1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Israel is open to foreign investment and the government actively encourages and supports the inflow of foreign capital.
The Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry’s ‘Invest in Israel’ office serves as the government’s investment promotion agency facilitating foreign investment. ‘Invest in Israel’ offers a wide range of services including guidance on Israeli laws, regulation, taxes, incentives, and costs, and facilitation of business connections with peer companies and industry leaders for new investors. ‘Invest in Israel’ also organizes familiarization tours for potential investors and employs a team of advisors for each region of the world.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
The Israeli legal system protects the rights of both foreign and domestic entities to establish and own business enterprises, as well as the right to engage in remunerative activity. Private enterprises are free to establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises. As part of ongoing privatization efforts, the Israeli government encourages foreign investment in privatizing government-owned entities.
Israel’s policies aim to equalize competition between private and public enterprises, although the existence of monopolies and oligopolies in several sectors stifles competition. In the case of designated monopolies, defined as entities that supply more than 50 percent of the market, the government controls prices.
Israel established a centralized investment screening (approval) mechanism for certain inbound foreign investments in October 2019. Investments in regulated industries (e.g., banking and insurance) require approval by the relevant regulator. Investments in certain sectors may require a government license. Other regulations may apply, usually on a national treatment basis.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted its fifth and latest trade policy review of Israel in July 2018. In the past three years, the Israeli government has not conducted any investment policy reviews through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The OECD concluded an Economic Survey of Israel in March 2018.
The Israeli government is fairly open and receptive to companies wishing to register businesses in Israel. Israel ranked 28th in the “Starting a Business” category of the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, rising seventeen places from its 2019 ranking. Israel continues to institute reforms to make it easier to do business in Israel, but some challenges remain.
The business registration process in Israel is relatively clear and straightforward. Four procedures are required to register a standard private limited company and take 12 days to complete, on average, according to the Ministry of Finance. The foreign investor must obtain company registration documents through a recognized attorney with the Ministry of Justice and obtain a tax identification number for company taxation and for value added taxes (VAT) from the Ministry of Finance. The cost to register a company averages around USD 1,000 depending on attorney and legal fees.
4. Industrial Policies
The State of Israel encourages both local and foreign investment by offering a wide range of incentives and benefits to investors in industry, tourism, and real estate. Israel’s Ministry of Economy places a priority on investments in hi-tech companies and R&D activities.
Most investment incentives available to Israeli citizens are also available to foreign investors. Israel’s Encouragement of Capital Investments Law, 5719-1959, outlines Israel’s investment incentive programs. The Israel Investment Center (IIC) coordinates the country’s investment incentive programs.
For complete information, potential investors should contact:
Investment Promotion Center
Ministry of Economy
5 Bank of Israel Street,
Israel Investment Center
Ministry of Economy
5 Bank of Israel Street,
Jerusalem 91036 490 http://economy.gov.il/English/About/Units/Pages/IsraelInvestmentCenter.aspx
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Israel has bilateral Qualifying Industrial Zone (QIZ) Agreements with Egypt and Jordan. The QIZ initiative allows Egypt and Jordan to export products to the United States duty-free, as long as these products contain inputs from Israel (8 percent in the Israel-Jordan QIZ agreement, 10.5 percent in the Israel-Egypt QIZ agreement). Products manufactured in QIZs must comply with strict rules of origin. More information is available at the Israeli Ministry of Economy’s Foreign Trade Administration website: http://economy.gov.il/English/InternationalAffairs/ForeignTradeAdministration/Pages/RegionalCooperation.aspx
Israel has one free trade zone, the Red Sea port city of Eilat. More information on the Eilat Free Zone is available at: http://economy.gov.il/English/Industry/DevelopmentZoneIndustryPromotion/ZoneIndustryInfo/Pages/EilatNShachoret.aspx
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
There are no universal performance requirements on investments, but “offset” requirements are often included in sales contracts with the government. In some sectors, there is a requirement that Israelis own a percentage of a company. Israel’s visa and residency requirements are transparent. The Israeli government does not impose preferential policies on exports by foreign investors.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Israeli government is supportive of foreign portfolio investment. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) is Israel’s only public stock exchange.
Financial institutions in Israel allocate credit on market terms. For many years, banks issued credit to only a handful of individuals and corporate entities, some of whom held controlling interests in banks. However, in recent years, banks significantly reduced their exposure to large borrowers following the introduction of stronger regulatory restrictions on preferential lending practices.
The primary profit center for Israeli banks is consumer-banking fees. Various credit instruments are available to the private sector and foreign investors can receive credit on the local market. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and conform to international norms, although the prevalence of inflation-adjusted accounting means there are differences from U.S. accounting principles.
In the case of publicly traded firms where ownership is widely dispersed, the practice of “cross-shareholding” and “stable shareholder” arrangements to prevent mergers and acquisitions is common, but not directed particularly at preventing potential foreign investment. Israel has no laws or regulations regarding the adoption by private firms of articles of incorporation or association that limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control.
Money and Banking System
The Bank of Israel (BOI) is Israel’s Central Bank and regulates all banking activity and monetary policy. In general, Israel has a healthy banking system that offers most of the same services as the U.S. banking system. Fees for normal banking transactions are significantly higher in Israel than in the United States and some services do not meet U.S. standards. There are 12 commercial banks and four foreign banks operating in Israel, according to the BOI. Five major banks, led by Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, the two largest banks, dominate Israel’s banking sector. Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi control nearly 60 percent of Israel’s credit market. The State of Israel holds 6 percent of Bank Leumi’s shares. All of Israel’s other banks are privatized.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Israel completed its foreign exchange liberalization process on January 1, 2003, when it removed the last restrictions on the freedom of institutional investors to invest abroad. The Israeli shekel is a freely convertible currency and there are no foreign currency controls. The BOI maintains the option to intervene in foreign currency trading in the event of movements in the exchange rate not in line with fundamental economic conditions, or if the BOI assesses the foreign exchange market is not functioning appropriately. Israeli citizens can invest without restriction in foreign markets. Foreign investors can open shekel accounts that allow them to invest freely in Israeli companies and securities. These shekel accounts are fully convertible into foreign exchange. Israel’s foreign exchange reserves totaled USD 133.5 billion at the end of April 2020.
Transfers of currency are protected by Article VII of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Articles of Agreement: http://www.imf.org/External/Pubs/FT/AA/index.htm#art7
Most foreign currency transactions must be carried out through an authorized dealer. An authorized dealer is a banking institution licensed to arrange, inter alia, foreign currency transactions for its clients. The authorized dealer must report large foreign exchange transactions to the Controller of Foreign Currency. There are no limitations or significant delays in the remittance of profits, debt service, or capital gains.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Israel passed legislation to establish the Israel Citizens’ Wealth Fund, a sovereign wealth fund managed by the BOI, in 2014 to offset the effect of natural gas production on the exchange rate. The original date for beginning the fund’s operations was 2018, but has been postponed until late 2021. The law establishing the fund states that it will begin operating a month after the state’s tax revenues from natural gas exceed USD 280 million (1 billion New Israeli Shekels).
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Israel established the Government Companies Authority (GCA) following the passage of the Government Companies Law. The GCA is an auxiliary unit of the Ministry of Finance. It is the administrative agency for state-owned companies in charge of supervision, privatization, and implementation of structural changes. The Israeli state only provides support for commercial SOEs in exceptional cases. The GCA leads the recruitment process for SOE board members. Board appointments are subject to the approval of a committee, which confirms whether candidates meet the minimum board member criteria set forth by law.
The GCA oversees some 100 companies, including commercial and noncommercial companies, government subsidiaries, and companies under mixed government-private ownership. Among these companies are some of the biggest and most complex in the Israeli economy, such as the Israel Electric Corporation, Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel Postal Company, Mekorot Israel National Water Company, Israel Natural Gas Lines, the Ashdod, Haifa, and Eilat Port Companies, Israel Railways, Petroleum and Energy Infrastructures and the Israel National Roads Company. The GCA does not publish a publicly available list of SOEs.
Israel is party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) of the World Trade Organization.
In late 2014, Israel’s cabinet approved a privatization plan allowing the government to issue minority stakes of up to 49 percent in state-owned companies on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange over a three-year period, a plan estimated to increase government revenue by USD 4.1 billion. The plan aimed to sell stakes in Israel’s electric company, water provider, railway, post office and some defense-related contractors. The GCA will likely auction minority stakes in a public bidding process without formal restrictions on the participation of foreign investors. Restrictions on foreign investors could be possible in the case of companies deemed to be of strategic significance.
Israel’s interministerial privatization committee approved plans in January 2020 to sell off the , Israel’s largest shipping hub. The incoming owner will be required to invest approximately USD 280 million (1 billion NIS) in the port, including the cost of upgrading infrastructure and financing the layoff of an estimated 200 workers. That same committee voted to enable private investment in Israel Post in an effort to sell up to 40 percent of the government’s shares in Israel Post.