available to New Zealand share brokers and international institutions, and unsold shares were made available to foreign investors.  Foreign investors are free to purchase shares on the secondary market.

New Zealand has been using the public private partnership (PPP) method of procurement and increasingly so where the public sector seeks to complete needed infrastructure assets faster than conventional methods of procuring and financing would achieve.

The New Zealand Treasury was previously responsible for the PPP program. It lists the other agencies that are involved in the planning, implementing, and advising on infrastructure, including MBIE (telecommunications and energy infrastructure), Department of Corrections, and the Ministry of Defence among others. https://treasury.govt.nz/information-and-services/nz-economy/infrastructure/other-government-agencies

In 2019 the Infrastructure Transaction Unit was created within Treasury as an interim measure to provide support to agencies and local authorities in planning and delivering major infrastructure projects.  This unit moved into the newly formed Crown entity the Infrastructure Commission (InfraCom) and provides the Major Projects function.  The New Zealand Infrastructure Commission Act was passed in September 2019, to create Crown Entity InfraCom, and it will be responsible for delivering New Zealand’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) Program https://infracom.govt.nz/major-projects/public-private-partnerships/

The Infrastructure Commission will support government agencies, local authorities and others to procure and deliver major infrastructure projects, and it will be responsible for: developing PPP policy and processes; assisting agencies with PPP procurement; the Standard Form PPP Project Agreement; engaging with potential private sector participants; and monitoring the implementation of PPP projects.  InfraCom is currently reviewing the Standard Form PPP Agreement.  On its website InfraCom likens its establishment to those in Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China’s National Development and Reform Commission.  See https://infracom.govt.nz/strategy/international-context/

InfraCom will publish PPP guidance material and project information for businesses wanting to enter into a long term contract for the delivery of a service, where the provision of the service requires the construction of a new asset, or the enhancement of an existing asset, that is financed from external (private) sources on a non-recourse basis and where full legal ownership of the asset is retained by the Crown. The government is increasing its focus on PPP due to its significant NZD 15 billion (USD 9.8 billion) funding package announced in December 2019 and May 2020 which amounts to 5 percent of New Zealand’s GDP.

The government aims for its PPP procurement process will improve the delivery of service outcomes from major public infrastructure assets by: integrating asset and service design; incentivizing whole of life design and asset management; allocating risks to the parties who are best able to manage them; and only paying for services that meet pre-agreed performance standards.

In December 2019 the government introduced the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Bill which if passed will provide a funding and financing model to support the provision of infrastructure for housing and urban development that supports the functioning of urban land markets and reduces the impact of local authority financing and funding constraints.  It makes several amendments to the Public Works Act 1981 and the Resource Management Act 1991.  It also outlines the administration, obligations, and monitoring of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) which are responsible for raising capital for a project, transferring the infrastructure to the relevant central or local government entity after completion, and its obligations to effectively and efficiently construct the infrastructure.  The bill is with the select committee which is due to report back with recommendations on June 25.  To see its progress: https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_93461/infrastructure-funding-and-financing-bill

MBIE administers the procurement process.  In October 2019 MBIE issued substantive changes to the New Zealand Government’s Procurement Rules.  The MBIE Guide to Mastering Procurement explains the eight stages of the procurement lifecycle. It is available at: www.procurement.govt.nz Contract opportunities must be listed on Government Electronic Tenders Service (GETS) at: https://www.gets.govt.nz/ExternalIndex.htm, publish a Notice of Procurement on GETS, and provide access to all relevant tender documents.  The Notice of Procurement includes the request for a quote, a registration of interest, and requests for tender and for proposal.  The New Zealand Government’s Procurement Rules contain a specific section on non-discrimination, which in part states “All suppliers must be given an equal opportunity to bid for contracts.  Agencies must treat suppliers from another country no less favorably than New Zealand suppliers.  Procurement decisions must be based on the best value for money, which isn’t always the cheapest price, over the whole-of-life of the goods, services or works. Suppliers must not be discriminated against because of the country the goods, services or works come from or their degree of foreign ownership or foreign business affiliations.”

Where applicable, foreign bidders who are ultimately successful may still be required to meet tax obligations and approval from the Overseas Investment Office.  The New Zealand government has recently entered and completed infrastructure roading projects in partnership with companies from Australia, Japan, the United States, and China.  New Zealand is one of several countries cooperating with China on infrastructure investment relating to their USD 2.5 trillion Belt and Road Initiative.  Chinese banks with a presence in New Zealand use capital to invest in New Zealand infrastructure projects including infrastructure in the Christchurch rebuild and Wellington’s 17-mile Transmission Gully motorway.

The upgrade to the New Zealand-China FTA adds a Government Procurement chapter, which among other provisions, includes a built-in agreement to enter into market access negotiations with New Zealand once China completes its accession to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement, or if it were to negotiate market access on government procurement with another country.  This commitment puts New Zealand at the ‘front of the line’ if China were to open its government procurement market in the future.

Infrastructure New Zealand is an industry association founded in 2004, and addresses key strategic challenges including the reform of complex regulatory and environmental approval and the appropriate use of public and private sector debt to finance infrastructure investment opportunities.  It is supported by a board of 12 members who are industry leaders in their professional fields.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The New Zealand government actively promotes corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is widely practiced throughout the country.  There are New Zealand NGOs dedicated to facilitating and strengthening CSR, including the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Business Network, and the American Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand.

New Zealand is committed to both the OECD due diligence guidance for responsible supply chains of minerals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  Multi-national businesses are the main focus, such as a New Zealand company that operates overseas, or a foreign-owned company operating in New Zealand. The guidance can also be applied to businesses with only domestic operations that form part of an international supply chain.  Individuals wishing to complain about the activity of a multi-national business that happened in another country, will need to contact the National Contact Points of that country. In New Zealand, MBIE is the NCP to carry out the government’s responsibilities under the guidelines.

To help businesses meet their responsibilities, MBIE has developed a short version of the guidelines to assess the social responsibility ‘health’ of enterprises, and for assessing the actions of governments adhering to the guidelines.  If further action is needed, MBIE provide resolution assistance, such as mediation, but do not adjudicate or duplicate other tribunals that assess compliance with New Zealand law. MBIE is assisted by a liaison group that meets once a year, with representatives from other government agencies, industry associations, and NGOs.

9. Corruption

U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to investing in New Zealand.  New Zealand is renowned for its efforts to ensure a transparent, competitive, and corruption-free government procurement system.  Stiff penalties against bribery of government officials as well as those accepting bribes are strictly enforced.  The Ministry of Justice provides guidance on its website for businesses to create their own anti-corruption policies, particularly improving understanding of the New Zealand laws on facilitation payments.

New Zealand consistently achieves top ratings in Transparency International’s Perceptions of Corruption Perception Index.  In 2019 Transparency International ranked New Zealand 1st out of 183 countries and territories, scoring 87 out of 100.  An area of concern noted by Transparency International is New Zealand being one of several top-ranking countries that conduct “moderate and limited enforcement of foreign bribery.”

Transparency International NZ has had concerns with the historical inconsistency in the level of public accessibility and Parliamentary oversight and application of secondary legislation which is law made under powers delegated by Parliament to 150 government agencies, entities, and local government.  New Zealand hast 550 Acts, which delegate power to make secondary legislation.

In December 2019 the government introduced the Secondary Legislation Bill to improve and support the law relating to the making of secondary legislation by applying and adjusting the framework of access to, and Parliamentary oversight of, secondary legislation provided for in the Legislation Act 2019.  It is currently with at the select committee stage: https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_93428/secondary-legislation-bill

New Zealand joined the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) in 2012, citing benefits for exporters, while noting that there would be little change for foreign companies bidding within New Zealand’s totally deregulated government procurement system.  New Zealand’s accession to the GPA, came into effect in August 2015. New Zealand supports multilateral efforts to increase transparency of government procurement regimes.  New Zealand also engages with Pacific island countries in capacity building projects to bolster transparency and anti-corruption efforts.

New Zealand has regulations to counter conflict-of-interest in awarding contracts and government procurement.  As mentioned in the previous section, MBIE operates a transparent procurement process using the Government Electronic Tenders Service (GETS) platform and their revised Procurement Rules which must be followed by New Zealand government departments, the Police, the Defense Force, and most Crown entities. All other New Zealand government agencies are encouraged to follow the Rules.

New Zealand has signed and ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.  In 2003, New Zealand signed the UN Convention against Corruption and ratified it in 2015.

The legal framework for combating corruption in New Zealand consists of domestic and international legal and administrative methods.  Domestically, New Zealand’s criminal offences related to bribery are contained in the Crimes Act 1961 and the Secret Commissions Act 1910.  For the bribery offences under sections 99 to 106 of the Crimes Act, New Zealand authorities have jurisdiction where any act or omission takes place in New Zealand.  If the acts or omissions alleged relate to Person of Position and occur outside New Zealand, proceedings may be brought against them under the Crimes Act if they are a New Zealand citizen, ordinarily resident in New Zealand, have been found in New Zealand and not been extradited, or are a body corporate incorporated under the law of New Zealand. Penalties include imprisonment up to 14 years and foreign bribery offences can incur fines up to the greater of NZD 5 million (USD 3.3 million) or three times the value of the commercial gain obtained.

The New Zealand government has a strong code of conduct, the Standards of Integrity and Conduct, which applies to all State Services employees and is rigorously enforced.  The Independent Police Conduct Authority considers complaints against New Zealand Police and the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner was established in August 2005 to deal with complaints about the conduct of judges.  New Zealand’s Office of the Controller and Auditor-General and the Office of the Ombudsman take an active role in uncovering and exposing corrupt practices. The Protected Disclosures Act 2000 was enacted to protect public and private sector employees who engage in “whistleblowing.”

The Ministry of Justice is responsible for drafting and administering the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) legislation and regulations.  It also provides guidance online to companies and NGOs in how to combat corruption and bribery. The New Zealand Police Financial Intelligence Unit collates information required under AML/CFT legislation.

The Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Amendment Act 2017 extends the 2009 Act to cover lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, real estate agents, and sports and racing betting. Businesses that deal in certain high-value goods, such as motor vehicles, jewelry and art, will also have obligations when they accept or make large cash transactions.

Businesses had two years to comply with the Act and compliance costs are estimated to be USD 554 million and USD 762 million over ten years.  The New Zealand Police Financial Intelligence Unit estimate that NZD 1.35 billion (USD 878 million) of domestic criminal proceeds is generated for laundering in New Zealand each year, driven in part by New Zealand’s reputation as a safe and non-corrupt country.  The Department of Internal Affairs is working on a solution for businesses that are facing difficulty meeting their AML/CFT obligations during COVID-19.

Following the “Panama Papers” incident in April 2016, an independent inquiry found New Zealand’s tax treatment of foreign trusts to be appropriate but recommended changes to the regime’s disclosure requirements, which were subsequently legislated to dispel concerns New Zealand was operating as a “tax haven.”  The Taxation (Business Tax, Exchange of Information, and Remedial Matters) Act 2017 changed foreign trust registration and disclosure to deter offshore parties from misusing New Zealand foreign trusts, and to reaffirm New Zealand’s reputation as being free of corruption.

In July 2019, the government passed the Trusts Act and repealed the Trustee Act 1956 and the Perpetuities Act 1964 to make trust law more accessible, clarify and simplify core trust principles and essential obligations for trustees.  It also aims to preserve the flexibility of the common law to allow trust law to continue to evolve through the courts.  It applies to all trusts including family trusts and those for corporate structures.  New Zealand has one of the highest per capita number of trusts in the world due to favorable tax treatment and the absence of estate duty, gift duty, stamp duty, or capital gains tax.  It is estimated that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 trusts in New Zealand.

After a standard review of the 2017 general election and 2016 local body elections, the Justice Select Committee conducted an inquiry in 2019 of the issue of foreign interference through politicized social media campaigns and from foreign donations to political candidates standing in New Zealand elections.  New Zealand intelligence agencies acknowledged political donations as a legally sanctioned form of participation in New Zealand politics, but raised concerns when aspects of a donation is obscured or is channeled in a way that prevents scrutiny of the origin of the donation, when the goal is to covertly build and project influence.

In December 2019 the government passed the Electoral Amendment Act under urgency to ban donations from overseas persons to political parties and candidates over NZD 50 (USD 32.50) down from the previous NZD 1,500 (USD 975) maximum, to reduce the risk of foreign money influencing the election process.  It also introduces a requirement for party secretaries “to take all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that a donation over NZD 50 is not from an overseas person.”

The Act requires party secretaries to reside in New Zealand, and extending the existing offense of promoting anonymous advertisements relating to an election “so that it applies to all advertising mediums, including online advertising, in order to deter misleading anonymous online advertisements.”

Resources to Report Corruption

The Serious Fraud Office and the New Zealand Police investigate bribery and corruption matters.  Agencies such as the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General and the Office of the Ombudsmen act as watchdogs for public sector corruption.  These agencies independently report on and investigate state sector activities.

Serious Fraud Office
P.O.  Box 7124 – Wellesley Street
Auckland, 1141
New Zealand
www.sfo.govt.nz

Transparency International New Zealand is the recognized New Zealand representative of Transparency International, the global civil society organization against corruption.

Transparency International New Zealand
P.O.  Box 5248 – Lambton Quay
Wellington, 6145
New Zealand
www.transparency.org.nz

10. Political and Security Environment

New Zealand is a stable liberal democracy with almost no record of political violence.

The New Zealand government raised its national security threat level for the first time from “low” to “high” after the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15, 2019.  One month later it lowered the risk to “medium” where a “terrorist attack, or violent criminal behavior, or violent protest activity is assessed as feasible and could well occur.”  The incident led to wide-ranging gun law reform that restricts semi-automatic firearms and magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds.  An amnesty buy-back scheme of prohibited firearms administered by the NZ Police ran until December 20, 2019.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In 2019, the New Zealand labor market experienced a tightening in labor market conditions with the unemployment rate at historically low levels after a prolonged period of record population growth from record net migration.  In the last quarter of 2019, the rate was 4 percent.  The rise in net migration is comprised of international students, professionals, and returning New Zealand citizens.  Youth unemployment has been a problem in New Zealand for at least a decade.

New Zealand operates a Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme that allows the horticulture and viticulture industry to recruit workers from the Pacific Islands for seasonal work to supplement the New Zealand workforce.  There have been prosecutions and convictions for the exploitation of migrant workers, with reports that the hospitality, agriculture, viticulture, and construction industries are most effected. New Zealand recruitment agencies that recruit workers from abroad must use a licensed immigration adviser.

Some foreign migrant workers were reported to have been charged excessive recruitment fees, experienced unjustified salary deductions, nonpayment or underpayment of wages, excessively long working hours, and restrictions on their movement.  Reportedly, some had their passports confiscated and contracts altered.

New Zealand has consistently maintained an active and visible presence in the International Labour Organization (ILO), being a founding member in 1919, and its representatives have attended the annual International Labour Conferences since 1935.  The ILO and the government of New Zealand have collaborated on several initiatives, including the elimination of child labor in Fiji, employment creation in Indonesia, and the improvement of labor laws in Cambodia.

The government has taken a more proactive approach to enforcing employment law in New Zealand, because the migrant worker population has increased rapidly in recent years and the resources to protect those workers have not kept up with the increase.  The government has been steadily increasing the number of labor inspectorates – situated within MBIE – to double the number in 2017.

Immigration NZ reports and updates three different lists of Essential Skills in Demand.  If an occupation is on a shortage list a visa applicant is exempt from an individual labor market test, and the employer does not need to demonstrate that no suitable New Zealanders are available to fill or be trained for each individual position.  The Long-Term Shortage List contains occupations experiencing a sustained shortage and offers visa holders a chance to apply for residency after two years.  The Regional Skill Shortage List – which replaced the Immediate Skill Shortage List in 2019 – identifies the regions with occupations that have an immediate shortage of skilled workers by 15 regions.  The Construction and Infrastructure Skill Shortage List contains immediate short-term skill shortages in the construction labor market that are designed to meet the industry’s labor requirements and is also split into 15 regions.

There is no stated government policy on the hiring of New Zealand nationals, however certain jobs within government agencies that handle sensitive information may have a citizenship requirement, minimum duration of residency, and require background checks.

Labor laws are generally well enforced, and disputes are usually handled by the New Zealand Employment Relations Authority.  Its decisions may be appealed in an Employment Court. MBIE is responsible for enforcement of laws governing work conditions.  A number of employment statutes govern the workplace in New Zealand, including  the Employment Relations Act (ERA) 2000, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, the Holidays Act 2003, Minimum Wage Act 1983, the Equal Pay Act 1972, the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987, and Wages Protection Act 1983.

MBIE provides guidance for employers on minimum standards of employment mandated by law, guidelines to help promote the employment relationship, and optional guidelines that are useful in some roles or industries.  Agreements on severance and redundancy packages are usually negotiated in individual agreements. For more see: https://www.employment.govt.nz/

The Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018 repeals some laws made under the previous government, such as restricting the mandatory 90-day no-fault trial period to businesses with 19 employees or fewer and mandating set rest and meal breaks for employees based on the number of hours worked.  The amendment also empowers contractors with more rights and allows employees in specified ‘vulnerable industries’ to transfer their existing terms and conditions in their employment contract if their work is restructured.  If requested, reinstatement must be the first course of action considered by the Employment Relations Authority for employees who have found to be unfairly dismissed.

After a three-year review and consultation, the government introduced the Screen Industry Workers Bill in February 2020.  The previous government passed the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 – commonly referred to as the “Hobbit law” -which put limits on the ability of workers on film productions to collective bargaining.  The new bill if passed aims to provide clarity about the employment status of people doing screen production work, introduce a duty of good faith and mandatory terms for contracting relationships in the industry, allow collective bargaining at the occupation and enterprise levels, and create processes for resolving disputes arising from contracting relations or collective bargaining.

New Zealand law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes, with some restrictions.  Contractors cannot join unions, bargain collectively, or conduct strike action. Police have the right to organize and bargain collectively but sworn police officers do not have the right to strike or take any form of industrial action. In November 2019 MBIE sought feedback on a discussion document entitled “Better protections for contractors” to strengthen legal protections for contractors.  They aim to ensure that contractors receive their minimum rights and entitlements, reduce the imbalance of bargaining power between firms and contractors who are vulnerable to poor outcomes, and ensure that system settings encourage inclusive economic growth and competition.  Submissions closed in February 2020.

The ERA requires registered unions to file annual membership returns with the Companies Office.  MBIE estimate total union membership at 399,800 for the September 2019 quarter, representing about 18.7 percent of all employees in New Zealand.

Industrial action by employees who work for providers of key services are subject to certain procedural requirements, such as mandatory notice of a period determined by the service.  New Zealand considers a broader range of key “essential services” than international standards, including: the production and supply of petroleum products; utilities, emergency workers; the manufacture of certain pharmaceuticals, workers in corrections and penal institutions; airports; dairy production; and animal slaughtering, processing, and related inspection services.

The number of work stoppages has been on a downward trend until the Labour-led government took office in 2017.  The number of work stoppages has increased from 3 in 2016 (involving 430 employees causing 195 lost work days), to 143 in 2018 (involving 11,109 employees causing 192 lost work days and NZD 1.2 million (USD 780,000) in lost wages), to 159 in 2019 (involving 53,771 employees causing 142,670 lost work days and NZD 9.2 million (USD 6 million) in lost wages).

Work stoppages include strikes initiated by unions and lockouts initiated by employers, compiled from the record of strike or lockout forms submitted to MBIE under the Employment Relations Act 2000.  The data does not cover other forms of industrial action such as authorized stop-work meetings, strike notices, protest marches, and public rallies which have also increased in recent years.  Several strikes during the year involved employees of United States businesses or franchises particularly within the fast food industry.  The New Zealand government does not get involved in individual work disputes unless the striking employees violate their legislated responsibilities.

The Labour-led government campaigned on a promise to lift the minimum wage to NZD20 (USD 13) by April 2021.  From April 1, 2020 the minimum wage for adult employees who are 16 and over and are not new entrants or trainees is NZD 18.90 (USD12.29) per hour.  The new entrants and training minimum wage is NZD 15.12 (USD 9.83) per hour.  In recent years some local government agencies have raised minimum wages for their staff up from the government mandated rate to a “living wage” estimated to be NZD 22.10 (USD 14.37) in 2020.  All businesses in New Zealand affected by COVID-19 have been eligible to receive from the government a wage subsidy from March, to pay their employees 80 percent of their salary to stem job losses.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 sets out the health and safety duties for work carried out by a New Zealand business.  The Act contains provisions that affect how duties apply where the work involves foreign vessels.  These provisions take account of the international law principle that foreign vessels are subject to the law that applies in the flag state they are registered under.  Generally New Zealand law does not apply to the management of a foreign-flagged vessel but does apply to a New Zealand business that does work on that vessel.  Two exceptions when the law does apply, if the New Zealand business is operating a foreign-flagged vessel under a “demise charter” arrangement, or when the foreign flagged vessel is operating between New Zealand and a workplace in the New Zealand exclusive economic zone or on the continental shelf; and that workplace is carrying out an activity associated with mineral extraction (e.g. a drilling platform or fixed ship) that is regulated under the Exclusive Economic Zone (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 or the Crown Minerals Act 1991.

The Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Bill 2014 has required all foreign charter fishing vessels to reflag to New Zealand and operate under New Zealand’s full legal jurisdiction since May 2016.  The legislation was part of a range of measures that followed a Ministerial inquiry in 2012 into questionable safety, labor and fishing practices on some foreign-owned vessels.  Other measures the government introduced include: compulsory individual New Zealand bank accounts for crew members; observers on all foreign-owned fishing vessels; and independent audits of charter parties to ensure crew visa requirements – including wages – are being adhered to.

In March 2017, the New Zealand government’s ratification of the ILO’s Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) came into effect.  While New Zealand law is already largely consistent with the MLC, ratification gives the Government jurisdiction to inspect and verify working conditions of crews on foreign ships in New Zealand waters.  More than 99 percent of New Zealand’s export goods by volume are transported on foreign ships. About 890 foreign commercial cargo and cruise ships visit New Zealand each year.

The Maritime Transport Amendment Act 2017 implements New Zealand’s accession to the intergovernmental International Oil Pollution Compensation’s Supplementary Fund Protocol, 2003.  The fund gives New Zealand access to compensation in the event of a major marine oil spill from an oil tanker, and exercises New Zealand’s right to exclude the costs of wreck removal, cargo removal and remediating damage due to hazardous substances from liability limits.  Accession to the Protocol was prompted in part by New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster in October 2011 when a Greek flagged cargo ship ran aground creating a 331 ton oil spill resulting in NZD 500 million (USD 300 million) in clean-up costs.

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 $202,172 2018 $207,247 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $4,808 2018 $11,289 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $2,230 2018 $1,241 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 36.3% 2018 36.8% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data: Host country statistics differ from USG and international sources due to calculation methodologies, and timing of exchange rate conversions.  Almost a third of inbound foreign direct investment in New Zealand is in the financial and insurance services sector. Foreign direct investment data for March 2019 was released in September 2019.   Statistics New Zealand data available at www.stats.govt.nz

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 75,158 100% Total Outward 17,278 100%
Australia 37,563 50% Australia 8,637 50%
China,P.R.:Hong Kong 7,433 10% United States 2,357 14%
United States 4,931 7% China,P.R.:Hong Kong 1,609 9%
United Kingdom 4,311 6% United Kingdom 885 5%
Japan 3,781 5% Singapore 556 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 108,101 100% All Countries 73,142 100% All Countries 34,959 100%
Australia 27,377 25% United States 28,284 39% Australia 6,342 18%
Japan 4,690 4% Australia 21,035 29% Germany 2,190 6%
United Kingdom 4,388 4% United Kingdom 3,222 4% Japan 1,793 5%
Germany 3,231 3% Japan 2,897 4% United Kingdom 1,166 3%
France 2,272 2% Cayman Islands 2,226 3% Philippines 894 3%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy Wellington
PO Box 1190
Wellington 6140
New Zealand
+64-4-462-6000

Pakistan

Executive Summary

Pakistan’s government increased its positive rhetoric regarding foreign investment since it assumed power in August 2018, pledging to improve Pakistan’s economy, restructure tax collection, enhance trade and investment, and eliminate corruption.  However, the government inherited a balance of payments crisis, forcing it to focus on immediate needs to acquire external financing rather than medium to long-term structural reforms.  The government sought and received an IMF Extended Fund Facility in July 2019 and promised to carry out several structural reforms under the IMF program.

Pakistan has made significant progress over the last year in transitioning to a market-determined exchange rate and reversing its large current account deficit, while inflation has decreased each month of 2020.  However, progress has been slow in areas such as broadening the tax base, reforming the taxation system, and privatizing state owned enterprises.  Pakistan ranked 108 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings, a positive move upwards of 28 places from 2019.  Yet, the ranking demonstrates much room for improvement remains in Pakistan’s efforts to improve its business climate.  The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Pakistan’s economy.  While the IMF had predicted Pakistan’s GDP growth to be 2.4 percent in FY2020, Pakistan’s economy is now expected to contract by 1.5 percent this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Despite a relatively open foreign investment regime, Pakistan remains a challenging environment for foreign investors.  An improving but unpredictable security situation, difficult business climate, lengthy dispute resolution processes, poor intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement, inconsistent taxation policies, and lack of harmonization of rules across Pakistan’s provinces have contributed to lower Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as compared to regional competitors.  The government is working on a multi-year foreign direct investment (FDI) strategy which aims to gradually increase FDI to USD 7.4 billion by Fiscal Year (FY) 2022-23 from USD 2.8 billion in FY2019-20.

Over the last two decades, the United States has consistently been one of the top five sources of FDI in Pakistan.  In 2019 China was Pakistan’s number one source for FDI, largely due to projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.  Over the past year and a half, U.S. corporations pledged more than USD 1.5 billion in direct investment in Pakistan.  American companies have profitable investments across a range of sectors, notably, but not limited to, fast-moving consumer goods and financial services.  Other sectors attracting U.S. interest include franchising, information and communications technology (ICT), thermal and renewable energy, and healthcare services.  The Karachi-based American Business Council, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has 68 U.S. member companies, most of which are Fortune 500 companies operating in Pakistan across a range of industries.  The Lahore-based American Business Forum – which has 25 founding members and 18 associate members – also assists U.S. investors.  The U.S.-Pakistan Business Council, within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supports members in the United States.  In 2003, the United States and Pakistan signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) to serve as a key forum for bilateral trade and investment discussions.  The TIFA seeks to address impediments to greater bilateral trade and investment flows and increase economic linkages between our respective business interests.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 120 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 108 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 105 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 386 http://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 1,590 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Pakistan seeks greater foreign direct investment in order to boost its economic growth, particularly in the energy, agriculture, information and communications technology, and industrial sectors.  Since 1997, Pakistan has established and maintained a largely open investment regime.  Pakistan introduced an Investment Policy in 2013 that further liberalized investment policies in most sectors to attract foreign investment, and signed an economic co-operation agreement with China, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), in April 2015.  CPEC Phase I, which concluded in late 2019, focused primarily on infrastructure and energy production.  Foreign investors continue to advocate for Pakistan to improve legal protections for foreign investments, protect intellectual property rights, and establish clear and consistent policies for upholding contractual obligations and settlement of tax disputes.

Incentives introduced through the 2015-18 Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) and Export Enhancement Packages (EEP) remain in place.  These incentives are largely industry-specific and include tax breaks, tax refunds, tariff reductions, the provision of dedicated infrastructure, and investor facilitation services.  A new STPF policy has been approved by the Prime Minister but must be submitted to the Economic Coordination Committee and then the cabinet for final approval.  The new STPF reportedly envisages incentivizing 26 non-traditional sectors to boost exports and plans to improve the tax refund process.

The Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act, 1976, and the Furtherance and Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992, provide legal protection for foreign investors and investment in Pakistan.  The Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act stipulates that foreign investments will not be subject to higher income taxes than similar investments made by Pakistani citizens.  All sectors and activities are open for foreign investment unless specifically prohibited or restricted for reasons of national security and public safety.  Specified restricted industries include arms and ammunitions; high explosives; radioactive substances; securities, currency and mint; and consumable alcohol.  There are no restrictions or mechanisms that specifically exclude U.S. investors.

The specialized investment promotion agency of Pakistan is the Board of Investment (BOI).   BOI is responsible for the promotion of investment, facilitating local and foreign investor implementation of projects, and enhancing Pakistan’s international competitiveness.  BOI assists companies and investors who intend to invest in Pakistan and facilitates the implementation and operation of their projects.  BOI is not a one-stop shop for investors, however.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreigners, except Indian and Israeli citizens/businesses, can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of businesses in Pakistan, except those involved in arms and ammunitions; high explosives; radioactive substances; securities, currency and mint; and consumable alcohol.  There are no restrictions or mechanisms that specifically exclude U.S. investors.  There are no laws or regulations authorizing private firms to adopt articles of incorporation discriminating against foreign investment.  The 2013 Investment Policy eliminated minimum initial capital investment requirements across sectors so that no minimum investment requirement or upper limit on the share of foreign equity is allowed, with the exception of investments in the airline, banking, agriculture, and media sectors.  Foreign investors in the services sector may retain 100 percent equity, subject to obtaining permission, a no objection certificate, or license from the concerned agency, as well as fulfilling the requirements of the respective sectoral policy.  In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed, while in the agricultural sector, the threshold is 60 percent, with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed.  Small-scale mining valued at less than PKR 300 million (roughly USD 2.6 million) is restricted to Pakistani investors.

Foreign banks can establish locally incorporated subsidiaries and branches, provided they have USD 5 billion in paid-up capital or belong to one of the regional organizations or associations to which Pakistan is a member (e.g., Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)).  Absent these requirements, foreign banks are limited to a 49-percent maximum equity stake in locally incorporated subsidiaries.

There are no restrictions on payments of royalties and technical fees for the manufacturing sector, but there are restrictions on other sectors, including a USD 100,000 limit on initial franchise investments and a cap on subsequent royalty payments of 5 percent of net sales for five years.  Royalties and technical payments are subject to remittance restrictions listed in Chapter 14, section 12 of the SBP Foreign Exchange Manual (http://www.sbp.org.pk/fe_manual/index.htm).

Pakistan maintains investment screening mechanisms for inbound foreign investment.  The BOI is the lead organization for such screening.  Pakistan blocks foreign investments if the screening process determines the investment could negatively affect Pakistan’s national security.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Pakistan has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews over the last three years.

Business Facilitation

The government works with the World Bank to improve Pakistan’s business climate.  The government has simplified pre-registration and registration facilities and automated land records to simplify property registration, eased requirements for obtaining construction permits and utilities, introduced online/electronic tax payments, and facilitated cross-border trade by improving electronic submissions and processing of trade documents.  Starting a business in Pakistan normally involves 5 procedures and takes at least 16.5 days.  Pakistan ranked 108 out of 190 countries in the World Bank Doing Business 2020 report’s “Starting a Business” category.  Pakistan ranked 28 out of 190 for protecting minority investors.

The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) manages company registration, which is available to both foreign and domestic companies.  Companies first provide a company name and pay the requisite registration fee to the SECP.  They then supply documentation on the proposed business, including information on corporate offices, location of company headquarters, and a copy of the company charter.  Both foreign and domestic companies must apply for national tax numbers with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to facilitate payment of income and sales taxes.  Industrial or commercial establishments with five or more employees must register with Pakistan’s Federal Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) for social security purposes.  Depending on the location, registration with provincial governments may be required.  The SECP website (www.secp.gov.pk) offers a Virtual One Stop Shop (OSS) where companies can register with the SECP, FBR, and EOBI simultaneously.  The OSS is also available for foreign investors.

Outward Investment

Pakistan does not promote or incentivize outward investment.  Although the cumbersome government approval process can discourage potential investors, larger Pakistani corporations have made major investments in the United States in recent years.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Pakistan has signed Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) with 49 countries, with only 27 entered into force.  U.S.-Pakistan Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations began in 2004 and the text closed in 2012; however, the agreement has not been signed.  Pakistan has a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in place with the United States.  Pakistan has free or preferential trade agreements with China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Mauritius, and Indonesia.  It is also a signatory of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) and the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).  Pakistan is negotiating free trade agreements with Turkey and Thailand.

A U.S.-Pakistan bilateral tax treaty was signed in 1959.  Pakistan has double taxation agreements with 63 other countries.  A multilateral tax treaty between the SAARC countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) came into force in 2011 and provides additional provisions for the administration of taxes.  In 2018, Pakistan updated its tax treaty with Switzerland.  Pakistan relies heavily on multinational corporations for a significant portion of its tax collections.  Foreign investors in Pakistan regularly report that both federal and provincial tax regulations are difficult to navigate and tax assessments are non-transparent.  Since 2013, the government has requested advance tax payments from companies, complicating businesses’ operations as the government intentionally delays tax refunds.  The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report notes that companies pay 34 different taxes, compared to an average of 26.8 in other South Asian countries.  On average, calculating these payments requires that businesses spend over 283 hours per year.

In 2016, Pakistan signed the OECD’s Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.  The Convention will help Pakistan exchange banking details with the other 80 signatory countries to locate untaxed money in foreign banks.  Pakistan is a member of the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) framework and will automatically exchange country-by-country reporting as required by the BEPS package

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Most draft legislation is made available for public comment but there is no centralized body to collect public responses.  The relevant authority gathers public comments, if deemed necessary; otherwise legislation is directly submitted to the legislative branch.  For business and investment laws and regulations, the Ministry of Commerce relies on stakeholder feedback from local chambers and associations – such as the American Business Council and Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) – rather than publishing regulations online for public review.

Prior to implementation, non-government actors and private sector associations can provide feedback to the government on different laws and policies, but authorities are not bound to collect nor implement their suggestions.  Respective regulatory authorities conduct in-house post-implementation reviews for regulations in consultation with relevant stakeholders.  However, these assessments are not made publicly available.  Since the 2010 introduction of the 18th amendment to Pakistan’s constitution, foreign companies must address provincial, and sometimes local, government laws in addition to national law.  Foreign businesses complain about the inconsistencies in laws and policies from different regulatory authorities.  There are no rules or regulations in place that discriminate specifically against U.S. investors, however.

The SECP is the main regulatory body for foreign companies in Pakistan, but it is not the sole regulator.  Company financial transactions are regulated by the SBP, labor by the Social Welfare or EOBI, and specialized functions in the energy sector are overseen by bodies such as the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority, the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, and Alternate Energy Development Board.  Each body is overseen by autonomous management but all are required to go through the Ministry of Law and Justice before submitting their policies and laws to parliament or, in some cases, the executive branch; parliament or the Prime Minister is the final authority for any operational or policy related legal changes.

The SECP is empowered to notify accounting standards to companies in Pakistan, however, execution and implementation of the notifications is poor.  Pakistan has adopted most, though not all, International Financial Reporting Standards.  Though most of Pakistan’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms, execution and implementation is inefficient and opaque.

The government publishes limited debt obligations in the budget document in two broad categories: capital receipts and public debt, which are published in the “Explanatory Memorandum on Federal Receipts.”  These documents are available at http://www.finance.gov.pk, http://www.fbr.gov.pk, and http://www.sbp.org.pk/edocata.  The government does not publicly disclose the terms of bilateral debt obligations.

International Regulatory Considerations

Pakistan is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), and Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).   However, there is no regional cooperation between Pakistan and other member nations on regulatory development or implementation.  Pakistan has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since January 1, 1995, and provides most favored nation (MFN) treatment to all member states, except India and Israel.  In October 2015, Pakistan ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  Pakistan is one of 23 WTO countries negotiating the Trade in Services Agreement.  Pakistan notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade, albeit at times with significant delays.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Most international norms and standards incorporated in Pakistan’s regulatory system, including commercial matters, are influenced by British law.  Laws governing domestic or personal matters are strongly influenced by Islamic Sharia Law.  Regulations may be appealed within the court system and enforcement actions may also be appealed through the courts.  The Supreme Court is Pakistan’s highest court and has jurisdiction over the provincial courts, referrals from the federal government, and cases involving disputes among provinces or between a province and the federal government.  Decisions by the courts of the superior judiciary (the Supreme Court, the Federal Sharia Court, and five High Courts (Lahore High Court, Sindh High Court, Balochistan High Court, Islamabad High Court, and Peshawar High Court) have national standing.  The lower courts are composed of civil and criminal district courts, as well as various specialized courts, including courts devoted to banking, intellectual property, customs and excise, tax law, environmental law, consumer protection, insurance, and cases of corruption.  Pakistan’s judiciary is influenced by the government and other stakeholders.  The lower judiciary is influenced by the executive branch and seen as lacking competence and fairness.  It currently faces a significant backlog of unresolved cases.

Pakistan has a written contractual/commercial law with the Contract Act of 1872 as the main source for regulating Pakistani contracts.  British legal decisions, where relevant, are also cited in courts.  While Pakistan’s legal code and economic policy do not discriminate against foreign investments, enforcement of contracts remains problematic due to a weak and inefficient judiciary.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Pakistan’s investment and corporate laws permit wholly-owned subsidiaries with 100 percent foreign equity in all sectors of the economy, subject to obtaining relevant permissions.  In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed.  In the agricultural sector, the threshold is 60 percent, with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed.

A majority of foreign companies operating in Pakistan are “private limited companies,” which are incorporated with a minimum of two shareholders and two directors registered with the SECP.  While there are no regulatory requirements on the residency status of company directors, the chief executive must reside in Pakistan to conduct day-to-day operations.  If the chief executive is not a Pakistani national, she or he is required to obtain a multiple-entry work visa.  Companies operating in Pakistan are statutorily required to retain full-time audit services and legal representation.  Companies must also register any changes to the name, address, directors, shareholders, CEO, auditors/lawyers, and other pertinent details to the SECP within 15 days of the change.  To address long process delays, in 2013, the SECP introduced the issuance of a provisional “Certificate of Incorporation” prior to the final issuance of a “No Objection Certificate” (NOC).  The Certificate includes a provision noting that company shares will be transferred to another shareholder if the foreign shareholder(s) and/or director(s) fails to obtain a NOC.

There is no “single window” website for investment which provides relevant laws, rules and reporting requirements for investors.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Established in 2007, the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) ensures private and public sector organizations are not involved in any anti-competitive or monopolistic practices.  Complaints regarding anti-competition practices can be lodged with CCP, which conducts the investigation and is legally empowered to award penalties; complaints are reviewable by the CCP appellate tribunal in Islamabad and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.  The CCP appellate tribunal is required to issue decisions on any anti-competition practice within six months from the date in which it becomes aware of the practice.

Expropriation and Compensation

Two Acts, the Protection of Economic Reforms Act 1992 and the Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act 1976, protect foreign investment in Pakistan from expropriation, while the 2013 Investment Policy reinforced the government’s commitment to protect foreign investor interests.  Pakistan does not have a strong history of expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Pakistan is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) in 2011 under its “Recognition and Enforcement (Arbitration Agreements and Foreign Arbitral Awards) Act.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

In 2008, the Pakistani government instituted a Rental Power Plant (RPP) plan to help alleviate the chronic power shortages throughout the country.  Walters Power International Limited was a participant in three RPP plants and brought power generation equipment into Pakistan to service these plants.  Subsequently, in 2010, the Supreme Court of Pakistan nullified all RPP contracts due to widespread corruption in cash advances made to RPP operators.  Walters Power International Limited settled with the Pakistan National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Central Power Generation Company Limited by returning advance payments plus interest.  In mid-2012, NAB formally acknowledged that settlement with the Walters Power International Limited had been made, which under Pakistani law released Walters Power International Limited from any further liability, criminal or civil, and should have permitted re-export of equipment.  However, the Government of Pakistan (a) has refused to allow the equipment to be exported so that some salvage value could be obtained, and (b) prevented the plant from operating despite a critical need for power in the country during the disputed period.  Despite repeated efforts by Walters Power International Limited, NAB has declined to instruct the appropriate parties to issue a Notice of Clearance to Pakistan Customs to allow the re-export of the equipment.  Walters Power International Limited alleges that the unreasonable delay in permitting re-export of equipment following settlement constitutes expropriation.  The case is still pending with NAB.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitration and special judicial tribunals do exist as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms for settling disputes between two private parties.  Pakistan’s Arbitration Act of 1940 provides guidance for arbitration in commercial disputes, but cases typically take years to resolve.  To mitigate such risks, most foreign investors include contract provisions that provide for international arbitration.  Pakistan’s judicial system also allows for specialized tribunals as a means of alternative dispute resolution.  Special tribunals are able to address taxation, banking, labor, and IPR enforcement disputes.  However, foreign investors lament the lack of clear, transparent, and timely investment dispute mechanisms.  Protracted arbitration cases are a major concern.  Pakistani courts have not upheld some international arbitration awards.

In 2019 the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes awarded a consortium of foreign companies which had invested in the “Reko Diq” mining project USD 5.84 billion in damages for Pakistan’s breach of contract.  The government is currently in discussions with the consortium to arrive at an out-of-arbitration settlement.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Pakistan does not have a single, comprehensive bankruptcy law.  Foreclosures are governed under the Companies Act 2017 and administered by the SECP, while the Banking Companies Ordinance of 1962 governs liquidations of banks and financial institutions.  Court-appointed liquidators auction bankrupt companies’ property and organize the actual bankruptcy process, which can take years to complete.  On average, Pakistan requires 2.6 years to resolve insolvency issues and has a recovery rate of 42.8 percent.  Pakistan was ranked 58 of 190 for ease of “resolving insolvency” rankings in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report.

The Companies Act 2017 regulates mergers and acquisitions.  Mergers are allowed between international companies, as well as between international and local companies.  In 2012, the government enacted legislation for friendly and hostile takeovers.  The law requires companies to disclose any concentration of share ownership over 25 percent.

Pakistan has no dedicated credit monitoring authority.  However, SBP has authority to monitor and investigate the quality of the credit commercial banks extend.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The government’s investment policy provides both domestic and foreign investors the same incentives, concessions, and facilities for industrial development.  Though some incentives are included in the federal budget, the government relies on Statutory Regulatory Orders (SROs) – ad hoc arrangements implemented through executive order – for industry specific taxes or incentives.  The government does not offer research and development incentives.  Nonetheless, certain technology-focused industries, including information technology and solar energy, benefit from a wide range of fiscal incentives.  Pakistan currently does not provide any formal investment incentives such as grants, tax credits or deferrals, access to subsidized loans, or reduced cost of land to individual foreign investors.

In general, the government does not issue guarantees or jointly finance foreign direct investment projects.  The government made an exception for CPEC-related projects and provided sovereign guarantees for the investment and returns, along with joint financing for specific projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Providing unique fiscal and institutional incentives exclusively for export-oriented industries, the government established the first Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Karachi in 1989.  Subsequently, EPZs were established in Risalpur, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Saindak, Gwadar, Reko Diq, and Duddar; today, only Karachi, Risalpur, Sialkot, and Saindak remain operational.  EPZs offer investors tax and duty exemptions on equipment, machinery, and materials (including components, spare parts, and packing material); indefinite loss carry-forward; and access to the EPZ Authority (EPZA) “Single Window,” which facilitates import and export authorizations.

The 2012 Special Economic Zones Act, amended in 2016, allows both domestically focused and export-oriented enterprises to establish companies and public-private partnerships within SEZs.  According to the country’s 2013 Investment Policy, manufacturers introducing new technologies that are unavailable in Pakistan receive the same incentives available to companies operating in Pakistan’s SEZs.

Pakistan has a total of 23 designated special economic zones (SEZs); 10 of these were recently established by the government.  All potential investors in SEZs are provided with a  basket of incentives, including a ten-year tax holiday, one-time waiver of import duties on plant materials and machinery, and streamlined utilities connections.  Despite offering substantial financial, investor service, and infrastructure benefits to reduce the cost of doing business, Pakistan’s SEZs have struggled to attract investment due to lack of basic infrastructure.  None of the identified SEZs are fully developed, but they have attracted some investment and are available to any company, domestic or foreign.  KP’s Peshawar Economic Zone Office, in an attempt to attract additional foreign investor interest, opened an Industrial Facilitation Center to provide potential investors with timely services and a one-stop shop for existing and new foreign investors.  Pakistan intends to establish nine SEZs under CPEC’s second phase, which is focused on promoting Pakistan’s industrial growth and exports.  The government plans to open the first CPEC SEZs in Rashakai, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP); Faisalabad, Punjab; and Dhabeji, Sindh in 2020.  Most CPEC SEZs remain in nascent stages of development and currently lack basic infrastructure.

Apart from SEZ-related incentives, the government offers special incentives for Export-Oriented Units (EOUs) – a stand-alone industrial entity exporting 100 percent of its production.  EOU incentives include duty and tax exemptions for imported machinery and raw materials, as well as the duty-free import of vehicles.  EOUs are allowed to operate anywhere in the country.  Pakistan provides the same investment opportunities to foreign investors and local investors.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Foreign business officials have struggled to get business visas for travel to Pakistan.  When permitted, business people typically receive single-entry visas with short-duration validity.  Technical and managerial personnel working in sectors that are open to foreign investment are typically not required to obtain special work permits.  In 2019 Pakistan announced updates to its visa and no objection certification (NOC) policies to attract foreign tourists and businesspeople; however, the new visa policies do not apply to U.S. passport holders.  The new NOC policy implemented in May 2019 permits visitor travel throughout Pakistan, though travel near Pakistan’s borders still requires a NOC.

Foreign investors are allowed to sign technical agreements with local investors without disclosing proprietary information.  Foreign investors are not required to use domestic content in goods or technology or hire Pakistani nationals, either as laborers or as representatives on the company’s board of directors.  Likewise, there are no specific performance requirements for foreign entities operating in the country.  Similarly, there are no special performance requirements on the basis of origin of the investment.  However, onerous requirements exist for foreign citizen board members of Pakistani companies, including additional documents required by the SECP as well as obtaining security clearance from the Ministry of Interior.  Such requirements discourage foreign nationals from becoming board members of  Pakistani companies.

Companies operating in Pakistan have not registered complaints with the embassy regarding encryption issues.  Officially, accreditation from the Electronic Certification Accreditation Council (under the Ministry of Information Technology) is required for entities using encryption and cryptography services, though it is not consistently enforced.  The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) initially demanded unfettered access to Research in Motion’s BlackBerry customer information, but the issue was resolved in 2016 when the company agreed to assist law enforcement agencies in the investigation of criminal activities.  PTA and SBP prohibit telecom and financial companies from transferring customer data overseas.  Other data, including emails, can be legally transmitted and stored outside the country.  Recent draft regulations requiring social media companies to maintain local servers in Pakistan received significant criticism in the press and from service providers.  The government subsequently allowed for additional comment and revisions to draft data protection legislation; the comment and revision process remains ongoing.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Though Pakistan’s legal system supports the enforcement of property rights and both local and foreign owner interests, it offers incomplete protection for the acquisition and disposition of property rights.  With the exception of the agricultural sector, where foreign ownership is limited to 60 percent, no specific regulations regarding land lease or acquisition by foreign or non-resident investors exists.  Corporate farming by foreign-controlled companies is permitted if the subsidiaries are incorporated in Pakistan.  There are no limits on the size of corporate farmland holdings, and foreign companies can lease farmland for up to 50 years, with renewal options.

The 1979 Industrial Property Order safeguards industrial property in Pakistan against government use of eminent domain with insufficient compensation for both foreign and domestic investors.  The 1976 Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act guarantees the remittance of profits earned through the sale or appreciation in value of property.

Though protection for legal purchasers of land are provided, even if unoccupied, clarity of land titles remains a challenge.  Improvements to land titling have been made by the Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial governments dedicating significant resources to digitizing land records.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Government of Pakistan has identified intellectual property rights (IPR) protection as a key economic reform and has taken concrete steps over the last two decades to strengthen its intellectual property (IP) regime.  In 2005, Pakistan created the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to consolidate government control over trademarks, patents, and copyrights.  IPO’s mission also includes coordinating and monitoring the enforcement and protection of IPR through law enforcement agencies.  Enforcement agencies include the local police, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), customs officials at the FBR, the CCP, the SECP, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), and the Print and Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).  Although the creation of IPO consolidated policy-making institutions, confusion surrounding enforcement agencies’ roles still constrains performance on IPR enforcement, leaving IP rights holders struggling to identify the right forum to address IPR infringement.  Although IPO established 10  enforcement coordination committees to improve IPR enforcement, and has signed an MOU with the FBR to share information, the agency labors to coordinate disparate bodies under current laws.  IPO has been in discussions with CCP and SECP for more than a year on data sharing and enforcement MOUs that  remain unsigned. Weak penalties and the agencies’ redundancies allow counterfeiters to evade punishment.

IPO as an institution has historically suffered from leadership turnover, limited resources, and a lack of government attention.  Since 2016, the Government of Pakistan has taken steps to improve the IPO’s effectiveness, starting with bringing IPO under the administrative responsibility of the Ministry of Commerce.  The IPO Act 2012 stipulates a three-year term, 14-person policy board with at least five seats dedicated to the private sector.  Section 8(2) of the IPO Act also stipulates, “the board shall meet not less than two times in a calendar year.”  No board meeting was held in 2018 due to the political transition which occurred that year, but two board meetings were held in 2019.  IPO is severely under-resourced in human capital, currently working at only 52 percent of its approved staffing.  New hiring rules await final approval from the Ministry of Law.  IPO aims to start recruiting new staff in the first half of 2020.

IPO is also charged with increasing public awareness of IPR through collaboration with the private sector.  In 2019, in collaboration with various academic institutions and chambers of commerce, IPO conducted over 100 public awareness sessions.  Academics and private attorneys have noted that the creation of the IPO has improved public awareness, albeit slowly.  While difficult to quantify, contacts have also observed increased local demand for IPR protections, including from small businesses and startups.  Private and public sector contacts highlight that the educational system is a “missing link” in IPR awareness and enforcement.  Pakistani educational institutions, including law schools, have rarely included IPR issues in their curricula and do not have a culture of commercializing innovations.  However, the International Islamic University now includes an IPR-specific course in its curriculum and Lahore University of Management Sciences has content-specific courses as part of their MBA program.  IPO officials have expressed interest in collaborating with Pakistani universities to increase IPR awareness.  IPO is working with the Higher Education Commission to offer IPR curricula at other universities but has achieved limited traction.  In collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Technology Innovation Support Centers have been established at 47 different universities in Pakistan.

In 2016, Pakistan established three specialized IP tribunals – in Karachi covering Sindh and Balochistan, in Lahore covering Punjab, and in Islamabad covering Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  IPO plans to create two more tribunals, with the proposal awaiting approval from the Ministry of Law.  These tribunals have not been a priority in terms of assigning judges.  They have experienced high turnover, and the assigned judges do not receive any specialized technical training in IP law.

Pakistan’s IPR legal framework remains inadequate as well.  Pakistan’s IP legal framework consists of 40-year-old subordinate IP laws on copyright, patents, and trademarks alongside the 2012 IPO Act.  The IPO Act provides the overall legal basis for IP licensing and enforcement while subordinate laws apply to specific IP fields, but inconsistencies in the laws make IP enforcement difficult.  Since 2000, Pakistan has made piecemeal updates to IPR laws in an unsuccessful attempt to bring consistency to IPR treatment within the legal system.  With the help of Mission Pakistan, CLDP, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), IPO is in the process of updating Pakistan’s IPR laws to minimize inconsistencies and improve enforcement.

The U.S. Mission in Pakistan, with the support of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the Department of Commerce, and USPTO, has been engaged with the Government of Pakistan over several years seeking resolution of long-standing software licensing and IPR infringements committed by offices within the Government of Pakistan which undermine Pakistan’s credibility with respect to IPR enforcement.

Pakistan is currently on the USTR Special 301 Report Watch List  Pakistan is not included in the Notorious Markets List.

Pakistan does not track and report on its seizures of counterfeit goods.

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

Foreign portfolio investment halted its decline and increased in the last three months of 2019 and into early 2020 as investor confidence increased due to improvement in Pakistan’s current account deficit, relatively high interest rates, and the initiation of Pakistan’s most recent IMF program, according to the SBP.  Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, indicators had pointed to improved inflows of foreign investment.  The full impact of COVID-19 on foreign portfolio investment remains to be seen.

Pakistan’s three stock exchanges (Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi) merged to form the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE) in January 2016.  As a member of the Federation of Euro-Asian Stock Exchanges and the South Asian Federation of Exchanges, PSE is also an affiliated member of the World Federation of Exchanges and the International Organization of Securities Commissions.  Per the Foreign Exchange Regulations, foreign investors can invest in shares and securities listed on the PSE and can repatriate profits, dividends, or disinvestment proceeds.  The investor must open a Special Convertible Rupee Account with any bank in Pakistan in order to make portfolio investments.  In 2017, the government modified the capital gains tax and imposed 15 percent on stocks held for less than 12 months, 12.5 percent on stocks held for more than 12 but less than 24 months, and 7.5 percent on stocks held for more than 24 months. The 2012 Capital Gains Tax Ordinance appointed the National Clearing Company of Pakistan Limited to compute, determine, collect, and deposit the capital gains tax.

The free flow of financial resources for domestic and foreign investors is supported by financial sector policies, with the SBP and SECP providing regulatory oversight of financial and capital markets.  Interest rates depend on the reverse repo rate (also called the policy rate).  Interest rates reached a high of 13.25 percent in July 2019 but by May 2020 had decreased to eight percent.

Pakistan has adopted and adheres to international accounting and reporting standards – including IMF Article VIII, with comprehensive disclosure requirements for companies and financial sector entities.

Foreign-controlled manufacturing, semi-manufacturing (i.e. goods that require additional processing before marketing), and non-manufacturing concerns are allowed to borrow from the domestic banking system without regulated limits.  Banks are required to ensure that total exposure to any domestic or foreign entity should not exceed 25 percent of banks’ equity with effect from December 2013.  Foreign-controlled (minimum 51 percent equity stake) semi-manufacturing concerns (i.e., those producing goods that require additional processing for consumer marketing) are permitted to borrow up to 75 percent of paid-up capital, including reserves.  For non-manufacturing concerns, local borrowing caps are set at 50 percent of paid-up capital. While there are no restrictions on private sector access to credit instruments, few alternative instruments are available beyond commercial bank lending.  Pakistan’s domestic corporate bond, commercial paper and derivative markets remain in the early stages of development.

Money and Banking System

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is the central bank of Pakistan.

According to the most recent statistics published by the SBP, only 23 percent of the adult population uses formal banking channels to conduct financial transactions while 24 percent are informally served by the banking sector; women are financially excluded at higher rates than men.  The remaining 53 percent of the adult population do not utilize formal financial services.

Pakistan’s financial sector has been recognized by international banks and lenders for performing well in recent years.  According to the latest review of the banking sector conducted by SBP in December 2018, improving asset quality, stable liquidity, robust solvency and slow pick-up in private sector advances were noted.  The asset base of the banking sector expanded by 11.7 percent during 2019.  The five largest banks, one of which is state-owned, control 50.4 percent of all banking sector assets.  The risk profile of the banking sector remained satisfactory and moderation in profitability and asset quality improved as non-performing loans as a percentage of total loans (infection ratio) was recorded at 8.6 percent at the end of December 2019.  In 2019, total assets of the banking industry were estimated at USD 140.1 billion.  As of December 2019, net non-performing bank loans totaled approximately USD 900.3 million – 1.7 percent of net total loans.

The penetration of foreign banks in Pakistan is low, having minimal contribution to the local banking industry and the overall economy.  According to a study conducted by the World Bank Group in 2018, the share of foreign bank assets to GDP stood at 3.5 percent while private credit by deposit to GDP stood at 15.4 percent.  Foreign banks operating in Pakistan include Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank, Samba Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of Tokyo, and the newly established Bank of China.  International banks are primarily involved in two types of international activities: cross-border flows, and foreign participation in domestic banking systems through brick-and-mortar operations.  SBP requires that foreign banks hold at minimum $300 million in capital reserves at their Pakistan flagship location, and maintain at least an eight percent capital adequacy ratio.  In addition, foreign banks are required to maintain the following minimum capital requirements, which vary based on the number of branches they are operating:

1 to 5 branches: USD 28 million in assigned capital;

6 to 50 branches: USD 56 million in assigned capital;

Over 50 branches: USD 94 million in assigned capital.

Foreigners require proof of residency – a work visa, company sponsorship letter, and valid passport – to establish a bank account in Pakistan.  There are no other restrictions to prevent foreigners from opening and operating a bank account.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

As a prior action of its July 2019 IMF program, Pakistan agreed to a flexible market-determined exchange rate.  The SBP regulates the exchange rate and monitors foreign exchange transactions in the open market, with interventions limited to safeguarding financial stability and preventing disorderly market conditions.  Other government entities can influence SBP decisions through their membership on the SBP’s board; the Finance Secretary and the Board of Investment Chair currently sit on the board.

Banks are required to report and justify outflows of foreign currency.  Travelers leaving or entering Pakistan are allowed to physically carry a maximum of $10,000 in cash.  While cross-border payments of interest, profits, dividends, and royalties are allowed without submitting prior notification, banks are required to report loan information so SBP can verify remittances against repayment schedules.  Although no formal policy bars profit repatriation, U.S. companies have faced delays in profit repatriation due to unclear policies and coordination between the SBP, the Ministry of Finance and other government entities.  Mission Pakistan has provided advocacy for U.S. companies which have struggled to repatriate their profits.  Exchange companies are permitted to buy and sell foreign currency for individuals, banks, and other exchange companies, and can also sell foreign currency to incorporated companies to facilitate the remittance of royalty, franchise, and technical fees.

There is no clear policy on convertibility of funds associated with investment in other global currencies.  The SBP opts for an ad-hoc approach on a case-by-case basis.

Remittance Policies

The 2001 Income Tax Ordinance of Pakistan exempts taxes on any amount of foreign currency remitted from outside Pakistan through normal banking channels.  Remittance of full capital, profits, and dividends over USD 5 million are permitted while dividends are tax-exempt.  No limits exist for dividends, remittance of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or payment for imported equipment in Pakistani law.  However, large transactions that have the potential to influence Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves require approval from the government’s Economic Coordination Committee.  Similarly, banks are required to account for outflows of foreign currency.  Investor remittances must be registered with the SBP within 30 days of execution and can only be made against a valid contract or agreement.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Pakistan does not have its own sovereign wealth fund (SWF) and no specific exemptions for foreign SWFs exist in Pakistan’s tax law.  Foreign SWFs are taxed like any other non-resident person unless specific concessions have been granted under an applicable tax treaty to which Pakistan is a signatory.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The second round of the Government of Pakistan’s extensive 15-year privatization campaign came to an abrupt halt after 2006 when the Supreme Court reversed a proposed deal for the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills, setting a precedent for future offerings.  As a result, large and inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs) retain monopolistic powers in a few key sectors, requiring the government to provide annual subsidies to cover SOE losses.  There are 197 SOEs in the power, oil and gas, banking and finance, insurance, and transportation sectors.  Some are profitable; others are loss-making.  They provide stable employment and other benefits for more than 420,000 workers.  According to the IMF, in 2019, Pakistan’s total debts and liabilities for SOEs exceeded USD 7 billion, or 2.3 percent of GDP – a 22 percent increase since 2016, but roughly the same since 2017.  Some SOEs have governing boards, but they are not effective.

Three of the country’s largest SOEs include:  Pakistan Railways (PR), Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM).  According to the IMF, the total debt of SOEs now amounts to 2.3 percent of GDP – just over USD 7 billion in 2019.  The IMF required audits of PIA and PSM by December 2019 as part of Pakistan’s IMF Extended Fund Facility.  PR is the only provider of rail services in Pakistan and the largest public sector employer with approximately 90,000 employees.  PR has received commitments for USD 8.2 billion in CPEC loans and grants to modernize its mail rail lines.  PR relies on monthly government subsidies of approximately USD 2.8 million to cover its ongoing obligations.  In 2019, government payments to PR totaled approximately USD 248 million.  In 2019, the Government of Pakistan extended bailout packages worth USD 89 million to PIA.  Established to avoid importing foreign steel, PSM has accumulated losses of approximately USD 3.77 billion per annum.  The company loses USD 5 million a week, and has not produced steel since June 2015, when the national gas company cut its power supplies due to over USD 340 million in outstanding bills.

SOEs competing in the domestic market receive non-market based advantages from the host government.  Two examples include PIA and PSM, which operate at a loss but continue to receive financial bailout packages from the government.  Post is not aware of any negative impact to U.S firms in this regard.

The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR) voluntary guidelines in 2013.  Adherence to the OECD guidelines is not known.

Privatization Program

Terms to purchase public shares of SOEs and financial institutions for both foreign and local investors are the same.  The government announced plans to carry out a privatization program but postponed plans due to significant political resistance.  Even though the government is still publicly committed to privatizing its national airline (PIA), the process has been stalled since early 2016 when three labor union members were killed during a violent protest in response to the government’s decision to convert PIA into a limited company, a decision which would have allowed shares to be transferred to a non-government entity and pave the way for privatization.  A bill passed by the legislature requires that the government retain 51 percent equity in the airline in the event it is privatized, reducing the attractiveness of the company to potential investors.  The Privatization Commission claims the privatization process to be transparent, easy to understand, and non-discriminatory.  The privatization process is a 17-step process available on the Commission’s website under this link http://privatisation.gov.pk/?page_id=88 .

The following links provides details of the Government of Pakistan’s privatized transactions over the past 18 years since 1991:.  http://privatisation.gov.pk/?page_id=125 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is no unified set of standards defining responsible business conduct in Pakistan.  Though large companies, especially multi-national corporations, have an awareness of RBC standards, there is a lack of wider awareness.  The Pakistani government has not established standards or strategic documents specifically defining RBC standards and goals.  The Ministry of Human Rights published its most recent “Action Plan for Human Rights” in May 2017.  Although it does not specifically address RBC or business and human rights, one of its six thematic areas of focus is implementation of international and UN treaties.  Pakistan is signatory to nearly all International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions.

International organization, civil society, and labor union contacts all note that there is a lack of adequate implementation and enforcement of labor laws.  Some NGOs, worker organizations, and business associations are working to promote RBC, but not on a wide scale.

Pakistan does not have domestic measures requiring supply chain due diligence for companies sourcing minerals originating from conflict-affected areas and does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and/or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

9. Corruption

Pakistan ranked 120 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.  The organization noted that corruption problems persist due to the lack of accountability and enforcement of penalties, followed by the lack of merit-based promotion, and relatively low salaries.

Bribes are criminal acts punishable by law but are widely perceived to exist at all levels of government.  Although high courts are widely viewed as more credible, lower courts are often considered corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from prominent wealthy, religious, and political figures.  Political involvement in judicial appointments increases the government’s influence over the court system.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan’s anti-corruption organization, suffers from insufficient funding and staffing and is viewed by political opposition as a tool for score-settling by the government in power.  Like NAB, the CCP’s mandate also includes anti-corruption authorities, but its effectiveness is also hindered by resource constraints.

Resources to Report Corruption 

Justice (R) Javed Iqbal
Chairman
National Accountability Bureau
Ataturk Avenue, G-5/2, Islamabad
+92-51-111-622-622
chairman@nab.gov.pk

Sohail Muzaffar
Chairman
Transparency International
5-C, 2nd Floor, Khayaban-e-Ittehad, Phase VII, D.H.A., Karachi
+92-21-35390408-9
ti.pakistan@gmail.com

10. Political and Security Environment

Despite improvements to the security situation in recent years, the presence of foreign and domestic terrorist groups within Pakistan continues to pose some threat to U.S. interests and citizens.  Terrorist groups commit occasional attacks in Pakistan, though the number of such attacks has declined steadily over the last decade.  Terrorists have in the past targeted transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, military installations, airports, universities, tourist locations, schools, hospitals, places of worship, and government facilities.  Many multinational companies operating in Pakistan employ private security and risk management firms to mitigate the significant threats to their business operations.  There are greater security resources and infrastructure in the major cities, particularly Islamabad, and security forces in these areas may be more readily able to respond to an emergency compared to other areas of the country.

The BOI, in collaboration with Provincial Investment Promotion Agencies, has coordinated airport-to-airport security and secure lodging for foreign investors.  To inquire about this service, investors can contact the BOI for additional information.

Post is not aware of any damage to projects and/or installations. Abductions/kidnappings of foreigners for ransom remains a concern.

While security challenges exist in Pakistan, the country has not grown increasingly politicized or insecure in the past year.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Pakistan has a complex system of labor laws.  According to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, jurisdiction over labor matters is managed by the provinces.  Each province is in the process of developing its own labor law regime, and the provinces are at different stages of labor law development.

In the Islamabad Capital Territory and provinces of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, the minimum wage for unskilled workers is PKR 17,500 per month (USD 109).  In Sindh, it is PKR 17,000 per month (USD 106).  Legal protections for laborers are uneven across provinces, and implementation of labor laws is weak nationwide.  Lahore inspectorates have inadequate resources, which lead to inadequate frequency and quality of labor inspections.  Some labor courts are reportedly corrupt and biased in favor of employers.  On January 23, 2019 the Punjab Provincial Assembly passed the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019.  The law prohibits the employment of children under age 15 as domestic workers, and stipulates that children between 15 and 18 may only perform part-time, non-hazardous household work.  The law also mandates a series of protections and benefits, including limits to the number of hours worked weekly, and paid sick and holiday leave.  On January 25, 2017 the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2017.   In August 2019, the Balochistan Assembly adopted a resolution to eradicate child labor in coal mines.

The Senate passed the Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Act in March 2016 (http://www.senate.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1390294147_766.pdf), but the bill has not progressed in the National Assembly.  An amendment to the federal Employment of Children Act, 1991, which would raise the minimum age of employment to sixteen, has been pending in the National Assembly since January 2016.

According to Pakistan’s most recent labor force survey (conducted 2017-2018), the civilian workforce consists of approximately 65.5 million workers.  Women are extremely under-represented in the formal labor force.  The survey estimated overall labor participation at approximately 45 percent, with male participation at 68 percent and females at 20 percent.  The largest percentage of the labor force works in the agricultural sector (38.5 percent), followed by the services (37.84 percent), and industry/manufacturing (16 percent) sectors.  Although the official unemployment rate hovered at roughly 6 percent, pre-COVID-19, the figure is likely significantly higher.  Additionally, there are as-yet no reliable unemployment statistics since the COVID-19 outbreak.  In 2018, the UN Population Fund estimated that 29 percent of Pakistan’s population was between the ages of 10 and 24 and according to 2017-18 labor force survey estimates unemployment for 15 to 24 year old was 10.5 percent.

Pakistan is a labor exporter, particularly to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.  According to Pakistan’s Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment’s 2018 “Export of Manpower Analysis,” the bureau had registered more than 11.11 million Pakistanis going abroad for employment since 1971, with more than 96 percent traveling to GCC countries.  Pakistanis working overseas sent more than USD 19 billion in remittances each year since 2015.

Pakistani government sector contacts say their workforce is insufficiently skilled.  Federal and provincial government initiatives such as the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission and the Punjab government’s Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority aim to increase the employability of the Pakistani workforce.  However, the ILO’s 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Program notes that, “Neither a comprehensive national policy nor coherent provincial policies for skills and entrepreneurship development are being applied.”  The ILO report notes that “a small fraction of vulnerable workers are covered by social security in one form or another, while access to comprehensive social protection systems is also limited.”  The ILO’s 2014 Decent Work Country Profile states that in 2013, only 9.4 percent of the economically active population – excluding public sector employees – were contributing to formal social security systems such as old age, survivors’, and disability pensions.

Freedom of association is guaranteed under article 17 of Pakistan’s constitution.  However, the ILO indicates that the Pakistani state and employers have used “disabling legislation and repressive tactics” to make union formation and collective bargaining “extremely difficult.”  The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research in its 2015 “Status of Labour Rights in Pakistan” noted that according to non-official data, there were 949 registered trade unions with a total membership of 1,865,141 – approximately four percent of the total estimated labor force.  Provincial labor departments are responsible for managing trade union and industrial labor disputes.  Each province has its own industrial relations legislation, and each has labor courts to adjudicate disputes.  Recent strikes have been spearheaded by public sector workers, such as teachers and public health workers.

The ILO’s 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Program states that “exploitative labour practices in the form of child and bonded labour remain pervasive…” and notes “the absence of reliable and comprehensive data to accurately assess the situation of hazardous child labour, worst forms of child labour, or forced labour.”  The report also identifies weak compliance with, and enforcement of, labor laws and regulations as contributing to poor working conditions – including unhealthy and unsafe workplaces –and the erosion of worker rights.

Pakistan is a GSP beneficiary, which requires labor standards to be upheld.

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

The Development Finance Corporation is active in Pakistan and has provided financing or insurance for projects totaling USD 597.6 million (since 2010), including investments in microfinance and hospital care in rural Pakistan.  An Investment Incentive Agreement was signed between the United States and Pakistan in 1997.

https://www.dfc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-08/bl_pakistan_islamic_republic_of_11-18-1997.pdf 

https://www.state.gov/pakistan-12903-investment-incentive-agreement/

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 $286,332 2018 $314,588 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/pakistan
 
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 $88 2018 $386 USTR data available at https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/
south-central-asia/pakistan
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $39 2018 $163 USTR data available at https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/
south-central-asia/pakistan
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 0.98% 2018 14.8% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctadstat.unctad.org/
CountryProfile/GeneralProfile/
en-GB/586/index.html
 

* Source for Host Country Data: All host country statistical data used from State Bank of Pakistan which publishes data on a monthly basis.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data – 2018
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 42,296 100% Total Outward 1,962 100%
United Kingdom 9,349 22.1% United Arab Emirates 460 23.4%
Switzerland 3,944 9.3% Bangladesh 218 11.1%
Netherlands 2,680 6.3% United Kingdom 156 7.9%
Cayman Islands 1,374 3.2% Bahrain 140 7.1%
United Arab Emirates 1,138 2.7% Kenya 84 4.3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source:  IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) http://data.imf.org/CDIS

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets – 2018
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 422.9 100% All Countries 392.7 100% All Countries 30.2 100%
United Kingdom 93.5 22.1% United Kingdom 92.5 23.6% UAE 6.7 22.1%
Switzerland 39.4 9.3% Switzerland 38.8 9.9% Mauritius 1.4 4.6%
Netherlands 26.8 6.3% Netherlands 26.7 6.8% China P.R. 1.1 3.6%
Cayman Islands 13.7 3.2% Cayman Islands 13.6 3.5% United Kingdom 1.0 3.3%
China P.R. 13.1 3.1% USA 1.06 0.27% Japan 0.8 2.5%

Source:  IMF Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) http://cpis.imf.org

14. Contact for More Information

Michael Boven
Trade and Investment Officer
U.S. Embassy Islamabad
+92-51-2015668
BovenMD@state.gov

Philippines

Executive Summary

The Philippines continues to improve its overall investment climate with 2019’s biggest highlight being Standard & Poor’s upgrade of its rating to BBB+, the country’s highest credit rating to date. Overall sovereign credit ratings remain at investment grade based on the country’s sound macroeconomic fundamentals. The Philippines has received record-high foreign investment pledges approved by its investment promotion agencies (IPAs) at USD 7.65 billion in 2019, which more than doubled from 2018’s USD 3.60 billion. (https://psa.gov.ph/sites/default/files/Total%20Approved%20Foreign%20Investment%20by%20Investment%20Promotion%20Agency%202018%20to%202019.xlsx) Actual foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country, however, still remains relatively low when compared to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) figures; the Philippines ranks fifth out of ten ASEAN countries for total FDI in 2019. FDI declined by almost 24 percent in 2019 to USD 7.6 billion from USD 9.9 billion in 2018, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (the Philippine’s Central Bank), mainly due to lower equity capital placements. The majority of FDI investments included manufacturing, financial/insurance activities, real estate, tourism/recreation, and transportation/storage. (http://www.bsp.gov.ph/statistics/spei_new/tab9_fdi.htm)

Foreign ownership limitations in many sectors of the economy constrain investments. Poor infrastructure, high power costs, slow broadband connections, regulatory inconsistencies, and corruption are major disincentives to investment. The Philippines’ complex, slow, and sometimes corrupt judicial system inhibits the timely and fair resolution of commercial disputes. Investors often describe the business registration process as slow and burdensome. Traffic in major cities and congestion in the ports remain a regular cost of business. Proposed tax reform legislation (Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act — CITIRA) to reduce the corporate income tax from ASEAN’s highest rate of 30 percent could be positive for business investment, although some foreign investors have concerns about the possible reduction of investment incentives proposed in the measure.

The Philippines continues to address investment constraints. In late 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte updated the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which enumerates investment areas where foreign ownership or investment is banned or limited. The most significant changes permit foreign companies to have a 100 percent investment in internet businesses (not a part of mass media), insurance adjustment firms, investment houses, lending and finance companies, and wellness centers. It also allows foreigners to teach higher educational levels, provided the subject is not professional nor requires bar examination/government certification. The latest FINL allows 40 percent foreign participation in construction and repair of locally funded public works, up from 25 percent. The FINL, however, is limited in scope since it cannot change prior laws relating to foreign investments, such as Constitutional provisions which bar investment in mass media, utilities, and natural resource extraction.

Implementing rules and regulations for The Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery law of 2018 (Republic Act 11032) were signed in 2019. The law allows for a standardized maximum deadline for government transactions, a single business application form, a one-stop shop, an automation of business permits processing, a zero-contact policy, and a central business databank (https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2018/05/28/republic-act-no-11032/). Touted as one of the Duterte Administrations’ landmark laws, it created an Anti-Red Tape Authority under the Office of the President that oversees national policy on anti-red tape issues and implements reforms to improve competitiveness rankings. The authority also monitors compliance of agencies and issues notices to erring and non-compliant government employees an officials.

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

While the Philippine bureaucracy can be slow and opaque in its processes, the business environment is notably better within the special economic zones, particularly those available for export businesses operated by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), known for its regulatory transparency, no red-tape policy, and one-stop shop services for investors. Finally, the Philippines plans to spend more than USD 180 billion through 2022 to upgrade its infrastructure with the Administration’s aggressive Build, Build, Build program; many projects are already underway.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 113 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 95 of 190 https://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 54 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in Partner Country (millions of U.S. dollars) USD, stock positions) 2018 $7.6 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $3,830 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

Business registration in the Philippines is cumbersome due to multiple agencies involved in the process. It takes an average of 33 days to start a business in Quezon City in Metro Manila, according to the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report. Touted as one of the Duterte Administrations’ landmark laws, the Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act amends the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007, and legislates standardized deadlines for government transactions, a single business application form, a one-stop-shop, automation of business permits processing, a zero contact policy, and a central business databank.

The law was passed in May 2018, and it creates an Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA – http://arta.gov.ph/) under the Office of the President to carry out the mandate of business facilitation. ARTA is governed by a council that includes the Secretaries of Trade and Industry, Finance, Interior and Local Governments, and Information and Communications Technology. The Department of Trade and Industry serves as interim Secretariat for ARTA. The implementing rules and regulations were issued in late 2019 and are expected to provide more compliance and increased transparency (http://arta.gov.ph/pages/IRR.html).

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

Outward Investment

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

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

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The BOI regulates and promotes investment into the Philippines. The Investment Priorities Plan (IPP), administered by the BOI, identifies preferred economic activities approved by the President. Government agencies are encouraged to adopt policies and implement programs consistent with the IPP.

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

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

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

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

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

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

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

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

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

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

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

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

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

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

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

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

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

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

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

Intellectual Property Rights

The Philippines is not listed on the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) 2020 Special 301 Report. . The country has a robust intellectual property rights (IPR) regime in place, although enforcement is irregular and inconsistent. The total estimated value of counterfeit goods reported seized in 2019 was USD 434 million, close to 2018’s record of USD 453 million. The sale of imported counterfeit goods in local markets has visibly decreased, though stakeholders report the amount of counterfeit goods sold online is gradually increasing.

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

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

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

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

Resources for Rights Holders

Contacts at Mission:

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

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Philippines welcomes the entry of foreign portfolio investments, including local and foreign-issued equities listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE ). Investments in certain publicly listed companies are subject to foreign ownership restrictions specified in the Constitution and other laws. Non-residents are allowed to issue bonds/notes or similar instruments in the domestic market with prior approval from the Central Bank; in certain cases, they may also obtain financing in Philippine pesos from authorized agent banks without prior Central Bank approval.

Although growing, the PSE (with fewer than 271 listed firms as of the end of 2019) lags behind many of its neighbors in size, product offerings, and trading activity. The securities market is growing but remains dominated by government bills and bonds. Hostile takeovers are uncommon because most companies’ shares are not publicly listed and controlling interest tends to remain with a small group of parties. Cross-ownership and interlocking directorates among listed companies also decrease the likelihood of hostile takeovers.

Credit is generally granted on market terms and foreign investors are able to obtain credit from the liquid domestic market. However, some laws require financial institutions to set aside loans for preferred sectors (e.g. agriculture, agrarian reform, and MSMEs). To help promote lending at competitive rates to MSMEs, the government has fully operationalized a centralized credit information system that uses financial statements to predict firms’ credit worthiness. The government has also implemented the 2018 Personal Property Security law, which aims to spur lending to MSMEs by allowing non-traditional collateral (e.g., movable assets like machinery and equipment and inventories).

Money and Banking System

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP/Central Bank) is a highly respected institution that oversees a stable banking system. The Central Bank has pursued regulatory reforms promoting good governance and aligning risk management regulations with international standards. Capital adequacy ratios are well above the 8 percent international standard and the Central Bank’s 10 percent regulatory requirement. The non-performing loan ratio was at 2.0 percent as of the end of 2019, and there is ample liquidity in the system, with the liquid assets-to-deposits ratio estimated at about 48 percent. Commercial banks constitute more than 90 percent of the total assets of the Philippine banking industry. The five largest commercial banks represented about 60 percent of the total resources of the commercial banking sector as of 2019. Twenty-six of the 46 commercial banks operating in the country are foreign branches and subsidiaries, including three U.S. banks (Citibank, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase). Citibank has the largest presence among the foreign bank branches and currently ranks 13th overall in terms of assets.

Foreign residents and non-residents may open foreign and local currency bank accounts. Although non-residents may open local currency deposit accounts, they are limited to the funding sources specified under Central Bank regulations. For non-residents who wish to convert their local deposits to foreign currency, sales of foreign currencies are limited up to the local currency balance. Non-residents’ foreign currency accounts cannot be funded from foreign exchange purchases from banks and banks’ subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank) has actively pursued reforms since the 1990s to liberalize and simplify foreign exchange regulations. As a general rule, the Central Bank allows residents and non-residents to purchase foreign exchange from banks, banks’ subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations, and other non-bank entities operating as foreign exchange dealers and/or money changers and remittance agents to fund legitimate foreign exchange obligations, subject to provision of information and/or supporting documents on underlying obligations. No mandatory foreign exchange surrender requirement is imposed on exporters, overseas workers’ incomes, or other foreign currency earners; these foreign exchange receipts may be sold for pesos or retained in foreign exchange in local and/or offshore accounts. The Central Bank follows a market-determined exchange rate policy, with scope for intervention to smooth excessive foreign exchange volatility.

Remittance Policies

The Central Bank does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions, in accordance with the country’s acceptance of International Monetary Fund Article VIII obligations of September 1995. Purchase of foreign currencies for trade and non-trade obligations and/or remittances requires submission of a foreign exchange purchase application form if the foreign exchange is sourced from banks and/or their subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations and falls within specified thresholds (currently USD 500,000 for individuals and USD 1 million for corporates/other entities). Purchases above the thresholds are also subject to the submission of minimum documentary requirements but do not require prior Central Bank approval. A person may freely bring foreign currencies with a value of up to USD 10,000 into or out of the Philippines; more than this threshold requires submission of a foreign currency declaration form.

Foreign exchange policies do not require approval of inward foreign direct and portfolio investments unless the investor will purchase foreign currency from banks to convert its local currency proceeds or earnings for repatriation or remittance. Registration of foreign investments with the Central Bank or custodian banks is generally optional. Duly registered foreign investments are entitled to full and immediate repatriation of capital and remittance of dividends, profits, and earnings.

As a general policy, government-guaranteed private sector foreign loans/borrowings (including those in the form of notes, bonds, and similar instruments) require prior Central Bank approval. Although there are exceptions, private sector loan agreements should also be registered with the Central Bank if serviced through the purchase of foreign exchange from the banking system.

The Philippines is pushing for amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act and Human Security Act to meet the Asia Pacific Group 2019 Mutual Evaluation Report recommendations ahead of the 2020 Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) review. Proposed amendments include the addition of tax evasion, terrorism-related offenses, and corruption to the list of predicate crimes; the inclusion of real estate developers and brokers as covered persons; and the expansion of Anti-Money Laundering Council’s investigative powers and financial sanctions authority. In 2013, the FATF removed the Philippines from its “grey list” of countries with strategic deficiencies in countering money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The Philippines has a restrictive regime for accessing bank accounts to detect or prosecute financial crimes, which is a significant impediment to enforcing laws against corruption, tax evasion, smuggling, laundering, and other economic crimes.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Philippines does not presently have sovereign wealth funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises, known in the Philippines as government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC), are predominantly in the power, transport, infrastructure, communications, land and water resources, social services, housing, and support services sectors. There were 105 operational and functioning GOCCs as of April 2020; a list is available on the Governance Commission for GOCC [GCG] website  (https://gcg.gov.ph). GOCCs are required to remit at least 50 percent of their annual net earnings (e.g. cash, stock, or property dividends) to the national government.

Private and state-owned enterprises generally compete equally. The Government Service Insurance System (GSIS ) is the only agency, with limited exceptions, allowed to provide coverage for the government’s insurance risks and interests, including those in build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects and privatized government corporations. Since the national government acts as the main guarantor of loans, stakeholders report GOCCs often have an advantage in obtaining financing from government financial institutions and private banks. Most GOCCs are not statutorily independent, but attached to cabinet departments, and, therefore, subject to political interference.

The Philippines is not an OECD member country. The 2011 GOCC Governance Act addresses problems experienced by GOCCs, including poor financial performance, weak governance structures, and unauthorized allowances. The law allows unrestricted access to GOCC account books and requires strict compliance with accounting and financial disclosure standards; establishes the power to privatize, abolish, or restructure GOCCs without legislative action; and sets performance standards and limits on compensation and allowances. The GCG  formulates and implements GOCC policies. GOCC board members are limited to one-year term and subject to reappointment based on a performance rating set by GCG, with final approval by the Philippine President.

Privatization Program

The Philippine Government’s privatization program is managed by the Privatization Management Office (PMO) under the Department of Finance (DOF). The privatization of government assets undergoes a public bidding process. Apart from restrictions stipulated in FINL, no regulations discriminate against foreign buyers and the bidding process appears to be transparent. Additional information is available on the PMO website (http://www.pmo.gov.ph/index.htm).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) is regularly practiced in the Philippines, although no domestic laws require it. The Philippine Tax Code provides RBC-related incentives to corporations, such as tax exemptions and deductions. Various non-government organizations and business associations also promote RBC. The Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP ) is the largest corporate-led social development foundation involved in advocating corporate citizenship practice in the Philippines. U.S. companies report strong and favorable responses to RBC programs among employees and within local communities.

The Philippines is not an OECD member country. The Philippine government strongly supports RBC practices among the business community but has not yet endorsed the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to stakeholders.

9. Corruption

Corruption is a pervasive and long-standing problem in both the public and private sectors. The country’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index declined to the 113th spot (out of 180), its worst score in over seven years. The Philippines was 99th in 2018, and the lack of progress in tackling public corruption resulted in a lower score for 2019. Various organizations, including the World Economic Forum, have cited corruption among the top problematic factors for doing business in the Philippines. The Bureau of Customs is still considered to be one of the most corrupt agencies in the country, having fired and replaced five customs commissioners over the past six years.

The Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 outlines strategies to reduce corruption by streamlining government transactions, modernizing regulatory processes, and establishing mechanisms for citizens to report complaints. A front line desk in the Office of the President, the Presidential Complaint Center, or PCC (https://op-proper.gov.ph/contact-us/), receives and acts on corruption complaints from the general public. The PCC can be reached through its complaint hotline, text services (SMS), and social media sites.

The Philippine Revised Penal Code, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the Code of Ethical Conduct for Public Officials all aim to combat corruption and related anti-competitive business practices. The Office of the Ombudsman investigates and prosecutes cases of alleged graft and corruption involving public officials, with more information available on its website . Cases against high-ranking officials are brought before a special anti-corruption court, the Sandiganbayan, while cases against low-ranking officials are filed before regional trial courts.

The Office of the President can directly investigate and hear administrative cases involving presidential appointees in the executive branch and government-owned and controlled corporations. Soliciting, accepting, and/or offering/giving a bribe are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment, a fine, and/or disqualification from public office or business dealings with the government. Government anti-corruption agencies routinely investigate public officials, but convictions by courts are limited, often appealed, and can be overturned. Recent positive steps include the creation of an investors’ desk at the Ombudsman’s Office, and corporate governance reforms of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Philippines ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003. It is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:

Office of the Ombudsman
Ombudsman Building, Agham Road, North Triangle
Diliman, Quezon City
Hotline:  (+632) 8926.2662
Telephone:  (+632) 8479.7300
Email/Website: pab@ombudsman.gov.ph / http://www.ombudsman.gov.ph /

Presidential Complaint Center
Gama Bldg., Minerva St. corner Jose Laurel St.
San Miguel, Manila
Telephone: (+632) 8736.8645, 8736.8603, 8736.8606
Email: pcc@malacanang.gov.ph / https://op-proper.gov.ph/presidential-action-center/

Contact Center ng Bayan
Text:  (+63) 908 881.6565
Call:  1-6565
Email/Website: email@contactcenterngbayan.gov.ph / contactcenterngbayan.gov.ph 

10. Political and Security Environment

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

Terrorist groups, including the ISIS-Philippines affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Maute Group, Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP) and elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), periodically attack civilian targets, kidnap civilians – including foreigners – for ransom, and engage in armed attacks against government security forces. These groups have mostly carried out their activities in the western and central regions of Mindanao, including the Sulu Archipelago and Sulu Sea. They are also capable of operating in some areas outside Sulu, as evidenced by the 2015 kidnapping of four hostages from Samal Island, just outside Davao City. Groups affiliated with ISIS-Philippines continued efforts to recover from battlefield losses, recruiting and training new members, and staging suicide bombings and attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and small arms that targeted security forces and civilians.

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

The New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is responsible in some parts of the country, mostly Mindanao, for civil disturbances through assassinations of public officials, sporadic attacks on military and police forces, bombings, and attacks on infrastructure, such as power generators and telecommunications towers. The NPA relies on extortionist revolutionary taxes from local and some foreign businesses to fund its operations. The Philippine government ended a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA in 2017 and announced that it had designated the group as a terrorist organization under domestic law.

The Philippines’ most significant human rights problems were killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes, security forces, and insurgents; cases of apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process; official corruption; and a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators.

President Duterte’s administration continued a nationwide campaign, led primarily by the Philippine National Police (PNP), to eliminate illegal narcotics. The ongoing operation continues to receive worldwide attention for its harsh tactics.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Managers of U.S. companies in the Philippines report that local labor costs are relatively low and workers are highly motivated, with generally strong English language skills. As of January 2020, the Philippine labor force reached 43 million workers, with an employment rate of 94.7 percent and an unemployment rate of 5.3 percent. These figures include employment in the informal sector and do not capture the substantial rates of underemployment in the country. Youths between the ages of 15 and 24 made up over 40 percent of the unemployed. More than half of all employment was in the services sector, with 22.7 percent and 18.8 percent in agriculture and industry sectors, respectively.

Compensation packages in the Philippines tend to be comparable with those in neighboring countries. Regional Wage and Productivity Boards meet periodically in each of the country’s 16 administrative regions to determine minimum wages. The non-agricultural daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is approximately USD 10, although some private sector workers receive less. Most regions set their minimum wage significantly lower than Metro Manila. Violation of minimum wage standards is common, especially non-payment of social security contributions, bonuses, and overtime. Philippine law also provides for a comprehensive set of occupational safety and health standards. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has responsibility for safety inspection, but a shortage of inspectors has made enforcement difficult.

The Philippines Constitution enshrines the right of workers to form and join trade unions. The trend among firms using temporary contract labor to lower employment costs continues despite government efforts to regulate the practice. The DOLE Secretary has the authority to end strikes and mandate a settlement between parties in cases involving national interest. DOLE amended its rules concerning disputes in 2013, specifying industries vital to national interest: hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC). Economic zones often offer on-site labor centers to assist investors with recruitment. Although labor laws apply equally to economic zones, unions have noted some difficulty organizing inside the zones.

The Philippines is signatory to all International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions but has faced challenges with enforcement. Unions allege that companies or local officials use illegal tactics to prevent workers from organizing. The quasi-judicial National Labor Relations Commission reviews allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities. Meanwhile, the NTIPC monitors the application of international labor standards.

Reports of forced labor in the Philippines continue, particularly in connection with human trafficking in the commercial sex, domestic service, agriculture, and fishing industries.

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

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

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (millions of U.S. dollars) N/A N/A 2018 330.8 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in Partner Country (millions of U.S. dollars, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 7,645 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/xls/usdia-position-2010-2017.xlsx 
Host Country’s FDI in the United States (millions of U.S. dollars, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 403 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/xls/fdius-current/fdius-detailed-country-2008-2017.xlsx 
Total Inbound Stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2018 16% http://data.imf.org/
regular.aspx?key=60564262
 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data, as of end-2018
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (U.S. Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 51,318 100% Total Outward 9,370 100%
Japan 14,411 28% Singapore 4,217 45%
Netherlands 12,996 25% India 2,118 23%
United States 7,645 15% China, P.R.: Mainland 1,634 17%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong 3,551 7% United States 403 4%
Rep. of Korea 2,775 5% Thailand 278 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

The Philippine Central Bank does not publish or post inward and outward FDI stock broken down by country. Total stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that the Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB). As of the third quarter of 2019, inward direct investment (i.e. liabilities) is USD 90 billion, while outward direct investment (i.e. assets) is USD 56.1 billion.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets, as of end-2018
Top Five Partners (Millions, U.S. Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 16,359 100% All Countries 1,091 100% All Countries 15,268 100%
United States 6,251 38% Luxembourg 367 34% United States 5,937 39%
Indonesia 2,767 17% United States 314 29% Indonesia 2,766 18%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong 729 4% Ireland 134 12% China, P.R.: Mainland 611 4%
China, P.R.: Mainland 567 3% China, P.R.: Hong Kong 119 11% China, P.R.: Mainland 564 4%
India 493 3% British Virgin Islands 58 5% India 493 3%

The Philippine Central Bank disaggregates data into equity and debt securities but does not publish or post the stock of portfolio investments assets broken down by country. Total foreign portfolio investment stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB). As of third quarter 2019, outward portfolio investment (i.e. assets) was USD 25.2 billion, of which USD 2.2 billion was in equity investments and USD 23 billion was in debt securities.

14. Contact for More Information

Douglas Fowler, Economic Officer
Karen Ang, Trade Specialist
U.S. Embassy Manila
1201 Roxas Boulevard, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (+632) 5301.2000
Email: ManilaEcon@state.gov

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore maintains an open, heavily trade-dependent economy, characterized by a predominantly open investment regime, with strong government commitment to maintaining a free market and to actively managing Singapore’s economic development. U.S. companies regularly cite transparency and lack of corruption, business-friendly laws and regulations, tax structure, customs facilitation, intellectual property protections, and well-developed infrastructure as attractive features of the investment climate. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report ranked Singapore as the world’s second-easiest country in which to do business. The Global Competitiveness Report 2019 by the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore as the most competitive economy globally. Singapore actively enforces its robust anti-corruption laws and typically ranks as the least corrupt country in Asia and one of the least corrupt in the world. Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index placed Singapore as the fourth least corrupt nation. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which came into force on January 1, 2004, expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and environmental protections.

Singapore has a diversified economy that attracts substantial foreign investment in manufacturing (petrochemical, electronics, machinery, and equipment) and services (financial services, wholesale and retail trade, and business services). The government actively promotes the country as a research and development (R&D) and innovation center for businesses by offering tax incentives, research grants, and partnership opportunities with domestic research agencies. U.S. direct investment in Singapore in 2018 totaled $219 billion, primarily in non-bank holding companies, manufacturing (particularly computers and electronic products), and finance and insurance. Singapore remains Asia’s largest recipient of U.S. FDI. The investment outlook remains positive due to Singapore’s involvement in Southeast Asia’s developing economies. Singapore remains a regional hub for thousands of multinational companies and continues to maintain its reputation as a world leader in dispute resolution, financing, and project facilitation, particularly for regional infrastructure development. In 2019, U.S. companies pledged $4 billion in future investments in Singapore’s manufacturing and services sectors.

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

In recent years, the government has tightened foreign labor policies to encourage firms to improve productivity and employ more workers that are Singaporean. The government introduced measures in the 2019 and 2020 budget to further decrease the ratio of mid- and low-skilled foreign workers to local employees in a firm. These cuts, which target the service sector, were taken despite industry concerns about skills gaps. To address some of these concerns, the government has introduced programs that partially subsidize the cost to firms of recruiting, hiring, and training local workers. Singapore is heavily reliant on foreign workers who make up more than 20 percent of the workforce. The COVID-19 outbreak has been concentrated in dormitories for low-wage workers in Singapore, which may accelerate the government’s efforts to reduce the number of foreign workers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 4 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 2 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 8 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 218,835 http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 58,770 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore maintains a heavily trade-dependent economy characterized by an open investment regime, with some licensing restrictions in the financial services, professional services, and media sectors. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report ranked Singapore as the world’s second-easiest country in which to do business. The 2019 Global Competitiveness Report ranks Singapore as the most competitive economy globally. The 2004 USSFTA expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and the environment.

The government is committed to maintaining a free market, but it also actively plans Singapore’s economic development, including through a network of state wholly-owned and majority-owned enterprises (SOEs). As of February 2019, the top three Singapore-listed SOEs accounted for 13.1 percent of total capitalization of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Some observers have criticized the dominant role of SOEs in the domestic economy, arguing that they have displaced or suppressed private sector entrepreneurship and investment.

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

Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead promotion agency that facilitates foreign investment into Singapore (