Despite a relatively open foreign investment regime, Pakistan remains a challenging environment for foreign investors. An improving but unpredictable security situation, difficult business climate, lengthy dispute resolution processes, poor intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement, and inconsistent taxation policies have contributed to lower Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), as compared to regional competitors. Pakistan ranked 136 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 rankings, gaining 11 places from 2018.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government elected in July 2018 pledged to improve Pakistan’s economy, restructure tax collection, enhance trade and investment, and eliminate corruption. Since taking power, the PTI government has faced a rapidly expanding current account deficit and declining foreign reserves. Due to the inherited balance of payments crisis, the PTI government has worked on immediate needs to acquire external financing rather than medium- to long-term structural reforms. Progress has been slow on key structural reforms including broadening the tax base, reforming the tax authority, and privatizing state owned enterprises. Current tax policies negatively affect large businesses, as the government relies heavily on them for meeting its tax collection targets. The PTI government has not announced new policies to attract FDI yet, but is reportedly working on a five-year FDI strategy. The strategy reportedly aims to gradually increase FDI to USD 7.4 billion by Fiscal Year (FY) 2022-23.
The United States has consistently been one of the largest sources of FDI in Pakistan and one of its most significant trading partners. Two-way trade in goods between the United States and Pakistan exceeded USD 6.6 billion in 2018, a record for bilateral trade, and included a 4.3-percent increase in U.S. exports to Pakistan. Agriculture remained the largest growth area for U.S. exports. The Karachi-based American Business Council, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has 65 U.S. member companies, most of which are Fortune 500 companies operating in Pakistan across a range of industries. The Lahore-based American Business Forum – which has 25 founding members and 18 associate members – also assists U.S. investors. American companies have profitable investments across a range of sectors, notably, but not limited to, fast-moving consumer goods and financial services. Other sectors attracting U.S. interest include franchising, information and communications technology (ICT), thermal and renewable energy, and healthcare services.
In 2003, the United States and Pakistan signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) to serve as a key forum for bilateral trade and investment discussion. The TIFA seeks to address impediments to greater trade and investment flows and increase economic linkages between our respective business interests. Themost recent TIFA meeting was held in October 2016 in Islamabad, led by United States Trade Representative Michael Froman. The last TIFA intersessional, a working level meeting to review the decisions taken in TIFA, was in June 2017 in Washington.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||117 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||136 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||109 of 126||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2017||$518||http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita (USD)||2017||$1,580||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
In the past decade, Pakistan was unable to attract sufficient foreign investments to support desired growth objectives and remains a low priority country for foreign investors. The previous government recognized Pakistan’s need for foreign investment and introduced an Investment Policy, in 2013, to attract foreign investment and also signed an economic co-operation agreement with China, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), in April 2015. CPEC is focused mainly on infrastructure and energy production. Given that several large CPEC energy projects went online in 2018, Pakistan’s government has been able to develop sufficient power generation capacity in the country, though deficiencies in the transmission and distribution network remain.
The previous government also introduced incentives, which remain in place under the current PTI government, through the Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) and Export Enhancement Packages (EEP). These incentives are largely industry-specific and include tax breaks, tax refunds, tariff reductions, the provision of dedicated infrastructure, and investor facilitation services. The current government is reportedly working on its own STPF, but has not announced a new policy. Pakistan also designated special economic zones (SEZs), which the PTI government continues to develop, which offer a separate basket of incentives to potential investors. None of the SEZs are fully operational, but they have attracted some investment and are available to any company, domestic or foreign.
Net inflows of FDI peaked at USD 5.4 billion in fiscal year FY2008. [Note: Pakistan’s fiscal year in runs from July 1 to June 30. End Note.] In FY2018, net FDI was USD 3.1 billion, approximately 14.8 percent higher than FY2017. According to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the largest share of FDI (USD 997 million) was in the power sector (largely due to Chinese FDI in CPEC projects), followed by USD 708 million in the construction sector, and USD 400 million in financial business. Most analysts believe that the improved security environment, large energy projects under CPEC, and improvements in macroeconomic stability have played a key role in the improvement of FDI in FY2018. China remained the single largest FDI contributor in Pakistan, contributing more than 58 percent of Pakistan’s total FDI in FY2018. During the last five years, cumulative FDI inflows remained USD 10 billion, over 81 percent in non-manufacturing sectors. Since the PTI government started in 2018, Pakistan has signed Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia. These MoUs agreed to bring investments of over USD 21 billion, largely in the areas of energy, agriculture and oil and gas exploration.
Notwithstanding the substantial increase in Chinese FDI, non-Chinese sources are limited. Compared to the region, low FDI is attributed to Pakistan offering competitive returns in only a few sectors. For example, multinational companies in the consumer goods sector have witnessed steady profits, while pharmaceuticals have been obstructed by opaque and restrictive government regulations. Power companies have also experienced an uptick in business since CPEC, but mostly by conventional energy providers; renewable energy providers have encountered obstacles in the form of inconsistent and discouraging policies from regulators. The current government is working on introducing new energy policy for the next 25 years. It aims to have 20-30 percent share of all energy come from renewable energy by 2030, compared to the current share of 2-3 percent. The ICT sector has risen steadily, albeit from a relatively low base. Growth has come from companies engaged in outsourcing services and software development.
Pakistan has a low tax-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio of approximately 13 percent in FY2018, which slightly increased from FY2017. [Note: For comparison, OECD countries averaged 32-34 percent over the past decade. End Note] Pakistan relies heavily on multinational corporations for a significant portion of the tax collections. Foreign investors in Pakistan regularly report that both federal and provincial tax regulations are difficult to navigate. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report notes that companies pay 47 different taxes, compared to an average of 24.8 in other South Asian countries. On average, calculating these payments requires that business spend on average over 293 hours per year. In addition, companies frequently lament the lack of transparency in the assessment of taxes. Since 2013, the government has requested advance tax payments from companies, complicating businesses’ operations as the government intentionally delays tax refunds.
The Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act, 1976, and the Furtherance and Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992, provide legal protection of foreign investors and investment in Pakistan. All sectors and activities are open for foreign investment unless specifically prohibited or restricted for reasons of national security and public safety. Specified restricted industries include arms and ammunitions; high explosives; radioactive substances; securities, currency and mint; and consumable alcohol.
The specialized investment promotion agency of Pakistan is the Board of Investment (BOI). The BOI is responsible for the promotion of investment, facilitating local and foreign investors for implementation of their projects, and to enhance Pakistan’s international competitiveness. They assist companies and investors who intend to invest in Pakistan and facilitate the implementation and operation of their projects.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
The 2013 Investment Policy eliminated minimum initial capital investment requirements across sectors so that no minimum investment requirement or upper limit on the share of foreign equity is allowed, with the exception of the airline, banking, agriculture, and media sectors. Foreign investors in the services sector may retain 100 percent equity – subject to obtaining permission, a no objection certificate, or license from the concerned agency, as well as fulfilling the requirements of respective sectoral policy. In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed, while in the agricultural sector, the threshold is 60 percent – with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed. There are no restrictions on payments of royalties and technical fees for the manufacturing sector, but there are restrictions on other sectors, including a USD 100,000 limit on initial franchise investments and a cap on subsequent royalty payments of 5 percent of net sales for five years. Royalties and technical payments are subject to a 15 percent income tax, and subject to remittance restrictions listed in Chapter 14, section 12 of the SBP Foreign Exchange Manual ( ). The tourism, housing, construction, and information and communications technology sectors have been granted “industry status,” eligible for lower tax and utility rates compared to “commercial sector” enterprises, including banks and insurance companies. Small-scale mining valued at less than PKR 300 million (roughly USD 2.6 million) is restricted to Pakistani investors.
With the exception of arms, ammunition, high explosives, radioactive substances, private security companies, currency, and consumable alcohol, foreign investors are allowed in all sectors. There are no restrictions or mechanisms that specifically exclude U.S. investors.
Since signing the World Trade Organization (WTO) Financial Services Agreement in December 1997, Pakistan’s financial services commitments have improved. Foreign banks can establish locally incorporated subsidiaries and branches, provided they have USD 5 billion or belong to one of the regional organizations or associations to which Pakistan is a member (e.g., Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)). Absent these requirements, foreign banks are limited to a 49-percent maximum equity stake in locally incorporated subsidiaries. Foreign and local banks must submit an annual branch expansion plan to the SBP for approval. The SBP approves branch openings based on the bank’s net worth, adequacy of capital structure, future earnings prospects, credit discipline, and the needs of the local population. All banks are required to open 20 percent of their new branches in small cities, towns, and villages.
The Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act stipulates that foreign investments will not be subject to higher income taxes than similar investments made by Pakistani citizens. While Pakistan’s legal code and economic policy do not discriminate against foreign investments, enforcement of contracts remains problematic due to a weak and inefficient judiciary. Pakistani courts have not upheld some international arbitration awards.
Pakistan maintains investment screening mechanisms for inbound foreign investment. The BOI is the lead organization for such screening. Pakistan blocks foreign investments if the screening process determines the investment could negatively affect Pakistan’s national security.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Pakistan has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews in last three years. The International Monetary Fund assessed the nation’s overall macro economy under Article-IV consultation in 2018; however, that review was not specific to investment policy.
Pakistan works with the World Bank to improve its overall ease of doing business standing. The government has simplified pre-registration and registration facilities and automated land records to simplify property registrations. To improve cross border trade, it has also improved electronic submissions and processing of trade documents. Even so, Pakistan ranked 130 out of 190 countries in the World Bank Doing Business 2019 report’s “Starting a Business” category. Pakistan is ranked 26 out of 190 for protecting minority investors. Starting a business in Pakistan normally involves 10 procedures and takes at least 16.5 days.
The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) manages company registrations. Both foreign and domestic companies begin the registration by providing a company name and paying the requisite registration fees to the SECP. Companies then supply documentation on the proposed business, including information on corporate offices, location of company headquarters, and a copy of the company charter. Companies must apply for national tax numbers with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to facilitate payment of income and sales taxes. Industrial or commercial establishments with five or more employees must register with Pakistan’s Federal Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) for social security purposes. Depending on the location, registration with provincial governments may be required.
The government’s investment policy provides both domestic and foreign investors the same incentives, concessions, and facilities for industrial development. Though some incentives are included in the federal budget, the government relies on Statutory Regulatory Orders (SROs) for industry specific taxes or incentives. For example, an SRO issued in February 2019 imposed additional labeling requirements for imported goods, creating non-tariff barriers.
Pakistan does not promote or incentivize outward investment. Although the government does not explicitly prohibit Pakistanis from investing abroad, the process of approvals is so cumbersome it normally takes years, discouraging potential investors.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Though U.S.-Pakistan Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations began in 2004 and closed the text in 2012, the agreement has not been signed due to reservations from Pakistani stakeholders. According to the BOI, Pakistan has signed BITs with 49 countries with only 27 entered into force.
Pakistan does not have a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with United States. However, both countries have Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in place. Pakistan has trade agreements with China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Mauritius, and Indonesia. It is also a signatory of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) and the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA). Pakistan is negotiating FTAs with Turkey and Thailand and re-negotiating its existing FTA with China.
A U.S.-Pakistan bilateral tax treaty was signed in 1959. Pakistan has double taxation agreements with 63 other countries and a multilateral tax treaty between the SAARC countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) came into force in 2011. The treaty provides additional provisions for the administration of taxes. In 2018, Pakistan updated its tax treaty with Switzerland and has approached the United States government to request the same.
In 2016, Pakistan signed the OECD’s Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. The Convention will help Pakistan exchange banking details with the other 80 signatory countries to locate untaxed money in foreign banks. Pakistan is a member of the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) framework and will automatically exchange country-by-country reporting as required by the BEPS package.
4. Industrial Policies
Pakistan currently does not provide any formal investment incentives such as grants, tax credits or deferrals, access to subsidized loans, or reduced cost of land to individual foreign investors. The 2013 investment policy revolves around business facilitation and not direct incentives. However, in 2016, the government reduced or eliminated custom duties on the imports of equipment and machinery and introduced temporary tariff concessions for the automobile manufacturing sector. The government does not offer research and development incentives. Nonetheless, certain technology-focused industries, including information technology and solar energy, benefit from a wide range of fiscal incentives.
In general, the government does not issue guarantees or jointly finance foreign direct investment projects. However, the government made an exception for CPEC related projects; the Government of Pakistan provided sovereign guarantees for the investment and returns, and provided joint financing for specific projects.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Providing unique fiscal and institutional incentives exclusively for export-oriented industries, the government established the first Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Karachi in 1989. Subsequently, EPZs were established in Risalpur, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Saindak, Gwadar, RekoDek, and Duddar; today, only Karachi, Risalpur, Sialkot, and Saindak remain operational. EPZs offer investors tax and duty exemptions on equipment, machinery, and materials (including components, spare parts, and packing material); indefinite loss carry-forward; and access to the EPZ Authority (EPZA) “Single Window,” which facilitates import and export authorizations. The 2012 Special Economic Zones Act allows both domestically focused and export-oriented enterprises to establish companies and public-private partnerships within SEZs. Despite offering substantial financial, investor service, and infrastructure benefits to reduce the cost of doing business, Pakistan’s SEZs have struggled to attract investment due to lack of basic infrastructure.
Pakistan intends to establish nine SEZs under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The government plans to inaugurate the first one in Rashakai, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in June 2019. Most CPEC SEZs remain in nascent stages of development.
Apart from SEZ-related incentives, the government offers special incentives for Export-Oriented Units (EOU) – a stand-alone industrial entity exporting 100 percent of its production. Export-Oriented Units incentives include duty and tax exemptions for imported machinery and raw materials, as well as the duty-free import of vehicles. Export-Oriented Units are allowed to operate anywhere in the country. Pakistan provides the same investment opportunities to foreign investors and local investors.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Foreign business officials have struggled to get business visas to Pakistan. When permitted, business people typically received single-entry visas with a short duration validity. Once in country, Pakistan required NOCs to visit locations outside of Islamabad, Karachi, or Lahore, making it difficult to inspect factories, supply chains, or goods outside of these three cities. Pakistan announced updates to its visa and NOC policies to attract foreign tourists and businesspeople, but the more open polices have not been fully implemented. New visa policies will not apply to U.S. passport holders. Technical and managerial personnel working in sectors that are open to foreign investments are typically not required to obtain special work permits. The new NOC policy permits travel throughout Pakistan, with exceptions for travel near Pakistan’s borders that still requires an NOC.
Foreign investors are not required to use domestic content in goods or technology or hire Pakistani nationals, either as laborers or as representatives on the company’s board of directors. Likewise, there are no specific performance requirements for foreign entities operating in the country, and the same investment incentives are available to both local and foreign investors. Similarly, there are no special performance requirements on the basis of origin of the investment.
Foreign investors are allowed to sign technical agreements with local investors without disclosing proprietary information. According to the country’s 2013 Investment Policy, manufacturers introducing new technologies that are unavailable in Pakistan receive the same incentives available to companies operating in Pakistan’s SEZs.
The embassy has not received complaints regarding encryption issues from IT companies operating in Pakistan. Officially, accreditation from the Electronic Certification Accreditation Council (under the Ministry of Information Technology) is required for entities using encryption and cryptography services, though it is not consistently enforced. Despite the company’s April 2016 announcement that it would employ end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp is widely used. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) initially demanded unfettered access to Research in Motion’s BlackBerry customer information, but the issue was resolved when the company agreed to assist law enforcement agencies in the investigation of criminal activities. PTA and SBP prohibit telecom and financial companies from transferring customer data overseas. Other data, including emails, can be legally transmitted and stored outside the country.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Though Pakistan’s legal system supports the enforcement of property rights and both local and foreign owner interests, it offers incomplete protection for the acquisition and disposition of property rights. With the exception of the agricultural sector, where foreign ownership is limited to 60 percent, no specific regulations regarding land lease or acquisition by foreign or non-resident investors exists. Corporate farming by foreign-controlled companies is permitted if the subsidiaries are incorporated in Pakistan. There are no limits on the size of corporate farmland holdings, and foreign companies can lease farmland for up to 50 years, with renewal options.
The 1979 Industrial Property Order safeguards industrial property in Pakistan against government use of eminent domain with insufficient compensation for both foreign and domestic investors. The 1976 Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act guarantees the remittance of profits earned through the sale or appreciation in value of property.
Though protection for legal purchasers of land are provided, even if unoccupied, clarity of land titles remains a challenge. Improvements to land titling have been made by the Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial governments dedicating significant resources to digitizing land records.
Intellectual Property Rights
The Government of Pakistan has identified intellectual property rights (IPR) protection as a key economic reform and has taken concrete steps over the past 15 years to strengthen its IPR regime. In 2005, Pakistan created the Intellectual Property Organization (IPO) to consolidate government control over trademarks, patents, and copyrights. Three ministries handled these areas previously: the Ministry of Education for copyright, Ministry of Commerce for trademarks, and the Ministry of Industries for patents. The IPO’s mission also includes coordinating and monitoring the enforcement and protection of IPR through law enforcement agencies. Enforcement agencies include local police, the Federal Investigation Agency, customs officials at the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the Securities & Exchange Commission (SECP), the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), and the Print and Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
Although the creation of the IPO consolidated policy-making institutions, confusion surrounding enforcement agencies’ roles still constrains IPO performance on IPR enforcement, leaving IPR holders struggling to identify the right forum in which to address IPR infringement. The IPO constituted seven new enforcement coordination committees for better IPR enforcement and signed an MOU with the FBR to share information. The IPO is in initial stages to sign MOUs with the CCP and SECP. However, the IPO labors to coordinate disparate bodies under current laws. Weak penalties and agencies’ redundancies allow counterfeiters to evade punishment, while companies struggle to identify the correct forum to file complaints. Pakistan is the fourth largest source of counterfeit and pirated goods seized by U.S. customs and border protection.
In 2016, Pakistan established three specialized IP tribunals – in Karachi covering Sindh and Balochistan, in Lahore covering Punjab, and in Islamabad covering Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There are plans to create tribunals for Peshawar and Quetta as well. The Lahore and Islamabad IP tribunals became fully operational in 2016, and the Karachi tribunal came online in April 2017. The IP tribunals have already ruled on 800 cases, many of which have resulted in injunction orders. Numerous U.S. companies have successfully defended their IPR in the new tribunals, but a lack of capacity and consistency of the presiding officers remains a concern. In under three years, the Islamabad and Lahore tribunals have each seated three different presiding officers while Karachi had two, and high court justices without expertise in IP law often overrule tribunals’ decisions. While these three tribunals are fully operational and have improved IPR enforcement, they have not made any major rulings, and it remains too early to assess their long-term influence on Pakistan’s IPR environment.
In 2018, the CCP investigated and imposed a fine of USD 47,000 on a local coffee house on charges of unauthorized use of the Starbucks trademark.
Pakistan has sought to encourage investment in the seed industry through enhanced regulatory structure. Over the past three years officials have revised the 1976 Seed Act, cautiously resumed the biotechnology approval process, and received parliamentary approval of the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act (approved December 2016), which, once implementing rules are written, is expected to provide Pakistan’s first-ever intellectual property protection for seeds. While current and potential investors have expressed concern over enforcement capacity and would like to accelerate the approval process for new technologies, the Government of Pakistan is taking steps to solidify federal (rather than provincial) oversight of the sector and respond to industry input. Access to modern seed technology is vital to the development of Pakistan’s agricultural sector.
Pakistan is a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). In July 2004, Pakistan acceded to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. Pakistan has not yet ratified the WIPO Copyright Treaty or the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty.
In 2016, Pakistan was upgraded from Priority Watch List to Watch List with an Out-of-Cycle Review on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report. Pakistan currently remains on the Watch List for the 2019 Special 301 Report, which acknowledged certain achievements by the government but highlighted the lack of enforcement on violations, particularly with respect to copyrights, pharmaceutical data, and media piracy. Pakistan is not included on the Notorious Markets List.
Pakistan does not track and report on seizure of counterfeit goods.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Government of Pakistan does not provide any investment incentives except the incentives offered to attract new capital inflows in specialized sectors and SEZs. These incentives for specific sector and SEZs include tax exemptions, tariffs reductions, infrastructure, and investor facilitation services in designated special economic zones. Since 1997, Pakistan has established and maintained a largely open investment regime. The PML-N government introduced the Investment Policy 2013 that further liberalized investment policies in most sectors. However, in addition to expressing concern about the deteriorating law and order situation, foreign investors continue to advocate for Pakistan to improve legal protections for foreign investments, protect intellectual property rights, and an established a clear and consistent policy of upholding contractual obligations and settlement of tax disputes.
Pakistan’s three stock exchanges (Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi) merged to form the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE) in January 2016. As a member of the Federation of Euro-Asian Stock Exchanges and the South Asian Federation of Exchanges, PSE is also an affiliated member of the World Federation of Exchanges and the International Organization of Securities Commissions. In 2016, the government imposed a capital gains tax of 10 percent on stocks held for less than six months, and eight percent on stocks held for more than six months but less than a year and no capital gains tax for holdings that exceed 12 months. However, in 2017, the government modified the capital gain tax and imposed 15 percent on stocks held for less than 12 months, 12.5 percent on stocks held for more than 12 but less than 24 months, and 7.5 percent on stocks held for more than 24 months. The 2012 Capital Gains Tax Ordinance appointed the National Clearing Company of Pakistan Limited to compute, determine, collect, and deposit the capital gains tax. Per the Foreign Exchange Regulations, foreign investors can invest in shares and securities listed on the PSE and can repatriate profits, dividends, or disinvestment proceeds. The investor must open a Special Convertible Rupee Account with any bank in Pakistan in order to make portfolio investments.
The free flow of financial resources for domestic and foreign investors is supported by financial sector policies, with the SBP and SECP providing regulatory oversight of financial and capital markets. Interest rates depend on the reverse repo rate (also called the policy rate). The SBP steadily lowered the policy rate from a high of 10 percent at the fourth quarter 2014 to 6 percent in November 2017, but has increased the rate to 10.75 percent in March 2019.
Pakistan has adopted and adheres to international accounting and reporting standards – including IMF Article VIII, with comprehensive disclosure requirements for companies and financial sector entities.
Foreign-controlled manufacturing, semi-manufacturing (i.e. goods that require additional processing before marketing), and non-manufacturing concerns are allowed to borrow from the domestic banking system without regulated limits.
The banks are required to ensure that total exposure to any domestic or foreign entity should not exceed 25 percent of banks’ equity with effect from December 2013. Foreign-controlled (minimum 51 percent equity stake) semi-manufacturing concerns (i.e., those producing goods that require additional processing for consumer marketing) are permitted to borrow up to 75 percent of paid-up capital, including reserves.
For non-manufacturing concerns, local borrowing caps are set at 50 percent of paid-up capital. While there are no restrictions on private sector access to credit instruments, few alternative instruments are available beyond commercial bank lending. Pakistan’s domestic corporate bond, commercial paper and derivative markets remain in early stages of development. There are a limited number of venture capitalists operating in Pakistan.
Money and Banking System
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is the central bank of Pakistan.
According to the most recent statistics published by the SBP, only 23 percent of the adult population uses formal banking channels to conduct financial transactions while 24 percent are informally served by the banking sector. The remaining 53 percent of the adult population do not use any formal financial services.
The overall financial sector has done well in Pakistan over the last few years. The SBP’s December 2018 banking sector review noted improving asset quality, stable liquidity, robust solvency, and increased investment in the banking sector. The asset base of the banking sector expanded by 7.3 percent during 2018. The risk profile of the banking sector remained satisfactory because profitability and asset quality improved as the non-performing loans to gross loans (infection) rate declined to its lowest level in a decade, 8 percent, at the end of 2018.
The five largest banks, one of which is state owned, control 52.3 percent of all banking sector assets. In 2018, total assets of the banking industry were USD 140.6 billion. As of December 2018, net non-performing bank loans totaled approximately USD 785.7 million – 1.4 percent of net total loans.
The penetration of foreign banks in Pakistan is relatively low and do not account for a significant portion of the local banking industry and overall economy. According to a study conducted by the World Bank Group in 2018, the share of foreign banks to GDP stands at 3.5 percent. In the wake of the global financial crisis, foreign banks have scaled down their operations and businesses in Pakistan mainly due to policies to shrink operations in small and struggling markets. Banks closing down or limiting their operations included the Royal Bank of Scotland and Citibank, which sold its consumer banking portfolio to Habib Bank Limited and restricted its operations to corporate banking. Other foreign banks operating in Pakistan are Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank, Samba Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of Tokyo, and the newly established Bank of China.
International banks are involved in two major types of international activities: cross-border flows, and foreign participation in domestic banking systems through brick-and-mortar operations.
SBP requires that foreign banks hold at minimum USD 300 million in capital reserves at their Pakistan flagship location, and maintain at least an eight percent capital adequacy ratio. In addition, foreign banks are required to maintain the following minimum capital requirements, which vary based on the number of branches they are operating:
- 1 to 5 branches: USD 28 million in assigned capital;
- 6 to 50 branches: USD 56 million in assigned capital;
- Over 50 branches: USD 94 million in assigned capital.
Foreigners require proof of residency – a work visa, company sponsorship letter, and valid passport – to establish a bank account in Pakistan. There are no further other restrictions to prevent foreigners from opening and operating a bank account. However, most foreigners prefer to use a foreign bank to conduct their banking transactions.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
SBP maintains strict controls over the exchange rate and monitors foreign exchange transactions in the open market. Banks are required to report and justify outflows of foreign currency. Travelers leaving or entering Pakistan are allowed to physically carry a maximum of USD 10,000 in cash. While cross-border payments of interest, profits, dividends, and royalties are allowed without submitting prior notification, banks are required to report loan information so SBP can verify remittances against repayment schedules. Exchange companies are permitted to buy and sell foreign currency for individuals, banks, and other exchange companies, and can also sell foreign currency to incorporated companies to facilitate the remittance of royalty, franchise, and technical fees. Exchange companies are playing an increasingly important role in facilitating remittances from Pakistanis working overseas.
There is no clear policy on convertibility of funds associated with investment to other global currencies. SBP deals with such cases and opts for an ad-hoc approach on a case to case and situational basis.
The embassy has provided advocacy for U.S. companies that have struggled to repatriate their profits. Although no formal policy bars profit repatriation, U.S. companies have faced delays in repatriation from the SBP.
The Ministry of Finance and the SBP jointly manage Pakistan’s exchange rate. Even though the exchange rate is determined by the market, over the past few years the SBP has intervened to stabilize the exchange rate or manage its decline. Falling foreign exchange reserves have constrained the SBP’s ability to directly intervene in the market by injecting dollars into it.
The 2001 Income Tax Ordinance of Pakistan exempts taxes on any amount of foreign currency remitted from outside Pakistan through normal banking channels. Remittance of full capital, profits, and dividends over USD 5 million are permitted while dividends are tax-exempt. No limits exist for dividends, remittance of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or payment for imported equipment in Pakistani law. However, large transactions that have the potential to influence Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves require approval from the government’s Economic Coordination Committee. Similarly, banks are required to account for outflows of foreign currency. Investor remittances must be registered with the SBP within 30 days of execution and can only be made against a valid contract or agreement.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Pakistan does not have its own sovereign wealth fund (SWF) and no specific exemptions for foreign SWFs exist in Pakistan’s tax law. Foreign SWFs are taxed like any other non-resident person unless specific concessions have been granted under an applicable tax treaty to which Pakistan is a signatory.
 Even though the value of total assets has increased in PKR, due to devaluation of the rupee, the converted number in USD has decreased from 2017.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The second round of the Government of Pakistan’s extensive 15-year privatization campaign came to an abrupt halt after 2006 when the Supreme Court reversed a proposed deal for the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills, setting a precedent for future offerings. As a result, large and inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs) retain monopolistic powers in a few key sectors, requiring the government to provide annual subsidies to cover SOE losses. Three of the country’s largest SOEs include Pakistan Railways (PR), Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM). According to the IMF, the total debt of SOEs now amounts to 3.6 percent of GDP (almost USD 10 billion) in 2018.
There are 197 SOEs in the power, oil and gas, banking and finance, insurance, and transportation sectors. Some are profitable; others suffer losses. They provide stable employment and other benefits for more than 420,000 workers. According to the IMF, in 2018, Pakistan’s total debts and liabilities for SOEs exceeded PKR 1.2 trillion (USD 10 billion), or 3.6 percent of GDP – a 22 percent increase since 2016, but roughly the same since 2017. Some SOEs have governing boards, but they are not effective.
SOEs competing in the domestic market receive non-market based advantages from the host government. Two examples include PIA and PSM, which are operating at loss, but the Government of Pakistan continues to provide them with financial bailout packages. The embassy is not aware of any negative impact to the U.S firms in this regard.
PR is the only provider of rail services in Pakistan and the largest public sector employer, with approximately 90,000 employees. PR’s freight traffic has declined by over 75 percent since 1970 and only about 250 of PR’s 458 locomotives are serviceable. PR has attempted to recapture the market share previously ceded to the trucking industry, and in 2016, the company purchased 55 new locomotives from GE for its freight operations. PR has received commitments for USD 8.2 billion in CPEC loans and grants to modernize its mail rail lines. PR relies on monthly government subsidies of approximately USD 2.8 million to cover its ongoing obligations. In FY2018, government payments to PR totaled approximately USD 321 million. Pakistan no longer intends to privatize PR, and the Privatization Commission has removed it from the list of SOEs identified for privatization.
Even though the government is still publicly committed to privatizing its national airline, the process has been stalled since early 2016 when three labor union members were killed during a violent protest of the government’s decision to convert PIA into a limited company. The move would have allowed shares to be transferred to a non-government entity and pave the way for privatization. The legislature eventually passed a bill, but it requires that the Pakistan government retain 51 percent equity in the airline in the event it is privatized, reducing the attractiveness of the company to potential investors. In 2018, the Government of Pakistan extended bailout packages worth USD 300 million to PIA.
Established to avoid importing foreign steel, PSM has accumulated losses of approximately USD 3.77 billion per annum. The company loses USD 5 million a week, and has not produced steel since June 2015, when the national gas company cut power supplies due to over USD 340 million in outstanding bills. Like PIA, the government attempted to privatize PSM under the IMF program but was stymied by domestic and political opposition. The government is reportedly considering leasing or selling a portion of PSM’s 19,000 acres, coupled with a basket of incentives that would provide for a 10-year tax holiday and duty-free import of any machinery and equipment upgrades to potential leases.
The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR) voluntary guidelines in 2013, though adherence to the OECD guidelines is not known.
Terms to purchase public shares of SOEs and financial institutions for both foreign and local investors are the same. Under the 2013 IMF EFF program, the government identified 31 SOEs for either partial or total privatization. In 2015, the government successfully offloaded stakes in several banks and publicly traded firms, and in 2016 sold its 40 percent stakes in PSE. However, due to significant political resistance, the government postponed plans to privatize its largest and most inefficient SOEs, namely PIA, PSM, and several power generation and distribution companies.
Eight SOEs from the banking, energy, mining, and hospitality sectors are scheduled to be privatized by the end of 2019. Foreign investors can participate after following guidelines established by the Privatization Commission.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is no unified set of standards defining responsible business conduct in Pakistan. Though large companies, especially multi-national corporations, have an awareness of responsible business conduct standards, there is a lack of wider awareness. The Pakistani government has not established standards or strategic documents specifically defining responsible business conduct standards and goals. The Ministry of Human Rights published its most recent “Action Plan for Human Rights” in May 2017. Although it does not specifically address responsible business conduct or business and human rights, one of its six thematic areas of focus is implementation of international and UN treaties. Pakistan is signatory to nearly all International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions.
In late 2016 and early 2017, a series of explosions and a fire, occurred at the Gadani shipbreaking yards in Balochistan. The incidents underscored the lack of safety and environmental standards in the industry. The Prime Minister’s office launched a probe into the 2016 explosion and concluded that negligence by ship owners and government officials caused the incident. The government suspended officials found guilty of negligence, and announced that families of the incident’s victims would receive compensation. A subsequent January 2017 fire prompted officials to halt the scrapping of oil and liquid petroleum gas tankers at the shipyard.
International organization, civil society, NGO, and labor union contacts all note that there is a lack of adequate implementation and enforcement of labor laws. Some NGOs, worker organizations, and business associations are working to promote responsible business conduct, but not on a wide scale.
Pakistan does not have domestic measures requiring supply chain due diligence for companies sourcing minerals originating from conflict-affected areas and does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and/or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
Pakistan was ranked 117 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index. Following the institution of the 18th Amendment, corruption at the provincial level has increased, according to Transparency International. The organization noted that corruption problems persist due to the lack of accountability and enforcement of penalties, followed by the lack of merit-based promotion, and relatively low salaries.
Bribes are criminal acts punishable by law but exist at all levels of government. Although high courts are widely viewed as more credible, lower courts are often considered corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from prominent wealthy, religious, and political figures. Political involvement in judicial appointments increases the government’s influence over the court system.
NAB, Pakistan’s anti-corruption organization, suffers from insufficient funding and staffing. Like NAB, the CCP’s mandate also includes anti-corruption authorities, but its effectiveness is also hindered by resource constraints.
Resources to Report Corruption
Justice (R) Javed Iqbal
National Accountability Bureau
Ataturk Avenue, G-5/2, Islamabad
5-C, 2nd Floor, Khayaban-e-Ittehad, Phase VII, D.H.A., Karachi
10. Political and Security Environment
Despite improvements to the security situation in recent years, the presence of foreign and domestic terrorist groups within Pakistan continues to pose a significant danger to U.S. interests and citizens. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, military installations, airports, universities, tourist locations, schools, hospitals, places of worship, and government facilities. The embassies of many countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have issued travel advisories regarding travel to Pakistan, and many multinational companies operating in Pakistan employ private security and risk management firms to mitigate the significant threats to their business operations. Even with improvements in the security situation, terrorist attacks remain frequent in Pakistan. Despite high levels of violence in Karachi, carried out by criminal gangs with alleged political affiliations, targeted killings have largely declined since Pakistan’s paramilitary Rangers began an intensive campaign of operations in 2013 to counter violent crime.
The BOI, in collaboration with Provincial Investment Promotion Agencies, has coordinated airport-to-airport security and secure lodging for foreign investors. To inquire about this service, investors can contact the BOI for additional information.
The embassy is not aware of any damage to projects and/or installations. Abductions/kidnappings of foreigners for ransom remains a concern.
While security challenges exist in Pakistan, the country has not grown increasingly politicized or insecure in the past year.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Pakistan has a complex system of labor laws. Due to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the provinces manage jurisdiction over labor matters. Each province is in the process of developing its own labor law regime, and the provinces are at different stages of labor law development.
In the Islamabad Capital Territory and provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, the minimum wage for unskilled workers is PKR 15,000 per month (USD 106). In Punjab, it is PKR 16,500 per month (USD 118), while in Baluchistan PKR 14,000 per month (USD 100). Legal protections for laborers are also uneven across provinces, and implementation of labor laws is weak nationwide. Lahore inspectorates have inadequate resources, which lead to inadequate frequency and quality of labor inspections. On January 23, 2019, the Punjab Provincial Assembly passed the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019. The law prohibits the employment of children under age 15 as domestic workers, and stipulates that children between 15 and 18 may only perform part-time, non-hazardous household work. The law also mandates a series of protections and benefits, including limits to the number of hours worked weekly, and paid sick and holiday leave. On January 25, 2017, the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2017. The Senate passed the Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Act in March 2016 ( ), but the bill has not progressed in the National Assembly. An amendment to the federal Employment of Children Act, 1991, which would raise the minimum age of employment to sixteen, has been pending in the National Assembly since January 2016.
According to Pakistan’s most recent labor force survey (conducted 2017-2018), the civilian workforce consists of approximately 65.5 million workers. Women are extremely under-represented in the labor force. The survey estimated overall labor participation at approximately 45 percent, with male participation at 68 percent and female participation at 20 percent. The largest percentage of the labor force works in the agricultural sector (38.5 percent), followed by the services (38 percent), and industry/manufacturing (16 percent) sectors. The official unemployment rate continued to hover at around 6 percent, but the figure is likely significantly higher for youth. In 2018, the UN Population Fund estimated that 29 percent of Pakistan’s population was between the ages of 10 and 24 and according to 2017-18 labor force survey estimates unemployment for 15 to 24 year old was 10.5 percent.
Pakistan is a labor exporter, particularly to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. According to Pakistan’s Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment’s 2018 “Export of Manpower Analysis,” the bureau had registered more than 10.5 million Pakistanis going abroad for employment since 1971, with more than 96 percent traveling to GCC countries. Pakistanis working overseas sent more than USD 19 billion in remittances each year between 2015 and 2018.
Pakistani government contacts say their workforce is insufficiently skilled. Federal and provincial government initiatives such as the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission and the Punjab government’s Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority aim to increase the employability of the Pakistani workforce. However, the ILO’s 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Programme notes that “Neither a comprehensive national policy nor coherent provincial policies for skills and entrepreneurship development are being applied.”
The ILO’s 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Program notes that “a small fraction of vulnerable workers are covered by social security in one form or another, while access to comprehensive social protection systems is also limited.” The ILO’s 2014 Decent Work Country Profile states that in 2013, only 9.4 percent of the economically active population – excluding public sector employees – were contributing to formal social security systems such as old age, survivors’, and disability pensions.
Freedom of association is guaranteed under article 17 of Pakistan’s constitution. However, the ILO indicates that the Pakistani state and employers have used “disabling legislation and repressive tactics” to make union formation and collective bargaining “extremely difficult.” The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research in its 2015 “Status of Labour Rights in Pakistan” noted that according to non-official data, there were 949 registered trade unions with a total membership of 1,865,141 – approximately four percent of the total estimated labor force. Provincial labor departments are responsible for managing trade union and industrial labor disputes. Each province has its own industrial relations legislation, and each has labor courts to adjudicate disputes. Public sector workers, such as teachers and public health workers, have spearheaded recent strikes.
The ILO’s 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Programme states that “exploitative labour practices in the form of child and bonded labour remain pervasive…” and notes “the absence of reliable and comprehensive data to accurately assess the situation of hazardous child labour, worst forms of child labour, or forced labour.” The report also identifies weak compliance with, and enforcement of, labor laws and regulations as contributing to poor working conditions – including unhealthy and unsafe workplaces –and the erosion of worker rights.
The Balochistan government, in collaboration with ILO, supported tripartite consultations regarding the Balochistan Prohibition of Employment of Children Bill. The draft legislation prohibits employment of children in 39 worst forms of labor or hazardous labor, including domestic labor. Negotiations were ongoing as of March 2018, and NGO and international organization contacts said they expected the Provincial Assembly to enact the law in 2018.
Pakistan is a Generalized System of Preferences beneficiary, which requires labor standards to be upheld.
12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) maintains an active portfolio of projects worth USD 352.7 million in Pakistan, including new investments in microfinance and hospital care in rural Pakistan.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
* Source for Host Country Data: All host country statistical data used from State Bank of Pakistan which publishes data on a monthly basis.
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
|Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||$42,447||100%||Total Outward||$1,928||100%|
|United Kingdom||$12,378||29.2%||United Arab Emirates||$487||25.3%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||$462.5||100%||All Countries||$151.8||100%||All Countries||$310.7||100%|
|Saudi Arabia||$126.6||27.4%||Saudi Arabia||$121.2||79.8%||UAE||$107.9||34.7%|
|USA||$78.1||16.9%||British Virgin Islands||$9.6||6.3%||Indonesia||$39.4||12.7%|
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy Islamabad
Diplomatic Enclave, Ramna 5
Phone: (+92) 051-201-4000