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China

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

China continues to be one of the largest recipients of global FDI due to a relatively high economic growth rate and an expanding consumer base that demands diverse, high-quality products.  FDI has historically played an essential role in China’s economic development.  However, due to recent stagnant FDI growth and gaps in China’s domestic technology and labor capabilities, Chinese government officials have prioritized promoting relatively friendly FDI policies promising market access expansion and non-discriminatory, “national treatment” for foreign enterprises through general improvements to the business environment.  They also have made efforts to strengthen China’s regulatory framework to enhance broader market-based competition.

In 2019, China issued an updated nationwide “negative list” that made some modest openings to foreign investment, most notably in the financial sector, and promised future improvements to the investment climate through the implementation of China’s new FIL.  MOFCOM reported that FDI flows to China grew by 5.8 percent year-on-year in 2019, reaching USD137 billion.  In 2019, U.S. businesses expressed concern over China’s weak protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR); corruption; discriminatory and non-transparent anti-monopoly enforcement that forces foreign companies to license technology at below-market prices; excessive cyber security and personal data-related requirements; increased emphasis on the role of CCP cells in foreign enterprises, and an unreliable legal system lacking in both transparency and the rule of law.

China seeks to support inbound FDI through the “Invest in China” website, where MOFCOM publishes laws, statistics, and other relevant information about investing in China.  Further, each province has a provincial-level investment promotion agency that operates under the guidance of local-level commerce departments.  See:  MOFCOM’s Investment Promotion Website 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Entry into the Chinese market is regulated by the country’s “negative lists,” which identify the sectors in which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited, and a catalogue for encouraged foreign investment, which identifies the sectors the government encourages foreign investment to be allocated to.

  • The Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access (̈the “Nationwide Negative List”);
  • The Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access to Pilot Free Trade Zones (the “FTZ Negative List”) used in China’s 18 FTZs
  • The Industry Catalogue for Encouraged Foreign Investment (also known as the “FIC”).   The central government has used the FIC to encourage FDI inflows to key sectors – in particular semiconductors and other high-tech industries that would help China achieve MIC 2025 objectives.  The FIC is subdivided into a cross-sector nationwide catalogue and a separate catalogue for western and central regions, China’s least developed regions.

In addition to the above lists, MOFCOM and NDRC also release the annual Market Access Negative List  to guide investments.  This negative list – unlike the nationwide negative list that applies only to foreign investors – defines prohibitions and restrictions for all investors, foreign and domestic.  Launched in 2016, this negative list attempted to unify guidance on allowable investments previously found in piecemeal laws and regulations.  This list also highlights what economic sectors are only open to state-owned investors.

In restricted industries, foreign investors face equity caps or joint venture requirements to ensure control is maintained by a Chinese national and enterprise.  These requirements are often used to compel foreign investors to transfer technology in order to participate in China’s market.  Foreign companies have reported these dictates and decisions are often made behind closed doors and are thus difficult to attribute as official Chinese government policy.  Foreign investors report fearing government retaliation if they publicly raise instances of technology coercion.

Below are a few examples of industries where these sorts of investment restrictions apply:

  • Preschool, general high school, and higher education institutes require a Chinese partner.
  • Establishment of medical institutions also require a Chinese JV partner.

Examples of foreign investment sectors requiring Chinese control include:

  • Selective breeding and seed production for new varieties of wheat and corn.
  • Basic telecommunication services.
  • Radio and television listenership and viewership market research.

Examples of foreign investment equity caps include:

  • 50 percent in automobile manufacturing (except special and new energy vehicles);
  • 50 percent in value-added telecom services (except e-commerce domestic multiparty communications, storage and forwarding, call center services);
  • 50 percent in manufacturing of commercial and passenger vehicles.

The 2019 editions of the nationwide and FTZ negative lists and the FIC for foreign investment came into effect July 30, 2019.  The central government updated the Market Access Negative List in October 2019.  The 2019 foreign investment negative lists made minor modifications to some industries, reducing the number of restrictions and prohibitions from 48 to 40 in the nationwide negative list, and from 45 to 37 in China’s pilot FTZs.  Notable changes included openings in the oil and gas sector, telecommunications, and shipping of marine products.  On July 2, 2019, Premier Li Keqiang announced new openings in the financial sector, including lifting foreign equity caps for futures by January 2020, fund management by April, and securities by December.  While U.S. businesses welcomed market openings, many foreign investors remained underwhelmed and disappointed by Chinese government’s lack of ambition and refusal to provide more significant liberalization.  Foreign investors noted these announced measures occurred mainly in industries that domestic Chinese companies already dominate.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

China is not a member of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), but the OECD Council established a country program of dialogue and co-operation with China in October 1995.  The OECD completed its most recent investment policy review for China in 2008 and published an update in 2013.

China’s 2001 accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) boosted China’s economic growth and advanced its legal and governmental reforms.  The WTO completed its most recent investment trade review for China in 2018, highlighting that China remains a major destination for FDI inflows, especially in real estate, leasing and business services, and wholesale and retail trade.

Business Facilitation

In 2019, China climbed more than 40 spots in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey to 31st place out of 190 economies.  This was partly due to regulatory reforms that helped streamline some business processes, including improvements to addressing delays in construction permits and resolving insolvency.  This ranking does not account for major challenges U.S. businesses face in China like IPR violations and forced technology transfer.  Moreover, China’s ranking is based on data limited only to the business environments in Beijing and Shanghai.

Created in 2018, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) is now responsible for business registration processes.  The State Council established a new website in English, which is more user-friendly than SAMR’s website, to assist foreign investors looking to do business in China.  In December 2019, China also launched a Chinese-language nationwide government service platform on the State Council’s official website.  The platform connected 40 central government agencies with 31 provincial governments, providing information on licensing and project approvals by specific agencies.  The central government published the website under its “improving the business climate” reform agenda, claiming that the website consolidates information and offers cross-regional government online services.

Foreign companies still complain about continued challenges when setting up a business relative to their Chinese competitors.  Numerous companies offer consulting, legal, and accounting services for establishing wholly foreign-owned enterprises, partnership enterprises, joint ventures, and representative offices in China.  Investors should review their options carefully with an experienced advisor before choosing a corporate entity or investment vehicle.

Outward Investment

Since 2001, China has pursued a “going-out” investment policy.  At first, the Chinese government mainly encouraged SOEs to secure natural resources and facilitate market access for Chinese exports.  In recent years, China’s overseas investments have diversified with both state and private enterprises investing in nearly all industries and economic sectors.  While China remains a major global investor, total outbound direct investment (ODI) flows fell 8.2 percent year-on-year in 2019 to USD110.6 billion, according to MOFCOM data.

In order to suppress significant capital outflow pressure, the Chinese government created “encouraged,” “restricted,” and “prohibited” outbound investment categories in 2016 to guide Chinese investors, especially in Europe and the United States.  While the guidelines restricted Chinese outbound investment in sectors like property, hotels, cinemas, entertainment, and sports teams, they encouraged outbound investment in sectors that supported Chinese industrial policy by acquiring advanced manufacturing and high-tech assets.  Chinese firms involved in MIC 2025 targeted sectors often receive preferential government financing, subsidies, and access to an opaque network of investors to promote and provide incentives for outbound investment.  The guidance also encourages investments that promote China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, which seeks to create connectivity and cooperation agreements between China and dozens of countries via infrastructure investment, construction projects, real estate, etc.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

One of China’s WTO accession commitments was to establish an official journal dedicated to the publication of laws, regulations, and other measures pertaining to or affecting trade in goods, services, trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS), and the control of foreign exchange.  Despite mandatory 30-day public comment periods, Chinese ministries continue to post only some draft administrative regulations and departmental rules online, often with a public comment period of less than 30 days.  U.S. businesses operating in China consistently cite arbitrary legal enforcement and the lack of regulatory transparency among the top challenges of doing business in China.  Government agencies often do not make available for public comment and proceed to publish “normative documents” (opinions, circulars, notices, etc.) or other quasi-legal measures to address situations where there is no explicit law or administrative regulation in place.  When Chinese officials claim an assessment or study was made for a law, the methodology of the study and the results are not made available to the public.  As a result, foreign investors face a regulatory system rife with inconsistencies.

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Chinese legal system borrows heavily from continental European legal systems, but with “Chinese characteristics.”  The rules governing commercial activities are found in various laws, regulations, and judicial interpretations, including China’s civil law, contract law, partnership enterprises law, security law, insurance law, enterprises bankruptcy law, labor law, and several interpretations and regulations issued by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).  While China does not have specialized commercial courts, it has created specialized courts and tribunals for the hearing of intellectual property disputes, including in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai.  In October 2018, the National People’s Congress approved the establishment of a national SPC appellate tribunal to hear civil and administrative appeals of technically complex intellectual property (IP) cases.

China’s constitution and various laws provide contradictory statements about court independence and the right of judges to exercise adjudicative power free from interference by administrative organs, public organizations, or powerful individuals.  In practice, regulators heavily influence courts, and the Chinese constitution establishes the supremacy of the “leadership of the communist party.”  U.S. companies often avoid challenging administrative decisions or bringing commercial disputes before local courts due to perceptions of futility or government retaliation.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

China’s new investment law, the FIL, was passed on March 2019 and came into force on January 1, 2020, replacing China’s previous foreign investment framework.  The FIL provides a five-year transition period for foreign enterprises established under previous foreign investment laws, after which all foreign enterprises will be subject to the same domestic laws as Chinese companies, such as the Company Law and, where applicable, the Partnership Enterprise Law.  The FIL intends to abolish the case-by-case review and approval system on market access for foreign investment and standardize the regulatory regimes for foreign investment by including the negative list management system, a foreign investment information reporting system, and a foreign investment security review system all under one document.  The FIL also seeks to address common complaints from foreign business and government by explicitly banning forced technology transfers, promising better IPR protection, and establishing a complaint mechanism for investors to report administrative abuses.  However, foreign investors complain that the FIL and its implementing regulations lack substantive guidance, providing Chinese ministries and local officials significant regulatory discretion, including the ability to retaliate against foreign companies.

In addition to the FIL, in 2019, the State Council issued other substantive guidelines and administrative regulations, including:

System for Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors (Notice 6);

  • Regulation on Optimizing the Business Environment (Order No. 722); and
  • Opinions on Further Improving the Utilization of Foreign Investment (Opinions 2019).

Other relevant legislation issued by government entities in 2019, include:

Draft legislation issued by other government entities in 2020:

  • Draft Amendments to the Anti-Monopoly Law;

In addition to central government laws and implementation guidelines, ministries and local regulators have issued over 1,000 rules and regulatory documents that directly affect foreign investments within their geographical areas.  While not comprehensive, a list of published and official Chinese laws and regulations is available at:  http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/ .

FDI Laws on Investment Approvals

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Anti-Monopoly Bureau of the SAMR enforces China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) and oversees competition issues at the central and provincial levels.  The agency reviews mergers and acquisitions, and investigates cartel and other anticompetitive agreements, abuse of a dominant market position, and abuse of administrative powers by government agencies.  SAMR issues new implementation guidelines and antitrust provisions to fill in gaps in the AML, address new trends in China’s market, and help foster transparency in AML enforcement.  Generally, SAMR has sought public comment on proposed measures and guidelines, although comment periods can be less than 30 days.  In 2019, the agency put into effect provisions on abuse of market dominance, prohibition of monopoly agreements, and restraint against abuse of administrative powers to restrict competition.  In January 2020, SAMR published draft amendments to the AML for comment, which included, among other changes, stepped-up fines for AML violations and expanded factors to consider abuse of market dominance by Internet companies.  (This is the first step in a lengthy process to amend the AML.)  SAMR also oversees the Fair Competition Review System (FCRS), which requires government agencies to conduct a review prior to issuing new and revising existing laws, regulations, and guidelines to ensure such measures do not inhibit competition.

While these are seen as positive measures, foreign businesses have complained that enforcement of competition policy is uneven in practice and tends to focus on foreign companies.   Foreign companies have expressed concern that the government uses AML enforcement as an extension of China’s industrial policies, particularly for companies operating in strategic sectors.  The AML explicitly protects the lawful operations of government monopolies in industries that affect the national economy or national security.   U.S. companies have expressed concerns that SAMR consults with other Chinese agencies when reviewing M&A transactions, allowing other agencies to raise concerns, including those not related to antitrust enforcement, in order to block, delay, or force transacting parties to comply with preconditions in order to receive approval.  Foreign companies have also complained that China’s enforcement of AML facilitated forced technology transfer or licensing to local competitors.

Expropriation and Compensation

Chinese law prohibits nationalization of FIEs, except under vaguely specified “special circumstances” where there is a national security or public interest need. Chinese law requires fair compensation for an expropriated foreign investment, but does not detail the method used to calculate the value of the foreign investment.  The Department of State is not aware of any cases since 1979 in which China has expropriated a U.S. investment, although the Department has notified Congress through the annual 527 Investment Dispute Report of several cases of concern.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

China is a contracting state to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).  Chinese legislation that provides for enforcement of foreign arbitral awards related to these two Conventions includes the Arbitration Law adopted in 1994, the Civil Procedure Law adopted in 1991 (later amended in 2012), the law on Chinese-Foreign Equity Joint Ventures adopted in 1979 (amended most recently in 2001), and a number of other laws with similar provisions.  The Arbitration Law embraced many of the fundamental principles of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement  (ISDS)

Initially, China was disinclined to accept ISDS as a method to resolve investment disputes based on its suspicions of international law and international arbitration, as well as its emphasis on state sovereignty.  China’s early BITs, such as the 1982 China–Sweden BIT, only included state–state dispute settlement.  As China has become a capital exporter under its initiative of “Going Global” and infrastructure investments under the OBOR initiative, its views on ISDS have shifted to allow foreign investors with unobstructed access to international arbitration to resolve any investment dispute that cannot be amicably settled within six months.  Chinese investors did not use ISDS mechanisms until 2007, and the first known ISDS case against China was initiated in 2011 by Malaysian investors.  On July 19, 2019, China submitted its proposal on ISDS reform to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group III.  Under the proposal, China reaffirmed its commitment to ISDS as an important mechanism for resolving investor-state disputes under public international law.  However, it suggested various pathways for ISDS reform, including supporting the study of a permanent appellate body. including supporting the study of a permanent appellate body.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Chinese officials typically urge private parties to resolve commercial disputes through informal conciliation.  If formal mediation is necessary, Chinese parties and the authorities typically prefer arbitration to litigation.  Many contract disputes require arbitration by the Beijing-based China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC).  Established by the State Council in 1956 under the auspices of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), CIETAC is China’s most widely utilized arbitral body for foreign-related disputes.  Some foreign parties have obtained favorable rulings from CIETAC, while others have questioned CIETAC’s fairness and effectiveness.  Besides CIETAC, there are also provincial and municipal arbitration commissions.  A foreign party may also seek arbitration in some instances from an offshore commission.  Foreign companies often encounter challenges in enforcing arbitration decisions issued by Chinese and foreign arbitration bodies.  In these instances, foreign investors may appeal to higher courts.  The Chinese government and judicial bodies do not maintain a public record of investment disputes.  The SPC maintains an annual count of the number of cases involving foreigners but does not provide details about the cases.  Rulings in some cases are open to the public.
In 2018, the SPC established the China International Commercial Court (CICC) to adjudicate international commercial cases, especially cases related to the OBOR initiative.  The first CICC was established in Shenzhen, followed by a second court in Xi’an.  The court held its first public hearing on May 2019, involving a Chinese company suing an Italian company, and issued its first ruling on March 2020, siding with the Chinese company.  Parties to a dispute before the CICC can only be represented by Chinese law-qualified lawyers, as foreign lawyers do not have a right of audience in Chinese courts.  Unlike other international courts, foreign judges are not permitted to be part of the proceedings.  Judgments of the CICC, given it is a part of the SPC, cannot be appealed from, but are subject to possible “retrial” under the Civil Procedure Law.  Local contacts and academics note that to-date, the CICC has not reviewed any OBOR or infrastructure related cases and question the CICC’s ability to provide “equal protection” to foreign investors.

China has bilateral agreements with 27 countries on the recognition and enforcement of foreign court judgments, but not with the United States.  However, under Chinese law, local courts must prioritize China’s laws and other regulatory measures above foreign court judgments.

Bankruptcy Regulations

China introduced formal bankruptcy laws in 2007, under the Enterprise Bankruptcy Law, which applied to all companies incorporated under Chinese laws and subject to Chinese regulations.  However, courts routinely rejected applications from struggling businesses and their creditors due to the lack of implementation guidelines and concerns over social unrest.  Local government-led negotiations resolved most corporate debt disputes, using asset liquidation as the main insolvency procedure.  Many insolvent Chinese companies survived on state subsidies and loans from state-owned banks, while others defaulted on their debts with minimal payments to creditors.  After a decade of heavy borrowing, China’s growth has slowed and forced the government to make needed bankruptcy reforms.  China now has more than 90 U.S.-style specialized bankruptcy courts.  In 2019, the government added new courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.  Court-appointed administrators—law firms and accounting firms that help verify claims, organize creditors’ meetings, and list and sell assets online as authorities look to handle more cases and process them faster.  China’s SPC recorded over 19,000 liquidation and bankruptcy cases in 2019, double the number of cases in 2017.  While Chinese authorities are taking steps to address mounting corporate debt and are gradually allowing some companies to fail, companies generally avoid pursing bankruptcy because of the potential for local government interference and fear of losing control over the bankruptcy outcome.  According to experts, Chinese courts not only lack the resources and capacity to handle bankruptcy cases, but bankruptcy administrators, clerks, and judges lack relevant experience.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

To attract foreign investment, different provinces and municipalities offer preferential packages like a temporary reduction in taxes, resources and land use benefits, reduction in import or export duties, special treatment in obtaining basic infrastructure services, streamlined government approvals, research and development subsidies, and funding for initial startups.  Often, these packages stipulate that foreign investors must meet certain benchmarks for exports, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements.  The Chinese government incentivizes foreign investors to participate in initiatives like MIC 2025 that seek to transform China into an innovation-based economy.  Announced in 2015, China’s MIC 2025 roadmap has prioritized the following industries:  new-generation information technology, advanced numerical-control machine tools and robotics, aerospace equipment, maritime engineering equipment and vessels, advanced rail, new-energy vehicles, energy equipment, agricultural equipment, new materials, and biopharmaceuticals and medical equipment.  While mentions of MIC 2025 have all but disappeared from public discourse, a raft of policy announcements at the national and sub-national levels indicate China’s continued commitment to developing these sectors.  Foreign investment plays an important role in helping China move up the manufacturing value chain.  However, foreign investment remains closed off to many economic sectors that China deems sensitive due to broadly defined national or economic security concerns.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In 2013, the State Council announced the Shanghai pilot FTZ to provide open and high-standard trade and investment services to foreign companies.  China gradually scaled up its FTZ pilot program to 12 FTZs, launching an additional six FTZs in 2019.  China’s FTZs are in: Tianjin, Guangdong, Fujian, Chongqing, Hainan, Henan, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Guanxi, and Yunnan provinces.  The goal of all of China’s FTZs is to provide a trial ground for trade and investment liberalization measures and to introduce service sector reforms, especially in financial services, that China expects to eventually introduce in other parts of the domestic economy.  The FTZs promise foreign investors “national treatment” for the market access phase of an investment in industries and sectors not listed on the FTZ negative list, or on the list of industries and economic sectors from which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited.  However, the 2019 FTZ negative list lacked substantive changes, and many foreign firms have reported that in practice, the degree of liberalization in the FTZs is comparable to opportunities in other parts of China.  The stated purpose of FTZs is also to integrate these areas more closely with the OBOR initiative.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As part of China’s WTO accession agreement, the PRC government promised to revise its foreign investment laws to eliminate sections that imposed on foreign investors requirements for export performance, local content, balanced foreign exchange through trade, technology transfer, and research and development as a prerequisite to enter China’s market.  In practice, China has not completely lived up to these promises.  Some U.S. businesses report that local officials and regulators sometimes only accept investments with “voluntary” performance requirements or technology transfer that help develop certain domestic industries and support the local job market.  Provincial and municipal governments will sometimes restrict access to local markets, government procurement, and public works projects even for foreign firms that have already invested in the province or municipality.  In addition, Chinese regulators have reportedly pressured foreign firms in some sectors to disclose IP content or provide IP licenses to Chinese firms, often at below market rates.

Furthermore, China’s evolving cybersecurity and personal data protection regime includes onerous restrictions on firms that generate or process data in China, such as requirements for certain firms to store data in China.  Restrictions exist on the transfer of personal information of Chinese citizens outside of China.  These restrictions have prompted many firms to review how their networks manage data.  Foreign firms also fear that PRC laws call for the use of “secure and controllable,” “secure and trustworthy,” etc. technologies will curtail sales opportunities for foreign firms or pressure foreign companies to disclose source code and other proprietary intellectual property.  In October 2019, China adopted a Cryptography Law that includes restrictive requirements for commercial encryption products that “involve national security, the national economy and people’s lives, and public interest.”  This broad definition of commercial encryption products that must undergo a security assessment raises concerns that implementation will lead to unnecessary restrictions on foreign information and communications technology (ICT) products and services.  Further, prescriptive technology adoption requirements, often in the form of domestic standards that diverge from global norms, in effect give preference to domestic firms.  These requirements potentially jeopardize IP protection and overall competitiveness of foreign firms operating in China.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

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

Intellectual Property Rights

In 2019, China’s legislature promulgated multiple reforms to China’s IP protection and enforcement systems.  In January, the Guidelines on Interim and Preliminary Injunctions for Intellectual Property Disputes came into force. These SPC guidelines provide added clarity to the IP injunction process and offer additional procedural safeguards for trade secret cases.  In April, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed amendments to the Trademark Law, the Anti-Unfair Competition Law (AUCL), and the Administrative Licensing Law, among other legislation that increases the potential punitive penalty for willful infringement to up to five times the value of calculated damages.  China also amended the Administrative Licensing Law to provide administrative penalties for government officials who illegally disclose trade secrets or require the transfer of technology for the granting of administrative licenses.  Similarly, in March, China’s State Council revised several regulations that U.S. and EU enterprises and governments had criticized for discriminating against foreign technology and IP holders.  Finally, in November, the Amended Guidelines for Patent Examination came into effect.  This measure provides further procedural guidance and defines patentability requirements for stem cells and graphical user interfaces.

Despite the changes to China’s legal and regulatory IP regime, some aspects of China’s IP protection regime fall short of international best practices.  Ineffective enforcement of Chinese laws and regulations remains a significant obstacle for foreign investors trying to protect their IP, and counterfeit and pirated goods manufactured in China continue to pose a challenge.  U.S. rights holders continued to experience widespread infringement of patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets, as well as problems with competitors gaming China’s IP protection and enforcement systems.  In some sectors, Chinese law imposes requirements that U.S. firms develop their IP in China or transfer their IP to Chinese entities as a condition to accessing the Chinese market, or to obtain tax and other preferential benefits available to domestic companies.  Chinese policies can effectively require U.S. firms to localize research and development activities, making their IP much more susceptible to theft or illicit transfer.  These practices are documented in the 2019 Section 301 Report released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  The PRC also remained on the Priority Watch List in the 2020 USTR Special 301 Report, and several Chinese physical and online markets were listed in the 2019 USTR Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.  Under the recently signed U.S.-China Phase One trade agreement, China is required to make a number of structural reforms to its IP regime, which will be captured in an IP action plan.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

China’s leadership has stated that it seeks to build a modern, highly-developed, and multi-tiered capital market.  Since their founding over three decades ago, the Shanghai and Shenzhen Exchanges, combined, are ranked the second largest stock market in the world with over USD5 trillion in assets.  China’s bond market has similarly expanded significantly to become the third largest worldwide, totaling approximately USD13 trillion.  Direct investment by private equity and venture capital firms has increased significantly, but has faced setbacks due to China’s capital controls, which complicate the repatriation of returns.  In December 2019, the State Council and China’s banking and securities regulatory authorities issued a set of measures that would remove in 2020 foreign ownership caps in select segments of China’s financial sector.  Specifically, foreign investors can wholly own insurance and futures firms as of January 1, asset management companies as of April 1, and securities firms as of December 1, 2020.

China has been an IMF Article VIII member since 1996 and generally refrains from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.  However, the government has used administrative and preferential policies to encourage credit allocation towards national priorities, such as infrastructure investments.  As of 2019, over 40 sovereign entities and private sector firms, including Daimler and Standard Chartered HK, have since issued roughly USD48 billion in “Panda Bonds,” Chinese renminbi (RMB)-denominated debt issued by foreign entities in China.  China’s private sector can also access credit via bank loans, bond issuance, and wealth management and trust products.  However, the vast majority of bank credit is disbursed to state-owned firms, largely due to distortions in China’s banking sector that have incentivized lending to state-affiliated entities over their private sector counterparts.

The Monetary and Banking System

China’s monetary policy is run by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank.  The PBOC has traditionally deployed various policy tools, such as open market operations, reserve requirement ratios, benchmark rates and medium-term lending facilities, to control credit growth.  The PBOC had previously also set quotas on how much banks could lend, but abandoned the practice in 1998.  As part of its efforts to shift towards a more market-based system, the PBOC announced in 2019 that it will reform its one-year loan prime rate (LPR), which will serve as an anchor reference for Chinese lenders.  The LPR is based on the interest rate for one-year loans that 18 banks offer their best customers.  Despite these measures to move towards more market-based lending, China’s financial regulators still influence the volume and destination of Chinese bank loans through “window guidance” – unofficial directives delivered verbally – as well as through mandated lending targets for key economic groups, such as small and medium sized enterprises.

The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) oversees China’s roughly 4,000 lending institutions.  At the end of the first quarter of 2019, Chinese banks’ total assets reached RMB 276 trillion (USD40 trillion).  China’s “Big Five” – Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China, Bank of Communications, China Construction Bank, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China – dominate the sector and are largely stable, but over the past year, China has experienced regional pockets of banking stress, especially among smaller lenders.  Reflecting the level of weakness among these banks, in November 2019, the PBOC announced that about one in 10 of China’s banks received a “fail” rating following an industry-wide review.  The assessment deemed 420 firms, all rural financial institutions, “extremely risky.”  The official rate of non-performing loans among China’s banks is relatively low: below two percent as of the end of 2019.  However, analysts believe the actual figure may be significantly higher.  Bank loans continue to provide the majority of credit options (reportedly around 66 percent in 2019) for Chinese companies, although other sources of capital, such as corporate bonds, equity financing, and private equity are quickly expanding their scope, reach, and sophistication in China.  In December 2019, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic emerged in Wuhan, China.  In response, the PBOC established a variety of programs to stimulate the economy, including a re-lending scheme of USD4.28 billion and a special credit line of USD50 billion for policy banks.  In addition, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technologies established a list of companies vital to COVID-19 efforts, which would be eligible to receive additional loans and subsidies from the Ministry of Finance.

As part of a broad campaign to reduce debt and financial risk, Chinese regulators over the last several years have implemented measures to rein in the rapid growth of China’s “shadow banking” sector, which includes wealth management and trust products.  These measures have achieved positive results: the share of trust loans, entrusted loans, and undiscounted bankers’ acceptances dropped a total of seven percent in 2019 as a share of total social financing (TSF) – a broad measure of available credit in China.  TSF’s share of corporate bonds jumped from a negative 2.31 percent in 2017 to 12.7 percent in 2019.  In October 2019, the CBIRC announced that foreign owned banks will be allowed to establish wholly-owned banks and branches in China.  However, analysts noted there are often licenses and other procedures that can drag out the process in this sector, which is already dominated by local players.  Nearly all of China’s major banks have correspondent banking relationships with foreign banks, including the Bank of China, which has correspondent banking relationships with more than 1,600 institutions in 179 countries and regions.  Foreigners are eligible to open a bank account in China, but are required to present a passport and/or Chinese government issued identification.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

While the central bank’s official position is that companies with proper documentation should be able to freely conduct business, in practice, companies have reported challenges and delays in obtaining approvals for foreign currency transactions by sub-national regulatory branches.  Chinese authorities instituted strict capital control measures in 2016, when China recorded a surge in capital flight that reduced its foreign currency reserves by about USD1 trillion, stabilizing to around USD3 trillion today.  China has since announced that it will gradually reduce those controls, but market analysts expect they would be re-imposed if capital outflows accelerate again.  Chinese foreign exchange rules cap the maximum amount of RMB individuals are allowed to convert into other currencies at approximately USD50,000 each year and restrict them from directly transferring RMB abroad without prior approval from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE).  In 2017, authorities further restricted overseas currency withdrawals by banning sales of life insurance products and capping credit card withdrawals at USD5,000 per transaction.  SAFE has not reduced the USD50,000 quota, but during periods of higher than normal capital outflows, banks are reportedly instructed by SAFE to increase scrutiny over individuals’ requests for foreign currency and to require additional paperwork clarifying the intended use of the funds, with the express intent of slowing capital outflows.

China’s exchange rate regime is managed within a band that allows the currency to rise or fall by 2 percent per day from the “reference rate” set each morning.  In August 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department designated China a “currency manipulator,” given China’s large-scale interventions in the foreign exchange market.  Treasury removed this designation in January 2020.

Remittance Policies

According to China’s FIL, as of January 1, 2020, funds associated with any forms of investment, including investment, profits, capital gains, returns from asset disposal, IPR loyalties, compensation, and liquidation proceeds, may be freely converted into any world currency for remittance.  Under Chinese law, FIEs do not need pre-approval to open foreign exchange accounts and are allowed to retain income as foreign exchange or to convert it into RMB without quota requirements.  The remittance of profits and dividends by FIEs is not subject to time limitations, but FIEs need to submit a series of documents to designated banks for review and approval.  The review period is not fixed and is frequently completed within one or two working days of the submission of complete documents.  For remittance of interest and principal on private foreign debt, firms must submit an application form, a foreign debt agreement, and the notice on repayment of the principal and interest.  Banks will then check if the repayment volume is within the repayable principal.  There are no specific rules on the remittance of royalties and management fees.  In August 2018, SAFE raised the reserve requirement for foreign currency transactions from zero to 20 percent, significantly increasing the cost of foreign currency transactions.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

China officially has only one sovereign wealth fund (SWF), the China Investment Corporation (CIC), which was launched to help diversify China’s foreign exchange reserves.  Established in 2007 with USD200 billion in initial registered capital, CIC currently manages over USD940 billion in assets as of the close of 2018 and invests on a 10-year time horizon.  CIC has since evolved into three subsidiaries:

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

CIC publishes an annual report containing information on its structure, investments, and returns.  CIC invests in diverse sectors, including financial services, consumer products, information technology, high-end manufacturing, healthcare, energy, telecommunications, and utilities.  China also operates other funds that function in part like sovereign wealth funds, including:  China’s National Social Security Fund, with an estimated USD325 billion in assets; the China-Africa Development Fund (solely funded by the China Development Bank), with an estimated USD10 billion in assets; the SAFE Investment Company, with an estimated USD417.8 billion in assets; and China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund, established in December 2014 with USD40 billion in assets to foster investment in OBOR partner countries.  Chinese state-run funds do not report the percentage of their assets that are invested domestically.  However, Chinese state-run funds follow the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles and participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs.  The Chinese government does not have any formal policies specifying that CIC invest funds consistent with industrial policies or in government-designated projects, although CIC is expected to pursue government objectives.  CIC generally adopts a “passive” role as a portfolio investor.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

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

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

Privatization Program

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

10. Political and Security Environment

Foreign companies operating in China face a low risk of political violence.  However, protests in Hong Kong in 2019 exposed foreign investors to political risk due to Hong Kong’s role as an international hub for investment into and out of China.  The CCP also punished companies that expressed support for Hong Kong protesters — most notably, a Chinese boycott of the U.S. National Basketball Association after one team’s general manager expressed his personal view supporting the Hong Kong protesters.  In the past, the PRC government has also encouraged protests or boycotts of products from countries like the United States, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the Philippines, in retaliation for unrelated policy decisions.  Examples of politically motivated economic retaliation against foreign firms include boycott campaigns against Korean retailer Lotte in 2016 and 2017 in retaliation for the South Korean government’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to the Korean Peninsula; and the PRC’s retaliation against Canadian companies and citizens for Canada’s arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou.

PRC authorities also have broad authority to prohibit travelers from leaving China (known as an “exit ban”) and have imposed exit bans to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate government investigations.  Individuals not directly involved in legal proceedings or suspected of wrongdoing have also been subject to lengthy exit bans in order to compel family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigations.  Exit bans are often issued without notification to the foreign citizen or without clear legal recourse to appeal the exit ban decision.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

For U.S. companies operating in China, finding, developing, and retaining domestic talent at the management and skilled technical staff levels remain challenging for foreign firms.  In addition, labor costs, including salaries along with other production inputs, continue to rise.  Foreign firms continue to cite air pollution concerns as a major hurdle in attracting and retaining qualified foreign talent.  Chinese labor law does not provide for freedom of association or protect the right to strike.  The PRC has not ratified the International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, or forced labor, but it has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination.  Foreign companies complain of difficulty navigating China’s labor and social insurance laws, including local implementation guidelines. Compounding the complexity, due to ineffective enforcement of labor contract laws, Chinese domestic employers often hire local employees without contracts, putting foreign firms at a disadvantage.  Without written contracts, workers struggle to prove employment, thus losing basic protections such as severance if terminated.  Moreover, in 2018 and 2019, there were multiple U.S. government, media, and NGO reports that persons detained in internment camps in Xinjiang were subjected to forced labor in violation of international labor law and standards.  In October 2019, CBP issued a Withhold Release Order barring importation into the United States of garments produced by Hetian Taida Apparel Co., Ltd. in Xinjiang, which were determined to be produced with prison or forced labor in violation of U.S. import laws.  The Commerce Department added 28 Chinese commercial and government entities to its Entity List for their complicity in human rights abuses.

The All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the only union recognized under the law.  Establishing independent trade unions is illegal.  The law allows for “collective bargaining,” but in practice, focuses solely on collective wage negotiations.  The Trade Union Law gives the ACFTU, a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo, control over all union organizations and activities, including enterprise-level unions.  ACFTU enterprise unions require employers to pay mandatory fees, often through the local tax bureau, equaling a negotiated minimum of 0.5 percent to a standard two percent of total payroll.  While labor laws do not protect the right to strike, “spontaneous” worker protests and work stoppages regularly occur.  Official forums for mediation, arbitration, and other similar mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution often are ineffective in resolving labor disputes.  Even when an arbitration award or legal judgment is obtained, getting local authorities to enforce judgments is problematic.

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*   $14,380,000 2018 $13,608,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S.  FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018(**)     $109,958 2018          $116,518 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) 2018(**)      $39,557 2018          $39,473 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total Inbound Stock as a % of GDP 2018(**) 15.9% 2018 12.1% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org.en/Pages/DIAE/
World%
 

20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx 
 

*China’s National Bureau of Statistics (converted at 6.8 RMB/USD estimate)
**China’s 2019 Yearbook (Annual Economic Data from China’s Economic Ministries:  MOFCOM, NBS, and Ministry of Finance)

Table 3:  Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $2,814,067 100% Total Outward $1,982,270 100%
China, PR: Hong Kong $1,378,383 48.96% China, PR: Hong Kong $958,904 48.37%
British Virgin Islands $302,553 10.75% Cayman Islands $237,262 11.96%
Japan $166,817 6.13% British Virgin Islands $119,658 6.03%
Singapore $115,035 4.08% United States $67,038 3.38%
Germany $78,394 2.78% Singapore $35,970 1.81%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source:  IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS)

Table 4:  Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $560,250 100% All Countries $303,4000 100% All Countries $256,849 100%
China, PR: Hong Kong $179,672 32.0% China, PR: Hong Kong $121,883 40.1% China, PR: Hong Kong $57,789 22.5%
Cayman Islands $47,917  8.5% Cayman Islands  $28,323  9.3% British Virgin Island  $38,230 14.8%
British Virgin Island $40,270  7.1% Luxembourg  $8,786  2.8% Cayman Islands  $19,594 7.6%
Luxembourg  $13,712  2.4% Japan  $7,012  2.3% Germany  $7,660 2.9%
Germany  $12,294  2.1% Ireland  $6,829  2.2% Singapore  $7,122 2.7%

14. Contact for More Information

Mayra Alvarado
Investment Officer – U.S.  Embassy Beijing Economic Section
55 Anjialou Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, P.R.  China
+86 10 8531 3000
beijinginvestmentteam@state.gov

Macau

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Under the concept of “one country, two systems,” Macau enjoys a high degree of autonomy in economic matters, and its economic system is to remain unchanged until at least 2049. The GOM maintains a transparent, non-discriminatory, and free-market economy. Macau has separate membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) from that of mainland China.

There are no restrictions placed on foreign investment in Macau as there are no special rules governing foreign investment. Both overseas and domestic firms register under the same set and are subject to the same regulations on business, such as the Commercial Code (Decree 40/99/M).

Macau is heavily dependent on the gaming sector and tourism. The GOM aims to diversify Macau’s economy by attracting foreign investment and is committed to maintaining an investor-friendly environment. Corporate taxes are low, with a tax rate of 12 percent for companies whose net profits exceed MOP 300,000 (USD 37,500). For net profits less than USD 37,500, the tax ranges from three percent to 12 percent. The top personal tax rate is 12 percent. The tax rate of casino concessionaries is 35 percent on gross gaming revenue, plus a four percent contribution for culture, infrastructure, tourism, and a social security fund.

In 2002, the GOM ended a long-standing gaming monopoly, awarding two gaming concessions to consortia with U.S. interests. This opening has encouraged substantial U.S. investment in casinos and hotels and has spurred rapid economic growth. Macau is attempting to position itself to be a regional center for incentive travel, conventions, and tourism. In March 2019, the GOM extended for two years the gaming licenses of SJM (a locally-owned company) and MGM China (a joint venture with investment from U.S.-owned MGM Resorts International that holds a sub-concession from SJM), that were set to expire in 2020. The concessions of all six of Macau’s gambling concessionaires and sub-concessionaires are now set to expire in 2022. The GOM is currently drafting a bill to guide the gaming concession retendering process.

The Macau Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM) is the GOM agency responsible for promoting trade and investment activities. IPIM provides one-stop services, including notary service, for business registration, and it applies legal and administrative procedures to all local and foreign individuals or organizations interested in setting up a company in Macau.

Macau maintains an ongoing dialogue with investors through various business networks and platforms, such as the IPIM, the Macau Chamber of Commerce, AmCham Macau, and the Macau Association of Banks.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign firms and individuals are free to establish companies, branches, and representative offices without discrimination or undue regulation in Macau. There are no restrictions on the ownership of such establishments. Company directors are not required to be citizens of, or resident in, Macau, except for the following three professional services which impose residency requirements:

Education – an individual applying to establish a school must have a Certificate of Identity or have the right to reside in Macau. The principal of a school must be a Macau resident.

Newspapers and magazines – applicants must first apply for business registration and register with the Government Information Bureau as an organization or an individual. The publisher of a newspaper or magazine must be a Macau resident or have the right to reside in Macau.

Legal services – lawyers from foreign jurisdictions who seek to practice Macau law must first obtain residency in Macau. Foreign lawyers must also pass an examination before they can register with the Lawyer’s Association, a self-regulatory body. The examination is given in Chinese or Portuguese. After passing the examination, foreign lawyers are required to serve an 18-month internship before they are able to practice law in Macau.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Macau last conducted the WTO Trade Policy Review in May 2013. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/g281_e.pdf

Business Facilitation

Macau provides a favorable business and investment environment for enterprises and investors. The IPIM helps foreign investors in registering a company and liaising with the involved agencies for entry into the Macau market. The business registration process takes less than 10 working days. http://www.ipim.gov.mo/en/services/one-stop-service/handle-company-registration-procedures/ .

Outward Investment

Macau, as a free market economy, does not promote or incentivize outward investment, nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. Hong Kong and mainland China were the top two destinations for Macau’s outward investments in 2018.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The GOM has transparent policies and laws that establish clear rules and do not unnecessarily impede investment. The basic elements of a competition policy are set out in Macau’s Commercial Code.

The GOM will normally conduct a three-month public consultation when amending or making legislation, including investment laws, and will prepare a draft bill based on the results of the public consultation. The lawmakers will discuss the draft bill before putting it to a final vote. All the processes are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Public comments received by the GOM are not made available online to the public. The draft bills are made available at the Legislative Assembly’s website http://www.al.gov.mo/zh/, while this website http://www.io.gov.mo/ links to the GOM’s Printing Bureau, which publishes laws, rules, and procedures.

Macau’s anti-corruption agency the Commission Against Corruption (known by its Portuguese acronym CCAC) carries out ombudsman functions to safeguard rights, freedoms, and legitimate interests of individuals and to ensure the impartiality and efficiency of public administration.

Macau’s law on the budgetary framework (Decree 15/2017) aims to reinforce monitoring of public finances and to enhance transparency in the preparation and execution of the fiscal budget.

International Regulatory Considerations

Macau is a member of WTO and adopts international norms. The GOM notified all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Macau, as a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), has achieved a 100 percent rate of implementation commitments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Under “one country, two systems”, Macau maintains Continental European law as the foundation of its legal system, which is based on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. Macau has a written commercial law and contract law. The Commercial Code is a comprehensive source of commercial law, while the Civil Code serves as a fundamental source of contractual law. Courts in Macau include the Court of Final Appeal, Intermediate Courts, and Primary Courts. There is also an Administrative Court, which has jurisdiction over administrative and tax cases. These provide an effective means for enforcing property and contractual rights. At present, the Court of Final Appeal has three judges; the Intermediate Courts have nine judges; and the Primary Courts have 31 judges. The Public Prosecutions Office has 38 prosecutors.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Macau’s legal system is based on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. Foreign and domestic companies register under the same rules and are subject to the same set of commercial and bankruptcy laws (Decree 40/99/M).

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Macau has no agency that reviews transactions for competition-related concerns, nor a competition law. The Commercial Code (Law No. 16/2009) contains basic elements of a competition policy with regard to commercial practices that can distort the proper functioning of markets. While the GOM has stated that existing provisions are adequate and appropriate given the scale and scope of local economy, it announced in March 2019 that it was studying a fair competition law that would protect against monopolies and price-fixing. The GOM has since not disclosed the progress of the study.

Expropriation and Compensation

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any direct or indirect actions to expropriate. Legal expropriations of private property may occur if it is in the public interest. In such cases, the GOM will exchange the private property with an equivalent public property based on the fair market value and conditions of the former. The exchange of property is in accordance with established principles of international law. There is no remunerative compensation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Both the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) apply to Macau. The Law on International Commercial Arbitration (Decree 55/98/M) provides for enforcement of awards under the 1958 New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The U.S. Consulate General is aware of one previous investment dispute involving U.S. or other foreign investors or contractors and the GOM. In March 2010, a low-cost airline carrier was reportedly forced to cancel flight services because of a credit dispute with its fuel provider, triggering events which led to the airline’s de-licensing. Macau courts declared the airline bankrupt in September 2010. The airline’s major shareholder, a U.S. private investment company, filed a case in the Macau courts seeking a judgment as to whether a GOM administrative act led to the airline’s demise. The Court of Second Instance held hearings in May and June 2012. In November 2013, the Court of Second Instance rejected the appeal. Private investment disputes are normally handled in the courts or via private negotiation. Alternatively, disputes may be referred to the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center or the World Trade Center Macau Arbitration Center.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Macau has an arbitration law (Decree 55/98/M), which adopts the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law for international commercial arbitration. The GOM accepts international arbitration of investment disputes between itself and investors. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards.

Macau established the World Trade Center Macau Arbitration Center in June 1998. The objective of the Center is to promote the resolution of disputes through arbitration and conciliation, providing the disputing parties with alternative resolutions other than judicial litigation.

Foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters may be enforced in Macau. The enforcement of foreign judgments is stipulated in Articles 1199 and 1200 of the Civil Procedure Code. A foreign court decision will be recognized and enforced in Macau, provided that it qualifies as a final decision supported by authentic documentation and that its enforcement will not breach Macau’s public policy.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Commercial and bankruptcy laws are written under the Macau Commercial Code, the Civil Procedure Code, and the Penal Code. Bankruptcy proceedings can be invoked by an application from the bankrupt business, by petition of the creditor, or by the Public Prosecutor. There are four methods used to prevent the occurrence of bankruptcy: the creditors meeting, the audit of the company’s assets, the amicable settlement, and the creditor agreement. According to Articles 615-618 of the Civil Code and Article 351-353 of the Civil Procedure Code, a creditor who has a justified fear of losing the guarantee of his credits may request seizure of the assets of the debtor. Bankruptcy offenses are subject to criminal liability.

There is no credit bureau or other credit monitoring authority serving Macau’s market.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

To attract foreign investment, the GOM offers investment incentives to investors on a national treatment basis. These incentives are contained in Decrees 23/98/M and 49/85/M and are provided so long as companies can prove they are doing one of the following: promoting economic diversification, contributing to the promotion of exports to new unrestricted markets, promoting added value within their activity’s value chain, or contributing to technical modernization. There is no requirement that Macau residents own shares. These incentives are categorized as fiscal incentives, financial incentives, and export diversification incentives.

Fiscal incentives include full or partial exemption from profit/corporate tax, industrial tax, property tax, stamp duty for transfer of properties, and consumption tax. The tax incentives are consistent with the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures, as they are neither export subsidies nor import substitution subsidies as defined in the WTO Agreement. In 2019, the GOM put forward an enhanced tax deduction for research and development (R&D) expenditure incurred for innovation and technology projects by companies whose registered capital reached USD 125,000, or whose average taxable profits reached USD 62,500 per year in three consecutive years. The tax deduction amounts to 300 percent for the first USD 375,000 of qualifying R&D expenditure and 200 percent for the remaining amount, subject to a limit of USD 1.9 million in total). In addition, income received from Portuguese speaking countries is exempt from the corporate tax, provided such income has been subject to tax in its place of origin.

Two new laws to encourage financial leasing activities in Macau became effective in April 2019. Under the new regime, the minimum capital requirement of a financial leasing company is reduced from USD 3.75 million to USD 1.25 million. In addition, the acquisition by the financial leasing company of a property exclusively for its sole use has an exemption of up to USD 62,500 from a stamp duty.

Financial incentives include government-funded interest subsidies. Export diversification incentives include subsidies given to companies and trade associations attending trade promotion activities organized by IPIM. Only companies registered with Macau Economic Services (MES) may receive subsidies for costs such as space rental or audio-visual material production. Macau also provides other subsidies for the installation of anti-pollution equipment.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Macau is a free port; however, there are four types of dutiable commodities: liquors, tobacco, vehicles, and petrol (gasoline). Licenses must be obtained from the MES prior to importation of these commodities.

In order to promote the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions) and logistics industries in Macau, the GOM has accepted the ATA Carnet (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission), an international customs document providing an efficient method for the temporary import and re-export of goods that eases the way for foreign exhibitions and businesses.

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

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Macau does not follow a forced localization policy in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology.

There are no requirements by the GOM for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance (i.e., backdoors into hardware and software or turning over keys for encryption).

According to the Personal Data Protection Act (Decree 8/2005), if there is transfer of personal data to a destination outside Macau, the opinion of the Office for Personal Data Protection — the regulatory authority responsible for supervising and enforcing the Act — must be sought to confirm if such destination ensures an adequate level of protection.

In December 2019, Macau’s Cybersecurity Law came into force. With this law, public and private network operators in certain industries have to meet obligations, including providing real-time access to select network data to Macau authorities, with the stated aim of protecting the information network and computer systems. For example, network operators must register and verify the identity of users before providing telecommunication services. The new law creates new investment and operational costs for affected businesses, and has raised some privacy and surveillance concerns.

One major U.S. cloud computing company reported that Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau had refused permission for potential clients in the gaming sector to export personal data-to-data centers located outside of Macau.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Private ownership of property is enshrined in the Basic Law. There are no restrictions on foreign property ownership. Macau has a sound banking mortgage system, which is under the supervision of the Macau Monetary Authority (MMA). There are only a small number of freehold property interests in the older part of Macau.

According to the Cartography and Cadaster Bureau, 21 percent of land parcels in Macau do not have clear title, for unknown reasons. Industry observers commented that no one knows whether these land parcels will be privately or publicly owned in the future.

The Land Law (Decree 10/2013) stipulates that provisional land concessions cannot be renewed upon their expiration if their leaseholders fail to finish developing the respective plots of land within a maximum concession period of 25 years. The leaseholders will not only be prohibited from renewing the undeveloped concessions – regardless of who or what caused the non-development – but also have no right to be indemnified or compensated.

Intellectual Property Rights

Macau is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Macau is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 Report. Macau has acceded to the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Patents and trademarks are registered under Decree 97/99/M. Macau’s copyright laws are compatible with the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, and government offices are required to use only licensed software. The GOM devotes considerable attention to intellectual property rights enforcement and coordinates with copyright holders. Source Identification Codes are stamped on all optical discs produced in Macau. The MES uses an expedited prosecution arrangement to speed up punishment of accused retailers of pirated products. The copyright protection law has been extended to cover online privacy. Copyright infringement for trade or business purposes is subject to a fine or maximum imprisonment of four years.

Macau Customs maintains an enforcement department to investigate incidents of intellectual property (IP) theft. Macau Customs works closely with mainland Chinese authorities, foreign customs agencies, and the World Customs Organization to share best practices to address criminal organizations engaging in IP theft. In 2019, Macau Customs seized a total of 3,849 pieces of counterfeit goods, including 3,329 garments, 7 leather products, and 513 electronic appliances. In 2019, the MES filed a total of 15,391 applications for trademark registrations.

In 2019, the MES filed a total of 15,391 applications for trademark registrations.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Macau allows free flows of financial resources. Foreign investors can obtain credit in the local financial market. The GOM is stepping up its efforts to develop finance leasing businesses and exploring opportunities to establish a system for trade credit insurance in order to take a greater role in promoting cooperation between companies from Portuguese-speaking countries.

Since 2010, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) has provided cross-border settlement of funds for Macau residents and institutions involved in transactions for RMB bonds issued in Hong Kong. Macau residents and institutions can purchase or sell, through Macau RMB participating banks, RMB bonds issued in Hong Kong and Macau. The Macau RMB Real Time Gross Settlements (RMB RTGS) System came into operation in March 2016 to provide real-time settlement services for RMB remittances and interbank transfer of RMB funds. The RMB RTGS System is intended to improve risk management and clearing efficiency of RMB funds and foster Macau’s development into an RMB clearing platform for trade settlement between China and Portuguese-speaking countries. In December 2019, the PBoC canceled an existing quota of RMB 20,000 exchanged in Macau for each individual transaction.

Macau has no stock market, but Macau companies can seek a listing in Hong Kong’s stock market. Macau and Hong Kong financial regulatory authorities cooperate on issues of mutual concern. Under the Macau Insurance Ordinance, the MMA authorizes and monitors insurance companies. There are 11 life insurance companies and 13 non-life insurance companies in Macau. Total gross premium income from insurance services amounted to USD 2.7 billion in the third quarter of 2019.

In October 2018, the Legislative Assembly took steps to tackle cross-border tax evasion. Offshore institutions in Macau, including credit institutions, insurers, underwriters, and offshore trust management companies, will be abolished by the end of 2020. Decree 9/2012, in effect since October 2012, stipulates that banks must compensate depositors up to a maximum of MOP 500,000 (USD 62,500) in case of a bank failure. To finance the deposit protection scheme, the GOM has injected MOP 150 million (USD 18.75 million) into the deposit protection fund, with banks paying an annual contribution of 0.05 percent of the amount of protected deposits held.

Money and Banking System

The MMA functions as a de facto central bank. It is responsible for maintaining the stability of Macau’s financial system and for managing its currency reserves and foreign assets. At present, there are thirty-one financial institutions in Macau, including 12 local banks and 19 branches of banks incorporated outside Macau. There is also a finance company with restrictive banking activities, two financial leasing companies and a non-bank credit institution dedicated to the issuance and management of electronic money stored value card services. In addition, there are 11 moneychangers, two cash remittance companies, two financial intermediaries, six exchange counters, and one representative office of a financial institution. The BoC and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) are the two largest banks in Macau, with total assets of USD 79.8 billion and USD 33.9 billion, respectively. Banks with capital originally from mainland China and Portugal had a combined market share of about 86 percent of total deposits in the banking system at the end of 2016. Total deposits amounted to USD 83.8 billion by the end of 2019. In the fourth quarter of 2019, banks in Macau maintained a capital adequacy ratio of 14.2 percent, well above the minimum eight percent recommended by the Bank for International Settlements. Accounting systems in Macau are consistent with international norms.

The MMA prohibits the city’s financial institutions, banks and payment services from providing services to businesses issuing virtual currencies or tokens.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Profits and other funds associated with an investment, including investment capital, earnings, loan repayments, lease payments, and capital gains, can be freely converted and remitted. The domestic currency, Macau Official Pataca (MOP), is pegged to the Hong Kong Dollar at 1.03 and indirectly to the U.S. Dollar at an exchange rate of approximately MOP 7.99 = USD 1. The MMA is committed to exchange rate stability through maintenance of the peg to the Hong Kong Dollar.

Although Macau imposes no restrictions on capital flows or foreign exchange operations, exporters are required to convert 40 percent of foreign currency earnings into MOP. This legal requirement does not apply to tourism services.

Remittance Policies

There are no recent changes to or plans to change investment remittance policies. Macau does not restrict the remittance of profits and dividends derived from investment, nor does it require reporting on cross-border remittances. Foreign investors can bring capital into Macau and remit it freely.

A Memorandum of Understanding on AML actions between MMA and PBoC, increased information exchanges between the two parties, as well as cooperation on onsite inspections of casino operations. Furthermore, Macau’s terrorist asset-freezing law, which is based on United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions, requires travelers entering or leaving with cash or other negotiable monetary instruments valued at MOP 120,000 (USD 15,000) or more to sign a declaration form and submit it to the Macau Customs Service.

In December 2019, the PBoC increased a daily limit set on the amount of RMB-denominated funds sent by Macau residents to personal accounts held in mainland China from RMB 50,000 to RMB 80,000.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggested in July 2014 that the GOM invest its large fiscal reserves through a fund modeled on sovereign wealth funds to protect the city’s economy from economic downturns. In November 2015, the GOM decided to establish such a fund, called the MSAR Investment and Development Fund (MIDF), through a substantial allocation from the city’s ample fiscal reserves. However, the GOM in 2019 withdrew a draft bill that proposed the use of USD 7.5 billion to seed the MIDF over public concerns about the government’s supervisory capability. The MMA said it will conduct a consultation in mid-2020 to help the public better understand the regulations and operations of the fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Macau does not have state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Several economic sectors – including cable television, telecommunications, electricity, and airport/port management, are run by private companies under concession contracts from the GOM. The GOM holds a small percentage of shares (ranging from one to 10 percent) in these government-affiliated enterprises. The government set out in its Commercial Code the basic elements of a competition policy with regard to commercial practices that can distort the proper functioning of markets. Court cases related to anti-competitive behavior remain rare.

Privatization Program

The GOM has given no indication in recent years that it has plans for a privatization program.

10. Political and Security Environment

Macau is politically stable. The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any incidents in recent years involving politically motivated damage to projects or installations.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Macau’s unemployment rate in January 2020 was 1.7 percent. Foreign businesses cite a constant shortage of skilled workers – a result of the past decade’s boom in entertainment facilities – as a top constraint on their operations and future expansion. The government is studying proposals to resolve the human resources problem. For example, Macau has labor importation schemes for unskilled and skilled workers who cannot be recruited locally. However, both local and foreign casino operators in Macau are required by law to employ only Macau residents as croupiers. Taxi and bus drivers must also be local residents. There is no such restriction imposed on any other sector of the economy.

Macau does not have any policies that waive labor laws in order to attract or retain investment. The rights for workers to form trade unions and to strike are both enshrined in the Basic Law, but there are no laws in Macau that specifically deal with those rights. The law does not provide that workers can collectively bargain, and while workers have the right to strike, there is no specific protection in the law from retribution if workers exercise this right. Labor unions are independent of the government and employers, by law and in practice.

According to the Labor Relations Law, a female worker cannot be dismissed, except with just cause (e.g., willful disobedience to orders given by superiors, or violation of regulations on occupational hygiene and safety), during her pregnancy or within three months of giving birth. In practice, either the employer or the employee may rescind the labor contract with or without just cause. In general, any circumstance that makes it impossible to continue the labor relation can constitute just cause for rescission of the contract. If the employer terminates the contract with the worker without just cause, the employer must pay the employee severance pay. In addition, Macau’s social security system, which is regulated by Decree 84/89/M, provides local workers with economic aid when they are old, unemployed, or sick.

Workers who believe they were dismissed unlawfully can bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the Labor Affairs Bureau. Even without formal collective bargaining rights, companies often negotiate with unions, although the government may act as an intermediary. There is no indication that past disputes or appeals were subject to lengthy delays.

The Labor Relations Law does not contain provisions regarding collective bargaining, which is not common at the company or industry level.

The GOM has put measures in place to replace some foreign workers with Macau residents. Macau has a law imposing criminal penalties for employers of illegal migrants and preventing foreign workers from changing employers in Macau. The government has used the proceeds of a tax on the import of temporary workers for retraining local unemployed people.

Effective September 1 2019, the statutory minimum hourly wage rate increased from USD 3.8 to USD 4.0. The Legislative Assembly is discussing a draft bill on mandating across-the-board minimum wages.

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

Overseas Private Investment Corporation coverage is not available in Macau.

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) 2018 $55,040 2018 $55,084 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or internationalSource of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $398 N/A N/A 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 2017 $51 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 67% 2018 53% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data: Macau Statistics and Census Service

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 34,911 100% Total Outward 2,930 100%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong 9,800 28% China, P.R.: Mainland 1,631 56%
British Virgin Islands 9,123 26% China, P.R.: Hong Kong 1,141 39%
China, P.R.: Mainland 6,241 18% Cayman Islands 74 3%
Cayman Islands 6,078 17% British Virgin Islands 70 2%
Portugal 1,134 3% Cyprus 0 0%
“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 11,324,581 100% All Countries 7,929,155 100% All Countries 3,395,426 100%
Cayman Islands 1,686,670 15% Cayman Islands 1,234,954 16% Canada 505,494 15%
United Kingdom 1,346,345 12% United Kingdom 929,469 12% Cayman Islands 451,716 13%
Japan 1,003,988 9% Japan 775,570 10% United Kingdom 416,876 12%
Canada 975,929 9% Canada 470,435 6% C Japan 228,418 7%
France 558,074 5% Switzerland 442,195 6% Netherlands, The 184,339 5%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong
26 Garden Road, Central
Hong Kong SAR, PRC
+852-2841-2489
information_resource_center_hk@yahoo.com

Taiwan

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Promoting inward FDI has been an important policy goal for the Taiwan authorities because of Taiwan’s self-imposed public debt ceiling that limits public spending and its low levels of private investment.  Taiwan’s domestic private investment surged by 9.6 percent in 2019 due to increased reshoring investment by overseas Taiwan companies since late 2018.  Taiwan has pursued various measures to attract FDI from both foreign companies and Taiwan firms operating overseas.  A network of science and industrial parks, export processing zones, and free trade zones aim to expand trade and investment opportunities by granting tax incentives, tariff exemptions, low-interest loans, and other favorable terms.  Incentives tend to be more prevalent for investment in the manufacturing sector.  In January 2019, Taiwan launched a reshoring incentive program to attract Taiwan firms operating in the PRC to return to Taiwan and has received favorable responses from ICT manufacturers.  The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) Department of Investment Services (DOIS) Invest in Taiwan Center serves as Taiwan’s investment promotion agency and provides streamlined procedures for foreign investors, including single-window services and employee recruitment.  For investments of over NTD 500 million (USD 17 million), the authorities will assign a dedicated project manager to the investment process.  DOIS services are available to all foreign investors.  The Centre’s website contains an online investment aid system (at https://investtaiwan.nat.gov.tw/smartIndexPage?lang=eng ) to help investors retrieve all the required applications forms based on various investment criteria and types.  Taiwan also passed the Foreign Talent Retention Act to attract foreign professionals with a relaxed visa and work permit issuance process as well as tax incentives. The MOEA is drafting a proposed amendment to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals, which would replace the existing pre-approval investment review process with an ex-post reporting mechanism and strengthen screening of investment in industries of national security concerns.

Taiwan maintains a negative list of industries closed to foreign investment for reasons the authorities assert relate to national security and environmental protection, including public utilities, power distribution, natural gas, postal service, telecommunications, mass media, and air and sea transportation.  These sectors constitute less than one percent of the production value of Taiwan’s manufacturing sector and less than five percent of the services sector.  Railway transport, freight transport by small trucks, pesticide manufactures, real estate development, brokerage, leasing, and trading are open to foreign investment.  The negative list of investment sectors, last updated in February 2018, is available at http://www.moeaic.gov.tw/download-file.jsp?do=BP&id=ZYi4SMROrBA=.

To accelerate industrial transformation that would boost both domestic demand and external market expansion, the authorities have been actively promoting the “5+2 Innovative Industries” development program targeting industries including smart machinery, biomedicine, Internet of Things (IoT), green energy, and national defense, as well advanced agriculture, circular economy, and semiconductors, among other key industries.  Taiwan authorities also offer subsidies for the research and development expenses for Taiwan-foreign partnership projects.  The central authorities take a cautious approach to approving foreign investment in innovative industries that utilize new and potentially disruptive business models, such as in the sharing economy.  Investors have reported that investments in the sharing economy have been approved without clear regulatory frameworks in place, generating regulatory and political difficulties and, in some cases, targeted legislation and regulations regarded as highly punitive or restrictive in ways that harm the viability of such business models in Taiwan.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei meets regularly with Taiwan agencies such as the National Development Council (NDC) to promote resolution of concerns highlighted in the Chamber’s annual White Paper.  The authorities also regularly meet with other foreign business groups.  Some U.S. investors have expressed concerns about a lack of transparency, consistency, and predictability in the investment review process, particularly with regard to transactions involving private equity investment.  Current guidelines on foreign investment state that private equity investors seeking to acquire companies in “important industries” must provide, for example, a detailed description of the investor’s long-term operational commitment, relisting choices, and the investment’s impact on competition within the sector.  U.S. investors have claimed to experience lengthy review periods for private equity transactions and redundant inquiries from the MOEA Investment Commission and its constituent agencies.  Some report that public hearings convened by Taiwan regulatory agencies about specific private equity transactions have appeared designed to advance opposition to private equity rather than foster transparent dialogue.  Private equity transactions and other previously approved investments have, in the past, attracted Legislative Yuan scrutiny, including committee-level resolutions opposing specific transactions.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign entities are entitled to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity as local firms unless otherwise specified in relevant regulations.  Taiwan sets foreign ownership limits in certain industries, such as a 60 percent limit on foreign ownership of wireless and fixed line telecommunications firms, including a direct foreign investment limit of 49 percent in that sector.  State-controlled Chunghwa Telecom, which controls 97 percent of the fixed line telecom market, maintains a 49 percent limit on direct foreign investment and a 55 percent limit on indirect foreign investment.  There is a 20 percent limit on foreign direct investment in cable television broadcasting services, and foreign ownership of up to 60 percent is allowed through indirect investment via a Taiwan entity, although in practice this kind of investment is subject to heightened regulatory and political scrutiny.  In addition, there is a foreign ownership limit of 49.99 percent for satellite television broadcasting services and piped distribution of natural gas, and a 49 percent limit for high-speed rail services.  The foreign ownership cap on airport ground services firms, air-catering companies, aviation transportation businesses (airlines), and general aviation businesses (commercial helicopters and business jet planes) is less than 50 percent, with a separate limit of 25 percent for any single foreign investor.  Foreign investment in Taiwan-flagged merchant shipping services is limited to 50 percent for Taiwan shipping companies operating international routes.

Taiwan has gradually eased restrictions on investments from the PRC since 2009.  Taiwan has opened more than two-thirds of its aggregate industrial categories to PRC investors, with 97 percent of manufacturing sub-sectors and 51 percent of construction and services sub-sectors open to PRC capital.  PRC nationals are prohibited from serving as chief executive officer in a Taiwan company, although a PRC board member may retain management control rights.  The Taiwan authorities regard PRC investment in media or advanced technology sectors, such as semiconductors, as a national security concern.  The Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services and the Cross-Strait Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Enhancement of Tax Cooperation were signed in 2013 and 2015, respectively, but have not taken effect.  Negotiations on the Agreement on Trade in Goods halted in 2016.  There are concerns that the PRC might unilaterally terminate the implementation of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement that was signed between the PRC and Taiwan in June 2010.

The Investment Commission screens applications for FDI, mergers, and acquisitions.  Taiwan authorities claim that 95 percent of investments not subject to the negative list and with capital less than New Taiwan Dollars (NTD) 500 million (USD 17 million) obtain approval at the Investment Commission staff-level within two to four days.  Investments between NTD 500 million (USD 17 million) and NTD 1.5 billion (USD 51 million) in capital take three to five days to screen, and the approval authority rests with the Investment Commission’s executive secretary.  For investment in restricted industries, in cases where the investment amount or capital increase exceeds NTD 1.5 billion, or for mergers, acquisitions, and spin-offs, screening takes 10 to 20 days and includes review by relevant supervisory ministries and final approval from the Investment Commission’s executive secretary.  Screening for foreign investments involving cross-border mergers and acquisitions or other special situations takes 20-30 days, as these transactions require interagency review and deliberation at the Investment Commission’s monthly meeting.

The screening process provides Taiwan’s regulatory agencies opportunities to attach conditions to investments in order to mitigate concerns about ownership, structure, or other factors.  Screening may also include an assessment of the impact of proposed investments on a sector’s competitive landscape and protection of the rights of local shareholders and employees.  Screening is also used to detect investments with unclear funding sources, especially PRC-sourced capital.  To ensure monitoring of PRC-sourced investment in line with Taiwan law and public sentiment, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau has participated in every investment review meeting since April 2014, regardless of the size of the investment.  Blocked deals in recent years have reflected the authorities’ increased focus on national security concerns beyond the negative-list industries.  The proposed revisions to the main investment statute would, if passed, allow the authorities to apply political, social, and cultural sensitivity considerations in their investment review process.

Foreign investors must submit an application form containing the funding plan, business operation plan, entity registration, and documents certifying the inward remittance of investment funds.  Applicants and their agents must provide a signed declaration certifying that any PRC investors in a proposed transaction do not hold more than a 30 percent ownership stake and do not retain managerial control of the company.  When an investment fails review, an investor may re-apply when the reason for the denial no longer exists.  Foreign investors may also petition the regulatory agency that denied approval or may appeal to the Administrative Court.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Taiwan has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 2002.  In September 2018, the WTO conducted the fourth review of the trade policies and practices of Taiwan.  Related reports and documents are available at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp477_crc_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

MOEA has taken steps to improve the business registration process and has been finalizing amendments to the Company Act to make business registration more efficient.  Since 2014, the company registration application review period has been shortened to two days, while applications for a taxpayer identification number, labor insurance (for companies with five or more employees), national health insurance, and pension plans can be processed at the same time and granted decisions within five to seven business days.  Since January 1, 2017, foreign investors’ company registration applications are processed by the MOEA’s Central Region Office.

In recent years, the Taiwan authorities revised rules to improve the business climate for startups.  With the goal of developing Taiwan into a startup hub in Asia, Taiwan launched an entrepreneur visa program allowing foreign entrepreneurs to remain in Taiwan if they meet one of the following requirements: raise at least NTD 2 million (USD 66,000) in funding, hold patent rights or a professional skills certificate; operate in an incubator or innovation park in Taiwan; win major startup or design competitions, or receive grants from Taiwan Government.  Starting from 2019, startup entrepreneurs can use intellectual property (IP) as collateral in obtaining bank loans, and this applies to foreign investors.

Further details about business registration process can be found in Invest Taiwan Center’s business one-stop service request website at http://onestop.nat.gov.tw/oss/web/Show/engWorkFlow.do 

The Investment Commission website lists the rules, regulations, and required forms for seeking foreign investment approval: https://www.moeaic.gov.tw/businessPub.view?lang=en&op_id_one=1 .

Approval from the Investment Commission is required for foreign investors before proceeding with business registration.  After receiving an approval letter from the Investment Commission, an investor can apply for capital verification and may then file an application for a corporate name and proceed with business registration.  The new company must register with the Bureau of Labor Insurance and the Bureau of National Health Insurance before it may start recruiting and hiring employees.

For the manufacturing, construction, and mining industries, the MOEA defines small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as companies with less than NTD 80 million (USD 2.5 million) of paid-in capital and fewer than 200 employees.  For all other industries, SMEs are defined as having less than NTD 100 million (USD 3.1 million) of paid-in capital and fewer than 100 employees.  Taiwan runs a Small and Medium Enterprise Credit Guarantee Fund to help SMEs obtain financing from local banks.  Firms established by foreigners in Taiwan may obtain a guarantee from the Fund.  Taiwan’s National Development Fund has set aside NTD 10 billion (USD 330 million) to invest in SMEs.

Outward Investment

The PRC used to be the top destination for Taiwan companies’ overseas investment given the low cost of factors of production there, such as wages and land.  With rising trade tensions between the United States and the PRC starting in 2018, the Taiwan authorities have intensified their efforts to assist Taiwan firms to relocate back home, or to lower-cost markets, including in Southeast Asia.  The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen launched the New Southbound Policy to enhance Taiwan’s economic connection with 18 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific.  In 2019, Taiwan companies’ investment in the 18 countries totaled USD 2.8 billion.  The Taiwan authorities seek investment agreements with these countries to incentivize Taiwan firms’ investment in those markets.  Invest in Taiwan  provides consultation and loan guarantee services to Taiwan firms operating overseas.  Taiwan’s financial regulators have urged Taiwan banks to expand their presence in Southeast Asian economies either by setting up branches or by acquiring subsidiaries.

According to the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, all Taiwan individuals, juridical persons, organizations, or other institutions must obtain approval from the Investment Commission in order to invest in or have any technology-oriented cooperation with the PRC.  The Taiwan authorities maintain a negative list for Taiwan firms’ investment and have special rules governing technology cooperation in the PRC.  The Taiwan authorities, Taiwan companies, and foreign investors in Taiwan are increasingly vigilant about the threat of IP theft in key strategic industries, such as the semiconductor industry.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Taiwan generally maintains transparent regulatory and accounting systems that conform to international standards.  Publicly listed Taiwan companies have fully adopted International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) since 2015, and synchronized accounting standards with IFRS 9 and IFRS 15 in 2018.  In January 2019, Taiwan adopted IFRS 16. Ministries generally originate business-related draft legislation and submit it to the Executive Yuan for review.  Following approval by the Executive Yuan, draft legislation is forwarded to the Legislative Yuan for consideration.  Legislators can also propose legislation.  While the cabinet level agencies are the main contact windows for foreign investors prior to entry, foreign investors also need to abide by local government rules including those related to transportation services and environmental protection, among others.

Draft laws, rules, and orders are published on The Executive Yuan Gazette Online for public comment.  The Taiwan authorities on December 25, 2015, first instituted a 14-day public comment period for new rules but extended it to no less than 60 days beginning December 29, 2016.  All draft regulations and laws are required to be available for public comment and advanced notice, unless they meet certain criteria allowing a shorter window.  While welcomed by the U.S. business community, the 60-day comment period is not uniformly applied.  Draft laws and regulations of interest to foreign investors are regularly shared with foreign chambers of commerce for their comments.  For the ongoing amendment to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals, the authorities held several regional public hearing and professional consultations meetings before finalizing its draft for the Executive Yuan review.

These announcements are also available for public comment on the NDC’s public policy open discussion forum at https://join.gov.tw/index.  Foreign chambers of commerce and Taiwan business groups’ comments on proposed laws and regulations, as well as Taiwan ministries’ replies, are publicly posted on the NDC website.  In October 2017, the NDC launched a separate policy discussion forum specifically for startups, which can be found online at http://law.ndc.gov.tw/,  serving as the main platform to harmonizing regulatory requirements governing innovative businesses and startups operation.

The Executive Yuan Legal Affairs Committee oversees the enforcement of regulations.  Ministries are responsible for enforcement, impact analysis, draft amendments to existing laws, and petitions to laws pursuant to their individual authorities.  Impact assessments may be completed by in-house or private researchers.  To enhance Taiwan’s regulatory coherence in the wake of regional economic integration initiatives, the NDC in August 2017 released a Regulatory Impact Analysis Operational Manual as a practical guideline for central government agencies.

Taiwan regularly discloses government finance data to the public, including all debts incurred to all levels of government.  Past information is also retrievable in a well-maintained fiscal database.  Taiwan’s national statistics agency also publishes contingent debt information each year.

International Regulatory Considerations

Taiwan is not a member of any regional economic grouping.  Although Taiwan is not a member of many international organizations, it voluntarily adheres to or adopts international norms, including in the area of finance, such as IFRS.  MOEA in July 2014 notified other Taiwan agencies of the requirement to notify the WTO of all draft regulations covered by the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.  Taiwan is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has met some of the customs facilitation requirement specified in the TFA, such as single-window customs services and preview of the origin.  In January 2018, citing tax parity for domestic retailers and the risk of fraud, Taiwan lowered the de minimis threshold from NTD 3,000 (USD 100) to NTD 2,000 (USD 67), an approach regarded as contrary to facilitating customs clearance and trade, especially for small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses.  NDC is in the process of drafting proposed amendment to the Personal Information Protection Act and related regulations to meet the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standards and obtain adequacy status.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Taiwan has a codified system of law.  In addition to the specialized courts, Taiwan has a three-tiered court system composed of the District Courts, the High Courts, and the Supreme Court. The Compulsory Enforcement Act provides a legal basis for enforcing the ownership of property.  Taiwan does not have discrete commercial or contract laws.  A variety of different laws regulate businesses and specific industries, such as the Company Law, the Commercial Registration Law, the Business Registration Law, and the Commercial Accounting Law. Taiwan’s Civil Code provides the basis for enforcing contracts.

Taiwan’s court system is generally viewed as independent and free from overt interference by other branches of government.  Taiwan established its Intellectual Property Court in July 2008 in response to the need for a more centralized and professional litigation system for IPR disputes.  There are also specialized divisions in the District Courts and High Courts to deal with labor disputes.  Foreign court judgments are final and binding and enforced on a reciprocal basis.  Companies can appeal regulatory decisions in the court system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Regulations governing FDI principally derive from the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals and the Statue for Investment by Overseas Chinese.  These two laws permit foreign investors to transact either in foreign currency or the NTD.  The laws specify that foreign-invested enterprises must receive the same regulatory treatment accorded local firms.  Foreign companies may invest in state-owned firms undergoing privatization and are eligible to participate in publicly financed R&D programs.

Amendments the Legislative Yuan passed in June 2015 to the Merger and Acquisition Act clarified investment review criteria for mergers and acquisition transactions.  The Investment Commission is drafting amendments to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals in an aim to simplify the investment review process, including an amendment that would replace a pre-investment approval requirement with a post-investment reporting system for investments under a USD 1 million threshold, which is considered too low by many stakeholders.  Ex ante approval would still be required for investments in restricted industries and those exceeding the threshold.  The new proposal would also allow the authorities to impose various penalties for violations of the law.  Guidance that previously required special consideration of the impact of a private equity fund’s investment has been folded into the set of general evaluation criteria for foreign investment in important industries.  The MOEA in November 2016 released a supplementary document to clarify required documentations for different types of investment applications.  This document, which was last revised in 2018 and in Chinese only, can be found at http://www.moeaic.gov.tw/download-file.jsp?do=BP&id=5dRl9fU97Fk= .

All foreign investment related regulations, application forms, and explanatory information can be found on the Investment Commission’s website, at http://run.moeaic.gov.tw/MOEAIC-WEB-SRC/OfimDownloadE.aspx 

The Invest in Taiwan Portal also provides other relevant legal information of interest to foreign investors, such as labor, entry and exit regulations, at https://investtaiwan.nat.gov.tw/showPageeng1031003?lang=eng&search=1031003 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Taiwan’s Fair Trade Act was enacted in 1992.  Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission (TFTC) examines business practices that might impede fair competition.  In October 2017, TFTC imposed a USD 774 million antitrust fine on a U.S. technology company.  The MOEA publicly expressed concern about the ruling’s potential impact on foreign investment.  TFTC in 2018 reached a settlement with this U.S. company, lowering its fine to USD 90 million, and the company promised to make USD 700 million investment in Taiwan.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to Taiwan law, the authorities may expropriate property whenever such a course is determined to be necessary for the public interest, such as for national defense, public works, and urban renewal projects.  The U.S. government is not aware of any recent cases of nationalization or expropriation of foreign-invested assets in Taiwan.  There are no reports of indirect expropriation or any official actions tantamount to expropriation.  Under Taiwan law, no venture with 45 percent or more foreign investment may be nationalized, as long as the 45 percent capital contribution ratio remains unchanged for a period of 20 years after the establishment of the foreign business.  Taiwan law requires fair compensation be paid within a reasonable period when the authorities expropriate constitutionally protected private property for public use.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In part due to its unique political status, Taiwan is neither a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) nor a signatory to the 1966 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention).  It also is not a signatory to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Foreign investment disputes with the Taiwan authorities are rare.  Taiwan resolves disputes according to its domestic laws and based on national treatment or investment guarantee agreements.  Taiwan has entered into bilateral investment agreements with countries including Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and India.  Taiwan does not have an investment agreement with the United States.  Taiwan’s bilateral investment agreements serve to promote and protect foreign investments.  DOIS is not aware of investment disputes involving U.S. investors, although there have been reports of disputes between U.S. investors and their local Taiwan partners.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Parties to a dispute may pursue mediation by a court, a mediation committee of a town or city, and/or the Public Procurement Commission.  Mediation is generally non-binding unless parties agree otherwise.  Civil mediation approved by a court has the same power as a binding ruling under civil litigation.  The Judicial Yuan announced that alternative dispute resolution will be one of the issues addressed in an upcoming National Judicial Conference.  Arbitration associations in Taiwan include the Chinese Arbitration Association, Taiwan Construction Arbitration Association, Labor Dispute Arbitration Association, and Chinese Construction Industry Arbitration Association in Taiwan.

A court order on recognition and enforcement must be obtained before a foreign arbitral award can be enforced in Taiwan.  Any foreign arbitral award may be enforceable in Taiwan, provided that it meets the requirements of Taiwan’s Arbitration Act.  In November 2015, the Legislative Yuan amended the Arbitration Act to stipulate that a foreign arbitral award, after an application for recognition has been granted by a court, shall be binding on the parties and have the same force as a final judgment of a court, and is enforceable.  Taiwan referred to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law when the Arbitration Act was revised in 1998.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Taiwan has a bankruptcy law that guarantees creditors the right to share the assets of a bankrupt debtor on a proportional basis.  Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced through a registration system.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Taiwan.  Corporate bankruptcy is generally governed by the Company Act and the Bankruptcy Act, while the Consumer Debt Resolution Act governs personal bankruptcy.  The quasi-public Joint Credit Information Center is the only credit-reporting agency in Taiwan.  In 2018, there were 217 rulings on bankruptcy petitions.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Statute for Industrial Innovation provides the legal basis for offering tax credits for companies’ R&D expenditures.  MOEA also operates several R&D subsidy programs.  MOEA’s target industries for investment are IoT (including Asia Silicon Valley-related investments), smart machinery, biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals, green energy, national defense, the circular economy, and agriculture.  Investors can receive tax incentives for investing in free trade zones, public construction, and biotechnology or biopharmaceuticals.  Investment support from the central authorities may be available for priority projects.  Industrial zones, export processing zones, science parks, and local governments offer various types of subsidies, financing, and tax deductions.  Investors may receive low-interest loans or subsidies for participating in industrial R&D and industry revitalization programs.  R&D tax credits, equivalent to 15 percent of total R&D expenditures, are available only to companies who file corporate income taxes in Taiwan.  The Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals passed in October 2017 offers relaxed visa requirements and high-earner tax deductions to foreign professionals.  For a detailed list of investment incentives programs, please refer to the Invest in Taiwan website at https://investtaiwan.nat.gov.tw/showPage?lang=eng&search=1031001   To promote Taiwan’s green energy industry, Taiwan authorities are considering a national guarantee mechanism to facilitate financing green energy investment.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are seven free trade/free port zones:  Anping, Kaohsiung, Keelung, Suao, Taichung, Taipei, and Taoyuan International Airport.  The authorities have relaxed restrictions on the movement of merchandise, capital, and personnel into and out of these zones.  As part of a broader restructuring and to increase the competitiveness of Taiwan’s ports, the Ministry of Transportation and Communication established the Taiwan International Ports Corporation (TIPC) in 2012 to manage commercial activities of Taiwan’s ports and free trade zones.  TIPC facilitates cooperation with foreign shipping operations and related businesses.  In addition to preferential tariff and fees, the foreign labor ceiling for manufacturers in the free ports zones is 40 percent.  Kaohsiung Port also serves as a London Metal Exchange (LME) delivery port of primary aluminum, aluminum alloy, copper, lead, nickel, tin, and zinc.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Taiwan does not mandate local employment, but the authorities have incentivized foreign companies to hire more local staff with preferential measures, such as in the mutual fund industry.  Except for restricted industries on the negative list, there is no restriction on foreigners taking roles in senior management or on boards of directors.  Foreign investors have long expressed concerns over difficulties in recruiting skilled executives and professionals.  The Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals that took effect February 2018 aims to attract foreign professionals through simplified policies regarding work, visa, and residence, and increased benefits on retirement, insurance, and tax obligations.  As of 2019, more than 500 people have obtained the Employment Gold Card, which includes a visa, work permit, alien resident certificate, and re-entry permit; 24 percent of the recipients were Americans. Taiwan does not mandate any forced localization or performance requirements and does not ask software firms to disclose their source code.  In September 2019, the Taiwan Financial Supervisory Commission amended rules to allow banks to store data on overseas cloud servers, as long as Taiwan regulators can obtain information for such operations and maintain the right to execute on-site examinations.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Interests in property are enforced in Taiwan, and it maintains a reliable recording system for mortgages and liens.  Taiwan law protects the land use rights of indigenous peoples.  Taiwan’s Land Act stipulated that forests, fisheries, hunting grounds, salt fields, mineral deposits, sources of water, and lands lying within fortified and military areas and those adjacent to national frontiers may not be transferred or leased to foreigners.  Based on the Ministry of Interior’s (MOI) Operational Regulations for Foreigners to Acquire Land Rights in Taiwan, foreigners coming from countries that provide Taiwan residents the same land rights will be allowed to acquire or set the same rights in Taiwan.  In May 2015, the Cadastral Clearance Act was passed to promote better land registration management.  As in other investment categories, Taiwan has specific regulations governing property acquisition by PRC investors.

Intellectual Property Rights

Taiwan is not a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), but adheres to key international agreements such as the Berne Convention and the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  Reflecting progress in Taiwan’s IPR legal regime and enforcement, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative removed Taiwan from the Special 301 Watch List in 2009.  The United States continues to monitor a number of IPR issues in Taiwan, including online piracy of copyrighted materials, illegal textbook copying on university campuses, end-user piracy of software, satellite signal theft, corporate trade secret theft, and weak pharmaceutical patent protections.  The importation and transshipment of counterfeit products, mainly from the PRC, continues to be a problem.  The United States is actively working with Taiwan authorities to address these issues.

Taiwan’s legislature in 2017 passed an amendment to the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act introducing a patent linkage system aiming for better protection of innovative pharmaceuticals, and the implementing regulations were introduced in 2019 to include biologics and biosimilars.  Proposed amendments to the Copyright Act, which features 93 amendments and 17 new articles seeking to prevent intellectual property infringement in the digital age, are still under legislative review.  The Legislative Yuan has passed articles that would impose two-year criminal penalty or monetary fines up to NTD 500,000 (USD 16,700) for selling pirated TV boxes.   In December 2019, the Legislative Yuan passed amendment to the Trade Secrets Act, which would allow prosecutors to issue a confidentiality preservation order over all information received and produced during investigations.  Taiwan also passed amendment to the National Intelligence Work Act in 2019 to allow Taiwan’s intelligence agencies to collect information about illegal trade secret theft on behalf of foreign countries.  Taiwan’s emphasis on improving its trade secrets protection regime has resulted in not only amendments to the Trade Secrets Act but also a major judicial ruling in favor of a U.S.-based investor over a local firm in a high-profile trade secrets theft case.

Taiwan’s National Police Agency reported that the value of trademark, copyright, and trade secret violation in 2019 totaled NTD 12.1 billion (USD 403 million), 11.3 percent up from the NTD 10.9 billion (USD 360 million) in 2018.  Taiwan Customs reported 186 cases, or 111,525 items involving seizures of imported counterfeit branded goods in 2019, with the majority of the violations in footwear, clothing, and pharmaceutical industries.  Taiwan prosecutes IP infringement, and imposes up to five years prison time for copyright violations, in addition to monetary fines.  Affirmed IP infringement cases by the Prosecutors’ Offices of the District Courts totaled 6,315 cases in 2019, a 10.8 percent decline over the previous year, and nearly 57 percent of the cases were not indicted.

A trademark or patent applicant must file an application with Taiwan’s Intellectual Property Office (TIPO).  TIPO normally renders a decision within six months after it receives all supporting documents.  If the application is approved, the mark or patent will be published and registered after the applicant pays registration fees within two months upon receiving the approval notice.  Taiwan has Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) agreements with the United States (2011), Japan (2012), Spain (2013), the Republic of Korea (2015), and Poland (2017), with 455 requests to the United States filed in 2019.

In July 2018, TIPO hosted its first hearing for patent invalidation proceedings under the new invalidation mechanism.  The hearings are considered a procedural alternative to administrative appeal and are expected to increase efficiency in resolving patent disputes.

Patent holders may request that Taiwan Customs authorities suspend clearance and detain goods suspected of infringing their patent rights.  An affected rights holder must submit a written statement detailing the infringement allegation and a security deposit equivalent to the import value.  If final judgment confirms that the detained goods have infringed the patentee’s rights, the owner of the detained goods will be responsible for all relevant expenses incurred.

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

Taiwan authorities welcome foreign portfolio investment in the Taiwan Stock Exchange (TWSE) and Taipei Stock Exchange, with foreign investment accounting for approximately 40 percent of TWSE capitalization in the past few years.  Taiwan allows the establishment of offshore banking, securities, and insurance units to attract a broader investor base.  The Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) utilizes a negative list approach to regulating local banks’ overseas business not involving the conversion of the NTD.

Taiwan’s capital market is mature and active.  As of the end of 2019, there were 942 companies listed on the TWSE, with a total market trading volume of USD 882 billion (including transactions of stocks, Taiwan Depository Receipts, exchange traded funds, and warrants).  Foreign portfolio investors are not subject to a foreign ownership ceiling, except in certain restricted companies, and are not subject to any ceiling on portfolio investment.  The turnover ratio in the TWSE dropped to 73 percent in 2019, likely indicating more investors were willing to hold their positions for longer.  Payments and transfers resulting from international trade activities are fully liberalized in Taiwan.  A wide range of credit instruments, all allocated on market terms, are available to both domestic- and foreign-invested firms.

Money and Banking System

Taiwan’s banking sector is healthy, tightly regulated, and competitive, with 36 banks servicing the market.  The sector’s non-performing loan ratio has remained below 1 percent since 2010, with a sector average of 0.21 in December 2019.  Capital-adequacy ratios (CAR) are generally high, and several of Taiwan’s leading commercial lenders are government-controlled, enjoying implicit state guarantees.  The sector as a whole had a CAR of 14.07 percent as of December 2019, far above the Basel III regulatory minimum of 10.5 percent required by 2019.  Taiwan banks’ liquidity coverage ratio, which was required by Basel III to reach 100 percent by 2019, averaged 139.6 percent in December 2019.  Taiwan’s banking system is mostly deposit-funded and has limited exposure to global financial wholesale markets.  Regulators have encouraged local banks to expand to overseas markets, especially in Southeast Asia, and to minimize exposure in the PRC.  Taiwan Central Bank statistics show that Taiwan banks’ PRC net exposure on an ultimate risk basis reached USD 68.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019, trailing the United States’ USD 86.4 billion.  Taiwan’s largest bank in terms of assets is the wholly state-owned Bank of Taiwan, which had USD 171 billion of assets as of December 2019.  Taiwan’s eight state-controlled banks (excluding the Taiwan Export and Import Bank) jointly held nearly USD 820 billion, or 48 percent of the banking sector’s total assets.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Taiwan Central Bank operates as an independent agency and state-owned company under the Executive Yuan, free from political interference.  The Central Bank’s mandates are to maintain financial stability, develop Taiwan’s banking business, guard the stability of the NTD’s external and internal value, and promote economic growth within the scope of the three aforementioned goals.

Foreign banks are allowed to operate in Taiwan as branches and foreign-owned subsidiaries, but financial regulators require foreign bank branches to limit their customer base to large corporate clients.  To promote the asset management business in Taiwan, starting in May 2015, foreigners holding a valid visa entering Taiwan have been allowed to open an NTD account with local banks with passports and an ID number issued by the immigration office, replacing the previous dual-identification (passport and resident card) requirements.  Please refer to the Taiwan Bankers’ Association’s webpage: https://www.ba.org.tw/EnglishVer/BusinessEngDetail/2   for detailed information regarding various types of bank services (credit card, loans, etc.) for foreigners in Taiwan.

Foreign Exchange

There are few restrictions in place in Taiwan on converting or transferring direct investment funds.  Foreign investors with approved investments can readily obtain foreign exchange from designated banks.  The remittance of capital invested in Taiwan must be reported in advance to the Investment Commission, but the Commission’s approval is not required.  Funds can be freely converted into major world currencies for remittance, but in order to retain funds in Taiwan they must be held in currency denominations offered by banks.  In addition to commonly used U.S. dollar, euro, and Japanese yen-denominated deposit accounts, most Taiwan banks offer up to 15 foreign currency denominations.  The exchange rate is based on the market rate offered by each bank.  The NTD fluctuates under a managed float system.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions on remittances deriving from approved direct investment and portfolio investment.  No prior approval is required if the cumulative amount of inward or outward remittances does not exceed the annual limit of USD 5 million for an individual or USD 50 million for a corporate entity.  Declared earnings, capital gains, dividends, royalties, management fees, and other returns on investment may be repatriated at any time.  For large transactions requiring the exchange of NTD into foreign currency that could potentially disrupt Taiwan’s foreign exchange market, the Taiwan Central Bank may require the transaction to be scheduled over several days.  There is no written guideline on the size of such transactions, but according to law firms servicing foreign investors, amounts in excess of USD 100 million may be affected.  Capital movements arising from trade in merchandise and services, as well as from debt servicing, are not restricted.  No prior approval is required for movement of foreign currency funds not involving conversion between NTD and foreign currency.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Taiwan does not have a sovereign wealth fund. Taiwania Capital Management Company, a partially government-funded investment company, was established in October 2017 to help promote investment in innovative and other target industries.  In December 2018, Taiwania raised USD 350 million for two funds investing in IOT and biotech industries.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

According to the NDC, there are 17 SOEs with stakes by the central authorities exceeding 50 percent, including official agencies such as the Taiwan Central Bank.  Please refer to the list of all central government, majority-owned SOEs available online at https://ws.ndc.gov.tw/001/administrator/10/relfile/0/1295/374a165c-c930-461e-bb5b-07893b3e5ea2.doc .  Some existing SOEs are large in scale and exert significant influence in their industries, especially monopolies such as Taiwan Power (Taipower) and Taiwan Water.  MOEA has stated that Taipower’s privatization will not take place in the near future but plans to restructure it as a new holding company under Electricity Industry Act revisions passed in January 2017 that will gradually liberalize power generation and distribution.  CPC Corporation (formerly China Petroleum Corporation) controls over 70 percent of Taiwan’s gasoline retail market.  In August 2014, the Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) was successfully privatized through a public listing on the TWSE, and MOEA’s stake in AIDC declined to 35.2 percent by the end of 2019.  The Labor Insurance Bureau ceased to be an SOE in 2014 but remained under the Ministry of Labor (MOL).  Taiwan authorities retain control over some SOEs that were privatized, including through managing appointments to boards of directors.  These enterprises include Chunghwa Telecom, China Steel, China Airlines, Taiwan Fertilizer, Taiwan Salt, CSBC Corporation (shipbuilding), Yang Ming Marine Transportation, and eight public banks.

In 2018 (latest data available), the 17 SOEs together had net income of NTD 347 billion (USD 11.6 billion), up 1.5 percent from the NTD 342 billion (USD 11.4 billion) in 2017.  The SOEs’ average return on equities continued to decline from a recent peak of 11.13 percent in 2015 to 9.83 percent in 2018.  These 17 SOEs employed a total of 118,359 workers.

Taiwan has not adopted the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs.  In Taiwan, SOEs are defined as public enterprises in which the government owns more than 50 percent of shares.  Public enterprises with less than a 50 percent government stake are not subject to Legislative Yuan supervision, but authorities may retain managerial control through senior management appointments, which may change with each administration.  Public enterprises owned by local governments exist primarily in the public transportation sector, such as regional bus and subway services.  Each SOE operates under the authority of the supervising ministry, and government-appointed directors should hold more than one-fifth of an SOE’s board seats.  The Executive Yuan, the Ministry of Finance, and MOEA have criteria in place for selecting individuals for senior management positions.  Each SOE has a board of directors, and some SOEs have independent directors and union representatives sitting on the board.

Taiwan acceded to the WTO’s Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) in 2009.  Taiwan’s central and local government entities, as well as SOEs, are now all covered by the GPA.  Except for state monopolies, SOEs compete directly with private companies.  SOEs’ purchases of goods or services are regulated by the Government Procurement Act and are open to private and foreign companies via public tender.  Private companies in Taiwan have the same access to financing as SOEs.  Taiwan banks are generally willing to extend loans to enterprises meeting credit requirements.  SOEs are subject to the same tax obligations as private enterprises and are regulated by the Fair Trade Act as private enterprises.  The Legislative Yuan reviews SOEs’ budgets each year.

Privatization Program

There are no privatization programs in progress.  Taiwan’s most recent privatization, of AIDC in 2014, included imposition of a foreign ownership ceiling of 10 percent due to the sensitive nature of the defense sector.  In August 2017, Taiwan authorities identified CPC Corporation, Taipower Company, and Taiwan Sugar as their next privatization targets.  Following passage of the Electricity Industry Act amendments in January 2017, the authorities planned to submit a Taipower privatization plan within six to nine years after successfully separating Taipower’s power distribution/sales business from its power generation business.

10. Political and Security Environment

Taiwan is a young and vibrant multi-party democracy.  The transitions of power in both local and presidential elections have been peaceful and orderly.   There are no recent examples of politically motivated damage to foreign investment.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Against a strong domestic economic rebound, Taiwan’s unemployment rate in 2019 edged up to 3.73 percent, while the unemployment rate for people aged between 15 and 24 years also rose from 11.5 percent in 2018 to 11.9 percent.  MOI data show that 47 percent of Taiwan’s population aged above 15 years is at least college-educated.  An official labor force survey indicated that atypical employment has hit 819,000 in 2019, and among the 819,000 atypical workers, 278,000 had at least college education.

The size of Taiwan’s labor force is decreasing as the society ages.  Taiwan transitioned from an “aging society” to an “aged society” in 2018.  In 2019, 15.3 percent of its population are 65 years old or above, up from 10.6 percent in 2009.  Taiwan’s total fertility rate in 2018 was 1.06, remaining one of the lowest in the world.  As of December 2019, there were 718,058 foreign laborers in Taiwan, of which 456,601 were working in the industrial sector.  The Labor Standard Act and the Act of Gender Equality in Employment are universally applied to both domestic and foreign workers, with the exception that domestic foreign helpers are not covered by the Labor Standard Act.

Taiwan Ministry of Labor (MOL) data indicated that, while labor shortage rates remained stable at around 3 percent in the manufacturing industry, the rates have been increasing over past few years in services industries such as food and accommodation, information and communication, art and entertainment, recreation, and real estate activities.  Industry groups have long claimed that a lack of blue-collar workers is one of the major issues facing manufacturers operating in Taiwan and have urged the authorities to increase the ceiling on foreign workers.  To attract Taiwan businesses to relocate back to Taiwan, Taiwan authorities lifted foreign workers ceiling for specific industries, but the foreign workers ceiling across the board remained at 40 percent of total employees.  Taiwan businesses are also urging the authorities to ease work visa requirements to recruit foreign professionals, especially the skilled white-collar labor in the information technology sector.  However, Taiwan’s low wage growth compared with neighboring economies poses a challenge for talent recruitment and retention.  Taiwan issued 31,125 working permits to foreign professionals in 2019, and 23.5 percent of them were from Japan, followed by 13.5 percent from Malaysia, and 11.8 percent from the United States.  21.7 percent of foreign professionals work in the manufacturing industry.  Taiwan authorities sponsor training and certificate programs for college graduates to increase the talent pool for the manufacturing industry.

Private companies are not subject to rules requiring the hiring of nationals.  Employers may institute unpaid leave with employees’ consent but must notify the labor authorities and continue to make health insurance, labor insurance, and pension contributions.  Taiwan provides unemployment relief based on the Employment Insurance Law, vocational training allowances for jobless persons, and employment subsidies to encourage hiring.  Labor laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investment.

Labor unions have become more active in Taiwan over the past decade, and the Collective Agreement Act outlines the negotiation mechanism for collective bargaining in order to protect labor’s interests in the negotiations.  The number of effective collective bargaining agreements increased from 723 in 2018 to 772 in 2019, mainly due to an increase of such agreements with corporate unions.  If a proposal is refused, a union may submit an application for arbitration to the MOL’s Committee for Dispute Resolution for Unfair Labor Practices.  Taiwan has labor dispute resolution mechanisms in operation at all levels of labor, and the number of dispute cases filed slightly dropped 26,649 in 2018 to 26,435 in 2019, with disputes over wages accounting for more than 40 percent of total dispute cases. Taiwan also introduced an arbitration mechanism in 2011 to preempt disputes through a professional and neutral mediation system.

Labor relations in Taiwan are generally harmonious.  Although Taiwan is not a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO), it adheres to ILO conventions on the protection of workers’ rights.  Taiwan law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, protects the right to join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively.  Taiwan’s labor authorities have announced the increasing frequency and coverage of labor inspections.  A new Labor Incident Act took effect in January 2020 mandates the establishment of special labor courts, which would help improve labor right through accelerated dispute resolution and reduced financial cost for labor filing employment lawsuits.

Improving labor welfare is the one of the core themes pursued by the current Tsai administration.  Minimum monthly wage has been raised since 2017 to NTD 23,800 (USD 793) in 2020.  MOL is also drafting a bill aiming to replace the current annual minimum wage review panel with a Minimum Wage Act.  In March 2018, Taiwan amended the Labor Standard Act to address foreign investor community’s concerns over rules governing rest days, overtime work, and overtime pay.  In December 2019, the Middle-aged and Elderly Employment Promotion Act was passed to promote employment opportunities for employees aged above 45 years, but the effective implementation date has yet to be announced.

There have been strikes in the aviation industry since 2016.  During the Lunar New Year peak travel week in 2019, pilots at the state-controlled flag carrier China Airlines, of which Taiwan government owns a 35 percent stake, launched a 160-hour strike.  In June, flight attendants at Taiwan’s second largest airline Eva Air also launched a 488-hour strike when the peak summer travel season started.  Under public pressure, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications proposed a draft amendment to MOL, suggesting MOL stipulate a seven-to-ten-day notice requirement if any union, particularly in the transportation industry, plans to strike.

Link to the U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report on Taiwan: https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/taiwan/

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 $611,255 2018 $608,132 https://unctad.org/en/Pages/statistics.aspx
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source

 

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $24,614 2018 $17,530 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 $17,965 201-8 $10,592 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 29.1 2018 17.2 UNCTAD data available at
https://unctadstat.unctad.org/wds/
TableViewer/tableView.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data:  GDP: Directorate General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics; FDI: Investment Commission, Ministry of Economic Affairs

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Arati Shroff
Deputy Chief, Economic Section, American Institute in Taiwan
100 Jinhu Road, Taipei, Taiwan
+886-2-2162-2000
ShroffA@state.gov

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