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Bahrain

Executive Summary

The investment climate in the Kingdom of Bahrain is positive and relatively stable. Bahrain maintains a business-friendly attitude and liberal approach to attracting foreign investment and business.

In an economy dominated by state-owned enterprises, Bahrain aims to foster a greater role for the private sector to promote economic growth. Government of Bahrain (GOB) efforts focus on encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI) in the manufacturing, logistics, information and communications technology (ICT), financial services, and tourism sectors.

Bahrain’s total FDI stock reached BD 11.537 billion (USD 30.683 billion) in 2020. Annual FDI inflows have dropped from BD 603 million (USD 1.6 billion) in 2018 to BD 355 million (USD 942 million) in 2019 and BD 333 million (USD 885 million) in 2020. The financial services, manufacturing, logistics, education, healthcare, real estate, tourism, and ICT sectors have attracted the majority of Bahrain’s FDI.

The Covid-19 pandemic, in tandem with the global oil price collapse in 2020, weakened GOB efforts to generate revenue and reduce public spending. In April 2020, Bahrain implemented a BD 4.3 billion (USD 11.4 billion) financial relief package, equivalent to 29 percent of GDP, to ease the economic impact of the pandemic. Key provisions of the package were continued into 2021.

To strengthen Bahrain’s position as a startup hub in the region and to enhance its investment ecosystem, the GOB launched Bahrain FinTech Bay in 2018; issued new pro-business laws; and established the USD 100 million Al Waha venture capital fund for Bahraini investments and the USD 100 million superfund to support the startup growth. Since 2017, the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has operated a financial technology regulatory sandbox to enable startups in Bahrain, including cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies, and regulates conventional and Sharia-compliant businesses.

The U.S.-Bahrain Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) entered into force in 2001 and protects U.S. investors in Bahrain by providing most-favored nation treatment and national treatment, the right to make financial transfers freely and without delay, international law standards for expropriation and compensation cases, and access to international arbitration.

Bahrain permits 100 percent foreign ownership of new industrial entities and the establishment of representative offices or branches of foreign companies without Bahraini sponsors or local partners. In 2017, the GOB expanded the number of sectors in which foreigners are permitted to maintain 100 percent ownership in companies to include tourism services, sporting events production, mining and quarrying, real estate, water distribution, water transport operations, and crop cultivation and propagation.  In May 2019, the GOB loosened foreign ownership restrictions in the oil and gas sector, allowing 100 percent foreign ownership in oil and gas extraction projects under certain conditions.

The U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement (FTA) entered into force in 2006. Under the FTA, Bahrain committed to world-class Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection.

Despite the GOB’s transparent, rules-based government procurement system, U.S. companies sometimes report operating at a disadvantage compared with other firms. Many ministries require firms to pre-qualify prior to bidding on a tender, often rendering firms with little or no prior experience in Bahrain ineligible to bid on major tenders.

The U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Bahrain’s Minister of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism signed a Memorandum of Understanding on January 12, 2021 to enhance bilateral economic cooperation through the creation of a United States Trade Zone in Bahrain.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 78 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 43 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 79 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country (USD M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 510 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/index.cfm 
https://www.selectusa.gov/servlet/
servlet.FileDownload?file=015t00000003D9l 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 22,110 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The GOB has a liberal approach to foreign investment and actively seeks to attract foreign investors and businesses. Increasing FDI is a top GOB priority. The GOB permits 100 percent foreign ownership of a business or branch office, without the need for a sponsor or local business partner. The GOB does not tax corporate income, personal income, wealth, capital gains, withholding or death/inheritance. There are no restrictions on repatriation of capital, profits or dividends, aside from income generated by companies in the oil and gas sector, where profits are taxable at the rate of 46 percent. Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB), charged with promoting FDI in Bahrain, places particular emphasis on attracting FDI to the manufacturing, logistics, ICT, financial services and tourism and leisure sectors. As a reflection of Bahrain’s openness to FDI, the EDB won the 2019 United Nations Top Investment Promotion Agency in the Middle East award for its role in attracting large-scale investments.

The United States and Bahrain signed an MOU in 2021 to establish a U.S Trade Zone in Bahrain, which aims to facilitate U.S. trade to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) market.

To date, U.S. investors have not alleged any legal or practical discrimination against them based on nationality.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The GOB permits foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity. The GOB imposes only minimal limits on foreign control, and the right of ownership and establishment of a business. The Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism (MoICT) maintains a small list of business activities that are restricted to Bahraini ownership, including press and publications, Islamic pilgrimage, clearance offices, and workforce agencies. The U.S.-Bahrain FTA outlines all activities in which the two countries restrict foreign ownership.

U.S citizens may own and operate companies in Bahrain, though many such individuals choose to integrate influential local partners into the ownership structure to facilitate quicker resolution of bureaucratic issues such as labor permits, issuance of foreign visas, and access to industrial zones. The most common challenges faced by U.S firms are those related to bureaucratic government processes, lack of market information, and customs clearance.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducts a formal Trade Policy Review of Bahrain every seven years. Its last formal review  was in 2014. Bahrain is on the WTO’s Provisional Programme of Reviews for December 2021.

Business Facilitation

Bahrain ranked 43 out of 190 countries on the World Bank’s overall Ease of Doing Business Indicator in 2020.

The CBB’s regulatory sandbox allows local and international FinTech firms and digitally focused financial institutions to test innovative solutions in a regulated environment, allowing successful firms to obtain licensing upon successful product application.

The MoICT operates the online commercial registration portal “Sijilat” ( www.sijilat.bh ) to facilitate the commercial registration process. Through Sijilat, local and foreign business owners can obtain a business license and requisite approvals from relevant ministries. The business registration process normally takes two to three weeks but can take longer if a business requires specialized approvals. In practice, some business owners retain an attorney or clearing agent to assist them through the commercial registration process.

In addition to obtaining primary approval to register a company, most business owners must also obtain licenses from the following entities to operate their businesses:

  • MoICT
  • Electricity and Water Authority
  • The Municipality in which their business will be located
  • Labour Market Regulatory Authority
  • General Organization for Social Insurance
  • National Bureau for Revenue (Mandatory if the business revenue exceeds BD 37,500)

To incentivize foreign investment in Bahrain’s targeted sectors and investment zones, the GOB provides industrial lands at reduced rental rates; customs duty exemptions for industrial and manufacturing projects, including imports of raw material, plant machinery equipment, and spare parts; and a five-year exemption of the “Bahrainization” recruitment restriction.

Outward Investment

The GOB neither promotes nor incentivizes outward investment. The GOB does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In 2018, the GOB issued a competition law, a personal data protection law, a bankruptcy law, and a health insurance law to enhance the country’s investment eco-system. The Law of Commerce (Legislative Decree No. 7, passed in 1987) addresses the concept of unfair competition and prohibits acts that would have a damaging effect on competition. Companies also are forbidden from undertaking practices detrimental to their competitors or from attracting the customers of their competitors through anti-competitive means. There is no official competition authority in Bahrain and the country has yet to institute comprehensive anti-monopoly laws or an independent anti-corruption agency.

Bahrain’s industrial sector exhibits dominance by state-controlled companies such as Aluminum Bahrain (ALBA) and Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (GPIC). De facto monopolies also exist in some industries led by individuals or family-run businesses.

The GOB uses International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as part of its implementation of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). IFRS are used by domestic listed and unlisted companies in their consolidated financial statements for external financial reporting.

Bahrain adopted International Accounting Standard 1 (IAS 1) in 1994 in the absence of other local standards. Non-listed banks and other business enterprises use IASs in the preparation of financial statements.

The 2001 Bahrain Commercial Companies Law requires each registered entity to produce a balance sheet, a profit-and-loss account and the director’s report for each financial year. All branches of foreign companies, limited liability companies and corporations, must submit annual audited financial statements to the Directorate of Commerce and Company Affairs at the MoICT, along with the company’s articles and /or articles of association.

Depending on the company’s business, financial statements may be subject to other regulatory agencies such as the Bahrain Monetary Agency (BMA) and the Bahrain Stock Exchange (banks and listed companies).

Bahrain encourages firms to adhere to both the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and Bahrain’s Code of Corporate Governance. Bahrain-based companies by and large remain in compliance with IAS-1 disclosure requirements.

There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations.

According to the World Bank, the GOB does not have the legal obligation to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment and there is no period of time set by law for the text of the proposed regulations to be publicly available. Bahrain, therefore, ranks among the countries with low rule-making transparency. ( http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/bahrain )

Bahrain’s laws can be drafted or proposed by the Cabinet or originate in the bicameral National Assembly, comprised of an elected, lower house Council of Representatives (COR) and an appointed, upper house Consultative Council. The independent Legislation and Legal Opinion Commission drafts legislation based on the proposals. The King’s signature is required to ratify any laws following parliamentary approval; laws are in force once published in the Official Gazette. The King may issue royal decrees (known as Decree Laws), that are immediately effective once issued, unless otherwise stated; some royal decrees are later re-drafted as legislation.  GOB ministers and heads of agencies are authorized to issue regulations that pertain to the administration of their respective bodies.

Bahrain is a member of the GCC, which created a Unified Economic Agreement to expedite trade and the movement of people and goods within GCC borders.  It also has adopted a number of unified GCC model laws, such as the GCC Trademark Law.  Bahrain is a signatory to the Apostille Convention and is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.  It is a dualist state, therefore, international treaties are not directly incorporated into its law and must be approved by the National Assembly and ratified by the King.

Commercial regulations can be proposed by the EDB, MoICT, Cabinet or COR. Draft regulations are debated within the COR and Shura Council. The Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry board of directors may raise concerns over drafting legislation at committee meetings or send written comments for review by Members of Parliament, but the bills are otherwise not available for public comment. The Cabinet issues final approval of regulations.

The e-Government portal and the Legislation and Legal Opinion Commission website list laws by category and date of issuance. Some laws are translated into English. The National Audit Office publishes results of its annual audits of government ministries and parastatals.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a GCC member, Bahrain has agreed to enforce GCC standards and regulations where they exist, and not to create any domestic rules that contradict established GCC-wide standards and regulations.  In certain cases, the GOB applies international standards where domestic or GCC standards have not been developed.  For example, the GOB mandates that imported vehicles meet either the U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or the so-called “1958 Agreement” standards developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.  Bahrain is a member of the WTO and notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Bahrain ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in September 2016 through Law No. 17 of 2016.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Bahrain’s Constitution defines the Kingdom as a sovereign, independent, Arab Muslim State. Although Article 2 of the Constitution states that Islamic Sharia (Islamic law) is the main source of legislation, general matters and private transactions are governed mainly by laws derived from international legislation. Three types of courts are present in Bahrain: civil, criminal, and family (Sharia) courts. The civil court system consists of lower courts, courts of appeal, and the Court of Cassation – the highest appellate court in the Kingdom, hearing a variety of civil, criminal, and family cases. Civil courts deal with all administrative, commercial, and civil cases, as well as disputes related to the personal status  of non-Muslims. Family courts deal primarily with personal status matters, such as marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance.

High-ranking judges in Bahrain come from prominent families, and in some cases, may be non-Bahraini citizens. Bahraini law borrows elements from European other Arab states’ legal codes.

Bahrain has a long-established framework of commercial law. English is widely used, and a number of well-known international (including U.S.) law firms, working in association with local partners, are authorized to practice law in Bahrain and provide expert legal services both nationally and regionally. Fees are charged according to internationally accepted practices. Non-Bahraini lawyers can represent clients in Bahraini courts. In April 2007, the government permitted international law firms to be established in Bahrain. These firms provide services such as commercial and financial consultancy in legal matters.

Entrenched local business interests with government influence can sometimes cause problems for foreign companies. Interpretation and application of the law sometimes varies by Ministry and may be dependent on the stature and connections of an investor’s local partner. These departures from the consistent, transparent application of regulations and the law are not common, and investors report general satisfaction with government cooperation and support.

The GOB is eager to develop its legal framework. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) has conducted training and capacity-building programs in Bahrain for years, in cooperation with the National Assembly, Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments, Supreme Judicial Council, and Judicial and Legal Studies Institute, and MoICT.

Judgments of foreign courts are recognized and enforceable under local courts. Article nine of the U.S.-Bahrain BIT outlines the disposition of U.S. investment cases within the Bahraini legal system. The most common investment-related concern in Bahrain has been the slow or incomplete application of the law. In general, the judicial process is fair, and cases can be appealed.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The U.S.-Bahrain BIT provides benefits and protection to U.S. investors in Bahrain, such as most-favored nation and national treatment, the right to make financial transfers freely and immediately, the application of international legal standards for expropriation and compensation cases, and access to international arbitration. The BIT guarantees national treatment for U.S. investments across most sectors, with exceptions of a limited list of activities, including ownership of television, radio or other media, fisheries, real estate brokerages, and land transportation. Bahrain provides most-favored nation or national treatment status to U.S. investments in air transportation, the purchase or ownership of land, and the purchase or ownership of shares traded on the Bahrain Bourse.

The national treatment clause in the BIT ensures American firms interested in selling products exclusively in Bahrain are no longer required to appoint a commercial agent, though they may opt to do so. A commercial agent is any Bahraini party appointed by a foreign party to represent the foreign party’s product or service in Bahrain.

Bahrain generally permits 100 percent foreign ownership of new industrial entities and the establishment of representative offices or branches of foreign companies without local sponsors or business partners. Wholly foreign-owned companies may be set up for regional distribution services and may operate within the domestic market as long as they do not exclusively pursue domestic commercial sales. Private investment (foreign or Bahraini) in petroleum extraction is permitted.

Expatriates may own land in designated areas in Bahrain. Non-GCC nationals, including Americans, may own high-rise commercial and residential properties, as well as properties used for tourism, banking, financial and health projects, and training centers.

Bahrain issued Bankruptcy Law No. 22 in May 2018 governing corporate reorganization and insolvency. The law is based on U.S. Chapter 11 insolvency legislation and provides companies in financial difficulty with an opportunity to restructure under court supervision.

Below is a link to a site designed to assist foreign investors to navigate the laws, rules, and procedures related to investing in Bahrain: http://cbb.complinet.com/cbb/microsite/laws.html 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The GOB issued Competition Law No. 31 in July 2018 to prevent the formation of monopolies or the practice of anti-competitive behavior. This law makes it easier for new businesses to enter existing markets and compete with significant players.

MoICT’s Consumer Protection Directorate is responsible for ensuring that the law determining price controls is implemented and that violators are punished.

Expropriation and Compensation

There have been no expropriations in recent years, and there are no cases in contention. The U.S.-Bahrain BIT protects U.S. investments by banning all expropriations (including “creeping” and “measures tantamount to”) except those for a public purpose. Such transactions must be carried out in a non-discriminatory manner, with due process, and prompt, adequate, effective compensation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Bahrain uses multiple international and regional conventions to enhance its commercial arbitration legal framework. Bahrain is a party to the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, the New York Convention, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and the GCC Convention for Execution of Judgments, among others. These conventions and international agreements established the foundation for the GCC Arbitration Centre, and the Bahrain Chamber for Disputes & Resolution (BCDR). Bahrain’s Constitution stipulates international conventions and treaties have the power of law.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Article 9 of The U.S.-Bahrain BIT provides for three dispute settlement options:

  1. Submitting the dispute to a local court or administrative tribunals of the host country.
  2. Invoking dispute-resolution procedures previously agreed upon by the foreign investor or company and the host country government; or,
  3. Submitting the dispute for binding arbitration to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) or, the Additional Facility of ICSID, or ad hoc arbitration using the Arbitration Rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), or any other arbitral institution or rules agreed upon by both parties.

Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution Court

The Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution (BCDR) Court was established by Legislative Decree No. 30 of 2009. It operates in partnership with the American Arbitration Association (AAA). BCDR’s casework emanates from disputes brought before the BCDR Court and BCDR’s international arbitration wing, BCDR-AAA.

The BCDR Court administers disputes in excess of 500,000 Bahraini Dinars (approximately USD 1.3 million) in which at least one party is a financial institution licensed by the Central Bank of Bahrain, or the dispute is of an international commercial nature.

Between its establishment in 2010 and the end of 2020, BCDR registered 298 cases under its jurisdiction as a court with monetary claims totaling over USD 5.79 billion. Of these cases, 27 percent were decided or settled within 6 months; 43 percent were decided/settled within 6 to 12 months; 14 percent were decided or settled within 12 to 18 months; seven percent were decided or settled within 18 to 24 months; three percent were decided or settled after 24 months; one percent was suspended, and 5.0 percent are ongoing.

BCDR-AAA International Arbitration Center

BCDR-AAA is an international arbitration center with jurisdiction over disputes with respect to which the parties have agreed in writing that the BCDR-AAA Arbitration Rules shall apply.

As of December 2020, BCDR-AAA registered 17 cases under its jurisdiction as an international arbitration center, one in 2013, one in 2015, three in 2016, five in 2017, two in 2019, and five in 2020. Of these cases only seven are ongoing, one filed in 2017, one filed in 2019, five filed in 2020, and the rest were awarded or settled.

Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution
Suite 301, Park Plaza
Bldg. 247, Road 1704
P.O. Box 20006
Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
Tel: + (973) 17-511-311
Website: www.bcdr-aaa.org 

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported that Bahrain faced its first known Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) claim in 2017. The case involved investor claims over the CBB’s 2016 move to close the Manama branch of Future Bank, a commercial bank whose shareholders included Iranian banks. Bahrain and Iran are party to a BIT. UNCTAD reported another investor-state dispute case involving Qatar Airways in 2020.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitration procedures are largely a contractual matter in Bahrain. Disputes historically have been referred to an arbitration body as specified in the contract, or to the local courts. In dealings with both local and foreign firms, Bahraini companies have increasingly included arbitration procedures in their contracts. Most commercial disputes are resolved privately without recourse to the courts or formal arbitration. Resolution under Bahraini law is generally specified in all contracts for the settlement of disputes that reach the stage of formal resolution but is optional in those designating the BCDR. Bahrain’s court system has adequately handled occasional lawsuits against individuals or companies for nonpayment of debts.

Bahrain Law No. 9 of 2015 promulgating the Arbitration Law (the “New Arbitration Law”) came into effect on August 9, 2015. The law provides that the UNCITRAL 1985 Model Law with its 2006 amendments on international commercial arbitration (the “UNCITRAL Law”) will apply to any arbitration, taking place in Bahrain or abroad, if the parties to the dispute agreed to be subject to the UNCITRAL Law.

The GCC Commercial Arbitration Center, established in 1995, serves as a regional specialized body providing arbitration services. It assists in resolving disputes among GCC countries or between other parties and GCC countries. The Center implements rules and regulations in line with accepted international practice. Thus far, few cases have been brought to arbitration. The Center conducts seminars, symposia, and workshops to help educate and update its members on any new arbitration-related matters.

GCC Commercial Arbitration Center
P.O. Box 2338
Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
Arbitration Boards’ Secretariat
Tel: + (973) 17278000
Email: case@gcccac.org 
Website: http://www.gcccac.org/en/ 

Bankruptcy Regulations

The GOB enacted its original bankruptcy and insolvency law through Decree by Law No. 11 in 1987.  In May 2018, the GOB issued and ratified Law No. 22, updating the original legislation. Modeled on U.S. Chapter 11 legislation, the law introduces reorganization whereby a company’s management may continue business operations during the administration of a case. The Bankruptcy Law also includes provisions for cross-border insolvency, and special insolvency provisions for small and medium-sized enterprises that were further amended in July 2020 and enhanced creditors rights and expediting liquidation proceedings. The Bahrain credit reference bureau, known as “BENEFIT,” is licensed by the CBB and operates as the credit monitoring authority in Bahrain.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The GOB offers a variety of incentives to attract FDI. The Bahrain EDB, the Bahrain Logistics Zone (BLZ), Bahrain Development Bank (BDB), Bahrain International Investment Park (BIIP), and labor market fund Tamkeen offer incentives to encourage FDI. Some examples of incentives include assistance in registering and opening business operations, financial grants, exemption from import duties on raw materials and equipment, and duty-free access to other GCC markets for products manufactured in Bahrain.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Khalifa bin Salman Port, Bahrain’s primary commercial seaport, provides a free transit zone to facilitate the duty-free import of equipment and machinery. The GOB has developed two main industrial zones, one to the north of Sitra and the other in Hidd. The Hidd location, known as BIIP, is adjacent to a logistics zone, known as BLZ. Foreign-owned firms have the same investment opportunities in these zones as Bahraini companies.

MoICT operates BIIP, a 2.5 million square-meter, tax-free zone located minutes from Bahrain’s main Khalifa bin Salman port. Many U.S. companies operate out of this park. BIIP is most suited to manufacturing and services companies interested in exporting from Bahrain. The park offers manufacturing companies the ability to ship their products duty free to countries in the Greater Arab Free Trade Area. BIIP has space available for potential investors, including some plots of vacant land designated for new construction, and some warehouse facilities for rental.

BLZ is a boutique logistics park. Regulated and managed by the Ports and Maritime Affairs at the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications, BLZ offers local and international companies a base from which to operate in a customs-bonded area to export products and services to the northern Gulf and GCC markets. The park accommodates logistics companies engaged in:

  • Third-party logistics (3PL) and freight forwarding services.
  • General and specialized storage and distribution activities for re-export purposes.
  • Value adding logistics services such as component assembly, packing and packaging, labeling, testing and repair, mixing, weighing and filling, and other light manufacturing activities.

A 1999 law requires investors in industrial or industry-related zones to launch a project within one year from the date of receiving the land, and development must conform to the specifications, terms, and drawings submitted with the application. Changes are not permitted without approval from MoICT.

The U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Bahrain’s Minister of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism signed an MOU on January 12, 2021 to enhance bilateral economic cooperation through the creation of a United States Trade Zone (USTZ) in Bahrain. The MoICT has identified a tentative location for the USTZ near the BIIP and BLZ and adjacent to the Khalifa bin Salman Port.  MoICT expects the USTZ to include many of the same land lease discounts, customs exemptions, and other incentivized features as the BIIP and BLZ.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Companies in Bahrain are obliged to comply with so-called “ Bahrainization” employment targets , under which the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) mandates that a certain percentage of each company’s employees are Bahraini nationals. Companies may contact LMRA to determine the “Bahrainization” rate, which differs based on sector, or use a calculator to determine the rate http://lmra.bh/portal/en/page/show/193 . The applicable Bahrainization rate  is mandatory across the board in the company structure. Per Cabinet Resolution Number 27 of 2016, LMRA announced that companies unable to comply with the rates would only be eligible to apply for new work permits and sponsorship transfers by paying an additional annual fee of BD 500 (USD 1,325) per non-Bahraini worker. LMRA may apply fines to companies that do not comply with “Bahrainization” requirements.

The GOB introduced the National Employment Program initiative in 2019 to enhance Bahraini nationals’ employment through trainings and qualification programs. The program, in its two versions, worked on replacing expat employment with Bahraini nationals in several occupations, mainly, in the health, education and telecommunication sectors.

The GOB issued Law No. 1 in March 2019 amending Article 14 of the Private Health Establishments Law, which gives priority to recruiting qualified Bahraini physicians, technicians, and nursing staff in private health establishments.

There is no excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirement inhibiting the mobility of foreign investors or their employees in Bahrain. Americans and citizens of many other countries can obtain a two-week visa with relative ease upon arrival in Bahrain or online. Bahrain also offers American citizens a five-year, multiple-entry visa, if required.

Bahrain has a liberal approach to foreign investment and actively seeks to attract foreign investors and businesses; no product localization is enforced, and foreign investors are not obliged to use domestic content in goods or technology. There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest, including tariff and non-tariff barriers, on American investments.

There are no special performance requirements imposed on foreign investors. The U.S.-Bahrain BIT forbids mandated performance requirements as a condition for the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, or operation of a covered investment. Foreign and Bahraini-owned companies must meet the same requirements and comply with the same environmental, safety, health, and labor requirements. Officials at the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, LMRA, and MoICT supervise companies operating in Bahrain on a non-discriminatory basis.

The CBB regulates financial institutions and foreign exchange offices. Foreign and locally owned companies must comply with the same rules, policies, and regulations.

There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or to provide access to surveillance.

Bahrain enacted Law No. 30 of 2018 with respect to Personal Data Protection on July 12, 2018. The nationwide Data Protection Law, which went into force on August 1, 2019, promotes the efficient and secure processing of big data for commercial use and provides guidelines for the effective transfer of data across borders.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The GOB enforces property rights protections for land and homeowners. Most land has a clear title. Ownership of land is highly concentrated among a few royal family members, and certain areas are off-limits for Bahraini nationals and expatriates alike. Foreign firms and GCC nationals may own land in certain areas in Bahrain. Non-GCC nationals may own high-rise commercial and residential properties in certain areas. Foreign investors may own property to operate businesses in various fields of business, including but not limited to manufacturing, tourism, banking and financial services, education and training, design, and advertising.

Foreign investors may own commercial property in the following geographic areas of Bahrain:

  • Ahmed Al-Fateh (Juffair) district
  • Hoora district
  • Bu Ghazal district
  • Seef district
  • Northern Manama, including the Diplomatic Area, where the main international corporations are located

Foreign investors may own residential property in the following tourist areas:

  • Durrat Al Bahrain
  • Riffa Views
  • Amwaj Islands
  • Bahrain Financial Harbor
  • Bahrain Bay
  • Reef Island
  • Diyyar Al Muharraq
  • Some areas in Saar

Most of the new development projects in Bahrain permit expatriates and international investors to own houses, buildings, outlets, or freehold apartments.

Legally purchased property cannot revert to other owners, even if such property is unoccupied.

Intellectual Property Rights

Under the U.S.-Bahrain FTA, the GOB committed to enforce intellectual property rights (IPR) protections. Bahrain signed the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, Patent Cooperation Treaty, Nice Agreement, Madrid Agreement, Budapest Treaty, Trademark Law Treaty, and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property in 1996. The GOB ratified revised legislation in 2006 to implement Bahrain’s obligations under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The GOB has passed laws related to IPR to bring Bahrain’s local laws into compliance with its Paris Convention commitment, and in anticipation of acceding to the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks and the Locarno Agreement on establishing an international classification for industrial designs, and the International Patent Classification (IPC). Bahrain has acceded to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

The GOB has made progress in reducing copyright piracy and there are few reports of significant violations of U.S. patents and trademarks in Bahrain. The GOB’s copyright enforcement campaign began in late 1997 and was based on inspections, closures, and improved public awareness. The campaign targeted the video, audio and software industries with impressive results. Commercially pirated video and audio markets have been mostly eliminated. However, audio, video, and software piracy by end-users remain problematic. There are no technology transfer requirements that force firms to share or divulge technology through compulsory licensing to a domestic partner, nor are firms required to undertake research and development activities in Bahrain.

In May 2016, the GOB issued the Implementing Regulations for the Trademark Law of the GCC, which had originally been approved by Law No. 6 of 2014. Law No. 6 provided a unified trademark regime for all six GCC countries.

Bahrain is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List. Bahrain does not track or report on seizures of counterfeit goods. For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ . The Embassy’s webpage also offers a link to local lawyers, some of whom specialize in IPR and/or patent law: https://bh.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/attorneys/

Resources for Intellectual Property Rights Holders:

Peter Mehravari
Patent Attorney
Intellectual Property Attaché for the Middle East & North Africa
U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi | U.S. Department of Commerce U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
Tel: +965 2259 1455
Peter.Mehravari@trade.gov 

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

Consistent with the GOB’s liberal approach to foreign investment, government policies facilitate the free flow of financial transactions and portfolio investments. Expatriates and Bahraini nationals have ready access to credit on market terms. Generally, credit terms are variable, but often are limited to 10 years for loans under USD 50 million. For major infrastructure investments, banks often offer to assume a part of the risk, and Bahrain’s wholesale and retail banks have shown extensive cooperation in syndicating loans for larger risks. Commercial credit is available to private organizations in Bahrain but has been increasingly crowded out by the government’s local bond issuances.

In 2016, the GOB launched a new fund designed to inject greater liquidity in the Bahrain Bourse, worth USD 100 million. The Bahrain Liquidity Fund is supported by a number of market participants and acts as a market maker, providing two-way quotes on most of the listed stocks with a reasonable spread to allow investors to actively trade their stocks. Despite these efforts, the market remains relatively small compared to others in the region.

In October 2019, the GOB established a BD 130 million (USD 344 million) Liquidity Fund to assist distressed companies in restructuring financial obligations, which was expanded in March 2020 to BD 200 million (USD 530 million) in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The GOB and the CBB are members of the IMF and fully compliant with Article VIII.

Money and Banking System

The CBB is the single regulator of the entire financial sector, with an integrated regulatory framework covering all financial services provided by conventional and Islamic financial institutions. Bahrain’s banking sector remains quite healthy despite sustained lower global oil prices. Bahrain’s banks remain well capitalized, and there is sufficient liquidity to ensure a healthy rate of investment. Bahrain remains a financial center for the GCC region, though many financial firms have moved their regional headquarters to Dubai over the last decade. The GOB continues to be a driver of innovation and expansion in the Islamic finance sector. In 2020, Bahrain ranked as the GCC’s leading Islamic finance market and placed third globally, according to the ICD-Thomson Reuters Islamic Finance Development Indicator (IFDI).

Bahrain has an effective regulatory system that encourages portfolio investment, and the CBB has fully implemented Basel II standards, while attempting to bring Bahraini banks into compliance with Basel III standards. Bahrain’s banking sector includes 91 retail banks, of which 61 are wholesale banks, 17 are branches of foreign banks, and 13are locally incorporated. Of these, eight are representative offices, and 18 are Islamic banks.

There are no restrictions on foreigners opening bank accounts or corporate accounts. Bahrain is home to many prominent financial institutions, among them Citibank, American Express, and JP Morgan Chase. Ahli United Bank is Bahrain’s largest bank with total assets estimated at USD 40.1 billion as of December 2020.

Bahrain implemented the Real-Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) System and the Scripless Securities Settlement (SSS) System in 2007 to enable banks to carry out their payment and securities-related transactions securely on a real time basis.

In 2017, Bahrain became the first in the GCC to introduce fintech “sandbox” regulations that enabled the launch of cryptocurrency and blockchain startups. The same year, the CBB released additional regulations for conventional and Sharia-compliant financing-based crowdfunding businesses.  Any firm operating electronic financing/lending platforms must be licensed in Bahrain under the CBB Rulebook Volume 5 – Financing Based Crowdfunding Platform Operator.  In February 2019, the CBB issued cryptocurrency regulations.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Bahrain has no restrictions on the repatriation of profits or capital and no exchange controls. Bahrain’s currency, the Bahraini Dinar (BD), is fully and freely convertible at the fixed rate of USD 1.00 = BD 0.377 (1 BD = USD 2.659). There is no black market or parallel exchange rate. There are no restrictions on converting or transferring funds, whether or not associated with an investment.

Remittance Policies

The CBB is responsible for regulating remittances, and its regulations are based on the Central Bank Law ratified in 2006. Foreign workers comprise the majority of the labor force in Bahrain, many of whom remit significant quantities of funds to their countries of origin. Commercial banks and currency exchange houses are licensed to provide remittances services.

Commercial banks and currency exchange houses require two forms of identification before processing a routine remittance request, and any transaction exceeding USD 10,000 must include a documented source of the income.

Bahrain enables foreign investors to remit funds through a legal parallel market, with no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue. The GOB does not engage in currency manipulation tactics.

The GCC is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Bahrain is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), whose headquarters are located in Bahrain. Participating countries commit to combat the financing of terrorist groups and activities in all its forms and to implement FATF recommendations. The GOB hosted the MENAFATF’s 26th Plenary Meeting Manama in 2017.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Bahrain established Mumtalakat, its sovereign wealth fund, in 2006. Mumtalakat, which maintains an investment portfolio valued at roughly BD 7.1 billion (USD 18.9 billion) as of 2019, issues an annual report online. The annual report follows international financial reporting standards and is audited by external auditing firms. By law, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) under Mumtalakat are audited and monitored by the National Audit Office. In 2019, Mumtalakat received the highest-possible ranking in the Linaburg-Maduell Transparency Index for the sixth consecutive year, which specializes in ranking the transparency of sovereign wealth funds. However, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund does not follow the Santiago Principles.

Mumtalakat holds majority stakes in several firms. Mumtalakat invests 63 percent of its funds in the Middle East, 29 percent in Europe, and eight percent in the United States. The fund is diversified across a variety of business sectors including real estate and tourism, financial services, food and agriculture, and industrial manufacturing.

Mumtalakat often acts more as an active asset management company than a sovereign wealth fund, including by taking an active role in managing SOEs. Most notably, Mumtalakat has been instrumental in helping Gulf Air, Bahrain’s state-owned airline, restructure and contain losses. A significant portion of Mumtalakat’s portfolio is invested in 31 Bahrain-based SOEs.

Through 2016, Mumtalakat had not been directly contributing to the State Budget. Beginning in September 2017, however, Mumtalakat annually contributed USD 53 million to the State Budget, which was increased to USD 106 million in the 2021-2022 State Budget.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Bahrain’s major SOEs include the Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO), Aluminum Bahrain (ALBA), Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (GPIC), Gulf Air, Bahrain Telecommunications Company (BATELCO), National Bank of Bahrain (NBB), Bahrain Flour Mills, Tatweer Petroleum, and Arab Shipbuilding and Repair Yard (ASRY). While the GOB maintains full ownership of oil production, refineries, and heavy industries, it allows investment in ALBA, BATELCO, and ASRY, and encourages private sector competition in the banking, manufacturing, telecommunications, shipyard repair, and real estate sectors.

The SOEs are managed by two government-run holding companies: The National Oil and Gas Authority (NOGA) Holding Company, which owns nine energy sector companies, and Mumtalakat, which owns 31 domestic companies in all other sectors. The full portfolio of the NOGA Holding Company can be viewed at www.nogaholding.com/portfolio/ , while the full portfolio of Mumtalakat companies can be viewed at www.bmhc.bh .

Bahrain is not a party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), however, in 2008 Bahrain was granted “observer” status in the GPA committee.

Private enterprises can, in theory, compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives. In practice, however, given the relatively small size of Bahrain’s economy, large SOEs such as ALBA, BAPCO, GPIC and ASRY have an outsized influence in the market.

In 2002, the GOB instituted guidelines to ensure its SOEs were in line with OECD policies on corporate governance. SOEs produce quarterly reports. The National Audit Office monitors all SOEs and annually reports any irregularities, mismanagement, and corruption.

Both funds are managed by government-appointed boards: Mumtalakat’s board is chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister Khalid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, and NOGA Holding’s board is chaired by the Minister of Oil Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.

All Bahraini SOEs have an independent board of trustees with well-structured management. The Mumtalakat Holding Company is represented by a Board of Trustees appointed by the Crown Prince, while NOGA Holding’s Board of Trustees is appointed by a Royal Decree. Each holding company then appoints the Board of Trustees for the SOEs under its authority. In some cases, the appointment of the Board of Trustees is politically driven.

Privatization Program

The GOB has been supportive of privatization as part of its Economic Vision 2030, and advocates for increased foreign investment as a means of driving private sector growth. The GOB’s decision to privatize the telecommunications sector in the early 2000s is an example of incentivizing private sector growth in Bahrain. In 2018, the GOB began to privatize some government administered medical services, such as pre-employment screenings. It has also begun the process of privatizing other support services at GOB medical facilities, such as transportation, cleaning, laundry, textiles, maintenance, and security.

In May 2019, the GOB loosened foreign ownership restrictions in the oil and gas sector, allowing 100 percent foreign ownership in oil and gas extraction projects, under certain production-sharing agreements.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Ministry of Labour and Social Development in 2011 authorized the creation of the Bahrain Corporate Social Responsibility Society (BCSRS) as a social and cultural entity. Though there are no measures in Bahrain to compel businesses to follow codes of responsible business conduct, the BCSRS has sought to raise awareness of corporate social responsibility in the business community, and in 2019 held its third Bahrain International Corporate Responsibility Award ceremony. The Society is a founding member of the Arab Association for Social Responsibility, which includes representatives of most Arab countries.

In 2003, Bahrain established a National Steering Committee on Corporate Governance to improve corporate governance practices. The MoICT promulgated the new Corporate Governance Code pursuant to Decree No. 19 of 2018. The new code expanded the base of companies obligated to implement responsible governance, as per the country’s Corporate Governance Code issued in 2010, to include all locally incorporated closed joint stock companies. The law stipulates minimum standards required for corporate governance and applies to all companies incorporated in Bahrain, with the exception of companies that provide regulated financial services licensed by the CBB.

The GOB drafted a Corporate Governance Code to establish a set of best practices for corporate governance in Bahrain, and to provide protection for investors and other company stakeholders through compliance with those principles. The GOB enforces the code through a combined monitoring system comprising the MoICT, CBB, Bahrain Stock Exchange (BSE), Bahrain Courts, and other professional firms including auditors, lawyers, and investment advisers. The code does not create new penalties for non-complying companies, but it does state that the MoICT (working closely with the CBB and the BSE) will be able to exercise penalty powers already granted to it under the Commercial Companies Law 2001.

The GOB, represented by the LMRA, has put in place advanced regulations and laws protecting labor rights, the most vulnerable category comprising migrant workers from Southeast Asia. While legislation guarantees certain rights, workers may be exposed to unfair labor practices. Labor courts have not been effective in settling labor disputes between employers and employees. However, there have been some reports of cases that were settled in favor of employees in Bahraini labor courts. Bahrain is a class five country on the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index for freedom of association and workers’ rights, with the index ranging from one to five in ascending order from best to worst.

Law Number 35 of 2012, the Consumer Protection Law, ensures quality control, combats unfair business practices, and imposes sanctions for breaches of the law’s provisions. MoICT is highly effective in implementing the law.

Bahrain’s amended Corporate Governance Law enhances transparency and ethical business conduct standards. Among the changes, the GOB urged companies to submit audited ratified accounts to the MoICT.

The GOB does not maintain a National Contact Point (NCP) for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines, nor does it participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Senior GOB officials have advocated publicly to reduce corruption. Legislation regulating corruption is outlined in Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030 and National Anti-Corruption Strategy. Bahrain joined the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2003. Bahrain ratified its penal code on combatting bribery in the public and private sectors in 2008, mandating criminal penalties for official corruption. Under law, GOB employees are subject to prosecution and punishments of up to 10 years imprisonment if they use their positions to engage in embezzlement or bribery, either directly or indirectly. The law does not require GOB officials to make financial disclosures. In 2010, Bahrain ratified the UNCAC and the Arab Convention Against Corruption, and in 2016, joined the International Anti-Corruption Academy. In December 2020, the Ministry of Interior General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security initiated 64 economic corruption cases and referred 34 of them to the Public Prosecution Office. Giving or accepting a bribe is illegal. The GOB, however, has not fully implemented the law, and some officials reportedly continue to engage in corrupt practices with impunity.

The National Audit Office, established in 2002, is mandated to publish annual reports that highlight fiscal irregularities within GOB ministries and other public sector entities. The reports enable legislators to exercise oversight and call for investigations of fiscal discrepancies in GOB accounts. In 2013, the Crown Prince established an Investigation Committee to oversee cases noted in the National Audit Office annual report, which lists violations by GOB state bodies.

The Minister for Follow-Up Affairs was designated in 2015 to execute recommendations made in that year’s National Audit Office annual report. The Crown Prince, who concurrently has served as Prime Minister since November 2020, urged all GOB entities and the COR to work closely to implement the report’s recommendations.

The Ministry of Interior maintains an anti-corruption directorate and signed an MOU with the United Nations Development Programme to enhance the anti-corruption directorate’s capabilities.

Bahrain has conflict-of-interest laws in place, however, their application in awarding contacts is not fully enforced.

Local non-governmental organizations generally do not focus on corruption-related issues, though civil society activists have spoken out against corrupt practices in the public sector.

Few cases have been registered by U.S. companies reporting corruption as an obstacle to their investments in Bahrain.

Bahrain signed and ratified the United Nations Anticorruption Convention in 2005 and 2010, respectively. Bahrain, however, is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery. In 2018, Bahrain joined the OECD’s Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS).

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies responsible for combating corruption:

General Directorate of Anti- Corruption & Economic & Electronic Security

Ministry of Interior
P. O. Box 26698, Manama, Bahrain
Hotline: 992

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

President
Bahrain Transparency Association
P.O. Box 26059
Adliya, Bahrain
Phone: +973 39642452

10. Political and Security Environment

Bahrain is an open, liberal Gulf state that enjoys close diplomatic ties with the United States. Bahrain experiences intermittent cycles of violence, the most recent period of unrest took place in 2011-2014. In 2016 and 2017, the GOB dissolved the country’s two largest opposition political societies and closed the country’s only independent newspaper. On May 13, 2018, the Parliament passed a law banning members of political societies dissolved by the GOB from running in elections that took place later that year. Since 2017, protests centered on sociopolitical or economic demands have largely dissipated or been controlled by GOB authorities.

Neither demonstrators nor violent extremists have generally targeted Americans or other Western expatriates. American citizens visiting Bahrain and companies interested in investing in Bahrain should visit the Embassy’s website to receive the most up-to-date information about the security situation and register with the Embassy’s consular section.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In 2006, the King ratified the Labor Reforms Law, which established the LMRA and the capacity-building labor fund known as Tamkeen. The law imposed a monthly fee of BD 10 (USD 26.67) on each expatriate employed by any company registered in Bahrain. The revenues collected under this program are earmarked to provide job training for Bahraini nationals. The LMRA fee was suspended in 2011 and reinstated in 2013 as an amendment to the Labor Law. Companies pay BD 5 (USD 13.35) for the first five foreign workers and BD 10 (USD 26.67) for every additional employee. The COR has attempted to amend the fee structure, most recently in 2017.

Bahrain’s Labor Law No. 36 of 2012 guarantees employees’ rights by requiring clear contractual terms for employing domestic staff, and prohibiting discrimination practices of wages based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or language. Bahrain’s Labor Law has introduced enhancements for annual leave, maternity leave, sick leave entitlement, and resolution of labor disputes.

Expatriate workers should be registered by their employer with LMRA to receive a valid residence permit and work permit. Employers are prohibited from employing foreigners without a valid work permit. To work in Bahrain, foreign employees should be medically fit, have entered the country lawfully, possess a valid passport, and retain residence and work permits.

As of the first quarter of 2020, the Ministry of Labour and Social Development estimated Bahrain’s labor force in the private sector to be 508,595 foreign workers (including housekeepers), with a decrease of 74,414 compared to 2019; and 109,022 Bahraini national workers. Eighty percent of Bahrain’s total workforce is comprised of foreigners, the majority being unskilled construction workers. According to Bahrain’s Information and eGovernment Authority, foreigners comprised 53 percent of Bahrain’s population in 2020.

The GOB’s primary initiative for combating unemployment among Bahraini nationals is “Bahrainization,” a policy that mandates employers to hire Bahraini nationals instead of foreign workers.

Companies occasionally experience difficulty obtaining mandatory work permits and residence visas for expatriate employees due to “Bahrainization” policies. Bahrain’s Ministry of Labor and Social Development reported that 2,775 private companies have implemented the “Bahrainization” system as of June 2020. According to the Minister of Labour and Social Development, over 10,000 new Bahraini employees were hired in the private sector during the first quarter of 2020. The GOB stipulated through Decree No. 1 of 2019 that priority will be given to Bahraini physicians, technicians, and nurses with the required qualifications and experience. Since July 2020, the LMRA requires private sector companies to first advertise a job vacancy in local newspapers for two weeks and provide Bahraini nationals with priority access to applying, before an expatriate can be considered. “Bahrainization” requirements may be temporarily waived for FDI in Bahrain’s special economic zones, including BIIP and BLZ.

The GOB issued an order on March 5, 2019 requiring employers to pay a BD 500 (USD 1,325) fee payable every two years per work permit beyond the “Bahrainization” quota allotted. In July 2020, the Cabinet provided businesses with a three-month exemption from paying the LMRA fees to renew the work permits of foreign workers. U.S. businesses are encouraged to appeal to the appropriate GOB entity should they have questions or concerns about “Bahrainization.”

According to the LMRA, as of March 2021 there are nearly 50,000 out-of-status workers in Bahrain – that is, workers without a visa or valid work permit. This number is down from nearly 65,000 out-of-status workers in early 2020. In April 2020, the GOB implemented a temporary amnesty to allow thousands of out-of-status workers to regularize their immigration status. In August 2020, the Cabinet approved new regulations for the flexible work permit, also known as the “flexi” permit, which allows foreign workers to live freely and work in a non-specialized occupation without a sponsor for a renewable period of one to two years. The new regulations empower LMRA to increase inspection visits on “flexi” permit employers to ensure they are not working in professional activities that require a specialized work permit.

The Labor Law of 2012 allows an employer to terminate an employee in the event of the total or partial closure of an establishment. The employer must render a notice and reason for termination to the Ministry of Labour and Social Development at least 30 days prior to serving notice of termination to the affected employee. The amount of compensation due an employee for termination is set by law and is based in part on length of service.

There were no high-profile, controversial cases of private sector regulations harming or restricting the labor rights of expatriate workers in 2020.

In 2007, the Minister of Labour and Social Development introduced an unemployment allowance to be paid from a general labor fund. The fund is financed by deducting one percent from the wages of all workers and is the first such program in the GCC.

In 2002, the King approved the Workers Trade Union Law of 2002 that recognizes the right of workers to collectively organize and form trade unions and limited rights to strike. The law prohibits workers from striking in certain vital sectors including security, aviation, ports, hospitals, and utilities. With the exception of domestic workers, foreign employees are allowed to join trade unions. The law prohibits employers from dismissing an employee for trade union activities. In 2011, the King issued a decree that changed Bahrain’s labor law as it pertained to trade unions and federations. Union leadership criticized the new law for provisions that appear to inhibit freedom of association. The 2012 law prohibits multi-sectoral labor federations and prohibits individuals convicted of felonies from holding union leadership posts. While the amendment allowed for the formation of multiple trade union federations, it gave the Ministry of Labour and Social Development the right to select the federation to represent the country’s workers in international fora and in national-level bargaining.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor and Bahrain Ministry of Labour and Social Development convened the first meeting of the U.S.-Bahrain Sub-Committee on Labor Affairs, as established under the U.S.-Bahrain FTA. At the meeting, they reaffirmed their obligations under the FTA related to internationally recognized labor rights, including their obligations as members of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and commitments stated in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998). In July 2018, Bahrain achieved “Tier 1” status in the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report. It maintained this ranking in the 2019 report. There were no instances of child labor and no violence against labor rights defenders during the reporting period. The only instances of forced labor were linked to prostitution and human trafficking. Court proceedings have been initiated against the individuals who are involved in those cases.

During the civil unrest of 2011, Bahraini employees were dismissed from private and public-sector jobs. In June 2011, the AFL-CIO filed a petition with the Department of Labor accusing Bahrain of violating the labor rights terms of the U.S.-Bahrain FTA. The November 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report concluded that the majority of dismissals were motivated by retaliation against employees suspected of being involved in civil demonstrations. By the end of 2012, the majority of dismissed workers in the public and private sectors were reinstated, with the GOB working to resolve the remaining cases. In March 2014, the Minister of Labour and Social Development, Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions signed a tripartite agreement to resolve the remaining worker reinstatement cases. Subsequently, the ILO dropped the complaint it initiated in 2011. Bilateral consultations are ongoing between the U.S. and Bahrain – invoked under the Labor Chapter of the FTA in response to the 2011 AFL-CIO complaint.

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) (USD M USD) 2017 20182019 USD 35,43USD 37,61USD 38,43 2018 2019 USD 37,65 USD 38,57 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (USD M USD, stock positions) 20182019 USD 326USD 347 2018 2019 USD 442 USD 510 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-
and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data

www.selectusa.gov
https://data.gov.bh/en/ResourceCenter 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (USD M USD, stock positions) 20182019 USD 4,987USD 5,153 2018 2019 USD N/A USD -13 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-
and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data

www.selectusa.gov
https://data.gov.bh/en/ResourceCenter 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 N/A 20182019 77.4%78% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20
Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx 

* Source for Host Country Data: www.data.gov.bh 

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 2019 Outward Direct Investment (N/A)
Total Inward 30,077 100% Total Outward 100%
Kuwait 9,374 31% N/A
Saudi Arabia 8,713 29%
Libya 3,109 10%
United Arab Emirates 1,655 5%
Cayman Islands 1,565 5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 42,980 100% All Countries 8,989 100% All Countries 33,990 100%
UAE 5,986 14% Cayman Islands 2,216 25% UAE 5,372 16%
United States 5,598 13% United States 1,645 18% Turkey 4,431 13%
Turkey 4,450 10% Saudi Arabia 771 9% United States 3,953 12%
Cayman Islands 3,539 8% UAE 615 7% Qatar 2,634 8%
Qatar 3,041 7% Qatar 407 5% Brazil 1,617 5%

14. Contact for More Information

Hadeel Hassan
Commercial Assistant
U.S. Embassy Manama
P.O. Box 26431
Bldg. 979, Rd. 3119
Block 331, Zinj
Kingdom of Bahrain
Telephone No. +973 1724-2700
E-mail address: manamacommercial@state.gov 

Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh is the most densely populated non-city-state country in the world, with the eighth largest population (over 165 million) within a territory the size of Iowa. Bangladesh is situated in the northeastern corner of the Indian subcontinent, sharing a 4,100 km border with India and a 247 km border with Burma. With sustained economic growth over the past decade, a large, young, and hard-working workforce, strategic location between the large South and Southeast Asian markets, and vibrant private sector, Bangladesh will likely continue to attract increasing investment, despite severe economic headwinds created by the global outbreak of COVID-19.

Buoyed by a young workforce and a growing consumer base, Bangladesh has enjoyed consistent annual GDP growth of more than six percent over the past decade, with the exception of the COVID-induced economic slowdown in 2020. Much of this growth continues to be driven by the ready-made garment (RMG) industry, which exported $28.0 billion of apparel products in fiscal year (FY) 2020, and continued remittance inflows, reaching a record $18.2 billion in FY 2020. (Note: The Bangladeshi fiscal year is from July 1 to June 30; fiscal year 2020 ended on June 30, 2020.) However, the country’s RMG exports dropped more than 18 percent year-over-year in FY 2020 as COVID-19 depressed the global demand for apparel products.

The Government of Bangladesh (GOB) actively seeks foreign investment. Sectors with active investments from overseas include agribusiness, garment/textiles, leather/leather goods, light manufacturing, power and energy, electronics, light engineering, information and communications technology (ICT), plastic, healthcare, medical equipment, pharmaceutical, ship building, and infrastructure. The GOB offers a range of investment incentives under its industrial policy and export-oriented growth strategy with few formal distinctions between foreign and domestic private investors.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) stock was $16.9 billion in 2019, with the United States being the top investing country with $3.5 billion in accumulated investments. Bangladesh received $1.6 billion FDI in 2019. The rate of FDI inflows was only 0.53 percent of GDP, one of the lowest of rates in Asia.

Bangladesh has made gradual progress in reducing some constraints on investment, including taking steps to better ensure reliable electricity, but inadequate infrastructure, limited financing instruments, bureaucratic delays, lax enforcement of labor laws, and corruption continue to hinder foreign investment. Government efforts to improve the business environment in recent years show promise but implementation has yet to materialize. Slow adoption of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and sluggish judicial processes impede the enforcement of contracts and the resolution of business disputes.

As a traditionally moderate, secular, peaceful, and stable country, Bangladesh experienced a decrease in terrorist activity in 2020, accompanied by an increase in terrorism-related investigations and arrests. A December 2018 national election marred by irregularities, violence, and intimidation consolidated the power of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling party, the Awami League. This allowed the government to adopt legislation and policies diminishing space for the political opposition, undermining judicial independence, and threatening freedom of the media and NGOs. Bangladesh continues to host one of the world’s largest refugee populations, more than one million Rohingya from Burma, in what is expected to be a humanitarian crisis requiring notable financial and political support for years to come. International retail brands selling Bangladesh-made products and the international community continue to press the Government of Bangladesh to meaningfully address worker rights and factory safety problems in Bangladesh. With unprecedented support from the international community and the private sector, the Bangladesh garment sector has made significant progress on fire and structural safety. Critical work remains on safeguarding workers’ rights to freely associate and bargain collectively, including in Export Processing Zones (EPZs).

The Bangladeshi government has limited resources devoted to intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and counterfeit goods are readily available in Bangladesh. Government policies in the ICT sector are still under development. Current policies grant the government broad powers to intervene in that sector.

Capital markets in Bangladesh are still developing, and the financial sector is still highly dependent on banks.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 146 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report* 2019 168 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 116 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 493 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 1,940 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

The World Bank announced in 2020 it would pause the Doing Business publication while it conducts a review of data integrity.

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Bangladesh actively seeks foreign investment. Sectors with active investments from overseas include agribusiness, garment and textiles, leather and leather goods, light manufacturing, electronics, light engineering, energy and power, information and communications technology (ICT), plastic, healthcare, medical equipment, pharmaceutical, ship building, and infrastructure. It offers a range of investment incentives under its industrial policy and export-oriented growth strategy with few formal distinctions between foreign and domestic private investors.

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of business enterprises. Four sectors, however, are reserved for government investment:

  • Arms and ammunition and other defense equipment and machinery.
  • Forest plantation and mechanized extraction within the bounds of reserved forests.
  • Production of nuclear energy.
  • Security printing (items such as currency, visa foils, and tax stamps).

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) is the principal authority tasked with supervising and promoting private investment. The BIDA Act of 2016 approved the merger of the now-disbanded Board of Investment and the Privatization Committee. BIDA is directly supervised by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Executive Chairman of BIDA holds a rank equivalent to Senior Secretary, the highest rank within the civil service. BIDA performs the following functions:

  • Provides pre-investment counseling services.
  • Registers and approves private industrial projects.
  • Issues approval of branch/liaison/representative offices.
  • Issues work permits for foreign nationals.
  • Issues approval of royalty remittances, technical know-how, and technical assistance fees.
  • Facilitates import of capital machinery and raw materials.
  • Issues approvals of foreign loans and supplier credits.

BIDA’s website has aggregated information regarding Bangladesh investment policies, incentives, and ease of doing business indicators:  http://bida.gov.bd/  

In addition to BIDA, there are three other Investment Promotion Agencies (IPAs) responsible for promoting investments in their respective jurisdictions.

  • Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) promotes investments in Export Processing Zones (EPZs). The first EPZ was established in the 1980s and there are currently eight EPZs in the country. Website: https://www.bepza.gov.bd/
  • Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) plans to establish approximately 100 Economic Zones (EZs) throughout the country over the next several years. Site selections for 97 EZs have been completed as of February 2021, of which 11 private EZs are already licensed and operational while development of several other public and private sector EZs are underway. While EPZs accommodate exporting companies only, EZs are open for both export- and domestic-oriented companies. Website: https://www.beza.gov.bd/
  • Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority (BHTPA) is responsible for attracting and facilitating investments in the high-tech parks Bangladesh is establishing across the country. Website: http://bhtpa.gov.bd/

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of business enterprises. Bangladesh allows private investment in power generation and natural gas exploration, but efforts to allow full foreign participation in petroleum marketing and gas distribution have stalled. Regulations in the area of telecommunication infrastructure currently include provisions for 60 percent foreign ownership (70 percent for tower sharing). In addition to the four sectors reserved for government investment, there are 17 controlled sectors that require prior clearance/ permission from the respective line ministries/authorities. These are:

  • Fishing in the deep sea.
  • Bank/financial institutions in the private sector.
  • Insurance companies in the private sector.
  • Generation, supply, and distribution of power in the private sector.
  • Exploration, extraction, and supply of natural gas/oil.
  • Exploration, extraction, and supply of coal.
  • Exploration, extraction, and supply of other mineral resources.
  • Large-scale infrastructure projects (e.g., elevated expressway, monorail, economic zone, inland container depot/container freight station).
  • Crude oil refinery (recycling/refining of lube oil used as fuel).
  • Medium and large industries using natural gas/condensate and other minerals as raw material.
  • Telecommunications service (mobile/cellular and land phone).
  • Satellite channels.
  • Cargo/passenger aviation.
  • Sea-bound ship transport.
  • Seaports/deep seaports.
  • VOIP/IP telephone.
  • Industries using heavy minerals accumulated from sea beaches.

While discrimination against foreign investors is not widespread, the government frequently promotes local industries, and some discriminatory policies and regulations exist. For example, the government closely controls approvals for imported medicines that compete with domestically manufactured pharmaceutical products and it has required majority local ownership of new shipping and insurance companies, albeit with exemptions for existing foreign-owned firms. In practical terms, foreign investors frequently find it necessary to have a local partner even though this requirement may not be statutorily defined. In certain strategic sectors, the GOB has placed unofficial barriers on foreign companies’ ability to divest from the country.

BIDA is responsible for screening, reviewing, and approving investments in Bangladesh, except for investments in EPZs, EZs, and High-Tech Parks, which are supervised by BEPZA, BEZA, and BHTPA respectively. Both foreign and domestic companies are required to obtain approval from relevant ministries and agencies with regulatory oversight. In certain sectors (e.g., healthcare), foreign companies may be required to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the relevant ministry or agency stating the specific investment will not hinder local manufacturers and is in line with the guidelines of the ministry concerned. Since Bangladesh actively seeks foreign investments, instances where one of the Investment Promotion Agencies (IPAs) declines investment proposals are rare.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2013 Bangladesh completed an investment policy review (IPR) with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD):  https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=756  

A Trade Policy Review was done by the World Trade Organization in April 2019 and can be found at:  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp485_e.htm  

Business Facilitation

In February 2018, the Bangladesh Parliament passed the “One Stop Service Bill 2018,” which aims to streamline business and investment registration processes. The four IPAs — BIDA, BEPZA, BEZA, and BHTPA — are mandated to provide one-stop services (OSS) to local and foreign investors under their respective jurisdictions. Expected streamlined services include company registration, taxpayer’s identification number (TIN) and value added tax (VAT) registration, work permit issuance, power and utilities connections, capital and profit repatriation, and environment clearance. In 2019 Bangladesh made reforms in three key areas: starting a business, getting electricity, and getting credit. These and other regulatory changes led to an improvement by eight ranks on the World Bank’s Doing Business score, moving up from 176 to 168 of the 190 countries rated. BIDA offers more than 40 services under its OSS as of March 2021 and has a plan to expand to 154 services covering 35 agencies. The GOB is also planning to integrate the services of all four investment promotion agencies under a single online platform. Progress on realizing a comprehensive OSS for businesses has been slowed by bureaucratic delays and a lack of interagency coordination.

Companies can register their businesses at the Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC):  www.roc.gov.bd  . However, the online business registration process, while improving, can at times be unclear and inconsistent. Additionally, BIDA facilitates company registration services as part of its OSS, which is available at:  https://bidaquickserv.org/ . BIDA also facilitates other services including office set-up approval, work permits for foreign employees, environmental clearance, outward remittance approval, and tax registration with National Board of Revenue. Other agencies with which a company must typically register are:

City Corporation – Trade License

National Board of Revenue – Tax & VAT Registration

Chief Inspector of Shops and Establishments – Employment of Workers Notification

It takes approximately 20 days to start a business in the country according to the World Bank. The company registration process at the RJSC generally takes one or two days to complete. The process for trade licensing, tax registration, and VAT registration requires seven days, one day, and one week respectively, as of February 2021.

Outward Investment

Outward foreign direct investment is generally restricted through the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1947. As a result, the Bangladesh Bank plays a key role in limiting outbound investment. In September 2015, the government amended the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1947 by adding a “conditional provision” that permits outbound investment for export-related enterprises. Private sector contacts note the few international investments approved by the Bangladesh Bank have been limited to large exporting companies with international experience.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Bangladesh has signed bilateral investment treaties with 29 countries, including Austria, the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Cambodia, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

The U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty was agreed to in 1986 and entered into force in 1989. The Foreign Investment Act includes a guarantee of national treatment, granting U.S. companies the equivalent of domestic status.

Bangladesh has successfully negotiated several regional trade and economic agreements, including the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Bangladesh signed its first bilateral Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with Bhutan in December 2020 while it is in discussions with several countries for PTAs and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). A joint study on the prospects of a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Bangladesh and India is underway. In addition, PTA negotiations with Nepal and Indonesia are in advanced stages.

Bangladesh has signed Avoidance of Double Taxation Treaties (DTT) with 36 countries: Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Burma, Canada, Czech Republic, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.

Bangladesh met all three criteria required to graduate from the United Nations’ (UN) list of Least Developed Countries (LDC) for the first time at the triennial review of the United Nations Committee for Development Policy (CDP) in March 2018. In February 2021, the CDP confirmed Bangladesh’s eligibility to graduate from LDC status. The country is scheduled to officially graduate from LDC status in 2026 instead of 2024 as earlier planned to allow it two additional years for smooth transition in view of the adverse impact of COVID-19 on the economy. Bangladesh will lose duty-free quota-free (DFQF) access to several major export markets after the graduation. However, the European Union’s Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) program may allow Bangladesh DFQF access for an additional three-year transition period following the country’s effective date of graduation. To be eligible for the EU’s GSP+ program, Bangladesh must ratify additional international conventions on human and labor rights, the environment, and governance, and show it has plans to amend and enforce its laws accordingly.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Since 1989, the government has gradually moved to decrease regulatory obstruction of private business. Various chambers of commerce have called for privatization and for a greater voice for the private sector in government decisions, but at the same time many support protectionism and subsidies for their own industries. The result is policy and regulations which are often unclear, inconsistent, or little publicized. Registration and regulatory processes are frequently alleged by businesses to be used as rent-seeking opportunities. The major rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the national level under each Ministry with many final decisions being made at the top-most levels, including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The PMO is actively engaged in directing policies, as well as foreign investment in government-controlled projects.

Bangladesh has made incremental progress in using information technology both to improve the transparency and efficiency of some government services and develop independent agencies to regulate the energy and telecommunication sectors. Some investors cited government laws, regulations, and lack of implementation as impediments to investment. The government has historically limited opportunities for the private sector to comment on proposed regulations. In 2009, Bangladesh adopted the Right to Information Act providing for multilevel stakeholder consultations through workshops or media outreach. Although the consultation process exists, it is still weak and in need of further improvement.

Ministries and regulatory agencies do not generally publish or solicit comments on draft proposed legislation or regulations. However, several government organizations, including the Bangladesh Bank (the central bank), Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission, BIDA, the Ministry of Commerce, and the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission have occasionally posted draft legislation and regulations online and solicited feedback from the business community. In some instances, parliamentary committees have also reached out to relevant stakeholders for input on draft legislation. The media continues to be the main information source for the public on many draft proposals. There is also no legal obligation to publish proposed regulations, consider alternatives to proposed regulation, or solicit comments from the general public.

The government printing office, The Bangladesh Government Press ( http://www.dpp.gov.bd/bgpress/ ), publishes the “Bangladesh Gazette” every Thursday and Extraordinary Gazettes as and when needed. The Gazette provides official notice of government actions, including issuance of government rules and regulations and the transfer and promotion of government employees. Laws can also be accessed at  http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/ .

Bangladesh passed the Financial Reporting Act of 2015 which created the Financial Reporting Council in 2016 aimed at establishing transparency and accountability in the accounting and auditing system. The country follows Bangladesh Accounting Standards and Bangladesh Financial Reporting Standards, which are largely derived from International Accounting Standards and International Financial Reporting Standards. However, the quality of reporting varies widely. Internationally known firms have begun establishing local offices in Bangladesh and their presence is positively influencing the accounting norms in the country. Some firms are capable of providing financial reports audited to international standards while others maintain unreliable (or multiple) sets of accounting records. Regulatory agencies do not conduct impact assessments for proposed regulations; consequently, regulations are often not reviewed on the basis of data-driven assessments. Not all national budget documents are prepared according to internationally accepted standards.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) aims to integrate regional regulatory systems among Bangladesh, India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan. However, efforts to advance regional cooperation measures have stalled in recent years and regulatory systems remain uncoordinated.

Local laws are based on the English common law system but most fall short of international standards. The country’s regulatory system remains weak and many of the laws and regulations are not enforced and standards are not maintained.

Bangladesh has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1995. WTO requires all signatories to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) to establish a National Inquiry Point and Notification Authority to gather and efficiently distribute trade-related regulatory, standards, and conformity assessment information to the WTO Member community. The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) has been working as the National Enquiry Point for the WTO-TBT Agreement since 2002. There is an internal committee on WTO affairs in BSTI and it participates in notifying WTO activities through the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Industries.

General Contact for WTO-TBT National Enquiry Point:
Email: bsti_std@bangla.net; bsti_ad@bangla.net
Website: http://www.bsti.gov.bd/ 

Focal Point for TBT:

Mr. Md. Golam Baki,
Deputy Director (Certification Marks), BSTI;
Email: baki_cm@bsti.gov.bd,
Tel: +88-02-8870288,
Cell: +8801799828826, +8801712240702

Focal Point for other WTO related matters:

Mr. Md. Hafizur Rahman,
Director General, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce
Email: dg.wto@mincom.gov.bd,
Tel: +880-2-9545383,
Cell: +88 0171 1861056

Mr. Mohammad Mahbubur Rahman Patwary,
Director-1, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce
Email: director1.wto@mincom.gov.bd,
Tel: +880-2-9540580,
Cell: +88 0171 2148758

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Bangladesh is a common law-based jurisdiction. Many of the basic laws, such as the penal code, civil and criminal procedural codes, contract law, and company law are influenced by English common law. However, family laws, such as laws relating to marriage, dissolution of marriage, and inheritance are based on religious scripts and therefore differ among religious communities. The Bangladeshi legal system is based on a written constitution and the laws often take statutory forms that are enacted by the legislature and interpreted by the higher courts. Ordinarily, executive authorities and statutory corporations cannot make any law, but can make by-laws to the extent authorized by the legislature. Such subordinate legislation is known as rules or regulations and is also enforceable by the courts. However, as a common law system, the statutes are short and set out basic rights and responsibilities but are elaborated by the courts in the application and interpretation of those laws. The Bangladeshi judiciary acts through: (1) The Superior Judiciary, having appellate, revision, and original jurisdiction; and (2) The Sub-Ordinate Judiciary, having original jurisdiction.

Since 1971, Bangladesh has updated its legal system concerning company, banking, bankruptcy, and money loan court laws, and other commercial laws. An important impediment to investment in Bangladesh is its weak and slow legal system in which the enforceability of contracts is uncertain. The judicial system does not provide for interest to be charged in tort judgments, which means procedural delays carry no penalties. Bangladesh does not have a separate court or court division dedicated solely to commercial cases. The Joint District Judge court (a civil court) is responsible for enforcing contracts.

Some notable commercial laws include:

  • The Contract Act, 1872 (Act No. IX of 1930).
  • The Sale of Goods Act, 1930 (Act No. III of 1930).
  • The Partnership Act, 1932 (Act No. IX of 1932).
  • The Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (Act No. XXVI of 1881).
  • The Bankruptcy Act, 1997 (Act No. X of 1997).
  • The Arbitration Act, 2001 (Act No. I of 2001).

The judicial system of Bangladesh has never been completely independent from interference by the executive branch of the government. In a significant milestone, the government in 2007 separated the country’s judiciary from the executive but the executive retains strong influence over the judiciary through control of judicial appointments. Other pillars of the justice system, including the police, courts, and legal profession, are also closely aligned with the executive branch. In lower courts, corruption is widely perceived as a serious problem. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable under the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Major laws affecting foreign investment include: the Foreign Private Investment (Promotion and Protection) Act of 1980, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980, the Companies Act of 1994, the Telecommunications Act of 2001, and the Bangladesh Economic Zones Act of 2010.

Bangladesh industrial policy offers incentives for “green” (environmental) high-tech or “transformative” industries. It allows foreigners who invest $1 million or transfer $2 million to a recognized financial institution to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship. The GOB will provide financial and policy support for high-priority industries (those creating large-scale employment and earning substantial export revenue) and creative industries – architecture, arts and antiques, fashion design, film and video, interactive laser software, software, and computer and media programming. Specific importance is given to agriculture and food processing, RMG, ICT and software, pharmaceuticals, leather and leather products, and jute and jute goods.

In addition, Petrobangla, the state-owned oil and gas company, has modified its production sharing agreement contract for offshore gas exploration to include an option to export gas. In 2019, Parliament approved the Bangladesh Flag Vessels (Protection) Act 2019 with a provision to ensure Bangladeshi flagged vessels carry at least 50 percent of foreign cargo, up from 40 percent. In 2020, the Ministry of Commerce amended the digital commerce policy to allow fully foreign-owned e-commerce companies in Bangladesh and remove a previous joint venture requirement.

The One Stop Service (OSS) Act of 2018 mandated the four IPAs to provide OSS to local and foreign investors in their respective jurisdictions. The move aims to facilitate business services on behalf of multiple government agencies to improve ease of doing business. In 2020, BIDA issued time-bound rules to implement the Act of 2018. Although the IPAs have started to offer a few services under the OSS, corruption and excessive bureaucracy have held back the complete and effective roll out of the OSS. BIDA has a “one-stop” website that provides information on relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors at:  http://www.bida.gov.bd/ .

Aside from information on relevant business laws and licenses, the website includes information on Bangladesh’s investment climate, opportunities for businesses, potential sectors, and how to do business in Bangladesh. The website also has an eService Portal for Investors which provides services such as visa recommendations for foreign investors, approval/extension of work permits for expatriates, approval of foreign borrowing, and approval/renewal of branch/liaison and representative offices.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Bangladesh formed an independent agency in 2011 called the “Bangladesh Competition Commission (BCC)” under the Ministry of Commerce. Parliament then passed the Competition Act in 2012. However, the BCC has not received sufficient resources to operate effectively.

In 2018, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) finalized Significant Market Power (SMP) regulations to promote competition in the industry. In 2019, BTRC declared the country’s largest telecom operator, Grameenphone (GP), the first SMP based on its revenue share of more than 50 percent and customer shares of about 47 percent. Since the declaration, the BTRC has attempted to impose restrictions on GP’s operations, which GP has challenged in the judicial system.

Expropriation and Compensation

Since the Foreign Investment Act of 1980 banned nationalization or expropriation without adequate compensation, Bangladesh has not nationalized or expropriated property from foreign investors. In the years immediately following independence in 1971, widespread nationalization resulted in government ownership of more than 90 percent of fixed assets in the modern manufacturing sector, including the textile, jute and sugar industries and all banking and insurance interests, except those in foreign (but non-Pakistani) hands. However, the government has taken steps to privatize many of these industries since the late 1970s and the private sector has developed into a main driver of the country’s sustained economic growth.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Bangladesh is a signatory to the International Convention for the Settlement of Disputes (ICSID) and acceded in May 1992 to the United Nations Convention for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Alternative dispute resolutions are possible under the Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001. The current legislation allows for enforcement of arbitral awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Bangladeshi law allows contracts to refer investor-state dispute settlement to third country fora for resolution. The U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty also stipulates that parties may, upon the initiative of either and as a part of their consultations and negotiations, agree to rely upon non-binding, third-party procedures, such as the fact-finding facility available under the rules of the “Additional Facility” of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. If the dispute cannot be resolved through consultation and negotiation, the dispute shall be submitted for settlement in accordance with the applicable dispute-settlement procedures upon which the parties have previously agreed. Bangladesh is also a party to the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Agreement for the Establishment of an Arbitration Council, signed in 2005, which aims to establish a permanent center for alternative dispute resolution in one of the SAARC member countries.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001 and amendments in 2004 reformed alternative dispute resolution procedures. The Act consolidated the law relating to both domestic and international commercial arbitration. It thus creates a single and unified legal regime for arbitration. Although the new Act is principally based on the UNCITRAL Model Law, it is a patchwork as some unique provisions are derived from the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 and some from the English Arbitration Act 1996.

In practice, arbitration results are unevenly enforced and the GOB has challenged ICSID rulings, especially those that involve rulings against the government. The timeframe for dispute resolution is unpredictable and has no set limit. It can be done as quickly as a few months, but often takes years depending on the type of dispute. Anecdotal information indicates average resolution time can be as high as 16 years. Local courts may be biased against foreign investors in resolving disputes.

Bangladesh is a signatory of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards and recognizes the enforcement of international arbitration awards. Domestic arbitration is under the authority of the district court bench and foreign arbitration is under the authority of the relevant high court bench.

The Bangladeshi judicial system has little ability to enforce its own awards. Senior members of the government have been effective in using their offices to resolve investment disputes on several occasions, but the government’s ability to resolve investment disputes at a lower level is mixed. Bangladesh does not publish the numbers of investment disputes involving U.S. or foreign investors. Anecdotal evidence indicates investment disputes occur with limited frequency, and the involved parties often resolve the disputes privately rather than seeking government intervention.

Implementing Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedures in Bangladesh is impeded by a lack of funding for courts to provide ADR services, limited cooperation by lawyers, and instances of ADR participants acting in bad faith. Slow adoption of ADR mechanisms and sluggish judicial processes impede the enforcement of contracts and the resolution of business disputes in Bangladesh.

As in many countries, Bangladesh has adopted a “conflict of law” approach to determining whether a judgment from a foreign legal jurisdiction is enforceable in Bangladesh. This single criterion allows Bangladeshi courts broad discretion in choosing whether to enforce foreign judgments with significant effects on corporate and property disputes. Most enterprises in Bangladesh, and especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs), whose leadership is nominated by the ruling government party, maintain strong ties with the government. Thus, domestic courts strongly tend to favor SOEs and local companies in investment disputes.

Investors are also increasingly turning to the Bangladesh International Arbitration Center (BIAC) for dispute resolution. BIAC is an independent arbitration center established by prominent local business leaders in 2011 to improve commercial dispute resolution in Bangladesh to stimulate economic growth. The BIAC Board is headed by the President of the International Chamber of Commerce – Bangladesh and includes the presidents of other prominent chambers such as the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, among others. The Center operates under the Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001. According to BIAC, fast track cases are resolved in approximately six months while typical cases are resolved in one year. Major Bangladeshi trade and business associations such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh can sometimes help resolve transaction disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Many laws affecting investment in Bangladesh are outdated. Bankruptcy laws, which apply mainly to individual insolvency, are sometimes disregarded in business cases because of the numerous falsified assets and uncollectible cross-indebtedness supporting insolvent banks and companies. A Bankruptcy Act was passed by Parliament in 1997 but has been ineffective in addressing these issues. Some bankruptcy cases fall under the Money Loan Court Act which has more stringent and timely procedures.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Current regulations permit a tax holiday for designated “thrust” (strategic) sectors and infrastructure projects established between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2024. The thrust sectors enjoy tax exemptions graduated from 90 percent to 20 percent over a period of five to ten years depending on the zone where the business is established. Industries set up in Export Processing Zones (EPZs) and Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are also eligible for tax holidays. Details of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives are available on the following websites:

BIDA: http://bida.gov.bd/?page_id=146 

BEPZA: https://www.bepza.gov.bd/investor_details/incentives-facilities 

BEZA: https://www.beza.gov.bd/investing-in-zones/incentive-package/ 

Thrust sectors eligible for tax exemptions include: certain pharmaceuticals, automobile manufacturing, contraceptives, rubber latex, chemicals or dyes, certain electronics, bicycles, fertilizer, biotechnology, commercial boilers, certain brickmaking technologies, compressors, computer hardware, home appliances, insecticides, pesticides, petro-chemicals, fruit and vegetable processing, textile machinery, tissue grafting, tire manufacturing industries, agricultural machineries, furniture, leather and leather goods, cell phones, plastic recycling, and toy manufacturing.

Eligible physical infrastructure projects are allowed tax exemptions graduated from 90 percent to 20 percent over a period of 10 years. Physical infrastructure projects eligible for exemptions include deep seaports, elevated expressways, road overpasses, toll roads and bridges, EPZs, gas pipelines, information technology parks, industrial waste and water treatment facilities, liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, electricity transmission, rapid transit projects, renewable energy projects, and ports.

Independent non-coal fired power plants (IPPs) commencing production after January 1, 2015 are granted a 100 percent tax exemption for five years, a 50 percent exemption for years six to eight, and a 25 percent exemption for years nine to 10. For new coal-fired IPPs commencing production before June 30, 2023 (provided operators contracted with the government before June 30, 2020), the tax exemption rate is 100 percent for the first 15 years of operations. For power projects, import duties are waived for imports of capital machinery and spare parts.

The valued-added tax (VAT) rate on exports is zero. For companies exporting only, duties are waived on imports of capital machinery and spare parts. For companies primarily exporting (80 percent of production and above), an import duty rate of 1 percent is charged for imports of capital machinery and spare parts identified and listed in notifications to relevant regulators. Import duties are also waived for EPZ industries and other export-oriented industries for imports of raw materials consumed in production.

The GOB provides special incentives to encourage non-resident Bangladeshis to invest in the country. Incentives include the ability to buy newly-issued shares and debentures in Bangladeshi companies. Further, non-resident Bangladeshis can maintain foreign currency deposits in Non-resident Foreign Currency Deposit (NFCD) accounts.

In the past several years, U.S. companies have experienced difficulties securing the investment incentives initially offered by Bangladesh. Several companies have reported instances of where infrastructure guarantees (ranging from electricity to gas connections) are not fully delivered or tax exemptions are delayed, either temporarily or indefinitely. These challenges are not specific to U.S. or foreign companies and reflect broader challenges in the business environment.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Under the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980, the government established the first EPZ in Chattogram in 1983. Additional EPZs now operate in Dhaka (Savar), Mongla, Ishwardi, Cumilla, Uttara, Karnaphuli (Chattogram), and Adamjee (Dhaka). Korean investors are also operating a separate and private EPZ in Chattogram.

Joint ventures, wholly foreign-owned investments, and wholly Bangladeshi-owned companies are all permitted to operate and enjoy equal treatment in the EPZs.

In 2010, Bangladesh enacted the Special Economic Zone Act allowing for the creation of privately owned SEZs to produce for export and domestic markets. The SEZs provide special fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to domestic and foreign investors in designated underdeveloped areas throughout Bangladesh.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance Requirements

BIDA has set the following restrictions on employing foreign nationals and obtaining work permits:

  • Nationals of countries recognized by Bangladesh are eligible for employment consideration.
  • Expatriate personnel will only be considered for employment in enterprises duly registered with the appropriate regulatory authority.
  • Employment of foreign nationals is generally limited to positions for which qualified local workers are unavailable.
  • Persons below 18 years of age are not eligible for employment.
  • The Board of Directors of the employing company must issue a resolution for each offer or extension of employment.
  • The percentage of foreign employees should not exceed 5 percent in industrial sectors and 20% in commercial sectors, including among senior management positions.
  • Initial employment of any foreign national is for a term of two years, which may be extended based on merit.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs will issue necessary security clearance certificates.

In response to the high number of expatriate workers in the ready-made garment industry, BIDA has issued informal guidance encouraging industrial units to refrain from hiring additional foreign experts and workers. Overall, the government looks favorably on investments employing significant numbers of local workers and/or providing training and transfers of technical skills.

The GOB does not formally mandate that investors use domestic content in goods or technology. However, companies bidding on government procurement tenders are often informally encouraged to have a local partner and to produce or assemble a percentage of their products in country.

According to a legal overview by the Telenor Group, for reasons of national security or in times of emergency, several regulations and amendments, including the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Act, 2001 (the “BTRA”), Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 (the “ICT Act”), and the Telegraph Act 1885 (the “1885 Act”), grant law enforcement and intelligence agencies legal authority to lawfully seek disclosure of communications data and request censorship of communications. A Digital Security Act of 2016 (the “Digital Security Act”) was adopted by Parliament in 2018.

On the grounds of national security and maintaining public order, the government at times authorizes relevant authorities (intelligence agencies, national security agencies, investigation agencies, or any officer of any law enforcement agency) to suspend or prohibit the transmission of any data or any voice call and record or collect user information relating to any subscriber to a telecommunications service.

Under section 30 of the ICT Act, the government, through the ICT Controller who enforces the act, may access any computer system, any apparatus, data, or any other material connected with a computer system, for the purpose of searching for and obtaining information or data. The ICT Controller may, by order, direct any person in charge of, or otherwise concerned with the operation of a computer system, data apparatus, or material, to provide reasonable technical and other assistance as may be considered necessary. Under section 46 of the ICT Act, the ICT Controller can also direct any government agency to intercept any information transmitted through any computer resource and may also order any subscriber or any person in charge of computer resources to provide all necessary assistance to decrypt relevant information. The ICT Act also established a Cyber Tribunal to adjudicate cases. The BTRC enforces the BTRA, and the Ministry of Home Affairs grants approval for use of powers given under the Act. There is no direct reference in the BTRA to the storage of metadata. Under the broad powers granted to the BTRA, however, the government, on the grounds of national security and public order, may require telecommunications operators to keep records relating to the communications of a specific user. Telecommunications operators are also required to provide any metadata as evidence if ordered to do so by any civil court.

The Digital Security Act of 2018 created a Digital Security Agency empowered to monitor and supervise digital content. Also, under the Digital Security Act, for reasons of national security or maintenance of public order, the Director General (DG) of the DSA is authorized to block communications and to require that service providers facilitate the interception, monitoring, and decryption of a computer or other data source.

The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority’s (BRTA) Ride-sharing Service Guideline 2017 came into force on March 8, 2018. The regulations included requirements that ride-sharing companies keep data servers within Bangladesh.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Although land, whether for purchase or lease, is often critical for investment and as security against loans, antiquated real property laws and poor record-keeping systems can complicate land and property transactions. Instruments take effect from the date of execution, not the date of registration, so a bona fide purchaser can often be uncertain of title. Land registration records have been historically prone to competing claims. Land disputes are common, and both U.S. companies and citizens have filed complaints about fraudulent land sales. For example, sellers fraudulently claiming ownership have transferred land to good faith purchasers while the actual owners were living outside of Bangladesh. In other instances, U.S.-Bangladeshi dual citizens have purchased land from legitimate owners only to have third parties make fraudulent claims of title to extort settlement compensation. A 2015 study by leading Bangladeshi think tank Policy Research Institute (PRI) revealed one in seven households in the country faced land disputes. Bangladesh ranks 184 among 190 countries for ease of registering property in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report.

While property owners can obtain mortgages, parties generally avoid registering mortgages, liens, and encumbrances due to the high cost of stamp duties (i.e., transaction taxes based on property value) and other charges. There are also concerns that non-registered mortgages are often unenforceable.

Article 42 of the Bangladesh Constitution guarantees a right to property for all citizens, but property rights are often not protected due to a weak judicial system. The Transfer of Property Act of 1882  and the Registration Act of 1908  are the two main laws regulating transfer of property in Bangladesh but these laws have no specific provisions covering foreign and/or non-resident investors. Currently, foreigners and non-residents can incorporate a company with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms. The company would be considered a local entity and would be able to buy land in its name.

Intellectual Property Rights

The government has not invested heavily in intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. Counterfeit goods are readily available in Bangladesh and a significant portion of business software is pirated. A number of U.S. firms, including film studios, manufacturers of consumer goods, and software firms, have reported violations of their IPR. Investors note police are willing to investigate counterfeit goods producers when informed but are unlikely to initiate independent investigations.

In February 2021, the Cabinet gave its final approval to draft Bangladesh Patents Bill 2021 and in-principle approval to draft Bangladesh Industry-Designs Bill 2021 to replace the Patents and Designs Act 1911. The bills aim to make necessary updates to existing regulations and may improve iIPR in Bangladesh. However, the potential impact of the bills remains uncertain as they have yet to be made public for stakeholder scrutiny. The bills require approval by the Parliament before going into effect. Public awareness of IPR is growing, in part through the efforts of the Intellectual Property Rights Association of Bangladesh:  http://www.ipab.org.bd/ . Bangladesh is not currently listed in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 or Notorious Markets reports. Bangladesh is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and acceded to the Paris Convention on Intellectual Property in 1991.

Bangladesh has slowly made progress toward bringing its legislative framework into compliance with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The government enacted a Copyright Law in 2000 (amended in 2005), a Trademarks Act in 2009, and a Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act in 2013, in addition to the recent action on bills replacing the Patents and Designs Act.

A number of government agencies are empowered to take action against counterfeiting, including the National Board of Revenue (NBR), Customs, Mobile Courts, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and the Bangladesh Police. The Department of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP) is charged with tracking and reporting on counterfeit goods and the NBR/Customs tracks counterfeit goods seizures at ports of entry. Reports are not publicly available.

Resources for Intellectual Property Rights Holders:

John Cabeca
Intellectual Property Counselor for South Asia
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Foreign Commercial Service email: john.cabeca@trade.gov
email: john.cabeca@trade.gov website: https://www.uspto.gov/ip-policy/ip-attache-program
website: https://www.uspto.gov/ip-policy/ip-attache-program tel: +91-11-2347-2000
tel: +91-11-2347-2000

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

Capital markets in Bangladesh are still developing, and the financial sector remains highly dependent on bank lending. Current regulatory infrastructure inhibits the development of a tradeable bond market.

Bangladesh is home to the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) and the Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE), both of which are regulated by the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (BSEC), a statutory body formed in 1993 and attached to the Ministry of Finance. As of February 2021, the DSE market capitalization stood at $54.8 billion, rising 35.8 percent year-over-year bolstered by increased liquidity and some sizeable initial public offerings.

Although the Bangladeshi government has a positive attitude toward foreign portfolio investors, participation in the exchanges remains low due to what is still limited liquidity for shares and the lack of publicly available and reliable company information. The DSE has attracted some foreign portfolio investors to the country’s capital market. However, the volume of foreign investment in Bangladesh remains a small fraction of total market capitalization. As a result, foreign portfolio investment has had limited influence on market trends and Bangladesh’s capital markets have been largely insulated from the volatility of international financial markets. Bangladeshi markets continue to rely primarily on domestic investors.

In 2019, BSEC undertook a number of initiatives to launch derivatives products, allow short selling, and invigorate the bond market. To this end, BSEC introduced three rules: Exchange Traded Derivatives Rules 2019, Short-Sale Rules 2019, and Investment Sukuk Rules 2019. Other recent, notable BSEC initiatives include forming a central clearing and settlement company – the Central Counterparty Bangladesh Limited (CCBL) – and promoting private equity and venture capital firms under the 2015 Alternative Investment Rules. In 2013, BSEC became a full signatory of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) Memorandum of Understanding.

BSEC has taken steps to improve regulatory oversight, including installing a modern surveillance system, the “Instant Market Watch,” providing real time connectivity with exchanges and depository institutions. As a result, the market abuse detection capabilities of BSEC have improved significantly. A mandatory Corporate Governance Code for listed companies was introduced in 2012 but the overall quality of corporate governance remains substandard. Demutualization of both the DSE and CSE was completed in 2013 to separate ownership of the exchanges from trading rights. A majority of the members of the Demutualization Board, including the Chairman, are independent directors. Apart from this, a separate tribunal has been established to resolve capital market-related criminal cases expeditiously. However, both domestic and foreign investor confidence remains low.

The Demutualization Act 2013 also directed DSE to pursue a strategic investor who would acquire a 25 percent stake in the bourse. Through a bidding process DSE selected a consortium of the Shenzhen and Shanghai stock exchanges in China as its strategic partner, with the consortium buying the 25 percent share of DSE for taka 9.47 billion ($112.7 million).

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bangladesh is an Article VIII member and maintains restrictions on the unapproved exchange, conversion, and/or transfer of proceeds of international transactions into non-resident taka-denominated accounts. Since 2015, authorities have relaxed restrictions by allowing some debits of balances in such accounts for outward remittances, but there is currently no established timetable for the complete removal of the restrictions.

Money and Banking System

The Bangladesh Bank (BB) acts as the central bank of Bangladesh. It was established on December 16, 1971 through the enactment of the Bangladesh Bank Order of1972. General supervision and strategic direction of the BB has been entrusted to a nine–member Board of Directors, which is headed by the BB Governor. A list of the bank’s departments and branches is on its website: https://www.bb.org.bd/aboutus/dept/depts.php .

According to the BB, four types of banks operate in the formal financial system: State Owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), Specialized Banks, Private Commercial Banks (PCBs), and Foreign Commercial Banks (FCBs). Some 61 “scheduled” banks in Bangladesh operate under the control and supervision of the central bank as per the Bangladesh Bank Order of 1972. The scheduled banks, include six SOCBs, three specialized government banks established for specific objectives such as agricultural or industrial development or expatriates’ welfare, 43 PCBs, and nine FCBs as of February 2021. The scheduled banks are licensed to operate under the Bank Company Act of 1991 (Amended 2013). There are also five non-scheduled banks in Bangladesh, including Nobel Prize recipient Grameen Bank, established for special and definite objectives and operating under legislation enacted to meet those objectives.

Currently, 34 non-bank financial institutions (FIs) are operating in Bangladesh. They are regulated under the Financial Institution Act, 1993 and controlled by the BB. Of these, two are fully government-owned, one is a subsidiary of a state-owned commercial bank, and the rest are private financial institutions. Major sources of funds for these financial institutions are term deposits (at least three months’ tenure), credit facilities from banks and other financial institutions, and call money, as well as bonds and securitization.

Unlike banks, FIs are prohibited from:

  • Issuing checks, pay-orders, or demand drafts.
  • Receiving demand deposits.
  • Involvement in foreign exchange financing.

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) remain the dominant players in rural financial markets. According to the Bangladesh Microcredit Regulatory Authority, as of June 2019, there were 724 licensed micro-finance institutions operating a network of 18,977 branches with 32.3 million members. Additionally, Grameen Bank had nearly 9.3 million microfinance members at the end of 2019 of which 96.8 percent were women. A 2014 Institute of Microfinance survey study showed that approximately 40 percent of the adult population and 75 percent of households had access to financial services in Bangladesh.

The banking sector has had a mixed record of performance over the past several years. Industry experts have reported a rise in risky assets. Total domestic credit stood at 46.8 percent of gross domestic product at end of June 2020. The state-owned Sonali Bank is the largest bank in the country while Islami Bank Bangladesh and Standard Chartered Bangladesh are the largest local private and foreign banks respectively as of December 2020. The gross non-performing loan (NPL) ratio was 7.7 percent at the end of December 2020, down from 9.32 percent in December 2019. However, the decline in the NPLs was primarily caused by regulatory forbearance rather than actual reduction of stressed loans. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the central bank directed all banks not to classify any new loans as non-performing till December 2020. Industry contacts have predicted reported NPLs will demonstrate a sharp rise after the exemption expires unless the central bank grants additional forbearance in alternate forms. At 22.5 percent SCBs had the highest NPL ratio, followed by 15.9 percent of Specialized Banks, 5.9 percent of FCBs, and 5.6 percent of PCBs as of September 2020.

In 2017, the BB issued a circular warning citizens and financial institutions about the risks associated with cryptocurrencies. The circular noted that using cryptocurrencies may violate existing money laundering and terrorist financing regulations and cautioned users may incur financial losses. The BB issued similar warnings against cryptocurrencies in 2014.

Foreign investors may open temporary bank accounts called Non-Resident Taka Accounts (NRTA) in the proposed company name without prior approval from the BB in order to receive incoming capital remittances and encashment certificates. Once the proposed company is registered, it can open a new account to transfer capital from the NRTA account. Branch, representative, or liaison offices of foreign companies can open bank accounts to receive initial suspense payments from headquarters without opening NRTA accounts. In 2019, the BB relaxed regulations on the types of bank branches foreigners could use to open NRTAs, removing a previous requirement limiting use of NRTA’s solely to Authorized Dealers (ADs).

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Free repatriation of profits is allowed for registered companies and profits are generally fully convertible. However, companies report the procedures for repatriating foreign currency are lengthy and cumbersome. The Foreign Investment Act guarantees the right of repatriation for invested capital, profits, capital gains, post-tax dividends, and approved royalties and fees for businesses. The central bank’s exchange control regulations and the U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty (in force since 1989) provide similar investment transfer guarantees. BIDA may need to approve repatriation of royalties and other fees.

Bangladesh maintains a de facto managed floating foreign exchange regime. Since 2013, Bangladesh has tried to manage its exchange rate vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar within a fairly narrow range. Until 2017, the Bangladesh currency – the taka – traded between 76 and 79 taka to the dollar. The taka has depreciated relative to the dollar since October 2017 reaching 84.95 taka per dollar as of March 2020, despite interventions from the Bangladesh Bank from time to time. The taka is approaching full convertibility for current account transactions, such as imports and travel, but not for financial and capital account transactions, such as investing, currency speculation, or e-commerce.

Remittance Policies

There are no set time limitations or waiting periods for remitting all types of investment returns. Remitting dividends, returns on investments, interest, and payments on private foreign debts do not usually require approval from the central bank and transfers are typically made within one to two weeks. Some central bank approval is required for repatriating lease payments, royalties and management fees, and this process can take between two and three weeks. If a company fails to submit all the proper documents for remitting, it may take up to 60 days. Foreign investors have reported difficulties transferring funds to overseas affiliates and making payments for certain technical fees without the government’s prior approval to do so. Additionally, some regulatory agencies have reportedly blocked the repatriation of profits due to sector-specific regulations. The U.S. Embassy also has received complaints from American citizens who were not able to transfer the proceeds of sales of their properties.

The central bank has recently made several small-scale reforms to ease the remittance process. In 2019, the BB simplified the profit repatriation process for foreign firms. Foreign companies and their branches, liaison, or representative offices no longer require prior approval from the central bank to remit funds to their parent offices outside Bangladesh. Banks, however, are required to submit applications for ex post facto approval within 30 days of profit remittance. In 2020, the Bangladesh Bank relaxed regulations for repatriating disinvestment proceeds, authorizing banks to remit up to 100 million taka (approximately $1.2 million) in equivalent foreign currency without the central bank’s prior approval. The central bank also eased profit repatriation and reinvestment by allowing banks to transfer foreign investors’ dividend income into their foreign currency bank accounts.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) notes Bangladesh has established the legal and regulatory framework to meet its Anti-Money Laundering/Counterterrorism Finance (AML/CTF) commitments. The Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), an independent and collaborative international organization based in Bangkok, evaluated Bangladesh’s AML/CTF regime in 2018 and found Bangladesh had made significant progress since the last Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) in 2009, but still faces significant money laundering and terrorism financing risks. The APG reports are available online:  http://www.fatf-gafi.org/countries/#Bangladesh  

Sovereign Wealth Funds

In 2015, the Bangladesh Finance Ministry announced it was exploring establishing a sovereign wealth fund in which to invest a portion of Bangladesh’s foreign currency reserves. In 2017, the Cabinet initially approved a $10 billion “Bangladesh Sovereign Wealth Fund,” (BSWF) to be created with funds from excess foreign exchange reserves but the plan was subsequently scrapped by the Finance Ministry.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Bangladesh’s 49 major non-financial SOEs, many of which are holding corporations owning or overseeing smaller state-owned entities, are spread among seven sectors – industrial; power, gas and water; transport and communication; trade; agriculture; construction; and services. The list of non-financial SOEs and relevant budget details are published in Bangla in the Ministry of Finance’s SOE Budget Summary 2020-21:  https://mof.gov.bd/site/view/budget_mof_sow/2020-21/SOE-Budget .

The SOE contribution to gross domestic product, value-added production, employment generation, and revenue earning is substantial. SOEs usually report to the relevant ministries, though the government has allowed some enhanced autonomy for certain SOEs, such as Biman Bangladesh Airlines. SOEs maintain control of rail transportation whereas private companies compete freely in air and road transportation. Bangladesh has restructured its corporate governance of SEOs as per the guidelines published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but the country’s practices are not up to OECD standards. While SOEs are required to prepare annual reports and make financial disclosures, disclosure documents are often unavailable to the public. Each SOE has an independent Board of Directors composed of both government and private sector nominees who report to the relevant regulatory ministry. Most SOEs have strong ties with the government, and the ruling party nominates most SOE leaders. As the government controls most of the SOEs, domestic courts tend to favor the SOEs in investment disputes.

The government has taken recent steps to restructure several SOEs to improve competitiveness. This included conversion of Biman Bangladesh Airline, the national airline, into a public limited company to initiate a rebranding and a fleet renewal program involving purchase of 12 aircraft from Boeing. Five of six state-owned commercial banks – Sonali, Janata, Agrani, Rupali, and BASIC – were converted to public limited companies; only Rupali Bank is publicly listed. In July 2020, the government announced closure of 25 out of 26 state-owned jute mills under the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation amid mounting losses due to mismanagement and outdated technology.

The Bangladesh Petroleum Act of 1974 grants the government the authority to award natural resources contracts, and the Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation Ordinance of 1984 gives Petrobangla, the state-owned oil and gas company, authority to assess and award natural resource contracts and licenses to both SOEs and private companies. Currently, oil and gas firms can pursue exploration and production ventures only through production-sharing agreements with Petrobangla.

Privatization Program

The Bangladeshi government has privatized 74 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) over the past 20 years, but SOEs still retain an important role in the economy, particularly in the financial and energy sectors. Of the 74 SOEs, 54 were privatized through outright sale and 20 through offloading of shares.

Since 2010, the government’s privatization drive has slowed. Previous privatization drives were plagued by allegations of corruption, undervaluation, political favoritism, and unfair competition. Nonetheless, the government has publicly stated its goal is to continue the privatization drive. SOEs can be privatized through a variety of methods, including:

  • Sales through international tenders.
  • Sales of government shares in the capital market.
  • Transfers of some portion of the shares to the employees of the enterprises when shares are sold through the stock exchange.
  • Sales of government shares to a private equity company (restructuring).
  • Mixed sales methods.
  • Management contracts.
  • Leasing.
  • Direct asset sales (liquidation).

In 2010, 22 SOEs were included in the Privatization Commission’s (now the BIDA) program for privatization. However, a 2010 study on privatized industries in Bangladesh conducted by the Privatization Commission found only 59 percent of the entities were in operation after being privatized and 20 percent were permanently closed – implying a lack of planning or business motivation of their private owners. In 2014, the government declared SOEs would not be handed over to private owners through direct sales. Offloading shares of SOEs in the stock market, however, can be a viable way to ensure greater accountability of the management of the SOEs and minimize the government’s exposure to commercial activities. The offloading of shares in an SOE, unless it involves more than 50 percent of its shares, does not divest the government of the control over the enterprise. Both domestic and foreign companies can participate in privatization programs. Additional information is available on the BIDA website at: http://bida.gov.bd/?page_id=4771

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The business community is increasingly aware of and engaged in responsible business conduct (RBC) activities with multinational firms leading the way. While many firms in Bangladesh fall short on RBC activities and instead often focus on philanthropic giving, some of the leading local conglomerates have begun to incorporate increasingly rigorous environmental and safety standards in their workplaces. U.S. companies present in Bangladesh maintain diverse RBC activities. Consumers in Bangladesh are generally less aware of RBC, and consumers and shareholders exert little pressure on companies to engage in RBC activities.

While many international firms are aware of OECD guidelines and international best practices concerning RBC, many local firms have limited familiarity with international standards. There are currently two RBC NGOs active in Bangladesh:

Along with the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, the CSR Centre is the joint focal point for the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and its corporate social responsibility principles in Bangladesh. The UN Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate citizenship and sustainability initiative. The Centre is a member of a regional RBC platform called the South Asian Network on Sustainability and Responsibility, with members including Bangladesh, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

While several NGOs have proposed National Corporate Social Responsibility Guidelines, the government has yet to adopt any such standards for RBC. As a result, the government encourages enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principles but does not mandate any specific guidelines.

Bangladesh has natural resources, but it has not joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The country does not adhere to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices ( https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/);

Trafficking in Persons Report ( https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/);

Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities ( https://www.state.gov/key-topics-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/due-diligence-guidance/) and;

North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory ( https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/126/dprk_supplychain_advisory_07232018.pdf ).

Department of Labor

Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor Report ( https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  );

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor ( https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods );

Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World ( https://www.dol.gov/general/apps/ilab ) and;

Comply Chain ( https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/ ).

9. Corruption

Corruption remains a serious impediment to investment and economic growth in Bangladesh. While the government has established legislation to combat bribery, embezzlement, and other forms of corruption, enforcement is inconsistent. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is the main institutional anti-corruption watchdog. With amendments to the Money Prevention Act, the ACC is no longer the sole authority to probe money-laundering offenses. Although it still has primary authority for bribery and corruption, other agencies will now investigate related offenses, including:

  • The Bangladesh Police (Criminal Investigation Department) – Most predicate offenses.
  • The National Board of Revenue – VAT, taxation, and customs offenses.
  • The Department of Narcotics Control – drug related offenses.

The current Awami League-led government has publicly underscored its commitment to fighting corruption and reaffirmed the need for a strong ACC, but opposition parties claim the ACC is used by the government to harass political opponents. Efforts to ease public procurement rules and a recent constitutional amendment diminishing the independence of the ACC may undermine institutional safeguards against corruption. Bangladesh is a party to the UN Anticorruption Convention but has not joined the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Public Officials. Corruption is common in public procurement, tax and customs collection, and among regulatory authorities. Corruption, including bribery, raises the costs and risks of doing business. By some estimates, off-the-record payments by firms may result in an annual reduction of two to three percent of GDP. Corruption has a corrosive impact on the broader business climate market and opportunities for U.S. companies in Bangladesh. It also deters investment, stifles economic growth and development, distorts prices, and undermines the rule of law.

Resources to Report Corruption

Mr. Iqbal Mahmood
Chairman
Anti-Corruption Commission, Bangladesh
1, Segun Bagicha, Dhaka 1000
+88-02-8333350
chairman@acc.org.bd

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Mr. Iftekharuzzaman
Executive Director
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB)
MIDAS Centre (Level 4 & 5), House-5, Road-16 (New) 27 (Old),

Dhanmondi, Dhaka -1209
+880 2 912 4788 / 4789 / 4792
edtib@ti-bangladesh.orginfo@ti-bangladesh.orgadvocacy@ti-bangladesh.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Prime Minister Hasina’s ruling Awami League party won 289 parliamentary seats out of 300 in a December 30, 2018 election marred by wide-spread vote-rigging, ballot-box stuffing and intimidation. Intimidation, harassment, and violence during the pre-election period made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and/or campaign freely. The clashes between rival political parties and general strikes that previously characterized the political environment in Bangladesh have become far less frequent in the wake of the Awami League’s increasing dominance and crackdown on dissent. Many civil society groups have expressed concern about the trend toward a one-party state and the marginalization of all political opposition groups.

Americans are advised to exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism when traveling to Bangladesh. Travel in some areas have higher risks. For further information, see the  State Department’s travel website for the  Worldwide Caution Travel Advisories, and  Bangladesh Country Specific Information.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Bangladesh’s comparative advantage in cheap labor for manufacturing is partially offset by lower productivity due to poor skills development, inefficient management, pervasive corruption, and inadequate infrastructure. According to the 2016-2017 Labor Force Survey, 85 percent of the Bangladeshi labor force is employed in the informal economy. Bangladeshi workers have a strong reputation for hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, and a positive and optimistic attitude. With an average age of 26 years, the country boasts one of the largest and youngest labor forces in the world. However, training is not well aligned with labor demand. Bangladesh’s labor laws specify acceptable employment conditions, working hours, minimum wage levels, leave policies, health and sanitary conditions, and compensation for injured workers. Freedom of association and the right to join unions are guaranteed in the constitution. In practice, however, compliance and enforcement of labor laws are weak, and companies frequently discourage or prevent formation of worker-led labor unions, preferring pro- factory management unions. Export Processing Zones (EPZs) are a notable exception to the national labor law in that trade unions are not allowed there. The EPZ labor law instead allows worker welfare associations, to which 74 percent of workers belong, according to the government.

Since two back-to-back tragedies killed over 1,250 workers – the Tazreen Fashions fire in 2012 and the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 – Bangladesh made significant progress in garment factory fire and structural safety remediation, thanks mostly to two Western brand-led initiatives, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), comprised of North American brands, and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Accord), which was formed by European brands. Major accidents and workplace deaths in the garment sector dropped precipitously as a result—to zero in 2020. Monitoring and remediation of RMG factories exporting to non-Western countries was overseen by the government, with assistance from the International Labor Organization (ILO) under the National Initiative. By 2020, fewer than half the factories under the National Initiative had completed initial remediation of safety issues, and both the Alliance and Accord had closed their Bangladesh operations. North American brands continued to monitor manufacturers’ safety maintenance and training through a new organization, Nirapon. The Accord, under High Court order, handed over its staff and operations to the newly formed RMG Sustainability Council (RSC), overseen by a board consisting of manufacturers, brands, and worker representatives. The government is working to form an Industrial Safety Unit to oversee factory safety in National Initiative garment factories as well as all manufacturing

The U.S. government suspended Bangladesh’s access to the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) over labor rights violations following a six-year formal review conducted by the U.S. Trade Representative. The decision, announced in 2013 in the months following the Rana Plaza collapse, was accompanied by a 16-point GSP Action Plan to help start Bangladesh’s path to reinstatement of the trade benefits. While some progress was made in the intervening years, several key issues have not been adequately addressed. Despite revisions intended to make Bangladesh more compliant with international labor standards, the Bangladesh Labor Act (BLA) and EPZ Labor Act (ELA) still restrict the freedom of association and formation of unions and maintain separate administrative systems for workers inside and outside of export processing zones.

Under the current BLA, legally registered unions are entitled to submit charters of demands and bargain collectively with employers, but this has rarely occurred in practice. The government counts nearly 1,000 registered trade unions, but labor leaders estimate there are fewer than 100 active trade unions in the country’s dominant sector, RMG, and only 30 to 40 are capable enough to negotiate with owners. The law provides criminal penalties for conducting unfair labor practices such as retaliation against union members for exercising their legal rights, but charges are rarely brought against employers and the labor courts have a large backlog of cases. Labor organizations reported most workers did not exercise their rights to form unions, attend meetings, or bargain collectively due to fear of reprisal. A crackdown on mostly peaceful wage protests between December 2018 and February 2019 reportedly led to termination or forced resignation of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 garment workers – many of whom were blacklisted and remained unable to find new employment in the garment sector over a year later.

The labor law differentiates between layoffs and terminations; no severance is paid if a worker is fired for misconduct. In the case of downsizing or “retrenchment,” workers must be notified and paid 30 days’ wages for each year of service. The law requires factories and establishments to notify Bangladesh’s Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments a week prior to temporarily laying off workers due to a shortage of work or material. Laid off workers are entitled to their full housing allowance. For the first 45 days, they are also entitled to half their basic wages, then 25 percent thereafter. Workers who were employed for less than one year are not eligible for compensation during a layoff. However, the press and trade unions report employers not only fail to pay workers their severance or benefits, but also their regular wages. In 2020 alone, workers and organizers staged 264 labor protests in the garment sector over back wages, factory layoffs, and demands to reopen closed factories. No unemployment insurance or other social safety net programs exist, although the government had begun discussing how to establish them with the help of development partners and brands. The government does not consistently and effectively enforce applicable labor laws. For example, the law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court and workers in a collective bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. In practice, few strikers followed the cumbersome and time-consuming legal requirements for settlements and strikes or walkouts often occur spontaneously. The government was partnering with the ILO to introduce a dispute settlement system within its Department of Labor.

The government does not consistently and effectively enforce applicable labor laws. For example, the law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court and workers in a collective bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. In practice, few strikers followed the cumbersome and time-consuming legal requirements for settlements and strikes or walkouts often occur spontaneously. The government was partnering with the ILO to introduce a dispute settlement system within its Department of Labor.

The BLA guarantees workers the right to conduct lawful strikes, but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The BLA also prohibits strikes at factories in the first three years of commercial production, and at factories controlled by foreign investors.

The U.S. government funds efforts to improve occupational safety and health alongside labor rights in the readymade garment sector in partnership with other international partners, civil society, businesses, and the Bangladeshi government. The United States works with other governments and the International Labor Organization (ILO) to discuss and assist with additional labor reforms needed to fully comply with international labor conventions. In early 2021, the government submitted a draft action plan to the EU and ILO describing how it planned to bring its laws and practices into compliance with international labor standards over time. The U.S. government will closely monitor development and implementation of the plan to ensure it sufficiently addresses long-standing recommendations.

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

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is not currently authorized to operate in Bangladesh. Investors should check DFC’s website for updates:  https://www.dfc.gov/what-we-offer/eligibility/where-we-work  

DFC’s predecessor, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and the Government of Bangladesh signed an updated bilateral agreement in 1998. More information on DFC services can be found at:  https://www.dfc.gov/  

Bangladesh is also a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA):  http://www.miga.org.  

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: Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Other 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) 2019-20 $330,541 2019 $302,571 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source: Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Other USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019-20 $3,906 2019 $493 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $12 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019-20 5.7% 2019 5.4% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (December 2019)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $16,872 100% Total Outward $321 100%
The United States $3,488 20.7% United Kingdom $84 26.2%
The United Kingdom $1,960 11.6% Hong Kong $72 22.4%
The Netherlands $1,372 8.1% India $49 15.3%
Singapore $1,254 7.4% Nepal $45 14.0%
Hong Kong $869 5.2% United Arab Emirates $35 10.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (December 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $3,319 100% All Countries $8 100% All Countries $3,311 100%
Germany $534 16% Pakistan $8 100% Germany $534 16%
United States $503 15% N/A N/A N/A United States $503 15%
United Kingdom $336 10% N/A N/A N/A United Kingdom $336 10%
Spain $231 7% N/A N/A N/A Spain $231 7%
France $202 6% N/A N/A N/A France $202 6%

The source of information described in Table 4 is the Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  Website: https://data.imf.org/?sk=B981B4E3-4E58-467E-9B90-9DE0C3367363&sId=1481577785817.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic/Commercial Section
Embassy of the United States of America
Madani Avenue, Baridhara,
Dhaka — 1212
Tel: +880 2 5566-2000
Email: USTC-Dhaka@state.gov 

Belgium

Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the Belgian economy in 2020 and its effects will continue into 2021.  According to the National Bank of Belgium, real GDP contracted by 6.2% in 2020, and the impact on public finances led to a deficit of 10.1% of GDP and a national debt level of 115% of GDP.  Early economic forecasts for 2021 indicate that Belgium’s GDP might grow by as much as 3.9%, and the deficit will likely shrink to 7.6% of GDP.  Belgium will continue to rely on European Union financial support mechanisms, as well as interventions by its regional governments, as it aims to restart and rebuild the economy and implements a comprehensive economic recovery plan in the wake of the global health pandemic in 2021.

COVID-19 restrictions are likely to remain in place through 2021.  As Belgium’s vaccination plan gains momentum, however, those measures are expected to be rolled back.  Support measures, still ongoing at the beginning of 2021, should limit job losses (at least in the short term) and constrain the number of bankruptcies in the most affected sectors such as leisure, restaurants, hotels, and transport.

Belgium holds a unique position as a logistical hub and gateway to Europe, which will be of critical importance to jump-start the economy.  Since June 2015, the Belgian government has undertaken a series of measures to reduce the tax burden on labor and to increase Belgium’s economic competitiveness and attractiveness to foreign investment.  A July 2017 decision to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent further improved the investment climate.  As it stands, the center-left government that took office on October 1, 2020 will not reverse this decision.

Belgium boasts an open market well connected to the major economies of the world. As a gateway to Europe, host to major EU institutions, and a central location closely tied to the major European economies, Belgium is an attractive market and location for U.S. investors. Belgium is a highly developed, long-time economic partner of the United States that benefits from an extremely well-educated workforce, world-renowned research centers, and the infrastructure to support a broad range of economic activities

Belgium boasts a dynamic economy and attracts significant levels of investment in chemicals, petrochemicals, plastics and composites; environmental technologies; food processing and packaging; health technologies; information and communication; and textiles, apparel and sporting goods, among other sectors.  In 2020, Belgian exports to the United States were worth $29 billion, and the U.S. market represented Belgium’s 5th largest export destination.  Of note, major Belgian exports included chemicals (65.6%), machinery and equipment (9.7%), and transport equipment (4.5%).  In 2020, the United States ranked as Belgium’s 4th largest supplier of imports with a total value of imported goods of nearly $27 billion.  Major U.S. exports to Belgium included chemicals (38.5%), transport equipment (12.9%) and machinery and equipment (12%).

To fully realize Belgium’s employment potential, it will be critical to address the fragmentation of the labor market. Job growth accelerated in Belgium prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (+6.9% in the period 2014-2019), driven by the cyclical recovery and the positive impact of past economic and market reforms.  Large regional disparities in unemployment rates persist, however, and there is a significant skills mismatch in several key sectors.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 15 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 46 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 22 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $63.2 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $48,030 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Belgium maintains an open economy and its prosperity remains highly dependent on international trade.  Since World War II, making Belgium attractive to foreign investors has been the cornerstone of successive Belgian governments’ foreign and commercial policy.  Competence over policies that weigh on the attractiveness of Belgium as a destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) lie predominantly with the federal government, which is responsible for developing domestic competition policy, wage setting policies, labor law and most energy and fiscal policies.  Attracting FDI is, however, a responsibility of Belgium’s three regional governments and their investment promotion agencies: Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT), Wallonia Foreign Trade and Investment Agency (AWEX), and Brussels Invest and Export (BIE).  One of their most visible activities is the organization of the Royal Trade Missions.  In October 2021, a Royal Trade Mission led by Princess Astrid is planned to visit Atlanta, New York City, and Boston.  Neither the federal government nor the regional governments currently maintain a formal dialogue with investors.

There are no laws in place that discriminate against foreign investors.  Belgian authorities are developing a national security-based investment screening law, which will not likely be finalized and delivered to Parliament for a vote before the second half of 2021.  The Belgian government, however, has coordinated with the European Commission on its investment screening mechanism.  In practice, this arrangement allows the European Commission to issue opinions when an investment poses a threat to the security or public order of more than one member state.  Furthermore, the regulation sets certain requirements for EU member states that wish to maintain or adopt a screening mechanism at the national level.  Member states will keep the last word on whether or not a specific investment should or should not be allowed in their territory.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are currently no limits on foreign ownership or control in Belgium and there are no distinctions between Belgian and foreign companies when establishing or owning a business, or setting up a remunerative activity.  The forthcoming investment screening mechanism may establish some limits based on national security.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In July 2019 the OECD published an in-depth productivity review of Belgium:

https://www.oecd.org/belgium/in-depth-productivity-review-of-belgium-88aefcd5-en.htm

Belgium was included in the WTO Trade Policy Review of the European Union, which took place February 18-20, 2020: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp495_e.htm

Business Facilitation

In order to set up a business in Belgium, one must:

1. Deposit at least 20% of the initial capital with a Belgian credit institution and obtain a standard certification confirming that the amount is held in a blocked capital account;

2. Deposit a financial plan with a notary, sign the deed of incorporation and the by-laws in the presence of a notary, who authenticates the documents and registers the deed of incorporation. The authentication act must be drawn up in either French, Dutch or German (Belgium’s three official languages); and

3. Register with one of the Registers of legal entities, VAT and social security at a centralized company docket and obtain a company number.

In most cases, the business registration process can be completed within one week (https://www.business.belgium.be/en/setting_up_your_business).  The process is bureaucratic and can be challenging for foreigners, particularly if they do not speak the language of the region.  Assistance from the regional Investment Authorities (see below) is recommended; these authorities are competitive and will offer support and incentives to companies considering establishing in their territory.  Contacting the office of the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels for assistance is also recommended.

Based on the number of employees, the projected annual turnover and the shareholder class, a company will qualify as a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) according to the meaning of the Promotion of Independent Enterprise Act of February 10, 1998.  For a small or medium-sized enterprise, registration will only be possible once a certificate of competence has been obtained. The person in charge of the daily management of the company must prove his or her knowledge of business management, with diplomas and/or practical experience.  In the Global Enterprise Register, Belgium currently scores 7 out of 10 for ease of setting up a limited liability company.

Business facilitation agencies provide for equitable treatment of women and under-represented minorities in the economy.

A company is expected to allow trade union delegations if it employs 20 or more full-time equivalents (FTEs).

The three Belgian regions each have their own investment promotion agency, whose services are available to all foreign investors:

Flanders: Flanders Investment & Trade, https://www.flandersinvestmentandtrade.com/en

Wallonia: Invest in Wallonia, http://www.investinwallonia.be/home

Brussels: Brussels Invest & Export, http://why.brussels/

Outward Investment

Belgium does not actively promote outward investment.  There are no restrictions for domestic investors to invest in certain countries, other than those that fall under UN or EU sanction regimes.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Belgian government has adopted a generally transparent competition policy.  The government has implemented tax, labor, health, safety, and other laws and policies to avoid distortions or impediments to the efficient mobilization and allocation of investment, comparable to those in other EU member states.  Draft bills are never made available for public comment, but have to go through an independent court for vetting and consistency.  Belgium publishes all its relevant legislation and administrative guidelines in an official Gazette, called Le Moniteur Belge (www.moniteur.be).

Foreign and domestic investors in some sectors face stringent regulations designed to protect small- and medium-sized enterprises.  Recognizing the need to streamline administrative procedures in many areas, in 2015 the federal government set up a special task force to simplify official procedures.  It also agreed to streamline laws regarding the telecommunications sector into one comprehensive volume after new entrants in this sector had complained about a lack of transparency.  Additionally the government strengthened its Competition Policy Authority with a number of academic experts and additional resources. Traditionally, scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted on the impact of regulations are made publicly available for comment. However, not all stakeholder comments received by regulators are made public.

Accounting standards are regulated by the Belgian law of January 30, 2001, and balance sheet and profit and loss statements are in line with international accounting norms. Cash flow positions and reporting changes in non-borrowed capital formation are not required.  However, contrary to IAS/IFRS standards, Belgian accounting rules do require an extensive annual policy report.

International Regulatory Considerations

Belgium is a founding member of the EU, whose directives and regulations are enforced.  On May 25, 2018, Belgium implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679, an EU regulation on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union.

Through the European Union, Belgium is a member of the WTO, and notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).  Belgium does not maintain any measures that are inconsistent with the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) obligations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Belgium’s (civil) legal system is independent of the government and is a means for resolving commercial disputes or protecting property rights.  Belgium has maintained a wide-ranging codified law system since 1830.  Specialized commercial courts apply the existing commercial and contractual laws. As in many countries, Belgian courts labor under a growing caseload and ongoing budget cuts causing backlogs and delays. There are several levels of appeal.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Payments and transfers within Belgium and with foreign countries require no prior authorization. Transactions may be executed in euros as well as in other currencies.

Belgium has no debt-to-equity requirements.  Dividends may be remitted freely except in cases in which distribution would reduce net assets to less than paid-up capital.  No further withholding tax or other tax is due on repatriation of the original investment or on the profits of a branch, either during active operations or upon the closing of the branch.

There are three different regional Investment Authorities:

Flanders: www.flandersinvestmentandtrade.com

Wallonia; www.awex.be

Brussels: https://be.brussels/brussels

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The contact address for competition-related concerns:

Federal Competition Authority

City Atrium, 6th floor

Vooruitgangsstraat 50

1210 Brussels

tel: +32 2 277 5272

fax: +32 2 277 5323

email: info@bma-abc.be

EU member states are responsible for competition and anti-trust regulations if there are no cross-border dimensions. If cross-border effects are present, EU law applies and European institutions are competent.

Expropriation and Compensation

There are no outstanding expropriation or nationalization cases in Belgium with U.S. investors. There is no pattern of discrimination against foreign investment in Belgium.

When the Belgian government uses its eminent domain powers to acquire property compulsorily for a public purpose, current market value is paid to the property owners. Recourse to the courts is available if necessary.  The only expropriations that occurred during the last decade were related to infrastructure projects such as port expansions, roads, and railroads.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Belgium is a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and regularly includes provision for ICSID arbitration in investment agreements.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government accepts binding international arbitration of disputes between foreign investors and the state. There have been no public investment disputes involving a U.S. citizen within the past 10 years.  Local courts are expected to enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.  To date, there has been no evidence of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Alternative Dispute Resolution is not mandatory by law and is therefore not commonly used in disputes, except for matters where the determination by an expert is sought, whether appointed by the parties in agreement or in accordance with a contractual clause or appointed by the court in the context of dispute resolution.

Belgium has no domestic arbitration bodies.  Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. Judgments of foreign courts are recognized and enforceable under the local courts.  There are no reports or complaints targeting Court proceedings involving State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) or alleged favoritism for them.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Belgian bankruptcy law is governed by the Bankruptcy Act of 1997 and is under the jurisdiction of the commercial courts.  The commercial court appoints a judge-auditor to preside over the bankruptcy proceeding and whose primary task is to supervise the management and liquidation of the bankrupt estate, in particular with respect to the claims of the employees.  Belgian bankruptcy law recognizes several classes of preferred or secured creditors.  A person who has been declared bankrupt may subsequently start a new business unless the person is found guilty of certain criminal offences that are directly related to the bankruptcy.  The Business Continuity Act of 2009 provides the possibility for companies in financial difficulty to enter into a judicial reorganization.  These proceedings are to some extent similar to Chapter 11 as the aim is to facilitate business recovery.  In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index, Belgium ranks number 9 (out of 190) for the ease of resolving insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Since the August 1980 law on regional devolution in Belgium, investment incentives and subsidies have been the responsibility of Belgian’s three regions: Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia.  Nonetheless, most tax measures remain under the control of the federal government, as do the parameters (social security, wage agreements) that govern general salary and benefit levels.  In general, all regional and national incentives are available to foreign and domestic investors alike.   The federal government does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.

Belgian investment incentive programs at all levels of government are limited by EU regulations and are normally kept in line with those of the other EU member states.  The European Commission has tended to discourage certain investment incentives in the belief that they distort the single market, impair structural change, and threaten EU convergence, as well as social and economic cohesion.   In January 2016, the European Commission ordered Belgium to reclaim up to USD 900 million in tax breaks from 36 companies (12 of which are U.S. companies) going as far back as 2004.  The Belgian Government had given these breaks to companies through a series of one-off fiscal rulings. The scheme had reduced the corporate tax base of the companies by between 50% and 90% to discount for excess profits that allegedly resulted from being part of a multinational group. However, in a February 14, 2019 ruling, the EU General Court decided that the excess profit ruling was not a State-aid scheme.  Observers note that the ruling is based on a procedural defect from the European Commission, and highlight that the General Court did not per se validate the excess profit ruling. Belgium challenged the EC decision legally and won, but the EC has appealed the ruling.

In their investment policies, the regional governments emphasize innovation promotion, research and development, energy savings, environmental protection, exports, and most of all, employment.  The three regional agencies have staff specializing in specific regions of the world, including the United States, and have representation offices in different countries.  In addition, the Finance Ministry established a foreign investment tax unit in 2000 to provide assistance and to make the tax administration more “user friendly” for foreign investors.

It is permitted for companies established in Belgium, foreign or domestic, to deduct from their taxable profits a percentage of their adjusted net assets linked to the rate of the Belgian long-term state bond.  This permits companies to deduct the “notional” interest rate that would have been paid on their locally invested capital had it been borrowed at a rate of interest equal to the current rate the Belgian government pays on its 10-year bonds.  This amount is deducted from profits, thus lowering nominal Belgian corporate taxes.  Even though this system was made slightly less attractive in the recent past, it remains an important tool to stimulate investment in Belgium.

As of 2019, corporate groups may aggregate gains and losses from multiple Belgian subsidiaries or branches and pay taxes on the total amount of profit.  As a result, companies generating low profits while operating a subsidiary at a loss will no longer be taxed.

Dividend distributions are generally subject to a 30% withholding tax.  However, reduced rates are possible, and a full exemption can be claimed if the dividends are distributed by a Belgian tax-resident company to a receiving firm that:

  • was established in Belgium or an EU member state;
  • directly holds 10% of the capital of the distributing company;
  • has maintained this holding for at least one year with no interruptions; and
  • is appropriately incorporated in a cross-border situation.

Withholding taxes on dividends paid to corporate shareholders in treaty countries are no longer taxed in Belgium. Dividends distributed by subsidiaries of companies in Belgium are 100% tax exempt.

More information about the Belgian tax system can be requested at:

Federal Public Service Finance –
Foreign Investment Cell
Parliament Corner, Wetstraat 24 B-1000 Brussel, België
Tel: 02 579 38 66 – Fax: +32 257 951 12
e-mail: taxinvest@minfin.fed.be
Web: http://taxinvest.belgium.be

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are no foreign trade zones or free ports as such in Belgium.  However, the country utilizes the concept of customs warehouses.  A customs warehouse is approved by the customs authorities where imported goods may be stored without payment of customs duties and VAT.  Only non-EU goods can be placed under a customs warehouse regime.  In principle, non-EU goods of any kind may be admitted, regardless of their nature, quantity, country of origin or destination.  Individuals and companies wishing to operate a customs warehouse must be established in the EU and obtain authorization from the customs authorities.  Authorization may be obtained by filing a written request and by demonstrating an economic need for the warehouse.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements in Belgium usually relate to the number of jobs created. There are no national requirement rules for senior management or boards of directors. There are no known cases where export targets or local purchase requirements were imposed, with the exception of the military offset programs that were reintroduced under Prime Minister Verhofstadt in 2006.  While the government reserves the right to reclaim incentives if the investor fails to meet employment commitments, enforcement is rare.  However, in 2012, with the announced closure of an automotive plant in Flanders, the Flanders regional government successfully reclaimed training subsidies that had been provided to the company.

There is currently no requirement for foreign IT providers to share source code and/or provide access to surveillance agencies.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights in Belgium are well protected by law, and the courts are independent and considered effective in enforcing property rights. Mortgages and liens exist through a reliable recording system operated by the Belgian notaries.

However, on the World Bank’s 2020 ranking on the ease for registering property, Belgium ranks only 139th out of a total of 190 countries.

Intellectual Property Rights

Belgium generally meets very high standards for the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR). The EU has issued a number of directives to promote the protection and enforcement of IPR, which EU Member States are required to implement.  National laws that do not conflict with those of the EU also apply.  Belgium is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and so party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  Belgium is also a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to many of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

IPR is administered by the Belgian Office of Intellectual Property (OPRI), which is part of the Directorate-General for Economic Regulation  in the Ministry for Economic Affairs:  https://economie.fgov.be/en/themes/intellectual-property/institutions-and-actors/belgian-office-intellectual  This office manages and provides Belgian IPR titles, oversees public awareness campaigns, drafts legislation, and advises Belgian authorities with regard to national and international issues.  The Belgian Ministry of Justice is responsible for enforcement of IPR.  Belgium experiences a rate of commercial and digital infringement – particularly internet music piracy and illegal copying of software – similar to most EU Member States.

Belgium is not included on USTR’s Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Belgium has policies in place to facilitate the free flow of financial resources. Credit is allocated at market rates and is available to foreign and domestic investors without discrimination. Belgium is fully served by the international banking community and is implementing all relevant EU financial directives. At the same time, in 2020 Belgium ranked 67th out of 190 for “getting credit” on the World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings, and in the bottom quintile among OECD high income countries.

The Belgian city of Bruges established the world’s first stock market almost 600 years ago, and the Belgian bourse is well-established today. On Euronext, a company may increase its capital either by capitalizing reserves or by issuing new shares. An increase in capital requires a legal registration procedure, and new shares may be offered either to the public or to existing shareholders. A public notice is not required if the offer is to existing shareholders, who may subscribe to the new shares directly. An issue of bonds to the public is subject to the same requirements as a public issue of shares: the company’s capital must be entirely paid up, and existing shareholders must be given preferential subscription rights.  Details on the shareholders of the Bel20 (benchmark stock market index of Euronext Brussels) can be found on http://www.gresea.be/Qui-sont-les-actionnaires-du-BEL-20.

In 2016, the Belgian government passed legislation to improve entrepreneurial financing through crowdfunding and more flexible capital venture rules.

Money and Banking System

Because the Belgian economy is directed toward international trade, more than half of its banking activities involve foreign countries. Belgium’s major banks are represented in the financial and commercial centers of dozens of countries by subsidiaries, branch offices, and representative offices. The country does have a central bank, the National Bank of Belgium (NBB), whose governor is also a member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB).  Being a Eurozone member state, the NBB is part of the Euro system, meaning that it has transferred the sovereignty over monetary policy to the ECB.

Belgium has one of highest number of banks per capita in the world. Following a review of the 2008 financial crisis, the Belgian government decided in 2012 to shift the authority of bank supervision from the Financial Market Supervision Authority (FMSA) to the NBB. In 2017, supervision of systemically important Belgian banks shifted to the ECB. The country has not lost any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years, nor are there any correspondent banking relationships currently in jeopardy.

Since the introduction of the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), the vast majority of the Belgian banking sector’s assets are held by banks that come under SSM supervision, including the “significant institutions” KBC Bank, Belfius Bank, Argenta, AXA Bank Europe, Bank of New-York Mellon and Bank Degroof/Petercam. Other banks governed by Belgian law – such as BNP Paribas Fortis and ING Belgium – are also subject to SSM supervision as they are subsidiaries of non-Belgian “significant institutions.”

In 2018, the banking sector conducted its business in a context of gradual economic recovery and persistently low interest rates. That situation had two effects: it put pressure on the sector’s profitability and caused a credit default problem in some European banks. The National Bank of Belgium designated eight Belgian banks as domestic systemically important institutions, and divided them into two groups according to their level of importance. A 1.5% capital surcharge was imposed on the first group (BNP Paribas Fortis, KBC Group and Belfius Bank). The second group (AXA Bank Europe, Argenta, Euroclear and The Bank of New York Mellon) is required to hold a supplementary capital buffer of 0.75%. These surcharges are being phased in over a three-year period.

Under pressure from the European Union, bank debt has decreased in volume overall, from close to 1.6 trillion euros in 2007 to just over 1 trillion euros in 2018, according to the National Bank of Belgium, particularly in the risky derivative markets.

It remains to be seen how the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis will impact banks on a long-term basis in Belgium.

Belgian banks use modern, automated systems for domestic and international transactions. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) is headquartered in Brussels. Euroclear, a clearing entity for transactions in stocks and other securities, is also located in Brussels.

Opening a bank account in the country is linked to residency status.  The U.S. FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) requires Belgian banks to report information on U.S. account holders directly to the Belgian tax authorities, who then release the information to the IRS.

With regard to cryptocurrencies, the National Bank of Belgium has no central authority overseeing the network.

Unlike most other EU countries, there are no cryptocurrency ATMs, and the NBB has repeatedly warned about potential adverse consequences of the use of cryptocurrencies for financial stability.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Payments and transfers within Belgium and with foreign countries require no prior authorization. Transactions may be executed in euros as well as in other currencies.

Remittance Policies

Dividends may be remitted freely except in cases in which distribution would reduce net assets to less than paid-up capital. No further withholding tax or other tax is due on repatriation of the original investment or on the profits of a branch, either during active operations or upon the closing of the branch.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Belgium has a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) in the form of the Federal Holding and Investment Company (FPIM-SFPI), a quasi-independent entity created in 2004 and now mainly used as a vehicle to manage the banking assets which were taken on board during the 2008 banking crisis. The SWF has a board whose members reflect the composition of the governing coalition and are regularly audited by the “Cour des Comptes” or national auditor. At the end of 2019, its total assets amounted to € 2.35 billion.  The majority of the funds are invested domestically. Its role is to allow public entities to recoup their investments and support Belgian banks. The SWF is required by law to publish an annual report and is subject to the same domestic and international accounting standards and rules. The SWF routinely fulfills all legal obligations. However, it is not a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Belgium has approximately 80,000 employees working in SOEs, mainly in the railways, telecoms and general utility sectors. There are also several region-owned enterprises where the regions often have a controlling majority.  Private enterprises are allowed to compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions, but since the EU started to liberalize network industries such as electricity, gas, water, telecoms and railways, there have been regular complaints in Belgium about unfair competition from the former state monopolists. Complaints have ranged from lower salaries (railways) to lower VAT rates (gas and electricity) to regulators with a conflict of interest (telecom). Although these complaints have now largely subsided, many of these former monopolies are now market leaders in their sector, due mainly to their ability to charge high access costs to legacy networks that were fully amortized years ago.

Privatization Program

Belgium currently has no scheduled privatizations. There are ongoing discussions about the relative merits of a possible privatization of the state-owned bank Belfius and the government share in telecom operator Proximus. There are no indications that foreign investors would be excluded from these eventual privatizations.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Belgian government encourages both foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted Corporate Social Responsibility principles such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Belgian government also encourages adherence to the OECD Due Diligence guidance for responsible supply chains of minerals from conflict-affected areas.

When it comes to human rights, labor rights, consumer and environmental protection, or laws/regulations which would protect individuals from adverse business impacts, the Belgian government is generally considered to enforce domestic laws in a fair and effective manner.

There is a general awareness of corporate social responsibility among producers and consumers. Boards of directors are encouraged to pay attention to corporate social responsibility in the 2009 Belgian Code on corporate governance. This Code, also known as the “Code Buysse II” was  drafted by a group of independent corporate experts and stresses the importance of sound entrepreneurship, good corporate governance, an active board of directors and an advisory council. It deals with unlisted companies and is complementary to existing Belgian legislation. However, adherence to the” Code Buysse II” is not factored into public procurement decisions. For listed companies, far stricter guidelines apply, which are monitored by the Financial Services and Markets Authority.

drafted by a group of independent corporate experts and stresses the importance of sound entrepreneurship, good corporate governance, an active board of directors and an advisory council. It deals with unlisted companies and is complementary to existing Belgian legislation. However, adherence to the” Code Buysse II” is not factored into public procurement decisions. For listed companies, far stricter guidelines apply, which are monitored by the Financial Services and Markets Authority.

Belgium is part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption

Belgian anti-bribery legislation was revised completely in March 1999, when the competence of Belgian courts was extended to extraterritorial bribery. Bribing foreign officials is a criminal offense in Belgium. Belgium has been a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention since 1999, and is a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery.  The Working Group’s Phase 3 review of Belgium in 2013 called on Belgium to address the lack of resources available for fighting foreign bribery.

Under Article 3 of the Belgian criminal code, jurisdiction is established over offenses committed within Belgian territory by Belgian or foreign nationals. Act 99/808 added Article 10 related to the code of criminal procedure. This Article provides for jurisdiction in certain cases over persons (foreign as well as Belgian nationals) who commit bribery offenses outside the territory of Belgium. Various limitations apply, however. For example, if the bribe recipient exercises a public function in an EU member state, Belgian prosecution may not proceed without the formal consent of the other state.

Under a 1999 Belgian law, the definition of corruption was extended considerably. It is considered passive bribery if a government official or employer requests or accepts a benefit for him or herself or for somebody else in exchange for behaving in a certain way. Active bribery is defined as the proposal of a promise or benefit in exchange for undertaking a specific action. Until 1999, Belgian anti-corruption law did not cover attempts at passive bribery. The most controversial innovation of the 1999 law was the introduction of the concept of “private  corruption,” or corruption among private individuals.

corruption,” or corruption among private individuals.

Corruption by public officials carries heavy fines and/or imprisonment between five and ten years. Private individuals face similar fines and slightly shorter prison terms (between six months and two years). The current law not only holds individuals accountable, but also the company for which they work. Contrary to earlier legislation, the 1999 law stipulates that payment of bribes to secure or maintain public procurement or administrative authorization through bribery in foreign countries is no longer tax deductible. Recent court cases in Belgium suggest that corruption is most serious in government procurement and public works contracting.  American companies have not, however, identified corruption as a barrier to investment.

The responsibility for enforcing corruption laws is shared by the Ministry of Justice through investigating magistrates of the courts, and the Ministry of the Interior through the Belgian federal police, which has jurisdiction in all criminal cases. A special unit, the Central Service for Combating Corruption, has been created for enforcement purposes but continues to lack the necessary staff. Belgium is also an active participant in the Global Forum on Asset Recovery.

The Belgian Employers Federation encourages its members to establish internal codes of conduct aimed at prohibiting bribery. To date, U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Belgium has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention of 1998, and is also party to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Office of the Federal Prosecutor of Belgium
Transparency International Belgium
Resources to Report Corruption
Wolstraat 66-1 – 1000 Brussels
T 02 55 777 64

Transparency Belgium
Nijverheidsstraat 10, 1000 Brussels
Tel: +32 (0)2 893 2584
email:  infoa@transparencybelgium.be 

10. Political and Security Environment

Belgium is a peaceful, democratic nation comprising federal, regional, and municipal political units: the Belgian federal government, the regional governments of Flanders, Wallonia, the Brussels capital region, and 581 communes (municipalities). Political divisions do exist between the Flemish and the Walloons, but they are addressed in democratic institutions and generally resolved through compromise. The Federal Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister, remains in office as long as it retains the confidence of the lower house (Chamber of Representatives) of the bicameral parliament.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Belgian labor force is generally well trained, highly motivated and very productive. Workers have an excellent command of foreign languages, particularly in Flanders. There is a low unemployment rate among skilled workers, such as local managers. Enlargement of the EU in May 2004 and January 2007 facilitated the entry of skilled workers into Belgium from new member states. Non-EU nationals must apply for work permits before they can be employed. Minimum wages vary according to the age and responsibility level of the employee and are adjusted for the cost of living.

Belgian workers are highly unionized and usually enjoy good salaries and benefits. Belgian wage and social security contributions, along with those in Germany, are among the highest in Western Europe.  For 2019, Belgium’s harmonized unemployment figure was 5.4 percent, below the EU average of 6.4 percent (OECD). High wage levels and pockets of high unemployment coexist, reflecting both strong productivity in new technology sector investments and weak skills of Belgium’s long-term unemployed, whose overall education level is significantly lower than that of the general population. There are also significant differences in regional unemployment levels (2019 figures):  3.3 percent in Flanders, against 7.2 percent in Wallonia and 12.7 percent in Brussels.  As a consequence of high wage costs, employers have tended to invest more in capital than in labor. At the same time, a shortage exists of workers with training in computer hardware and software, automation and marketing, increasing wage pressures in these sectors.

Belgium’s comprehensive social security package is composed of five major elements: family allowance, unemployment insurance, retirement, medical benefits and a sick leave program that guarantees salary in event of illness. Currently, average employer payments to the social security system stand at 25 percent of salary while employee contributions comprise 13 percent. In addition, many private companies offer supplemental programs for medical benefits and retirement.

Belgian labor unions, while maintaining a national superstructure, are, in effect, divided along linguistic lines. The two main confederations, the Confederation of Christian Unions and the General Labor Federation of Belgium, maintain close relationships with the Christian Democratic and Socialist political parties, respectively. They exert a strong influence in the country, politically and socially. A national bargaining process covers inter-professional agreements that the trade union confederations negotiate biennially with the government and the employers’ associations. In addition to these negotiations, bargaining on wages and working conditions takes place in the various industrial sectors and at the plant level. About 51 percent of employees from the public service and private sector are labor union members. A cause for concern in labor negotiation tactics is isolated cases where union members in Wallonia have resorted to physically forcing management to stay in their offices until an agreement can be reached.

Firing a Belgian employee can be very expensive. An employee may be dismissed immediately for cause, such as embezzlement or other illegal activity, but when a reduction in force occurs, the procedure is far more complicated. In those instances where the employer and employee cannot agree on the amount of severance pay or indemnity, the case is referred to the labor courts for a decision. To avoid these complications, some firms include a “trial period” (of up to one year) in any employer-employee contract. Belgium is a strict adherent to ILO labor conventions.

Belgium was one of the first countries in the EU to harmonize its legislation with the EU Works Council Directive of December 1994. Its flexible approach to the consultation and information requirements specified in the Directive compares favorably with that of other EU member states.

In 2015, the Belgian government increased the retirement age from the current age of 65 to 66 as of 2027 and 67 as of 2030.  Under the 2015 retirement plan, various schemes for early retirement before the age of 65 will be gradually phased out, and unemployment benefits will decrease over time as an incentive for the unemployed to regain employment.

Wage increases are negotiated by sector within the parameters set by automatic wage indexation and the 1996 Law on Competitiveness. The purpose of automatic wage indexation is to establish a bottom margin that protects employees against inflation: for every increase in consumer price index above 2 percent, wages must be increased by (at least) 2 percent as well. The top margin is determined by the competitiveness law, which requires the Central Economic Council (CCE) to study wage projections in neighboring countries and make a recommendation on the maximum margin that will ensure Belgian competitiveness. The CCE is made up of civil society organizations, primarily representatives from employer and employee organizations, and its mission is to promote a socio-economic compromise in Belgium by providing informed recommendations to the government. The CCE’s projected increases in neighboring countries have historically been higher than their real increases, however, and have caused Belgium’s wages to increase more rapidly than its neighbors. Since 2016 however, that wage gap has decreased substantially.

Belgian labor law provides for dispute settlement procedures, with the labor minister appointing an official as mediator between the employers and employee representatives.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) N/A N/A 2019 $533.09 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $63.2 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $70.1 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 1.8% UNCTAD data available athttps://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data:

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 577,139 100% Total Outward 676,434 100%
The Netherlands 148,230 25.68% The Netherlands 212,974 31.48%
France 143,865 24.81% Luxembourg 160,221 23.68%
Luxembourg 118,209 20.48% United Kingdom 111,605 16.49%
Switzerland 43,679 7.56% France 58,891 8.7%
United States 28,881 5% Germany 13,828 2.04%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

https://data.imf.org/?sk=B981B4E3-4E58-467E-9B90-9DE0C3367363&sId=1481577785817 )

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 625,416 100% All Countries 150,319 100% All Countries 474,534 100%
France 102,426 16,37% United States 44,641 29,69% France 89,995 18,96%
Germany 94,007 15,03% Luxembourg 42,745 28,43% Germany 88,120 18,56%
Luxembourg 82,703 13,22% France 12,432 8,27% The Netherlands 58,410 12,30%
The Netherlands 65,240 10,43% United Kingdom 8,644 5,75% Luxembourg 39,958 8,42%
United States 55,022 8,79% The Netherlands 6,830 4,54% Japan 33,450 7,04%

14. Contact for More Information

Pieter-Jan VAN STEENKISTE

Economic Specialist

Regentlaan, 27 – BE1000 Brussels

0032 475 706 529 vansteenkistepj@state.gov

vansteenkistepj@state.gov

Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is the second largest economy in the Western Hemisphere behind the United States, and the ninth largest economy in the world (in nominal terms), according to the World Bank.  The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) named Brazil the sixth largest destination for global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows in 2019 with inflows of $72 billion, which increased 26 percent since Brazil announced its privatization plan that same year.  In recent years, Brazil received more than half of South America’s total incoming FDI and the United States is a major foreign investor in Brazil.  According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United States had the second largest single-country stock of FDI by final ownership (UBO) representing 18 percent of all FDI in Brazil ($117 billion) behind only the Netherlands’ 23 percent ($147.7 billion) in 2019, the latest year with available data, while according to the Brazil Central Bank (BCB) measurements, U.S. stock was 23 percent ($145.1 billion) of all FDI in Brazil, the largest single-country stock by UBO for the same year. The Government of Brazil (GoB) prioritized attracting private investment in its infrastructure and energy sectors during 2018 and 2019.  The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 delayed planned privatization efforts.

The Brazilian economy returned to an expansionary trend in 2017, ending the deepest and longest recession in Brazil’s modern history.  However, the global coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 returned Brazil to recession after three years of modest recovery. The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped 4.1 percent in 2020.  As of March 2021, analysts forecast growth of 3.29 percent for 2021.  The unemployment rate was 13.4 percent at the end of 2020.  The nominal budget deficit stood at 13.7 percent of GDP ($196.7 billion) in 2020 and is projected to end 2021 at around 4 percent depending on passage of the 2021 budget.  Brazil’s debt to GDP ratio reached a new record of 89.3 percent in 2020 with National Treasury projections of 94.5 percent by the end of 2021, while the Independent Financial Institution (IFI) of Brazil’s Senate projects 92.67 percent and the IMF estimates the ratio will finish 2021 at 92.1 percent.  The BCB lowered its target for the benchmark Selic interest rate from 4.5 percent at the end of 2019 to 2 percent at the end of 2020, and as of March 2021, the BCB anticipates the Selic rate to rise to 5 percent by the end of 2021.

President Bolsonaro took office on January 1, 2019. In late 2019, Congress passed and President Bolsonaro signed into law a much-needed pension system reform and made additional economic reforms a top priority.  Bolsonaro and his economic team have outlined an agenda of further reforms to simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and the onerous labor laws in the country, but the legislative agenda in 2020 was largely absorbed by response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, Brazil advanced a variety of legal and regulatory changes that contributed to its overall goal to modernize its economy

Brazil’s official investment promotion strategy prioritizes the automobile manufacturing, renewable energy, life sciences, oil and gas, and infrastructure sectors.  Foreign investors in Brazil receive the same legal treatment as local investors in most economic sectors; however, there are restrictions in the health, mass media, telecommunications, aerospace, rural property, and maritime sectors.  The Brazilian Congress is considering legislation to liberalize restrictions on foreign ownership of rural property.

Analysts contend that high transportation and labor costs, low domestic productivity, and ongoing political uncertainties hamper investment in Brazil.  Foreign investors also cite concerns over poor existing infrastructure, relatively rigid labor laws, and complex tax, local content, and regulatory requirements; all part of the extra costs of doing business in Brazil.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 94 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 124 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 62 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 81,731 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 9,130 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Brazil was the world’s sixth-largest destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2019, with inflows of $72 billion, according to UNCTAD.  The GoB actively encourages FDI – particularly in the automobile, renewable energy, life sciences, oil and gas, and transportation infrastructure sectors – to introduce greater innovation into Brazil’s economy and to generate economic growth. GoB investment incentives include tax exemptions and low-cost financing with no distinction made between domestic and foreign investors.  Foreign investment is restricted in the health, mass media, telecommunications, aerospace, rural property, maritime, and insurance sectors.

The Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil) plays a leading role in attracting FDI to Brazil by working to identify business opportunities, promoting strategic events, and lending support to foreign investors willing to allocate resources to Brazil.  Apex-Brasil is not a “one-stop shop” for foreign investors, but the agency can assist in all steps of the investor’s decision-making process, to include identifying and contacting potential industry segments, sector and market analyses, and general guidelines on legal and fiscal issues.  Their services are free of charge.  The website for Apex-Brasil is: http://www.apexbrasil.com.br/en

In 2019, the Ministry of Economy created the Ombudsman’s office to provide foreign investors with a single point of contact for concerns related to FDI.  The plan seeks to eventually streamline foreign investments in Brazil by providing investors, foreign and domestic, with a simpler process for the creation of new businesses and additional investments in current companies.  Currently, the Ombudsman’s office is not operating as a single window for services, but rather as an advisory resource for FDI.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

A 1995 constitutional amendment (EC 6/1995) eliminated distinctions between foreign and local capital, ending favorable treatment (e.g. tax incentives, preference for winning bids) for companies using only local capital.  However, constitutional law restricts foreign investment in healthcare (Law 8080/1990, altered by 13097/2015), mass media (Law 10610/2002), telecommunications (Law 12485/2011), aerospace (Law 7565/1986 a, Decree 6834/2009, updated by Law 12970/2014, Law 13133/2015, and Law 13319/2016), rural property (Law 5709/1971), maritime (Law 9432/1997, Decree 2256/1997), and insurance (Law 11371/2006).

Screening of FDI

Foreigners investing in Brazil must electronically register their investment with the Central Bank of Brazil (BCB) within 30 days of the inflow of resources to Brazil.  In cases of investments involving royalties and technology transfer, investors must register with Brazil’s patent office, the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI).  Investors must also have a local representative in Brazil. Portfolio investors must have a Brazilian financial administrator and register with the Brazilian Securities Exchange Commission (CVM).

To enter Brazil’s insurance and reinsurance market, U.S. companies must establish a subsidiary, enter into a joint venture, acquire a local firm, or enter into a partnership with a local company.  The BCB reviews banking license applications on a case-by-case basis. Foreign interests own or control 20 of the top 50 banks in Brazil, but Santander is the only major wholly foreign-owned retail bank.

Since June 2019, foreign investors may own 100 percent of capital in Brazilian airline companies.

While 2015 and 2017 legislative and regulatory changes relaxed some restrictions on insurance and reinsurance, rules on preferential offers to local reinsurers remain unchanged.  Foreign reinsurance firms must have a representation office in Brazil to qualify as an admitted reinsurer.  Insurance and reinsurance companies must maintain an active registration with Brazil’s insurance regulator, the Superintendence of Private Insurance (SUSEP) and maintain a minimum solvency classification issued by a risk classification agency equal to Standard & Poor’s or Fitch ratings of at least BBB-.

Foreign ownership of cable TV companies is allowed, and telecom companies may offer television packages with their service.  Content quotas require every channel to air at least three and a half hours per week of Brazilian programming during primetime.  Additionally, one-third of all channels included in any TV package must be Brazilian.

The National Land Reform and Settlement Institute administers the purchase and lease of Brazilian agricultural land by foreigners.  Under the applicable rules, the area of agricultural land bought or leased by foreigners cannot account for more than 25 percent of the overall land area in a given municipal district.  Additionally, no more than 10 percent of agricultural land in any given municipal district may be owned or leased by foreign nationals from the same country.  The law also states that prior consent is needed for purchase of land in areas considered indispensable to national security and for land along the border.  The rules also make it necessary to obtain congressional approval before large plots of agricultural land can be purchased by foreign nationals, foreign companies, or Brazilian companies with majority foreign shareholding.  In December 2020, the Senate approved a bill (PL 2963/2019; source:  https://www25.senado.leg.br/web/atividade/materias/-/materia/136853) to ease restrictions on foreign land ownership; however, the Chamber of Deputies has yet to consider the bill. Brazil is not yet a signatory to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), but submitted its application for accession in May 2020.  In February 2021, Brazil formalized its initial offer to start negotiations.  The submission establishes a series of thresholds above which foreign sellers will be allowed to bid for procurements.  Such thresholds differ for different procuring entities and types of procurements.  The proposal also includes procurements by some states and municipalities (with restrictions) as well as state-owned enterprises, but it excludes certain sensitive categories, such as financial services, strategic health products, and specific information technologies.  Brazil’s submission still must be negotiated with GPA members.

By statute, a Brazilian state enterprise may subcontract services to a foreign firm only if domestic expertise is unavailable.  Additionally, U.S. and other foreign firms may only bid to provide technical services where there are no qualified Brazilian firms. U.S. companies need to enter into partnerships with local firms or have operations in Brazil in order to be eligible for “margins of preference” offered to domestic firms participating in Brazil’s public sector procurement to help these firms win government tenders.  Nevertheless, foreign companies are often successful in obtaining subcontracting opportunities with large Brazilian firms that win government contracts and, since October 2020, foreign companies are allowed to participate in bids without the need for an in-country corporate presence (although establishing such a presence is mandatory if the bid is successful).  A revised Government Procurement Protocol of the trade bloc Mercosul (Mercosur in Spanish), signed in 2017, would entitle member nations Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay to non-discriminatory treatment of government-procured goods, services, and public works originating from each other’s suppliers and providers.  However, none of the bloc’s members have yet ratified it, so it has not entered into force.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) December 2020 Economic Forecast Summary of Brazil summarized that, despite new COVID-19 infections and fatalities remaining high, the economy started to recover across a wide range of sectors by the end of 2020.  Since the publication, Brazil’s economy is faltering due to the continuing pandemic’s financial impact.  The strong fiscal and monetary policy response managed to prevent a sharper economic contraction, cushioning the impact on household incomes and poverty.  Nonetheless, fiscal vulnerabilities have been exacerbated by these necessary policy responses and public debt has risen.  Failure to continue structural reform progress could hold back investment and future growth.  As of March 2021, forecasts are for economic recovery in 2021 and high unemployment.  The OECD report recommended reallocating some expenditures and raising spending efficiency to improve social protections, and resuming the fiscal adjustments under way before the pandemic.  The report also recommended structural reforms to enhance domestic and external competition and improve the investment climate.

The IMF’s 2020 Country Report No. 20/311 on Brazil highlighted the severe impact of the pandemic in Brazil’s economic recovery but praised the government’s response, which averted a deeper economic downturn, stabilized financial markets, and cushioned income loss for the poorest.  The IMF assessed that the lingering effects of the crisis will restrain consumption while investment will be hampered by idle capacity and high uncertainty.  The IMF projected inflation to stay below target until 2023, given significant slack in the economy, but with the sharp increase in the primary fiscal deficit, gross public debt is expected to rise to 100 percent of GDP and remain high over the medium-term.  The IMF noted that Brazil’s record low interest rate (Selic) helped the government reduce borrowing costs, but the steepening of the local currency yield curve highlighted market concerns over fiscal risks.  The WTO’s 2017 Trade Policy Review of Brazil noted the country’s open stance towards foreign investment, but also pointed to the many sector-specific limitations (see above).  All three reports highlighted the uncertainty regarding reform plans as the most significant political risk to the economy. These reports are located at the following links:

Business Facilitation

A company must register with the National Revenue Service (Receita Federal) to obtain a business license and be placed on the National Registry of Legal Entities (CNPJ).  Brazil’s Export Promotion and Investment Agency (APEX) has a mandate to facilitate foreign investment.  The agency’s services are available to all investors, foreign and domestic.  Foreign companies interested in investing in Brazil have access to many benefits and tax incentives granted by the Brazilian government at the municipal, state, and federal levels.  Most incentives target specific sectors, amounts invested, and job generation.  Brazil’s business registration website can be found at: http://receita.economia.gov.br/orientacao/tributaria/cadastros/cadastro-nacional-de-pessoas-juridicas-cnpj .

Overall, Brazil dropped in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report from 2019 to 2020; however, it improved in the following areas: registering property; starting a business; and resolving insolvency.  According to Doing Business, some Brazilian states (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) made starting a business easier by allowing expedited business registration and by decreasing the cost of the digital certificate.  On March 2021, the GoB enacted a Provisional Measure (MP) to simplify the opening of companies, the protection of minority investors, the facilitation of foreign trade in goods and services, and the streamlining of low-risk construction projects.  The Ministry of Economy expects the MP, together with previous actions by the government, to raise Brazil by 18 to 20 positions in the ranking.  Adopted in September 2019, the Economic Freedom Law 13.874 established the Economic Freedom Declaration of Rights and provided for free market guarantees.  The law includes several provisions to simplify regulations and establishes norms for the protection of free enterprise and free exercise of economic activity.

Through the digital transformation initiative in Brazil, foreign companies can open branches via the internet.  Since 2019, it has been easier for foreign businesspeople to request authorization from the Brazilian federal government.  After filling out the registration, creating an account, and sending the necessary documentation, they can make the request on the Brazilian government’s Portal through a legal representative.  The electronic documents will then be analyzed by the DREI (Brazilian National Department of Business Registration and Integration) team.  DREI will inform the applicant of any missing documentation via the portal and e-mail and give a 60-day period to meet the requirements.  The legal representative of the foreign company, or another third party who holds a power of attorney, may request registration through this link: https://acesso.gov.br/acesso/#/primeiro-acesso?clientDetails=eyJjbGllbnRVcmkiOiJodHRwczpcL1wvYWNlc3NvLmdvdi5iciIsImNsaWVudE5hbWUiOiJQb3J0YWwgZ292LmJyIiwiY2xpZW50VmVyaWZpZWRVc2VyIjp0cnVlfQ%3D%3D     

Regulation of foreign companies opening businesses in Brazil is governed by article 1,134 of the Brazilian Civil Code  and article 1 of DREI Normative Instruction 77/2020 .  English language general guidelines to open a foreign company in Brazil are not yet available, but the Portuguese version is available at the following link: https://www.gov.br/economia/pt-br/assuntos/drei/empresas-estrangeiras .

For foreign companies that will be a partner or shareholder of a Brazilian national company, the governing regulation is DREI Normative Instruction 81/2020 DREI Normative Instruction 81/2020.  The contact information of the DREI is drei@economia.gov.br and +55 (61) 2020-2302.

References:

Outward Investment

Brazil does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad and Apex-Brasil supports Brazilian companies’ efforts to invest abroad under its “internationalization program”: http://www.apexbrasil.com.br/como-a-apex-brasil-pode-ajudar-na-internacionalizacao-de-sua-empresa .  Apex-Brasil frequently highlights the United States as an excellent destination for outbound investment.  Apex-Brasil and SelectUSA (the U.S. Government’s investment promotion office at the U.S. Department of Commerce) signed a memorandum of cooperation to promote bilateral investment in February 2014.

Brazil incentivizes outward investment.  Apex-Brasil organizes several initiatives aimed at promoting Brazilian investments abroad.  The Agency´s efforts comprised trade missions, business round tables, support for the participation of Brazilian companies in major international trade fairs, arranging technical visits of foreign buyers and opinion makers to learn about the Brazilian productive structure, and other select activities designed to strengthen the country’s branding abroad.

The main sectors of Brazilian investments abroad are financial services and assets (totaling 50.5 percent); holdings (11.6 percent); and oil and gas extraction (10.9 percent).  Including all sectors, $416.6 billion was invested abroad in 2019.  The regions with the largest share of Brazilian outward investments are the Caribbean (47 percent) and Europe (37.7 percent), specifically the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Regulation on investments abroad are contained in BCB Ordinance 3,689/2013  (foreign capital in Brazil and Brazilian capital abroad): https://www.bcb.gov.br/pre/normativos/busca/downloadNormativo.asp?arquivo=/Lists/Normativos/Attachments/48812/Circ_3689_v1_O.pdf

Sale of cross-border mutual funds are only allowed to certain categories of investors, not to the general public.  International financial services companies active in Brazil submitted to Brazilian regulators in late 2020 a proposal to allow opening these mutual funds to the general public, and hope this will be approved in mid 2021.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Brazil does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States.  In the 1990s, Brazil signed BITs with Belgium, Luxembourg, Chile, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela. However, the Brazilian Congress did not ratify any of these agreements.  In 2002, the Executive branch withdrew the agreements from Congress after determining that treaty provisions on international Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) were unconstitutional.

In 2015, Brazil developed a state-to-state Cooperation and Facilitation Investment Agreement (CFIA) which, unlike traditional BITs, does not provide for an ISDS mechanism.  CFIAs instead outline progressive steps for the settlement of “issue[s] of interest to an investor”:  1) an ombudsmen and a Joint Committee appointed by the two governments will act as mediators to amicably settle any dispute; 2) if amicable settlement fails, either of the two governments may bring the dispute to the attention of the Joint Committee; 3) if the dispute is not settled within the Joint Committee, the two governments may resort to interstate arbitration mechanisms.  The GOB has signed several CFIAs since 2015 with:  Mozambique (2015), Angola (2015), Mexico (2015), Malawi (2015), Colombia (2015), Peru (2015), Chile (2015), Iran (2016), Azerbaijan (2016), Armenia (2017), Ethiopia (2018), Suriname (2018), Guyana (2018), the United Arab Emirates (2019), Ecuador (2019), and India (2020). The following CFIAs are in force:  Mexico, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Peru.  A few CFIAs have received Congressional ratification in Brazil and are pending ratification by the other country:  Mozambique, Malawi, and Colombia (https://concordia.itamaraty.gov.br/ ).  Brazil also negotiated an intra-Mercosul Cooperation and Investment Facilitation Protocol (PCFI) similar to the CFIA in April 2017, which was ratified on December 21, 2018.  (See sections on responsible business conduct and dispute settlement.)

Brazil has a Social Security Agreement with the United States.  The agreement and the administrative arrangement were both signed in Washington on June 30, 2015 and entered into force on October 1, 2018.  Brazil signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with the United States in March 2007, which entered into force on May 15, 2013.  In September 2014, Brazil and the United States signed an intergovernmental agreement to improve international tax compliance and to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).  This agreement went into effect in August 2015.

In October 2020, Brazil signed a Protocol on Trade Rules and Transparency with the United States, which has three annexes aimed at expediting processes involving trade:  I) Customs Administration and Trade Facilitation; II) Good Regulatory Practices; and III) Anti-corruption.  The protocol and annexes provide a foundation for reducing border bureaucracy, improving regulatory processes and stakeholder contribution opportunities, and supporting integrity in public institutions.

Brazil does not have a double taxation treaty with the United States, but Brazil does maintain tax treaties to avoid double taxation with the following 33 countries:  Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Slovak Republic, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela.  Treaties with Singapore, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay are pending ratification.

Brazilian industry representatives have for years suggested a bilateral taxation treaty between Brazil and the United States would incentivize U.S. FDI.  A document produced by Brazil’s National Industry Confederation (CNI) and Amcham Brazil is available on this topic in Portuguese:  https://www.portaldaindustria.com.br/publicacoes/2019/10/acordo-para-evitar-dupla-tributacao-entre-o-brasil-e-os-estados-unidos-caminhos-para-uma-possivel-convergencia/

Brazil currently has pending tax reform legislation in Congress which is considered a priority by the government.  The current texts propose simplifying tax collection by unifying various taxes, and would generally maintain the tax burden at its current level which is high relative to other countries in the region.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In the 2020 World Bank Doing Business report, Brazil ranked 124th out of 190 countries in terms of overall ease of doing business in 2019, a decrease of 15 positions compared to the 2019 report.  According to the World Bank, it takes approximately 17 days to start a business in Brazil. Brazil is seeking to streamline the process and decrease the amount to time it takes to open a small or medium enterprise (SME) to five days through its RedeSimples Program.  Similarly, the government has reduced regulatory compliance burdens for SMEs through the continued use of the SIMPLES program, which simplifies the collection of up to eight federal, state, and municipal-level taxes into one single payment.

The 2020 World Bank study noted Brazil’s lowest score was in annual administrative burden for a medium-sized business to comply with Brazilian tax codes at an average of 1,501 hours, a significant improvement from 2019’s 1,958 hour average, but still much higher than the 160.7 hour average of OECD high-income economies.  The total tax rate for a medium-sized business is 65.1 percent of profits, compared to the average of 40.1 percent in OECD high-income economies.  Business managers often complain of not being able to understand complex — and sometimes contradictory — tax regulations, despite having large local tax and accounting departments in their companies.

Tax regulations, while burdensome and numerous, do not generally differentiate between foreign and domestic firms.  However, some investors complain that in certain instances the value-added tax collected by individual states (ICMS) favors locally based companies who export their goods.  Exporters in many states report difficulty receiving their ICMS rebates when their goods are exported.  Taxes on commercial and financial transactions are particularly burdensome, and businesses complain that these taxes hinder the international competitiveness of Brazilian-made products.

Of Brazil’s ten federal regulatory agencies, the most prominent include:

  • ANVISA, the Brazilian counterpart to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has regulatory authority over the production and marketing of food, drugs, and medical devices;
  • ANATEL, the country’s telecommunications regulatory agency, which handles telecommunications as well as licensing and assigning of radio spectrum bandwidth (the Brazilian FCC counterpart);
  • ANP, the National Petroleum Agency, which regulates oil and gas contracts and oversees auctions for oil and natural gas exploration and production;
  • ANAC, Brazil’s civil aviation agency;
  • IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental licensing and enforcement agency; and
  • ANEEL, Brazil’s electricity regulator that regulates Brazil’s power sector and oversees auctions for electricity transmission, generation, and distribution contracts.

In addition to these federal regulatory agencies, Brazil has dozens of state- and municipal-level regulatory agencies.

The United States and Brazil conduct regular discussions on customs and trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, standards and conformity assessment, digital issues, and intellectual property protection.  The 18th plenary of the Commercial Dialogue took place in May 2020, and regular exchanges at the working level between U.S. Department of Commerce, Brazil’s Ministry of Economy, and other agencies and regulators occur throughout the year.

Regulatory agencies complete Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) on a voluntary basis. The Senate approved a bill on Governance and Accountability (PLS 52/2013 in the Senate, and PL 6621/2016 in the Chamber) into Law 13,848 in June 2019.  Among other provisions, the law makes RIAs mandatory for regulations that affect “the general interest.”

The Chamber of Deputies, Federal Senate, and the Office of the Presidency maintain websites providing public access to both approved and proposed federal legislation.  Brazil is seeking to improve its public comment and stakeholder input process.  In 2004, the GoB opened an online “Transparency Portal” with data on funds transferred to and from federal, state, and city governments, as well as to and from foreign countries. It also includes information on civil servant salaries.

In 2020, the Department of State found that Brazil had met its minimum fiscal transparency requirements in its annual Fiscal Transparency Report.  The International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Index ranked Brazil slightly ahead of the United States in terms of budget transparency in its most recent (2019) index.  The Brazilian government demonstrates adequate fiscal transparency in managing its federal accounts, although there is room for improvement in terms of completeness of federal budget documentation.  Brazil’s budget documents are publicly available, widely accessible, and sufficiently detailed.  They provide a relatively full picture of the GoB’s planned expenditures and revenue streams.  The information in publicly available budget documents is considered credible and reasonably accurate.

International Regulatory Considerations

Brazil is a member of Mercosul – a South American trade bloc whose full members include Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.  Brazil routinely implements Mercosul common regulations.

Brazil is a member of the WTO and the government regularly notifies draft technical regulations, such as potential agricultural trade barriers, to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Brazil has a civil legal system with state and federal courts.  Investors can seek to enforce contracts through the court system or via mediation, although both processes can be lengthy.  The Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (STJ) must accept foreign contract enforcement judgments for the judgments to be considered valid in Brazil.  Among other considerations, the foreign judgment must not contradict any prior decisions by a Brazilian court in the same dispute.  The Brazilian Civil Code regulates commercial disputes, although commercial cases involving maritime law follow an older Commercial Code which has been otherwise largely superseded.  Federal judges hear most disputes in which one of the parties is the Brazilian State, and also rule on lawsuits between a foreign state or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil.

The judicial system is generally independent.  The Supreme Federal Court (STF), charged with constitutional cases, frequently rules on politically sensitive issues.  State court judges and federal level judges below the STF are career officials selected through a meritocratic examination process.  The judicial system is backlogged, however, and disputes or trials of any sort frequently require years to arrive at a final resolution, including all available appeals.  Regulations and enforcement actions can be litigated in the court system, which contains mechanisms for appeal depending upon the level at which the case is filed.  The STF is the ultimate court of appeal on constitutional grounds; the STJ is the ultimate court of appeal for cases not involving constitutional issues.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Brazil is in the process of setting up a “one-stop shop” for international investors. According to its website:  “The Direct Investments Ombudsman (DIO) is a ‘single window’ for investors, provided by the Executive Secretariat of CAMEX.  It is responsible for receiving requests and inquiries about investments, to be answered jointly with the public agency responsible for the matter (at the Federal, State and Municipal levels) involved in each case (the Network of Focal Points).  This new structure allows for supporting the investor, by a single governmental body, in charge of responding to demands within a short time.”  Private investors have noted this is better than the prior structure, but does not yet provide all the services of a true “one-stop shop” to facilitate international investment.  The DIO’s website in English is: http://oid.economia.gov.br/en/menus/8

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE), which falls under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for enforcing competition laws, consumer protection, and carrying out regulatory reviews of proposed mergers and acquisitions.  CADE was reorganized in 2011 through Law 12529, combining the antitrust functions of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance.  The law brought Brazil in line with U.S. and European merger review practices and allows CADE to perform pre-merger reviews, in contrast to the prior legal regime that had the government review mergers after the fact.  In October 2012, CADE performed Brazil’s first pre-merger review.

In 2020, CADE conducted 471 total formal investigations, of which 76 related to cases that allegedly challenged the promotion of the free market.  It approved 423 merger and/or acquisition requests and did not reject any requests.

Expropriation and Compensation

Article 5 of the Brazilian Constitution assures property rights of both Brazilians and foreigners that own property in Brazil.  The Constitution does not address nationalization or expropriation.  Decree-Law 3365 allows the government to exercise eminent domain under certain criteria that include, but are not limited to, national security, public transportation, safety, health, and urbanization projects.  In cases of eminent domain, the government compensates owners at fair market value.

There are no signs that the current federal government is contemplating expropriation actions in Brazil against foreign interests.  Brazilian courts have decided some claims regarding state-level land expropriations in U.S. citizens’ favor.  However, as states have filed appeals of these decisions, the compensation process can be lengthy and have uncertain outcomes.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 2002, Brazil ratified the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards.  Brazil is not a member of the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  Brazil joined the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in 2010, and its membership will expire in 2022.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Article 34 of the 1996 Brazilian Arbitration Act (Law 9307) defines a foreign arbitration judgment as any judgment rendered outside the national territory.  The law established that the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) must ratify foreign arbitration awards.  Law 9307, updated by Law 13129/2015, also stipulates that a foreign arbitration award will be recognized or executed in Brazil in conformity with the international agreements ratified by the country and, in their absence, with domestic law.  A 2001 Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF) ruling established that the 1996 Brazilian Arbitration Act, permitting international arbitration subject to STJ Court ratification of arbitration decisions, does not violate the Federal Constitution’s provision that “the law shall not exclude any injury or threat to a right from the consideration of the Judicial Power.”

Contract disputes in Brazil can be lengthy and complex.  Brazil has both a federal and a state court system, and jurisprudence is based on civil code and contract law.  Federal judges hear most disputes in which one of the parties is the State and rule on lawsuits between a foreign State or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil.  Five regional federal courts hear appeals of federal judges’ decisions.  The 2020 World Bank Doing Business report found that on average it took 801 days to litigate a breach of contract.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Brazil ratified the 1975 Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Panama Convention) and the 1979 Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitration Awards (Montevideo Convention).  Law 9307/1996 amplifies Brazilian law on arbitration and provides guidance on governing principles and rights of participating parties.  Brazil developed a new Cooperation and Facilitation Investment Agreement (CFIA) model in 2015 (https://concordia.itamaraty.gov.br/ ), but it does not include ISDS mechanisms.  (See sections on bilateral investment agreements and responsible business conduct.)

Bankruptcy Regulations

Brazil’s commercial code governs most aspects of commercial association, while the civil code governs professional services corporations.  In December 2020, Brazil approved a new bankruptcy law (Law 14,112), which largely models UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, and addresses criticisms that its previous bankruptcy legislation favored holders of equity over holders of debt.  The new law facilitates judicial and extrajudicial resolution between debtors and creditors, and accelerates reorganization and liquidation processes.  Both debtors and creditors are allowed to provide reorganization plans that would eliminate non-performing activities and sell-off assets, thus avoiding bankruptcy.  The new law also establishes a framework for cross-border insolvencies that recognizes legal proceedings outside of Brazil.  The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranks Brazil 77th out of 190 countries for ease of “resolving insolvency.”

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The GoB extends tax benefits for investments in less developed parts of the country, including the Northeast and the Amazon regions, with equal application to foreign and domestic investors.  These incentives were successful in attracting major foreign plants to areas like the Manaus Free Trade Zone in Amazonas State, but most foreign investment remains concentrated in the more industrialized southeastern states in Brazil.

Individual states seek to attract private investment by offering tax benefits and infrastructure support to companies, negotiated on a case-by-case basis.  Competition among states to attract employment-generating investment leads some states to challenge such tax benefits as beggar-thy-neighbor fiscal competition.

While local private sector banks are beginning to offer longer credit terms, the state-owned Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) is the traditional Brazilian source of long-term credit as well as export credits.  BNDES provides foreign- and domestically owned companies operating in Brazil financing for the manufacturing and marketing of capital goods and primary infrastructure projects.  BNDES provides much of its financing at subsidized interest rates. As part of its package of fiscal tightening, in December 2014, the GoB announced its intention to scale back the expansionary activities of BNDES and ended direct Treasury support to the bank.  Law 13483, from September 2017, created a new Long-Term Lending Rate (TLP) for BNDES. On January 1, 2018, BNDES began phasing in the TLP to replace the prior subsidized loan rates.  After a five-year phase in period, the TLP will float with the market and reflect a premium over Brazil’s five-year bond yield (which incorporates inflation).  Although the GoB plans to reduce BNDES’s role further as it continues to promote the development of long-term private capital markets, BNDES continues to play a large role, particularly in concession financing, such as Rio de Janeiro’s water and sanitation privatization projects, in which BNDES can finance up to 65 percent of direct investments.

In December 2018, Brazil approved a new auto sector incentive package – Rota 2030 – providing exemptions from Industrial Product Tax (IPI) for research and development (R&D) spending.  Rota 2030 replaced the Inovar-Auto program which was found to violate WTO rules.  Rota 2030 increases standards for energy efficiency, structural performance, and the availability of assistive technologies; provides exemptions for investments in R&D and manufacturing process automation; incentivizes the use of biofuels; and funds technical training and professional qualification in the mobility and logistics sectors.  To qualify for the tax incentives, businesses must meet conditions including demonstrating profit, minimum investments in R&D, and no outstanding tax liabilities.

Brazil’s Special Regime for the Reinstatement of Taxes for Exporters, or Reintegra Program, provides a tax subsidy of two percent of the value of goods exported.

Brazil provides tax reductions and exemptions on many domestically-produced information and communication technology (ICT) and digital goods that qualify for status under the Basic Production Process (Processo Produtivo Básico, or PPB).  The PPB is product-specific and stipulates which stages of the manufacturing process must be carried out in Brazil in order for an ICT product to be considered produced in Brazil.  Brazil’s Internet for All program, launched in 2018, aims to ensure broadband internet to all municipalities by offering tax incentives to operators in rural municipalities.

Law 12.598/2012 offers tax incentives to firms in the defense sector.  The law’s principal aspects are to:  1) establish special rules for the acquisition, contract, and development of defense products and systems; 2) establish incentives for the development of the strategic defense industry sector by creating the Special Tax Regime for the Defense Industry (RETID); and, 3) provide access to financing programs, projects, and actions related to Strategic Defense Products (PED).

A RETID beneficiary, known as a Strategic Defense Company (EED), is accredited by the Ministry of Defense.  An EED is a legal entity that produces or develops parts, tools, and components to be used in the production or development of defense assets. It can also be a legal entity that provides services used as inputs in the production or development of defense goods.  RETID benefits include sale price credit and tax rate reduction for the manufacturing supply chain, including taxes on imported components.  Additionally, RETID provides exemption from certain federal taxes on the purchase of materials for the manufacture of defense products, strategic defense products (PRODE / PED) and services provided by strategic defense companies (EED).

In April 2020, the Brazilian Defense and Security Industry Association (ABIMDE) requested the Minister of Defense to consider implementing improvements to Law 12.598 by allowing all its members to:  1) have access to special bidding terms (TLE) for defense and security materials; and, 2) automatically utilize their RETID status, rather than being required to individually apply to the Ministry of Defense for certification, as is currently the process.  However, as of April 2021, the law has not been changed.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The federal government grants tax benefits to certain free trade zones.  Most of these free trade zones aim to attract investment to the country’s relatively underdeveloped North and Northeast regions.  The most prominent of these is the Manaus Free Trade Zone, in Amazonas State, which has attracted significant foreign investment, including from U.S. companies.  Constitutional amendment 83/2014 extended the status of Manaus Free Trade Zone until the year 2073.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Government Procurement Preferences:  The GoB maintains a variety of localization barriers to trade in response to the weak competitiveness of its domestic tech industry.  These include:

  1. Tax incentives for locally-sourced information and communication technology (ICT) goods and equipment (Basic Production Process (PPB), Law 8248/91 (amended by Law 13969/2019), and Portaria 87/2013); and
  2. Government procurement preferences for local ICT hardware and software (2014 Decrees 8184, 8185, 8186, 8194, and 2013 Decree 7903); and the CERTICS Decree 8186, which aims to certify that software programs are the result of development and technological innovation in Brazil.

At the end of 2019, Brazil adopted a New Informatic Law, which revised the tax and incentives regime for the ICT sector.  The regime is aligned with the requirements of the World Trade Organization (WTO), following complaints from Japan and the European Union that numerous Brazilian tax programs favored domestic products in contravention of WTO rules.

The New Informatic Law provides for tax incentives to manufacturers of ICT goods that invest in research, development, and innovation (RD&I) in Brazil.  In order to receive the incentives, the companies must meet a minimum nationalization requirement for production, but the nationalization content is reduced commensurate with increasing investment in R&D.  At least 60% of the production process is required to take place in Brazil to ensure eligibility.

The Institutional Security Cabinet (GSI) mandated the localization of all government data stored on the cloud during a review of cloud computing services contracted by the Brazilian government in Ordinance No. 9 (previously NC 14), made official in March 2018.  While it does allow the use of cloud computing for non-classified information, it imposes a data localization requirement on all use of cloud computing by the Brazil government.

Investors in certain sectors in Brazil must adhere to the country’s regulated prices, which fall into one of two groups: those regulated at the federal level by a federal company or agency and those set by sub-national governments (states or municipalities).  Regulated prices managed at the federal level include telephone services, certain refined oil and gas products (such as bottled cooking gas), electricity, and healthcare plans.  Regulated prices controlled by sub-national governments include water and sewage fees, and most fees for public transportation, such as local bus and rail services.  For firms employing three or more persons, Brazilian nationals must constitute at least two-thirds of all employees and receive at least two-thirds of total payroll, according to Brazilian Labor Law Articles 352 to 354. This calculation excludes foreign specialists in fields where Brazilians are unavailable.  There is a draft bill in Congress (PL 2456/19) to remove the mandatory requirement for national employment; however, the bill would maintain preferential treatment for companies that continue to employ a majority of Brazilian nationals.

Decree 7174/2010, which regulates the procurement of information technology goods and services, requires federal agencies and parastatal entities to give preferential treatment to domestically produced computer products and goods or services with technology developed in Brazil based on a complicated price/technology matrix.

Brazil’s Marco Civil, an Internet law that determines user rights and company responsibilities, states that data collected or processed in Brazil must respect Brazilian law, even if the data is subsequently stored outside the country.  Penalties for non-compliance could include fines of up to 10 percent of gross Brazilian revenues and/or suspension or prohibition of related operations. Under the law, Internet connection and application providers must retain access logs for specified periods or face sanctions.  Brazil’s Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados Pessoais (LGPD) went into effect in August 2020.  The LGPD governs the processing of the personal data of subjects in Brazil by people or entities, regardless of the type of processing, the country where the data is located, or the headquarters of the entity processing the data.  It also established a National Data Protection Authority (ANPD) to administer the law’s provisions, responsible for oversight and sanctions (which will go into effect August 2021), which can total up to R$50 million (approximately $9 million) per infringement.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Brazil has a system in place for mortgage registration, but implementation is uneven and there is no standardized contract.  Foreign individuals or foreign-owned companies can purchase real estate property in Brazil.  Foreign buyers frequently arrange alternative financing in their own countries, where rates may be more attractive.  Law 9514 from 1997 helped spur the mortgage industry by establishing a legal framework for a secondary market in mortgages and streamlining the foreclosure process, but the mortgage market in Brazil is still underdeveloped, and foreigners may have difficulty obtaining mortgage financing.  Large U.S. real estate firms are, nonetheless, expanding their portfolios in Brazil.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property (IP) rights  holders in Brazil continue to face challenges.  Brazil has remained on the “Watch List” of the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report since 2007.  For more information, please see:  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2021/2021%20Special%20301%20Report%20(final).pdf.Brazil

Brazil has one physical market, located in Sao Paolo,  listed on USTR’s 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.  The Rua 25 de Marco area  is reportedly a distribution center for counterfeit and pirated goods throughout Sao Paulo.  Enforcement actions in this region continue.  Authorities used these enforcement actions as a basis to take civil measures against some of the stores. For more information, please see: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/Press/Releases/2020%20Review%20of%20Notorious%20Markets%20for%20Counterfeiting%20and%20Piracy%20(final).pdf.

According to the National Forum Against Piracy, contraband, pirated, counterfeit, and stolen goods cost Brazil approximately $74 billion in 2019.  (http://www.fncp.org.br/forum/release/292 ) (Yearly average currency exchange rate: 1 USD = 3.946 R)

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s country profiles: http://www.wipo.int/directory/en 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Brazil Central Bank (BCB) embarked in October 2016 on a sustained monetary easing cycle, lowering the Special Settlement and Custody System (Selic) baseline reference rate from a high of 14 percent in October 2016 to a record-low 2 percent by the end of 2020.  The downward trend was reversed by an increase to 2.75 percent in March 2021.  As of March 2021, Brazil’s banking sector projects the Selic will reach 5 percent by the end of 2021.  Inflation for 2020 was 4.52 percent, within the target of 4 percent plus/minus 1.5 percent.  The National Monetary Council (CMN) set the BCB’s inflation target at 3.75 percent for 2021, at 3.5 percent for 2022 and at 3.25 percent at 2023.  Because of a heavy public debt burden and other structural factors, most analysts expect the “neutral” policy rate will remain higher than target rates in Brazil’s emerging-market peers (around five percent) over the forecast period.

In 2020, the ratio of public debt to GDP reached 89.3 percent according to BCB, a new record for the country, although below original projections.  Analysts project that the debt/GDP ratio will be at or above92 percent by the end of 2021.

The role of the state in credit markets grew steadily beginning in 2008, with public banks now accounting for over 55 percent of total loans to the private sector (up from 35 percent).  Directed lending (that is, to meet mandated sectoral targets) also rose and accounts for almost half of total lending.  Brazil is paring back public bank lending and trying to expand a market for long-term private capital.

While local private sector banks are beginning to offer longer credit terms, state-owned development bank BNDES is a traditional source of long-term credit in Brazil.  BNDES also offers export financing.  Approvals of new financing by BNDES increased 40 percent in 2020 from 2019, with the infrastructure sector receiving the majority of new capital.

The São Paulo Stock Exchange (BOVESPA) is the sole stock market in Brazil, while trading of public securities takes place at the Rio de Janeiro market.  In 2008, the Brazilian Mercantile & Futures Exchange (BM&F) merged with the BOVESPA to form B3, the fourth largest exchange in the Western Hemisphere, after the NYSE, NASDAQ, and Canadian TSX Group exchanges.  In 2020, there were 407 companies traded on the B3 exchange.  The BOVESPA index increased only 2.92 percent in valuation during 2020, due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Foreign investors, both institutional and individuals, can directly invest in equities, securities, and derivatives; however, they are limited to trading those investments on established markets.

Wholly owned subsidiaries of multinational accounting firms, including the major U.S. firms, are present in Brazil.  Auditors are personally liable for the accuracy of accounting statements prepared for banks.

Money and Banking System

The Brazilian financial sector is large and sophisticated. Banks lend at market rates that remain relatively high compared to other emerging economies.  Reasons cited by industry observers include high taxation, repayment risk, concern over inconsistent judicial enforcement of contracts, high mandatory reserve requirements, and administrative overhead, as well as persistently high real (net of inflation) interest rates.  According to BCB data collected for final quarter of 2019, the average rate offered by Brazilian banks to non-financial corporations was 13.87 percent.

The banking sector in Brazil is highly concentrated with BCB data indicating that the five largest commercial banks (excluding brokerages) account for approximately 80 percent of the commercial banking sector assets, totaling $1.58 trillion as of the final quarter of 2019.  Three of the five largest banks (by assets) in the country – Banco do Brasil, Caixa Econômica Federal, and BNDES – are partially or completely federally owned.  Large private banking institutions focus their lending on Brazil’s largest firms, while small- and medium-sized banks primarily serve small- and medium-sized companies.  Citibank sold its consumer business to Itaú Bank in 2016, but maintains its commercial banking interests in Brazil.  It is currently the sole U.S. bank operating in the country.  Increasing competitiveness in the financial sector, including in the emerging fintech space, is a vital part of the Brazilian government’s strategy to improve access to and the affordability of financial services in Brazil.

On November 16, 2020, Brazil’s Central Bank implemented a twenty-four hour per day instant payment and money transfer system called PIX.  The PIX system is supposed to deconcentrate the banking sector, increase financial inclusion, stimulate competitiveness, and improve efficiency in the payments market.

In recent years, the BCB has strengthened bank audits, implemented more stringent internal control requirements, and tightened capital adequacy rules to reflect risk more accurately.  It also established loan classification and provisioning requirements. These measures apply to private and publicly owned banks alike.  In December 2020, Moody’s upgraded a collection of 28 Brazilian banks and their affiliates to stable from negative after the agency had lowered the outlook on the Brazilian system in April 2020 due to the economic unrest.  The Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission (CVM) independently regulates the stock exchanges, brokers, distributors, pension funds, mutual funds, and leasing companies with penalties against insider trading.

Foreigners may find it difficult to open an account with a Brazilian bank.  The individual must present a permanent or temporary resident visa, a national tax identification number (CPF) issued by the Brazilian government, either a valid passport or identity card for foreigners (CIE), proof of domicile, and proof of income.  On average, this process from application to account opening lasts more than three months.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Brazil’s foreign exchange market remains small.  The latest Triennial Survey by the Bank for International Settlements, conducted in December 2019, showed that the net daily turnover on Brazil’s market for OTC foreign exchange transactions (spot transactions, outright forwards, foreign-exchange swaps, currency swaps, and currency options) was $18.8 billion, down from $19.7 billion in 2016.  This was equivalent to around 0.22 percent of the global market in 2019 versus 0.3 percent in 2016.

Brazil’s banking system has adequate capitalization and has traditionally been highly profitable, reflecting high interest rate spreads and fees.  Per an October 2020 Central Bank Financial Stability Report, despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic, all banks exceeded required solvency ratios, and stress testing demonstrated that the banking system has adequate loss-absorption capacity in all simulated scenarios.  Furthermore, the report noted 99.9 percent of banks already met Basel III requirements and possess a projected Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) capital ratio above the minimum 7 percent required at the end of 2019.

There are few restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with a foreign investment in Brazil.  Foreign investors may freely convert Brazilian currency in the unified foreign exchange market where buy-sell rates are determined by market forces.  All foreign exchange transactions, including identifying data, must be reported to the BCB.  Foreign exchange transactions on the current account are fully liberalized.

The BCB must approve all incoming foreign loans.  In most cases, loans are automatically approved unless loan costs are determined to be “incompatible with normal market conditions and practices.”  In such cases, the BCB may request additional information regarding the transaction.  Loans obtained abroad do not require advance approval by the BCB, provided the Brazilian recipient is not a government entity.  Loans to government entities require prior approval from the Brazilian Senate as well as from the Economic Ministry’s Treasury Secretariat and must be registered with the BCB.

Interest and amortization payments specified in a loan contract can be made without additional approval from the BCB.  Early payments can also be made without additional approvals if the contract includes a provision for them.  Otherwise, early payment requires notification to the BCB to ensure accurate records of Brazil’s stock of debt.

Remittance Policies

Brazilian Federal Revenue Service regulates withholding taxes (IRRF) applicable to earnings and capital gains realized by individuals and legal entities resident or domiciled outside Brazil.  Upon registering investments with the BCB, foreign investors are able to remit dividends, capital (including capital gains), and, if applicable, royalties.  Investors must register remittances with the BCB.  Dividends cannot exceed corporate profits.  Investors may carry out remittance transactions at any bank by documenting the source of the transaction (evidence of profit or sale of assets) and showing payment of applicable taxes.

Under Law 13259/2016 passed in March 2016, capital gain remittances are subject to a 15 to 22.5 percent income withholding tax, with the exception of capital gains and interest payments on tax-exempt domestically issued Brazilian bonds.  The capital gains marginal tax rates are: 15 percent up to $874,500 in gains; 17.5 percent for $874,500 to $1,749,000 in gains; 20 percent for $1,749,000 to $5,247,000 in gains; and 22.5 percent for more than $5,247,000 in gains.  (Note:  exchange rate used was 5.717 reais per dollar, based on March 30, 2021 values.)

Repatriation of a foreign investor’s initial investment is also exempt from income tax under Law 4131/1962.  Lease payments are assessed a 15 percent withholding tax.  Remittances related to technology transfers are not subject to the tax on credit, foreign exchange, and insurance, although they are subject to a 15 percent withholding tax and an extra 10 percent Contribution for Intervening in Economic Domain (CIDE) tax.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Brazil had a sovereign fund from 2008 – 2018, when it was abolished, and the money was used to repay foreign debt.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The GoB maintains ownership interests in a variety of enterprises at both the federal and state levels.  Typically, boards responsible for state-owned enterprise (SOE) corporate governance are comprised of directors elected by the state or federal government with additional directors elected by any non-government shareholders.  Although Brazil participates in many OECD working groups, it does not follow the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs.  Brazilian SOEs are prominent in the oil and gas, electricity generation and distribution, transportation, and banking sectors.  A number of these firms also see a portion of their shares publicly traded on the Brazilian and other stock exchanges.

Notable examples of majority government-owned and controlled firms include national oil and gas giant Petrobras and power conglomerate Eletrobras.  Both Petrobras and Eletrobras include non-government shareholders, are listed on both the Brazilian and American stock exchanges,  and are subject to the same accounting and audit regulations as all publicly traded Brazilian companies.

Privatization Program

Given limited public investment spending, the GoB has focused on privatizing state–owned energy, airport, road, railway, and port assets through long-term (up to 30 year) infrastructure concession agreements, although the pace of privatization efforts slowed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, Petrobras sold its natural gas distribution pipeline network, started the divestment of eight oil refineries, sold its controlling stake in Brazil’s largest retail gas station chain, and is in the process of selling its shares in regional natural gas distributors.  While the pandemic resulted in a slowdown in the refinery divestments, momentum is increasing once again as of early 2021.  Since 2016, foreign companies have been allowed to conduct pre-salt exploration and production activities independently, and no longer must include Petrobras as a minority equity holder in pre-salt oil and gas operations.  Nevertheless, the 2016 law still gives Petrobras right –of first refusal in developing pre-salt offshore fields and obligates operators to share a percentage of production with the Brazilian state.  The GoB supports legislation currently in Congress to further liberalize the development of pre-salt fields by removing Petrobras’ right-of-first refusal as well as production sharing requirements.

In March 2021, Brazil approved legislation to reform Brazil’s natural gas markets, which aims to create competition by unbundling production, transportation, and distribution of natural gas, currently dominated by Petrobras and regional gas monopolies.  Creation of a truly competitive market, however, will still require lengthy state-level regulatory reform to liberalize intrastate gas distribution, in large part under state-owned distribution monopolies.

Eletrobras successfully sold its six principal, highly-indebted power distributors, and the GoB intends to privatize Eletrobras through issuance of new shares that would dilute the government’s majority stake and in early 2021 submitted a legislative proposal to Congress to advance this process.

In March 2021, the GoB included the state-owned postal service Correios in its National Divestment Plan (PND).  As in the case of Eletrobras, privatization will require further Congressional legislation.

In 2016, Brazil created the Investment Partnership Program (PPI) to accelerate the concession of public works projects to private enterprise and the privatization of some state entities.  PPI takes on priority federal concessions in road, rail, ports, airports, municipal water treatment, electricity transmission and distribution, and oil and gas exploration and production.  Since 2016, PPI has auctioned off 200 projects, collecting $35 billion in auction bonuses and securing private investment commitments of $179 billion, including 28 projects, $1.43 billion in auction bonuses, and commitments of $8.14 billion in 2020.  The full list of PPI projects is located at: https://www.ppi.gov.br/schedule-of-projects

While some subsidized financing through BNDES will be available, PPI emphasizes the use of private financing and debentures for projects.  All federal and state-level infrastructure concessions are open to foreign companies with no requirement to work with Brazilian partners.

In 2008, the Ministry of Health initiated the use of Production Development Partnerships (PDPs) to reduce the increasing dependence of Brazil’s healthcare sector on international drug production and to control costs in the public healthcare system, which provides services as an entitlement enumerated in the constitution.  The healthcare sector accounts for 9 percent of GDP, 10 percent of skilled jobs, and more than 25 percent of research and development nationally.  PDP agreements provide a framework for technology transfer and development of local production by leveraging the volume purchasing power of the Ministry of Health. In the current administration, there is increasing interest in PDPs as a cost saving measure.  U.S. companies have both competed for these procurements and at times raised concerns about the potential for PDPs to be used to subvert intellectual property protections under the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Most state-owned and private sector corporations of any significant size in Brazil pursue corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.  Brazil’s new CFIAs (see sections on bilateral investment agreements and dispute settlement) contain CSR provisions.  Some corporations use CSR programs to meet local content requirements, particularly in information technology manufacturing.  Many corporations support local education, health, and other programs in the communities where they have a presence.  Brazilian consumers, especially the local residents where a corporation has or is planning a local presence, generally expect CSR activity.  Corporate officials frequently meet with community members prior to building a new facility to review the types of local services the corporation will commit to providing.  Foreign and local enterprises in Brazil often advance United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as part of their CSR activity, and will cite their local contributions to SDGs, such as universal primary education and environmental sustainability.  Brazilian prosecutors and civil society can be very proactive in bringing cases against companies for failure to implement the requirements of the environmental licenses for their investments and operations.  National and international nongovernmental organizations monitor corporate activities for perceived threats to Brazil’s biodiversity and tropical forests and can mount strong campaigns against alleged misdeeds.

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Brazil supports U.S. business CSR activities through the +Unidos Group (Mais Unidos), a group of multinational companies established in Brazil, which support public and private CSR alliances in Brazil. Additional information can be found at: www.maisunidos.org

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Brazil has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, but their effectiveness is inconsistent.  Several bills to revise the country’s regulation of the lobbying/government relations industry have been pending before Congress for years.  Bribery is illegal, and a bribe by a Brazilian-based company to a foreign government official can result in criminal penalties for individuals and administrative penalties for companies, including fines and potential disqualification from government contracts.  A company cannot deduct a bribe to a foreign official from its taxes.  While federal government authorities generally investigate allegations of corruption, there are inconsistencies in the level of enforcement among individual states.  Corruption is problematic in business dealings with some authorities, particularly at the municipal level.  U.S. companies operating in Brazil are subject to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Brazil signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003 and ratified it in 2005. Brazil is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery.  It was one of the founders, along with the United States, of the intergovernmental Open Government Partnership, which seeks to help governments increase transparency.

In 2020, Brazil ranked 94th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.  The full report can be found at:  https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2020/index/nzl

From 2014-2021, the complex federal criminal investigation known as Operação Lava Jato (Operation Carwash) investigated and prosecuted a complex web of public sector corruption, contract fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion stemming from systematic overcharging for government contracts, particularly at parastatal oil company Petrobras.  The investigation led to the arrests and convictions of Petrobras executives, oil industry suppliers, including executives from Brazil’s largest construction companies, money launderers, former politicians, and political party operators.  Appeals of convictions and sentences continue to work their way through the Brazilian court system.  On December 25, 2019, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a packet of anti-crime legislation into law, which included several anti-corruption measures.  The new measures include regulation of immunity agreements – information provided by a subject in exchange for reduced sentence – which were widely used during Operation Carwash.  The legislation also strengthens Brazil’s whistle blower mechanisms, permitting anonymous information about crimes against the public administration and related offenses.  Operation Carwash was dissolved in February 2021.  In March 2021, the OECD established a working group to monitor anticorruption efforts in Brazil.

In December 2016, Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht and its chemical manufacturing arm Braskem agreed to pay the largest FCPA penalty in U.S. history and plead guilty to charges filed in the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland that alleged the companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world.  The U.S. Department of Justice case stemmed directly from the Lava Jato investigation and focused on violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. Details on the case can be found at: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/odebrecht-and-braskem-plead-guilty-and-agree-pay-least-35-billion-global-penalties-resolve

In January 2018, Petrobras settled a class-action lawsuit with investors in U.S. federal court for $3 billion, which was one of the largest securities class action settlements in U.S. history.  The investors alleged that Petrobras officials accepted bribes and made decisions that had a negative impact on Petrobras’ share value.  In September 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Petrobras would pay a fine of $853.2 million to settle charges that former executives and directors violated the FCPA through fraudulent accounting used to conceal bribe payments from investors and regulators.

Resources to Report Corruption

Petalla Brandao Timo Rodrigues
International Relations Chief Advisor
Brazilian Federal Public Ministry
contatolavajato@mpf.mp.br

Setor de Autarquias Sul (SAS), Quadra 01, Bloco A; Brasilia/DF

stpc.dpc@cgu.gov.br

https://www.gov.br/cgu/pt-br/anticorrupcao

Transparencia Brasil
R. Bela Cintra, 409; Sao Paulo, Brasil
+55 (11) 3259-6986
http://www.transparencia.org.br/contato

10. Political and Security Environment

Strikes and demonstrations occasionally occur in urban areas and may cause temporary disruption to public transportation.  Brazil has over 43,000 murders annually, with low rates of completion in murder investigations and conviction rates.

Non-violent pro- and anti-government demonstrations have occurred periodically in recent years.

Although U.S. citizens usually are not targeted during such events, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Brazil are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid any large gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest. For the latest U.S. State Department guidance on travel in Brazil, please consult www.travel.state.gov.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Brazilian labor market is composed of approximately 100.1 million workers, including employed (86.2 million) and unemployed (13.9 million).  Among employed workers, 34 million (39.5 percent) work in the informal sector.  Brazil had an unemployment rate of 13.9 percent in the last quarter of 2020, although that rate was more than double (28.9 percent) for workers ages 18-24.  Low-skilled employment dominates Brazil’s labor market.  The nearly 40 million workers in the informal sector do not receive the full benefits formal workers enjoy under Brazil’s labor and social welfare system.  Since 2012, women have on average been unemployed at a higher rate (3.15 percentage points higher) than their male counterparts.  In 2020, the difference reached 4.5 percentage points.  Foreign workers made up less than one percent of the overall labor force, but the arrival of more than 260,000 economic migrants and refugees from Venezuela since 2016 has led to large local concentrations of foreign workers in the border state of Roraima and the city of Manaus.  Since April 2018, the government of Brazil, through Operation Welcome’s voluntary interiorization strategy, has relocated more than 49,000 Venezuelans away from the northern border region to cities with more economic opportunity.  Migrant workers from within Brazil play a significant role in the agricultural sector.

Workers in the formal sector contribute to the Time of Service Guarantee Fund (FGTS) that equates to one month’s salary over the course of a year. If a company terminates an employee, the employee can access the full amount of their FGTS contributions or 20 percent in the event they leave voluntarily.  Brazil’s labor code guarantees formal sector workers 30 days of annual leave and severance pay in the case of dismissal without cause.  Unemployment insurance also exists for laid off workers equal to the country’s minimum salary (or more depending on previous income levels) for six months.  The government does not waive labor laws to attract investment; they apply uniformly cross the country.

In April 2020, Provisional Measure 396/2020 (later ratified as Law 14020/2020) authorized employers to reduce working hours and wages in an effort to preserve employment during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.  The law will maintain its validity only during the state of calamity caused by the pandemic and the reduction requires the employee’s concurrence.

Collective bargaining is common and there were 11,587 labor unions operating in Brazil in 2018.  Labor unions, especially in sectors such as metalworking and banking, are well organized in advocating for wages and working conditions and account for approximately 19 percent of the official workforce according to the Brazilian Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).  In some sectors, federal regulations mandate collective bargaining negotiations across the entire industry.  A new labor law in November 2017 ended mandatory union contributions, which has reduced union finances by as much as 90 percent according to the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socio-economic Studies (DIEESE).  DIEESE reported a significant decline in the number of collective bargaining agreements reached in 2018 (3,269) compared to 2017 (4,378).

Employer federations also play a significant role in both public policy and labor relations.  Each state has its own federations of industry and commerce, which report respectively to the National Confederation of Industry (CNI), headquartered in Brasilia, and the National Confederation of Commerce (CNC), headquartered in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil has a dedicated system of labor courts that are charged with resolving routine cases involving unfair dismissal, working conditions, salary disputes, and other grievances.  Labor courts have the power to impose an agreement on employers and unions if negotiations break down and either side appeals to the court system.  As a result, labor courts routinely are called upon to determine wages and working conditions in industries across the country.  The labor courts system has millions of pending legal cases on its docket, although the number of new filings has decreased since November 2017 labor law reforms.

Strikes occur periodically, particularly among public sector unions. A strike organized by truckers’ unions protesting increased fuel prices paralyzed the Brazilian economy in May 2018, and led to billions of dollars in losses to the economy.

Brazil has ratified 97 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and major ILO conventions concerning the prohibition of child labor, forced labor, and discrimination.  For the past eight years (2010-2018), the Department of Labor, in its annual publication Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor, has recognized Brazil for its significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.  On January 1, 2019, newly-elected President Jair Bolsonaro eliminated the Ministry of Labor and divided its responsibilities between the Ministries of Economy, Justice, and Social Development. The GoB, in 2020, inspected 266 properties, resulting in the rescue of 942 victims of forced labor.  Additionally, GoB officials removed 1,040 child workers from situations of child labor compared to 1,409 children in 2018.  Of these, 20 children were rescued from situations of slavery-like conditions, compared to 28 in 2018.

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

Programs of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) are available, although DFC reports that certain new authorities established by the BUILD Act of 2018, including equity investments, technical assistance, grants, and feasibility studies, may require a new bilateral Investment Incentive Agreement with the Government of Brazil.  DFC stated in 2019 its intent to invest in infrastructure and women entrepreneurship projects as its primary focus in Brazil.  Brazil has been a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) since 1992.  In October 2020, DFC announced $ 984 million in investments in Brazil, mostly focused on small and medium enterprises.  In October and November 2020, the DFC held two substantive discussions on the Investment Incentive Agreement (IIA) with over a dozen Brazilian government (GOB) agencies led by the Ministry of External Relations and the Ministry of Economy.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $1.43 trillion 2019 $1.84 trillion www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $145.1 billion 2018 $81.731 billion BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $21.956 2019 $4.617 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 $34.6% 2019 34.9% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
[Select country, scroll down to “FDI Stock”- “Inward”, scan rightward for most recent year’s “as percentage of gross domestic product”]

* Source for Host Country Data: https://www.bcb.gov.br and https://www.ipea.gov.br/portal/

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (U.S. Dollars, Billions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 648.353 100% Total Outward 247.605 100%
The Netherlands 147.688 22.8% Cayman Islands 74.298 30%
United States 117.028 18.0% British Virgin Islands 56.184 22.7%
Spain 65.948 10.1% Bahamas 42.087 17%
Luxembourg 60.010 9.2% United States 20.177 8.1%
France 35.739 5.5% Luxembourg 10.630 4.3%
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 45,085 100% All Countries 36,161 100% All Countries 8,923 100%
United States 19,451 43% United States 15,754 44% United States 3,697 41%
Bahamas 6,631 15% Bahamas 6,573 18% Mexico 2,283 26%
Cayman Islands 4,727 10% Cayman Islands 4,378 12% Republic of Korea 863 10%
 Mexico 2,377 5% Luxembourg 2,026 6% Spain 391 4%
Luxembourg 2,211 5% Switzerland 1,433 4% Cayman Islands 349 4%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Brasilia
BrasiliaECON2@State.gov
+55-61-3312-7000

Cambodia

Executive Summary 

Like in most other countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant adverse impact on Cambodia’s economy. Annual gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 3.1 percent and per capita GDP fell 10 percent to USD1,519 in 2020. Prior to the pandemic, Cambodia had experienced an extended period of strong economic growth, with average GDP growth of nearly 7 percent over the last two decades, driven by growing exports (particularly in garment and footwear products), increased investment, and domestic consumption. Tourism has been another large contributor to growth, with tourist arrivals reaching 6.61 million in 2019. The World Bank predicts that Cambodia’s economy will begin recovering and grow by 4 percent in 2021, though a COVID outbreak that started in February 2021 has already cost the economy an estimated USD250 million and could prolong the country’s recession.

The government has made it a priority to attract investment from abroad.  Foreign direct investment (FDI) incentives available to investors include 100 percent foreign ownership of companies, corporate tax holidays of up to eight years, a 20 percent corporate tax rate after the incentive period ends, duty-free import of capital goods, and no restrictions on capital repatriation.  In response to COVID-19, the government enacted additional measures to boost competitiveness and support the economy, including a long-awaited consumer protection law, additional tax breaks to the hardest hit businesses (such as those in the tourism and restaurant sectors), and direct aid to people employed in the informal sector. The government also delayed the implementation of a capital gains tax, which was due to go into effect in 2021. A newly established SME Bank of Cambodia will financially support small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Despite these incentives, Cambodia has not attracted significant U.S. investment. Apart from the country’s relatively small market size, other factors dissuading U.S. investors include: systemic corruption, a limited supply of skilled labor, inadequate infrastructure (including high energy costs), a lack of transparency in some government approval processes, and preferential treatment given to companies from certain countries, namely China. Foreign and local investors alike lament the government’s failure to consult the business community on new economic policies and regulations. Notwithstanding these challenges, a number of American companies maintain investments in the country. For example, in December 2016, Coca-Cola officially opened a USD100 million bottling plant in Phnom Penh.

In recent years, Chinese FDI — largely from state-run or associated firms — has surged and has become a significant driver of growth.  The rise in FDI highlights China’s desire for influence in Cambodia, and Southeast Asia more broadly. Chinese businesses, many of which are state-owned enterprises, may not assess the challenges in Cambodia’s business environment in the same manner as U.S. businesses.  In 2019, FDI hit USD3.6 billion – a record – with 43 percent reportedly coming from China.  In 2020, Cambodia signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China and joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, though neither agreement has been implemented yet.

Physical infrastructure projects, including commercial and residential real estate developments, continue to attract the bulk of FDI. However, there has been some increased investment in manufacturing, including garment and travel goods factories, as well as agro-processing.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 160 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 144 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 110 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in Cambodia ($M USD, historical stock positions) 1994 -2020 USD 1.5 billion http://www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 1,530 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment 

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Cambodia has a liberal foreign investment regime and actively courts FDI. The primary law governing investment is the 1994 Law on Investment. The government permits 100 percent foreign ownership of companies in most sectors. In a handful of sectors, such as cigarette manufacturing, movie production, rice milling, and gemstone mining and processing, foreign investment is subject to local equity participation or prior authorization from authorities.  While there is little or no official legal discrimination against foreign investors, some foreign businesses report disadvantages vis-a-vis Cambodian or other foreign rivals that engage in acts of corruption or tax evasion or take advantage of Cambodia’s weak regulatory environment.

The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) is the principal government agency responsible for providing incentives to stimulate investment. Investors are required to submit an investment proposal to either the CDC or the Provincial-Municipal Investment Sub-committee to obtain a Qualified Investment Project (QIP) status depending on capital level and location of the investment question.  QIPs are then eligible for specific investment incentives.

The CDC also serves as the secretariat to Cambodia’s Government-Private Sector Forum (G-PSF), a public-private consultation mechanism that facilitates dialogue within and among 10 government/private sector working groups. More information about investment and investment incentives in Cambodia may be found at: www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh.

Cambodia has created special economic zones (SEZs) to further facilitate foreign investment. As of April 2021, there are 23 SEZs in Cambodia.  These zones provide companies with access to land, infrastructure, and services to facilitate the set-up and operation of businesses. Services provided include utilities, tax services, customs clearance, and other administrative services designed to support import-export processes. Cambodia offers incentives to projects within the SEZs such as tax holidays, zero rate VAT, and import duty exemptions for raw materials, machinery, and equipment. The primary authority responsible for Cambodia’s SEZs is the Cambodia Special Economic Zone Board (CSEZB). The largest of its SEZs is in Sihanoukville and hosts primarily Chinese companies.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are few limitations on foreign control and ownership of business enterprises in Cambodia. Foreign investors may own 100 percent of investment projects except in the sectors mentioned Section 1. According to Cambodia’s 2003 Amended Law on Investment and related sub-decrees, there are no limitations based on shareholder nationality or discrimination against foreign investors except in relation to investments in property or state-owned enterprises. For property, both the Law on Investment and the 2003 Amended Law state that the majority of interest in land must be held by one or more Cambodian citizens.  For state-owned enterprises, the Law on Public Enterprise provides that the Cambodian government must directly or indirectly hold more than 51 percent of the capital or the right to vote in state-owned enterprises.

Another limitation concerns the employment of foreigners in Cambodia. A QIP allows employers to obtain visas and work permits for foreign citizens as skilled workers, but the employer may be required to prove to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training that the skillset is not available in Cambodia. The Cambodian Bar has periodically taken actions to restrict or impede the work of foreign lawyers or foreign law firms in the country.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The OECD conducted an Investment Policy Review of Cambodia in 2018. The report may be found at this  link .

The World Trade Organization (WTO) last reviewed Cambodia’s trade policies in 2017; the first review was done in 2011.  The 2017 report can be found at this link .

Business Facilitation

All businesses are required to register with the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) and the General Department of Taxation (GDT).  Registration with MOC is possible through an online business registration portal ( link ) that allows all existing and new businesses to register.  Depending on the types of business activity, new businesses may also be required to register with other relevant ministries.  For example, travel agencies must also register with the Ministry of Tourism, and private universities must also register with the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport.  The GDT also has an online portal for tax registration and other services, which can be located here .

The World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report ranks Cambodia 144 of 190 countries globally for the ease of starting a business. The report notes that it takes nine separate procedures and three months or more to complete all business, tax, and employment registration processes.

Outward Investment

There are no restrictions on Cambodian citizens investing abroad. Some Cambodian companies have invested in neighboring countries – notably, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.

3. Legal Regime 

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In general, Cambodia’s regulatory system, while improving, still lacks transparency. This is the result of the lack of legislation and the limited capacity of key institutions, which is further exacerbated by a weak court system. Investors often complain that the decisions of Cambodian regulatory agencies are inconsistent, arbitrary, or influenced by corruption. For example, in May 2016, in what was perceived as a populist move, the government set caps on retail fuel prices, with little consultation with petroleum companies.  In April 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia introduced an interest rate cap on loans provided by the microfinance industry with no consultation with relevant stakeholders. More recently, investors have regularly expressed concern over draft legislation that has not been subject to stakeholder consultations.

Cambodian ministries and regulatory agencies are not legally obligated to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment. Draft regulations are only selectively and inconsistently available for public consultation with relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector, or other parties before their enactment. Approved or passed laws are available on websites of some ministries but are not always up to date. The Council of Jurists, the government body that reviews laws and regulations, publishes a list of updated laws and regulations on its website.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of ASEAN since 1999, Cambodia is required to comply with certain rules and regulations regarding free trade agreements with the 10 ASEAN member states. These include tariff-free importation of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment, harmonizing custom coding, harmonizing the medical device market, as well as compliance with tax regulations on multi-activity businesses, among others.

As a WTO member, Cambodia has both drafted and modified laws and regulations to comply with WTO rules. Relevant laws and regulations are notified to the WTO legal committee only after their adoption. A list of Cambodian legal updates in compliance with the WTO is described in the above section regarding Investment Policy Reviews.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Although the Cambodian Constitution calls for an independent judiciary, both local and foreign businesses report problems with inconsistent judicial rulings, corruption, and difficulty enforcing judgments. For these reasons, many commercial disputes are resolved through negotiations facilitated by the Ministry of Commerce, the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, and other institutions. Foreign investors often build into their contracts clauses that dictate that investment disputes must be resolved in a third country, such as Singapore.

The Cambodian legal system is primarily based on French civil law. Under the 1993 Constitution, the King is the head of state and the elected Prime Minister is the head of government. Legislative power is vested in a bicameral parliament, while the judiciary makes up the third branch of government. Contractual enforcement is governed by Decree Number 38 D Referring to Contract and Other Liabilities. More information on this decree can be found at this link .

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Cambodia’s 1994 Law on Investment created an investment licensing system to regulate the approval process for FDI and provide incentives to potential investors. In 2003, the government amended the law to simplify licensing and increase transparency (Amended Law on Investment). Sub-decree No. 111 (2005) lays out detailed procedures for registering a QIP, which is entitled to certain taxation incentives, with the CDC and provincial/municipal investment subcommittees.

Information about investment and investment incentives in Cambodia may be found on the CDC’s website .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

A draft antitrust and competition law is reportedly near completion. Once enacted, it will be enforced by Cambodia’s Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate-General (CAMCONTROL). Cambodia enacted a Law on Consumer Protection in November 2019, but it has not been fully implemented as of April 2021.

Expropriation and Compensation

Land rights are a contentious issue in Cambodia, complicated by the fact that most property holders do not have legal documentation of their ownership because of the policies and social upheaval during Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s. Numerous cases have been reported of influential individuals or groups acquiring land titles or concessions through political and/or financial connections and then using force to displace communities to make way for commercial enterprises.

In late 2009, the National Assembly approved the Law on Expropriation, which sets broad guidelines on land-taking procedures for public interest purposes. It defines public interest activities to include construction, rehabilitation, preservation, or expansion of infrastructure  projects, and development of buildings for national defense and civil security. These provisions include construction of border crossing posts, facilities for research and exploitation of natural resources, and oil pipeline and gas networks. Property can also be expropriated for natural disasters and emergencies, as determined by the government. Legal procedures regarding compensation and appeals are expected to be established in a forthcoming sub-decree, which is under internal discussion within the technical team of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The government has shown willingness to use tax issues for political purposes. For instance, in 2017, a U.S.-owned independent newspaper had its bank account frozen purportedly for failure to pay taxes. It is believed that, while the company may have had some tax liability, the action taken by the General Department of Taxation, notably an inflated tax assessment, was politically motivated and intended to halt operations. These actions took place at the same time the government took steps to reduce the role of press and independent media in the country as part of a wider anti-democratic crackdown.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Cambodia has been a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) since 2005. Cambodia is also a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958 (the New York Convention) since 1960.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

International arbitration is available for Cambodian commercial disputes. In March 2014, the Supreme Court of Cambodia upheld the decision of the Cambodian Court of Appeal, which had ruled in favor of the recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award issued by the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board of Seoul, South Korea. Cambodia became a member of the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in January 2005.  In 2009, the International Center approved a U.S. investor’s request for arbitration in a case against the Cambodian government, and in 2013, the tribunal rendered an award in favor of Cambodia.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Commercial disputes can also be resolved through the National Commercial Arbitration Center (NCAC), Cambodia’s first alternative dispute resolution mechanism, which was officially launched in March 2013. Arbitral awards issued by foreign arbitrations are admissible in the Cambodian court system. An example can be drawn from its recognition and enforcement of the arbitral award issued by the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board in 2014.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Cambodia’s 2007 Law on Insolvency was intended to provide collective, orderly, and fair satisfaction of creditor claims from debtor properties and, where appropriate, the rehabilitation of the debtor’s business. The law applies to the assets of all businesspeople and legal entities in Cambodia. The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranks Cambodia 82 out of 190 countries in terms of the “ease of resolving insolvency.”

In 2012, Credit Bureau Cambodia (CBC) was established in an effort to create a more transparent credit market in the country. CBC’s main role is to provide credit scores to banks and financial institutions and to improve access to credit information.

4. Industrial Policies 

Investment Incentives

Cambodia’s Law on Investment and Amended Law on Investment offers varying types of investment incentives for projects that meet specified criteria. Investors seeking an incentive – for examples, incentives as part of a QIP – must submit an application to the CDC. Investors who wish to apply are required to pay an application fee of KHR 7 million (approximately USD1,750), which covers securing necessary approvals, authorizations, licenses, or registrations from all relevant ministries and entities, including stamp duties. The CDC is required to seek approval from the Council of Ministers for investment proposals that involve capital of USD50 million or more, politically sensitive issues, the exploration and exploitation of mineral or natural resources, or infrastructure concessions. The CDC is also required to seek approval for investment proposals that will have a negative impact on the environment or the government’s long-term strategy.

QIPs are entitled to receive different incentives such as corporate tax holidays; special depreciation allowances; and import tax exemptions on production equipment, construction materials, and production inputs used to produce exports. Investment projects located in designated special promotion zones or export-processing zones are also entitled to the same incentives. Industry-specific investment incentives, such as three-year profit tax exemptions, may be available in the agriculture and agro-industry sectors. More information about the criteria and investment areas eligible for incentives can be found at the following link .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

To facilitate the country’s development, the Cambodian government has shown great interest in increasing exports via geographically defined special economic zones (SEZs).  Cambodia is currently drafting a law on Special Economic Zones, which is now undergoing technical review within the CDC. There are currently 23 special SEZs, which are located in Phnom Penh, Koh Kong, Kandal, Kampot, Sihanoukville, and the borders of Thailand and Vietnam. The main investment sectors in these zones include garments, shoes, bicycles, food processing, auto parts, motorcycle assembly, and electrical equipment manufacturing.

5. Protection of Property Rights 

Real Property

Mortgages exist in Cambodia and Cambodian banks often require certificates of property ownership as collateral before approving loans. The mortgage recordation system, which is handled by private banks, is generally considered reliable.

Cambodia’s 2001 Land Law provides a framework for real property security and a system for recording titles and ownership. Land titles issued prior to the end of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79) are not recognized due to the severe dislocations that occurred during that period. The government is making efforts to accelerate the issuance of land titles, but in practice, the titling system is cumbersome, expensive, and subject to corruption. Most property owners lack documentation proving ownership. Even where title records exist, recognition of legal titles to land has not been uniform, and there are reports of court cases in which judges have sought additional proof of ownership.

Foreigners are constitutionally forbidden to own land in Cambodia; however, the 2001 Land Law allows long and short-term leases to foreigners. Cambodia also allows foreign ownership in multi-story buildings, such as condominiums, from the second floor up.  Cambodia was ranked 129 out of 190 economies for ease of registering property in the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report.

Intellectual Property Rights

Infringement of intellectual property rights (IPR) is prevalent in Cambodia. Counterfeit apparel, footwear, cigarettes, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods, and pirated software, music, and books are some of the examples of IPR-infringing goods found in the country.

Though Cambodia is not a major center for the production or export of counterfeit or pirated materials, local businesses report that the problem is growing because of the lack of enforcement. To date, Cambodia has not been listed by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in its annual Special 301 Report, which identifies trade barriers to U.S. companies due to the IPR environment.

Cambodia has enacted several laws pursuant to its WTO commitments on intellectual property, including the Law on Marks, Trade Names and Acts of Unfair Competition (2002); the Law on Copyrights and Related Rights (2003); the Law on Patents, Utility Models and Industrial Designs (2003); the Law on Management of Seed and Plant Breeder’s Rights (2008); the Law on Geographical Indications (2014); and the Law on Compulsory Licensing for Public Health (2018).

Cambodia has been a member of WIPO since 1995 and has acceded to several international IPR protocols, including the Paris Convention (1998), the Madrid Protocol (2015), the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty (2016), The Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Design (2017), and the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications (2018).

To combat the trade in counterfeit goods, the Cambodian Counter Counterfeit Committee (CCCC) was established in 2014 under the Ministry of Interior to investigate claims, seize illegal goods, and prosecute counterfeiters. The Economic Police, Customs, the Cambodia Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate General, and the Ministry of Commerce also have IPR enforcement responsibilities; however, the division of responsibility among each agency is not clearly defined. This causes confusion to rights owners and muddles the overall IPR environment.  Though there has been an increase in the number of seizures of counterfeit goods in recent years, in general such actions are not taken unless a formal complaint is made.

In October 2020, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office concluded a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Cambodia on accelerated patent recognition, creating a simplified procedure for U.S. patents to be registered in Cambodia.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at this link .

6. Financial Sector 

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

In a move designed to address the need for capital markets in Cambodia, the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX) was founded in 2011 and started trading in 2012. Though the CSX is one of the world’s smallest securities markets, it has taken steps to increase the number of listed companies, including attracting SMEs. At the end of 2020, market capitalization stood at USD2.5 billion and the average daily trading value averages USD150,000. The CSX currently has seven listed companies: the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority; Taiwanese garment manufacturer Grand Twins International; the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port; the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port; Phnom Penh SEZ Plc; ACLEDA Bank; and Pestech Plc.

In September 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) adopted a regulation on Conditions for Banking and Financial Institutions to be listed on the Cambodia Securities Exchange. The regulation sets additional requirements for banks and financial institutions that intend to issue securities to the public. This includes prior approval from the NBC and minimum equity of KHR 60 billion (approximately USD15 million).

Cambodia’s bond market is at the beginning stages of development. The regulatory framework for corporate bonds was bolstered in 2017 through the publication of several regulations covering public offering of debt securities, the accreditation of bondholders’ representatives, and the accreditation of credit rating agencies. The country’s first corporate bond was issued in 2018 by Hattha Kaksekar Limited. Four additional companies have since been added to the bond market: LOLC (Cambodia) Plc.; Advanced Bank of Asia Limited; Phnom Penh Commercial Bank Plc; and RMA (Cambodia) Plc. RMA, which issued its bonds in early 2020, was the first non-bank financial institution to be listed.  There is currently no sovereign bond market, but the government has stated its intention of making government securities available to investors by 2022.

Money and Banking System

The NBC regulates the operations of banking systems in Cambodia. Foreign banks and branches are freely allowed to register and operate in the country. There are 44 commercial banks, 14 specialized banks (set up to finance specific turn-key projects such as real estate development), 74 licensed microfinance institutions (MFIs), and seven licensed microfinance deposit taking institutions in Cambodia. The NBC has also granted licenses to 12 financial leasing companies and one credit bureau company to improve transparency and credit risk management and encourage lending to small- and medium-sized enterprise customers.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambodia’s banking sector experienced strong growth. The banking sector’s assets, including those of MFIs, rose 21.4 percent year-over-year in 2018 to 139.7 trillion riel (USD34.9 billion), while credit grew 24.3 percent to 81.7 trillion riel (USD20.4 billion). Loans and deposits grew 18.3 percent and 24.5 percent respectively, which resulted in a decrease of the loan-to-deposit ration from 114 percent to 110 percent. The ratio of non-performing loans was measured at 1.6 percent in 2019.

The government does not use the regulation of capital markets to restrict foreign investment. Banks have been free to set their own interest rates since 1995, and increased competition  between local institutions has led to a gradual lowering of interest rates from year to year.  However, in April 2017, at the direction of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the NBC capped interest rates on loans offered by MFIs at 18 percent per annum. The move was designed to protect borrowers, many of whom are poor and uneducated, from excessive interest rates.

In March 2016, the NBC doubled the minimum capital reserve requirement for banks to USD75 million for commercial banks and USD15 million for specialized banks. Based on the new regulations, deposit-taking microfinance institutions now have a USD30 million reserve requirement, while traditional microfinance institutions have a USD1.5 million reserve requirement.

In March 2020, the NBC issued several regulations to ensure liquidity and promote lending amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They include: (1) delaying the implementation of Conservation Capital Buffer (CCB) for financial institutions; (2) reducing the minimum interest rate of Liquidity-Providing Collateralized Operations (LPCO); (3) reducing the interest rates of Negotiable Certificate of Deposit (NCD); (4) reducing the reserve requirement rate (RRR) from 8 percent (KHR) and 12.5 percent (USD) to 7 percent (KHR and USD) for 6 months starting from April 2020; and (5) reducing the liquidity coverage ratio.  The NBC also requested financial institutions to delay dividend payouts in order to preserve financial sector liquidity. The government has also encouraged banks to continue restructuring loans to help avoid defaults. In late 2020, the government announced that businesses in the garment and footwear, tourism, and aviation sectors would continue to receive tax incentives in 2021. In addition, financial institutions’ borrowings from both local and foreign sources will benefit from reduced tax withholdings in 2021.

Financial technology (Fintech) in Cambodia is still at early stage of development. Available technologies include mobile payments, QR codes, and e-wallet accounts for domestic and cross-border payments and transfers. In 2012, the NBC launched retail payments for cheques and credit remittances. A “Fast and Secure Transfer” (FAST) payment system was introduced in 2016 to facilitate instant fund transfers. The Cambodian Shared Switch (CSS) system was launched in October 2017 to facilitate the access to network automated teller machines (ATMs) and point of sale (POS) machines.

In February 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international intergovernmental organization whose purpose is to develop policies to combat money laundering, cited Cambodia for being “deficient” with regard to its anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) controls and policies and included Cambodia on its “grey list.”  The government committed to working with FATF to address these deficiencies through a jointly developed action plan, although progress to date has not been sufficient and Cambodia remains on the grey list in 2021. Should Cambodia not take appropriate action, FATF could move it to the “black list,” which could negatively impact the cost of capital as well as the banking sector’s ability to access international capital markets.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Though Cambodia has its own currency, the riel (denoted as KHR), U.S. dollars are in wide circulation in Cambodia and remain the primary currency for most large transactions. There are no restrictions on the conversion of capital for investors.

Cambodia’s 1997 Law on Foreign Exchange states that there shall be no restrictions on foreign exchange operations through authorized banks. Authorized banks are required, however, to report the amount of any transfer equaling or exceeding USD100,000 to the NBC on a regular basis.

Loans and borrowings, including trade credits, are freely contracted between residents and nonresidents, provided that loan disbursements and repayments are made through an authorized intermediary. There are no restrictions on the establishment of foreign currency bank accounts in Cambodia for residents.

The exchange rate between the riel and the U.S. dollar is governed by a managed float and has been stable at around one U.S. dollar to KHR 4,000 for the past several years.  Daily fluctuations of the exchange rate are low, typically under three percent.  The Cambodian government has taken steps to increase general usage of the riel, including phasing out in June 2020 the circulation of small-denominated U.S. dollar bills; however, the country’s economy remains largely dollarized.

Remittance Policies

Article 11 of Cambodia’s 2003 Amended Law on Investment states that QIPs can freely remit abroad foreign currencies purchased through authorized banks for the discharge of financial obligations incurred in connection with investments. These financial obligations include payment for imports and repayment of principal and interest on international loans; payment of royalties and management fees; remittance of profits; and repatriation of invested capital in case of dissolution.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Cambodia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises 

Cambodia currently has 15 state-owned enterprises (SOEs):  Electricite du Cambodge; Sihanoukville Autonomous Port; Telecom Cambodia; Cambodia Shipping Agency; Cambodia Postal Services; Rural Development Bank; Green Trade Company; Printing House; Siem Reap Water Supply Authority; Construction and Public Work Lab; Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority; Phnom Penh Autonomous Port; Kampuchea Ry Insurance; Cambodia Life Insurance; and the Cambodia Securities Exchange.

In accordance with the Law on General Stature of Public Enterprises, there are two types of commercial SOEs in Cambodia: one that is 100 percent owned by the state; and another that is a joint-venture in which a majority of capital is owned by the state and a minority is owned by private investors.

Each SOE is under the supervision of a line ministry or government institution and is overseen by a board of directors drawn from among senior government officials. Private enterprises are generally allowed to compete with state-owned enterprises under equal terms and conditions.  SOEs are also subject to the same taxes and value-added tax rebate policies as private-sector enterprises. SOEs are covered under the law on public procurement, which was promulgated in January 2012, and their financial reports are audited by the appropriate line ministry, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the National Audit Authority.

Privatization Program

There are no ongoing privatization programs, nor has the government announced any plans to privatize existing SOEs.

8. Responsible Business Conduct 

There is a small, but growing awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) among businesses in Cambodia despite the fact that the government does not have explicit policies to promote them. RBC and CSR programs are most commonly found at larger and multinational companies in the country. U.S. companies, for example, have implemented a wide range of CSR activities to promote skills training, the environment, general health and well-being, and financial education. These programs have been warmly received by both the public and the government.

A number of economic land concessions in Cambodia have led to high profile land rights cases. The Cambodian government has recognized the problem, but in general, has not effectively and fairly resolved land rights claims. The Cambodian government does not have a national contact point for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) multinational enterprises guidelines and does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption 

Corruption remains a significant issue in Cambodia. In its Global Competitiveness Report 2019, the World Economic Forum ranked Cambodia 134th out of 141 countries for incidence of corruption. Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception index ranked Cambodia 160 of 180 countries globally, the lowest ranking among ASEAN member states.

Those engaged in business have identified corruption, particularly within the judiciary, customs services, and tax authorities, as one of the greatest deterrents to investment in Cambodia. Foreign investors from countries that overlook or encourage bribery have significant advantages over foreign investors from countries that criminalize such activity.

Cambodia adopted an Anti-Corruption Law in 2010 to combat corruption by criminalizing bribery, abuse of office, extortion, facilitation payments, and accepting bribes in the form of  donations or promises. Under the law, all civil servants must also declare their financial assets to the government every two years. Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), established the same year, has investigative powers and a mandate to provide education and training to government institutions and the public on anti-corruption compliance. Since its formation, the ACU has launched a few high-profile prosecutions against public officials, including members of the police and judiciary, and has tackled the issue of ghost workers in the government, in which salaries are collected for non-existent employees.

The ACU, in collaboration with the private sector, has also established guidelines encouraging companies to create internal codes of conduct prohibiting bribery and corrupt practices. Companies can sign an MOU with the ACU pledging to operate corruption-free and to cooperate on anti-corruption efforts. Since the program started in 2015, more than 80 private companies have signed an MOU with the ACU. In 2018, the ACU completed a first draft of a code of conduct for public officials, which has not yet been finalized.

Despite the passage of the Anti-Corruption Law and creation of the ACU, enforcement remains weak. Local and foreign businesses report that they must often make informal payments to expedite business transactions. Since 2013, Cambodia has published the official fees for public services, but the practice of paying additional fees remains common.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Cambodia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2007 and endorsed the Action Plan of the Asian Development Bank / OECD Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia and the Pacific in 2003. Cambodia is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.

Resources to Report Corruption

Om Yentieng President, Anti-Corruption Unit
No. 54, Preah Norodom Blvd, Sangkat Phsar Thmey 3, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
Telephone: +855-23-223-954
Email: info@acu.gov.kh

Transparency International Cambodia  #13 Street 554, Phnom Penh
Telephone: +855-23-214430
Email: info@ticambodia.org  10. Political and Security Environment

10. Political and Security Environment 

Foreign companies have been the targets of violent protests in the past, such as the 2003 anti-Thai riots against the Embassy of Thailand and Thai-owned commercial establishments. There were reports that Vietnamese-owned establishments were looted during a January 2014 labor protest. Authorities have also used force, including truncheons, electric cattle prods, fire hoses, and even gunfire, to disperse protestors. Incidents of violence directed at businesses, however, are rare. The Embassy is unaware of any incidents of political violence directed at U.S. or other non-regional interests.

Nevertheless, political tensions remain. After relatively competitive communal elections in June 2017, where Cambodia’s opposition party won 43 percent of available seats, the government banned the opposition party and imprisoned its leader on charges of treason. With no meaningful opposition, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) swept the 2018 national elections, winning all 125 parliamentary seats. The government has also taken steps to limit free speech and stifle independent media, including forcing independent news outlets and radio stations to cease operations. While there are few overt signs the country is growing less secure today, the possibility for insecurity exists going forward, particularly if COVID-driven economic problems persist and if a large percentage of the population remains disenfranchised.  11. Labor Policies and Practices

11. Labor Policies and Practices 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Cambodia’s labor sector. In particular, Cambodia’s garment and manufacturing sector, which is heavily reliant on global supply chains for inputs and on demand from the United States and Europe, experienced severe disruptions due to COVID-19. The Asian Development Bank estimates that roughly half of Cambodia’s approximately 1 million factory workers experienced some period of furlough in 2020. In addition, approximately 126,000 of Cambodia’s 1.3 million migrant workers returned from abroad (mostly from Thailand) due to COVID-related job losses.

Cambodia’s labor force numbers about 10 million people. A small number of Vietnamese and Thai migrant workers are employed in Cambodia, and – prior to the pandemic – Chinese-run infrastructure and other businesses imported an increasing number of Chinese laborers, who typically earn more than their Cambodian counterparts.

Given the severe disruption to the Cambodian education system and loss of skilled Cambodians during the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge period, there are few Cambodian workers with higher education or specialized skills. Around 65 percent of the population is under the age of 30. The United Nations estimates that around 300,000 new job seekers enter the labor market each year. The agricultural sector employs about 40 percent of the labor force. Some 37 percent of the non-agricultural workforce, or 2.2 million workers, are in the informal economy.

Cambodia’s 2016 Trade Union Law (TUL) erects barriers to freedom of association and the rights to organize and bargain freely. The ILO has stated publicly that the law could hinder Cambodia’s obligations to international labor conventions 87 and 98. To address those concerns, Cambodia passed an amended TUL in early 2020, but the amended law does not fully address ILO, NGO, and union concerns about the law’s curbs on freedom of association. In addition, Cambodia has only implemented and enforced a minimum wage in the export garment and footwear sectors.

Unresolved labor disputes are mediated first on the shop-room floor, after which they are brought to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. If reconciliation fails, then the cases may be brought to the Arbitration Council, an independent state body that interprets labor regulations in collective disputes, such as when multiple employees are dismissed. Since the 2016 Trade Union Law went into force, Arbitration Council cases have decreased from over 30 per month to fewer than five, although that number began to increase again in 2019 due to regulatory changes.  12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics 

There has been a surge in FDI inflows to Cambodia in recent years. Though FDI goes primarily to infrastructure, including commercial and residential real estate projects, it has also recently favored investments in manufacturing and agro-processing. Cambodia reports its FDI at USD4.1 billion in 2020 in terms of fixed assets and registered capital.

Investment into Cambodia is dominated by China, and the level of investment from China has surged especially the last five years. Cambodia reports that its stock of FDI from China reached USD19.5 billion by the end of 2020. Other major sources of FDIs in Cambodia include the United Kingdom (USD4 billion), Malaysia (USD4.4 billion), and Korea (USD5.4 billion), through 2020.

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
Cambodia Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 NA billion 2020 $25.4 billion www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in Cambodia ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $1,515 2017 $517 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Cambodia’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2017 $5 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 169% 2019 127.5% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx 

* Source for Host Country Data: The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) provides official government data on investment in Cambodia, but not all data is published online. See: www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh/why-invest-in-cambodia/investment-enviroment/investment-trend.html 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI 
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (through 2018)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 23,246 100% Total Outward 840 100%
China 6,786 29.2% South Africa 310 37%
Korea 1,934 8.3% China 260 31%
Vietnam 1,880 8% Singapore 225 27%
Hong Kong 1,688 7.3% Philippines 31 3.7%
Taiwan 1,629 7% Myanmar 17 2%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Data retrieved from IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey database presents a much different picture of FDI into Cambodia as compared to that provided by the Cambodian government. For example, the Council for Development of Cambodia reports USD38.5 billion stock FDI in term of fixed asset through year-end 2018, while the IMF reports only USD23 billion.

14. Contact for More Information 

David Ryan Sequeira, CFA
Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh
No. 1, Street 96, Sangkat Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phone: (855) 23-728-401
Email: CamInvestment@state.gov

Canada

Executive Summary

Canada and the United States have one of the largest and most comprehensive investment relationships in the world. U.S. investors are attracted to Canada’s strong economic fundamentals, its proximity to the U.S. market, its highly skilled work force, and abundant resources.  Canada encourages foreign direct investment (FDI) by promoting its stability, global market access, and infrastructure. The United States is Canada’s largest investor, accounting for 47 percent of total FDI. As of 2019, the amount of U.S. FDI totaled USD 402 billion, a 9.2 percent increase from the previous year. Canada’s FDI stock in the United States totaled USD 496 billion, a 12 percent increase from the previous year.

Initial reports indicate Canada suffered a significant decrease in FDI due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Data from Canada’s national statistical office show inward investment flows decreased by roughly 50 percent in 2020 as compared to 2019.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) came into force on July 1, 2020, replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The USMCA supports a strong investment framework beneficial to U.S. investors. Foreign investment in Canada is regulated by the Investment Canada Act (ICA). The purpose of the ICA is to review significant foreign investments to ensure they provide an economic net benefit and do not harm national security. In March 2021, the Canadian government announced revised ICA foreign investment screening guidelines that include additional national security considerations such as sensitive technology areas, critical minerals, and sensitive personal data. The new guidelines follow an April 2020 ICA update, which provides for greater scrutiny of foreign investments by state-owned investors, as well as investments involving the supply of critical goods and services.

Despite a generally welcoming foreign investment environment, Canada maintains investment stifling prohibitions in the telecommunication, airline, banking, and cultural sectors. Ownership and corporate board restrictions prevent significant foreign telecommunication and aviation investment, and there are deposit acceptance limitations for foreign banks. Investments in cultural industries such as book publishing are required to be compatible with national cultural policies and be of net benefit to Canada. In addition, non-tariff barriers to trade across provinces and territories contribute to structural issues that have held back the productivity and competitiveness of Canada’s business sector.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 11 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 23 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 17 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $402,255 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $46,370 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Canada actively encourages FDI and maintains a sound enabling environment (23 out of 190 countries on the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report). Investors are attracted to Canada’s proximity to the United States, highly skilled workforce, strong legal protections, and abundant natural resources. Once established, foreign-owned investments are treated equally to domestic investments. As of 2019, the United States had a stock of USD 402 billion of foreign direct investment in Canada. U.S. FDI stock in Canada represents 47 percent of Canada’s total investment. Canada’s FDI stock in the United States totaled USD 496 billion.

The USMCA modernizes the previous NAFTA investment protection rules and investor-state dispute settlement provisions. Parties to the USMCA agree to treat investors and investments of the other Parties in accordance with the highest international standards, and consistent with U.S. law and practice, while safeguarding each Party’s sovereignty and promoting domestic investment.

Invest in Canada is Canada’s investment attraction and promotion agency. It provides information and advice on doing business in Canada, strategic market intelligence on specific industries, site visits, and introductions to provincial, territorial, and municipal investment promotion agencies. Still, non-tariff barriers to trade across provinces and territories contribute to structural issues that have held back the productivity and competitiveness of Canada’s business sector.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investment in Canada is regulated under the provisions of the Investment Canada Act (ICA). U.S. FDI in Canada is also subject to the provisions of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the USMCA, and the NAFTA. The ICA mandates the review of significant foreign investments to ensure they provide an economic net benefit and do not harm national security.

Canada is not a party to the USMCA’s chapter on investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). Ongoing NAFTA arbitrations are not affected by the USMCA, and investors can file new NAFTA claims by July 1, 2023, provided the investment(s) were “established or acquired” when NAFTA was still in force and remained “in existence” on the date the USMCA entered into force. An ISDS mechanism between the United States and Canada will cease following a three-year window for NAFTA-protected legacy investments.

The Canadian government announced revised ICA foreign investment screening guidelines on March 24, 2021. The revised guidelines include additional national security considerations such as sensitive technology areas, critical minerals, and sensitive personal data. The new guidelines are aligned with Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada’s April 2020 update on greater scrutiny for foreign investments by state-owned investors, as well as investments involving the supply of critical goods and services.

Foreign ownership limits apply to Canadian telecommunication, airline, banking, and cultural sectors. Telecommunication carriers, including internet service providers, that own and operate transmission facilities are subject to foreign investment restrictions if they hold a 10 percent or greater share of total Canadian communication annual market revenues as mandated by The Telecommunications Act. These investments require Canadian ownership of 80 percent of voting shares, Canadians holding 80 percent of director positions, and no indirect control by non-Canadians. If the company is a subsidiary, the parent corporation must be incorporated in Canada and Canadians must hold a minimum of 66.6 percent of the parent’s voting shares. Foreign ownership of Canadian airlines is limited to 49 percent with no individual non-Canadian able to control more than 25 percent by mandate of the 2018 Transportation Modernization Act. Foreign banks can establish operations in Canada but are generally prohibited from accepting deposits of less than USD 112,000. Foreign banks must receive Department of Finance and the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) approval to enter the Canadian market. Investment in cultural industries also carries restrictions, including a provision under the ICA that foreign investment in book publishing and distribution must be compatible with Canada’s national cultural policies and be of net benefit to Canada.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization conducted a trade policy review of Canada in 2019. The report is available at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp489_e.htm  . The Organization of Economic Development completed an Economic Forecast Summary and released the results in March 2021. The report is available at: http://www.oecd.org/economy/canada-economic-snapshot/ 

Business Facilitation

Canada ranks 3 out of 190 countries on starting a business in the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings. The Canadian government provides information necessary for starting a business at: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/business/start.html . Business registration requires federal or provincial government-based incorporation, the application of a federal business number and corporation income tax account from the Canada Revenue Agency, the registration as an extra-provincial or extra-territorial corporation in all other Canadian jurisdictions of business operations, and the application of relevant permits and licenses. In some cases, registration for these accounts is streamlined (a business can receive its business number, tax accounts, and provincial registrations as part of the incorporation process); however, this is not true for all provinces and territories.

Outward Investment

Canada prioritizes export promotion and inward investment. Outward investment has been identified as a tool to enhance future Canadian competitiveness and productivity. Canada does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad except when recipient countries or businesses are designated under the government’s sanctions regime.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Canada’s regulatory transparency is similar to the United States. Regulatory and accounting systems, including those related to debt obligations, are transparent and consistent with international norms. Proposed legislation is subject to parliamentary debate and public hearings, and regulations are issued in draft form for public comment prior to implementation in the Canada Gazette, the government’s official journal of record. While federal and/or provincial licenses or permits may be needed to engage in economic activities, regulation of these activities is generally for statistical or tax compliance reasons. Under the USMCA, parties agreed to make publicly available any written comments they receive, except to the extent necessary to protect confidential information or withhold personal identifying information or inappropriate content.

Canada publishes an annual budget and debt management report. According to the Ministry of Finance, the design and implementation of the domestic debt program are guided by the key principles of transparency, regularity, prudence, and liquidity.

International Regulatory Considerations

Canada addresses international regulatory norms through its FTAs and actively engages in bilateral and multilateral regulatory discussions. U.S.-Canada regulatory cooperation is guided by Chapter 28 of the USMCA “Good Regulatory Practices” and the bilateral Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC). The USMCA aims to promote regulatory quality through greater transparency, objective analysis, accountability, and predictability. The RCC is a bilateral forum focused on harmonizing health, safety, and environmental regulatory differences. Canada-EU regulatory cooperation is guided by Chapter 21 “Regulatory Cooperation” of the CETA and the Regulatory Cooperation Forum (RCF). CETA encourages regulators to exchange experiences and information and identify areas of mutual cooperation. The RCF seeks to reconstitute regulatory cooperation under the previous Canada-EU Framework on Regulatory Cooperation and Transparency. The RCF is mandated to seek regulatory convergence where feasible to facilitate trade. CPTPP Chapter 25 “Regulatory Coherence” seeks to encourage the use of good regulatory practices to promote international trade and investment, economic growth, and employment. The CPTPP also established a Committee on Regulatory Coherence charged with considering developments to regulatory best practices in order to make recommendations to the CPTPP Commission for improving the chapter provisions and enhancing benefits to the trade agreement.

Canada is a member of the WTO and notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Canada is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which it ratified in December 2016.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Canada’s legal system is based on English common law, except for Quebec, which follows civil law. Law-making responsibility is split between the Parliament of Canada (federal law) and provincial/territorial legislatures (provincial/territorial law). Canada has both written commercial law and contractual law, and specialized commercial and civil courts. Canada’s Commercial Law Directorate provides advisory and litigation services to federal departments and agencies whose mandate includes a commercial component and has legal counsel in Montréal and Ottawa.

The judicial branch of government is independent of the executive branch and the current judicial process is considered procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. The provinces administer justice in their jurisdictions, including management of civil and criminal provincial courts.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign investment in Canada is regulated under the provisions of the ICA. U.S. FDI in Canada is also subject to the provisions of the WTO, the USMCA, and the NAFTA. The purpose of the ICA is to review significant foreign investments to ensure they provide an economic net benefit and do not harm national security.

Canada relies on its Invest In Canada promotion agency to provide relevant information to foreign investors: https://www.investcanada.ca/ 

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Competition Bureau Canada is an independent law enforcement agency charged with ensuring Canadian businesses and consumers prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace as stipulated under the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, the Textile Labelling Act, and the Precious Metals Marking Act. The Bureau is housed under the Department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) and is headed by a Commissioner of Competition. Competition cases, excluding criminal cases, are brought before the Competition Tribunal, an adjudicative body independent from the government. The Competition Bureau and Tribunal adhere to transparent norms and procedures. Appeals to Tribunal decisions may be filed with the Federal Court of Appeal as per section 13 of the Competition Tribunal Act. Criminal violations of competition law are investigated by the Competition Bureau and are referred to Canada’s Public Prosecution Service for prosecution in federal court.

Competition Bureau Canada assumed the rotating one-year presidency of the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN), a global consumer protection law enforcement network, starting July 1, 2020. The Bureau has focused the ICPEN on COVID-19, artificial intelligence, digital platforms, and environmental issues during its presidency. As part of these efforts, the Bureau hosted the first annual Digital Enforcement Summit to share best practices, and explore new tools and strategies for tackling emerging enforcement issues in the digital era with international counterparts.

The Bureau announced a USD 6.7 million penalty settlement in May 2020 with A major U.S. social media company after the Competition Tribunal agreed with the Bureau’s claim the company made false or misleading claims about the privacy of Canadians’ personal information on its platform.

In September 2020, the Bureau signed the Multilateral Mutual Assistance and Cooperation Framework for Competition Authorities (MMAC) with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the New Zealand Commerce Commission, the United Kingdom Competition & Markets Authority, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U. S. Federal Trade Commission. The MMAC aims to improve international cooperation through information sharing and inter-organizational training.

Expropriation and Compensation

Canadian federal and provincial laws recognize both the right of the government to expropriate private property for a public purpose and the obligation to pay compensation. The federal government has not nationalized a foreign firm since the nationalization of Axis property during World War II. Both the federal and provincial governments have assumed control of private firms, usually financially distressed companies, after reaching agreement with the former owners.

The USMCA, like the NAFTA, requires expropriation only be used for a public purpose and done in a nondiscriminatory manner, with prompt, adequate, and effective compensation, and in accordance with due process of law.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Canada ratified the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention on December 1, 2013 and is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention, ratified on May 12, 1986. Canada signed the United Nations Convention on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration (known as the Mauritius Convention on Transparency) in March 2015.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Canada accepts binding arbitration of investment disputes as obligated under its bilateral and multilateral agreements. As part of the USMCA, the United States and Canada agreed to phase out NAFTA’s investor state dispute settlement procedures over a three-year period. Under the USMCA, U.S. and Canadian investors rely on domestic courts and other mechanisms for dispute resolution. Ongoing NAFTA arbitrations are not affected by the USMCA and investors can file new NAFTA claims by July 1, 2023 provided the investment(s) were “established or acquired” when NAFTA was still in force and remained “in existence” on the date the USMCA entered into force.

Over the history of the NAFTA, 28 disputes have been filed against the Government of Canada. For more information about cases filed under NAFTA Chapter 11, please visit https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/topics-domaines/disp-diff/gov.aspx?lang=eng 

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Provinces have the primary responsibility for regulating arbitration within Canada. Each province, except Quebec, has legislation adopting the UNCITRAL Model Law. The Quebec Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure are consistent with the UNCITRAL Model Law. The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that arbitration agreements must be broadly interpreted and enforced. Canadian courts respect arbitral proceedings and have been willing to lend their enforcement powers to facilitate the effective conduct of arbitration proceedings, by requiring witnesses to attend and give evidence, and to produce documents and other evidence to arbitral tribunals.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bankruptcy in Canada is governed at the federal level in accordance with the provisions of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. Each province also has specific laws for dealing with bankruptcy. Canada’s bankruptcy laws stipulate that unsecured creditors may apply for court-imposed bankruptcy orders. Debtors and unsecured creditors normally work through appointed trustees to resolve claims. Trustees will generally make payments to creditors after selling the debtors assets. Equity claimants are subordinate to all other creditor claims and are paid only after other creditors have been paid in full per Canada’s insolvency ladder. In all claims, provisions are made for cross-border insolvencies and the recognition of foreign proceedings. Secured creditors generally have the right to take independent actions and fall outside the scope of the BIA. Canada was ranked 13th for ease of “resolving insolvency” by the World Bank in 2020.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Federal and provincial governments offer a wide array of investment incentives designed to advance broader policy goals, such as boosting research and development, and promoting regional economies. The funds are available to qualified domestic and foreign investors. Export Development Canada offers financial support to inward investments under certain conditions. The government maintains a Strategic Innovation Fund that offers funding to firms advancing “the Canadian innovative ecosystem.” Canada also provides incentives through the Innovation Superclusters Initiative, which is investing more than USD 700 million over five years (2017‑2022) to accelerate economic and investment growth in Canada. The five superclusters focus on digital technology, protein industries, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, and the ocean. Foreign firms may apply for supercluster funding. A 2020 Canada Parliamentary Budget Office report concluded Supercluster Initiative spending lagged budgetary targets and the Initiative was unlikely to meet its ten-year goal to increase GDP by USD 37 billion.

Several provinces also offer incentive programs available to foreign firms. These incentives are normally restricted to firms established in the province or that agree to establish a facility in the province. Quebec is implementing “Plan Nord” (Northern Plan), a 25-year program to incentivize natural resource development in its northern and Arctic regions. The program provides financing to facilitate infrastructure, mining, tourism, and other investments. Ontario’s Jobs and Prosperity Fund is providing USD 2 billion from 2013 to 2023 to enhance productivity, bolster innovation, and grow Ontario’s exports. To qualify, companies must have substantive operations (generally three years) and at least USD 5.6 million in eligible project costs. Alberta offers companies a provincial tax credit worth up to USD 220,000 annually for scientific research and experimental development, as well as Alberta Innovation Vouchers worth up to USD 75,000 to help small early-stage technology and knowledge-driven businesses get their ideas and products to market faster.

Incentives for investment in cultural industries at both the federal and provincial level are generally available only to Canadian-controlled firms. Incentives may take the form of grants, loans, loan guarantees, venture capital, or tax credits. Provincial incentive programs for film production in Canada are available to foreign filmmakers.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Under the USMCA, Canada operates as a free trade zone for products made in the United States. Most U.S.-made goods enter Canada duty free.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As a general rule, foreign firms establishing themselves in Canada are not subject to local employment or forced localization requirements, although Canada has some requirements on local employment for boards of directors. Ordinarily, at least 25 percent of the directors of a corporation must be resident Canadians. If a corporation has fewer than four directors, however, at least one of them must be a resident Canadian. In addition, corporations operating in sectors subject to ownership restrictions (such as airlines and telecommunications) or corporations in certain cultural sectors (such as book retailing, video, or film distribution) must have a majority resident Canadian director.

Data localization is an evolving issue in Canada. The federal government introduced draft privacy legislation (Bill C-11) in Parliament November 17, 2020 to modernize data protection and privacy standards. The provincial government of Quebec introduced draft privacy legislation (Bill 64) in June 2020, and the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia are in the early legislative processes of developing privacy legislation. Privacy rules in two Canadian provinces, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, mandate that personal information in the custody of a public body must be stored and accessed only in Canada unless one of a few limited exceptions applies. These laws prevent public bodies such as primary and secondary schools, universities, hospitals, government-owned utilities, and public agencies from using non-Canadian hosting services. Under the USMCA, parties are prevented from imposing data-localization requirements.

The Canada Revenue Agency stipulates that tax records must be kept at a filer’s place of business or residence in Canada. Current regulations were written over 30 years ago and do not consider current technical realities concerning data storage.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Foreign investors have full and fair access to Canada’s legal system, with private property rights limited only by the rights of governments to establish monopolies and to expropriate for public purposes. Investors under the USMCA have mechanisms available for dispute resolution regarding property expropriation by the Government of Canada. The recording system for mortgages and liens is reliable. Canada is ranked 36 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s “Ease of Registering Property” 2020 rankings. Approximately 89 percent of Canada’s land area is government owned (Crown Land). Ownership is divided between by federal (41 percent) and provincial (48 percent) governments. The remaining 11 percent of Canadian land is privately owned.

British Columbia and Ontario tax foreign buyers of real property. In British Colombia, foreign buyers of real property in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, the central Okanagan regional district, Nanaimo, and the Capital Regional District are taxed at 20 percent of the property’s fair market value. In 2018, British Columbia broadened taxation on foreign ownership in Metro Vancouver and enacted a 0.5 percent Speculation and Vacancy Tax, targeting vacant foreign-owned homes. In 2019, the British Colombia Ministry of Finance increased the tax to 2.0 percent. The tax includes foreign owners and satellite families defined as those who earn most of their income outside of Canada. In Ontario, non-resident buyers of real property in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region (the urban region centered around the City of Toronto, located at the western end of Lake Ontario) are subject to a non-resident speculation tax (NRST) at 15 percent of the property’s fair market value. The federal government is considering imposing a national non-resident real property tax.

In terms of non-resident access to land, including farmland, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia have no restrictions on foreign ownership of land. Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan maintain measures aimed at prohibiting or limiting land acquisition by foreigners. The acreage limits vary by province, from as low as five acres in Prince Edward Island to as high as 40 acres in Manitoba. In certain cases, provincial authorities may grant exemptions from these limits, including for investment projects. In British Columbia, Crown land cannot be acquired by foreigners, while there are no restrictions on acquisition of other land.

Intellectual Property Rights

Canada took significant steps to improve its intellectual property (IP) provisions when the USMCA came into force July 1, 2020, addressing areas with long-standing concerns, including full national treatment for copyright protections, transparency and due process with respect to new geographical indications (GIs), more expansive trade secret protection, authority to seize counterfeit goods in transit to other countries, and enforcement measures in the digital environment. Canada must implement three additional provisions, including legislation to implement patent term adjustments to compensate for unreasonable patent prosecution delays by December 2024, legislation to extend copyright protections from 50 years to 70 years after the life of the author by December 2022, and accession to the Brussels Convention Relating to the Distribution of Program-Carrying Signals Transmitted by Satellite by July 2024. The Canadian courts have established meaningful penalties against circumvention devices and services. In 2019, Canada made positive reforms to the Copyright Board related to tariff-setting procedures for the use of copyrighted works, and efforts remain ongoing to implement those measures

Various challenges to IP protection in Canada remain despite this strong legal framework. Canadian IP enforcement of counterfeit and pirated goods at the border and within Canada remains limited. Canada’s system for providing patent term restoration for delays in obtaining marketing approval is also limited in duration, eligibility, and scope of protection. Canada’s ambiguous education-related exemption included in the 2012 copyright law undermines the market for educational publishers and authors.

Canada is on the 2021 Watch List in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report to Congress. No Canadian markets were listed in USTR’s 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy

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

Canada’s capital markets are open, accessible, and regulated. Credit is allocated on market terms, the private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments, and foreign investors can get credit on the local market. Canada has several securities markets, the largest of which is the Toronto Stock Exchange, and there is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and exit sizeable positions. The Canadian government and Bank of Canada do not place restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Money and Banking System

The Canadian banking system is composed of 36 domestic banks and18 foreign bank subsidiaries. Six major domestic banks are dominant players in the market and manage close to USD 5.2 trillion in assets. Many large international banks have a presence in Canada through a subsidiary, representative office, or branch. Ninety-nine percent of Canadians have an account with a financial institution. The Canadian banking system is viewed as very stable due to high capitalization rates that are well above the norms set by the Bank for International Settlements. The OSFI, Canada’s primary banking regulator, is working on implementing the Basel III Framework to strengthen Canadian banks and improve their ability to handle financial shocks. The OSFI is consulting with industry on proposed regulatory changes and plans to introduce final guidance in late 2021.

Foreign financial firms interested in investing submit their applications to the OSFI for approval by the Minister of Finance. U.S. and other foreign banks can establish banking subsidiaries in Canada. Several U.S. financial institutions maintain commercially focused operations, principally in the areas of lending, investment banking, and credit card issuance. Foreigners can open bank accounts in Canada with proper identification and residency information.

The Bank of Canada is the nation’s central bank. Its principal role is “to promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada,” as defined in the Bank of Canada Act. The Bank’s four main areas of responsibility are: monetary policy; promoting a safe, sound, and efficient financial system; issuing and distributing currency; and being the fiscal agent for Canada.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Canadian dollar is a free-floating currency with no restrictions on its transfer or conversion.

Remittance Policies

The Canadian dollar is fully convertible, and the central bank does not place time restrictions on remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Canada does not have a federal sovereign wealth fund. The province of Alberta maintains the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to manage the province’s share of non-renewable resource revenue. The fund’s net financial assets were valued at USD 13 billion as of December 31, 2020. The Fund invests in a globally diversified portfolio of public and private equity, fixed income, and real assets. The Fund follows the voluntary code of good practices known as the “Santiago Principles” and participates in the IMF-hosted International Working Group of SWFs. The Heritage Fund holds approximately 45 percent of its value in equity investments, seven percent of which are domestic.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Canada defines responsible business conduct (RBC) as “Canadian companies doing business abroad responsibly in an economic, social, and environmentally sustainable manner.” The Government of Canada has publicly committed to promoting RBC and expects and encourages Canadian companies working internationally to respect human rights and all applicable laws, to meet or exceed international RBC guidelines and standards, to operate transparently and in consultation with host governments and local communities, and to conduct their activities in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner.

Canada encourages RBC by providing RBC-related guidance to the Canadian business community, including through Canadian embassies and missions abroad. Through its Fund for RBC, Global Affairs Canada provides funding to roughly 50 projects and initiatives annually. Canada also promotes RBC multilaterally through the OECD, the G7 Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation, and the Organization of American States. Canada promotes RBC through its trade and investment agreements via voluntary provisions for corporate social responsibility. Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service issued an Advisory to Canadian companies active abroad or with ties to Xinjiang, China in January 2021. The Advisory set clear compliance expectations for Canadian businesses with respect to forced labor and human rights involving Xinjiang.

The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise is charged with receiving and reviewing claims of alleged human rights abuses involving Canadian companies foreign operations in the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors. Contact information for making a complaint is available at: https://core-ombuds.canada.ca/core_ombuds-ocre_ombuds/index.aspx?lang=eng  .

Canada is active in improving transparency and accountability in the extractive sector. The Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act was brought into force on June 1, 2015. The Act requires extractive entities active in Canada to publicly disclose, on an annual basis, specific payments made to all governments in Canada and abroad. Canada joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in February 2007, as a supporting country and donor. Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility strategy, “Doing Business the Canadian Way: A Strategy to Advance Corporate Social Responsibility in Canada’s Extractive Sector Abroad” is available on the Global Affairs Canada website: http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/topics-domaines/other-autre/csr-strat-rse.aspx?lang=eng .

A comprehensive overview of Canadian RBC information is available at: https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/topics-domaines/other-autre/csr-rse.aspx?lang=eng#:~:text=RBC%20is%20about%20Canadian%20companies,laws%20and%20internationally%20recognized%20standards  .

Additional Resources

Department of State

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices ( https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/);

Trafficking in Persons Report ( https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/);

Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities ( https://www.state.gov/key-topics-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/due-diligence-guidance/) and;

North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory ( https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/126/dprk_supplychain_advisory_07232018.pdf ).

Department of Labor

Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor Report ( https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  );

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor ( https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods );

Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World ( https://www.dol.gov/general/apps/ilab ) and;

Comply Chain ( https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/ ).

9. Corruption

Corruption in Canada is low and similar to that found in the United States. Corruption is not an obstacle to foreign investment. Canada is a party to the UN Convention Against Corruption, the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, and the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption.

Canada’s Criminal Code prohibits corruption, bribery, influence peddling, extortion, and abuse of office. The Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act prohibits individuals and businesses from bribing foreign government officials to obtain influence and prohibits destruction or falsification of books and records to conceal corrupt payments. The law has extended jurisdiction that permits Canadian courts to prosecute corruption committed by Canadian companies and individuals abroad. Canada’s anti-corruption legislation is vigorously enforced, and companies and officials guilty of violating Canadian law are effectively investigated, prosecuted, and convicted of corruption-related crimes. In March 2014, Public Works and Government Services Canada (now Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC) revised its Integrity Framework for government procurement to ban companies or their foreign affiliates for 10 years from winning government contracts if they have been convicted of corruption. In August 2015, the Canadian government revised the framework to allow suppliers to apply to have their ineligibility reduced to five years where the causes of conduct are addressed and no longer penalizes a supplier for the actions of an affiliate in which it was not involved. PSPC has a Code of Conduct for Procurement, which counters conflict-of-interest in awarding contracts. Canadian firms operating abroad must declare whether they or an affiliate are under charge or have been convicted under Canada’s anti-corruption laws during the past five years to receive assistance from the Trade Commissioner Service.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Mario Dion
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner (for appointed and elected officials, House of Commons)
Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Parliament of Canada
66 Slater Street, 22nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario (Mailing address)

Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Parliament of Canada
Centre Block, P.O. Box 16
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Pierre Legault
Office of the Senate Ethics Officer (for appointed Senators)
Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building
Parliament of Canada
90 Sparks St., Room 526
Ottawa, ON K1P 5B4

10. Political and Security Environment

Canada is politically stable with rare instances of civil disturbance.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The federal government and provincial/territorial governments share jurisdiction for labor regulation and standards. Federal employees and those employed in federally regulated industries, including the railroad, airline, and banking sectors, are covered under the federally administered Canada Labor Code. Employees in other sectors are regulated by provincial labor codes. As the laws vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to another, it is advisable to contact a federal or provincial labor office for specifics, such as minimum wage and benefit requirements.

Although labor needs vary by province, Canada faces a national labor shortage in skilled trades professions such as carpenters, engineers, and electricians. Canada launched several initiatives such as the Global Skills Visa to address its skilled labor shortage, including through immigration reform, the inclusion of labor mobility provisions in free trade agreements, including the Canada-EU CETA agreement, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), and the International Mobility Program. The TFWP is jointly managed by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The International Mobility Program (IMP) primarily includes high skill/high wage professions and is not subject to a labor market impact assessment. The number of temporary foreign workers a business can employ is limited. For more information, see the TFWP website: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/foreign-workers.html 

The impact of COVID-19 on the labor force has yet to be fully realized. As of February 2021, the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent (historical unemployment traditionally hovers between five and eight percent). Statistics indicate women and marginalized communities have been disproportionately affected by job and other economic losses. The Canadian government administered an emergency wage benefit in response to a significant increase in unemployment caused by the pandemic.

Canadian labor unions are independent from the government. Canada has labor dispute mechanisms in place and unions practice collective bargaining. As of 2015 (the most recent year of available data), there were 776 unions in Canada. Eight of those unions – five of which were national and three international – represented 100,000 or more workers each and comprised 45 percent of all unionized workers in Canada ( https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/collective-bargaining-data/reports/union-coverage.html ). Less than one third of Canadian employees belonged to a union or were covered by a collective agreement as of 2015. In June 2017, Parliament repealed legislation public service unions had claimed contravened International Labor Organization conventions by limiting the number of persons who could strike.

In August 2020, dockworkers at the Port of Montreal Port Authority participated in a 19-day strike over wages and scheduling. Statistics Canada estimates the strike resulted in more than USD 300 million in economic losses.

In March 2021, front line workers at an electric power and natural gas utility company in Manitoba participated in a two-day strike over wages and holiday benefits. The strike followed 28 months of stalled labor negotiations.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $1,783,788 2019 1,736,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 360,895 2019 402,255 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 500,874 2019 $495,720 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP (USD) 2019 1,037,092 2019 59.7% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
* Source for Host Country Data: Host Country Source: Office of the Chief Economist, State of Trade 2020, Global Affairs Canada. Host Country Source: Statistics Canada Note: Data converted to U.S. dollars using yearly average currency conversions from IRS
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 745,399 100% Total Outward 1,044,549 100%
United States 348,475 47% United States 483,636 46%
The Netherlands 94,847 13% United Kingdom 81,927 8%
United Kingdom 47,744 6% Luxembourg 77,505 7%
Luxembourg 42,899 6% Bermuda 48,627 5%
Switzerland 39,627 5% Barbados 38,117 4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 1,982,923 100% All Countries 1,516,210 100% All Countries 466,713 100%
United States 1,269,152 64% United States 945,000 62% United States 324,151 69%
United Kingdom 102,468 5% United Kingdom 80,839 5% United Kingdom 21,629 5%
Japan 73,560 4% Japan 64,298 4% Australia 10,584 2%
France 48,556 2% France 40,619 3% Japan 9,262 2%
Cayman Islands 43,436 2% Cayman Islands 38,097 3% Germany 8,485 2%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
490 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario
613-688-5335
OttawaEconCounselor@state.gov

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore maintains an open, heavily trade-dependent economy. The economy is supported through unprecedented government spending and strong supply chains in key sectors, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s predominantly open investment policies support a free market economy while actively managing and sustaining Singapore’s economic development. U.S. companies regularly cite transparency, business-friendly laws, tax structure, customs facilitation, intellectual property protection, and well-developed infrastructure as attractive investment climate features. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report ranked Singapore second overall in “ease of doing business,” while the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore as the most competitive economy globally. Singapore actively enforces its robust anti-corruption laws and typically ranks as the least corrupt country in Asia. In addition, Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index placed Singapore as the third-least corrupt nation globally. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which came into force in 2004, expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and environmental protections.

Singapore has a diversified economy that attracts substantial foreign investment in manufacturing (petrochemical, electronics, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and equipment) and services (financial, trade, and business). The government actively promotes the country as a research and development (R&D) and innovation center for businesses by offering tax incentives, research grants, and partnership opportunities with domestic research agencies. U.S. direct investment in Singapore in 2019 totaled USD 288 billion, primarily in non-bank holding companies, manufacturing, finance, and insurance. Singapore received more than double the U.S. FDI invested in any other Asian nation. The investment outlook was positive due to Singapore’s proximity to Southeast Asia’s developing economies. Singapore remains a regional hub for thousands of multinational companies and continues to maintain its reputation as a world leader in dispute resolution, financing, and project facilitation for regional infrastructure development. In 2020, U.S. companies pledged USD 6.9 billion in future investments (over half of all-investment commitments) in the country’s manufacturing and services sectors.

Singapore is poised to attract future foreign investments in digital innovation, pharmaceutical manufacturing, sustainable development, and cybersecurity. The Government of Singapore (hereafter, “the government”) is investing heavily in automation, artificial intelligence, and integrated systems under its Smart Nation banner and seeks to establish itself as a regional hub for these technologies. Singapore is also a well-established hub for medical research and device manufacturing.

Singapore relies heavily on foreign workers who make up more than 20 percent of the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic was initially concentrated in dormitories for low-wage foreign workers in the construction and marine industries, which resulted in strict quarantine measures that brought the construction sector to a near standstill. The government tightened foreign labor policies in 2020 to encourage firms to improve productivity and employ more Singaporean workers, and lowered most companies’ quotas for mid- and low-skilled foreign workers. Cuts, which primarily target the service sector and foreign workers’ dependents, were taken despite industry concerns about skills gaps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has introduced more programs to partially subsidize wages and the cost to firms of recruiting, hiring, and training local workers

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 3 of 178 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 2 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 8 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 287,951 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 59,590 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore maintains a heavily trade-dependent economy characterized by an open investment regime, with some licensing restrictions in the financial services, professional services, and media sectors. The government was committed to maintaining a free market, but also actively plans Singapore’s economic development, including through a network of state wholly-owned and majority-owned enterprises (SOEs). As of March 31, 2021, the top three Singapore-listed SOEs accounted for 12.3 percent of total capitalization of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Some observers have criticized the dominant role of SOEs in the domestic economy, arguing that they have displaced or suppressed private sector entrepreneurship and investment.

Singapore’s legal framework and public policies are generally favorable toward foreign investors. Foreign investors are not required to enter joint ventures or cede management control to local interests, and local and foreign investors are subject to the same basic laws. Apart from regulatory requirements in some sectors (See also: Limits on National Treatment and Other Restrictions), eligibility for various incentive schemes depends on investment proposals meeting the criteria set by relevant government agencies. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings or capital. The judicial system, which includes international arbitration and mediation centers and a commercial court, upholds the sanctity of contracts, and decisions are generally considered to be transparent and effectively enforced.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead promotion agency that facilitates foreign investment into Singapore ( https:www.edb.gov.sg ). EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development and works with foreign and local businesses by providing information and facilitating introductions and access to government incentives for local and international investments. The government maintains close engagement with investors through the EDB, which provides feedback to other government agencies to ensure that infrastructure and public services remain efficient and cost-competitive. The EDB maintains 18 international offices, including Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

Exceptions to Singapore’s general openness to foreign investment exist in sectors considered critical to national security, including telecommunications, broadcasting, domestic news media, financial services, legal and accounting services, ports, airports, and property ownership. Under Singaporean law, articles of incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in such entities by foreign persons.

Telecommunications 

Since 2000, the Singapore telecommunications market has been fully liberalized. This move has allowed foreign and domestic companies seeking to provide facilities-based (e.g., fixed line or mobile networks) or services-based (e.g., local and international calls and data services over leased networks) telecommunications services to apply for licenses to operate and deploy telecommunication systems and services. Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel) – majority owned by Temasek, a state-owned investment company with the Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder – faces competition in all market segments. However, its main competitors, M1 and StarHub, are also SOEs. In April 2019, Australian company TPG Telecom began rolling out telecommunications services.  Approximately 30 mobile virtual network operator services (MVNOs) have also entered the market. The four Singapore telecommunications companies compete primarily on MVNO partnerships and voice and data plans.

As of April 2021, Singapore has 76 facilities-based operators offering telecommunications services. Since 2007, Singtel has been exempted from dominant licensee obligations for the residential and commercial portions of the retail international telephone services. Singtel is also exempted from dominant licensee obligations for wholesale international telephone services, international managed data, international intellectual property transit, leased satellite bandwidth (including VSAT, DVB-IP, satellite TV Downlink, and Satellite IPLC), terrestrial international private leased circuit, and backhaul services. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) granted Singtel’s exemption after assessing the market for these services had effective competition. IMDA operates as both the regulatory agency and the investment promotion agency for the country’s telecommunications sector. IMDA conducts public consultations on major policy reviews and provides decisions on policy changes to relevant companies.

To facilitate the 5th generation mobile network (5G) technology and service trials, IMDA waived frequency fees for companies interested in conducting 5G trials for equipment testing, research, and assessment of commercial potential. In April 2020, IMDA granted rights to build nationwide 5G networks to Singtel and a joint venture between StarHub and M1. IMDA announced a goal of full 5G coverage by the end of 2025.  These three companies, along with TPG Telecom, are also now permitted to launch smaller, specialized 5G networks to support specialized applications, such as manufacturing and port operations.  Singapore’s government did not hold a traditional spectrum auction, instead charging a moderate, flat fee to operate the networks and evaluating proposals from the MVNOs based on their ability to provide effective coverage, meet regulatory requirements, invest significant financial resources, and address cybersecurity and network resilience concerns. The announcement emphasized the importance of the winning MVNOs using multiple vendors, to ensure security and resilience.  Singapore has committed to being one of the first countries to make 5G services broadly available, and its tightly managed 5G-rollout process continues apace, despite COVID-19.  The government views this as a necessity for a country that prides itself on innovation, even as these private firms worry that the commercial potential does not yet justify the extensive upfront investment necessary to develop new networks.

Media  

The local free-to-air broadcasting, cable, and newspaper sectors are effectively closed to foreign firms. Section 44 of the Broadcasting Act restricts foreign equity ownership of companies broadcasting in Singapore to 49 percent or less, although the act does allow for exceptions. Individuals cannot hold shares that would make up more than five percent of the total votes in a broadcasting company without the government’s prior approval. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act restricts equity ownership (local or foreign) of newspaper companies to less than five percent per shareholder and requires that directors be Singapore citizens. Newspaper companies must issue two classes of shares, ordinary and management, with the latter available only to Singapore citizens or corporations approved by the government. Holders of management shares have an effective veto over selected board decisions.

Singapore regulates content across all major media outlets through IMDA. The government controls the distribution, importation, and sale of media sources and has curtailed or banned the circulation of some foreign publications. Singapore’s leaders have also brought defamation suits against foreign publishers and local government critics, which have resulted in the foreign publishers issuing apologies and paying damages. Several dozen publications remain prohibited under the Undesirable Publications Act, which restricts the import, sale, and circulation of publications that the government considers contrary to public interest. Examples include pornographic magazines, publications by banned religious groups, and publications containing extremist religious views. Following a routine review in 2015, the IMDA predecessor, Media Development Authority, lifted a ban on 240 publications, ranging from decades-old anti-colonial and communist material to adult interest content.

Singaporeans generally face few restrictions on the internet, which is readily accessible. The government, however, subjected all internet content to similar rules and standards as traditional media, as defined by the IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice. Internet service providers are required to ensure that content complies with the code. The IMDA licenses the internet service providers through which local users are required to route their internet connections. However, the IMDA has blocked various websites containing objectionable material, such as pornography and racist and religious-hatred sites. Online news websites that report regularly on Singapore and have a significant reach are individually licensed, which requires adherence to requirements to remove prohibited content within 24 hours of notification from IMDA. Some view this regulation as a way to censor online critics of the government.

In April 2019, the government introduced legislation in Parliament to counter “deliberate online falsehoods.” The legislation, called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) entered into force on October 2, 2019, requires online platforms to publish correction notifications or remove online information that government ministers classify as factually false or misleading, and which they deem likely to threaten national security, diminish public confidence in the government, incite feelings of ill will between people, or influence an election. Non-compliance is punishable by fines and/or imprisonment and the government can use stricter measures such as disabling access to end-users in Singapore and forcing online platforms to disallow persons in question from using its services in Singapore. Opposition politicians, bloggers, and alternative news websites have been the target of the majority of POFMA cases thus far and many of them used U.S. social media platforms. Besides those individuals, U.S. social media companies were issued most POFMA correction orders and complied with them. U.S. media and social media sites continue to operate in Singapore, but a few major players have ceased running political ads after the government announced that it would impose penalties on sites or individuals that spread “misinformation,” as determined by the government.

Pay-Television 

Mediacorp TV is the only free-to-air TV broadcaster and is 100 percent owned by the government via Temasek Holdings (Temasek). Mediacorp reported that its free-to-air channels are viewed weekly by 80 percent of residents. Local pay-TV providers are StarHub and Singtel, which are both partially owned by Temasek or its subsidiaries. Local free-to-air radio broadcasters are Mediacorp Radio Singapore, which is also owned by Temasek Holdings, SPH Radio, owned by the publicly held Singapore Press Holdings, and So Drama! Entertainment, owned by the Singapore Ministry of Defense. BBC World Services is the only foreign free-to-air radio broadcaster in Singapore.

To rectify the high degree of content fragmentation in the Singapore pay-TV market and shift the focus of competition from an exclusivity-centric strategy to other aspects such as service differentiation and competitive packaging, the IMDA implemented cross-carriage measures in 2011, requiring pay-TV companies designated by IMDA to be Receiving Qualified Licensees (RQL) – currently Singtel and StarHub – to cross-carry content subject to exclusive carriage provisions. Correspondingly, Supplying Qualified Licensees (SQLs) with an exclusive contract for a channel are required to carry that content on other RQL pay-TV companies. In February 2019, the IMDA proposed to continue the current cross-carriage measures. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) has expressed concern this measure restricts copyright exclusivity. Content providers consider the measures an unnecessary interference in a competitive market that denies content holders the ability to negotiate freely in the marketplace, and an interference with their ability to manage and protect their intellectual property. More common content is now available across the different pay-TV platforms, and the operators are beginning to differentiate themselves by originating their own content, offering subscribed content online via personal and tablet computers, and delivering content via fiber networks.

Streaming services have entered the market, which MPA has found leads to a significant reduction in intellectual property infringements. StarHub and Singtel have both partnered with multiple content providers, including U.S. companies, to provide streaming content in Singapore and around the region.

Banking and Finance 

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) regulates all banking activities as provided for under the Banking Act. Singapore maintains legal distinctions between foreign and local banks and the type of license (i.e., full service, wholesale, and offshore banks) held by foreign commercial banks. As of April 2021, 30 foreign full-service licensees and 90 wholesale banks operated in Singapore. An additional 24 merchant banks are licensed to conduct corporate finance, investment banking, and other fee-based activities. Offshore and wholesale banks are not allowed to operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities. Only full banks and “Qualifying Full Banks” (QFBs) can operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities but are subject to restrictions on their number of places of business, ATMs, and ATM networks. Additional QFB licenses may be granted to a subset of full banks, which provide greater branching privileges and greater access to the retail market than other full banks. As of April 2021, there are 10 banks operating QFB licenses. China Construction Bank received the most recent QFB award in December 2020.

Following a series of public consultations conducted by MAS over a three year period, the Banking Act 2020 came into operation on February 14, 2020. The amendments include, among other things, the removal of the Domestic Banking Unit (DBU) and Asian Currency Unit (ACU) divide, consolidation of the regulatory framework of merchant banks, expansion of the grounds for revoking bank licenses and strengthening oversight of banks’ outsourcing arrangements. Newly granted digital banking licenses under foreign ownership apply only to wholesale transactions.

The government initiated a banking liberalization program in 1999 to ease restrictions on foreign banks and has supplemented this with phased-in provisions under the USSFTA, including removal of a 40 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of local banks and a 20 percent aggregate foreign shareholding limit on finance companies. The minister in charge of MAS must approve the merger or takeover of a local bank or financial holding company, as well as the acquisition of voting shares in such institutions above specific thresholds of 5, 12, or 20 percent of shareholdings.

Although Singapore’s government has lifted the formal ceilings on foreign ownership of local banks and finance companies, the approval for controllers of local banks ensures that this control rests with individuals or groups whose interests are aligned with the long-term interests of the Singapore economy and Singapore’s national interests. Of the 30 full-service licenses granted to foreign banks, three have gone to U.S. banks. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, only one U.S.-licensed full-service banks has obtained QFB status. U.S. and foreign full-service banks with QFB status can freely relocate existing branches and share ATMs among themselves. They can also provide electronic funds transfer and point-of-sale debit services and accept services related to Singapore’s compulsory pension fund. In 2007, Singapore lifted the quota on new licenses for U.S. wholesale banks.

Locally and non-locally incorporated subsidiaries of U.S. full-service banks with QFB status can apply for access to local ATM networks. However, no U.S. bank has come to a commercial agreement to gain such access. Despite liberalization, U.S. and other foreign banks in the domestic retail-banking sector still face barriers. Under the enhanced QFB program launched in 2012, MAS requires QFBs it deems systemically significant to incorporate locally. If those locally incorporated entities are deemed “significantly rooted” in Singapore, with a majority of Singaporean or permanent resident members, Singapore may grant approval for an additional 25 places of business, of which up to ten may be branches. Local retail banks do not face similar constraints on customer service locations or access to the local ATM network. As noted above, U.S. banks are not subject to quotas on service locations under the terms of the USSFTA.

Credit card holders from U.S. banks incorporated in Singapore cannot access their accounts through the local ATM networks. They are also unable to access their accounts for cash withdrawals, transfers, or bill payments at ATMs operated by banks other than those operated by their own bank or at foreign banks’ shared ATM network. Nevertheless, full-service foreign banks have made significant inroads in other retail banking areas, with substantial market share in products like credit cards and personal and housing loans.

In January 2019, MAS announced the passage of the Payment Services Bill after soliciting public feedback. The bill requires more payment services such as digital payment tokens, dealing in virtual currency, and merchant acquisition, to be licensed and regulated by MAS. In order to reduce the risk of misuse for illicit purposes, the new law also limits the amount of funds that can be held in or transferred out of a personal payment account (e.g., mobile wallets) in a year. Regulations are tailored to the type of activity preformed and addresses issues related to terrorism financing, money laundering, and cyber risks. In December 2020, MAS granted four digital bank licenses: two to Sea Limited and a Grab/Singtel consortium for full retail banking and two to Ant Group and the Greenland consortium (a China-based conglomerate).

Singapore has no trading restrictions on foreign-owned stockbrokers. There is no cap on the aggregate investment by foreigners regarding the paid-up capital of dealers that are members of the SGX. Direct registration of foreign mutual funds is allowed provided MAS approves the prospectus and the fund. The USSFTA relaxed conditions foreign asset managers must meet in order to offer products under the government-managed compulsory pension fund (Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme).

Legal Services 

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) under the Ministry of Law oversees the regulation, licensing, and compliance of all law practice entities and the registration of foreign lawyers in Singapore. Foreign law firms with a licensed Foreign Law Practice (FLP) may offer the full range of legal services in foreign law and international law, but cannot practice Singapore law except in the context of international commercial arbitration. U.S. and foreign attorneys are allowed to represent parties in arbitration without the need for a Singapore attorney to be present. To offer Singapore law, FLPs require either a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license, a Joint Law Venture (JLV) with a Singapore Law Practice (SLP), or a Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with a SLP. The vast majority of Singapore’s 130 foreign law firms operate FLPs, while QFLPs and JLVs each number in the single digits.

The QFLP licenses allow foreign law firms to practice in permitted areas of Singapore law, which excludes constitutional and administrative law, conveyancing, criminal law, family law, succession law, and trust law. As of December 2020, there are nine QFLPs in Singapore, including five U.S. firms. In January 2019, the Ministry of Law announced the deferral to 2020 of the decision to renew the licenses of five QFLPs, which were set to expire in 2019, so the government can better assess their contribution to Singapore along with the other four firms whose licenses were also extended to 2020. Decisions on the renewal considers the firms’ quantitative and qualitative performance such as the value of work that the Singapore office will generate, the extent to which the Singapore office will function as the firm’s headquarter for the region, the firm’s contributions to Singapore, and the firm’s proposal for the new license period.

A JLV is a collaboration between a Foreign Law Practice and Singapore Law Practice, which may be constituted as a partnership or company. The director of legal services in the LSRA will consider all the relevant circumstances including the proposed structure and its overall suitability to achieve the objectives for which Joint Law Ventures are permitted to be established. There is no clear indication on the percentage of shares that each JLV partner may hold in the JLV.

Law degrees from designated U.S., British, Australian, and New Zealand universities are recognized for purposes of admission to practice law in Singapore. Under the USSFTA, Singapore recognizes law degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Michigan. Singapore will admit to the Singapore Bar law school graduates of those designated universities who are Singapore citizens or permanent residents, and ranked among the top 70 percent of their graduating class or have obtained lower-second class honors (under the British system).

Engineering and Architectural Services 

Engineering and architectural firms can be 100 percent foreign-owned. Engineers and architects are required to register with the Professional Engineers Board and the Board of Architects, respectively, to practice in Singapore. All applicants (both local and foreign) must have at least four years of practical experience in engineering, of which two are acquired in Singapore. Alternatively, students can attend two years of practical training in architectural works and pass written and/or oral examinations set by the respective board.

Accounting and Tax Services 

Many major international accounting firms operate in Singapore. Registration as a public accountant under the Accountants Act is required to provide public accountancy services (i.e., the audit and reporting on financial statements and other acts that are required by any written law to be done by a public accountant) in Singapore, although registration as a public accountant is not required to provide other accountancy services, such as accounting, tax, and corporate advisory work. All accounting entities that provide public accountancy services must be approved under the Accountants Act and their supply of public accountancy services in Singapore must be under the control and management of partners or directors who are public accountants ordinarily resident in Singapore. In addition, if the accounting entity firm has two partners or directors, at least one of them must be a public accountant. If the business entity has more than two accounting partners or directors, two-thirds of the partners or directors must be public accountants.

Energy 

Singapore further liberalized its gas market with the amendment of the Gas Act and implementation of a Gas Network Code in 2008, which were designed to give gas retailers and importers direct access to the onshore gas pipeline infrastructure. However, key parts of the local gas market, such as town gas retailing and gas transportation through pipelines remain controlled by incumbent Singaporean firms. Singapore has sought to grow its supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd (acquired by Royal Dutch Shell in February 2016) was appointed in 2008 as the first aggregator with an exclusive franchise to import LNG to be sold in its re-gasified form in Singapore. In October 2017, Shell Eastern Trading Pte Ltd and Pavilion Gase Pte Ltd were awarded import licenses to market up to 1 million tons per annum or for three years, whichever occurs first. This also marked the conclusion of the first exclusive franchise awarded to BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd.

Beginning in November 2018 and concluding in May 2019, Singapore launched an open electricity market (OEM). Previously, Singapore Power was the only electricity retailer. As of October 2019, 40 percent of resident consumers had switched to a new electricity retailer and were saving between 20 and 30 percent on their monthly bills.  During the second half of 2020, the government significantly reduced tariffs for household consumption and encouraged consumer OEM adoption. To participate in OEM, licensed retailers must satisfy additional credit, technical, and financial requirements set by Energy Market Authority in order to sell electricity to households and small businesses. There are two types of electricity retailers: Market Participant Retailers (MPRs) and Non-Market Participant Retailers (NMPRs). MPRs have to be registered with the Energy Market Company (EMC) to purchase electricity from the National Electricity Market of Singapore (NEMS) to sell to contestable consumers. NMPRs need not register with EMC to participate in the NEMS since they will purchase electricity indirectly from the NEMS through the Market Support Services Licensee (MSSL). As of April 2020, there were 12 retailers in the market, including foreign and local entities.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and local entities may readily establish, operate, and dispose of their own enterprises in Singapore subject to certain requirements. A foreigner who wants to incorporate a company in Singapore is required to appoint a local resident director; foreigners may continue to reside outside of Singapore. Foreigners who wish to incorporate a company and be present in Singapore to manage its operations are strongly advised to seek approval from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before incorporation. Except for representative offices (where foreign firms maintain a local representative but do not conduct commercial transactions in Singapore) there are no restrictions on carrying out remunerative activities. As of October 2017, foreign companies may seek to transfer their place of registration and be registered as companies limited by shares in Singapore under Part XA (Transfer of Registration) of the Companies Act ( https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/CoA1967 ). Such transferred foreign companies are subject to the same requirements as locally incorporated companies.

All businesses in Singapore must be registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). Foreign investors can operate their businesses in one of the following forms: sole proprietorship, partnership, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, incorporated company, foreign company branch or representative office. Stricter disclosure requirements were passed in March 2017 requiring foreign company branches registered in Singapore to maintain public registers of their members. All companies incorporated in Singapore, foreign companies, and limited liability partnerships registered in Singapore are also required to maintain beneficial ownership in the form of a register of controllers (generally individuals or legal entities with more than 25 percent interest or control of the companies and foreign companies) aimed at preventing money laundering.

While there is currently no cross-sectional screening process for foreign investments, investors are required to seek approval from specific sector regulators for investments in certain firms. These sectors include energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal services, public accounting services, ports and airports, and property ownership. Under Singapore law, Articles of Incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in corporations by foreign persons.

Singapore does not maintain a formalized investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment. There are no reports of U.S. investors being especially disadvantaged or singled out relative to other foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Singapore underwent a trade policy review with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in July 2016, after which no major policy recommendations were raised. (https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/countries_e/singapore_e.htm )

The OECD and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) released a joint report in February 2019 on the ASEAN-OECD Investment Program. The program aims to foster dialogue and experience sharing between OECD countries and Southeast Asian economies on issues relating to the business and investment climate. The program is implemented through regional policy dialogue, country investment policy reviews, and training seminars. (http://www.oecd.org/investment/countryreviews.htm )

The OECD released a Transfer Pricing Country Profile for Singapore in June 2018. The country profiles focus on countries’ domestic legislation regarding key transfer pricing principles, including the arm’s length principle, transfer pricing methods, comparability analysis, intangible property, intra-group services, cost contribution agreements, transfer pricing documentation, administrative approaches to avoiding and resolving disputes, safe harbors and other implementation measures. (https://www.oecd.org/tax/transfer-pricing/transfer-pricing-country-profile-singapore.pdf)

The OECD released a peer review report in March 2018 on Singapore’s implementation of internationally agreed tax standards under Action Plan 14 of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project. Action 14 strengthens the effectiveness and efficiency of the mutual agreement procedure, a cross-border tax dispute resolution mechanism. (http://www.oecd.org/corruption-integrity/reports/singapore-2018-peer-review-report-transparency-exchange-information-aci.html )

As of April 2021, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has not conducted a policy review of Singapore’s intellectual property rights regime. (http://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/Investment%20Policy%20Reviews/Investment-Policy-Reviews.aspx )

Business Facilitation

Singapore’s online business registration process is clear and efficient and allows foreign companies to register branches. All businesses must be registered with ACRA through Bizfile, its online registration and information retrieval portal ( https://www.bizfile.gov.sg/),  including any individual, firm or corporation that carries out business for a foreign company. Applications are typically processed immediately after the application fee is paid, but could take between 14 to 60 days, if the application is referred to another agency for approval or review. The process of establishing a foreign-owned limited liability company in Singapore is among the fastest in the world.

ACRA ( www.acra.gov.sg ) provides a single window for business registration. Additional regulatory approvals (e.g., licensing or visa requirements) are obtained via individual applications to the respective ministries or statutory boards. Further information and business support on registering a branch of a foreign company is available through the EDB ( https://www.edb.gov.sg/en/how-we-help/setting-up.html ) and GuideMeSingapore, a corporate services firm Hawskford ( https://www.guidemesingapore.com /).

Foreign companies may lease or buy privately or publicly held land in Singapore, though there are some restrictions on foreign property ownership. Foreign companies are free to open and maintain bank accounts in foreign currency. There is no minimum paid-in capital requirement, but at least one subscriber share must be issued for valid consideration at incorporation.

Business facilitation processes provide for fair and equal treatment of women and minorities, and there are no mechanisms that provide special assistance to women and minorities.

Outward Investment

Singapore places no restrictions on domestic investors investing abroad. The government promotes outward investment through Enterprise Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. It provides market information, business contacts, and financial assistance and grants for internationalizing companies. While it has a global reach and runs overseas centers in major cities across the world, a large share of its overseas centers are located in major trading and investment partners and regional markets like China, India, the United States, and ASEAN.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The government establishes clear rules that foster competition. The USSFTA enhances transparency by requiring regulatory authorities to consult with interested parties before issuing regulations, and to provide advance notice and comment periods for proposed rules, as well as to publish all regulations. Singapore’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Rule-making authority is vested in the parliament to pass laws that determine the regulatory scope, purpose, rights and powers of the regulator and the legal framework for the industry. Regulatory authority is vested in government ministries or in statutory boards, which are organizations that have been given autonomy to perform an operational function by legal statutes passed as acts of parliament, and report to a specific ministry. Local laws give regulatory bodies wide discretion to modify regulations and impose new conditions, but in practice agencies use this positively to adapt incentives or other services on a case-by-case basis to meet the needs of foreign as well as domestic companies. Acts of parliament also confer certain powers on a minister or other similar persons or authorities to make rules or regulations in order to put the act into practice; these rules are known as subsidiary legislation.  National-level regulations are the most relevant for foreign businesses. Singapore, being a city-state, has no local or state regulatory layers.

Before a ministry instructs the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to draft a new bill or make an amendment to a bill, the ministry has to seek in-principle approval from the cabinet for the proposed bill. The AGC legislation division advises and helps vet or draft bills in conjunction with policymakers from relevant ministries.  Public and private consultations are often requested for proposed draft legislative amendments. Thereafter, the cabinet’s approval is required before the bill can be introduced in parliament.  All bills passed by parliament (with some exceptions) must be forwarded to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights for scrutiny, and thereafter presented to the President for assent. Only after the President has assented to the bill does it become law.

While ministries or regulatory agencies do conduct internal impact assessments of proposed regulations, there are no criteria used for determining which proposed regulations are subjected to an impact assessment, and there are no specific regulatory impact assessment guidelines. There is no independent agency tasked with reviewing and monitoring regulatory impact assessments and distributing findings to the public. The Ministry of Finance publishes a biennial Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review (http://www.mof.gov.sg/Resources/Singapore-Public-Sector-Outcomes-Review-SPOR ), focusing on broad outcomes and indicators rather than policy evaluation. Results of scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted in review of policies and regulations are not made publicly available.

Industry self-regulation occurs in several areas, including advertising and corporate governance.  Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) (https://asas.org.sg/), an advisory council under the Consumers Association of Singapore, administers the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, which focuses on ensuring that advertisements are legal, decent, and truthful. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange (SGX) Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code. Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code, and, if their practices vary from any provisions of the Code, they must note the reason for the variation and explain how the practices they have adopted are consistent with the intent of the relevant principle. The SGX plays the role of a self-regulatory organization (SRO) in listings, market surveillance, and member supervision to uphold the integrity of the market and ensure participants’ adherence to trading and clearing rules. There have been no reports of discriminatory practices aimed at foreign investors.

Singapore’s legal and accounting procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms and rank similar to the U.S. in international comparisons (http://worldjusticeproject.org/rule-of-law-index ). The prescribed accounting standards for Singapore-incorporated companies applying to be or are listed in the public market, Singapore Exchange, are known as Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS(I)), which are identical to those of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). Non-listed Singapore-incorporated companies can voluntarily apply for SFRS(I). Otherwise, they are required to comply with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS), which are also aligned with those of IASB. For the use of foreign accounting standards, the companies are required to seek approval of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

For foreign companies with primary listings on the Singapore Exchange, the SGX Listing Rules allow the use of alternative standards such as International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or the U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (U.S. GAAP). Accounts prepared in accordance with IFRS or U.S. GAAP need not be reconciled to SFRS(1). Companies with secondary listings on the Singapore Exchange need only reconcile their accounts to SFRS(I), IFRS, or U.S. GAAP.

Notices of proposed legislation to be considered by parliament are published, including the text of the laws, the dates of the readings, and whether or not the laws eventually pass. The government has established a centralized Internet portal (www.reach.gov.sg ) to solicit feedback on selected draft legislation and regulations, a process that is being used with increasing frequency. There is no stipulated consultative period.  Results of consultations are usually consolidated and published on relevant websites. As noted in the “Openness to Foreign Investment” section, some U.S. companies, in particular in the telecommunications and media sectors, are concerned about the government’s lack of transparency in its regulatory and rule-making process.  However, many U.S. firms report they have opportunities to weigh in on pending legislation that affects their industries.  These mechanisms also apply to investment laws and regulations.

The Parliament of Singapore website (https://www.parliament.gov.sg/parliamentary-business/bills-introduced ) publishes a database of all bills introduced, read, and passed in Parliament in chronological order as of 2006. The contents are the actual draft texts of the proposed legislation/legislative amendments. All statutes are also publicly available in the Singapore Statutes Online website (https://sso.agc.gov.sg ). However, there is no centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published. Regulatory actions are published separately on websites of Statutory Boards.

Enforcement of regulatory offences is governed by both acts of parliament and subsidiary legislation. Enforcement powers of government statutory bodies are typically enshrined in the act of Parliament constituting that statutory body. There is accountability to Parliament for enforcement action through question time, where members of parliament may raise questions with the ministers on their respective ministries’ responsibilities.

Singapore’s judicial system and courts serve as the oversight mechanism in respect of executive action (such as the enforcement of regulatory offences) and dispense justice based on law. The Supreme Court, which is made up of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, hears both civil and criminal matters. The Chief Justice heads the Judiciary. The President appoints the Chief Justice, the Judges of Appeal and the Judges of the High Court if she, acting at her discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister.

No systemic regulatory reforms or enforcement reforms relevant to foreign investors were announced in 2020. The Monetary Authority of Singapore focuses enforcement efforts on timely disclosure of corporate information, business conduct of financial advisors, compliance with anti-money laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism requirements, deterring stock market abuse, and insider trading. In March 2019, MAS published its inaugural Enforcement Report detailing enforcement measures and publishes recent enforcement actions on its website (https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/enforcement/enforcement-actions ).

International Regulatory Considerations

Singapore was the 2018 chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is working towards the 2025 ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint aimed at achieving a single market and production base, with a free flow of goods, services, and investment within the region. While ASEAN is working towards regulatory harmonization, there are no regional regulatory systems in place; instead, ASEAN agreements and regulations are enacted through each ASEAN Member State’s domestic regulatory system.  While Singapore has expressed interest in driving intra-regional trade, the dynamics of ASEAN economies are convergent.

The WTO’s 2016 trade policy review notes that Singapore’s guiding principle for standardization is to align national standards with international standards, and Singapore is an elected member of the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Councils. Singapore encourages the direct use of international standards whenever possible. Singapore standards (SS) are developed when there is no appropriate international standard equivalent, or when there is a need to customize standards to meet domestic requirements. At the end of 2015, Singapore had a stock of 553 SS, about 40 percent of which were references to international standards. Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore Food Agency, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry are the three national enquiry points under the TBT Agreement. There are no known reports of omissions in reporting to TBT.

A non-exhaustive list of major international norms and standards referenced or incorporated into the country’s regulatory systems include Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, Common Reporting Standards (CRS), Basel III, EU Dual-Use Export Control Regulation, Exchange of Information on Request, 27 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on labor rights and governance, UN conventions, and WTO agreements.

Singapore is signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The WTO reports that Singapore has fully implemented the TFA (https://www.tfadatabase.org/members/singapore ).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Singapore’s legal system has its roots in English common law and practice and is enforced by courts of law. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. In the 2020 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, it is ranked overall twelfth in the world, first on order and security, third on regulatory enforcement, third in absence of corruption, sixth on civil and criminal justice, twenty-ninth on constraints on government powers, twenty-sixth on open government, and thirty-second on fundamental rights. Singapore’s legal procedures are ranked first in the world in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business sub-indicator on contract enforcement which measures speed, cost, and quality of judicial processes to resolve a commercial dispute. The judicial system remains independent of the executive branch and the executive does not interfere in judiciary matters.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore strives to promote an efficient, business-friendly regulatory environment. Tax, labor, banking and finance, industrial health and safety, arbitration, wage, and training rules and regulations are formulated and reviewed with the interests of both foreign investors and local enterprises in mind. Starting in 2005, a Rules Review Panel, comprising senior civil servants, began overseeing a review of all rules and regulations; this process will be repeated every five years. A Pro-Enterprise Panel of high-level public sector and private sector representatives examines feedback from businesses on regulatory issues and provides recommendations to the government. (https://www.mti.gov.sg/PEP/About)

The Cybersecurity Act, which came into force in August 2018, establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework for cybersecurity. The Act provides the Commissioner of Cyber Security with powers to investigate, prevent, and assess the potential impact of cyber security incidents and threats in Singapore.  These can include requiring persons and organizations to provide requested information, requiring the owner of a computer system to take any action to assist with cyber investigations, directing organizations to remediate cyber incidents, and, if safeguards have been met, authorizing officers to enter premises, and installing software and take possession of computer systems to prevent serious cyber-attacks in the event of severe threat. The Act also establishes a framework for the designation and regulation of Critical Information Infrastructure (CII). Requirements for CII owners include a mandatory incident reporting regime, regular audits and risk assessments, and participation in national cyber security stress tests. In addition, the Act will establish a regulatory regime for cyber security service providers and required licensing for penetration testing and managed security operations center (SOC) monitoring services. U.S. business chambers have expressed concern about the effects of licensing and regularly burdens on compliance costs, insufficient checks and balances on the investigatory powers of the authorities, and the absence of a multidirectional cyber threat sharing framework that includes protections from liability. Under the law, additional measures, such as the Cybersecurity Labelling Scheme, continue to be introduced.  Authorities stress that, “in view of the need to strike a good balance between industry development and cybersecurity needs, the licensing framework will take a light-touch approach.”

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry and is tasked with administering and enforcing the Competition Act. The act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices; abuse of dominance; enforcement and appeals process; and mergers and acquisitions. The Competition Act was enacted in 2004 in accordance with U.S-Singapore FTA commitments, which contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that Singapore’s government linked companies (GLC) will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the FTA. A 2018 addition to the act gives the CCCS additional administrative power to protect consumers against unfair trade practices.

The most recent infringement decision issued by CCCS occurred in January 2019 when three competing hotel operators, including a major British hospitality company, exchanged “commercially sensitive” information. The operators were fined a total financial penalty of $1.1 million for conduct potentially resulting in reduced competitive pressure on the market. No other cases tied to commercial behavior in 2019 or the first quarter of 2020 have received penalties from CCCS.

Expropriation and Compensation

Singapore has not expropriated foreign-owned property and has no laws that force foreign investors to transfer ownership to local interests. Singapore has signed investment promotion and protection agreements with a wide range of countries. These agreements mutually protect nationals or companies of either country against certain non-commercial risks, such as expropriation and nationalization and remain in effect unless otherwise terminated. The USSFTA contains strong investor protection provisions relating to expropriation of private property and the need to follow due process; provisions are in place for an owner to receive compensation based on fair market value. No disputes are pending.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards (1958 New York Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. Singapore acceded to the 1958 New York Convention in August 1986 and gives effect to it via the International Arbitration Act (IAA). The 1958 New York Convention is annexed to the IAA as the Second Schedule. Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention. ( http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3f833e8e-722a-4fca-8393-f35e59ed1440 )

Domestic arbitration in Singapore is governed by the Arbitration Act (Cap 10). The Arbitration Act was enacted to align the laws applicable to domestic arbitration with the model law.

Singapore is also a party to the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, further referred to as the “Convention.” This Convention provides a process for parties to enforce or invoke an international commercial mediated settlement agreement once the conditions and requirements of the Convention are met. Singapore has put in place domestic legislation, the Singapore Convention on Mediation Bill 2020, which was passed in Parliament on 4 February 2020. On 25 February 2020, Singapore and Fiji were the first two countries to deposit their respective instruments of ratification of the Convention at the United Nations Headquarters. The Convention will enter into force six months after the third State deposits its instrument of ratification, acceptance and approval or accession. Singapore’s arbitration center settled a record high number of cases in 2020 and opened a New York City office.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

After Singapore’s accession to the New York Convention of 1958 on August 21, 1986, it re-enacted most of its provisions in Part III of the IAA. By acceding to the New York Convention, Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the Convention. Singapore is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and, under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (RECJA), recognizes judgments made in the United Kingdom, as well as jurisdictions that are part of the Commonwealth and with which Singapore has reciprocal arrangements for the recognition and enforcement of judgments. The Act lists the countries with which such arrangements exist, and of the 53 countries that are members of the Commonwealth, nine have been listed. ( https://sso.agc.gov.sg/SL/RECJA1921-N1?DocDate=19990701 ) Singapore also has reciprocal recognition of foreign judgements with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. The ICSID Convention has an enforcement mechanism for arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 New York Convention. Investor-State dispute settlement provisions in Singapore’s trade agreements, including the USSFTA, refer to ICSIID rules as one of the possible options for resolving disputes. Investor-State arbitration under rules other than ICSID’s would result in an arbitration award that may be enforced using the 1958 New York Convention.

Singapore has had no investment disputes with U.S. persons or other foreign investors in the past ten years that have proceeded to litigation. Any disputes settled by arbitration/mediation would remain confidential. There have been no claims made by U.S. investors under the USSFTA. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors. The government is investing in establishing Singapore as a global mediation hub.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Dispute resolution (DR) institutions include the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), and the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA). Singapore’s extensive dispute resolution institutions and integrated dispute resolution facilities at Maxwell Chambers have contributed to its development as a regional hub for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The SIAC is the major arbitral institution and its increasing caseload reflects Singapore’s policy of encouraging the use of alternative modes of dispute resolution, including arbitration.

Arbitral awards in Singapore, for either domestic or international arbitration, are legally binding and enforceable in Singapore domestic courts, as well as in jurisdictions that have ratified the 1958 New York Convention.

The International Arbitration Act (IAA) regulates international arbitrations in Singapore. Domestic arbitrations are regulated by the Arbitration Act (AA). The IAA is heavily based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, with a few significant differences. For example, arbitration agreements must be in writing. This requirement is deemed to be satisfied if the content is recorded in any form, including electronic communication, regardless of whether the arbitration agreement was concluded orally, by conduct, or by other means (e.g. an arbitration clause in a contract or a separate agreement can be incorporated into a contract by reference). The AA is also primarily based on the UNCITRAL Model Law. There have been no reported complaints about the partiality or transparency of court processes in investment and commercial disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Singapore has bankruptcy laws allowing both debtors and creditors to file a bankruptcy claim. Singapore ranks number 27 for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index. While Singapore performed well in recovery rate and time of recovery following bankruptcies, the country did not score well on cost of proceedings or insolvency frameworks. In particular, the insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for sale of substantial assets of the debtor or approval by the creditors for selection or appointment of the insolvency representative.

Singapore has made several reforms to enhance corporate rescue and restructuring processes, including features from Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Amendments to the Companies Act, which came into force in May 2017, include additional disclosure requirements by debtors, rescue financing provisions, provisions to facilitate the approval of pre-packaged restructurings, increased debtor protections, and cram-down provisions that will allow a scheme to be approved by the court even if a class of creditors oppose the scheme, provided the dissenting class of creditors are not unfairly prejudiced by the scheme.

The Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act passed in 2018, but the expected effective date of the bill has been delayed from the first half of 2019 into 2020. It updates the insolvency legislation and introduces a significant number of new provisions, particularly with respect to corporate insolvency. It mandates licensing, qualifications, standards, and disciplinary measures for insolvency practitioners. It also includes standalone voidable transaction provisions for corporate insolvency and, a new wrongful trading provision. The act allows ‘out of court’ commencement of judicial management, permits judicial managers to assign the proceeds of certain insolvency related claims, restricts the operation of contractual ‘ipso facto clauses’ upon the commencement of certain restructuring and insolvency procedures, and modifies the operation of the scheme of arrangement cross class ‘cram down’ power. Authorities continue to seek public consultations of subsidiary legislation to be drafted under the act.

Two MAS-recognized consumer credit bureaus operate in Singapore: the Credit Bureau (Singapore) Pte Ltd and Experian Credit Bureau Singapore Pte Ltd. U.S. industry advocates enhancements to Singapore’s credit bureau system, in particular, adoption of an open admission system for all lenders, including non-banks. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Singapore. ( https://www.acra.gov.sg/CA_2017/ )

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The EDB is the lead investment promotion agency facilitating foreign investment into Singapore ( https://www.edb.gov.sg ). The EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development, and works with international businesses, both foreign and local, by providing information, connection to partners, and access to government incentives for their investments. The Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore’s lead public sector agency focused on economic-oriented research to advance scientific discovery and innovative technology. ( https://www.a-star.edu.sg ) The National Research Foundation (NRF) provides competitive grants for applied research through an integrated grant management system. ( https://researchgrant.gov.sg/pages/index.aspx ) Various government agencies (including Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS, NRF, and EDB) provide venture capital co-funding for startups and commercialization of intellectual property.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Singapore has nine free-trade zones (FTZs) in five geographical areas operated by three FTZ authorities. The FTZs may be used for storage and repackaging of import and export cargo, and goods transiting Singapore for subsequent re-export. Manufacturing is not carried out within the zones. Foreign and local firms have equal access to the FTZ facilities.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements are applied uniformly and systematically to both domestic and foreign investors. Singapore has no forced localization policy requiring domestic content in goods or technology. The government does not require investors to purchase from local sources or specify a percentage of output for export. There are no rules forcing the transfer of technology. There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. The industry regulator is the IMDA, a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information.

In May 2020, Singapore tightened requirements for hiring foreign workers, including raising minimum salary thresholds and additional enforcement of penalties for employers not giving “fair consideration” to local applicants before hiring foreign workers. Personal data matters are independently overseen by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers and enforces the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) of 2012. The PDPA governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data by the private sector and covers both electronic and non-electronic data. Singapore is currently reviewing the PDPA to ensure that it keeps pace with the evolving needs of businesses and individuals in a digital economy such as introducing an enhanced framework for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data and a mandatory data breach notification regime.

Singapore does not have a data localization policy. Singapore participates in various regional and international frameworks that promote interoperability and harmonization of rules to facilitate cross-border data flows. The ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance (FDFG) is one example. Under FDFG, Singapore will focus on developing model contractual clauses and certification for cross border data flows within the ASEAN region. Another is Singapore’s participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) and Privacy Recognition for Processors systems, to facilitate data transfers for certified organizations across APEC economies.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are enforced in Singapore. Residents have access to mortgages and liens, with reliable recording of properties. In the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, Singapore ranks first in the world in enforcing contracts and number 21st in registering property.

Foreigners are not allowed to purchase public housing in Singapore, and prior approval from the Singapore Land Authority is required to purchase landed residential property and residential land for development. Foreigners can purchase non-landed, private sector housing (e.g., condominiums or any unit within a building) without the need to obtain prior approval. However, they are not allowed to acquire all the apartments or units in a development without prior approval. These restrictions also apply to foreign companies.

There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of industrial and commercial real estate. Since July 2018, foreigners who purchase homes in Singapore are required to pay an additional effective 20 percent tax on top of standard buyer’s taxes. However, U.S. citizens are accorded national treatment under the FTA, meaning only second and subsequent purchases of residential property will be subject to 12 and 15 percent additional duties, equivalent to Singaporean citizens.

The availability of covered bond legislation under MAS Notice 648 has provided an incentive for Singapore financial institutions to issue covered bonds. Under Notice 648, only a bank incorporated in Singapore may issue covered bonds. The three main Singapore banks: DBS, OCBC, and UOB, all have in place covered bond programs, with the issues offered to private investors. The banking industry has made suggestions to allow the use of covered bonds in repossession transactions with the central bank and to increase the encumbrance limit, currently at four percent. ( http://www.mas.gov.sg/regulations/notices/notice-648 )

Intellectual Property Rights

Singapore maintains one of the strongest intellectual property rights regimes in Asia. The chief executive of Singapore’s Intellectual Property Office was elected director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in April 2020. However, some concerns remain in certain areas such as business software piracy, online piracy, and enforcement.

Effective January 1, 2020, all patent applications must be fully examined by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) to ensure that any foreign-granted patents fully satisfy Singapore’s patentability criteria. The Registered Designs (Amendment) Act broadens the scope of registered designs to include virtual designs and color as a design feature and will stipulate the default owner of designs to be the designer of a commissioned design, rather than the commissioning party.

The USSFTA ensures that government agencies will not grant regulatory approvals to patent- infringing products, but Singapore does allow parallel imports. Under the Patents Act, with regards to pharmaceutical products, the patent owner has the right to bring an action to stop an importer of “grey market goods” from importing the patent owner’s patented product, provided that the product has not previously been sold or distributed in Singapore, the importation results in a breach of contract between the proprietor of the patent and any person licensed by the proprietor of the patent to distribute the product outside Singapore and the importer has knowledge of such.

The USSFTA ensures protection of test data and trade secrets submitted to the government for regulatory approval purposes. Disclosure of such information is prohibited. Such data may not be used for approval of the same or similar products without the consent of the party who submitted the data for a period of five years from the date of approval of the pharmaceutical product and 10 years from the date of approval of an agricultural chemical. Singapore has no specific legislation concerning protection of trade secrets. Instead, it protects investors’ commercially valuable proprietary information under common law by the Law of Confidence as well as legislation such as the Penal Code (e.g., theft) and the Computer Misuse Act (e.g., unauthorized access to a computer system to download information). U.S. industry has expressed concern that this provision is inadequate.

As a WTO member, Singapore is party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It is a signatory to other international intellectual property rights agreements, including the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Madrid Protocol, and the Budapest Treaty. The WIPO Secretariat opened a regional office in Singapore in 2005. ( http://www.wipo.int/about-wipo/en/offices/singapore/)  Amendments to the Trademark Act, which were passed in January 2007, fulfilled Singapore’s obligations in WIPO’s revised Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks.

Singapore ranked 11th out of 53 in the world in the 2020 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International Intellectual Property (IP) Index. The index noted that Singapore’s key strengths include an advanced national IP framework and efforts to accelerate research, patent examination, and grants. The index also lauded Singapore as a global leader in patent protection and online copyright enforcement. Despite a decrease in estimated software piracy from 35 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2020, the index noted that piracy levels remain high for a developed, high-income country. Lack of transparency and data on customs seizures of IP-infringing goods is also noted as a key area of weakness.

Singapore does not publicly report the statistics on seizures of counterfeit goods and does not rate highly on enforcement of physical counterfeit goods, online sales of counterfeit goods or digital online piracy, according to the 2018 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index. Singapore is not listed in USTR’s 2020 Special 301 Report, but some Singapore-based online retailers are named in USTR’s 2019 Review of Notorious Markets. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment and fixed asset investments. While it welcomes capital market investments, the government has introduced macro-prudential policies aimed at reducing foreign speculative inflows in the real estate sector since 2009. The government promotes Singapore’s position as an asset and wealth management center, and assets under management grew 5.4 percent in 2018 to USD 2.4 trillion (SD 3.4 trillion) – the latest year for which MAS conducted a survey.

The Government of Singapore facilitates the free flow of financial resources into product and factor markets, and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) is Singapore’s stock market. An effective regulatory system exists to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors can access credit, U.S. dollars, Singapore dollars (SGD), and other foreign currencies on the local market. The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments through banks operating in Singapore. The government respects IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Money and Banking System

Singapore’s banking system is sound and well regulated by MAS, and the country serves as a financial hub for the region. Banks have a very high domestic penetration rate, and according to World Bank Financial Inclusion indicators, over 97 percent of persons held a financial account in 2017. (latest year available). Local Singapore banks saw net profits rise 27 percent in the last quarter of 2019. Banks are statutorily prohibited from engaging in non-financial business. Banks can hold 10 percent or less in non-financial companies as an “equity portfolio investment.” At the end of 2019, the non-performing loans ratio (NPL ratio) of the three local banks remained at an averaged 1.5 percent since the last quarter of 2018.

Foreign banks require licenses to operate in the country. The tiered licenses, for Merchant, Offshore, Wholesale, Full Banks and Qualifying Full Banks (QFBs) subject banks to further prudential safeguards in return for offering a greater range of services. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, U.S.-licensed full-service banks that are also QFBs have been able to operate at an unlimited number of locations (branches or off-premises ATMs) versus 25 for non-U.S. full service foreign banks with QFB status.

Under the OECD Common Reporting Standards (CRS), which has been in effect since January 2017, Singapore-based Financial Institutions (SGFIs) – depository institutions such as banks, specified insurance companies, investment entities, and custodial institutions – are required to: 1) establish the tax residency status of all their account holders; 2) collect and retain CRS information for all non-Singapore tax residents in the case of new accounts; and 3) report to tax authorities the financial account information of account holders who are tax residents of jurisdictions with which Singapore has a Competent Authority Agreement (CAA) to exchange the information. As of December 2019, Singapore has established more than 80 exchange relationships, include with the United States, established in September 2018.

U.S. financial regulations do not restrict foreign banks’ ability to hold accounts for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens are encouraged to alert the nearest U.S. Embassy of any practices they encounter with regard to the provision of financial services.

Fintech investments in Singapore rose from USD 365 million in 2018 to USD 861 million in 2019. To strengthen Singapore’s position as a global Fintech hub, MAS has created a dedicated Fintech Office as a one-stop virtual entity for all Fintech-related matters to enable experimentation and promote an open-API (Application Programming Interfaces) in the financial industry. Investment in payments start-ups accounted for about 40 percent of all funds. Singapore has more than 50 innovation labs established by global financial institutions and technology companies.

MAS also aims to be a regional leader in blockchain technologies and has worked to position Singapore as a financial technology center. MAS and the Association of Banks in Singapore are prototyping the use of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) for inter-bank clearing and settlement of payments and securities. Following a five-year collaborative project to understand the technology, a test network launched to facilitate collaboration in the cross-border blockchain ecosystem. Technical specifications for the functionalities and connectivity interfaces of the prototype network are publicly available. ( https://www.mas.gov.sg/schemes-and-initiatives/Project-Ubin ).

Alternative financial services include retail and corporate non-bank lending via finance companies, cooperative societies, and pawnshops; and burgeoning financial technology-based services across a wide range of sectors including: crowdfunding, initial coin offerings, and payment services and remittance. In January 2020, the Payment Services Bill went into effect, which will require all cryptocurrency service providers to be licensed with the intent to provide more user protection. Smaller payment firms will receive a different classification from larger institutions and will be less heavily regulated. Key infrastructure supporting Singapore’s financial market include interbank (MEP), Foreign exchange (CLS, CAPS), retail (SGDCCS, USDCCS, CTS, IBG, ATM, FAST, NETS, EFTPOS), securities (MEPS+-SGS, CDP, SGX-DC) and derivatives settlements (SGX-DC, APS) ( https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/payments/payment-systems )

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The USSFTA commits Singapore to the free transfer of capital, unimpeded by regulatory restrictions. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings and capital, and maintains no significant restrictions on remittances, foreign exchange transactions and capital movements.

Singapore’s monetary policy has been centered on the management of the exchange rate since 1981, with the stated primary objective of promoting medium term price stability as a sound basis for sustainable economic growth. As described by MAS, there are three main features of the exchange rate system in Singapore: 1) MAS operates a managed float regime for the Singapore dollar with the trade-weighted exchange rate allowed to fluctuate within a policy band; 2) the Singapore dollar is managed against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners; and 3) the exchange rate policy band is periodically reviewed to ensure that it remains consistent with the underlying fundamentals of the economy.

Remittance Policies

There are no time or amount limitations on remittances. No significant changes to investment remittance were implemented or announced over the past year. Local and foreign banks may impose their own limitations on daily remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Government of Singapore has three key investment entities: GIC Private Limited (GIC) is the sovereign wealth fund in Singapore that manages the government’s substantial foreign investments, fiscal, and foreign reserves, with the stated objective to achieve long-term returns and preserve the international purchasing power of the reserves. Temasek is a holding company wholly owned by the Ministry of Finance with investments in Singapore and abroad. MAS, as the central bank of Singapore, manages the Official Foreign Reserves, and a significant proportion of its portfolio is invested in liquid financial market instruments.

GIC does not publish the size of the funds under management, but some industry observers estimate its managed assets may exceed $400 billion. GIC does not invest domestically, but manages Singapore’s international investments, which are generally passive (non-controlling) investments in publicly traded entities. The United States is its top investment destination, accounting for 34 percent of GIC’s portfolio as of March 2020, while Asia (excluding Japan) accounts for 19 percent, the Eurozone 13 percent, Japan 13 percent, and UK 6 percent. Investments in the United States are diversified and include industrial and commercial properties, student housing, power transmission companies, and financial, retail and business services. GIC is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. Although not required by law, GIC has published an annual report since 2008.

Temasek began as a holding company for Singapore’s state-owned enterprises, now GLCs, but has since branched out to other asset classes and often holds significant stake in companies. As of March 2020, Temasek’s portfolio value reached $226 billion, and its asset exposure to Singapore is 24 percent; 42 percent in the rest of Asia, and 17 percent in North America. According to the Temasek Charter, Temasek delivers sustainable value over the long term for its stakeholders. Temasek has published a Temasek Review annually since 2004. The statements only provide consolidated financial statements, which aggregate all of Temasek and its subsidiaries into a single financial report. A major international audit firm audits Temasek Group’s annual statutory financial statements. GIC and Temasek uphold the Santiago Principles for sovereign investments.

Other investing entities of government funds include EDB Investments Pte Ltd, Singapore’s Housing Development Board, and other government statutory boards with funding decisions driven by goals emanating from the central government.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Singapore has an extensive network of full and partial SOEs held under the umbrella of Temasek Holdings, a holding company with the Ministry of Finance as its sole shareholder. Singapore SOEs play a substantial role in the domestic economy, especially in strategically important sectors including telecommunications, media, healthcare, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. In addition, the SOEs are also present in many other sectors of the economy, including banking, subway, airline, consumer/lifestyle, commodities trading, oil and gas engineering, postal services, infrastructure, and real estate.

The Government of Singapore emphasizes that government-linked entities operate on an equal basis with both local and foreign businesses without exception. There is no published list of SOEs.

Temasek’s annual report notes that its portfolio companies are guided and managed by their respective boards and management, and Temasek does not direct their business decisions or operations. However, as a substantial shareholder, corporate governance within government linked companies typically are guided or influenced by policies developed by Temasek. There are differences in corporate governance disclosures and practices across the GLCs, and GLC boards are allowed to determine their own governance practices, with Temasek advisors occasionally meeting with the companies to make recommendations. GLC board seats are not specifically allocated to government officials, although it “leverages on its networks to suggest qualified individuals for consideration by the respective boards,” and leaders formerly from the armed forces or civil service are often represented on boards and fill senior management positions. Temasek exercises its shareholder rights to influence the strategic directions of its companies but does not get involved in the day-to-day business and commercial decisions of its firms and subsidiaries.

GLCs operate on a commercial basis and compete on an equal basis with private businesses, both local and foreign. Singapore officials highlight that the government does not interfere with the operations of GLCs or grant them special privileges, preferential treatment or hidden subsidies, asserting that GLCs are subject to the same regulatory regime and discipline of the market as private sector companies. However, observers have been critical of cases where GLCs have entered into new lines of business or where government agencies have “corporatized” certain government functions, in both circumstances entering into competition with already existing private businesses. Some private sector companies have said they encountered unfair business practices and opaque bidding processes that appeared to favor incumbent, government-linked firms. In addition, they note that the GLC’s institutional relationships with the government give them natural advantages in terms of access to cheaper funding and opportunities to shape the economic policy agenda in ways that benefit their companies.

The USSFTA contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that GLCs will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the USSFTA. In accordance with its USSFTA commitments, Singapore enacted the Competition Act in 2004 and established the Competition Commission of Singapore in January 2005. The Competition Act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices, abuse of dominance, enforcement and appeals process, and mergers and acquisitions.

Privatization Program

The government has privatized GLCs in multiple sectors and has not publicly announced further privatization plans, but is likely to retain controlling stakes in strategically important sectors, including telecommunications, media, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. The Energy Market Authority is extending the liberalization of the retail market from commercial and industrial consumers with an average monthly electricity consumption of at least 2,000 kWh to households and smaller businesses. The Electricity Act and the Code of Conduct for Retail Electricity Licensees govern licensing and standards for electricity retail companies.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The awareness and implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Singapore has been increasing since the formation of the Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS) under the United Nations Global Compact network, with the goals of encouraging companies to adopt sustainability principles related to human and labor rights, environmental conservation, and anti-corruption. GCNS facilitates exchanges, conducts research, and provides training in Singapore to build capacity in areas including sustainability reporting, supply chain management, ISO 26000, and measuring and reporting carbon emissions.

A 2019 World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature survey showed a lack of transparency by Singapore companies in disclosing palm oil sources. However, there is growing awareness and the Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (Saspo) has received additional pledges in by companies to adhere to standards for palm oil sourcing set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A group of food and beverage, retail, and hospitality companies announced in January 2019 what the WWF calls “the most impactful business response to-date on plastics.” The pact, initiated by WWF and supported by the National Environment Agency, is a commitment to significantly reduce plastic production and usage by 2030.

In June 2016, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) introduced mandatory, comply-or-explain, sustainability reporting requirements for all listed companies, including material environmental, social and governance practices, from the financial year ending December 31, 2017 onwards. The Singapore Environmental Council (SEC) operates a green labeling scheme, which endorses environmentally friendly products, numbering over 3,000 from 2729 countries. The Association of Banks in Singapore has issued voluntary guidelines to banks in Singapore last updated in July 2018 encouraging them to adopt sustainable lending practices, including the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into their lending and business practices. Singapore-based banks are listed in a 2018 Market Forces report as major lenders in regional coal financing.

Singapore has not developed a National Action Plan on business and human rights, but promotes responsible business practices, and encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted CSR principles. The government does not explicitly factor responsible business conduct (RBC) policies into its procurement decisions.

The host government effectively and fairly enforces domestic laws with regard to human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. The private sector’s impact on migrant workers and their rights, and domestic migrant workers in particular (due to the latter’s exemption from the Employment Act which stipulates the rights of workers), remains an area of advocacy by civil society groups. The government has taken incremental steps to improve the channels of redress and enforcement of migrant workers’ rights; however, key concerns about legislative protections remain unaddressed for domestic migrant workers. The government generally encourages businesses to comply with international standards. However, there are no specific mentions of the host government encouraging adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance, or supply chain due diligence measures.

The Companies Act principally governs companies in Singapore. Key areas of corporate governance covered under the act include separation of ownership from management, fiduciary duties of directors, shareholder remedies, and capital maintenance rules. Limited liability partnerships are governed by the Limited Liability Partnerships Act. Certain provisions in other statutes such as the Securities and Futures Act are also relevant to listed companies. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code of Corporate Governance (“Code”). Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code and if their practices vary from any provision in the Code, they must explain the variation and demonstrate the variation is consistent with the relevant principle. The revised Code of Corporate Governance will impact Annual Reports covering financial years from January 1, 2019 onward. The revised code encourages board renewal, strengthens director independence, increases transparency of remuneration practices, enhances board diversity, and encourages communication with all stakeholders. MAS also established an independent Corporate Governance Advisory Committee (CGAC) to advocated good corporate governance practices in February 2019. The CGAC monitors companies’ implementation of the code and advises regulators on corporate governance issues.

There are independent NGOs promoting and monitoring RBC. Those monitoring or advocating around RBC are generally able to do their work freely within most areas. However, labor unions are tightly controlled and legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under the Trade Disputes Act.

Singapore has no oil, gas, or mineral resources and is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). A small sector in Singapore processes rare minerals and complies with responsible supply chains and conflict mineral principles. Under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework, it is a requirement for Corporate Service Providers to develop and implement internal policies, procedures and controls to comply with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations on combating of money laundering and terrorism financing.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption

Singapore actively enforces its strong anti-corruption laws, and corruption is not cited as a concern for foreign investors. Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index ranks Singapore third of 178 countries globally, the highest-ranking Asian country. The Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), and the Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act provide the legal basis for government action by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), which is the only agency authorized under the PCA to investigate corruption offences and other related offences. These laws cover acts of corruption within Singapore as well as those committed by Singaporeans abroad. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials, and to political parties. The CPIB is effective and non-discriminatory. Singapore is generally perceived to be one of the least corrupt countries in the world, and corruption is not identified as an obstacle to foreign direct investment in Singapore. Recent corporate fraud scandals, particularly in the commodity trading sector, have been publicly, swiftly, and firmly reprimanded by the government. Singapore is a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention, but not the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau
2 Lengkok Bahru, Singapore 159047
+65 6270 0141  info@cpib.gov.sg

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:

Transparency International
Alt-Moabit 96
10559 Berlin, Germany +49 30 3438 200

10. Political and Security Environment

Singapore’s political environment is stable and there is no recent history of incidents involving politically motivated damage to foreign investments in Singapore. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has dominated Singapore’s parliamentary government since 1959 and currently controls 83 of the 89 regularly contested parliamentary seats. Singaporean opposition parties, which currently hold six regularly contested parliamentary seats and three additional seats reserved to the opposition by the constitution, do not usually espouse views that are radically different from mainstream public opinion.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In December 2020, Singapore’s labor market totaled 3.6 million workers; this includes about 1.4 million foreigners, of whom about 85 percent are basic skilled or semi-skilled workers. The labor market continues to be tight, with overall unemployment rate averaging in the 3.04 percent in 2020. The 2020 budget, announced in February and two subsequent supplementary budgets announced in March and April, provided for substantial wage and training support for all firms during the COVID-19 outbreak. In sectors, such as travel and tourism, the government offered temporary employment or training for workers placed on unpaid leave due to COVID-19. The 2021 budget continues this support, although at lower levels and in a more focused manner, since the government expects overall GDP growth to return. Local labor laws allow for relatively free hiring and firing practices. Either party can terminate employment by giving the other party the required notice. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) must approve employment of foreigners.

Since 2011, the government has introduced policy measures to support productivity increases coupled with reduced dependence on foreign labor. In Budget 2019, MOM announced a decrease in the foreign worker quota ceiling from 40 percent to 38 percent on January 1, 2020 and to 35 percent on January 1, 2021. The quota reduction does not apply to those on Employment Passes (EPs) which are high skilled workers making above $33,100 per year. In Budget 2020, the foreign worker quota was cut further for mid-skilled (“S Pass”) workers in construction, marine shipyards, and the process sectors from 20 to 18 percent by January 1, 2021. The quota will be further reduced to 15 percent on January 1, 2023. Singapore’s labor force fell for the first time in a decade and is expected to face significant demographic headwinds from an aging population and low birth rates, alongside restrictions on foreign workers. Singapore’s local workforce growth is slowing, heading for stagnation over the next ten years.

To address concerns over an aging and shrinking workforce, MOM has expanded its training and grant programs. The government included a number of individual and company subsidies for existing and new programs in the Budget 2020 and 2021, as well as an unprecedented number of supplementary budgets during the COVID-19 outbreak. An example of an existing program is SkillsFuture, a government initiative managed by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), a statutory board under the Ministry of Education, designed to provide all Singaporeans with enhanced opportunities and skills-capacity building. SSG also administers the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ), a national credential system that trains, develops, assesses, and certifies skills and competencies for the workforce.

All foreigners must have a valid work pass before they can start work in Singapore, with EPs (for professionals, managers and executives), S Pass (for mid-level skilled staff), and Work Permits (for semi-skilled workers), among the most widely issued. Workers need to have a job with minimum fixed monthly salary and acceptable qualifications to be eligible for the Employment Pass and S Pass. MOM has increased minimum salaries restricting the ability of some companies to hire foreign workers, including spouses of employment pass holders. The government further regulates the inflow of foreign workers through the Foreign Worker Levy (FWL) and the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC). The DRC is the maximum permitted ratio of foreign workers to the total workforce that a company can hire and serves as a quota on the hiring of foreign workers. The DRC varies across sectors. Employers of S Pass and Work Permit holders are required to pay a monthly FWL to the government. The FWL varies according to the skills, qualifications and experience of their employees. The FWL is set on a sector-by-sector basis and is subject to annual revisions. FWLs have been progressively increased for most sectors since 2012.

MOM requires employers to consider Singaporeans before hiring skilled professional foreigners. The Fair Consideration Framework, implemented in August 2014, affects employers who apply for EPs, the work pass for foreign professionals working in professional, manager, and executive (PME) posts. Companies have noted inconsistent and increasingly burdensome documentation requirements and excessive qualification criteria to approve EP applications. Under the rules, firms making new EP applications must first advertise the job vacancy in a new jobs bank administered by Workforce Singapore (WSG), ( http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg ) for at least 28 days. The jobs bank is free for use by companies and job seekers and the job advertisement must be open to all, including Singaporeans. Employers are encouraged to keep records of their interview process as proof that they have done due diligence in trying to look for a Singaporean worker. If an EP is still needed, the employer will have to make a statutory declaration that a job advertisement on http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg had been made. Smaller firms with 10 or fewer employees and jobs, which pay a fixed monthly salary of $10,609 or more, are exempt from the requirements, which were newly tightened and took effect from July 2018. The minimum fixed salary will be raised to $14,145 on May 1, 2021.

Consistent with Singapore’s WTO obligations, intra-corporate transfers (ICT) are allowed for managers, executives, and specialists who had worked for at least one year in the firm before being posted to Singapore. ICT would still be required to meet all EP criteria, but the requirement for an advertisement on http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg would be waived. In April 2016, MOM outlined measures to refine the work pass applications process, looking not only at the qualifications of individuals, but at company-related factors. Companies found not to have a “healthy Singaporean core, lacking a demonstrated commitment to developing a Singaporean core, and not found to be “relevant” to Singapore’s economy and society, will be labeled “triple weak” and put on a watch list. Companies unable to demonstrate progress may have work pass privileges suspended after a period of scrutiny. Since 2016, MOM has placed approximately 1,200 companies on the FCF Watchlist. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices have worked with 260 companies to be successfully removed from the watchlist.

The Employment Act covers all employees under a contract of service, and under the act, employees who have served the company for at least two years are eligible for retrenchment benefits, and the amount of compensation depends on the contract of service or what is agreed collectively. Employers have to abide by notice periods in the employment contract before termination and stipulated minimum periods in the Employment Act in the absence of a notice period previously agreed upon, or provide salary in lieu of notice. Dismissal on grounds of wrongful conduct by the employee is differentiated from retrenchments in the labor laws and is exempted from the above requirements. Employers must notify MOM of retrenchments within five working days after they notify the affected employees to enable the relevant agencies to help affected employees find alternative employment and/or identify relevant training to enhance employability. Singapore does not provide unemployment benefits, but provides training and job matching services to retrenched workers.

Labor laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investment in Singapore. There are no additional or different labor law provisions in free trade zones.

Collective bargaining is a normal part of labor-management relations in all sectors. As of 2018 about 20 percent of the workforce was unionized. Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Almost all unions are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the sole national federation of trade unions in Singapore, which has a close relationship with the PAP ruling party and the government. The current NTUC Secretary General is also a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. Given that nearly all unions are NTUC affiliates, the NTUC has almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consult with unions on both problems, and the Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation issues guidelines calling for early notification to unions of layoffs. Data on coverage of collective bargaining agreements is not publicly available. The Industrial Relations Act (IRA) regulates collective bargaining. The Industrial Arbitration Courts must certify any collective bargaining agreement before it is deemed in effect and can deny certification on public interest grounds. Additionally, the IRA restricts the scope of issues over which workers may bargain, excluding bargaining on hiring, transfer, promotion, dismissal, or reinstatement of workers.

Most labor disagreements are resolved through conciliation and mediation by MOM. Since April 2017, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) under MOM provides advisory and mediation services, including mediation for salary and employment disputes. Where the conciliation process is not successful, the disputing parties may submit their dispute to the IAC for arbitration. Depending on the nature of the dispute, the court may be constituted either by the President of the IAC and a member of the Employer and Employee Panels, or by the President alone. The Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) was established under the Employment Claims Act (2016). To bring a claim before the ECT, parties must first register their claims at the TADM for mediation. Mediation at TADM is compulsory. Only disputes which remain unresolved after mediation at TADM may be referred to the ECT.

The ECT hears statutory salary-related claims, contractual salary-related claims, dismissal claims from employees, and claims for salary in lieu of notice of termination by all employers. There is a limit of $21,200 on claims for cases with TADM mediation, and $14,100 for all other claims. In March 2019, MOM announced that 85 percent of salary claims had been resolved by TADM between April 2017 and December 2018. Salary-related disputes that are not resolved by mediation are covered by the Employment Claims Tribunals under the State Courts. Industrial disputes may also submit their case be referred to the tripartite Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC). The IAC composed has two panels: an employee panel and a management panel. For a majority of dispute hearings, a court is constituted comprising the President of the IAC and a member each from the employee and employer panels’ representatives and chaired by a judge. In some situations, the law provides for compulsory arbitration. The court must certify collective agreements before they go into effect. The court may refuse certification at its discretion on the ground of public interest.

The legal framework in Singapore provides for some restrictions in the registration of trade unions, labor union autonomy and administration, the right to strike, who may serve as union officers or employees, and collective bargaining. Under the Trade Union Act (TUA), every trade union must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions, which has broad discretion to grant, deny, or cancel union registration. The TUA limits the objectives for which unions can spend their funds, including for contributions to a political party or for political purposes, and allows the Registrar to inspect accounts and funds “at any reasonable time.” Legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under TUA. The law requires the majority of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to the majority of those participating in the vote. Strikes cannot be conducted for any reason apart from a dispute in the trade or industry in which the strikers are employed, and it is illegal to conduct a strike if it is “designed or calculated to coerce the government either directly or by inflicting hardship on the community.” Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before conducting a strike. Although workers, other than those employed in the three essential services of water, gas and electricity, may strike, no workers did so since 1986 with the exception of a strike by bus drivers in 2012, but NTUC threatened to strike over concerns in a retrenchment process in July 2020. The law also restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.

The Employment Act, which prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA), strengthens labor trafficking victim protection, and governs labor protections. Other acts protecting the rights of workers include the Occupational Safety and Health Act and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Labor laws set the standard legal workweek at 44 hours, with one rest day each week, and establish a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, with regular inspections designed to enforce the standards. MOM effectively enforces laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health (OSH) laws and implements enforcement procedures and promoted educational and training programs to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents. Changes to the Employment Act took effect on April 1, 2019, including for extension of core provisions to managers and executives, increasing the monthly salary cap, transferring adjudication of wrongful dismissal claims from MOM to the ECT, and increasing flexibility in compensating employees working during public holidays (for more detail see https://www.mom.gov.sg/employment-practices/employment-act  ). All workers, except for public servants, domestic workers and seafarers are covered by the Employment Act, and additional time-based provisions for more vulnerable employees.

Singapore has no across the board minimum wage law, although there are some exceptions in certain low skill industries. Generally, the government follows a policy of allowing free market forces to determine wage levels. In specific sectors where wages have stagnated and market practices such as outsourcing reduce incentive to upskill workers and limit their bargaining power, the government has implemented Progressive Wage Models to uplift wages. These are currently implementing in the cleaning, security, elevator maintenance, and landscape sectors. The National Wage Council (NWC), a tripartite body comprising representatives from the government, employers and unions, recommends non-binding wage adjustments on an annual basis. The NWC recommendations apply to all employees in both domestic and foreign firms, and across the private and public sectors. While the NWC wage guidelines are not mandatory, they are published under the Employment Act and form the basis of wage negotiations between unions and management. The NWC recommendations apply to all employees in both domestic and foreign law firms, and across the public and private sectors. The level of implementation is generally higher among unionized companies compared to non-unionized companies.

MOM is responsible for combating labor trafficking and improving working conditions for workers, and generally enforces anti-trafficking legislation, although some workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors are vulnerable to labor exploitation and abuse. PHTA sets out harsh penalties (including up to nine strokes of the cane and 15 years’ imprisonment) for those found guilty of trafficking, including forced labor, or abetting such activities. The government developed a mechanism for referral of potential trafficking-in-persons activities, to the interagency taskforce, co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower. Some observers note that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor, because they cannot change employers without the consent of the current employer. MOM effectively enforces laws and regulations pertaining to child labor. Penalties for employers that violated child labor laws were subject to fines and/or imprisonment, depending on the violation. Government officials assert that child labor is not a significant issue. The incidence of children in formal employment is low, and almost no abuses are reported.

The USSFTA includes a chapter on labor protections. The labor chapter contains a statement of shared commitment by each party that the principles and rights set forth in Article 17.7 of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its follow-up are recognized and protected by domestic law, and each party shall strive to ensure it does not derogate protections afforded in domestic labor law as an encouragement for trade or investment purposes. The chapter includes the establishment of a labor cooperation mechanism, which promotes the exchange of information on ways to improve labor law and practice, and the advancement of effective implementation.

See the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report as well as the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. (https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/)

Under the 1966 Investment Guarantee Agreement with Singapore, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) offers insurance to U.S. investors in Singapore against currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and losses arising from war. Singapore became a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1998. In March 2019, Singapore and the United States signed a MOU aimed at strengthening collaboration between the infrastructure agency of Singapore, Infrastructure Asia, and OPIC. Under the agreement, both countries will work together on information sharing, deal facilitation, structuring and capacity building initiatives in sectors of mutual interest such as energy, natural resource management, water, waste, transportation, and urban development. The aim is to enhance Singapore-based and U.S. companies’ access to project opportunities, while building on Singapore’s role as an infrastructure hub in Asia.

Singapore’s domestic public infrastructure projects are funded primarily via Singapore government reserves or capital markets, reducing the scope for direct project financing subsidies by foreign governments. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment  Insurance and Development Finance Programs

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

Under the 1966 Investment Guarantee Agreement with Singapore, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) offers insurance to U.S. investors in Singapore against currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and losses arising from war.  Singapore became a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1998.  In March 2019, Singapore and the United States signed a MOU aimed at strengthening collaboration between the infrastructure agency of Singapore, Infrastructure Asia, and OPIC.  Under the agreement, both countries will work together on information sharing, deal facilitation, structuring and capacity building initiatives in sectors of mutual interest such as energy, natural resource management, water, waste, transportation, and urban development.  The aim is to enhance Singapore-based and U.S. companies’ access to project opportunities, while building on Singapore’s role as an infrastructure hub in Asia.

Singapore’s domestic public infrastructure projects are funded primarily via Singapore government reserves or capital markets, reducing the scope for direct project financing subsidies by foreign governments.

DFC maintains a regional office in Singapore to better coordinate with Southeast Asia’s leading financial institutions but has no projects in Singapore.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $374,131 2019 $372,063 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $358,888 2019 $287,951 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $18,295 2019 $21,060 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 394.3% 2020 469.3% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report  

* Source for Host Country Data: https://www.singstat.gov.sg/ 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 1,465,070 100% Not Available Amount 100%
United States 297,065 20% Not Available Amount X%
Cayman Islands 157,225 11% Not Available Amount X%
British Virgin Islands 107,393 7% Not Available Amount X%
Japan 96,282 7% Not Available Amount X%
Bermuda 66,395 5% Not Available Amount X%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 1,421,608 100% All Countries 681,831 100% All Countries 739,777 100%
United States 376,454 26% United States 137,354 20% United States 239,100 32%
China 174,975 12% China 111,997 16% China 62,978 9%
Republic of Korea 60,368 4% Japan 39,856 6% Korea 33,534 5%
India 53,899 4% Cayman Islands 38,030 6% United Kingdom 23,488
Caymen Islands 52,216 4% India 31,684 5% India 22,215 3%

14. Contact for More Information

Martha Tipton
Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy
27 Napier Road
Singapore 258508  +65 9069-8592
+65 9069-8592
Tiptonm@state.gov

Vietnam

Executive Summary

Vietnam continues to welcome foreign direct investment (FDI), and the government has policies in place that are broadly conducive to U.S. investment. Factors that attract foreign investment include recently-signed free trade agreements, political stability, ongoing economic reforms, a young and increasingly urbanized population, and competitive labor costs. Vietnam has received USD 231 billion in FDI from 1988 through 2020, per the Ministry of Public Affairs (MPI), which oversees foreign investments.

Vietnam’s exceptional handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has included proactive management of health policy, fiscal stimulus, and monetary policy, combined with supply chain shifts, contributed to Vietnam receiving USD 19.9 billion in FDI in 2020 – almost as much as the USD 20.3 billion received in 2019. Of the 2020 investments, 48 percent went into manufacturing – especially in the electronics, textiles, footwear, and automobile parts industries; 18 percent in utilities and energy; 15 percent in real estate; and smaller percentages in assorted industries. The government approved the following significant FDI projects in 2020: Delta Offshore’s USD 4 billion investment in the Bac Lieu liquified natural gas (LNG) power plant; Siam Cement Group’s (SCG) USD 1.8 billion investment in the Long Son Integrated Petrochemicals Complex; a Daewoo-led, South Korean consortium’s USD 774 million investment in the West Lake Capital Township real estate development in Hanoi; and Taiwan-based Pegatron’s USD 481 million investment in electronics production.

Vietnam recently moved forward on free trade agreements that will likely make it easier to attract future FDI by providing better market access for Vietnamese exports and encouraging investor-friendly reforms. The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) came into force August 1, 2020. Vietnam signed the UK-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement on December 31, 2020, which will come into effect May 1, 2021. On November 15, 2020, Vietnam signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). While these agreements lower certain trade and investment barriers for companies from participating countries, U.S. companies may find it more difficult to compete without similar advantages.

In February 2021, the 13th Party Congress of the Communist Party approved a ten-year economic strategy that calls for shifting foreign investments to high-tech industries and ensuring those investments include provisions relating to environmental protection. On January 1, 2021, Vietnam’s Securities Law and new Labor Code Law, which the National Assembly originally approved in 2019, came into force. The Securities Law formally states the government’s intention to remove foreign ownership limits for investments in most industries, and the new Labor Code provides more contract flexibility – including provisions that make it easier for an employer to dismiss an employee and allow workers to join independent trade unions – although no such independent trade unions yet exist in Vietnam. On June 17, 2020, Vietnam passed a revised Investment Law and a new Public Private Partnership Law, both designed to encourage foreign investment into large infrastructure projects, reduce the burden on the government to finance such projects, and increase linkages between foreign investors and the Vietnamese private sector.

Despite a comparatively high level of FDI inflow as a percentage of GDP – 7.3 percent in 2020 – significant challenges remain in Vietnam’s investment climate. These include corruption, weak legal infrastructure, poor enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR), a shortage of skilled labor, restrictive labor practices, and the government’s slow decision-making process.

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 104 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 70 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 42 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 2,615 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 2,590 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Since Vietnam embarked on economic reforms in 1986 to transition to a market-based economy, the government has welcomed FDI, recognizing it as a key component of Vietnam’s high rate of economic growth over the last two decades. Foreign investments continue to play a crucial role in the economy: according to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office (GSO), Vietnam exported USD 281 billion in goods in 2020, of which 72 percent came from projects utilizing FDI.

The Politburo issued Resolution 55 in 2019 to increase Vietnam’s attractiveness to foreign investment. This Resolution aims to attract USD 50 billion in new foreign investment by 2030. In 2020, the government revised laws on investment and enterprise, in addition to passing the Public Private Partnership Law, to further the goals of this Resolution. The revisions encourage high-quality investments, use and development of advanced technologies, and environmental protection mechanisms.

While Vietnam’s revised Investment Law says the government must treat foreign and domestic investors equally, foreign investors have complained about having to cross extra hurdles to get ordinary government approvals. The government continues to have foreign ownership limits (FOLs) in industries Vietnam considers important to national security. In January 2020, the government removed FOLs on companies in the eWallet sector and reformed electronic payments procedures for foreign firms. Some U.S. investors report that these changes have provided more regulatory certainty, which has, in turn, instilled greater confidence as they consider long-term investments in Vietnam.U.S. investors continue to cite concerns about confusing tax regulations and retroactive changes to laws – including tax rates, tax policies, and preferential treatment of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). In 2020, members of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hanoi noted that fair, transparent, stable, and effective legal frameworks would help Vietnam better attract U.S. investment.

The Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) is the country’s national agency charged with promoting and facilitating foreign investment; most provinces and cities also have local equivalents. MPI and local investment promotion offices provide information and explain regulations and policies to foreign investors. They also inform the Prime Minister and National Assembly on trends in foreign investment. However, U.S. investors should still consult lawyers and/or other experts regarding issues on regulations that are unclear.

The Prime Minister, along with other senior leaders, has stated that Vietnam prioritizes both investment retention and ongoing dialogue with foreign investors. Vietnam’s senior leaders often meet with foreign governments and private-sector representatives to emphasize Vietnam’s attractiveness as an FDI destination. The semiannual Vietnam Business Forum includes meetings between foreign investors and Vietnamese government officials; the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council (USABC), AmCham, and other U.S. associations also host multiple yearly missions for their U.S. company members, which allow direct engagement with senior government officials. Foreign investors in Vietnam have reported that these meetings and dialogues have helped address obstacles.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Both foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises in Vietnam and engage in most forms of legal remunerative activity in non-regulated sectors.

Vietnam has some statutory restrictions on foreign investment, including FOLs or requirements for joint partnerships, projects in banking, network infrastructure services, non-infrastructure telecommunication services, transportation, energy, and defense. By law, the Prime Minister can waive these FOLs on a case-by-case basis. In practice, however, when the government has removed or eased FOLs, it has done so for the whole industry sector rather than for a specific investment.

MPI plays a key role with respect to investment screening. All FDI projects require approval by the provincial People’s Committee in which the project would be located. By law, large-scale FDI projects must also obtain the approval of the National Assembly before investment can proceed. MPI’s approval process includes an assessment of the investor’s legal status and financial strength; the project’s compatibility with the government’s long- and short-term goals for economic development and government revenue; the investor’s technological expertise; environmental protection; and plans for land use and land clearance compensation, if applicable. The government can, and sometimes does, stop certain foreign investments if it deems the investment harmful to Vietnam’s national security.

The following FDI projects also require the Prime Minister’s approval: airports; grade 1 seaports (seaports the government classifies as strategic); casinos; oil and gas exploration, production, and refining; telecommunications/network infrastructure; forestry projects; publishing; and projects that need approval from more than one province. In the period between this year’s Investment Climate Statement and last year’s, the government removed the requirement that the Prime Minister needs to approve investments over USD 271 million or investments in the tobacco industry.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Recent third-party investment policy reviews include the World Bank’s Review from 2020: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33598 

https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33598 

And OECD’s 2018 Review: https://www.oecd.org/countries/vietnam/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-viet-nam-2017-9789264282957-en.htm 

https://www.oecd.org/countries/vietnam/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-viet-nam-2017-9789264282957-en.htm 

UNCTAD released a report in 2009: https://unctad.org/webflyer/investment-policy-review-viet-nam 

https://unctad.org/webflyer/investment-policy-review-viet-nam 

Business Facilitation

The World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index ranked Vietnam 70 of 190 economies. The World Bank reported that in some factors Vietnam lags behind other Southeast Asian countries. For example, it takes businesses 384 hours to pay taxes in Vietnam compared with 64 in Singapore, 174 in Malaysia, and 191 in Indonesia.

In May 2021, USAID and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) released the Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) 2020 Report, which examined trends in economic governance: http://eng.pcivietnam.org/ . This annual report provides an independent, unbiased view on the provincial business environment by surveying over 8,500 domestic private firms on a variety of business issues. Overall, Vietnam’s median PCI score improved, reflecting the government’s efforts to improve economic governance and the quality of infrastructure, as well as a decline in the prevalence of corruption (bribes).

Outward Investment

The government does not have a clear mechanism to promote or incentivize outward investment, nor does it have regulations restricting domestic investors from investing abroad. Vietnam does not release periodical statistics on outward investment, but reported that by the end of 2019 total outward FDI investment from Vietnam was USD 21 billion in more than 1,300 projects in 78 countries. Laos received the most outward FDI, with USD 5 billion, followed by Russia and Cambodia with USD 2.8 billion and USD 2.7 billion, respectively. SOEs like PetroVietnam, Viettel, and SOCB are Vietnam’s largest sources of outward FDI, and have invested more than USD 13 billion in outward FDI, per media reports.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

U.S. companies continue to report that they face frequent and significant challenges with inconsistent regulatory interpretation, irregular enforcement, and an unclear legal framework. AmCham members have consistently voiced concerns that Vietnam lacks a fair legal system for investments, which affects U.S. companies’ ability to do business in Vietnam. The 2020 PCI report documented companies’ difficulties dealing with land, taxes, and social insurance issues, but also found improvements in procedures related to business administration and anti-corruption.

Accounting systems are inconsistent with international norms, and this increases transaction costs for investors. The government had previously said it intended to have most companies transition to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) by 2020. Unable to meet this target, the Ministry of Finance in March 2020 extended the deadline to 2025.

In Vietnam, the National Assembly passes laws, which serve as the highest form of legal direction, but often lack specifics. Ministries provide draft laws to the National Assembly. The Prime Minister issues decrees, which provide guidance on implementation. Individual ministries issue circulars, which provide guidance on how a ministry will administer a law or decree.

After implementing ministries have cleared a particular law to send the law to the National Assembly, the government posts the law for a 60-day comment period. However, in practice, the public comment period is sometimes truncated. Foreign governments, NGOs, and private-sector companies can, and do, comment during this period, after which the ministry may redraft the law. Upon completion of the revisions, the ministry submits the legislation to the Office of the Government (OOG) for approval, including the Prime Minister’s signature, and the legislation moves to the National Assembly for committee review. During this process, the National Assembly can send the legislation back to the originating ministry for further changes. The Communist Party of Vietnam’s Politburo reserves the right to review special or controversial laws.

In practice, drafting ministries often lack the resources needed to conduct adequate data-driven assessments. Ministries are supposed to conduct policy impact assessments that holistically consider all factors before drafting a law, but the quality of these assessments varies.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is in charge of ensuring that government ministries and agencies follow administrative procedures. The MOJ has a Regulatory Management Department, which oversees and reviews legal documents after they are issued to ensure compliance with the legal system. The Law on the Promulgation of Legal Normative Documents requires all legal documents and agreements to be published online and open for comments for 60 days, and to be published in the Official Gazette before implementation.

Business associations and various chambers of commerce regularly comment on draft laws and regulations. However, when issuing more detailed implementing guidelines, government entities sometimes issue circulars with little advance warning and without public notification, resulting in little opportunity for comment by affected parties. In several cases, authorities allowed comments for the first draft only and did not provide subsequent draft versions to the public. The centralized location where key regulatory actions are published can be found here:   http://vbpl.vn/  .

While general information is publicly available, Vietnam’s public finances and debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) are not transparent. The National Assembly set a statutory limit for public debt at 65 percent of nominal GDP, and, according to official figures, Vietnam’s public debt to GDP ratio in late 2020 was 55.3 percent – down from 56 percent the previous year. However, the official public-debt figures exclude the debt of certain large SOEs. This poses a risk to Vietnam’s public finances, as the government is liable for the debts of these companies. Vietnam could improve its fiscal transparency by making its executive budget proposal, including budgetary and debt expenses, widely and easily accessible to the general public long before the National Assembly enacts the budget, ensuring greater transparency of off-budget accounts, and by publicizing the criteria by which the government awards contracts and licenses for natural resource extraction.

International Regulatory Considerations

Vietnam is a member of ASEAN, a 10-member regional organization working to advance economic integration through cooperation in economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields. Within ASEAN, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has the goal of establishing a single market across ASEAN nations (similar to the EU’s common market), but member states have not made significant progress. To date, AEC’s greatest success has been in reducing tariffs on most products traded within the bloc.

Vietnam is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), an inter-governmental forum for 21 member economies in the Pacific Rim that promotes free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region. APEC aims to facilitate business among member states through trade facilitation programming, senior-level leaders’ meetings, and regular dialogue. However, APEC is a non-binding forum. ASEAN and APEC membership has not resulted in Vietnam incorporating international standards, especially when compared with the EU or North America.

Vietnam is a party to the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has been implementing the TFA’s Category A provisions. Vietnam submitted its Category B and Category C implementation timelines on August 2, 2018. According to these timelines, Vietnam will fully implement the Category B and C provisions by the end of 2023 and 2024, respectively.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Vietnam’s legal system mixes indigenous, French, and Soviet-inspired civil legal traditions. Vietnam generally follows an operational understanding of the rule of law that is consistent with its top-down, one-party political structure and traditionally inquisitorial judicial system.

The hierarchy of the country’s courts is: 1) the Supreme People’s Court; 2) the High People’s Court; 3) Provincial People’s Courts; 4) District People’s Courts, and 5) Military Courts. The People’s Courts operate in five divisions: criminal, civil, administrative, economic, and labor. The Supreme People’s Procuracy is responsible for prosecuting criminal activities as well as supervising judicial activities.

Vietnam lacks an independent judiciary and separation of powers among Vietnam’s branches of government. For example, Vietnam’s Chief Justice is also a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. According to Transparency International, there is significant risk of corruption in judicial rulings. Low judicial salaries engender corruption; nearly one-fifth of surveyed Vietnamese households that have been to court declared that they had paid bribes at least once. Many businesses therefore avoid Vietnamese courts as much as possible.

The judicial system continues to face additional problems: for example, many judges and arbitrators lack adequate legal training and are appointed through personal or political contacts with party leaders or based on their political views. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and appeals are adjudicated in the national court system. Through a separate legal mechanism, individuals and companies can file complaints against enforcement actions under the Law on Complaints.

The 2005 Commercial Law regulates commercial contracts between businesses. Specific regulations prescribe specific forms of contracts, depending on the nature of the deals. If a contract does not contain a dispute-resolution clause, courts will have jurisdiction over a dispute. Vietnamese law allows dispute-resolution clauses in commercial contracts explicitly through the Law on Commercial Arbitration. The law follows the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law as an international standard for procedural rules.

Vietnamese courts will only consider recognition of civil judgments issued by courts in countries that have entered into agreements on recognition of judgments with Vietnam or on a reciprocal basis. However, with the exception of France, these treaties only cover non-commercial judgments.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The legal system includes provisions to promote foreign investment. Vietnam uses a “negative list” approach to approve foreign investment, meaning foreign businesses are allowed to operate in all areas except for six prohibited sectors – from which domestic businesses are also prohibited. These include illicit drugs, wildlife trade, prostitution, human trafficking, human cloning, and debt collection services.

The law also requires that foreign and domestic investors be treated equally in cases of nationalization and confiscation. However, foreign investors are subject to different business-licensing processes and restrictions, and companies registered in Vietnam that have majority foreign ownership are subject to foreign-investor business-license procedures.

The new Labor Code, which came into effect January 1, 2021, provides greater flexibility in contract termination, allows employees to work more overtime hours, increases the retirement age, and adds flexibility in labor contracts.

The Investment Law, revised in June 2020, stipulated Vietnam would encourage FDI, through incentives, in university education, pollution mitigation, and certain medical research. Public Private Partnership Law, passed in June 2020 lists transportation, electricity grid and power plants, irrigation, water supply and treatment, waste treatment, health care, education and IT infrastructure as prioritized sectors for FDI and private public partnerships.

Vietnam has a “one-stop-shop” website for investment that provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors:  https://vietnam.eregulations.org/  

Competition and Antitrust Laws

In 2018, Vietnam passed a new Law on Competition, which came into effect on July 1, 2019, replacing Vietnam’s Law on Competition of 2004. The Law includes punishments – such as fines – for those who violate the law. The government has not prosecuted any person or entity under this law since it came into effect, though there were prosecutions under the old law in the early 2000s. The law does not appear to have affected foreign investment. On March 24, 2020, Decree 35, the second decree to implement the Law on Competition, came into effect. Decree 35 addresses issues on anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominance, and merger control. For merger control, the decree replaces the single market share threshold for when parties must notify a merger with an approach that puts forward four alternative benchmarks based on the value of assets, transaction value, revenue, and market share. The decree also provides details on merger filing assessment.

Expropriation and Compensation

Under the law, the government of Vietnam can only expropriate investors’ property in cases of emergency, disaster, defense, or national interest, and the government is required to compensate investors if it expropriates property. Under the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, Vietnam must apply international standards of treatment in any case of expropriation or nationalization of U.S. investor assets, which includes acting in a non-discriminatory manner with due process of law and with prompt, adequate, and effective compensation. The U.S. Mission in Vietnam is unaware of any current expropriation cases involving U.S. firms.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Vietnam has not acceded to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention but is a member of UN Commission on International Trade Laws for the period 2019-2025. MPI has submitted a proposal to the government to join the ICSID, but the government has not moved forward on it. Vietnam is a party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”), meaning that Vietnam courts should recognize foreign arbitral awards rendered by a recognized international arbitration institution without a review of cases’ merits.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Vietnam has signed 67 bilateral investment treaties, is party to 26 treaties with investment provisions, and is a member of 15 free trade agreements in force. Some of these include provisions for Investor-State Dispute Settlement. As a signatory to the New York Convention, Vietnam is required to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards within its jurisdiction, with few exceptions. Technically, foreign and domestic arbitral awards are legally enforceable in Vietnam; however, foreign investors in Vietnam generally prefer international arbitration for predictability. Vietnam courts may reject foreign arbitral awards if the award is contrary to the basic principles of domestic laws. The new Investment law provides that only Vietnam arbitration and courts can solve disputes between investors and government authorities, while investors can select foreign or mutually agreed arbitrations to solve their disputes.

According to UNCTAD, over the last 10 years, there were two dispute cases against the Vietnamese government involving U.S. companies.  The courts decided in favor of the government in one case, and the parties decided to discontinue the other.  The government is currently in two pending, active disputes (with the UK and South Korea). More details are available at  https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/investment-dispute-settlement/country/229/viet-nam.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

With an underdeveloped legal system, Vietnam’s courts are often ineffective in settling commercial disputes. Negotiation between concerned parties or arbitration are the most common means of dispute resolution. Since the Law on Arbitration does not allow a foreign investor to refer an investment dispute to a court in a foreign jurisdiction, Vietnamese judges cannot apply foreign laws to a case before them, and foreign lawyers cannot represent plaintiffs in a court of law. The Law on Commercial Arbitration of 2010 permits foreign arbitration centers to establish branches or representative offices (although none have done so).

There are no readily available statistics on how often domestic courts rule in favor of SOEs. In general, the court system in Vietnam works slowly. International arbitration awards, when enforced, may take years from original judgment to payment. Many foreign companies, due to concerns related to time, costs, and potential for bribery, have reported that they have turned to international arbitration or have asked influential individuals to weigh in.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Under the 2014 Bankruptcy Law, bankruptcy is not criminalized unless it relates to another crime. The law defines insolvency as a condition in which an enterprise is more than three months overdue in meeting its payment obligations. The law also provides provisions allowing creditors to commence bankruptcy proceedings against an enterprise and procedures for credit institutions to file for bankruptcy. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report, Vietnam ranked 122 out of 190 for resolving insolvency. The report noted that it still takes, on average, five years to conclude a bankruptcy case in Vietnam. The Credit Information Center of the State Bank of Vietnam provides credit information services for foreign investors concerned about the potential for bankruptcy with a Vietnamese partner.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Foreign investors are exempt from import duties on goods imported for their own use that cannot be procured locally, including machinery; vehicles; components and spare parts for machinery and equipment; raw materials; inputs for manufacturing; and construction materials. Remote and mountainous provinces and special industrial zones are allowed to provide additional tax breaks and other incentives to prospective investors.

Investment incentives, including lower corporate income tax rates, exemption of some import tariffs, or favorable land rental rates, are available in the following sectors: advanced technology; research and development; new materials; energy; clean energy; renewable energy; energy saving products; automobiles; software; waste treatment and management; and primary or vocational education.

The government rarely issues guarantees for financing FDI projects; when it does so, it is usually because the project links to a national security priority. Joint financing with the government occurs when a foreign entity partners with an SOE. The government’s reluctance to guarantee projects reflects its desire to stay below a statutory 65 percent public debt-to-GDP ratio cap, and a desire to avoid incurring liabilities from projects that would not be economically viable without the guarantee. This has delayed approval of many large-scale FDI projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Vietnam has prioritized efforts to establish and develop foreign trade zones (FTZs) over the last decade. Vietnam currently has more than 350 industrial zones (IZs) and export processing zones (EPZs). Many foreign investors report that it is easier to implement projects in IZs because they do not have to be involved in site clearance and infrastructure construction. Enterprises in FTZs pay no duties when importing raw materials if they export the finished products. Customs warehouse companies in FTZs can provide transportation services and act as distributors for the goods deposited.

Additional services relating to customs declaration, appraisal, insurance, reprocessing, or packaging require the approval of the provincial customs office. In practice, the time involved for clearance and delivery of goods by provincial custom officials can be lengthy and unpredictable. Companies operating in economic zones are entitled to more tax reductions as measures to incentivize investments.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Vietnamese law states that employers can only recruit foreign nationals for high-skilled positions such as manager, managing director, expert, or technical worker. Local companies must also justify that their efforts to hire suitable local employees were unsuccessful before recruiting foreigners, and local authorities and/or the national government must approve these justifications in writing. This does not apply to board members elected by shareholders or capital contributors.

The government has implemented entry suspension and quarantine regulations for foreigners since March 2020, as a measure to contain COVID-19. Vietnam’s borders are closed for all foreign nationals with only few exceptions for diplomatic, experts, and special cases determined by the government. Foreign nationals travelling to Vietnam are subject to testing, quarantine, and lockdowns with little or no advance notice.

On June 17, 2020, the National Assembly passed the Law on Investment (LOI) 2020, which prescribes market entry conditions for foreign investors, particularly in “conditional” sectors. All investors, foreign or domestics, must obtain formal approval, in the form of business licenses or other certifications, to satisfy “necessary conditions for reasons of national defense, security or order, social safety, social morality, and health of the community.” These sectors are listed in Appendix IV (“List of Conditional Investments and Businesses”) of the Law.

LOI 2020 includes two conditions for foreign investors investing in or acquiring capital/share in a Vietnamese company:

  • The investment must not compromise national defense and security of Vietnam; and
  • The investment must comply with the conditions relating to the use of islands, border areas, and coastal areas in accordance with the applicable laws.

The LOI does not define “national defense and security.”

On January 1, 2019, the Law on Cybersecurity (LOCS) came into effect, requiring cross-border services providers to store data of Vietnamese users in Vietnam – despite sustained international and domestic opposition to the regulation. The July 2019 draft of the LOCS implementing decree by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) sparked concerns among foreign digital services firms regarding the draft decree’s provisions on data localization and local presence for a broad range of services in the Internet economy – from cloud computing to email. Provisions of the LOCS require firms to provide unencrypted user information upon request by law enforcement. However, application of this requirement hinges on issuance of the implementing Decree, which is still pending as of April 2021.

In September 2020, MPS released a revised LOCS decree draft, which requires all local companies to comply with data localization requirements and forces foreign services providers to localize their data and establish local presence when they violate Vietnamese laws and fail to cooperate with MPS to address violations. U.S. companies complain that the data localization regulations are impractical, and if implemented, would be unnecessarily burdensome.

The 2019 Law on Tax Administration, which came into force July 1, 2020, requires foreign entities that employ digital platforms without a permanent physical presence in Vietnam to register as tax-paying entities in Vietnam. The Ministry of Finance released a draft circular with guidance on implementation of the Law in March 2021, and is working to revise the law based on stakeholder comments, as of April 2021. American companies have expressed concerns that the original draft circular included unnecessarily complex and unclear regulations of Corporate Income Tax (CIT) and Value Added Tax (VAT) collections, and does not address areas that overlap with Vietnam’s international tax treaties already in force.

In early 2020, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) released a draft outline of the Personal Data Protection Decree (PDPD) and published the first full draft in February 2021 for public comment with an expected effective date of December 1, 2021. Industry and human rights activists have major concerns about data localization provision for personal data, including requirements for local presence, licensing, and registration procedures. If implemented as written, the regulations of cross-border transfer of personal data would affect a wide range of companies.

The Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) released a draft of Decree 72 on Internet Services and Information Content Online for public comment on April 19, 2020. Foreign companies reported concerns regarding the draft Decree provisions on mandatory licensing requirements; tightened regulations on social media companies; compulsory content review; and policies requiring responses to government takedown requests within 24 to 48 hours. The draft Decree requires local Internet service providers to terminate services for companies that fail to cooperate with the new regulations. The revised decree is scheduled to go into effect in late 2021. The Ministry of Public Security has applied the broadest possible definition of “data,” in the decree, which could threaten some activities of U.S. payment and financial services companies.

MIC is also revising Decree 06 on Management, Provision and Utilization of Radio and Television Services, which applies specifically to streaming services. The first draft, released August 2019, required onerous licensing procedures, local-presence requirements, local-content quotas, content preapproval, compulsory translation, and local advertising agents that are inconsistent with Vietnam’s commitments under the World Trade Organization (WTO). The latest, December 2020, draft continues to include licensing requirements for cross-border over-the-top (OTT) services providers and pre-check content censorship.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The State collectively owns and manages all land in Vietnam, and therefore neither foreigners nor Vietnamese nationals can own land. However, the government grants land-use and building rights, often to individuals. According to the Ministry of National Resources and Environment (MONRE), as of September 2018 – the most recent time period in which the government has made figures available – the government has issued land-use rights certificates for 96.9 percent of land in Vietnam. If land is not used according to the land-use rights certificate or if it is unoccupied, it reverts to the government. If investors do not use land leased within 12 consecutive months or delay land use by 24 months from the original investment schedule, the government is entitled to reclaim the land. Investors can seek an extension of delay but not for more than 24 months. Vietnam is building a national land-registration database, and some localities have already digitized their land records.

State protection of property rights are still evolving, and the law does not clearly demarcate circumstances in which the government would use eminent domain. Under the Housing Law and Real Estate Business Law of November 2014, the government can take land if it deems it necessary for socio-economic development in the public or national interest if the Prime Minister, the National Assembly, or the Provincial People’s Council approves such action. However, the law loosely defines “socio-economic development.”

Disputes over land rights continue to be a significant driver of social protests in Vietnam. Foreign investors also may be exposed to land disputes through merger and acquisition activities when they buy into a local company or implement large-scale infrastructure projects.

Foreign investors can lease land for renewable periods of 50 years, and up to 70 years in some underdeveloped areas. This allows titleholders to conduct property transactions, including mortgages on property. Some investors have encountered difficulties amending investment licenses to expand operations onto land adjoining existing facilities. Investors also note that local authorities may seek to increase requirements for land-use rights when current rights must be renewed, particularly when the investment in question competes with Vietnamese companies.

Intellectual Property Rights

Vietnam does not have a strong record on protecting and enforcing intellectual property (IP). Lack of coordination among ministries and agencies responsible for enforcement is a primary obstacle, and capacity constraints related to enforcement persist, in part, due to a lack of resources and IP expertise. Vietnam continues to rely heavily on administrative enforcement actions, which have consistently failed to deter widespread counterfeiting and piracy.

There were some positive developments in 2020-2021, such as the issuance of a national IP strategy, public awareness campaigns and training activities, and reported improvements on border enforcement in some parts of the country. Overall, however,IP enforcement continues to be a challenge.

The United States is closely monitoring and engaging with the Vietnamese government in the ongoing implementation of amendments to the 2015 Penal Code, particularly with respect to criminal enforcement of IP violations. Counterfeit goods are widely available online and in physical markets. In addition, issues continue to persist with online piracy (including the use of piracy devices and applications to access unauthorized audiovisual content), book piracy, lack of effective criminal measures for cable and satellite signal theft, and both private and public-sector software piracy..

Vietnam’s system for protecting against the unfair commercial use and unauthorized disclosure of undisclosed tests or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products needs further clarification.  The United States is monitoring the implementation of IP provisions of the CPTPP, which the National Assembly ratified in November 2018, and the EVFTA, which Vietnam’s National Assembly ratified in June 2020. The EVFTA grandfathered prior users of certain cheese terms from the restrictions in the geographical indications provisions of the EVFTA, and it is important that Vietnam ensure market access for prior users of those terms who were in the Vietnamese market before the grandfathering date of January 1, 2017.

In its international agreements, Vietnam committed to strengthen its IP regime and is in the process of drafting implementing legislation and other measures in a number of IP-related areas, including in preparation for acceding to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.  In September 2019, Vietnam acceded to the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, and the United States will monitor implementation of that agreement.

The United States, through the U.S.-Vietnam Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and other bilateral fora, continues to urge Vietnam to address IP issues and to provide interested stakeholders with meaningful opportunities for input as it proceeds with these reforms. The United States and Vietnam signed a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement in December 2019, which will facilitate bilateral cooperation in IP enforcement.

In 2020, the Intellectual Property Office of Vietnam (IP Vietnam) reported receiving 119,986 IP applications of all types (down 0.7 percent from 2019), of which 76,072 were registered for industrial property rights (up 1.7 percent from 2019). IP Vietnam reported granting 4,591 patents in 2020 (up 63 percent from 2019). Industrial designs registrations reached 2,054 in 2020 (down 5.4 percent from 2019). In total, IP Vietnam granted more than 47,168 protection titles for industrial property, out of 76,072 applications in 2020 (up 15.6 percent from 2019). The General Department of Market Management in 2020 detected 7,442 cases relating to counterfeit goods on physical and online markets, copyright and IP violations, imposing fines of USD 5 million. The Copyright Office of Vietnam received and settled 12 copyright petitions and five requests for copyright assessment in 2020. In 2020, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism’s Inspector General carried out inspections for software licensing compliance, resulting in total fines of USD 23,000. For more information, please see the following reports from the U.S. Trade Representative:

  • Special 301 Report:  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2020_Special_301_Report.pdf
  • Notorious Markets Report: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2020_Special_301_Report.pdf
  • For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government generally encourages foreign portfolio investment. The country has two stock markets: the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange (HOSE), which lists publicly traded companies, and the Hanoi Stock Exchange, which lists bonds and derivatives. The Law on Securities, which came into effect January 1, 2021, states that Vietnam Exchange, a parent company to both exchanges, with board members appointed by the government, will manage trading operations. Vietnam also has a market for unlisted public companies (UPCOM) at the Hanoi Securities Center.

Although Vietnam welcomes portfolio investment, the country sometimes has difficulty in attracting such investment. Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) classifies Vietnam as a Frontier Market, which precludes some of the world’s biggest asset managers from investing in its stock markets.

Vietnam did not meet its goal to be considered an “emerging market” in 2020, and pushed back the timeline to 2025. Foreign investors often face difficulties in making portfolio investments because of cumbersome bureaucratic procedures. Furthermore, in the first three months of 2021, surges in trading frequently crashed the HOSE’s decades-old technology platform, resulting in investor frustration.

There is enough liquidity in the markets to enter and maintain sizable positions. Combined market capitalization at the end of 2020 was approximately USD 230 billion, equal to 84 percent of Vietnam’s GDP, with the HOSE accounting for USD 177 billion, the Hanoi Exchange USD 9 billion, and the UPCOM USD 43 billion. Bond market capitalization reached over USD 50 billion in 2019, the majority of which were government bonds held by domestic commercial banks.

Vietnam complies with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII. The government notified the IMF that it accepted the obligations of Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4, effective November 8, 2005.

Local banks generally allocate credit on market terms, but the banking sector is not as sophisticated or capitalized as those in advanced economies. Foreign investors can acquire credit in the local market, but both foreign and domestic firms often seek foreign financing since domestic banks do not have sufficient capital at appropriate interest rate levels for a significant number of FDI projects.

Money and Banking System

Vietnam’s banking sector has been stable since recovering from the 2008 global recession. Nevertheless, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV), Vietnam’s central bank, estimated in 2019 that 55 percent of Vietnam’s population is underbanked or lacks bank accounts due to a preference for cash, distrust in commercial banking, limited geographical distribution of banks, and a lack of financial acumen. The World Bank’s Global Findex Database 2017 (the most recent available) estimated that only 31 percent of Vietnamese over the age of 15 had an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased strains on the financial system as an increasing number of debtors were unable to make loan payments. Slow credit growth, together with increases in debtors’ inability to pay back loans, squeezed bank profits in 2020. At the end of 2020, the SBV reported that the percentage of non-performing loans (NPLs) in the banking sector was 2.14 percent, up from 1.9 percent at the end of 2019.

By the end of 2020, per SBV, the banking sector’s estimated total assets stood at USD 572 billion, of which USD 236 billion belonged to seven state-owned and majority state-owned commercial banks – accounting for 41 percent of total assets in the sector. Though classified as joint-stock (private) commercial banks, the Bank of Investment and Development Bank (BIDV), Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade (VietinBank), and Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank) all are majority-owned by SBV. In addition, the SBV holds 100 percent of Agribank, Global Petro Commercial Bank (GPBank), Construction Bank (CBBank), and Oceanbank.

Currently, the total foreign ownership limit (FOL) in a Vietnamese bank is 30 percent, with a 5 percent limit for non-strategic individual investors, a 15 percent limit for non-strategic institutional investors, and a 20 percent limit for strategic institutional partners.

The U.S. Mission in Vietnam did not find any evidence that a Vietnamese bank had lost a correspondent banking relationship in the past three years; there is also no evidence that a correspondent banking relationship is currently in jeopardy.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no legal restrictions on foreign investors converting and repatriating earnings or investment capital from Vietnam. A foreign investor can convert and repatriate earnings provided the investor has the supporting documents required by law proving they have completed financial obligations. The SBV sets the interbank lending rate and announces a daily interbank reference exchange rate. SBV determines the latter based on the previous day’s average interbank exchange rates, while considering movements in the currencies of Vietnam’s major trading and investment partners. The government generally keeps the exchange rate at a stable level compared to major world currencies.

Remittance Policies

Vietnam mandates that in-country transactions must be made in the local currency – Vietnamese dong (VND). The government allows foreign businesses to remit lawful profits, capital contributions, and other legal investment earnings via authorized institutions that handle foreign currency transactions. Although foreign companies can remit profits legally, sometimes these companies find bureaucratic difficulties, as they are required to provide supporting documentation (audited financial statements, import/foreign-service procurement contracts, proof of tax obligation fulfillment, etc.). SBV also requires foreign investors to submit notification of profit remittance abroad to tax authorities at least seven working days prior to the remittance; otherwise there is no waiting period to remit an investment return.

The inflow of foreign currency into Vietnam is less constrained. There are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies that either tighten or relax access to foreign exchange for investment remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Vietnam does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The 2020 Enterprises Law, which came into effect January 1, 2021, defines an SOE as an enterprise that is more than 50 percent owned by the government. Vietnam does not officially publish a list of SOEs.

In 2018, the government created the Commission for State Capital Management at Enterprises (CMSC) to manage SOEs with increased transparency and accountability. The CMSC’s goals include accelerating privatization in a transparent manner, promoting public listings of SOEs, and transparency in overall financial management of SOEs.

SOEs do not operate on a level playing field with domestic or foreign enterprises and continue to benefit from preferential access to resources such as land, capital, and political largesse. Third-party market analysts note that a significant number of SOEs have extensive liabilities, including pensions owed, real estate holdings in areas not related to the SOE’s ostensible remit, and a lack of transparency with respect to operations and financing.

Privatization Program

Vietnam officially started privatizing SOEs in 1998. The process has been slow because privatization typically transfers only a small share of an SOE (two to three percent) to the private sector, and investors have had concerns about the financial health of many companies. Additionally, the government has inadequate regulations with respect to privatization procedures.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Companies are required to publish their corporate social responsibility activities, corporate governance work, information of related parties and transactions, and compensation of management. Companies must also announce extraordinary circumstances, such as changes to management, dissolution, or establishment of subsidiaries, within 36 hours of the event.

Most multinational companies implement Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs that contribute to improving the business environment in Vietnam, and awareness of CSR programs is increasing among large domestic companies. The VCCI conducts CSR training and highlights corporate engagement on a dedicated website ( http://www.csr-vietnam.eu/  ) in partnership with the UN.

AmCham also has a CSR group that organizes events and activities to raise awareness of social issues. Non-governmental organizations collaborate with government bodies, such as VCCI and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA), to promote business practices in Vietnam in line with international norms and standards.

Vietnam is not a part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Overall, the government has not defined responsible business conduct (RBC), nor has it established a national plan or agenda for RBC. The government has yet to establish a national point of contact or ombudsman for stakeholders to get information or raise concerns regarding RBC. The new Labor Code, which came into effect January 1, 2021, recognizes the right of employees to establish their own representative organizations, allows employees to unilaterally terminate labor contract without reason, and extends legal protection to non-written contract employees. For a detailed description of regulations on worker/labor rights in Vietnam, see the Department of State’s Human Rights Report ( https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/vietnam/).

Vietnam’s Law on Consumer Protection is designed to protect consumers, but in practice the law is ineffective. A consumer who has a complaint on a product or service can petition the Association for Consumer Protection (ACP) or district governments. ACP is a non-governmental, volunteer organization that lacks law enforcement or legal power, and local governments are typically unresponsive to consumer complaints. The Vietnamese government has not focused on consumer protection over the last several years.

Vietnam allows foreign companies to work in private security. Vietnam has not ratified the Montreux Documents, is not a supporter of the International Code of Conduct or Private Security Service Providers, and is not a participant in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA).

Vietnamese legislation clearly specifies businesses’ responsibilities regarding environmental protection. The revised 2020 Environmental Protection Law, which will come into effect on January 1, 2022, states that environmental protection is the responsibility and obligation of all organizations, institutions, communities, households, and individuals.

The Penal Code, revised in 2017, includes a chapter with 12 articles regulating different types of environmental crimes. In accordance with the Penal Code, penalties for infractions carry a maximum of 15 years in prison and a fine equivalent to USD 650,000. However, enforcement remains a problem. To date, no complaint or request for compensation due to damages caused by pollution or other environmental violations has ever been successfully resolved in court due to difficulties in identifying the level of damages and proving the relationship between violators and damages.

In the past several years, there have been high-profile, controversial instances of private sector impact on human rights – particularly over the revocation of land for real estate development projects. Government suppression of these protests ranged from intimidation and harassment via the media (including social media) to imprisonment. There are numerous examples of government-supported forces beating protestors, journalists, and activists covering land issues. Victims have reported they are unable to press claims against their attackers.

Additional Resources

Department of State

  • Country Reports on Human Rights Practices ();
  • Trafficking in Persons Report ();
  • Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities () and;
  • North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory ().

Department of Labor

  • Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor Report ( );
  • List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor ();
  • Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World () and;
  • Comply Chain ().

9. Corruption

Vietnam has laws to combat corruption by public officials, and they extend to all citizens. Corruption is due, in large part, to low levels of transparency, accountability, and media freedom, as well as poor remuneration for government officials and inadequate systems for holding officials accountable. Competition among agencies for control over businesses and investments has created overlapping jurisdictions and bureaucratic procedures that, in turn, create opportunities for corruption.

The government has tasked various agencies to deal with corruption, including the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption (chaired by the Communist Party of Vietnam General Secretary), the Government Inspectorate, and line ministries and agencies. Formed in 2007, the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption has been under the purview of the CPV Central Commission of Internal Affairs since February 2013. The National Assembly provides oversight on the operations of government ministries. Civil society organizations have encouraged the government to establish a single independent agency with oversight and enforcement authority to ensure enforcement of anti-corruption laws.

Resource to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Mr. Phan Dinh TracChairman, Communist Party Central Committee Internal Affairs4 Nguyen Canh Chan; +84 0804-3557Contact at NGO:Ms. Nguyen Thi Kieu VienExecutive Director, Towards TransparencyTransparency International National Contact in VietnamFloor 4, No 37 Lane 35, Cat Linh street, Dong Da, Hanoi, Vietnam; +84-24-37153532Fax: +84-24-37153443; kieuvien@towardstransparency.vn 

10. Political and Security Environment

Vietnam is a unitary single-party state, and its political and security environment is largely stable. Protests and civil unrest are rare, though there are occasional demonstrations against perceived or real social, environmental, labor, and political injustices.

In August 2019, online commentators expressed outrage over the slow government response to an industrial fire in Hanoi that released unknown amounts of mercury. Other localized protests in 2019 and early 2020 broke out over alleged illegal dumping in waterways and on public land, and the perceived government attempts to cover up potential risks to local communities.

Citizens sometimes protest actions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), usually online. For example, in June 2019, when PRC Coast Guard vessels harassed the operations of Russian oil company Rosneft in Block 06-01, Vietnam’s highest-producing natural gas field, Vietnamese citizens protested via Facebook and, in a few instances, in public.

In April 2016, after the Formosa Steel plant discharged toxic pollutants into the ocean and caused a large number of fish deaths, affected fishermen and residents in central Vietnam began a series of regular protests against the company and the government’s lack of response to the disaster. Protests continued into 2017 in multiple cities until security forces largely suppressed the unrest. Many activists who helped organize or document these protests were subsequently arrested and imprisoned.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Vietnam’s new Labor Code came into effect on January 1, 2021. The CPTPP and the EVFTA have helped advance labor reform in Vietnam. In June 2020, EVFTA helped push Vietnam to ratify International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 105 – on the abolition of forced labor – which will come into force July 14, 2021. EVFTA also requires Vietnam to ratify Convention 87, on freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, by 2023. Although Vietnam has made some progress on labor issues in recent years, including, in theory, allowing the formation of independent unions, the sole union that has any real authority is the state-controlled Vietnam General Confederation of Labor. Workers will not be able to form independent unions, legally, until the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) issues guidance on implementation of the Labor Code.

According to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office (GSO), in 2020 there were 54.6 million people participating in the formal labor force in Vietnam out of over 74 million people aged 15 and above. The labor force is relatively young, with workers 15-39 years of age accounting for half of the total labor force.

Estimates on the size of the informal economy differ widely. The IMF states 40 percent of Vietnam’s laborers work on the informal economy; the World Bank puts the figure at 55 percent; the ILO puts the figure as high as 79 percent if agricultural households are included. Vietnam’s GSO stated that among 53.4 million employed people, 20.3 million people worked in the informal economy.

An employer is permitted to lay off employees due to technological changes, organizational changes (in cases of a merger, consolidation, or cessation of operation of one or more departments), when the employer faces economic difficulties, or when the employees are harassing others at work. There are no waivers on labor requirements to attract foreign investment. COVID-19 increased the number of layoffs in the Vietnamese economy. In March and April 2020, and again in September 2020, the government provided cash payments and supplemental cash for companies, to help pay salaries for workers and offer unemployment insurance.

The constitution affords the right of association and the right to demonstrate. The 2019 Labor Code, which came into effect on January 1, 2021, allows workers to establish and join independent unions of their choice. However, the relevant governmental agencies are still drafting the implementing decrees on procedures to establish and join independent unions, and to determine the level of autonomy independent unions will have in administering their affairs.

Labor dispute resolution mechanisms vary depending on the situation. Individual labor disputes and rights-based collective labor disputes must go through a defined process that includes labor conciliation, labor arbitration, and a court hearing.

Vietnam has been a member of the ILO since 1992, and has ratified six of the core ILO labor conventions (Conventions 100 and 111 on discrimination, Conventions 138 and 182 on child labor, Convention 29 on forced labor, and Convention 98 on rights to organize and collective bargaining). While the constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor, Vietnam has not ratified Convention 105 on forced labor as a means of political coercion and discrimination and Convention 87 on freedom of association and protection of the rights to organize.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (millions USD) 2020 2370 2020 3400 General Statistics Office (GSO) for Host Country and IMF for International Source https://www.imf.org/en/Countries/VNM#countrydata 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 10,418 2019 2,615 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 N/A 2019 57 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 N/A 2019 49.3 UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/ountry-Fact-Sheets.aspx  
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

* General Statistics Office (GSO)

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 Amount 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
Singapore 6,828 32%
South Korea 2,946 14%
China 2,070 10%
Hong Kong 1,737 8%
Taiwan 1,707 8%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Data not available.

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars) (From MPI)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries Amount 100% N/A N/A
Singapore 2,166 29%
Japan 1,149 15%
South Korea 1,003 13%
Netherlands 445 6%
China 390 5%
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

14. Contact for More Information

Economic SectionU.S. Embassy7 Lang Ha, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam +84-24-3850-5000+84-24-3850-5000 InvestmentClimateVN@state.gov 

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