The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is endowed with oil and gas resources that attracted billions of dollars in direct U.S. investment instrumental to extracting those resources. Discovery of oil in the 1990s resulted in rapid economic growth by the late 2000s. According to certain businesses, however, corruption, perceptions of a biased judiciary and a burdensome, inefficient bureaucracy undermine the general investment climate in the country. Growth has slowed as several operational oil fields have matured and are now in decline. International watchdog organizations give Equatorial Guinea one of the world’s lowest rankings in various global indices, including those for corruption, transparency, and ease of doing business. Companies have reported that these ratings underscore the challenging and opaque environment in which both local and foreign businesses must operate. The government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea is seeking investment in several sectors: agribusiness; fishing; energy and mining; petrochemicals, plastics and composites; travel and tourism; and finance. Most of these sectors are undeveloped. The Equatoguinean domestic market is small, with an estimated population of one million, although the country is a member of the Central African Monetary and Economic Union (CEMAC) sub-region, comprising more than 50 million people. The zone has a central bank and a common currency – the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro. Equatorial Guinea graduated from “Least Developed Country” (LCD) status in 2017 and recently reactivated its efforts to accede to the World Trade Organization. Equatorial Guinea became a full member of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2017 and is a member of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF).
The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has worked with international partners, including the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), since March 2014 to analyze ways to improve the business climate. The government implemented some recommendations, launched a one-stop shop for investors and entrepreneurs in January 2019 and instituted certain tax exemptions and other incentives to attract investment.
Equatorial Guinea has made significant advances on the country’s Horizon 2020 social development plan, specifically in construction of infrastructure, electrification, and access to water, healthcare, and education. Equatorial Guinea expresses pride in having some of the region’s best roads and other essential infrastructure, including development of its ports and pending completion of a new airport terminal. After oil prices started dropping in 2014, the government began extending timelines for completing infrastructure projects and put many on hold as the country slumped into a recession that continued through 2019. The steep drop in oil prices in early 2020 combined with the coronavirus pandemic is expected to shrink the economy by nearly 9 percent. Investors have reported that past commercial disputes have involved delayed payment, or non-payment, by the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea to foreign firms for delivered goods and services; and that certain companies exited the country with millions in unpaid bills. Some claim that much work remains, especially on diversifying the economy and improving healthcare and education.
Equatorial Guinea does not require visas for U.S. citizens. Visas may be difficult to obtain for third-country nationals, although the government created new visa categories in 2019 in an effort to speed the process. Residency and work permits can be similarly difficult to obtain or renew. In March 2018, to ease the conditions of entry and residence in the country, the government reduced the cost of permits by half. Residency and work permits were not issued regularly between 2017 and 2019, requiring expatriates to leave the country every 90 days.
Despite various challenges, U.S. businesses have mainly had success in the hydrocarbons sector. Some U.S. businesses have profited in other sectors such as technology and computer services. Various international companies continued to enter the market in 2019 and 2020 in response to new licensing rounds in the hydrocarbons and mining sectors. U.S. businesses may invest in new sectors such as telecommunications, infrastructure, agriculture, mining, and transportation.
The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea publicly publishes labor laws; however, officials do not consistently apply laws or regulations. Officials expect foreign companies to follow every detail of the labor law or face penalties. Some companies report less strict enforcement of compliance with the labor laws by national companies. U.S. businesses have complained that bureaucratic procedures are neither streamlined nor transparent and can be extremely slow for those without the proper political or familial connections. Many regulations are created within ministries, while others are the result of laws passed by the legislature. Although most regulations are created at the national level, some decisions may be taken at the municipal level (such as decisions about permits for construction).
Proposed laws and regulations are not published in draft form for public comment, but there have been reports of informal sharing with representatives of specific industries for comment. Regulations and laws are generally not published online but are available in hardcopy for a fee.
Private industry representatives report that accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are generally neither transparent nor consistent with international norms.
The government recently made some progress on transparency of its public finances and debt obligations. Although not available to the public several months until after the start of the fiscal year, the 2018 budget included information on debt obligations for the first time in several years, including both public and private debt obligations. The 2019 budget also included debt obligations. The government has been working on fiscal transparency as part of its International Monetary Fund (IMF) program and another program with the African Development Bank that began in 2019. The Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Planning announced plans to move customs to an electronic system to improve transparency and prevent corruption. The Automated Customs System (Sistema Aduanero Automatizado or SIDUNEAWorld) was implemented on April 30, 2020, upon the Ministry’s announcement. By late May 2020, it had already registered 49 shipping manifests via http://siduneage.com.
In April 2020, the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Planning issued an official communication on restructuring internal arrears. An internal arrears audit was conducted to evaluate the government’s obligations to construction companies. The African Legal Support Facility financed the process of regulating those arrears, which was carried out by McKinsey law firm. As stated in the memorandum of understanding, adopted by Decree No 136/2019, the next step includes the process of securitization to be conducted by an international financial agency.
International Regulatory Considerations
Equatorial Guinea is a member of the Central African Monetary and Economic Union (CEMAC), which includes a regional central bank (the Bank of Central African States, or BEAC) and various regulations including lower tariffs on intra-regional trade.
Equatorial Guinea is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is listed as an observer government. The General Council of the WTO established a Working Party to examine the country’s application to join in February 2008, but the country never submitted a Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime (MFTR). The government is working on its application. According to the WTO’s 2019 Report, published February 20, 2020, Equatorial Guinea’s accession process is likely to become active, with the first meeting of its working party in 2020. At the request of the Government of Equatorial Guinea, the WTO Secretariat undertook a technical assistance mission to Malabo in March 2019 to assist in preparing the MFTR and to enhance the negotiating team’s understanding of the WTO Agreements, with a strong focus on the accession process. Equatorial Guinea participated in regional WTO dialogues as recently as February 2020.
Equatorial Guinea is not a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Equatorial Guinea’s legal system is a mix of civil and customary law. Law No. 7/1992 states that disputes that cannot be resolved through direct negotiation by the involved parties shall be referred to Equatoguinean courts. Either party can also submit the dispute to international arbitration. Foreign investors are asked to declare their desired international arbitration venue in their initial application to invest in the country. Arbitration must take place in a neutral location and Spanish will be the official language of the arbitration.
Equatorial Guinea was ranked 105 of 190 in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 for “enforcing contracts.”
Labor law is meant to protect workers, including a requirement for written contracts and regulation of labor by minors. Labor courts exist for matters related to employment. Several companies have complained that cases are rarely decided on the merits and penalties are excessive. Appeals generally proceed to the supreme or constitutional court. The court system and staff are generally considered under-resourced and unprepared, according to companies and public statements by President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo. Both the Labor Law and the Penal Code were set to be updated in 2020, with drafts submitted to the Legislature, which was suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The judicial system is not independent of the executive branch as the president is officially the head of the court system, with the power to appoint or remove judges at will.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Most investment is focused in the extractive industries and infrastructure development. Laws No. 7/1992 and 2/1994 and Decrees No. 54/1994 and 127/2004 regulate foreign investment. Certain industries have additional regulations. The enforcement of laws and judicial decisions has not been reliable nor consistent, according to investors. The executive branch heavily influences the judicial branch, as the president is also the chief magistrate of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. While the government has made efforts to streamline foreign investment procedures and simplify business registration processes, these processes have not all been implemented. Decree No. 72/2018 of April 2018 revised No. 127/2014 of September 2014 and eliminated mandatory 35 percent national participation in foreign companies, except for in the hydrocarbons sector. The implementation of the “one-stop shop” for business registration in January 2019 simplified the registration process and reportedly reduced the time to complete it to seven business days, according to the government. The centralized one-stop shop clarifies the rates to be paid and the procedures to follow. The Ministries of Economy, Finance, and Planning and Commerce plan to evaluate the system in 2020 to determine its effectiveness. There is a webpage with information (https://www.ventanillaempresarialge.com/en/welcome/) but businesses cannot yet register online. Investors work with the relevant government ministries to negotiate contracts.
The government published Decree 45/2020 in April 2020, reducing the minimum capital needed to register a limited-liability company from 1 million XAF (USD 1713) to 100,000 XAF (USD 171).
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Equatorial Guinea does not have an agency that actively enforces any competition laws. Equatorial Guinea became a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Laws in Africa (OHADA) in 1999, and any OHADA competition laws should apply in Equatorial Guinea.
Expropriation and Compensation
Law No. 7/1992 states that the government will not expropriate foreign investments except when acting in the public interest with fair, just, and proper compensation. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea does not generally nationalize or expropriate foreign investments, although a Spanish investor had his property confiscated in 2013. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea does have an extensive record of expropriating locally owned property, frequently offering little or no compensation. The government has also withdrawn blocks for hydrocarbons exploration when companies failed to invest within an allotted period, though this generally appears to follow the terms of published tenders.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Equatorial Guinea is not a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention — also known as the Washington Convention), although Law No. 7/1992 states that international arbitration may utilize ICSID as the basis of procedure. Equatorial Guinea is not a party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
In October 2018, Equatorial Guinea announced the resolution of litigation begun in 2014 over Orange Group’s ownership stake in the incumbent fixed line and mobile operator Guinea Ecuatorial de Telecomunicaciones Sociedad Anonima (Getesa). Agence Ecofin cited a statement from the Embassy of Equatorial Guinea in France, confirming that on September 26, 2018, the government signed an agreement with Orange Middle East & Africa under which it paid EUR 50 million (USD 57.5 million) to the French-based telecoms giant in return for relinquishing Getesa shares. The final payment followed Equatorial Guinea’s initial share payment to Orange of EUR 45 million in October 2016, thereby settling the balance of an agreed EUR 95 million-redemption price for Orange’s 40 percent stake. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database says that Equatorial Guinea’s government lost a Paris Court of Appeal case against a fine imposed in July 2014 by the International Court of Arbitration for reneging on a 2011 agreement to buy Orange’s Getesa stake in the event of a new entrant launching (a clause it failed to honor after the 2012 launch of majority state-owned cellular company GECOMSA). In October 2016, the government agreed to pay EUR 150 million, including interest, to Orange.
A Spanish businessperson signed a joint venture agreement with President Obiang in 2009 to build 36,000 homes in Equatorial Guinea. President Obiang allegedly pulled support for the project at the last minute, leaving the Spanish citizen bankrupted. In March 2012, the Spanish businessperson submitted a claim before the International Centre for Investment Dispute Settlements (ICSID), which ruled in favor of Equatorial Guinea in 2015. In August 2017, Madrid’s provincial court ordained a magistrate to revise the claim, acknowledging the Spanish competency to rule the case because of the bilateral investment treaty between the countries. The case was ongoing at the start of 2020, but it is unclear if it will continue as the claimant died of COVID-19 in April 2020.
In at least one case in late 2018, a company that had not been paid by a state-owned enterprise for over a year was able to make an alternate arrangement to receive payment. This required an amendment to the contract rather than a judicial solution.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The Organization for the Harmonization of Corporate Law in Africa (OHADA) Uniform Act on Arbitration rules would apply where the Court has its seat in Abidjan, but it may sit in any one of the seventeen Member States of the Organization. The Court has already held hearings in several OHADA member states in recent years. As of March 2019, the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration of the OHADA included an Equatoguinean lawyer on the list of arbitrators of its Arbitration Center of the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration. This lawyer is the first Equatoguinean added to the OHADA list.
Law No. 7/1992 states that disputes that cannot be resolved through direct negotiation by the involved parties shall be referred to Equatoguinean courts. Either party can also submit the dispute to international arbitration. In their initial application to invest in the country, foreigners must declare their desired international arbitration venue. Arbitration must take place in a neutral location with Spanish as the official language.
Firms have alleged that court actions are sometimes discriminatory, not transparent, tending to favor local parties rather than foreigners or foreign companies.
In 2015, the government closed a microfinance institution founded by a member of an opposition party. He reportedly appealed to the CEMAC court, which recommended arbitration. We have no information on the outcome.
The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea adopted the business laws of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Laws of Africa (OHADA), including that pertaining to bankruptcy.
The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is tied for last place in the World Banks’s 2020 Doing Business Report’s ranking of “Resolving Insolvency.” The Republic of Equatorial Guinea received the World Bank’s “no practice mark” due to the lack of cases over the past five years involving judicial reorganization, judicial liquidation, or debt enforcement. This suggests that creditors are unlikely to recover their money through a formal legal process.
4. Industrial Policies
Law No. 2/1994 of June 6, 1994 offers investment incentives in the form of deductions from taxable income: 50 percent of the amount paid to Equatoguinean staff in wages and 200 percent of the cost of training Equatoguinean staff. It also extends/maintains previous license exemptions for imports and exports, allows conversion of sales into foreign currency, and permits transfers abroad of company profits. Decree No. 67/2017 of September 2017 created the “one-stop shop” business portal to promote investment and economic activity by significantly reducing the time needed to register a new company. According to the government, registering a company through the one-stop shop – launched in January 2019 — takes approximately seven (7) days. Decree n° 72/2018 of April 2018 revised decree 127/2014 of September 2014 to foster foreign direct investments. The revised investment law eliminated the need to have a local business partner in foreign companies, except for the hydrocarbons sector. The government sometimes jointly finances foreign direct investment projects, such as construction of social housing.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
There are currently no known laws, policies, or practices for any areas designated as Free Trade or Duty Free Zones. Three entities have tax-free status: Luba Freeport, the Port of Bata, and the K5 Freeport Oil Centre.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea used to require a minimum percentage of employees and subcontractors to be Equatoguinean, ranging from 70 to 90 percent. Presidential Decree 72/2018 of April 18, 2018 revised Presidential Decree 127/2014 of September 14, 2014, eliminating this requirement, except for the hydrocarbons sector. The decree requires that Equatoguineans hold certain management positions in the hydrocarbons sector. Foreign investors in the hydrocarbons sector are required to have a significant percentage of domestic content in goods and technology. Companies are supposed to send vacancies to the Ministry of Labor, Employment Promotion, and Social Security. If the Ministry is unable to find a qualified candidate within 30 days, the company may hire an ex-patriate worker.
Equatorial Guinea does not require U.S. citizens to obtain visas, which can be difficult for third-country nationals to obtain and generally requires a government-approved letter of invitation, which can take months to obtain. Residency and work permits can be similarly difficult to obtain and renew. In March 2018, as part of an overall effort to improve transparency and ease the conditions of entry and residence in the country, the cost of a residency permits from USD 700 to USD 343 per year. In December 2019, the government agreed to lower the cost of residency permits to conform with the cost of a business visa (H1B) to the United States (USD 160). Some companies have reported delays in the residency permit process. Work permits, often a pre-requisite for a residency permit, are also difficult and time consuming to obtain. Some businesses report that they have been unable to obtain the annual permits for over five years. There are some reports that certain officials have asked for “expediting” fees that are beyond established government fees and occasionally ask for bribes directly. This is especially problematic at the airport and at customs, according to various accounts.
The Ministries of Mines and Hydrocarbons and of Labor, Employment Promotion, and Social Security, among others, make regular inspections of companies and may apply fines. The Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons has fined, suspended, and expelled companies that it perceived did not comply with regulations or laws, especially on local content.
The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea requires internet service providers, whether local or foreign, to turn over source code or provide access to surveillance. According to article 15 of the Telecommunication law (Law 7, dated November 7, 2015), Equatoguinean government offices are supposed to report to the Regulating Organ of Telecommunications (ORTEL) any information concerning official communications lines and networks. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has no requirements pertaining to maintaining data storage within the country. The Ministry of Transports, Telecommunications, and Mail reduced the cost of internet in 2019 and 2020 as part of a strategy towards openness and increased access, and both the Telecommunications Regulator (ORTEL) and the Telecommunications Infrastructure Administrator (GITGE) are promoting implementation of the new strategy. The government had announced that internet would be available in all public places, such as airports, banks, and cultural centers, by 2020, though this will likely be delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is already available in some locations, such as the new boardwalk (Paseo Maritimo) in Malabo. Although the government claims that 95 percent of municipalities have access to a fiber optic network, according to the International Telecommunication Union, only 26.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea selectively enforces property rights. While the government has laws on the books regarding the rights of property owners, the government can use the judicial system to seize land in the interest of the country with little to no due process. Mortgages exist under a “Social Housing Program” in which payments are made to the government via the commercial CCEI Bank. The mortgage length varies and can be more than 20 years. Interest rates are high, ranging from 12 to 18 percent. Non-payment for six months results in the foreclosure of the property. According the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, registering property in Equatorial Guinea required six procedures and usually took 23 days. Equatorial Guinea was ranked 163 of 190 in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 for “registering property.”
Intellectual Property Rights
Equatorial Guinea is a member of the African Intellectual Property Organization (AIPO) and joined the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 1997. Intellectual property rights (IPR) protections fall under the Council of Scientific and Technological Research of Equatorial Guinea. Equatorial Guinea does not report on seizures of counterfeit goods. Legal structures are weak, and IPR protection and enforcement are rare to non-existent. The government does not maintain publicly available statistics on law enforcement or judicial actions. Equatorial Guinea is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.
The banking sector provides limited financing to businesses. The government reports that two microfinance institutions operate in country and the government has started a microcredit program for SMEs. The country does not have its own stock market. According to investors, capital markets are non-existent. Credit is available but interest rates are high, ranging from 12 to 18 percent for mortgages and about 15 percent for personal loans. Business loans generally require significant collateral, limiting opportunities for entrepreneurs, and may have rates of 20 percent or greater. It is unclear if foreigners could obtain credit on the local market.
Money and Banking System
While there are banks throughout the country, they are concentrated in urban centers. There is little information available about assets and the health of the banking system. The Equatorial Guinea National Bank (BANGE) has 29 branches throughout the country. According to a November 2017 article, BANGE had over 80,000 clients, approximately 10 percent of the population. CCEI/CCIW Bank de Guinea Ecuatorial has four branches in the largest cities and is a subsidiary of First Bank Afriland (Cameroon). BGFI Bank Guinée Equatoriale operates as a subsidiary of BGFI Holding Corporation (Gabon). Pan-African EcoBank (Togo) and Societe Générale (France) also operate in Equatorial Guinea. According to the United Nations, in 2016 approximately 20 percent of the population had deposits in commercial banks. If a bank does not have a branch in the location where an individual wants to do business, they would not have access their funds there. ATMs are in limited locations.
The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea is a member of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC) and shares a regional Central Bank with other CEMAC members. Members have ceded regulatory authority over their banks to CEMAC, but also are entitled to national BEAC Branches. Evinayong, Bata and Malabo each have a branch. The government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea is also a member of the Banking Commission of Central African States within CEMAC.
Foreigners must provide proof of residency to establish a bank account.
The country’s economy is an almost entirely cash based, with credit cards available but not widely used in the general population. Primarily visitors or wealthy citizens use credit cards at international hotels, international airlines, and major supermarkets. In April 2020, partly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government encouraged banks to increase electronic payment mechanisms. The Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Planning also continued to expand electronic payments for government employees. In May 2020, the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea endorsed the guiding principles of the United Nations’ “Better than Cash” Alliance, a partnership of governments, companies and international organizations to accelerate the transition from cash to digital payments as part of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Alliance has 75 members committed to digitizing payments to boost efficiency, transparency, and women’s economic participation and financial inclusion to make economies more digital and inclusive.
The banking sector is affected by relatively lengthy bureaucratic procedures and a lack of computerized record keeping. Customers have reported that currency is not always available on demand, and delays making transfers or exchanging local currency into foreign exchange have increased since the BEAC instituted new banking and foreign currency regulations in 2019.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Decree No. 54/1994 provides the right to freely transfer convertible currency abroad at the end of each fiscal year, but in practice many businesses report that limited financial services create barriers to successfully executing international transfers. On April 1, 2019, the CEMAC Central Bank published a regulation to enforce an existing requirement to maintain bank accounts in Central African francs (CFA) rather than foreign exchange, with a six-month moratorium until October 1, 2019. Account holders are theoretically able to convert funds to foreign exchange through an administrative process, but it is unclear if this applies to all accounts in the region. The moratorium was extended through 2020 for the extractives sector (hydrocarbons and mining). Many other businesses and individuals have reported lengthy delays to convert currency and make international bank transfers under the new rules.
Foreign currency is not widely available in the Central African Franc zone but can be relatively easily obtained in the Republic of Equatorial Guinea in small quantities.
Equatorial Guinea does not engage in currency manipulation as the CFA franc currently has a fixed exchange rate to the euro: 100 CFA francs = 1 former French (nouveau) franc = 0.152449 euro or 1 euro = 655.957 CFA francs exactly. Thus, the exchange rate of the currency fluctuates according to the value of the euro.
On April 1, 2019, the CEMAC Central Bank published a regulation to enforce an existing requirement to maintain bank accounts in CFA rather than foreign exchange, with a six-month moratorium until October 1, 2019. Account holders are theoretically able to convert funds to foreign exchange through an administrative process. It is unclear if this applies to all accounts in the region. Companies in the hydrocarbons sector received an exemption on implementation through 2020.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea established a sovereign wealth fund, the Fund for Future Generations, in 2002. According to investors, the fund has little transparency regarding its management or value. A 2017 press report estimated the fund to have USD 413 million, or 1.6 percent of Equatorial Guinea’s GDP. The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute estimates assets under management of USD 165.5 million. There is no publicly available information on its allocations.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The Republic of Guinea Equatorial has at least eight State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in the energy, housing, fishing, aerospace and defense, and information and communication sectors. Sonagas is the national natural gas company and GEPetrol is the national oil company. The energy SOEs report to the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons and hold monopolies in their respective sectors. SEGESA is the national electricity company. GECOMSA and GETESA are the national telecommunication service providers. SONAPESCA focusses on the promotion of fishing and reports to the Minister of Fisheries and Water Resources. ENPIGE is the SOE that oversees the government’s affordable housing program. Ceiba Intercontinental is the main airline and a joint venture between the government and Ethiopian Airlines. The budget includes allocations to and earnings from SOEs. Large SOEs lacked publicly available audits. According to some companies, there is little evidence of oversight of SOEs. A requirement of the IMF’s 2018 staff monitored program, however, is that the government contract an internationally reputable firm to audit the accounts of the state-owned oil (GEPetrol) and gas (Sonagas) companies, which the government hired at the start of 2019. (The audits were still ongoing in early 2020.) All oil and gas projects must include a partnership with state-owned companies GEPetrol or Sonagas.
Equatorial Guinea’s oil and gas sector scored 22 of 100 points in the 2017 Resource Governance Index (RGI), ranking 85th among 89 assessments. Its overall failing performance can be attributed to the enabling environment component, which scores 17 of 100 points and ranks 79th among 89 assessments, along with an equally low score for revenue management. For more information, see https://resourcegovernance.org/.
The Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Planning discussed plans to involve the private sector in the management of state-owned assets, including through privatization. The initiative was a recommendation from the Third National Economic Conference (April-May 2019), which included discussion of options to improve management of state assets. The government envisages three paths: (i) restructuring autonomous agencies and state-owned enterprises; (ii) concession of assets to the private sector; and (iii) sale of public assets to private operators (privatization). The authorities also plan to open to competition sectors where public enterprises operate, with the aim of limiting monopolistic practices and passing on efficiency gains to the rest of the economy. The Ministry will present a substantive list of state assets to be privatized, as well as a list of entities that will be restructured or placed under a concession regime with the private sector for the approval of the Council of Ministers (structural benchmark, end of June 2020). Once the Council of Ministers approves this plan, the authorities will present an action program for privatization (planned for the second half of 2020). To generate revenue, they plan to prioritize privatization, with the proceeds going to pay down validated domestic arrears and rebuild EG’s foreign currency reserves at the BEAC. Sales and concessions will be carried out through open, international tenders. The sale of the listed assets may be delayed so that their prices are not negatively affected by the current global slowdown. Information is likely to be announced on the Ministry’s website: https://www.minhacienda.gob.gq/.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Many U.S. firms operating in Equatorial Guinea have well-developed corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. The Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons has established industry-specific regulations that mandate minimum rates of CSR contributions. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea is considering a regulation that would increase those rates. U.S. and UK oil and gas companies tend to exceed those rates. Most firms from other countries have limited CSR programs. The government has expressed their appreciation for the U.S. companies’ efforts and recognized the positive role of U.S. firms. CSR projects have included support for various initiatives, including conservation, education, health, and awareness campaigns on sensitive subjects like trafficking in persons. The government approves all CSR programs, offering explicit support, and occasionally also provides additional in kind or financial support. There are several non-governmental organizations operating in the country that work in fields in which CSR takes place, often as partners with the companies, but they do not fulfill a monitoring role.
Equatorial Guinea submitted an application in 2019 to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), after being delisted in 2010 for missing its validation deadline during its first attempt to join. This was a condition of the IMF staff monitored program. A decision was still pending from the EITI Board in June 2020.
There is no publicly designated contact at a government agency responsible for combating corruption. Various ministries, including the office of the Prime Minister, nominally have responsibility for combatting corruption either within their own ministry or in the government at large. A commission to combat corruption was formed in 2019 but there has not been a public announcement of its results or projects. There are no “watchdog” organizations operating in country.
The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has laws and regulations against corruption, but many businesses have complained that they are not often enforced, and as a result, corruption is very common. There are no specific laws about conflict of interest or nepotism. Numerous foreign investigations continued into high-level official corruption. For example, on September 14, 2018, Brazilian authorities seized two suitcases with USD 1.4 million in cash and another suitcase containing approximately 20 watches valued at USD 15 million from Vice President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo upon landing in Sao Paulo on an unofficial visit. The press reported on October 10, 2018, that Brazilian officials launched an investigation because they believed the undeclared cash and luxury watches, along with apartments and cars owned by the vice president in Brazil, might have been part of an effort to launder money embezzled from Equatorial Guinea’s government. Separately, one government official within the Ministry of Transport, Telecommunications, and Mail was fired and reportedly arrested in April 2019, and was expected to be charged with corruption. A military court sentenced a former Army Chief of Staff to 18 years in prison in October 2019 for embezzlement of public funds. He was also ordered to reimburse the 38 million CFA francs (USD 65,000).
U.S. companies operating in Equatorial Guinea are required to adhere to the rules of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Some U.S. firms report that they are concerned about corruption related to government procurement, award of licenses and concessions, customs, and dispute settlement. Major U.S. firms have internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. It is unclear what controls exist at smaller companies and other foreign and domestic firms.
The country’s greatest concerns in terms of money laundering and terrorism financing are cross-border currency transactions and the illegal international transfer of money by companies or corrupt individuals. Some report that widespread corruption, at times involving members of the government, is a primary catalyst for money laundering and other financial crimes. Certain businesses have noted that diversion of public funds and corruption are widespread in both commerce and government, particularly as regards the use of proceeds from the extractive industries, including oil, gas, and timber, and infrastructure projects.
Equatorial Guinea became a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption on May 30, 2018. Equatorial Guinea is a member of the Task Force against Money Laundering in Central Africa, an entity in the process of becoming a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. The country is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.
Resources to Report Corruption
10. Political and Security Environment
There is not a history of civil unrest in Equatorial Guinea. Some report this is due to a severe limitation of political opposition and civil society, including freedom of assembly and expression. There have been, however, examples of politically-motivated violence. On October 27, 2018, four individuals detained and beat civil society leader and human rights activist of the CEIDGE. Initial reports suggested that security force members might have carried out the attack, mistaking the activist for his brother, a leader of an opposition party.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in power since 1979. Equatorial Guinea does not have an established record of democratic transfer of power. In the week leading up to President Obiang’s re-election on April 24, 2016, there were reports that government security forces forcibly entered the headquarters of political opposition party Citizens for Innovation (CI) and seriously injured several opposition party members. Political activists who were arrested prior to the election have been subsequently released, although some remained in jail for over a year. Opposition members continue to report arrest, torture, and harassment, despite President Obiang securing another seven years in office.
In 2017, Equatoguinean authorities detained a large group of over one hundred CI opposition party members in the cities of Bata, Akonibe, and Malabo during the campaign period for municipal and legislative elections; thirty-one of them were sentenced to 41 years in prison in February 2018. They were subsequently released by a Presidential pardon in October 2018. A well-known Equatoguinean cartoonist and political activist was also detained in Malabo for six months until he was released from prison on March 8, 2018, after being acquitted of counterfeiting and money laundering due to false testimony by a police officer. An alleged foiled coup plot led to a campaign of massive arrests from December 2017 to March 2018 in the country and a trial of 117 individuals in the mainland city Bata between March and May 2019. The ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) announced on November 3, 2018, that it had expelled 42 members for alleged involvement in the coup. Security forces often used excessive force when implementing government restrictions designed to combat COVID-19 in 2020.
Government officials and members of the private sector have noted an increase in crime, including drug use and violent robberies, as the country’s recession continues. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea also increased from 2018-2020, including within Equatorial Guinea’s territorial waters.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Equatorial Guinea has a consistent shortage of skilled labor. Unskilled labor is readily available. Youth unemployment is considered widespread but statistics are scarce. According to the government’s 2015 census, which was released in 2018, about 40 percent of the population were not formally working and about 16 percent were unemployed. Officials estimate that close to 50 percent of the country’s workforce participates in the informal economy. Foreign laborers make up an important segment of all sectors of the economy, but generally dominate skilled labor positions, including engineers, pilots, and doctors. Labor laws apply to both foreign and domestic laborers, though in practice rulings tend to favor locals over foreigners when resolving disputes.
The oil and gas industry claims to have a shortage of trained individuals. Companies in the oil and gas sector sponsor training programs, and the government sponsors a limited number of students for short- and long-term international training and academic programs. The industry and the government also run a National Technological Institute of Hydrocarbons, which has 50 students per cohort in a three-year program. The government and companies inaugurated a new building in Mongomo in 2019, after various years in Malabo and Bata.
The agriculture and fishing sectors have shrunk in past decades as the rural population declined 42 percent from 2001 to 2015, according to the government census, and some businesses claim to have a shortage of laborers. Cattle ranchers have brought in migrant workers from the Sahel region of Africa to work with imported cattle.
Despite challenges in finding skilled labor, various laws require hiring nationals. The National Content Law of Equatorial Guinea requires that oil companies hire seventy percent of nationals. Officials of the Ministry of Labor explained that according to the Labor Law (last updated in 2012 and under review for an update), the final target of the government is that 90 percent of workers should be nationals. They also underlined that for companies to fill a position there is a process through the Ministry. If no suitable domestic applicant is found in 30 days, then the company is free to hire a foreigner. Employers must make extensive severance payments even when employment demands fluctuate due to market conditions. Currently there is neither unemployment insurance nor other social safety net programs for workers laid off for economic reasons, though this has been a goal of the government for several years.
Compared to the United States, labor laws in the Republic of Equatorial Guinea are generally favorable toward the employee. Labor disputes may be heard by the congress or in the courts, and the decisions typically favor the employee. Aside from a union of small farmers and the taxi association, the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea does not recognize any labor unions. Small collectives and associations are allowed to register with the government but do not carry out labor advocacy efforts. Collective bargaining is not common. There have not been any strikes during the last year that posed an investment risk and the government typically restricts the occurrence of strikes or protests.
Labor laws include provisions such as regulating industries in which minors may work, as well as requiring written contracts. Short-term contracts are limited to 24 months. Local government enforcement of labor laws is mostly focused on preventing companies from employing and exploiting unauthorized migrants. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has regulations to monitor health and safety standards and an inspection force, but some have criticized the effectiveness of their enforcement.
Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and firing (with severance). Unemployment insurance or other social safety net programs do not exist for workers laid off for economic reasons.
There are gaps in compliance in both law and practice with international labor standards. Although the Republic of Equatorial Guinea does not actively enforce internationally recognized labor rights, employees are generally not subjected to abusive work conditions. The government has been ranked Tier 3 in the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report from 2011-2019, however, and has struggled to identify and combat forced and child labor. The government increased efforts to combat TIP in 2018 and 2019, including the creation of a national action plan and an online portal and hotline for people to anonymously report abuses. Despite this, businesses have noted that the government does not have an adequate labor inspectorate system to identify and remediate labor violations and hold violators accountable, investigate and prosecute unfair labor practices, such as harassment and/or dismissal of union members; nor to investigate and prosecute instances of forced and/or child labor. Reports indicate that violators are rarely held accountable, with both corruption and political patronage used to prevent enforcement of laws and regulations. The law prohibits certain kinds of discrimination, but many gaps are still recorded. The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted in 2018 “with deep concern that, for the last 12 years, the reports due on ratified Conventions have not been received” from the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. The ILO also offered technical assistance to complete the reports and respond to comments.
In 2020, a new labor law was being drafted, but there was no public information as of May 2020.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
There currently are no Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) or Development Finance Corporation (DFC) programs in Equatorial Guinea. There is an OPIC agreement between Equatorial Guinea and the United States. OPIC financed a hundred million dollars for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in 2000. There could be potential for DFC programs to support investments in infrastructure (including water and power), petrochemicals, and other industries.
There is significant investment financing or insurance for firms from China, and possibly Egypt and Morocco.
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
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy Malabo
+240333095741 or 13019858750 RotenbergSJ@state.gov
Until the outbreak of COVID-19, Poland’s economy had been experiencing a long period of uninterrupted economic expansion since 1992. During this time, Poland’s investment climate has continued to grow in attractiveness to foreign investors, including U.S. investors. Foreign capital has been drawn by strong economic fundamentals: Poland’s GDP growth reached 4.1 percent in 2019, driven by persistently strong domestic consumption and higher-than-expected investments. Household expenditures continued to grow, fueled by an expansion of the Family 500+ program, additional pension payments, and a strong labor market. Proposed economic legislation dampened optimism in some sectors (e.g., retail, media, energy, digital services, and beverages). Investors have also pointed to lower predictability and the outsized role of state-owned and state-controlled companies in the Polish economy as an impediment to long-term balanced growth. In 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Poland’s economy is likely to experience the first recession in 30 years, but it is likely to weather the crisis better than almost any other European Union (EU) member state. The contraction in the Polish economy will be the mildest in the EU, according to the European Commission (EC). Despite a polarized political environment following the conclusion of a series of national elections and a number of less business-friendly sector specific policies, the broad structures of the Polish economy are solid.
Prospects for future growth, driven by domestic demand and inflows of EU funds from the 2014-2020 and future financial frameworks, as well as COVID-19 related government aid programs, are likely to continue to attract investors seeking access to Poland’s market of over 38 million people, and to the broader EU market of over 500 million. As throughout the rest of the world, the COVID-19 epidemic will have significant macroeconomic effects in Poland, including a weakening of economic activity, deterioration of the labor market and public finances, and a change in economic behavior of households and enterprises. In May 2020, the Polish government passed a 1.5 percent tax on revenues from video-on-demand services as a part of its COVID-19 economic stimulus plan, dubbed the “Anti-Crisis Shield.” The tax revenue will go to the Polish Film Institute to help support the film industry which has been hit hard by the pandemic.
Poland’s well-diversified economy reduces its vulnerability to external shocks, although it depends heavily on the EU as an export market. Foreign investors also cite Poland’s well-educated work force as a major reason to invest, as well as its proximity to major markets such as Germany. U.S. firms represent one of the largest groups of foreign investors in Poland. The volume of U.S. investment in Poland is estimated at around USD 5 billion by the National Bank of Poland in 2018 and around USD 25 billion by the Warsaw-based American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham). With the inclusion of indirect investment flows through subsidiaries, it may reach as high as USD 62.7 billion, according to AmCham. Historically, foreign direct investment (FDI) was largest in the automotive and food processing industries, followed by machinery and other metal products and petrochemicals. “Shared office” services such as accounting, legal, and information technology services, including research and development (R&D), is Poland’s fastest-growing sector for foreign investment. The government seeks to promote domestic production and technology transfer opportunities in awarding defense-related tenders. There are also some investment and export opportunities in the energy sector—both immediate (natural gas), and longer term (nuclear, energy grid upgrades, photovoltaics, and offshore wind)—as Poland seeks to diversify its energy mix and reduce air pollution. Biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and health care industries might open wider to investments and exports as a result of the COVID-19 experience.
Defense is another promising sector for U.S. exports. The Polish government is actively modernizing its military inventory, presenting good opportunities for the U.S. defense industry. In 2018, Poland signed its largest-ever defense contract when committing to purchase the PATRIOT missile defense system, and in 2019 it signed a contract to buy the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). In February 2019, the Defense Ministry announced its updated technical modernization plan listing its top programmatic priorities, with defense modernization budgets forecasted to increase from approximately USD 3.3 billion in 2019 to approximately USD 7.75 billion in 2025. In January 2020, Poland signed a contract worth $4.6 billion under which the country will acquire 32 F-35A Lightning II fighter jets from the United States. Information technology and cybersecurity along with infrastructure also show promise, as Poland’s municipalities focus on smart city networks. A USD 10 billion central airport project may present opportunities for U.S. companies in project management, consulting, communications, and construction. The government seeks to expand the economy by supporting high-tech investments, increasing productivity and foreign trade, and supporting entrepreneurship, scientific research, and innovation through the use of domestic and EU funding.
In 2018, Poland saw significant increases in wholesale electricity prices due largely to an increase in the price of coal and EU emissions permits. An amendment to the act regulating energy prices, adopted in mid-2019, allowed for freezing electricity prices throughout 2019 for households, micro and small businesses, hospitals and public sector finance units including local government offices. For medium and large enterprises, the bill introduced the possibility of applying for partial compensation for electricity consumed, within the EU framework. A major EU project is to synchronize the Baltic States’ electricity grid with that of Poland and the wider European network by 2025.
A government strategy aims for a commercial fifth generation (5G) network to become operational by the end of 2020 in at least one city and in all cities by 2025, although planned spectrum auctions have been delayed.
Some organizations, notably private business associations and labor unions, have raised concerns that policy changes have been introduced quickly and without broad consultation, increasing uncertainty about the stability and predictability of Poland’s business environment. For example, the government announced a “sugar tax” on beverages with only a few months warning after firms had already prepared budgets for the coming year. Previous proposals to introduce legislation on media de-concentration raised concern among foreign investors in the sector; however, these proposals seem to be stalled for the time being.
The Polish tax system underwent many changes over the last four years with the aim of increasing budget revenues, including more effective tax auditing and collection. The November 2018 tax bill included a number of changes important for foreign investors, such as penalties for aggressive tax planning, changes to the withholding tax, incentives for R&D, and an exit tax on corporations and individuals. In 2019, a new mechanism for withholding tax (WHT) was introduced as well as individual tax account numbers.
As the largest recipient of EU funds (which contribute an estimated 1 percentage point to Poland’s GDP growth per year), any significant decrease in EU cohesion spending would have a large negative impact on Poland’s economy. Draft EU budgets foresee a considerable decrease in Poland’s cohesion funds in the next cycle, part of which could be attributed to Poland’s conflict with the European Union over reforms to the judiciary. The Polish government has supported taxing the income of Internet companies, proposed by the European Commission in 2018, and considers it a possible new source of financing for the post-COVID-19 economic recovery. Observers are closely watching the European Commission’s proceedings under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, initiated in December 2017, regarding rule of law and judicial reforms. These include the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the enacted Supreme Court Law, which could potentially affect economic interests, in that final judgments issued since 1997 can now be challenged and overturned in whole or in part, including some long-standing judgments on which economic actors have relied.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Poland has concluded bilateral investment agreements with the following countries: Albania (1993); Argentina (1992); Australia (1992); Azerbaijan (1999); Bangladesh (1999); Belarus (1993); Canada (1990); Chile (2000); China (1989); Egypt (1998); India (1997 – terminated in March 2017; a 15 year sunset clause applies); Indonesia (1993); Iran (2001; although Poland supports international sanctions regimes); Israel (1992); Jordan; Kazakhstan (1995); Kuwait (1993); Macedonia (1997); Malaysia (1994); Moldova (1995); Mongolia (1996); Morocco (1995); Norway (1990); Serbia and Montenegro (1997); Singapore (1993); Slovakia (1996 termination under consultations); South Korea (1990); Switzerland (1990); Thailand (1993); Tunisia (1993); Turkey (1994); Ukraine (1993); United Arab Emirates (1994); the United States (1994); Uruguay (1994); Uzbekistan (1995); Vietnam (1994).
In May 2020, all EU-member states, except Sweden and Finland, signed an agreement of termination of intra-BITs concluded by the member states. This will terminate Poland’s final BIT, which is with Slovakia. Sweden and Finland will sign bilateral agreements with Poland terminating the “sunset clauses.” in their existing BITs. During the notice period, as stipulated in most of the intra-EU BITs, all the obligations assumed by Poland remain in force. Moreover, most of the intra-EU BITs contain sunset clauses that prolong the treaty protections.
Poland has signed double taxation treaties with over 80 countries. The United States shares a double taxation treaty with Poland; an updated bilateral tax treaty was signed in February 2013 and is awaiting U.S. ratification. The “Agreement between the United States of America and the Republic of Poland on Social Security” prevents double taxation, enables resumption of payments to suspended beneficiaries, and allows transfer of benefit eligibility.
The Polish tax system underwent significant changes in 2018, many of which became effective in 2019 or will become effective in 2020.
In 2019, the most important changes involved:
An obligatory split payment mechanism;
A “White List” of VAT taxpayers (along with their VAT numbers and bank account details) and tax-deductible costs;
Relief from income taxes for bad debts;
Major changes to the processes for “withholding tax” (postponed until 1 July 2020);
A new matrix of VAT rates;
The replacement of VAT returns with a new Uniform Control File (JPK) structure;
An agreement on cooperation in tax matters;
Incentives for registering intellectual property, a.k.a. “IP Box” (See Section 5 for more details); and
Some U.S. investors have expressed concern that Poland’s tax authorities do not always consistently uphold presumably binding tax decisions and sometimes seek retroactive payments after a reversal. In 2019, tax offices carried out nearly one-fifth fewer audits than in 2018. Irregularities were found more often, but the amount recovered to the budget was lower. This trend has been observed for a few years and shows that the tax system is being effectively sealed and taxpayers are more accurately selected for audits. The double taxation treaty does not cover stock options as part of remuneration packages, according to some investors.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The Polish Constitution contains a number of provisions related to administrative law and procedures. It states administrative bodies have a duty to observe and comply with the law of Poland. The Code of Administrative Procedures (CAP) states rules and principles concerning participation and involvement of citizens in processes affecting them, the giving of reasons for decisions, and forms of appeal and review.
As a member of the EU, Poland complies with EU directives by harmonizing rules or translating them into national legislation. Rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the central, regional, and municipal levels. Various ministries are engaged in rule-making that affects foreign business, such as pharmaceutical reimbursement at the Ministry of Health or incentives for R&D at the Ministry of Development. Regional and municipal level governments can levy certain taxes and affect foreign investors through permitting and zoning.
Polish accounting standards do not differ significantly from international standards. Major international accounting firms provide services in Poland. In cases where there is no national accounting standard, the appropriate International Accounting Standard may be applied. However, investors have complained of regulatory unpredictability and high levels of administrative red tape. Foreign and domestic investors must comply with a variety of laws concerning taxation, labor practices, health and safety, and the environment. Complaints about these laws, especially the tax system, center on frequent changes, lack of clarity, and strict penalties for minor errors.
Poland has improved its regulatory policy system over the last several years. The government introduced a central online system to provide access for the general public to regulatory impact assessments (RIA) and other documents sent for consultation to selected groups such as trade unions and business. Proposed laws and regulations are published in draft form for public comment, and ministries must conduct public consultations. Poland follows OECD recognized good regulatory practices, but investors say the lack of regulations governing the role of stakeholders in the legislative process is a problem. Participation in public consultations and the window for comments are often limited.
New guidelines for RIA, consultation and ex post evaluation were adopted under the Better Regulation Program in 2015, providing more detailed guidance and stronger emphasis on public consultation. Like many countries, Poland faces challenges to fully implement its regulatory policy requirements and to ensure that RIA and consultation comments are used to improve decision making. The OECD suggests Poland extend its online public consultation system and consider using instruments such as green papers more systematically for early-stage consultation to identify options for addressing a policy problem. OECD considers steps taken to introduce ex post evaluation of regulations encouraging.
Bills can be submitted to the parliament for debate as “citizen’s bills” if authors collect 100,000 signatures. NGOs and private sector associations most often take advantage of this avenue. Parliamentary bills can also be submitted by a group of parliamentarians, a mechanism that bypasses public consultation and which both domestic and foreign investors have criticized. Changes to the government’s rules of procedure introduced in June 2016 reduced the requirements for RIA for preparations of new legislation.
Administrative authorities are subject to oversight by courts and other bodies (e.g., the Supreme Audit Chamber – NIK), the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, special commissions and agencies, inspectorates, the Prosecutor and parliamentary committees. Polish parliamentary committees utilize a distinct system to examine and instruct ministries and administrative agency heads. Committees’ oversight of administrative matters consists of: reports on state budgets implementation and preparation of new budgets, citizens’ complaints, and reports from the NIK. In addition, courts and prosecutors’ offices sometimes bring cases to parliament’s attention. The Ombudsman’s institution works relatively well in Poland. Polish citizens have a right to complain and to put forward grievances before administrative bodies. Proposed legislation can be tracked on the Prime Minister’s webpage, https://legislacja.rcl.gov.pl/ and the parliament’s webpage: https://www.sejm.gov.pl/sejm9.nsf/proces.xsp
Poland has consistently met or exceeded the Department of State’s minimum requirements for fiscal transparency: https://www.state.gov/e/eb/ifd/oma/fiscaltransparency/273700.htm. Poland’s budget and information on debt obligations were widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online. The budget was substantially complete and considered generally reliable. NIK audited the government’s accounts and made its reports publicly available, including online. The budget structure and classifications are complex and the Polish authorities agree more work is needed to address deficiencies in the process of budgetary planning and procedures. State budgets encompass only part of the public finances sector.
The European Commission regularly assesses the public finance sustainability of Member States based on fiscal gap ratios. In 2020, Poland’s public finances will be exposed to a high general government deficit, uncertainty in financial markets resulting primarily from the macroeconomic environment, the effects of the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, and the monetary policy of the NBP and major central banks, including the European Central Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve.
International Regulatory Considerations
Since its EU accession in May 2004, Poland has been transposing European legislation and reforming its regulations in compliance with the EU system. Poland sometimes disagrees with EU regulations related to renewable energy and emissions due to its important domestic coal industry.
In 2018, Poland saw significant increases in wholesale electricity prices due largely to an increase in the price of coal and EU emissions permits. The government’s initial plans of proposing a new law to protect household consumers from rising electricity prices put it at odds with the European for lack of notification of what amounted to state aid. The Polish energy market regulator (URE) also criticized the proposed law for not reflecting the market rate for electricity and claimed the proposed law threatened URE’s independence. In 2019, under EU State Aid rules, the European Commission approved Poland’s plan to compensate energy-intensive companies for higher electricity prices resulting from indirect emission costs under the EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). Poland’s plan will cover the period 2019-2020 and will benefit companies active in Poland in sectors facing significant electricity costs and which are particularly exposed to international competition.
Poland participates in the process of creation of European norms. There is strong encouragement for non-governmental organizations, such as environmental and consumer groups, to actively participate in European standardization. In areas not covered by European normalization, the Polish Committee for Standardization (PKN) introduces norms identical with international norms, i.e., PN-ISO and PN-IEC. PKN actively cooperates with international and European standards organizations and with standards bodies from other countries. PKN has been a founding member of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and a member of the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) since 1923.
PKN also cooperates with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Poland has been a member of the WTO since July 1, 1995 and was a member of GATT from October 18, 1967. All EU member states are WTO members, as is the EU in its own right. While the member states coordinate their position in Brussels and Geneva, the European Commission alone speaks for the EU and its members in almost all WTO affairs. PKN runs the WTO/TBT National Information Point in order to apply the provisions of the TBT with respect to information exchange concerning national standardization.
The government has continued to implement and introduce new measures related to the judiciary that has drawn criticism from legal experts, NGOs, and international organizations. Observers noted in particular the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the 2017 Supreme Court Law. The extraordinary appeal mechanism states: final judgments issued since 1997 can be challenged and overturned in whole or in part for a three-year period starting from the day the legislation entered into force on April 3, 2018. By the end of 2019, the Extraordinary Appeals Chamber had received 79 complaints. The majority were submitted by the Justice Minister; nine were submitted by the Human Rights Ombudsman. As of December 29, 2019, the Chamber had reviewed nine complaints, of which five were accepted, and four were rejected. All five complaints which the chamber accepted regarded civil law. Twenty-three cases were pending; the status of the remaining 47 cases was unavailable.
In April and May 2018, the Polish President signed into law amendments to the common courts law, the National Judiciary Council law, and the 2017 amendments to the Supreme Court law. This was in response to the December 2017 European Commission rule of law recommendation and infringement procedure triggered under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty for what the Commission considered to be “systemic threats” to the independence of the Polish courts. The key concerns focused on the Polish government’s ability to remove up to 40 percent of the Supreme Court’s judges and the justice minister’s power to discipline judges. Separately, the Commission has sought redress through the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The Polish government has countered that its reforms do not infringe judicial independence and are intended to make court operations more efficient and transparent.
On July 2, 2018, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland, two days before provisions of the revised Supreme Court law lowering the mandatory retirement age for judges went into effect (affecting 27 of the 74 Supreme Court justices at that time). On September 24, 2018 the European Commission referred the country’s amended Supreme Court law to the ECJ, stating “the Polish law on the Supreme Court is incompatible with EU law as it undermines the principle of judicial independence, including the “irremovability” of judges.” On October 19, 2018, the ECJ issued an interim injunction requiring the government to reinstate those judges who had been retired under the amended law. On November 19, 2018, the government submitted legislation to automatically reappoint all justices retired under the Supreme Court law to fulfill the ECJ’s interim measures, and President Duda signed the legislation into law on December 17, 2018. On June 24, 2019, the ECJ issued a final judgement regarding the Polish law on the Supreme Court, confirming in full the position of the Commission.
On April 3, 2019 the Commission launched an infringement procedure on the grounds that the disciplinary regime for judges undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges and does not ensure the necessary guarantees to protect judges from political control, as required by the ECJ. On October 10, 2019 the Commission referred this case to the ECJ. On January 14, 2020, the Commission asked the ECJ to impose interim measures on Poland, ordering it to suspend the functioning of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. On April 8, 2020, the ECJ ruled that Poland must immediately suspend the application of the national provisions on the powers of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court with regard to disciplinary cases concerning judges, confirming in full the position of the Commission. This order applies until the Court will have rendered its final judgment in the infringement procedure.
A new law signed on December 20, 2019 amending a series of legislative acts governing the functioning of the justice system in Poland entered into force on February 14, 2020. The law enables judges to be disciplined for public activities incompatible with the principles of the independence of the courts and the independence of judges, actions which may considerably impair the functioning of the justice system, and for actions which question the judicial appointments of other judges. On April 29, 2020, the Commission sent a Letter of Formal Notice to Poland regarding this new law on the judiciary, the first step of infringement procedures.
The Polish legal system is code-based and prosecutorial. The main source of the country’s law is the Constitution of 1997. The legal system is a mix of Continental civil law (Napoleonic) and remnants of communist legal theory. Poland accepts the obligatory jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), but with reservations. In civil and commercial matters, first instance courts sit in single-judge panels, while courts handling appeals sit in three-judge panels. District Courts (Sad Rejonowy) handle the majority of disputes in the first instance. When the value of a dispute exceeds a certain amount or the subject matter requires more expertise (such as those regarding intellectual property rights), Circuit Courts (Sad Okregowy) serve as first instance courts. Circuit Courts also handle appeals from District Court verdicts. Courts of Appeal (Sad Apelacyjny) handle appeals from verdicts of Circuit Courts as well as generally supervise the courts in their region.
The Polish judicial system generally upholds the sanctity of contracts. Foreign court judgements, under the Polish Civil Procedure Code and European Community regulation, can be recognized. However, there are many foreign court judgments which Polish courts do not accept or accept partially. There can also be delays in the recognition of judgments of foreign courts due to an insufficient number of judges with specialized expertise. Generally, foreign firms
are wary of the slow and over-burdened Polish court system, preferring other means to defend their rights. Contracts involving foreign parties often include a clause specifying that disputes will be resolved in a third-country court or through offshore arbitration. (More detail in Section 4, Dispute Settlement.)
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign nationals can expect to obtain impartial proceedings in legal matters. Polish is the official language and must be used in all legal proceedings. It is possible to obtain an interpreter. The basic legal framework for establishing and operating companies in Poland, including companies with foreign investors, is found in the Commercial Companies Code. The Code provides for establishment of joint-stock companies, limited liability companies, or partnerships (e.g., limited joint-stock partnerships, professional partnerships). These corporate forms are available to foreign investors who come from an EU or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member state or from a country that offers reciprocity to Polish enterprises, including the United States.
With few exceptions, foreign investors are guaranteed national treatment. Companies that establish an EU subsidiary after May 1, 2004 and conduct or plan to commence business operations in Poland must observe all EU regulations. However, in some cases they may not be able to benefit from all privileges afforded to EU companies. Foreign investors without permanent residence and the right to work in Poland may be restricted from participating in day-to-day operations of a company. Parties can freely determine the content of contracts within the limits of European contract law. All parties must agree on essential terms, including the price and the subject matter of the contract. Written agreements, although not always mandatory, may enable an investor to avoid future disputes. Civil Code is the law applicable to contracts.
Useful websites (in English) to help navigate laws, rules, procedures and reporting requirements for foreign investors:
Poland has a high level of nominal convergence with the EU on competition policy in accordance with Articles 101 and 102 of the Lisbon Treaty. Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) is well within EU norms for structure and functioning, with the exception that the Prime Minister both appoints and dismisses the head of UOKiK. This is supposed to change to be in line with EU norms, however, as of January 2020 the Prime Minister was still exercising his right to remove and nominate UOKiK’s presidents. (EU directive 2019/1.)
The Act on Competition and Consumer Protection was amended in mid-2019. The most important changes, which concern geo-blocking and access to fiscal and banking secrets, came into force on September 17, 2019. Other minor changes took effect in January 2020. The amendments result from the need to align national law with new EU laws.
Starting in January 2020, UOKiK may intervene in cases when delays in payment are excessive. UOKiK can take action when the sum of outstanding payments due to an entrepreneur for three subsequent months amounts to at least PLN 5 million (approx. USD 1.25 million). In 2022, the minimum amount will decrease to PLN 2 million (approx. USD 500,000).
The President of UOKiK issues approximately 100 decisions per year regarding practices restricting competition and infringing on collective interests of consumers. Enterprises have the right to appeal against those decisions to the court. In the first instance, the case is examined by the Court of Competition and Consumer Protection and in the second instance, by the Appellate Court. The decision of the Appellate Court may be challenged by way of a cassation appeal filed to the Supreme Court. In major cases, the General Counsel to the Republic of Poland will act as the legal representative in proceedings concerning an appeal against a decision of the President of UOKiK.
All multinational companies must notify UOKiK of a proposed merger if any party to it has subsidiaries, distribution networks or permanent sales in Poland.
The President of UOKiK has the power to impose significant fines on individuals in management positions at companies that violate the prohibition of anticompetitive agreements. The amendment to the law governing UOKiK’s operation, which entered into force on December 15, 2018, provides for a similar power to impose significant fines on the management of companies in the case of violations of consumer rights. The maximum fine that can be imposed on a manager may amount to PLN 2 million (approx. USD 500,000) and, in the case of managers in the financial sector, up to PLN 5 million (approx. USD 1.25 million).
Expropriation and Compensation
Article 21 of the Polish Constitution states: “expropriation is admissible only for public purposes and upon equitable compensation.” The Law on Land Management and Expropriation of Real Estate states that property may be expropriated only in accordance with statutory provisions such as construction of public works, national security considerations, or other specified cases of public interest. The government must pay full compensation at market value for expropriated property. Acquiring land for road construction investment and recently also for the Central Airport and the Vistula Spit projects has been liberalized and simplified to accelerate property acquisition, particularly through a special legislative act. Most acquisitions for road construction are resolved without problems. However, there have been a few cases in which the inability to reach agreement on remuneration has resulted in disputes. Post is not aware of any recent expropriation actions against U.S. investors, companies, or representatives.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Poland is not a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (Washington Convention). Poland is a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Poland is party to the following international agreements on dispute resolution, with the Ministry of Finance acting as the government’s representative: the 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses; the 1961 Geneva European Convention on International Trade Arbitration; the 1972 Moscow Convention on Arbitration Resolution of Civil Law Disputes in Economic and Scientific Cooperation Claims under the U.S.-Poland Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) (with further amendments).
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) database for treaty-based disputes lists four cases for Poland involving a U.S. party over the last decade. The majority of Poland’s investment disputes are with companies from other EU member states. According to the UNCTAD database, over the last decade, there have been 17 known disputes with foreign investors.
There is no distinction in law between domestic and international arbitration. The law only distinguishes between foreign and domestic arbitral awards for the purpose of their recognition and enforcement. The decisions of arbitration entities are not automatically enforceable in Poland, but must be confirmed and upheld in a Polish court. Under Polish Civil Code, local courts accept and enforce the judgments of foreign courts; in practice, however, the acceptance of foreign court decisions varies. Investors say the timely process of energy policy consolidation has made the legal, regulatory and investment environment for the energy sector uncertain in terms of how the Polish judicial system deals with questions and disputes around energy investments by foreign investors, and in foreign investor interactions with state-owned or affiliated energy enterprises.
A Civil Procedures Code amendment in January 2016, with further amendments in July 2019, implements internationally recognized arbitration standards and creates an arbitration-friendly legal regime in Poland. The amendment applies to arbitral proceedings initiated on or after January 1, 2016 and introduced one-instance proceedings to repeal an arbitration award (instead of two-instance proceedings). This change encourages mediation and arbitration to solve commercial disputes and aims to strengthen expeditious procedure. The Courts of Appeal (instead of District Courts) handle complaints. In cases of foreign arbitral awards, the Court of Appeal is the only instance. In certain cases, it is possible to file a cassation (or extraordinary) appeal with the Supreme Court of the Republic of Poland. In the case of a domestic arbitral award, it will be possible to file an appeal to a different panel of the Court of Appeal.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Poland does not have an arbitration law, but provisions in the Polish Code of Civil Procedures of 1964, as amended, are based to a large extent on UNCITRAL Model Law. Under the Code of Civil Procedure, an arbitration agreement must be concluded in writing. Commercial contracts between Polish and foreign companies often contain an arbitration clause. Arbitration tribunals operate through the Polish Chamber of Commerce, and other sector-specific organizations. A permanent court of arbitration also functions at the business organization Confederation Lewiatan in Warsaw and at the General Counsel to the Republic of Poland (GCRP). GCRP took over arbitral cases from external counsels in 2017 and began representing state-owned commercial companies in litigation and arbitration matters for amounts in dispute over PLN 5 million (approx. USD 1.5 million). The list of these entities includes major Polish state-owned enterprises in the airline, energy, banking, chemical, insurance, military, oil and rail industries as well as other entities such as museums, state-owned media and universities.
The Court of Arbitration at the Polish Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw, the biggest permanent arbitration court in Poland, operates based on arbitration rules complying with the latest international standards, implementing new provisions on expedited procedure. In recent years, numerous efforts have been made to increase use of arbitration in Poland. In 2019, online arbitration courts appeared on the Polish market. The first such court, the Online Arbitration Court, became active in February 2019 and Ultima Ratio, which was set up by the Association of Polish Notaries, commenced operations in April 2019. These new institutions operate entirely online, and their founders hope to offer low-cost and expedient venues for resolving small civil and commercial claims. Due to their recent launch, it is not yet possible to judge their success. However, the development itself reflects the need for reliable, fast and affordable alternatives to state courts in smaller disputes.
Polish state courts generally respect the wide autonomy of arbitration courts and show little inclination to interfere with their decisions as to the merits of the case. The arbitral awards are likely to be set aside only in rare cases. As a rule, in post-arbitral proceedings, Polish courts do not address the merits of the cases decided by the arbitration courts. An arbitration-friendly approach is also visible in other aspects, such as in the broad interpretation of arbitration clauses.
In mid-2018, the Polish Supreme Court introduced a new legal instrument into the Polish legal field: an extraordinary complaint. Although this new instrument does not refer directly to arbitration proceedings, it may be applied to any procedures before Polish state courts, including post-arbitration proceedings (see Section 3 for more details).
Poland’s bankruptcy law has undergone significant change and modernization in recent years. There is now a bankruptcy law and a separate, distinct restructuring law. Poland ranks 25th for ease of resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s Doing Business report 2020. Bankruptcy in Poland is criminalized if a company’s management does not file a petition to declare bankruptcy when a company becomes illiquid for an extended period of time or if a company ceases to pay its liabilities. https://www.paih.gov.pl/polish_law/bankruptcy_law_and_restructuring_proceedings
4. Industrial Policies
Poland’s Plan for Responsible Development identifies eight industries for development and incentives: aviation, defense, automotive parts manufacturing, ship building, information technology, chemicals, furniture manufacturing and food processing. More information about the plan can be found at this link: https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/plan-na-rzecz-odpowiedzialnego-rozwoju. Poland encourages energy sector development through its energy policy, outlined in the November 2018 published draft report “Polish Energy Policy to 2040” and updated and expanded in 2019. While this strategy has not yet been finalized, the government has generally followed the directions of development in the policy. The updated draft policy can be found at: https://www.gov.pl/web/aktywa-panstwowe/zaktualizowany-projekt-polityki-energetycznej-polski-do-2040-r. The draft policy foresees a primary role for fossil fuels until 2040 as well as strong growth in electricity production. The government will continue to pursue developing nuclear energy and offshore wind power generation, as well as distributed generation, but may revise the time frame for reaching landmarks in these areas. The draft policy remains skeptical of onshore wind. Poland’s National Energy and Climate Plan for years 2021-2030 (NECP PL) has been developed in line with the EU Regulation on the Governance of the Energy and Climate Action and was submitted to the European Commission https://ec.europa.eu/energy/topics/energy-strategy/national-energy-climate-plans_en#the-process.
A government strategy aims for a commercial 5G network to be operational in all cities by 2025.
A company investing in Poland, either foreign or domestic, may receive assistance from the Polish government. Foreign investors have the potential to access certain incentives such as: income tax and real estate tax exemptions; investment grants of up to 50 percent of investment costs (70 percent for small and medium-sized enterprises); grants for research and development; grants for other activities such as environmental protection, training, logistics, or use of renewable energy sources.
Large priority-sector investments may qualify for the “Program for Supporting Investment of Considerable Importance for the Polish Economy for 2011-2030.” The program, amended in October 2019, is one of the instruments enabling support for new investment projects, particularly relevant for the Polish economy. Its main goal is to increase innovation and the competitiveness of the Polish economy. Under the amended program, it is possible to co-finance large strategic investments as well as medium-sized innovative projects. Projects that adapt modern technologies and provide for research and development activities are awarded. The program is also conducive to establishing cooperation between the economic sector and academic centers. The support is granted in the form of a subsidy, based on an agreement concluded between the Minister of Development and the investor. The agreement regulates the conditions for the payment of subsidies and the investment implementation schedule. Under the program, investment support may be granted in two categories: eligible costs for creating new jobs and investment costs in tangible and intangible assets. Companies can learn more at: https://www.paih.gov.pl/why_poland/investment_incentives/programme_for_supporting_investments_of_major_importance_to_the_polish_economy_for_2011_-_2030
The Polish Investment Zone (PSI), the new system of tax incentives for investors which replaced the previous system of special economic zones (SEZ), was launched September 5, 2018. Under the new law on the PSI, companies can apply for a corporate income tax (CIT) exemption for a new investment to be placed anywhere in Poland. The CIT exemption is calculated based on the value of the investment multiplied by the percentage of public aid allocated for a given region based on its level of development (set percentage). The CIT exemption is for 10-15 years, depending on the location of the investment. Special treatment is available for investment in new business services and research and development (R&D). A point system determines eligibility for the incentives.
The deadline for utilizing available tax credits from the previous SEZ system is the end of 2026 (extended from 2020). The new regulations also contain important changes for entities already operating in SEZs, even if they do not plan new investment projects. This includes the possibility of losing the right to tax incentives in the event of fraud or tax evasion. Investors should consider carefully the potential benefits of the CIT exemption in assessing new investments or expansion of existing investments in Poland.
The Polish government is seeking to increase Poland’s economic competitiveness by shifting toward a knowledge-based economy. The government has targeted public and private sector investment in R&D to increase to 1.7 percent of GDP by 2020. During the seven year period of 2014 to 2020, Poland will receive approximately USD 88.85 billion in EU Structural and Cohesion funds dedicated to R&D. Businesses may also take advantage of the EU primary research funding program, Horizon 2020.
As of January 1, 2019, the Innovation Box, or IP Box, reduces the tax rate applicable to income derived from intellectual property rights to 5 percent. Taxpayers applying the IP Box shall be entitled to benefit from the tax preference until a given right expires (in case of a patented invention – 20 years). In order to benefit from the program, taxpayers will be obliged to separately account for the relevant income. Foreign investors may take advantage of this benefit as long as the relevant is registered in Poland.
The Polish government does not issue sovereign guarantees for FDI projects. Co-financing may be possible for partnering on large FDI projects, such as the planned central airport project or a nuclear project. For example, the state-owned Polish Development Fund (along with Singaporean and Australian partners) purchased 30 percent of the Gdansk Deepwater Container Terminal.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Foreign-owned firms have the same opportunities as Polish firms to benefit from foreign trade zones (FTZs), free ports, and special economic zones (since January 2019, they make up the Polish Investment Zone). The 2004 Customs Law (with later amendments) regulates operation of FTZs in Poland. The Minister of Finance establishes duty-free zones. The Ministers designate the zone’s managing authorities, usually provincial governors, who issue operating permits to interested companies for a given zone.
Most activity in FTZs involves storage, packaging, and repackaging. As of April 2019, there were seven FTZs: Gliwice, near Poland’s southern border; Terespol, near Poland’s border with Belarus; Mszczonow, near Warsaw; Warsaw’s Frederic Chopin International Airport; Szczecin; Swinoujscie; and Gdansk. Duty-free shops are available only for travelers to non-EU countries.
There are bonded warehouses in: Bydgoszcz-Szwederowo; Krakow-Balice; Wroclaw-Strachowice; Katowice-Pyrzowice; Gdansk-Trojmiasto; Lodz -Lublinek; Poznan-Lawica; Rzeszow-Jasionka, Warszawa-Modlin, Lublin, Szczecin-Goleniow; Radom-Sadkow, Olsztyn-Mazury. Commercial companies can operate bonded warehouses. Customs and storage facilities must operate pursuant to custom authorities’ permission. Only legal persons established in the EU can receive authorization to operate a customs warehouse.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Poland has no policy of “forced localization” designed to force foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology. Investment incentives apply equally to foreign and domestic firms. Over 40 percent of firms in Special Economic Zones are Polish. There is little data on localization requirements in Poland and there are no requirements for foreign information technology (IT) providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance (backdoors into hardware and software or turn over keys for encryption). Exceptions exist in sectors where data are important for national security such as critical telecommunications infrastructure and in gambling. The cross-border transfer rules in Poland are reasonable and follow international best practices, although some companies have criticized registration requirements as cumbersome. In Poland, the Telecommunications Law (Act of 16 July 2004 – unified text, Journal of Laws 2018, item 1954) includes data retention provisions. The data retention period is 12 months.
In the telecommunication sector, the Office of Electronic Communication (UKE) ensures telecommunication operators fulfill their obligations. In radio and television, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) acts as the regulator. Polish regulations protect an individual’s personal data that are collected in Poland regardless of where the data are physically stored. The Personal Data Protection Office (UODO) enforces personal data regulations.
Post is not aware of excessively onerous visa, residence permit or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees, though investors regularly note long processing times due to understaffing at regional employment offices. U.S. companies have reported difficulties obtaining work permits for their non-EU citizen employees. Both regulatory challenges and administrative delays result in permit processing times of 3 to 12 months. This affects the hiring of new employees as well as the transfer of existing employees from outside Poland. U.S. companies have complained they are losing highly-qualified employees to other destinations, such as Germany, where labor markets are more accessible. The problem is especially acute in southern Poland.
Generally, Poland does not mandate local employment, but there are a few regulations that place de facto restrictions e.g., a certain number of board members of insurance companies must speak Polish.
Polish law limits non-EU citizens to 49 percent ownership of a company’s capital shares in the air transport, radio and television broadcasting sectors as well as airport and seaport operations. There are also legal limits on foreign ownership of farm and forest lands as outlined in Section 2 of this report under Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment. Pursuant to the Broadcasting Law, a TV broadcasting company may only receive a license if the voting share of its foreign owners does not exceed 49 percent and if they hold permanent residence in Poland. In the insurance sector, at least two members of management boards, including the chair, must speak Polish.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Poland recognizes and enforces secured interests in property, movable and real. The concept of a mortgage exists in Poland, and there is a recognized system of recording such secured interests. There are two types of publicly available land registers in Poland: the land and mortgage register (ksiegi wieczyste), the purpose of which is to register titles to land and encumbrances thereon; and the land and buildings register (ewidencja gruntow i budynkow), the function of which is more technical as it contains information concerning physical features of the land, class of land and its use. Generally, real estate in Poland is registered and legal title can be identified on the basis of entries in the land and mortgage registers which are maintained by relevant district courts. Each register is accessible to the public and excerpts are available on application, subject to a nominal fee. The registers are available online.
Poland has a non-discriminatory legal system accessible to foreign investors that protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights, including land, buildings, and mortgages. However, foreigners (both individuals and entities) must obtain a permit to acquire property (See Section 1 Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment). Many investors, foreign and domestic, complain the judicial system is slow in adjudicating property rights cases. Under the Polish Civil Code, a contract to buy real property must be made in the form of a notary deed. Foreign companies and individuals may lease real property in Poland without having to obtain a permit.
Widespread nationalization of property during and after World War II has complicated the ability to establish clear title to land in Poland, especially in major municipalities. While the Polish government has an administrative system for reviewing claims for the restitution of communal property, former individual property owners must file and pursue claims in the Polish court system in order to receive restitution. There is no general statute of limitations regarding the filing or litigation of private property restitution claims, but there are exceptions for specific cases. For example, in cases involving the communist-era nationalization of Warsaw under the Bierut Decree, there were claims deadlines that have now passed, and under current law, those who did not meet the deadlines would no longer be able to make a claim for either restitution or compensation. During 2019, Warsaw city authorities continued implementing a 2015 Law dubbed the Small Reprivatization Act. This Law aimed to stop the problem of speculators purchasing Warsaw property claims for low values from the original owners or their heirs and then applying for a perpetual usufruct or compensation as the new legal owner. Critics state the law might extinguish potential claims by private individuals of properties seized during World War II or the communist era, if no one comes forward to pursue a restitution claim within the time limit. Any potential claimants who come forward within six months after publication of the affected property by the City of Warsaw will have an additional three months to establish their claim. The city began publishing lists in 2017 and continued to do so during 2019. The city’s website contains further information on these cases and the process to pursue a claim: http://bip.warszawa.pl/Menu_podmiotowe/biura_urzedu/SD/ogloszenia/default.htm?page=1.
It is sometimes difficult to establish clear title to properties. There are no comprehensive estimates of land without clear title in Poland.
The 2016 Agricultural Land Law banned for five years the sale of state-owned farmland under the administration of the National Center for Support of Agriculture (NCSA). Long-term leases of state-owned farmland are available for farmers looking to expand their operations up to300 hectares. Foreign investors can (and do) lease agricultural land. The 2016 Agricultural Land Law also imposed restrictions on sales of privately-owned farmland, giving the NCSA preemptive right of purchase.
The 2016 Agricultural Land Law adversely affected tenants with long-term state-owned land leases. According to the law, leaseholders who did not return 30 percent of the land under lease to NCSA would not be eligible to have their leases extended beyond the current terms of the contract. Currently, over 400 entities, including U.S. companies, face the prospect of returning some currently leased land to the Polish government over the coming years. Some of these entities appealed to the Ombudsman, who requested the Constitutional Tribunal to verify the law’s compliance with the constitution. In June 2019, the Polish parliament amended the Agricultural Land Law to loosen land sale requirements. The amendment increased the size of private agricultural land, from 0.3 to 1.0 hectare that could be sold without the approval of the NCSA. The new owner is not allowed to sell the land for five years. The 2019 amendment did not change the land lease situation for larger operators, many of whom continue to remain ineligible to have their land leases extended. The Law on Forest Land similarly prevents Polish and foreign investors from purchasing privately-held forests and gives state-owned entities (Lasy Panstwowe) preemptive right to buy privately-held forest land.
Intellectual Property Rights
Polish intellectual property rights (IPR) law is stricter than European Commission directives require. Poland is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to many of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. Enforcement is improving across all sectors of Poland’s IPR regime. Physical piracy (e.g., optical discs) is not a significant problem in Poland. However, online piracy continues to be widespread despite progress in enforcement, and a popular cyberlocker platform in Poland is included on the 2019 Notorious Markets List. Poland does not appear in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report.
Polish law requires a rights holder to start the prosecution process. In Poland, authors’ and creators’ organizations and associations track violations and share these with prosecutors. Rights holders express concern that penalties for digital IPR infringement are not high enough to deter violators.
In March 2019, amendments to the Act on Industrial Property Law came into force which are intended to implement EU Trademark Directive 2015/2436. The legislation introduced, inter alia, the abandonment of the graphical representation requirement, a new mechanism for trademark protection renewals, extended licensee’s rights, as well as remedies against counterfeit goods in transit and against infringing preparatory acts. The changes provide new tools to fight against infringement of trademark rights.
In April 2019, the EU adopted two directives on copyright, including: 2019/790 on copyright in the digital single market and 2019/789 regarding online broadcasting and re-broadcasting. Member states are required to transpose the reforms into national legislation by June 2021. The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage is responsible for drafting and implementing the legislation which has not yet been made available for public consultations.
In February 2020, additional amendments to Act on Industrial Property entered into force which adapt Polish standards on inventions to those of the EU so as to streamline and speed up proceedings before the Polish Patent Office. The amendments to the Act also extend the exemption from patent and trademark renewal fees to support start-up entrepreneurs. The legislation complies with relevant provisions of the European Patent Convention and the Patent Cooperation Treaty.
In July 2020, amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure entered into force which, among other things, creates and operationalizes specialized IPR courts. Poland’s new specialized courts will oversee casesrelated to all types of IPR, including copyright, and trademarks, industrial property rights, and unfair competition. New departments for IP matters will be created at the District Courts in Gdansk, Katowice, Poznan, and Warsaw, and specialized departments will be established in the Courts of Appeal in Warsaw and Katowice. This will replace the current system in which intellectual property matters, including those relating to highly specialized issues such as patents, plant varieties, and trademarks, are examined by commercial departments of common courts.
A specialized court that was previously established within the 22nd Department of the District Court in Warsaw for cases involving EU trademarks and community designs will lose the exclusive competence to deal with those cases and will consider IP claims regarding computer programs, inventions, designs utility, topography of integrated circuits, plant varieties, and trade secrets of a technical nature (i.e., matters of advanced complexity). In order to conduct proceedings in these cases, it will be necessary to have highly trained judges who are familiar with IPR/IT issues. The new rules also require parties in IPR cases to be represented by professional lawyers, legal advisers, and patent attorneys. The changes represent a positive step for the court system, further contributing to the speed and efficiency of proceedings.
Tax incentives for IPR known collectively as “IP Box” or “Innovation Box,” included in the November 2018 tax amendment, have been applicable since January 2019. See Section 4 – Investment Incentives.
Polish customs tracks seizures of counterfeit goods but statistics for the reporting period are currently unavailable.
The Polish regulatory system is effective in encouraging and facilitating portfolio investment. Both foreign and domestic investors may place funds in demand and time deposits, stocks, bonds, futures, and derivatives. Poland’s equity markets facilitate the free flow of financial resources. Poland’s stock market is the largest and most developed in Central Europe. In September 2018, it was reclassified as developed market status by FTSE Russell’s country classification report. The stock market’s capitalization amounts to around 48 percent of GDP. Although the Warsaw Stock Exchange (WSE) is itself a publicly traded company with shares listed on its own exchange after its partial privatization in 2010, the state retains a significant percentage of shares which allows it to control the company. WSE has become a hub for foreign institutional investors targeting equity investments in the region.
In addition to the equity market, Poland has a wholesale market dedicated to the trading of treasury bills and bonds (Treasury BondSpot Poland). This treasury market is an integral part of the Primary Dealers System organized by the Finance Ministry and part of the pan-European bond platform. Wholesale treasury bonds and bills denominated in PLN and some securities denominated in Euros are traded on the Treasury BondSpot market. Non-government bonds are traded on Catalyst, a WSE managed platform. The capital market is a source of funding for Polish companies. While securities markets continue to play a subordinate role to banks in the provision of finance, the need for medium-term financial support for the modernization of the electricity and gas sectors is likely to lead to an increase in the importance of the corporate bond market. The Polish government acknowledges the capital market’s role in the economy in its development plan. Foreigners may invest in listed Polish shares, but they are subject to some restrictions in buying large packages of shares. Liquidity remains tight on the exchange.
The Capital Markets Development Strategy, published in 2018, identifies 20 key barriers and offers 60 solutions. Some key challenges include low levels of savings and investment, insufficient efficiency, transparency and liquidity of many market segments, and lack of taxation incentives for issuers and investors. The primary aim of the strategy is to improve access of Polish enterprises to financing. The strategy focuses on strengthening trust in the market, improving the protection of individual investors, the stabilization of the regulatory and supervisory environment and the use of competitive new technologies. The strategy is not a law, it sets the direction for further regulatory proposals. Poland is one of the most rigorously supervised capital markets in Europe according to the European Commission.
The Employee Capital Plans program (PPK)—which is designed to increase household saving to augment individual incomes in retirement—could provide a boost to Poland’s capital markets and reduce dependence on foreign saving as a source for investment financing. The program has been halted due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
High-risk venture capital funds are becoming an increasingly important segment of the capital market. The market is still shallow, however, and one major transaction may affect the value of the market in a given year. The funds remain active and Poland is a leader in this respect in Central and Eastern Europe.
Poland provides full IMF Article VIII convertibility for current transactions. Banks can and do lend to foreign and domestic companies. Companies can and do borrow abroad and issue commercial paper, but the market is less robust than in Western European countries or the United States. The Act on Investment Funds allows for open-end, closed-end, and mixed investment funds, and the development of securitization instruments in Poland. In general, no special restrictions apply to foreign investors purchasing Polish securities.
Credit allocation is on market terms. The government maintains some programs offering below-market rate loans to certain domestic groups, such as farmers and homeowners. Foreign investors and domestic investors have equal access to Polish financial markets. Private Polish investment is usually financed from retained earnings and credits, while foreign investors utilize funds obtained outside of Poland as well as retained earnings. Polish firms raise capital in Poland and abroad.
Recent changes in the governance structure of the Polish Financial Supervisory Authority (KNF) are aimed at increasing cross governmental coordination and a better-targeted response in case of financial shocks, while achieving greater institutional effectiveness through enhanced resource allocation. KNF’s supplementary powers have increased, allowing it to authorize the swift acquisition of a failing or likely to fail lender by a stronger financial institution.
Money and Banking System
The banking sector plays a dominant role in the financial system, accounting for about 70 percent of financial sector assets. The sector is mostly privately owned, with the state controlling about 40 percent of the banking sector and the biggest insurance company. Poland had 30 locally incorporated commercial banks at the end of December 2019, according to KNF. The number of locally-incorporated banks has been declining over the last five years. Poland’s 538 cooperative banks play a secondary role in the financial system, but are widespread. The state owns eight banks. Over the last few years, growing capital requirements, lower prospects for profit generation and uncertainty about legislation addressing foreign currency mortgages has pushed banks towards mergers and acquisitions. KNF welcomes this consolidation process, seeing it as a “natural” way to create an efficient banking sector.
The Polish National Bank (NBP) is Poland’s central bank. At the end of 2019, the banking sector was overall well capitalized and solid. Poland’s banking sector meets European Banking Authority regulatory requirements. The share of non-performing loans is close to the EU average and recently has been falling. In December 2019, non-performing loans were 6.6 percent of portfolios. According to the S&P Rating Agency, Poland’s central bank is willing and able to provide liquidity support to the banking sector, in local and foreign currencies, if needed.
The banking sector is liquid, profitable and major banks are well capitalized, although disparities exist among banks. This was confirmed by NBP’s Financial Stability Report and stress tests conducted by the central bank. Profitability increased 12.5 percent in 2019 as a result of solid GDP growth, a pickup in investments and low provisioning costs, and remained at a reasonable level (ROE at 7.0 percent in 2019). Nevertheless, profits remain under pressure due to low interest rates, the issue of conversion of Swiss francs mortgage portfolios into PLN, and a special levy on financial institutions (0.44 percent of the value of assets excluding equity and Polish sovereign bonds). The ECJ issued a judgement in October 2019 on mortgages in Swiss francs, taking the side of borrowers. The ECJ annulled the loan agreements, noting an imbalance between the parties and the use of prohibited clauses. An additional financial burden for banks resulted from the necessity to return any additional fees they charged customers who repaid loans ahead of schedule.
Since 2015, the Polish government established an active campaign aiming to increase the market share of national financial institutions. Since 2017, Polish investors’ share in the banking sector’s total assets exceeds the foreign share in the sector. The State controls around 40 percent of total assets, including the two largest banks in Poland. These two lenders control about one third of the market. Rating agencies warn that an increasing state share in the banking sector might impact competitiveness and profits in the entire financial sector. There is concern that lending decisions at state-owned banks could come under political pressure. Nevertheless, Poland’s strong fundamentals and the size of its internal market mean that many foreign banks will want to retain their positions.
The financial regulator has restricted the availability of loans in euros or Swiss francs in order to minimize the banking system’s exposure to exchange risk resulting from fluctuations. Only individuals who earn salaries denominated in these currencies continue to enjoy easy access to loans in foreign currencies.
In 2019, NBP had relationships with 26 commercial and central banks and was not concerned about losing any of them.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Poland is not a member of the Eurozone; its currency is the Polish zloty. The current government has shown little desire to adopt the Euro (EUR). The Polish zloty (PLN) is a floating currency; it has largely tracked the EUR at approximately PLN 4.2-4.3 to EUR 1 in recent years and PLN 3.7 – 3.8 to USD 1. Foreign exchange is available through commercial banks and exchange offices. Payments and remittances in convertible currency may be made and received through a bank authorized to engage in foreign exchange transactions, and most banks have authorization. Foreign investors have not complained of significant difficulties or delays in remitting investment returns such as dividends, return of capital, interest and principal on private foreign debt, lease payments, royalties, or management fees. Foreign currencies can be freely used for settling accounts.
Poland provides full IMF Article VIII convertibility for currency transactions. The Polish Foreign Exchange Law, as amended, fully conforms to OECD Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and Current Invisible Operations. In general, foreign exchange transactions with the EU, OECD, and European Economic Area (EEA) are accorded equal treatment and are not restricted.
Except in limited cases which require a permit, foreigners may convert or transfer currency to make payments abroad for goods or services and may transfer abroad their shares of after-tax profit from operations in Poland. In general, foreign investors may freely withdraw their capital from Poland, however, the November 2018 tax bill included an exit tax. Full repatriation of profits and dividend payments is allowed without obtaining a permit. A Polish company (including a Polish subsidiary of a foreign company), however, must pay withholding taxes to Polish tax authorities on distributable dividends unless a double taxation treaty is in effect, which is the case for the United States. Changes to the withholding tax in the 2018 tax bill increased the bureaucratic burden for some foreign investors (see Section 2). The United States and Poland signed an updated bilateral tax treaty in February 2013 that the United States has not yet ratified. As a rule, a company headquartered outside of Poland is subject to corporate income tax on income earned in Poland, under the same rules as Polish companies.
Foreign exchange regulations require non-bank entities dealing in foreign exchange or acting as a currency exchange bureau to submit reports electronically to NBP at http://sprawozdawczosc.nbp.pl. An exporter may open foreign exchange accounts in the currency the exporter chooses.
Poland does not prohibit remittance through legal parallel markets utilizing convertible negotiable instruments (such as dollar-denominated Polish bonds in lieu of immediate payment in dollars). As a practical matter, such payment methods are rarely, if ever, used.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Polish Development Fund (PFR) is often referred to as Poland’s Sovereign Wealth Fund. PFR is an umbrella organization pooling resources of several governmental agencies and departments, including EU funds. A strategy for the Fund was adopted in September 2016, and it was registered in February 2017. PFR supports the implementation of the Responsible Development Strategy.
The PFR operates as a group of state-owned banks and insurers, investment bodies, and promotion agencies. The budget of the PFR Group initially reached PLN 14 billion (USD 3.5 billion), which managers estimate is sufficient to raise capital worth PLN 90-100 billion (USD 22-25 billion). Various actors within the organization can invest through acquisition of shares, through direct financing, seed funding, and co-financing venture capital. Depending on the instruments, PFR expects different rates of return.
In July 2019, the President of Poland signed the Act on the System of Development Institutions. Its main goal is to formalize and improve the cooperation of institutions that make up the PFR Group, strengthen the position of the Fund’s president and secure additional funding from the Finance Ministry. The group will have one common strategy. The introduction of new legal solutions will increase the efficiency and availability of financial and consulting instruments. An almost four-fold increase in the share capital will enable PFR to significantly increase the scale of investment in innovation and infrastructure and will help Polish companies expand into foreign markets. While supportive of overseas expansion by Polish companies, the Fund’s mission is domestic.
PFR plans to invest PLN 2.2 billion (USD 520 million) jointly with private-equity and venture-capital firms and PLN 600 million (USD 140 million) into a so-called fund of funds intended to kickstart investment in midsize companies.
Since its inception, PFR has carried out over 30 capital transactions, investing a total of PLN 8.3 billion (approx. USD 2 billion) directly or through managed funds. PFR, together with the support of other partners, has implemented investment projects with a total value of PLN 26.2 billion (approx. USD 6.5 billion). The most significant transactions carried out together with state-controlled insurance company PZU S.A. include the acquisition of 32.8 percent of the shares of Bank Pekao S.A. (PFR’s share is 12.8 percent); the acquisition of 100 percent of the shares in PESA Bydgoszcz S.A. (a rolling stock producer); and the acquisition of 99.77 percent of the shares of Polskie Koleje Linowe S.A. PFR has also completed the purchase, together with PSA International Ptd Ltd and IFM Investors, of DCT Gdansk, the largest container terminal in Poland (PFR’s share is 30 percent).
In April 2020, the President of Poland signed into law an amendment to the law on development institution systems, expanding the competencies of PFR as part of the government’s Anti-Crisis Shield. The amendment expands the competences of PFR so that it can more efficiently support businesses in the face of the coronavirus epidemic. The fund will provide PLN 100 billion (USD 25 billion), in financial support for companies, known as the Financial Shield.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) exist mainly in the defense, energy, transport, banking and insurance sectors. The main Warsaw stock index is dominated by state-controlled companies. The government intends to keep majority share ownership and/or state-control of economically and strategically important firms and is expanding the role of the state in the economy, particularly in the banking and energy sectors. Some U.S. investors have expressed concern that the government favors SOEs by offering loans from the national budget as a capital injection and unfairly favoring SOEs in investment disputes. Since Poland’s EU accession, government activity favoring state-owned firms has received careful scrutiny from Brussels. Since the Law and Justice government came to power in 2015, there has been a considerable increase in turnover in managerial positions of state-owned companies (although this has also occurred in previous changes of government, but to a lesser degree) and increased focus on building national champions in strategic industries to be able to compete internationally. SOEs are governed by a board of directors and most pay an annual dividend to the government, as well as prepare and disclose annual reports.
Among them are companies of “strategic importance” whose shares cannot be sold, including: Grupa Azoty S.A., Grupa LOTOS S.A., KGHM Polska Miedz S.A., and Energa S.A.
The government sees SOEs as drivers and leaders of its innovation policy agenda. For example, several energy SOEs established a company to develop electro mobility. The performance of SOEs has remained strong overall and broadly similar to that of private companies. International evidence suggests, however, that a dominant role of SOEs can pose fiscal, financial, and macro-stability risks.
As of April 2020, there were over 370 companies in partnership with state authorities. Among them there are companies under bankruptcy proceedings and in liquidation and in which the State Treasury held residual shares. Here is a link to the list of companies, including under the control of which ministry they fall: http://nadzor.kprm.gov.pl/spolki-z-udzialem-skarbu-panstwa.
The Ministry of State Assets, established after the October 2019 post-election cabinet reshuffle, has control over 200 enterprises. Their aggregate value reaches several dozens of billions of Polish zlotys. Among these companies are the largest chemical, energy, and mining groups; firms in the banking and insurance sectors; the Warsaw Stock Exchange; Poczta Polska (the national postal operator); and transport companies. This list does not include state-controlled public media, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture or the State Securities Printing Company (PWPW) supervised by the Interior Ministry. Supervision over defense industry companies has been shifted from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of State Assets.
The value of stock owned by the state in publicly-held companies, many of which are the biggest companies in their sectors, was worth over PLN 113 billion (USD 30 billion) in 2017. The same standards are generally applied to private and public companies with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations such as licenses and supplies. Government officials occasionally exercise discretionary authority to assist SOEs. In general, SOEs are expected to pay their own way, finance their operations, and fund further expansion through profits generated from their own operations.
On February 21, 2019, an amendment to the Act on the principles of management of state-owned property was adopted, which provides for the establishment of a new public special-purpose fund – the Capital Investment Fund. The Fund is a source of financing for the purchase and subscription of shares in companies. The Fund is managed by the Prime Minister’s office and financed by dividends from state-controlled companies. In 2020, the Fund’s revenues are expected to reach PLN one billion PLN (USD 240 million).
A commission for the reform of corporate governance was established on February 10, 2020, by the Minister of State Assets. The commission will develop recommendations regarding the introduction of a law on consortia/holdings; changes in the powers of supervisory boards and their members, with particular emphasis on the rights and obligations of parent companies’ supervisory boards; changes in the scope of information obligations of companies towards partners or shareholders; and other changes, including in the Commercial Companies Code. According to the Deputy Minister of State Assets and Government Plenipotentiary for Reform of Ownership Supervision over State Treasury Companies, the new law will be realistic and attractive to foreign investors.
Since coming to power in 2015, the governing Law and Justice party has increased control over Poland’s banking and energy sectors. In April 2020, it announced plans to tighten rules regarding takeovers of Polish companies by investors from outside the European Union.
OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs
In Poland, the same rules apply to SOEs and publicly-listed companies unless statutes provide otherwise. The state exercises its influence through its rights as a shareholder in proportion to the number of voting shares it holds (or through shareholder proxies). In some cases, an SOE is afforded special rights as specified in the company’s articles, and in compliance with Polish and EU laws. In some non-strategic companies, the state exercises special rights as a result of its majority ownership but not as a result of any specific strategic interest. Despite some of these specific rights, the state’s aim is to create long-term value for shareholders of its listed companies by adhering to the OECD’s SOE Guidelines. State representatives who sit on supervisory boards must comply with the Commercial Companies Code and are expected to act in the best interests of the company and its shareholders. The European Commission noted that “Polska Fundacja Narodowa” (an organization established to promote Polish culture worldwide and funded by Polish SOEs) was involved in the organization and financing of a campaign supporting the controversial judiciary changes by the government. The commission stated this was broadly against OECD recommendations on SOE involvement in financing political activities.
SOE employees can designate two fifths of the SOE’s Supervisory Board’s members. In addition, according to Poland’s privatization law, in wholly state-owned enterprises with more than 500 employees, the employees are allowed to elect one member of the Management Board. SOEs are subject to a series of additional disclosure requirements above those set forth in the Company Law. The supervising ministry prepares specific guidelines on annual financial reporting to explain and clarify these requirements. SOEs must prepare detailed reports on management board activity, plus a report on the previous financial year’s activity, and a report on the result of the examination of financial reports. In practice, detailed reporting data for non-listed SOEs is not easily accessible. State representatives to supervisory boards must go through examinations to be able to apply for a board position. Many major state-controlled companies are listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange and are subject to the “Code of Best Practice for WSE Listed Companies.”
On September 30, 2015, the Act on Control of Certain Investments entered into force. The law creates mechanisms to protect against hostile takeovers of companies operating in strategic sectors (gas, power generation, chemical, petrochemical and defense sectors) of the Polish economy (see Section 2 on Investment Screening), most of which are SOEs or state-controlled. In 2020, the government plans to introduce new legislation preventing hostile take overs.
The SOE governance law of 2017 (with subsequent amendments) is being implemented gradually. The framework formally keeps the oversight of SOE supervision centralized, while transferring the responsibilities from the Ministry of the Treasury to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Ministry of State Assets. The Ministry of State Assets exercises ownership functions for the majority of SOEs. A few sector-specific ministries (e.g., Culture and Maritime Economy) also exercise ownership for SOEs with public policy objectives. The PMO oversees development agencies such as the Polish Development Fund and the Industry Development Agency.
The Polish government has completed the privatization of most of the SOEs it deems not to be of national strategic importance. With few exceptions, the Polish government has invited foreign investors to participate in major privatization projects. In general, privatization bidding criteria have been clear and the process transparent.
The majority of SOEs classified as “economically important” or “strategically important” is in the energy, mining, media and financial sectors. The government intends to keep majority share ownership of these firms, or to sell tranches of shares in a manner that maintains state control. The government is currently focused on consolidating and improving the efficiency of the remaining SOEs.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Poland’s Ministry of Funds and Regional Development supports implementation of responsible business conduct (RBC) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. The Ordinance of the Minister of Investment and Development of May 10, 2018, established working groups responsible for sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. The chief function of the working groups is to create space for dialogue and exchange of experiences between the public administration, social partners, NGOs, and the academic environment in CSR/RBC. Experts cooperate within 5 working groups: 1) Innovation for CSR and sustainable development; 2) Business and human rights; 3) Sustainable production and consumption; 4) Socially responsible administration, and 5) Socially responsible universities. The greater team issues recommendations concerning implementation of the CSR/RBC policy, in particular the objectives of the Strategy for Responsible Development – a strategic national policy document.
In 2017, on the initiative of the then existent Ministry of Economic Development, a partnership was established for the translation into Polish of the Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector. The parties involved included representatives of the business sector, industry organizations and NGOs. The Polish version of the Guidelines was announced on June 29, 2018. The document, available on the OECD NCP website, is a practical tool explaining how to implement the principles of due diligence, taking into account risks related to child labor, forced labor, water use, hazardous waste, etc.
An increasing number of Polish enterprises is implementing the principles of CSR/RBC in their activities. One of these principles is to openly inform the public, employees, and local communities about the company’s activities by publishing non-financial reports. Sharing experience in the field of integration of social and environmental factors in everyday business activities helps build credibility and transparency of the Polish market.
In Poland, provisions relating to responsible business conduct are contained within the Public Procurement law and are the result of transposition of very similar provisions contained in the EU directives. For example, there is a provision for reserved contracts, where the contracting authority may limit competition for sheltered workshops and other economic operators whose activities include social and professional integration of people belonging to socially marginalized groups.
Independent organizations including NGOs, business and employee associations promote CSR in Poland. The Responsible Business Forum (RBF), founded in 2000, is the oldest and largest NGO in Poland focusing on corporate social responsibility: http://odpowiedzialnybiznes.pl/english/. CSR Watch Coalition Poland, part of the OECD Watch international network aims to advance respect for human rights in the context of business activity in Poland in line with the spirit of the UNBHR-GPs and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNEs): http://pihrb.org/koalicja/
Research shows that sustainability and CSR are increasingly translating into consumer choices in Poland. According to SW Research for Stena Recycling, nearly 70 percent of Poles would like their favorite products to come from sustainable production and are willing to switch to more sustainably produced products.
Starting in 2018, approximately 300 Polish companies were required to publish a non-financial information statement alongside their business activity report. This requirement is tied to the January 26, 2017, amendment of the Act on Accounting, which implements the directive 2014/95/UE into Polish law. The rules of the act concern companies that fulfill two out of the three of the following criteria: the average annual number of employed persons numbers over 500; the company’s balance sheet totals over PLN 85 million (approx. USD 30 million), or gross earnings from the sale of commodities and products for the fiscal year amount to at least PLN 170 million (approx. USD 46 million). Many companies voluntarily compile CSR activity reports based on international reporting standards.
In February 2020, the Responsible Business Forum presented its 2019 “Responsible Business in Poland. Good Practices” report, which is the most comprehensive CSR review in Poland, with a record number of responsible business activities featured. In total, the 2019 report contains 1,696 practices reported by 214 companies. Environmental practices are the most dynamically growing area – an increase of over 35% in relation to the previous report. Examples of activities include activities related to reducing the consumption of plastic, a circular economy, conservation of biodiversity, environmental education, and counteracting the climate crisis. Poland maintains a National Contact Point (NCP) for OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/krajowy-punkt-kontaktowy-oecd
The NCP promotes the OECD MNE Guidelines through seminars and workshops. Investors can obtain information about the Guidelines and their implementation through Regional Investor Assistance Centers.
Information on the OECD NCP activities is under this link:
Poland is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. The primary extractive industries in Poland are coal and copper mining. Onshore, there is also hydrocarbon extraction, primarily conventional natural gas, with limited exploration for shale gas. The Polish government exercises legal authority and receives revenues from the extraction of natural resources and from infrastructure related to extractive industries such as oil and gas pipelines through a concessions-granting system, and in most cases through shareholder rights in state-owned enterprises. The Polish government has two revenue streams from natural resources: 1) from concession licenses; and 2) from corporate taxes on the concession holders. License and tax requirements apply equally to both state-owned and private companies. Natural resources are brought to market through market-based mechanisms by both state-owned enterprises and private companies.
Poland has laws, regulations, and penalties aimed at combating corruption of public officials and counteracting conflicts of interest. Anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to members of political parties who are members of parliament. There are also anti-corruption laws regulating the finances of political parties. According to a local NGO, an increasing number of companies are implementing voluntary internal codes of ethics. In 2019, the Transparency International (TI) index of perceived public corruption ranked Poland as the 41st (five places lower than in 2018 TI index) least corrupt among 180 countries/territories.
UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery
The Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and national police investigate public corruption. The Justice Ministry and the police are responsible for enforcing Poland’s anti-corruption criminal laws. The Finance Ministry administers tax collection and is responsible for denying the tax deductibility of bribes. Reports of alleged corruption most frequently appear in connection with government contracting and the issuance of a regulation or permit that benefits a particular company. Allegations of corruption by customs and border guard officials, tax authorities, and local government officials show a decreasing trend. If such corruption is proven, it is usually punished.
Overall, U.S. firms have found that maintaining policies of full compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is effective in building a reputation for good corporate governance and that doing so is not an impediment to profitable operations in Poland. Poland ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2006 and the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery in 2000. Polish law classifies the payment of a bribe to a foreign official as a criminal offense, the same as if it were a bribe to a Polish official.
At its March 2018 meeting, the OECD Working Group on Bribery urged Poland to make progress on carrying out key recommendations that remain unimplemented more than four years after its Phase 3 evaluation in June 2013.
Centralne Biuro Antykorupcyjne (Central Anti-Corruption Bureau – CBA)
al. Ujazdowskie 9, 00-583 Warszawa
+48 800 808 808 firstname.lastname@example.org www.cba.gov.pl; link: Zglos Korupcje (report corruption)
The Public Integrity Program of the Batory Foundation, which served as a non-governmental watchdog organization, has been incorporated into a broader operational program (ForumIdei) run by the Foundation. The Batory Foundation continues to monitor public corruption, carries out research into this area and publishes reports on various aspects of the government’s transparency. Contact information for Batory Foundation is: email@example.com; 22 536 02 20.
10. Political and Security Environment
Poland is a politically stable country. Constitutional transfers of power are orderly. The last presidential elections took place in June 2020 and parliamentary elections took place in October 2019; observers considered both elections free and fair. Prime Minister Morawiecki’s government was re-appointed in November 2019. Local elections took place in October 2018. Elections to the European Parliament took place in May 2019. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for the fall of 2023. There have been no confirmed incidents of politically motivated violence toward foreign investment projects in recent years. Poland has neither insurgent groups nor belligerent neighbors. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provides political risk insurance for Poland but it is not frequently used, as competitive private sector financing and insurance are readily available.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Poland has a well-educated, skilled labor force. Productivity, however, remains below OECD averages but is rising rapidly and unit costs are competitive. In the last quarter of 2019, according to the Polish Central Statistical Office (GUS), the average gross wage in Poland was PLN 5,198 (approx. USD 1,293 per month) compared to 4,864 (approx. USD 1,200) in the last quarter of 2018. Poland’s economy employed roughly 16.619 million people in the third quarter of 2019. Eurostat measured total Polish unemployment at 2.9 percent, with youth unemployment at 7.9 percent in December 2019. GUS reports unemployment rates differently and tends to be higher than Eurostat figures. Unemployment varied substantially among regions: the highest rate was 8.6 percent (according to GUS ) in the north-eastern part of Poland (Warmia and Mazury), and the lowest was 2.8 percent (GUS) in the western province of Wielkopolska, at the end of the third quarter of 2019. Unemployment was lowest in major urban areas. Polish workers are usually eager to work for foreign companies, in Poland and abroad. Since Poland joined the EU, up to two million Poles have sought work in other EU member states.
A January 2018 revision of the Law on Promoting Employment and Labor Market Institutions introduced greater regulatory control over the “simplified procedure” of hiring foreigners from six countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and Russia), which allows foreigners from these countries to work in Poland without a work permit for six months. According to the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy, 1.6 million “simplified procedure” work declarations were registered in 2019, of which almost 1.5 million were for Ukrainian workers (approximately the same number as a year earlier). Under the revised procedure, local authorities may verify if potential employers have actual job positions for potential foreign workers. The law also authorizes local authorities to refuse declarations from employers with a history of abuse, as well as to ban employers previously convicted of human trafficking from hiring foreign workers. The January 2018 revision also introduced a new type of work permit for foreign workers, the so-called seasonal work permit, which allow for legal work up to nine months in agriculture, horticulture, tourism and similar industries. Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy statistics show that during 2019, 183,941 seasonal work permits of this type were issued, of which 179,466 went to Ukrainians. Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy statistics also show that in 2019, 330,495 thousand Ukrainians received work permits, compared with 238,334 in 2017.
Polish companies suffer from a shortage of qualified workers. According to a 2020 report by the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy, several industries suffer shortages, including the construction, manufacturing, and transportation industries. The most sought-after workers in the construction industry include concrete workers, steel fixers, carpenters, and bricklayers. Manufacturing companies seek welders, woodworkers, machinery operators, locksmiths, electricians, and electromechanical engineers. Employment has expanded in service industries such as information technology, manufacturing, and administrative and support service activities. The business process outsourcing industry in Poland has experienced dynamic growth. The state-owned sector employs about a quarter of the work force, although employment in coal mining and steel are declining.
Since 2017, the minimum retirement age for men has been 65, and 60 for women. Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and dismissal for cause (firing). In the case of layoffs (when workers are dismissed for economic reasons in companies which employ more than 20 employees), employers are required to offer severance pay. In the case of dismissal for cause, the labor law does not require severance pay.
Most workers hired under labor contracts have the legal right to establish and join independent trade unions and to bargain collectively. In January 2020, the revised law on trade unions entered into force, which expanded the right to form a union to persons who entered into an employment relationship based on a civil law contract and to persons who were self-employed. Trade union influence is declining, though unions remain powerful among miners, shipyard workers, government employees, and teachers. The Polish labor code outlines employee and employer rights in all sectors, both public and private, and has been gradually revised to adapt to EU standards. However, employers tend to use temporary and contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature. Employers have used short-term contracts because they allow firing with two weeks’ notice and without consulting trade unions. Employers also tend to use civil instead of labor contracts because of ease of hiring and firing, even in situations where work performed meets all the requirements of a regular labor contract.
Polish law requires equal pay for equal work and equal treatment with respect to signing labor contracts, employment conditions, promotion, and access to training. The law defines equal treatment as nondiscrimination in any way, directly or indirectly on the grounds of gender, age, disability, race, religion, nationality, political opinion, ethnic origin, denomination, sexual orientation, whether or not the person is employed temporarily or permanently, full time or part time.
The 1991 Law on Conflict Resolution defines the mechanism for labor dispute resolution. It consists of four stages: first, the employer is obliged to conduct negotiations with employees; the second stage is a mediation process, including an independent mediator; if an agreement is not reached through mediation, the third stage is arbitration, which takes place at the regional court; the fourth stage of conflict resolution is a strike.
The Polish government adheres to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) core conventions and generally complies with international labor standards. However, there are several gaps in enforcing these standards, including legal restrictions on the rights of workers to form and join independent unions. Cumbersome procedures make it difficult for workers to meet all of the technical requirements for a legal strike. The law prohibits collective bargaining for key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges, and prosecutors. There were some limitations with respect to identification of victims of forced labor. Despite prohibitions against discrimination with respect to employment or occupation, such discrimination occurs. Authorities do not consistently enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety, either in the formal or informal sectors.
The National Labor Inspectorate (NLI) is responsible for identifying possible labor violations; it may issue fines and notify the prosecutor’s office in cases of severe violations. According to labor unions, however, the NLI does not have adequate tools to hold violators accountable and the small fines imposed as punishment are an ineffective deterrent to most employers.
The United States has no FTA or preference program (such as GSP) with Poland that includes labor standards.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
Poland is not eligible for DFC programs outside of energy infrastructure projects. Post is not aware of any existing agreements between Poland and OPIC.
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
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)
* In Poland, the National Bank of Poland (NBP) collects data on FDI. An annual FDI report and data are published at the end of the following year. GDP data are published by the Central Statistical Office. Final annual data are available at the end of May of the following year.
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (end of 2018)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment
Outward Direct Investment
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Results of table are consistent with the data of the National Bank of Poland (NBP). NBP publishes FDI data in October/November.
A number of foreign countries register businesses in the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Cyprus, hence results for these countries include investments from other countries/economies.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (end of June 2019)
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Debt Securities
Note: NBP publishes only total amounts of portfolio investment assets.
Results of the table are consistent with data from the National Bank of Poland (NBP). NBP publishes FDI data in October/November.
A number of foreign countries register businesses in the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Cyprus hence results for these countries include investments from other countries/economies.