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Bangladesh

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

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

Business Facilitation

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

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

City Corporation – Trade License

National Board of Revenue – Tax & VAT Registration

Chief Inspector of Shops and Establishments – Employment of Workers Notification

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

Outward Investment

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

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

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

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

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

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

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

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

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

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

Focal Point for TBT:

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

Focal Point for other WTO related matters:

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

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

Some notable commercial laws include:

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

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

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

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

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

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

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

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance Requirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

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

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

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

Intellectual Property Rights

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

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

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

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

Resources for Intellectual Property Rights Holders:

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

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money and Banking System

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

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

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

Unlike banks, FIs are prohibited from:

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

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

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

Remittance Policies

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

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

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

Sovereign Wealth Funds

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

7. State-Owned Enterprises

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

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

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

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

Privatization Program

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

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

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

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

8. Responsible Business Conduct

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

Department of State

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

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

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

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

Department of Labor

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

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

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

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

9. Corruption

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

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

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

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

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

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

10. Political and Security Environment

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

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

11. Labor Policies and Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source: Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Other USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019-20 $330,541 2019 $302,571 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source: Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Other USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019-20 $3,906 2019 $493 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $12 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019-20 5.7% 2019 5.4% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (December 2019)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $16,872 100% Total Outward $321 100%
The United States $3,488 20.7% United Kingdom $84 26.2%
The United Kingdom $1,960 11.6% Hong Kong $72 22.4%
The Netherlands $1,372 8.1% India $49 15.3%
Singapore $1,254 7.4% Nepal $45 14.0%
Hong Kong $869 5.2% United Arab Emirates $35 10.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (December 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $3,319 100% All Countries $8 100% All Countries $3,311 100%
Germany $534 16% Pakistan $8 100% Germany $534 16%
United States $503 15% N/A N/A N/A United States $503 15%
United Kingdom $336 10% N/A N/A N/A United Kingdom $336 10%
Spain $231 7% N/A N/A N/A Spain $231 7%
France $202 6% N/A N/A N/A France $202 6%

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

14. Contact for More Information

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

Egypt

Executive Summary

The Egyptian government continues to make progress on economic reforms, and while many challenges remain, Egypt’s investment climate is improving.  The country has undertaken a number of structural reforms since the flotation of the Egyptian Pound (EGP) in November 2016, and after successfully completing a set of difficult macroeconomic reforms as part of a three-year, $12-billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, Egypt was one of the fastest-growing emerging markets prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.  Egypt was also the only economy in the Middle East and North Africa to record positive economic growth in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased investor confidence and the reactivation of Egypt’s interbank foreign exchange (FX) market have attracted foreign portfolio investment and increased foreign reserves.  The Government of Egypt (GoE) increasingly understands that attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is key to addressing many of its economic challenges and has stated its intention to create a more conducive environment for FDI.  FDI inflows grew 11 percent between 2018 and 2019, from $8.1 to $9 billion, before falling 39 percent to $5.5 billion in 2020 amid sharp global declines in FDI due to the pandemic, according to data from the Central Bank of Egypt and the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). UNCTAD ranked Egypt as the top FDI destination in Africa between 2016 and 2020.

Egypt has passed a number of regulatory reform laws, including a new investment law in 2017; a new companies law and a bankruptcy law in 2018; and a new customs law in 2020.  These laws aim to improve Egypt’s investment and business climate and help the economy realize its full potential.  The 2017 Investment Law is designed to attract new investment and provides a framework for the government to offer investors more incentives, consolidate investment-related rules, and streamline procedures.  The 2020 Customs Law is likewise meant to streamline aspects of import and export procedures, including through a single-window system, electronic payments, and expedited clearances for authorized companies. The GoE is still developing implementation rules for the Customs Law.

The government also hopes to attract investment in several “mega projects,” including the construction of a new national administrative capital, and to promote mineral extraction opportunities.  Egypt intends to capitalize on its location bridging the Middle East, Africa, and Europe to become a regional trade and investment gateway and energy hub, and hopes to attract information and communications technology (ICT) sector investments for its digital transformation program.

Egypt is a party to more than 100 bilateral investment treaties, including with the United States.  It is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), and the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA).  In many sectors, there is no legal difference between foreign and domestic investors. Special requirements exist for foreign investment in certain sectors, such as upstream oil and gas as well as real estate, where joint ventures are required.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 117 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 114 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 96 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, on a historical-cost basis 2019 USD 11,000 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 2,690 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Egypt’s completion of the three-year, $12-billion IMF Extended Fund Facility between 2016 and 2019, and its associated reform package, helped stabilize Egypt’s macroeconomy, introduced important subsidy and social spending reforms, and helped restore investor confidence in the Egyptian economy.  The flotation of the Egyptian Pound (EGP) in November 2016 and the restart of Egypt’s interbank foreign exchange (FX) market as part of this program was the first major step in restoring investor confidence that immediately led to increased portfolio investment and should lead to increased FDI over the long term.  Other important reforms have included a new investment law and an industrial licensing law in 2017, a new bankruptcy law in 2018, a new customs law in 2020, and other reforms aimed at reducing regulatory overhang and improving the ease of doing business. Egypt’s government has announced plans to improve its business climate further through investment promotion, facilitation, more efficient business services, and the implementation of investor-friendly policies.

With few exceptions, Egypt does not legally discriminate between Egyptian nationals and foreigners in the formation and operation of private companies. The 1997 Investment Incentives Law was designed to encourage domestic and foreign investment in targeted economic sectors and to promote decentralization of industry away from the Nile Valley. The law allows 100 percent foreign ownership of investment projects and guarantees the right to remit income earned in Egypt and to repatriate capital.

The Tenders Law (Law 89 of 1998) requires the government to consider both price and best value in awarding contracts and to issue an explanation for refusal of a bid. However, the law contains preferences for Egyptian domestic contractors, who are accorded priority if their bids do not exceed the lowest foreign bid by more than 15 percent.

The Capital Markets Law (Law 95 of 1992) and its amendments, including the most recent in February 2018, and relevant regulations govern Egypt’s capital markets.  Foreign investors are able to buy shares on the Egyptian Stock Exchange on the same basis as local investors.

The General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI, http://gafi.gov.eg) is the principal government body that regulates and facilitates foreign investment in Egypt, and reports directly to the Prime Minister.

The Investor Service Center (ISC) is an administrative unit within GAFI that provides “one-stop-shop” services, easing the way for global investors looking for opportunities presented by Egypt’s domestic economy and the nation’s competitive advantages as an export hub for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. This is in addition to promoting Egypt’s investment opportunities in various sectors.

The ISC provides a start-to-end service to the investor, including assistance related to company incorporation, establishment of company branches, approval of minutes of Board of Directors and General Assemblies, increases of capital, changes of activity, liquidation procedures, and other corporate-related matters. The Center also aims to issue licenses, approvals, and permits required for investment activities within 60 days from the date of request. Other services GAFI provides include:

Advice and support to help in the evaluation of Egypt as a potential investment location;

Identification of suitable locations and site selection options within Egypt;

Assistance in identifying suitable Egyptian partners; and

Aftercare and dispute settlement services. ​

The ISC plans to establish branches in each of Egypt’s Governorates by the end of 2021.  Egypt maintains ongoing communication with investors through formal business roundtables, investment promotion events (conferences and seminars), and one-on-one investment meetings.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Egyptian Companies Law does not set any limitation on the number of foreigners, neither as shareholders nor as managers/board members, except for Limited Liability Companies where the only restriction is that one of the managers must be an Egyptian national. In addition, companies are required to obtain a commercial and tax license, and pass a security clearance process.  Companies are able to operate while undergoing the often lengthy security screening process.  However, if the firm is rejected, it must cease operations and may undergo a lengthy appeals process.  Businesses have cited instances where Egyptian clients were hesitant to conclude long-term business contracts with foreign businesses that have yet to receive a security clearance. They have also expressed concern about seemingly arbitrary refusals, a lack of explanation when a security clearance is not issued, and the lengthy appeals process. Although the Government of Egypt has made progress streamlining the business registration process at GAFI, inconsistent treatment by banks and other government officials has in some cases led to registration delays.

Sector-specific limitations to investment include restrictions on foreign shareholding of companies owning lands in the Sinai Peninsula. Likewise, the Import-Export Law requires companies wishing to register in the Import Registry to be 51 percent owned and managed by Egyptians. Nevertheless, the new Investment Law does allow wholly foreign companies investing in Egypt to import goods and materials. In January 2021 the Egyptian government removed the 20-percent foreign ownership cap for international and private schools in Egypt.

The ownership of land by foreigners is complicated, in that it is governed by three laws: Law 15 of 1963, Law 143 of 1981, and Law 230 of 1996.  Land/Real Estate Law 15 of 1963 explicitly prohibits foreign individual or corporation ownership of agricultural land (defined as traditional agricultural land in the Nile Valley, Delta and Oases). Law 15/1963 stipulates that no foreigners, whether natural or juristic persons, may acquire agricultural land.  Law 143/1981 governs the acquisition and ownership of desert land. Certain limits are placed on the number of feddans (one feddan is approximately equal to one acre) that may be owned by individuals, families, cooperatives, partnerships, and corporations regardless of nationality. Partnerships are permitted to own 10,000 feddans. Joint stock companies are permitted to own 50,000 feddans.

Under Law 230/1986, non-Egyptians are allowed to own real estate (vacant or built) only under the following conditions:

  • Ownership is limited to two real estate properties in Egypt that serve as accommodation for the owner and his family (spouses and minors) in addition to the right to own real estate needed for activities licensed by the Egyptian Government.
  • The area of each real estate property does not exceed 4,000 m².
  • The real estate is not considered a historical site.

Exemption from the first and second conditions is subject to the approval of the Prime Minister. Ownership in tourist areas and new communities is subject to conditions established by the Cabinet of Ministers. Non-Egyptians owning vacant real estate in Egypt must build within a period of five years from the date their ownership is registered by a notary public. Non-Egyptians cannot sell their real estate for five years after registration of ownership, unless the Prime Minister consents to an exemption.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In December 2020, the World Bank published a Country Private Sector Diagnostic report for Egypt, which analyzed key structural economic reforms that the Egyptian government should adopt in order to encourage private-sector-led economic growth. The report also included recommendations for the agribusiness, manufacturing, information technology, education, and healthcare sectors. https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/publications_ext_content/ifc_external_publication_site/publications_listing_page/cpsd-egypt

https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/publications_ext_content/ifc_external_publication_site/publications_listing_page/cpsd-egypt

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) signed a declaration with Egypt on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises on July 11, 2007, at which time Egypt became the first Arab and African country to sign the OECD Declaration, marking a new stage in Egypt’s drive to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI).  On July 8, 2020, the OECD released an Investment Policy Review for Egypt that highlighted the government’s progress implementing a proactive reform agenda to improve the business climate, attract more foreign and domestic investment, and reap the benefits of openness to FDI and participation in global value chains. https://www.oecd.org/countries/egypt/egypt-continues-to-strengthen-its-institutional-and-legal-framework-for-investment.htm  

https://www.oecd.org/countries/egypt/egypt-continues-to-strengthen-its-institutional-and-legal-framework-for-investment.htm  

In January 2018 the World Trade Organization (WTO) published a comprehensive review of the Egyptian Government’s trade policies, including details of the Investment Law’s (Law 72 of 2017) main provisions. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s367_e.pdf 

https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s367_e.pdf 

The United Nations Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD) published an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy Review for Egypt in 2017, in which it highlighted the potential for investments in the ICT sector to help drive economic growth and recommended specific reforms aimed at strengthening Egypt’s performance in key ICT policy areas.   https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/dtlstict2017d3_en.pdf 

https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/dtlstict2017d3_en.pdf   

Business Facilitation

GAFI’s ISC ( https://gafi.gov.eg/English/Howcanwehelp/OneStopShop/Pages/default.aspx ) was launched in February 2018 and provides start-to-end service to the investor, as described above.  The Investment Law (Law 72 of 2017) also introduces “Ratification Offices” to facilitate obtaining necessary approvals, permits, and licenses within 10 days of issuing a Ratification Certificate.

Investors may fulfill the technical requirements of obtaining the required licenses through these Ratification Offices, directly through the concerned authority, or through its representatives at the Investment Window at GAFI.  The Investor Service Center is required to issue licenses within 60 days from submission. Companies can also register online.  GAFI has also launched e-establishment, e-signature, and e-payment services to facilitate establishing companies.

Outward Investment

Egypt promotes and incentivizes outward investment. According to the Egyptian government’s FDI Markets database for the period from January 2003 to January 2021, outward investment featured the following:

  • Egyptian companies implemented 278 Egyptian FDI projects. The estimated total value of the projects, which employed about 49,000 workers, was $24.26 billion.
  • The following countries respectively received the largest amount of Egyptian outward investment in terms of total project value: The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kenya, Jordan, Ethiopia, Germany, Libya, Morocco, and Nigeria.
  • The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria accounted for about 28 percent of the total amount.
  • Elsewedy Electric was the largest Egyptian company investing abroad, implementing 21 projects with a total investment estimated to be $2.1 billion.

Egypt does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Egyptian government has made efforts to improve the transparency of government policy and to support a fair, competitive marketplace.  Nevertheless, improving government transparency and consistency has proven difficult, and reformers have faced strong resistance from entrenched bureaucratic and private interests.  Significant obstacles continue to hinder private investment, including the reportedly arbitrary imposition of bureaucratic impediments and the length of time needed to resolve them.  Nevertheless, the impetus for positive change driven by the government reform agenda augurs well for improvement in policy implementation and transparency.

Enactment of laws is the purview of the Parliament, while executive regulations are the domain of line ministries.  Under the Constitution, the president, the cabinet, and any member of parliament can present draft legislation.  After submission, parliamentary committees review and approve, including any amendments.  Upon parliamentary approval, a judicial body reviews the constitutionality of any legislation before referring it to the president for his approval.

Although notice and full drafts of legislation are typically printed in the Official Gazette (similar to the Federal Register in the United States), there is no centralized online location where the government publishes comprehensive details about regulatory decisions or their summaries, and in practice consultation with the public is limited.  In recent years, the Ministry of Trade and other government bodies have circulated draft legislation among concerned parties, including business associations and labor unions. This has been a welcome change from previous practice, but is not yet institutionalized across the government.

While Egyptian parliaments have historically held “social dialogue” sessions with concerned parties and private or civic organizations to discuss proposed legislation, it is unclear to what degree the current Parliament will adopt a more inclusive approach to social dialogue.  Many aspects of the 2016 IMF program and related economic reforms stimulated parliament to engage more broadly with the public, marking some progress in this respect.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms.  The Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) supervises and regulates all non-banking financial markets and instruments, including capital markets, futures exchanges, insurance activities, mortgage finance, financial leasing, factoring, securitization, and microfinance.  It issues rules that facilitate market efficiency and transparency. FRA has issued legislation and regulatory decisions on non-banking financial laws which govern FRA’s work and the entities under its supervision. ( http://www.fra.gov.eg/jtags/efsa_en/index_en.jsp  )

The criteria for awarding government contracts and licenses are made available when bid rounds are announced.  The process actually used to award contracts is broadly consistent with the procedural requirements set forth by law.  Further, set-aside requirements for small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) participation in GoE procurement are increasingly highlighted. The FRA publishes key laws and regulations to the following website: http://www.fra.gov.eg/content/efsa_en/efsa_pages_en/laws_efsa_en.htm  

http://www.fra.gov.eg/content/efsa_en/efsa_pages_en/laws_efsa_en.htm  

The Parliament and the independent “Administrative Control Authority” both ensure the government’s commitment to follow administrative processes at all levels of government.

The cabinet develops and submits proposed regulations to the president following discussion and consultation with the relevant ministry and informal consultation with other interest groups. Based on the recommendations provided in the proposal, including recommendations by the presidential advisors, the president issues “Presidential Decrees” that function as implementing regulations.  Presidential decrees are published in the Official Gazette for enforcement.

The degree to which ministries and government agencies responsible for drafting, implementing, or enforcing a given regulation coordinate with other stakeholders varies widely.  Although some government entities may attempt to analyze and debate proposed legislation or rules, there are no laws requiring scientific studies or quantitative regulatory impact analyses prior to finalizing or implementing new laws or regulations. Not all issued regulations are announced online, and not all public comments received by regulators are made public.

The government made its budget documents widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online.  Budget documents did not include allocations to military state-owned enterprises, nor allocations to and earnings from state-owned enterprises.  Information on government debt obligations was publicly available online, but up-to-date and clear information on state-owned enterprise debt guaranteed by the government was not available.  According to information the Central Bank has provided to the World Bank, the lack of information available about publicly guaranteed private-sector debt meant that this debt was generally recorded as private-sector non-guaranteed debt, thus potentially obscuring some contingent debt liabilities.

International Regulatory Considerations

In general, international standards are the main reference for Egyptian standards.  According to the Egyptian Organization for Standardization and Quality Control, approximately 7,000 national standards are aligned with international standards in various sectors.  In the absence of international standards, Egypt uses other references referred to in Ministerial Decrees No. 180/1996 and No. 291/2003, which stipulate that in the absence of Egyptian standards, the producers and importers may use European standards (EN), U.S. standards (ANSI), or Japanese standards (JIS).

Egypt is a member of the WTO, participates actively in various committees, and notifies technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.  Egypt ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in June 2017 (Presidential decree No. 149/2017), and deposited its formal notification to the WTO on June 24, 2019.  Egypt notified indicative and definitive dates for implementing Category B and C commitments on June 20, 2019, but to date has not notified dates for implementing Category A commitments.  In August 2020 the Egyptian Parliament passed a new Customs Law, Law 207 of 2020, that includes provisions for key TFA reforms, including advance rulings, separation of release, a single-window system, expedited customs procedures for authorized economic operators, post-clearance audits, and e-payments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Egypt’s legal system is a civil codified law system based on the French model.  If contractual disputes arise, claimants can sue for remedies through the court system or seek resolution through arbitration.  Egypt has written commercial and contractual laws. The country has a system of economic courts, specializing in private-sector disputes, which have jurisdiction over cases related to economic and commercial matters, including intellectual property disputes.  The judiciary is set up as an independent branch of the government.

Regulations and enforcement actions can be appealed through Egypt’s courts, though appellants often complain about the lengthy judicial process, which can often take years.  To enforce judgments of foreign courts in Egypt, the party seeking to enforce the judgment must obtain an exequatur (a legal document issued by governments allowing judgements to be enforced).  To apply for an exequatur, the normal procedures for initiating a lawsuit in Egypt must be satisfied. Moreover, several other conditions must be satisfied, including ensuring reciprocity between the Egyptian and foreign country’s courts, and verifying the competence of the court rendering the judgment.

Judges in Egypt enjoy a high degree of public trust, according to Egyptian lawyers and opinion polls, and are the designated monitors for general elections.  The Judiciary is proud of its independence and can point to a number of cases where a judge has made surprising decisions that run counter to the desires of the regime.  The judge’s ability to interpret the law can sometimes lead to an uneven application of justice.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

No specialized court exists for foreign investments.

The 2017 Investment Law (Law 72 of 2017) as well as other FDI-related laws and regulations, are published on GAFI’s website,  https://gafi.gov.eg/English/StartaBusiness/Laws-and-Regulations/Pages/default.aspx .

In 2017 the Parliament also passed the Industrial Permits Act, which reduced the time it takes to license a new factory by mandating that the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) respond to a request for a license within 30 days of the request being filed.  As of February 2020, new regulations allow IDA regional branch directors or their designees to grant conditional licenses to industrial investors until other registration requirements are complete.

In 2016, the Import-Export Law was revised to allow companies wishing to register in the Import Registry to be 51 percent owned and managed by Egyptians; formerly the law required 100 percent Egyptian ownership and management.  In November 2016, the inter-ministerial Supreme Investment Council also announced seventeen presidential decrees designed to spur investment or resolve longstanding issues. These include:

  • Forming a “National Payments Council” that will work to restrict the handling of FX outside the banking sector;
  • Producers of agricultural crops that Egypt imports or exports will get tax exemptions;
  • Five-year tax exemptions for manufacturers of “strategic” goods that Egypt imports or exports;
  • Five-year tax exemptions for agriculture and industrial investments in Upper Egypt; and
  • Begin tendering land with utilities for industry in Upper Egypt for free as outlined by the Industrial Development Authority.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Egyptian Competition Law (ECL), Law 3 of 2005, provides the framework for the government’s competition rules and anti-trust policies. The ECL prohibits the abuse of dominant market positions, which it defines as a situation in which a company’s market share exceeds 25 percent and in which the company is able to influence market prices or volumes regardless of competitors’ actions. The ECL prohibits vertical agreements or contracts between purchasers and suppliers that are intended to restrict competition, and also forbids agreements among competitors such as price collusion, production-restriction agreements, market sharing, and anti-competitive arrangements in the tendering process. The ECL applies to all types of persons or enterprises carrying out economic activities, but includes exemptions for some government-controlled public utilities. In early 2019, the Egyptian Parliament endorsed a number of amendments to the ECL, including controls on price hikes and prices of essential products and higher penalties for violations.

In addition to the ECL, other laws cover various aspects of competition policy. The Companies Law (Law 159/1981) contains provisions on mergers and acquisitions; the Law of Supplies and Commerce (Law 17 of 1999) forbids competition-reducing activities such as collusion and hoarding; and the Telecommunications Law (Law 10 of 2003), the Intellectual Property Law (Law 82 of 2002), and the Insurance Supervision and Control Law (Law 10 of 1981) also include provisions on competition.

The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) is responsible for protecting competition and prohibiting the monopolistic practices defined within the ECL. The ECA has the authority to receive and investigate complaints, initiate its own investigations, and take decisions and necessary steps to stop anti-competitive practices. The ECA’s enforcement powers include conducting raids; using search warrants; requesting data and documentation; and imposing “cease and desist orders” on violators of the ECL. The ECA’s enforcement activities against government entities are limited to requesting data and documentation, as well as advocacy.

Expropriation and Compensation

Egypt’s Investment Incentives Law provides guarantees against nationalization or confiscation of investment projects under the law’s domain.  The law also provides guarantees against seizure, requisition, blocking, and placing of assets under custody or sequestration.  It offers guarantees against full or partial expropriation of real estate and investment project property.  The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty also provides protection against expropriation.  Private firms are able to take cases of alleged expropriation to court, but the judicial system can take several years to resolve a case.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Egypt acceded to the International Convention for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1971 and is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, which provides a framework for the arbitration of investment disputes between the government and foreign investors from another member state, provided the parties agree to such arbitration. Without prejudice to Egyptian courts, the Investment Incentives Law recognizes the right of investors to settle disputes within the framework of bilateral agreements, the ICSID, or through arbitration before the Regional Center for International Commercial Arbitration in Cairo, which applies the rules of the United Nations Commissions on International Trade Law.

Egypt adheres to the 1958 New York Convention on the Enforcement of Arbitral Awards; the 1965 Washington Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and the Nationals of Other States; and the 1974 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between the Arab States and Nationals of Other States.  An award issued pursuant to arbitration that took place outside Egypt may be enforced in Egypt if it is either covered by one of the international conventions to which Egypt is party or it satisfies the conditions set out in Egypt’s Dispute Settlement Law 27 of 1994, which provides for the arbitration of domestic and international commercial disputes and limited challenges of arbitration awards in the Egyptian judicial system.  The Dispute Settlement Law was amended in 1997 to include disputes between public enterprises and the private sector.

To enforce judgments of foreign courts in Egypt, the party seeking to enforce the judgment must obtain an exequatur.  To apply for an exequatur, the normal procedures for initiating a lawsuit in Egypt and several other conditions must be satisfied, including ensuring reciprocity between the Egyptian and foreign country’s courts and verifying the competence of the court rendering the judgment.

Egypt has a system of economic courts specializing in private-sector disputes that have jurisdiction over cases related to economic and commercial matters, including intellectual property disputes. Despite these provisions, business and investors in Egypt’s renewable energy projects have reported significant problems resolving disputes with the Government of Egypt.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty allows an investor to take a dispute directly to binding third-party arbitration.  The Egyptian courts generally endorse international arbitration clauses in commercial contracts.  For example, the Court of Cassation has, on a number of occasions, confirmed the validity of arbitration clauses included in contracts between Egyptian and foreign parties.

A new mechanism for simplified settlement of investment disputes aimed at avoiding the court system altogether has been established.  In particular, the law established a Ministerial Committee on Investment Contract Disputes, responsible for the settlement of disputes arising from investment contracts to which the State, or a public or private body affiliated therewith, is a party. This is in addition to establishing a Complaint Committee to consider challenges connected to the implementation of Egypt’s Investment Law.  Finally, the decree established a Committee for Resolution of Investment Disputes, which will review complaints or disputes between investors and the government related to the implementation of the Investment Law.  In practice, Egypt’s dispute resolution mechanisms are time-consuming but broadly effective.  Businesses have, however, reported difficulty collecting payment from the government when awarded a monetary settlement.

Over the past 10 years, there have been several investment disputes involving both U.S. persons and foreign investors.  Most of the cases have been settled, though no definitive number is available. Local courts in Egypt recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.  There are no known extrajudicial actions against foreign investors in Egypt during the period of this report.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Egypt allows mediation as a mechanism for alternative dispute resolution (ADR), a structured negotiation process in which an independent person known as a mediator assists the parties to identify and assess options, and negotiate an agreement to resolve their dispute.  GAFI has an Investment Disputes Settlement Center, which uses mediation as an ADR.

The Economic Court recognizes and enforces arbitral awards. Judgments of foreign courts may be recognized and enforceable under local courts under limited conditions.

In most cases, domestic courts have found in favor of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) involved in investment disputes.  In such disputes, non-government parties have often complained about the delays and discrimination in court processes.

Many foreign investors employ clauses that specify that U.S. companies employ contractual clauses that specify binding international (not local) arbitration of disputes in their commercial agreements.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Egypt passed a Bankruptcy Law (Law 11 of 2018) in January 2018, which was designed to speed up the restructuring of troubled companies and settlement of their accounts.  It also replaced the threat of imprisonment with fines in cases of bankruptcy.  As of July 2020, the Egyptian government was considering but had not yet implemented amendments to the 2018 law that would allow debtors to file for bankruptcy protection, and would give creditors the ability to determine whether debtors could continue operating, be placed under administrative control, or be forced to liquidate their assets.

In practice, the paperwork involved in liquidating a business remains convoluted and protracted; starting a business is much easier than shutting one down. Bankruptcy is frowned upon in Egyptian culture, and many businesspeople still believe they may be found criminally liable if they declare bankruptcy.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Investment Law 72/2017 gives multiple incentives to investors as described below.  In August 2019, President Sisi ratified amendments to the Investment Law that allow its incentive programs to apply to expansions of existing investment projects in addition to new investments.

General Incentives:

  • All investment projects subject to the provisions of the new law enjoy the general incentives provided by it.
  • Investors are exempted from the stamp tax, notary fees, registration of the Memorandum of Incorporation of the companies, credit facilities, and mortgage contracts associated with their business for five years from the date of registration in the Commercial Registry, in addition to the registration contracts of the lands required for a company’s establishment.
  • If the establishment is under the provisions of the new investment law, it will benefit from a two-percent unified custom tax over all imported machinery, equipment, and devices required for the set-up of such a company.

Special Incentive Programs:

  • Investment projects established within three years of the date of the issuance of the Investment Law (Law 72 of 2017) will enjoy a perpetual deduction from their net profit subject to the income tax;
  • 50 percent deduction of depreciated investment costs from taxes, infrastructure fees, and cost of lands for projects in regions the government has identified as most in need of development, as well as designated projects in Suez Canal Special Economic Zone and the “Golden Triangle” along the Red Sea between the cities of Safaga, Qena, and El Quseer; or
  • 30 percent deduction of depreciated investment costs from taxes, infrastructure fees, and land costs for projects elsewhere in Egypt; and
  • Provided that such deduction shall not exceed 80 percent of the paid-up capital of the company, the incentive could be utilized over a maximum of seven years.

Additional Incentive Program:

The Cabinet of Ministers may decide to grant additional incentives for investment projects in accordance with specific rules and regulations as follows:

  • The establishment of special customs ports for exports and imports of the investment projects.
  • The state may incur part of the costs of the technical training for workers.
  • Free allocation of land for a few strategic activities may apply.
  • The government may bear in full or in part the costs incurred by the investor to invest in utility connections for the investment project.
  • The government may refund half the price of the land allocated to industrial projects in the event of starting production within two years from receiving the land.

Other Incentives related to Free Zones according to Investment Law 72/2017:

  • Exemption from all taxes and customs duties.
  • Exemption from all import/export regulations.
  • The option to sell a certain percentage of production domestically if customs duties are paid.
  • Limited exemptions from labor provisions.
  • All equipment, machinery, and essential means of transport (excluding sedan cars) necessary for business operations are exempted from all customs, import duties, and sales taxes.
  • All licensing procedures are handled by GAFI. To remain eligible for benefits, investors operating inside the free zones must export more than 50 percent of their total production.
  • Manufacturing or assembly projects pay an annual charge of one percent of the total value of their products excluding all raw materials. Storage facilities are to pay one percent of the value of goods entering the free zones, while service projects pay one percent of total annual revenue.
  • Goods in transit to specific destinations are exempt from any charges.

Other Incentives related to the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone): 100 percent foreign ownership of companies allowed.

  • 100 percent foreign ownership of companies allowed.
  • 100 percent foreign control of import/​export activities allowed.
  • Imports are exempted from customs duties and sales tax.
  • Customs duties on exports to Egypt imposed on imported components only, not the final product.
  • Fast-track visa services.
  • A full service one-stop shop for registration and licensing.
  • Allowing enterprises access to the domestic market; duties on sales to domestic market will be assessed on the value of imported inputs only.

The Tenders Law (Law 89/1998) requires the government to consider both price and best value in awarding contracts and to issue an explanation for refusal of a bid. However, the law contains preferences for Egyptian domestic contractors, who are accorded priority if their bids do not exceed the lowest foreign bid by more than 15 percent.

The Ministry of Industry & Foreign Trade and the Ministry of Finance’s Decree No. 719/2007 provides incentives for industrial projects in the governorates of Upper Egypt (Upper Egypt refers to governorates in southern Egypt). The decree provides an incentive of 15,000 EGP (approx. $940) for each job opportunity created by the project, on the condition that the investment costs of the project exceed 15 million EGP (approx. $940,000). The decree can be implemented on both new and ongoing projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Public and private free-trade zones are authorized under GAFI’s Investment Incentive Law No. 72 of 2017. Free zones are located within the national territory, but are considered to be outside Egypt’s customs boundaries, granting firms doing business within them more freedom on transactions and exchanges. Companies producing largely for export (normally 80 percent or more of total production) may be established in free-trade zones and operate using foreign currency. Free-trade zones are open to investment by foreign or domestic investors. Companies operating in free-trade zones are exempted from sales taxes or taxes and fees on capital assets and intermediate goods. The Legislative Package for the Stimulation of Investment, issued in 2015, stipulated a one-percent duty paid on the value of commodities upon entry for storage projects and a one-percent duty upon exit for manufacturing and assembly projects.

There are currently nine public free trade zones in operation in the following locations: Alexandria; Damietta; Ismailia; Qeft; Media Production City; Nasr City; Port Said; Shebin el Kom; and Suez. Private free-trade zones may also be established with a decree by GAFI but are usually limited to a single project. Export-oriented industrial projects are given priority.  There is no restriction on foreign ownership of capital in private free zones.

The Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Law 83/2002 allows establishment of special zones for industrial, agricultural, or service activities designed specifically with the export market in mind.  The law allows firms operating in these zones to import capital equipment, raw materials, and intermediate goods duty free. Companies established in the SEZs are also exempt from sales and indirect taxes and can operate under more flexible labor regulations. The first SEZ was established in the northwest Gulf of Suez.

Investment Law 72 of 2017 authorized creation of investment zones with Prime Ministerial approval. The government regulates these zones through a board of directors, but the zones are established, built, and operated by the private sector. The government does not provide any infrastructure or utilities in these zones. Investment zones enjoy the same benefits as free zones in terms of facilitation of license-issuance, ease of dealing with other agencies, etc., but are not granted the incentives and tax/custom exemptions enjoyed in free zones. Projects in investment zones pay the same tax/customs duties applied throughout Egypt. The aim of the law is to assist the private sector in diversifying its economic activities. There are currently five investment zones located in Cairo, Giza, and Ismailia, and in 2019 GAFI approved the development of an additional 12 investment zones in the Alexandria, Dakhalia, Damietta, Fayoum, Giza, Qalyubia, and Sharkia governorates.

The Suez Canal Economic Zone ( http://www.sczone.com.eg/English/Pages/default.aspx) , a major industrial and logistics services hub announced in 2014, includes upgrades and renovations to ports located along the Suez Canal corridor, including West and East Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Adabiya, and Ain Sokhna. The Egyptian government has invited foreign investors to take part in the projects, which are expected to be built in several stages, the first of which was scheduled to be completed by mid-2020. Reported areas for investment include maritime services like ship repair services, bunkering, vessel scrapping and recycling; industrial projects, including pharmaceuticals, food processing, automotive production, consumer electronics, textiles, and petrochemicals; IT services such as research and development and software development; renewable energy; and mixed use, residential, logistics, and commercial developments.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Egypt has rules on national percentages of employment and difficult visa and work permit procedures. The government plans to phase out visas for unskilled workers, but as yet has not done so. For most other jobs, employers may hire foreign workers on a temporary six-month basis, but must also hire two Egyptians to be trained to do the job during that period. Only jobs where it is not possible for Egyptians to acquire the requisite skills will remain open to foreign workers. The application of these regulations is inconsistent. The Labor Law allows Ministers to set the maximum percentage of foreign workers that may work in companies in a given sector. There are no such sector-wide maximums for the oil and gas industry, but individual concession agreements may contain language establishing limits or procedures regarding the proportion of foreign and local employees.

No performance requirements are specified in the Investment Incentives Law, and the ability to fulfill local content requirements is not a prerequisite for approval to set up assembly projects. In many cases, however, assembly industries still must meet a minimum local content requirement in order to benefit from customs tariff reductions on imported industrial inputs.

Decree 184/2013 allows for the reduction of customs tariffs on intermediate goods if the final product has a certain percentage of input from local manufacturers, beginning at 30 percent local content. As the percentage of local content rises, so does the tariff reduction, reaching up to 90 percent if the amount of local input is 60 percent or above. Exporters receive additional subsidies if they use a greater portion of local raw materials. In certain cases, a minister can grant tariff reductions of up to 40 percent in advance.

Prime Minister issued Decision No. 3053 of 2019 regarding the formation of joint committees in the inspection yards at each customs port. These committees include representatives of the customs authority and the concerned authorities and bodies according to type of goods. The committees are responsible for completing inspection and control procedures for imported or exported goods within a period not exceeding three working days from the date of the customs declaration was registered.

Manufacturers wishing to export under trade agreements between Egypt and other countries must complete certificates of origin and satisfy the local content requirements contained therein. Oil and gas exploration concessions, which do not fall under the Investment Incentives Law, have performance standards specified in each individual agreement, which generally include the drilling of a specific number of wells in each phase of the exploration period stipulated in the agreement.

Egypt does not impose localization barriers on ICT firms. Egypt’s Personal Data Protection Act (Law 151/2020), signed into law in July 2020, will require licenses for cross-border data transfers once the law’s executive regulations are finalized, but it will not impose any data localization requirements. Similarly, Egypt does not make local production a requirement for market access, does not have local content requirements, and does not impose forced technology or intellectual property transfers as a condition of market access. But there are exceptions where the government has attempted to impose controls by requesting access to a company’s servers located offshore, or requested servers to be located in Egypt and thus under the government’s control.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Egyptian legal system provides protection for real and personal property. Laws on real estate ownership are complex and titles to real property may be difficult to establish and trace. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Egypt ranks 130 of 190 for ease of registering property.

The National Title Registration Program introduced by the Ministry of State for Administrative Development has been implemented in nine areas within Cairo. This program is intended to simplify property registration and facilitate easier mortgage financing. Real estate registration fees, long considered a major impediment to development of the real estate sector, are capped at no more than 2,000 EGP ($120), irrespective of the property value.

Foreigners are limited to ownership of two residences in Egypt, and specific procedures are required for purchasing real estate in certain geographical areas.

The mortgage market is still undeveloped in Egypt, and in practice most purchases are still conducted in cash. Real Estate Finance Law 148/2001 authorized both banks and non-bank mortgage companies to issue mortgages. The law provides procedures for foreclosure on property of defaulting debtors, and amendments passed in 2004 allow for the issuance of mortgage-backed securities. According to the regulations, banks can offer financing in foreign currency of up to 80 percent of the value of a property.

Presidential Decree 17/2015 permitted the government to provide land free of charge, in certain regions only, to investors meeting certain technical and financial requirements. In order to take advantage of this provision companies must provide cash collateral for five years following commencement of either production (for industrial projects) or operation (for all other projects).

The ownership of land by foreigners is governed by three laws: Law 15/1963, Law 143/1981, and Law 230/1996. Law 15/1963 stipulates that no foreigners, whether natural or juristic persons, may acquire agricultural land. Law 143/1981 governs the acquisition and ownership of desert land. Certain limits are placed on the number of feddans (one feddan is approximately equal to one acre) that may be owned by individuals, families, cooperatives, partnerships and corporations. Partnerships are permitted to own up to 10,000 feddans. Joint stock companies are permitted to own up to 50,000 feddans.

Partnerships and joint stock companies may own desert land within these limits, even if foreign partners or shareholders are involved, provided that at least 51 percent of the capital is owned by Egyptians. Upon liquidation of the company, however, the land must revert to Egyptian ownership. Law 143 defines desert land as the land lying two kilometers outside city borders. Furthermore, non-Egyptians owning non-improved real estate in Egypt must build within a period of five years from the date their ownership is registered by a notary public. Non-Egyptians may only sell their real estate five years after registration of ownership unless the Prime Minister consents to an exemption.

Intellectual Property Rights

Egypt remains on the Special 301 Watch List in 2021. Egypt’s intellectual property rights (IPR) legislation generally meets international standards, and the government has made progress enforcing those laws, reducing patent application backlogs, and, in 2020, shut down a number of online illegal streaming websites. It has also made progress establishing protection against the unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products. Stakeholders note continued challenges with widespread counterfeiting, biotechnology patentability criteria, patent and trademark examination criteria, and pharmaceutical-related IP issues.

Multinational pharmaceutical companies in the past have complained that local generic drug-producing companies infringe on their patents. The government has not yet established a system linking pharmaceutical marketing applications with patent licenses, and as a result permits for the sale of pharmaceuticals are generally issued without first cross-checking patent filings.

Decree 251/2020, issued in January 2020, established a ministerial committee to review petitions for compulsory patent licenses. According to Egypt’s 2002 IPR Law (Law 82 of 2002), which allows for compulsory patent licenses in some cases, the committee has the power to issue compulsory patent licenses according to a number of criteria set forth in the law; to determine financial remuneration for the original patent owners; and to approve the expropriation of the patents.

Book, music, and entertainment software piracy is prevalent in Egypt, and a significant portion of the piracy takes place online. American film studios represented by the Motion Pictures Association of America are concerned about the illegal distribution of American movies on regional satellite channels.

Eight GoE ministries have the responsibility to oversee IPR concerns: Supply and Internal Trade for trademarks; Higher Education and Research for patents; Culture for copyrights; Agriculture for plants; Communications and Information Technology for copyright of computer programs; Interior for combatting IPR violations; Customs for border enforcement; and Trade and Industry for standards and technical regulations. Article 69 of Egypt’s 2014 Constitution mandates the establishment of a “specialized agency to uphold [IPR] rights and their legal protection.” A National Committee on IPR was established to address IPR matters until a permanent body is established. All IPR stakeholders are represented in the committee, and members meet every two months to discuss issues. The National Committee on IPR is chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and reports directly to the Prime Minister.

The Egyptian Customs Authority (ECA) handles IPR enforcement at the national border and the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Investigation handles domestic cases of illegal production. The ECA cannot act unless the trademark owner files a complaint. ECA’s customs enforcement also tends to focus on protecting Egyptian goods and trademarks. The ECA is taking steps to adopt the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) Interface Public-Members platform, which allows customs officers to detect counterfeit goods by scanning a product’s barcode and checking the WCO trademark database system.

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

IPR Contact at Embassy Cairo:  Christopher Leslie

Trade & Investment Officer

20-2-2797-2735

LeslieCG@state.gov 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

To date, high returns on Egyptian government debt have crowded out Egyptian investment in productive capacity.  Consistently positive and relatively high real interest rates have attracted large foreign capital inflows since 2017, most of which has been volatile portfolio capital.  Returns on Egyptian government debt have begun to come down, which could presage investment by Egyptian capital in the real economy.

The Egyptian Stock Exchange (EGX) is Egypt’s registered securities exchange. Some 240 companies were listed on the EGX, including Nilex, as of February 2021. There were more than 500,000 investors registered to trade on the exchange in 2019, and the Egyptian market attracted 28,240 new investors in 2020.  Stock ownership is open to foreign and domestic individuals and entities.  The Government of Egypt issues dollar-denominated and Egyptian Pound-denominated debt instruments, for which ownership is open to foreign and domestic individuals and entities. The government has developed a positive outlook toward foreign portfolio investment, recognizing the need to attract foreign capital to help develop the Egyptian economy.  Foreign investors conducted 16 percent of sales on the EGX in 2020.

The Capital Market Law 95/1992, along with Banking Law 94 that President Sisi ratified in September 2020, constitute the primary regulatory frameworks for the financial sector.  The law grants foreigners full access to capital markets, and authorizes establishment of Egyptian and foreign companies to provide underwriting of subscriptions, brokerage services, securities and mutual funds management, clearance and settlement of security transactions, and venture capital activities.  The law specifies mechanisms for arbitration and legal dispute resolution and prohibits unfair market practices.  Law 10/2009 created the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA) and brought the regulation of all non-banking financial services under its authority.  In 2017, EFSA became the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA).

Settlement of transactions takes one day for treasury bonds and two days for stocks.  Although Egyptian law and regulations allow companies to adopt bylaws limiting or prohibiting foreign ownership of shares, virtually no listed stocks have such restrictions.  A significant number of the companies listed on the exchange are family-owned or -dominated conglomerates, and free trading of shares in many of these ventures, while increasing, remains limited.  Companies are de-listed from the exchange if not traded for six months.

Prior to November 2020, foreign companies enlisting on the EGX had to possess minimum capital of $100 million. With the FRA’s passage of new rules, foreign companies joining the EGX must now meet lesser requirements matching those for Egyptian companies: $6.4 million (100 million EGP) for large companies and between $63,000 and $6.4 million (1-100 million EGP) for smaller companies, depending on their size. Foreign businesses are only eligible for these lower minimum capital requirements if the EGX is their first exchange and if they attribute more than 50 percent of their shareholders’ equites, revenues, and assets to Egyptian subsidiary companies.

The Finance Ministry announced in May 2020 the suspension of stock market capital gains taxes for Egyptian tax residents until December 31, 2021, and made stock market capital gains permanently tax-exempt for non-tax residents and foreigners. The government also set the stamp tax on stock market transactions by non-tax residents at 0.125 percent and at 0.05 percent for tax residents.

Foreign investors can access Egypt’s banking system by opening accounts with local banks and buying and selling all marketable securities with brokerages.  The government has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to maintaining the profit repatriation system to encourage foreign investment in Egypt, especially since the pound flotation and implementation of the IMF loan program in November 2016.  The current system for profit repatriation by foreign firms requires sub-custodian banks to open foreign and local currency accounts for foreign investors (global custodians), which are exclusively maintained for stock exchange transactions.  The two accounts serve as a channel through which foreign investors process their sales, purchases, dividend collections, and profit repatriation transactions using the bank’s posted daily exchange rates.  The system is designed to allow for settlement of transactions in fewer than two days, though in practice some firms have reported significant delays in repatriating profits due to problems with availability.  Foreign firms and individuals continue to report delays in repatriating funds and problems accessing hard currency for the purpose of repatriating profits.

The Egyptian credit market, open to foreigners, is vibrant and active. Repatriation of investment profits has become much easier, as there is enough available hard currency to execute foreign exchange (FX) trades. Since the flotation of the Egyptian Pound in November 2016, FX trading is considered straightforward, given the re-establishment of the interbank foreign currency trading system.

Money and Banking System

Benefitting from the nation’s increasing economic stability over the past two years, Egypt’s banks have enjoyed both ratings upgrades and continued profitability. Thanks to economic reforms, a new floating exchange system, and a new Investment Law (Law 72/2017) passed in 2017, the project finance pipeline is increasing after a period of lower activity. Banking competition is serving a largely untapped retail segment and the nation’s challenging, but potentially rewarding, small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) segment.

The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) requires that banks direct 25 percent of their lending to SMEs.  In December 2019, the Central Bank launched a $6.4 billion (100 billion EGP) initiative to spur domestic manufacturing through subsidized loans. Also, with only about a quarter of Egypt’s adult population owning or sharing an account at a formal financial institution (according press and comments from contacts), the banking sector has potential for growth and higher inclusion, which the government and banks discuss frequently. A low median income plays a part in modest banking penetration.

The CBE has taken steps to work with banks and technology companies to expand financial inclusion.  The employees of the government, one of the largest employers, must now have bank accounts because salary payment is through direct deposit. The CBE approved new procedures in October 2020 to allow deposits and the opening of new bank accounts with only a government-issued ID, rather than additional documents. The maximum limits for withdrawals and account balances also increased. In July 2020, President Sisi ratified a new Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Development Law (Law 152 of 2020) that will provide incentives, tax breaks, and discounts for small, informal businesses willing to register their businesses and begin paying taxes.

As an attempt to keep pace with best practice and international norms, President Sisi ratified a new Banking Law, Law 94 of 2020, in September 2020. The law establishes a National Payment Council headed by the President to move Egypt away from cash and toward electronic payments; establishes a committee headed by the Prime Minister to resolve disputes between the CBE and the Ministry of Finance; establishes a CBE unit to handle complaints of monopolistic behaviors; requires banks to increase their cash holdings to $320 million (5 billion EGP), up from the prior minimum of $32 million (500 million EGP); and requires banks to report deficiencies in their own audits to the CBE.

Egypt’s banking sector is generally regarded as healthy and well-capitalized, due in part to its deposit-based funding structure and ample liquidity, especially since the flotation and restoration of the interbank market.  The CBE declared that 3.6 percent of the banking sector’s loans were non-performing by December 2020. However, since 2011, a high level of exposure to government debt, accounting for over 40 percent of banking system assets, at the expense of private-sector lending, has reduced the diversity of bank balance sheets and crowded out domestic investment. Given the flotation of the Egyptian Pound and restart of the interbank trading system, Moody’s and S&P have upgraded the outlook of Egypt’s banking system to stable from negative to reflect improving macroeconomic conditions and ongoing commitment to reform. In December 2020, Moody’s affirmed Egypt’s government issuer rating of B2 stable due to the government’s relatively low issuance of foreign currency loans and relatively low external government debt.

Thirty-eight banks operate in Egypt, including several foreign banks. The CBE has not issued a new commercial banking license since 1979. The only way for a new commercial bank, whether foreign or domestic, to enter the market (except as a representative office) is to purchase an existing bank. To this end, in 2013, QNB Group acquired National Société Générale Bank Egypt (NSGB). That same year, Emirates NBD, Dubai’s largest bank, bought the Egypt unit of BNP Paribas. In 2015, Citibank sold its retail banking division to CIB Bank. In 2017, Barclays Bank PLC transferred its entire shareholding to Attijariwafa Bank Group.  In January 2021, Bahrain’s bank ABC completed its purchase of the Egypt-based, Lebanon-owned BLOM bank, while First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) signed an agreement to acquire Bank Audi in Egypt. In 2016 and 2017, Egypt indicated a desire to partially (less than 35 percent) privatize at least one state-owned bank and a total of 23 firms through either expanded or new listings on the Egypt Stock Exchange. As of April 2020 the only step towards implementing this privatization program was the offering of 4.5 percent of the shares of state-owned Eastern Tobacco Company on the stock market. The state-owned Banque du Caire postponed plans to offer some of its shares on the EGX due to the novel coronavirus.

According to the CBE, banks operating in Egypt held nearly $446 billion (7 trillion EGP) in total assets as of December 2020, with the five largest banks holding more than 69 percent, or $309 billion (4.86 trillion EGP), of holdings by the end of 2020.

The chairman of the EGX recently stated that Egypt is exploring the use of block chain technologies across the banking community. The FRA will review the development and most likely regulate how the banking system adopts the fast-developing block chain systems into banks’ back-end and customer-facing processing and transactions. Seminars and discussions are beginning around Cairo, including visitors from Silicon Valley. While not outright banning cryptocurrencies, authorities caution against speculation in unknown asset classes.

Alternative financial services in Egypt are extensive, given the large informal economy, estimated to account for between 30 and 50 percent of GDP. Informal lending is prevalent, but the total capitalization, number of loans, and types of terms in private finance is less well known.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There had been significant progress in accessing hard currency since the flotation of the pound and re-establishment of the interbank currency trading system in November 2016. While the immediate aftermath saw some lingering difficulty of accessing currency, as of 2017 most businesses operating in Egypt reported having little difficulty obtaining hard currency for business purposes, such as importing inputs and repatriating profits. There are no dollar deposit limits on households and firms importing priority goods such as food products, pharmaceuticals, and basic raw materials. With net foreign reserves of $40.2 billion as of February 2021, Egypt’s foreign reserves appear to be well capitalized, although recent inflows are in part due to assistance payments by international financial institutions such as the IMF.

Funds associated with investment can be freely converted into any world currency available on the local market. Some firms and individuals report the process is slow. But the interbank trading system works in general, and currency is available as the foreign-exchange markets continue to react positively to the government’s commitment to macroeconomic and structural reform.

The value of the EGP generally fluctuates depending on market conditions, without direct market intervention by authorities. In general, the EGP has stabilized within an acceptable exchange rate range, which has increased the foreign exchange market’s liquidity. Since the early days following the flotation, there has been very low exchange-rate volatility.

Remittance Policies

The 1992 U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty provides for free transfer of dividends, royalties, compensation for expropriation, payments arising out of an investment dispute, contract payments, and proceeds from sales. Prior to reform implementation throughout 2016 and 2017, large corporations had been unable to repatriate local earnings for months at a time, but repatriation of funds is no longer restricted.     The Investment Incentives Law (Law 72 of 2017) (IIL) stipulates that non-Egyptian employees hired by projects established under the law are entitled to transfer their earnings abroad. Conversion and transfer of royalty payments are permitted when a patent, trademark, or other licensing agreement has been approved under the IIL.

The Investment Incentives Law (Law 72 of 2017) (IIL) stipulates that non-Egyptian employees hired by projects established under the law are entitled to transfer their earnings abroad. Conversion and transfer of royalty payments are permitted when a patent, trademark, or other licensing agreement has been approved under the IIL.   Banking Law 94 of 2020 regulates the repatriation of profits and capital. The current system for profit repatriation by foreign firms requires sub-custodian banks to open foreign and local currency accounts for foreign investors (global custodians), which are exclusively maintained for stock-exchange transactions. The two accounts serve as a channel through which foreign investors process their sales, purchases, dividend collections, and profit-repatriation transactions using the bank’s posted daily exchange rates. The system is designed to allow for settlement of transactions in less than two days, though in practice some firms have reported short delays in repatriating profits due to the steps involved in processing.

Banking Law 94 of 2020 regulates the repatriation of profits and capital. The current system for profit repatriation by foreign firms requires sub-custodian banks to open foreign and local currency accounts for foreign investors (global custodians), which are exclusively maintained for stock-exchange transactions. The two accounts serve as a channel through which foreign investors process their sales, purchases, dividend collections, and profit-repatriation transactions using the bank’s posted daily exchange rates. The system is designed to allow for settlement of transactions in less than two days, though in practice some firms have reported short delays in repatriating profits due to the steps involved in processing.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Egypt’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF), approved by the Cabinet and launched in late 2018, holds 200 billion EGP ($12.5 billion) in authorized capital as of December 2020.  The SWF aims to invest state funds locally and abroad across asset classes and manage underutilized government assets.  The sovereign wealth fund focuses on sectors considered vital to the Egyptian economy, particularly industry, energy, and tourism, and has established four new sub-funds covering healthcare, financial services, tourism, real estate, and infrastructure. The SWF participates in the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. The government is currently in talks with regional and European institutions to take part in forming the fund’s sector-specific units.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State and military-owned companies compete directly with private companies in many sectors of the Egyptian economy. Although Public Sector Law 203/1991 states that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) should not receive preferential treatment from the government or be accorded exemptions from legal requirements applicable to private companies, in practice SOEs and military-owned companies enjoy significant advantages, including relief from regulatory requirements. Forty percent of the banking sector’s assets are controlled by three state-owned banks (Banque Misr, Banque du Caire, and National Bank of Egypt).  SOEs and other state-controlled “economic entities” in Egypt subject to Law 203/1991 are affiliated with 10 ministries and employ 450,000 workers.  The Ministry of Public Business Sector controls 90 SOEs operating under eight holding companies that employ 209,000 workers. The most profitable sectors include tourism, real estate, and transportation. The ministry publishes a list of SOEs and holding companies on its website, http://www.mpbs.gov.eg/Arabic/Affiliates/HoldingCompanies/Pages/default.aspx and http://www.mpbs.gov.eg/Arabic/Affiliates/AffiliateCompanies/Pages/default.aspx.   In an attempt to encourage growth of the private sector, privatization of state-owned enterprises and state-owned banks accelerated under an economic reform program that took place from 1991 to 2008. Following the 2011 revolution, third parties have brought cases in court to reverse privatization deals, and in a number of these cases, Egyptian courts have ruled to reverse the privatization of several former public companies. Most of these cases are still under appeal.

In an attempt to encourage growth of the private sector, privatization of state-owned enterprises and state-owned banks accelerated under an economic reform program that took place from 1991 to 2008. Following the 2011 revolution, third parties have brought cases in court to reverse privatization deals, and in a number of these cases, Egyptian courts have ruled to reverse the privatization of several former public companies. Most of these cases are still under appeal.

The state-owned telephone company, Telecom Egypt, lost its legal monopoly on the local, long-distance, and international telecommunication sectors in 2005, but held a de facto monopoly until late 2016, when the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) implemented a unified license regime that allows companies to offer both fixed line and mobile networks. The agreement allowed Telecom Egypt to enter the mobile market and the three existing mobile companies to enter the fixed-line market.  

 

OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs 

SOEs in Egypt are structured as individual companies controlled by boards of directors and grouped under government holding companies that are arranged by industry, including Petroleum Products & Gas, Spinning & Weaving; Metallurgical Industries; Chemical Industries; Pharmaceuticals; Food Industries; Building & Construction; Tourism, Hotels, & Cinema; Maritime & Inland Transport; Aviation; and Insurance. The holding companies are headed by boards of directors appointed by the Prime Minister with input from the relevant Minister.

Privatization Program

The Egyptian government last attempted to privatize stakes in SOEs in March 2018 with the successful public offering of a minority stake in the Eastern Tobacco Company. The government has indefinitely delayed plans for privatizing stakes in 22 other SOEs, including up to 30 percent of the shares of Banque du Caire, due to adverse market conditions and increased global volatility. Egypt’s privatization program is based on Public Enterprise Law 203/1991, which permits the sale of SOEs to foreign entities.

Law 32/2014 limits the ability of third parties to challenge privatization contracts between the Egyptian government and investors. The law was intended to reassure investors concerned by legal challenges brought against privatization deals and land sales dating back to the pre-2008 period. Court cases at the time Parliament passed the law had put many of these now-private firms, many of which are foreign-owned, in legal limbo over concerns that they may be returned to state ownership.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) programs have grown in popularity in Egypt over the last ten years.  Most programs are limited to multinational and larger domestic companies as well as the banking sector and take the form of funding and sponsorship for initiatives supporting entrepreneurship and education and other social activities.  Environmental and technology programs are also garnering greater participation.  The Ministry of Trade has engaged constructively with corporations promoting RBC programs, supporting corporate social responsibility conferences and providing Cabinet-level representation as a sign of support to businesses promoting RBC programming.   A number of organizations and corporations work to foster the development of RBC in Egypt.  The American Chamber of Commerce has an active corporate social responsibility committee.  Several U.S. pharmaceutical companies are actively engaged in RBC programs related to Egypt’s hepatitis-C epidemic.  The Egyptian Corporate Responsibility Center, which is the UN Global Compact local network focal point in Egypt, aims to empower businesses to develop sustainable business models as well as improve the national capacity to design, apply, and monitor sustainable responsible business conduct policies.  In March 2010, Egypt launched an environmental, social, and governance index, the second of its kind in the world after India’s, with training and technical assistance from Standard and Poor’s.  Egypt does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.  Public information about Egypt’s extractive industries remains limited to the government’s annual budget.

A number of organizations and corporations work to foster the development of RBC in Egypt.  The American Chamber of Commerce has an active corporate social responsibility committee.  Several U.S. pharmaceutical companies are actively engaged in RBC programs related to Egypt’s hepatitis-C epidemic.  The Egyptian Corporate Responsibility Center, which is the UN Global Compact local network focal point in Egypt, aims to empower businesses to develop sustainable business models as well as improve the national capacity to design, apply, and monitor sustainable responsible business conduct policies.  In March 2010, Egypt launched an environmental, social, and governance index, the second of its kind in the world after India’s, with training and technical assistance from Standard and Poor’s.  Egypt does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.  Public information about Egypt’s extractive industries remains limited to the government’s annual budget.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

Trafficking in Persons Report

Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities

North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory 

Department of Labor

Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor Report;

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor

Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World and;

Comply Chain

9. Corruption

Egypt has a set of laws to combat corruption by public officials, including an Anti-Bribery Law (articles 103 through 111 of Egypt’s Penal Code), an Illicit Gains Law (Law 62/1975 and subsequent amendments in Law 97/2015), and a Governmental Accounting Law (Law 27/1981), among others.  Countering corruption remains a long-term focus. However, corruption laws have not been consistently enforced.  Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Egypt 106 out of 198 in its 2019 survey.  Transparency International also found that approximately 50 percent of Egyptians reported paying a bribe in order to obtain a public service.

Some private companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. There is no government requirement for private companies to establish internal codes of conduct to prohibit bribery.

Egypt ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005.  It has not acceded to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery or any other regional anti-corruption conventions.

While NGOs are active in encouraging anti-corruption activities, dialogue between the government and civil society on this issue is almost non-existent, the OECD found in 2009 in a trend that continues to this day.  While government officials publicly asserted they shared civil society organizations’ goals, they rarely cooperated with NGOs, and applied relevant laws in a highly restrictive manner against NGOs critical of government practices.  Media was also limited in its ability to report on corruption, with Article 188 of the Penal Code mandating heavy fines and penalties for unsubstantiated corruption allegations.

U.S. firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI in Egypt. Companies might encounter corruption in the public sector in the form of requests for bribes, using bribes to facilitate required government approvals or licenses, embezzlement, and tampering with official documents.  Corruption and bribery are reported in dealing with public services, customs (import license and import duties), public utilities (water and electrical connection), construction permits, and procurement, as well as in the private sector.  Businesses have described a dual system of payment for services, with one formal payment and a secondary, unofficial payment required for services to be rendered.

Resources to Report Corruption

Several agencies within the Egyptian government share responsibility for addressing corruption.  Egypt’s primary anticorruption body is the Administrative Control Authority (ACA), which has jurisdiction over state administrative bodies, state-owned enterprises, public associations and institutions, private companies undertaking public work, and organizations to which the state contributes in any form.  2017 amendments to the ACA law grant the organization full technical, financial, and administrative authority to investigate corruption within the public sector (with the exception of military personnel/entities).  The ACA appears well funded and well trained when compared with other Egyptian law enforcement organizations.  Strong funding and the current ACA leadership’s close relationship with President Sisi reflect the importance of this organization and its mission.  However, it is small (roughly 300 agents) and is often tasked with work that would not normally be conducted by a law enforcement agency.

The ACA periodically engages with civil society.  For example, it has met with the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt and other organizations to encourage them to seek it out when corruption issues arise.

In addition to the ACA, the Central Auditing Authority (CAA) acts as an anti-corruption body, stationing monitors at state-owned companies to report corrupt practices. The Ministry of Justice’s Illicit Gains Authority is charged with referring cases in which public officials have used their office for private gain.  The Public Prosecution Office’s Public Funds Prosecution Department and the Ministry of Interior’s Public Funds Investigations Office likewise share responsibility for addressing corruption in public expenditures.

Resources to Report Corruption

Minister of Interior

General Directorate of Investigation of Public Funds

Telephone: 02-2792-1395 / 02-2792 1396

Fax: 02-2792-2389

10. Political and Security Environment

Stability and economic development remain Egypt’s priorities. The Egyptian government has taken measures to eliminate politically motivated violence while also limiting peaceful protests and political expression. Egypt’s presidential elections in March 2018 and senatorial elections in August 2020 proceeded without incident. Militant groups also committed attacks in the Western Desert and Sinai. The government has been conducting a comprehensive counterterrorism offensive in the Sinai since early 2018 in response to terrorist attacks against military installations and personnel by ISIS-affiliated militant groups. In February 2020, ISIS-affiliated militants claimed responsibility for an attack against a domestic gas pipeline in the northern Sinai. Although the group claimed that the attack targeted the recently opened natural gas pipeline connecting Egypt and Israel, the pipeline itself was undamaged, and the flow of natural gas was not interrupted.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Official statistics put Egypt’s labor force at approximately 29 million, with an official unemployment rate of 7.3 percent at the end of 2020. Women accounted for 25 percent of those unemployed as of May 2020, according to statistics from Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Accurate figures are difficult to determine and verify given Egypt’s large informal economy, in which some 62 percent of the non-agricultural workforce is engaged, according to International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates.

The government bureaucracy and public sector enterprises are substantially over-staffed compared to the private sector and international norms. According to the World Bank, Egypt has the highest number of government workers per capita in the world. Businesses highlight a mismatch between labor skills and market demand, despite high numbers of university graduates in a variety of fields. Foreign companies frequently pay internationally competitive salaries to attract workers with valuable skills.

The Unified Labor Law 12/2003 provides comprehensive guidelines on labor relations, including hiring, working hours, termination of employees, training, health, and safety. The law grants a qualified right for employees to strike and stipulates rules and guidelines governing mediation, arbitration, and collective bargaining between employees and employers. Non-discrimination clauses are included, and the law complies with labor-related ILO conventions regulating the employment and training of women and eligible children. Egypt ratified ILO Convention 182 on combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in 2002. In 2018, Egypt launched the first National Action Plan on combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The law also created a national committee to formulate general labor policies and the National Council of Wages, whose mandate is to discuss wage-related issues and national minimum-wage policy, but it has rarely convened, and a minimum wage has rarely been enforced in the private sector.

Parliament adopted a new Trade Unions Law (Law 213/2017) in late 2017, replacing a 1976 law, which experts said was out of compliance with Egypt’s commitments to ILO conventions. After a 2016 Ministry of Manpower and Migration (MOMM) directive not to recognize documentation from any trade union without a stamp from the government-affiliated Egyptian Trade Union Federation, the new law established procedures for registering independent trade unions, but some of the unions noted that the directorates of the MOMM did not implement the law and placed restrictions on freedoms of association and organizing for trade union elections. Executive regulations for trade union elections stipulate a very tight deadline of three months for trade union organizations to legalize their status, and one month to hold elections, which, critics said, restricted the ability of unions to legalize their status or to campaign. In 2018, the government registered its first independent trade union in more than two years.

In July 2019 the Egyptian Parliament passed a series of amendments (Law 142/2019) to the 2017 Trade Unions Law that reduced the minimum membership required to form a trade union and abolished prison sentences for violations of the law. The amendments reduced the minimum number of workers required to form a trade union committee from 150 to 50, the number of trade union committees to form a general union from 15 to 10 committees, and the number of workers in a general union from 20,000 to 15,000. The amendments also decreased the number of unions necessary to establish a trade union federation from 10 to 7 and the number of workers in a trade union from 200,000 to 150,000. Under the new law, a trade union or workers’ committee may be formed if 150 employees in an entity express a desire to organize.

Based on the new amendments to the Trade Unions Law and a request from the Egyptian government for assistance implementing them and meeting international labor standards, the International Labor Organization’s and International Finance Corporation’s joint Better Work Program launched in Egypt in March 2020.

The Trade Unions law explicitly bans compulsory membership or the collection of union dues without written consent of the worker and allows members to quit unions. Each union, general union, or federation is registered as an independent legal entity, thereby enabling any such entity to exit any higher-level entity.

The 2014 Constitution stipulated in Article 76 that “establishing unions and federations is a right that is guaranteed by the law.” Only courts are allowed to dissolve unions. The 2014 Constitution maintained past practice in stipulating that “one syndicate is allowed per profession.” The Egyptian constitutional legislation differentiates between white-collar syndicates (e.g. doctors, lawyers, journalists) and blue-collar workers (e.g. transportation, food, mining workers). Workers in Egypt have the right to strike peacefully, but strikers are legally obliged to notify the employer and concerned administrative officials of the reasons and time frame of the strike 10 days in advance. In addition, strike actions are not permitted to take place outside the property of businesses. The law prohibits strikes in strategic or vital establishments in which the interruption of work could result in disturbing national security or basic services provided to citizens. In practice, however, workers strike in all sectors, without following these procedures, but at risk of prosecution by the government.

Collective negotiation is allowed between trade union organizations and private sector employers or their organizations. Agreements reached through negotiations are recorded in collective agreements regulated by the Unified Labor law and usually registered at MOMM. Collective bargaining is technically not permitted in the public sector, though it exists in practice. The government often intervenes to limit or manage collective bargaining negotiations in all sectors.

MOMM sets worker health and safety standards, which also apply in public and private free zones and the Special Economic Zones (see below). Enforcement and inspection, however, are uneven. The Unified Labor Law prohibits employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions, and workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment.

Egyptian labor laws allow employers to close or downsize operations for economic reasons. The government, however, has taken steps to halt downsizing in specific cases. The Unemployment Insurance Law, also known as the Emergency Subsidy Fund Law 156/2002, sets a fund to compensate employees whose wages are suspended due to partial or complete closure of their firm or due to its downsizing. The Fund allocates financial resources that will come from a one percent deduction from the base salaries of public and private sector employees. According to foreign investors, certain aspects of Egypt’s labor laws and policies are significant business impediments, particularly the difficulty of dismissing employees. To overcome these difficulties, companies often hire workers on temporary contracts; some employees remain on a series of one-year contracts for more than 10 years. Employers sometimes also require applicants to sign a “Form 6,” an undated voluntary resignation form which the employer can use at any time, as a condition of their employment. Negotiations on drafting a new Labor Law, which has been under consideration in the Parliament for two years, have included discussion of requiring employers to offer permanent employee status after a certain number of years with the company and declaring Form 6 or any letter of resignation null and void if signed prior to the date of termination.

Egypt has a dispute resolution mechanism for workers. If a dispute concerning work conditions, terms, or employment provisions arises, both the employer and the worker have the right to ask the competent administrative authorities to initiate informal negotiations to settle the dispute. This right can be exercised only within seven days of the beginning of the dispute. If a solution is not found within 10 days from the time administrative authorities were requested, both the employer and the worker can resort to a judicial committee within 45 days of the dispute. This committee comprises two judges, a representative of MOMM, and representatives from the trade union and one of the employers’ associations. The decision of this committee is provided within 60 days. If the decision of the judicial committee concerns discharging a permanent employee, the sentence is delivered within 15 days. When the committee decides against an employer’s decision to fire, the employer must reintegrate the latter in his/her job and pay all due salaries. If the employer does not respect the sentence, the employee is entitled to receive compensation for unlawful dismissal.

Labor Law 12/2003 sought to make it easier to terminate an employment contract in the event of “difficult economic conditions.” The Law allows an employer to close his establishment totally or partially or to reduce its size of activity for economic reasons, following approval from a committee designated by the Prime Minister. In addition, the employer must pay former employees a sum equal to one month of the employee’s total salary for each of his first five years of service and one and a half months of salary for each year of service over and above the first five years. Workers who have been dismissed have the right to appeal. Workers in the public sector enjoy lifelong job security as contracts cannot be terminated in this fashion; however, government salaries have eroded as inflation has outpaced increases.

Egypt has regulations restricting access for foreigners to Egyptian worker visas, though application of these provisions has been inconsistent. The government plans to phase out visas for unskilled workers, but as yet has not done so. For most other jobs, employers may hire foreign workers on a temporary six-month basis, but must also hire two Egyptians to be trained to do the job during that period. Only jobs where it is not possible for Egyptians to acquire the requisite skills will remain open to foreign workers. Application of these regulations is inconsistent.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $319,056 2019 $335,175 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 11 2019 $11,000 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $1 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 41% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx 

* Sources for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Egypt; CAPMAS; GAFI

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

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars, 2019)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 985 100% All Countries 377 100% All Countries 608 100%
United States 242 25% International Organizations 216 57% United States 233 38%
International Organizations 216 22% Saudi Arabia 27 7% Saudi Arabia 92 15%
Saudi Arabia 120 12% Italy 23 6% United Arab Emirates 56 9%
United Arab Emirates 59 6% Switzerland 17 5% United Kingdom 46 8%
United Kingdom 50 5% Singapore 16 4% China 40 7%

14. Contact for More Information 

Chris Leslie, Economic Officer, U.S. Embassy Cairo

02-2797-2735

LeslieCG@state.gov 

India

Executive Summary

The Government of India continued to actively court foreign investment. In the wake of COVID-19, India enacted ambitious structural economic reforms, including new labor codes and landmark agricultural sector reforms, that should help attract private and foreign direct investment. In February 2021, the Finance Minister announced plans to raise $2.4 billion though an ambitious privatization program that would dramatically reduce the government’s role in the economy. In March 2021, parliament further liberalized India’s insurance sector, increasing the foreign direct investment (FDI) limits to 74 percent from 49 percent, though still requiring a majority of the Board of Directors and management personnel to be Indian nationals.

In response to the economic challenges created by COVID-19 and the resulting national lockdown, the Government of India enacted extensive social welfare and economic stimulus programs and increased spending on infrastructure and public health. The government also adopted production linked incentives to promote manufacturing in pharmaceuticals, automobiles, textiles, electronics, and other sectors. These measures helped India recover from an approximately eight percent fall in GDP between April 2020 and March 2021, with positive growth returning by January 2021.

India, however, remains a challenging place to do business. New protectionist measures, including increased tariffs, procurement rules that limit competitive choices, sanitary and phytosanitary measures not based on science, and Indian-specific standards not aligned with international standards, effectively closed off producers from global supply chains and restricted the expansion in bilateral trade.

The U.S. government continued to urge the Government of India to foster an attractive and reliable investment climate by reducing barriers to investment and minimizing bureaucratic hurdles for businesses.

 
Measure Year Index/ Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perception Index 2020 86 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/india
World Bank’s Doing Business Report: “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 63 of 190   https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings?region=south-asia
Innovation Index 2020 48 of 131 https://www.wipo.int/global_innovation_index/en/2020
U.S. FDI in partner country (Million. USD stock positions) 2019 45,883 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=612&UUID=67171087-ee34-4983-ac05-984cc597f1f4
World Bank GNI per capita (USD) 2019 2120 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ny.gnp.pcap.cd

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies toward Foreign Direct Investment

Changes in India’s foreign investment rules are notified in two different ways: (1) Press Notes issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) for most sectors, and (2) legislative action for insurance, pension funds, and state-owned enterprises in the coal sector. FDI proposals in sensitive sectors, however, require the additional approval of the Home Ministry.

DPIIT, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is India’s chief investment regulator and policy maker. It compiles all policies related to India’s FDI regime into a single document to make it easier for investors to understand, and this consolidated policy is updated every year. The updated policy can be accessed at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-directinvestment/foreigndirectinvestment-policy.  DPIIT, through the Foreign Investment Implementation Authority (FIIA), plays an active role in resolving foreign investors’ project implementation problems and disseminates information about the Indian investment climate to promote investments. The Department establishes bilateral economic cooperation agreements in the region and encourages and facilitates foreign technology collaborations with Indian companies and DPIIT oftentimes consults with lead ministries and stakeholders. There however have been multiple incidents where relevant stakeholders reported being left out of consultations.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

In most sectors, foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own businesses and engage in remunerative activities. Several sectors of the economy continue to retain equity limits for foreign capital as well as management and control restrictions, which deter investment. For example, the 2015 Insurance Act raised FDI caps from 26 percent to 49 percent, but also mandated that insurance companies retain “Indian management and control.” In the parliament’s 2021 budget session, the Indian government approved increasing the FDI caps in the insurance sector to 74 percent from 49 percent. However, the legislation retained the “Indian management and control” rider. In the August 2020 session of parliament, the government approved reforms that opened the agriculture sector to FDI, as well as allowed direct sales of products and contract farming, though implementation of these changes was temporarily suspended in the wake of widespread protests. In 2016, India allowed up to 100 percent FDI in domestic airlines; however, the issue of substantial ownership and effective control (SOEC) rules that mandate majority control by Indian nationals have not yet been clarified. A list of investment caps is accessible at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-directinvestment/foreign-directinvestment-policy .

Screening of FDI

All FDI must be reviewed under either an “Automatic Route” or “Government Route” process. The Automatic Route simply requires a foreign investor to notify the Reserve Bank of India of the investment and applies in most sectors. In contrast, investments requiring review under the Government Route must obtain the approval of the ministry with jurisdiction over the appropriate sector along with the concurrence of DPIIT. The government route includes sectors deemed as strategic including defense, telecommunications, media, pharmaceuticals, and insurance. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures and brought a number of sectors including coal mining and contract manufacturing under the automatic route.

FDI inflows were mostly directed towards the largest metropolitan areas – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai – and the state of Gujarat. The services sector garnered the largest percentage of FDI. Further FDI statistics are available at: http://dipp.nic.in/publications/fdistatistics. 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

OECD’s Indian Economic Snapshot: http://www.oecd.org/economy/india-economic-snapshot/ 

WTO Trade Policy Review: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp503_e.htm 

2015-2020 Government of India Foreign Trade Policy: http://dgft.gov.in/ForeignTradePolicy 

Business Facilitation

DPIIT is responsible for formulation and implementation of promotional and developmental measures for growth of the industrial sector, keeping in view national priorities and socio- economic objectives. While individual lead ministries look after the production, distribution, development and planning aspects of specific industries allocated to them, DPIIT is responsible for overall industrial policy. It is also responsible for facilitating and increasing the FDI flows to the country.

Invest India  is the official investment promotion and facilitation agency of the Government of India, which is managed in partnership with DPIIT, state governments, and business chambers. Invest India specialists work with investors through their investment lifecycle to provide support with market entry strategies, industry analysis, partner search, and policy advocacy as required. Businesses can register online through the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website: http://www.mca.gov.in/ . After the registration, all new investments require industrial approvals and clearances from relevant authorities, including regulatory bodies and local governments. To fast-track the approval process, especially in the case of major projects, Prime Minister Modi started the Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI initiative) – a digital, multi-modal platform to speed the government’s approval process. As of January 2020, a total of 275 project proposals worth around $173 billion across ten states were cleared through PRAGATI. Prime Minister Modi personally monitors the process to ensure compliance in meeting PRAGATI project deadlines. The government also launched an Inter-Ministerial Committee in late 2014, led by the DPIIT, to help track investment proposals that require inter-ministerial approvals. Business and government sources report this committee meets informally and on an ad hoc basis as they receive reports of stalled projects from business chambers and affected companies.

Outward Investment

The Ministry of Commerce’s India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) claimed in March 2020 that outbound investment from India had undergone a considerable change in recent years in terms of magnitude, geographical spread, and sectorial composition. Indian firms invest in foreign markets primarily through mergers and acquisition (M&A). According to a Care Ratings study, corporate India invested around $12.25 billion in overseas markets between April and December 2020. The investment was mostly into wholly owned subsidiaries of companies. In terms of country distribution, the dominant destinations were the Unites States ($2.36 billion), Singapore ($2.07 billion), Netherlands ($1.50 billion), British Virgin Islands ($1.37 billion), and Mauritius ($1.30 million).

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

India adopted a new model Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in December 2015, following several adverse rulings in international arbitration proceedings. The new model BIT does not allow foreign investors to use investor-state dispute settlement methods, and instead requires foreign investors first to exhaust all local judicial and administrative remedies before entering international arbitration. The Indian government also served termination notices for existing BITs with 73 countries.

In September 2018, Belarus became the first country to execute a new BIT with India, based on the new model BIT, followed by the Taipei Cultural & Economic Centre (TECC) in December 2019, and Brazil in January 2020. India has also entered into a BIT negotiation with the Philippines and joint interpretative statements are under discussion with Iran, Switzerland, Morocco, Kuwait, Ukraine, UAE, San Marino, Hong Kong, Israel, Mauritius, and Oman.

Currently 14 BITs are in force. The Ministry of Finance said the revised model BIT will be used for the renegotiation of existing and any future BITs and will form the investment chapter in any Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements (CECAs)/Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements (CEPAs)/Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

The complete list of agreements can be found at: https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/international-investment-agreements/countries/96/india 

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

India has a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States, available at: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irstrty/india.pdf

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irstrty/india.pdf

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Some government policies are written in a way that can be discriminatory to foreign investors or favor domestic industry. For example, approval in 2021 for higher FDI thresholds in the insurance sector came with a requirement of “Indian management and control.” On most occasions the rules are framed after thorough discussions by government authorities and require the approval of the cabinet and, in some cases, the Parliament as well. Policies pertaining to foreign investments are framed by DPIIT, and implementation is undertaken by lead federal ministries and sub-national counterparts. However, in some instances the rules have been framed without following any consultative process.

In 2017, India began assessing a six percent “equalization levy,” or withholding tax, on foreign online advertising platforms with the ostensible goal of “equalizing the playing field” between resident service suppliers and non-resident service suppliers. However, its provisions did not provide credit for taxes paid in other countries for services supplied in India. In February 2020, the FY 2020-21 budget included an expansion of the “equalization levy,” adding a two percent tax to the equalization levy on foreign e-commerce and digital services provider companies. Neither the original 2017 levy, nor the additional 2020 two percent tax applied to Indian firms. In February 2021, the FY 2021-22 budget included three amendments “clarifying” the 2020 equalization levy expansion that will significantly extend the scope and potential liability for U.S. digital and e-commerce firms. The changes to the levy announced in 2021 will be implemented retroactively from April 2020. The 2020 and 2021 changes were enacted without prior notification or an opportunity for public comment.

The Indian Accounting Standards were issued under the supervision and control of the Accounting Standards Board, a committee under the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), and has government, academic, and professional representatives. The Indian Accounting Standards are named and numbered in the same way as the corresponding International Financial Reporting Standards. The National Advisory Committee on Accounting Standards recommends these standards to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, which all listed companies must then adopt. These can be accessed at: http://www.mca.gov.in/MinistryV2/Stand.html 

International Regulatory Considerations

India is a member of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an eight- member regional block in South Asia. India’s regulatory systems are aligned with SAARC’s economic agreements, visa regimes, and investment rules. Dispute resolution in India has been through tribunals, which are quasi-judicial bodies. India has been a member of the WTO since 1995, and generally notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade; however, at times there are delays in publishing the notifications. The Governments of India and the United States cooperate in areas such as standards, trade facilitation, competition, and antidumping practices.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

India adopted its legal system from English law and the basic principles of the Common Law as applied in the UK are largely prevalent in India. However, foreign companies need to make adaptations for Indian Law and the Indian business culture when negotiating and drafting contracts in India to ensure adequate protection in case of breach of contract. The Indian judiciary provides for an integrated system of courts to administer both central and state laws. The judicial system includes the Supreme Court as the highest national court, as well as a High Court in each state or a group of states which covers a hierarchy of subordinate courts. Article 141 of the Constitution of India provides that a decision declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India. Apart from courts, tribunals are also vested with judicial or quasi-judicial powers by special statutes to decide controversies or disputes relating to specified areas.

Courts have maintained that the independence of the judiciary is a basic feature of the Constitution, which provides the judiciary institutional independence from the executive and legislative branches.

4. Industrial Policies

The regulatory environment in terms of foreign investment has been eased to make it investor friendly. The measures taken by the Government are directed to open new sectors for foreign direct investment, increase the sectoral limit of existing sectors, and simplifying other conditions of the FDI policy. The Indian government has issued guarantees to investments but only in cases of strategic industries.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The government established several foreign trade zone initiatives to encourage export-oriented production. These include Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Export Processing Zones (EPZs), Software Technology Parks (STPs), and Export Oriented Units (EOUs). EPZs are industrial parks with incentives for foreign investors in export-oriented businesses. STPs are special zones with similar incentives for software exports. EOUs are industrial companies, established anywhere in India, that export their entire production and are granted the following: duty-free import of intermediate goods, income tax holidays, exemption from excise tax on capital goods, components, and raw materials, and a waiver on sales taxes. According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, as of October 2020, 426 SEZ’s have been approved and 262 SEZs were operational. SEZs are treated as foreign territory — businesses operating within SEZs are not subject to customs regulations nor have FDI equity caps. They also receive exemptions from industrial licensing requirements and enjoy tax holidays and other tax breaks. In 2018, the Indian government announced guidelines for the establishment of the National Industrial and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs), envisaged as integrated industrial townships to be managed by a special purpose vehicle and headed by a government official. So far, three NIMZs have been accorded final approval and 13 have been accorded in-principal approval. In addition, eight investment regions along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DIMC) have also been established as NIMZs. These initiatives are governed by separate rules and granted different benefits, details of which can be found at: http://www.sezindia.nic.in,   https://www.stpi.in/   http://www.fisme.org.in/export_schemes/DOCS/B

1/EXPORT%20ORIENTED%20UNIT%20SCHEME.pdf and http://www.makeinindia.com/home. 

The GOI’s revised Foreign Trade Policy, which will be effective for five years starting April 1, 2021, is expected to include a new regionally focused District Export Hubs initiative in addition to existing SEZs and NIMZs

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Preferential Market Access (PMA) for government procurement has created substantial challenges for foreign firms operating in India. State-owned “Public Sector Undertakings” and the government accord a 20 percent price preference to vendors utilizing more than 50 percent local content. However, PMA for government procurement limits access to the most cost effective and advanced ICT products available. In December 2014, PMA guidelines were revised and reflect the following updates:

1. Current guidelines emphasize that the promotion of domestic manufacturing is the objective of PMA, while the original premise focused on the linkages between equipment procurement and national security.

2. Current guidelines on PMA implementation are limited to hardware procurement only. Former guidelines were applicable to both products and services.

3. Current guidelines widen the pool of eligible PMA bidders, to include authorized distributors, sole selling agents, authorized dealers or authorized supply houses of the domestic manufacturers of electronic products, in addition to OEMs, provided they comply with the following terms:

a. The bidder shall furnish the authorization certificate by the domestic manufacturer for selling domestically manufactured electronic products.

b. The bidder shall furnish the affidavit of self-certification issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency declaring that the electronic product is domestically manufactured in terms of the domestic value addition prescribed.

c. It shall be the responsibility of the bidder to furnish other requisite documents required to be issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency as per the policy.

4. The current guidelines establish a ceiling on fees linked with the complaint procedure. There would be a complaint fee of INR 200,000 ($3,000) or one percent of the value of the Domestically Manufactured Electronic Product being procured, subject to a maximum of INR 500,000 ($7,500), whichever is higher.

In January 2017, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) issued a draft notification under the PMA policy, stating a preference for domestically manufactured servers in government procurement. A current list of PMA guidelines, notified products, and tendering templates can be found on MeitY’s website: http://meity.gov.in/esdm/pma. 

Research and Development

The Government of India allows for 100 percent FDI in research and development through the automatic route.

Data Storage & Localization

In April 2018, the RBI, announced, without prior stakeholder consultation, that all payment system providers must store their Indian transaction data only in India. The RBI mandate went into effect on October 15, 2018, despite repeated requests by industry and U.S. officials for a delay to allow for more consultations. In July 2019, the RBI, again without prior stakeholder consultation, retroactively expanded the scope of its 2018 data localization requirement to include banks, creating potential liabilities going back to late 2018. RBI policy overwhelmingly and disproportionately has affected U.S. banks and investors, who depend on the free flow of data to both achieve economies of scale and to protect customers by providing global real-time monitoring and analysis of fraud trends and cybersecurity. U.S. payments companies have been able to implement the mandate for the most part, though at great cost and potential damage to the long-term security of their Indian customer base, which will receive fewer services and no longer benefit from global fraud detection and anti-money-laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) protocols. Similarly, U.S. banks have been able to comply with RBI’s expanded mandate, though incurring significant compliance costs and increased risk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

In addition to the RBI data localization directive for payments companies and banks, the government formally introduced its draft Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) in December 2019 which has remained pending in Parliament. The PDPB would require “explicit consent” as a condition for the cross-border transfer of sensitive personal data, requiring users to fill out separate forms for each company that held their data. Additionally, Section 33 of the bill would require a copy of all “sensitive personal data” and “critical personal data” to be stored in India, potentially creating redundant local data storage. The localization of all “sensitive personal data” being processed in India could directly impact IT exports. In the current draft no clear criteria for the classification of “critical personal data” has been included. The PDPB also would grant wide authority for a newly created Data Protection Authority to define terms, develop regulations, or otherwise provide specifics on key aspects of the bill after it becomes a law. Reports on Non-Personal Data and the implementation of a New Information Technology Rule 2021 with Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code added further uncertainty to how existing rules will interact with the PDPB and how non-personal data will be handled. 5.Protection of Property Rights

Kazakhstan

Executive Summary

Since its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has made significant progress toward creating a market economy and has attracted significant foreign investment given abundant mineral, petroleum, and natural gas resources. As of January 1, 2021, the stock of foreign direct investment in Kazakhstan totaled USD 166.4 billion, including USD 38 billion from the United States, according to official statistics from the Kazakhstani central bank.

While Kazakhstan’s vast hydrocarbon and mineral reserves remain the backbone of the economy, the government continues to make incremental progress toward diversification.  Kazakhstan’s efforts to remove bureaucratic barriers have been moderately successful, and in 2020 Kazakhstan ranked 25 out of 190 in the World Bank’s annual Doing Business Report. The government maintains an active dialogue with foreign investors through the President’s Foreign Investors Council and the Prime Minister’s Council for Improvement of the Investment Climate.  Kazakhstan joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2015.  In September 2020, President Tokayev announced a New Economic Course – a reform agenda that, if implemented, aims to improve the investment climate.

Despite institutional and legal reforms, concerns remain about corruption, bureaucracy, arbitrary law enforcement, and limited access to a skilled workforce in certain regions.  The government’s tendency to increase its regulatory role in relations with investors, to favor an import-substitution policy, to challenge the use of foreign labor, and to intervene in companies’ operations, continues to concern foreign investors.  Foreign firms cite the need for better rule-of-law, deeper investment in human capital, improved transport and logistics infrastructure, a more open and flexible trade policy, a more favorable work-permit regime, and a more customer-friendly tax administration.

In July 2018, the government of Kazakhstan officially opened the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC), an ambitious project modelled on the Dubai International Financial Center, which aims to offer foreign investors an alternative jurisdiction for operations, with tax holidays, flexible labor rules, a Common Law-based legal system, a separate court and arbitration center, and flexibility to carry out transactions in any currency.  Since 2019 the government has pursued a policy of using the AIFC as a regional investment hub to attract foreign investment to Kazakhstan. The government has recommended foreign investors use the law of the AIFC as applicable law for contracts with Kazakhstan. . In January 2021 the AIFC on behalf of Kazakhstan joined the Central Asia Investment Partnership initiated by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 94 of 179 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 25 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 77 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) N/A N/A N/A
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 8,820 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward FDI

Kazakhstan has attracted significant foreign investment since independence. As of January 1, 2021, the total stock of foreign direct investment (by the directional principle) in Kazakhstan totaled USD 166.4 billion, primarily in the oil and gas sector. International financial institutions consider Kazakhstan to be a relatively attractive destination for their operations, and international firms have established regional headquarters in Kazakhstan.

In 2017, Kazakhstan adhered to the OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises, meaning it committed to certain investment standards, including the promotion of responsible business conduct..

In its Strategic Plan of Development to 2025, the government stated that bringing up the living standards of Kazakhstan’s citizens to the level of OECD countries is one of its strategic goals.

In addition to earlier approved program documents, the President adopted a National Development Plan to 2025 in February 2021. The Plan outlines objectives and parameters of a New Economic Course announced by President Tokayev in September 2020. The Course included seven priorities: a fair distribution of benefits and responsibilities, the leading role of private entrepreneurship, fair competition, productivity growth and the development of a more technologically advanced economy, human capital development, development of a green economy, and state accountability to the society. A favorable investment climate is a part of this course. To implement his program, the President established the Supreme Council for Reforms and the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reforms. The President chairs the Supreme Council for Reforms, while Sir Suma Chakrabarti, a former President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will serve as Deputy Chairman.

In January 2021, the Prime Minister announced the government’s commitment to increase the share of annual FDI in GDP from 13.2 percent of GDP in 2018 to 19 percent of GDP in 2022.

The government of Kazakhstan has incrementally improved the business climate for foreign investors. Corruption, lack of rule of law and excessive bureaucracy, however, do remain serious obstacles to foreign investment.

Over the last few years, the government has undertaken a number of structural changes aimed at improving how the government attracts foreign investment. In April 2019, the Prime Minister created the Coordination Council for Attracting Foreign Investment. The Prime Minister acts as the Chair and Investment Ombudsman. In December 2018, the Investment Committee was transferred to the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which took charge of attracting and facilitating the activities of foreign investors. In January 2021, the Minister of Foreign Affairs received an additional title of Deputy Prime Minister due to the expanded portfolio of the Ministry. The Investment Committee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes responsibility for investment climate policy issues and works with potential and current investors, while the Ministry of National Economy and the Ministry of Trade and Integration interact on investment climate matters with international organizations like the OECD, WTO, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Each regional municipality designates a representative to work with investors. Specially designated front offices in Kazakhstan’s overseas embassies promote Kazakhstan as a destination for foreign investment. In addition, the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC, ) operates as a regional investment hub regarding tax, legal, and other benefits. In 2019, the government founded Kazakhstan’s Direct Investment Fund which became resident at the AIFC and aims to attract private investments for diversifying Kazakhstan’s economy. The state company KazakhInvest, located in this hub, offers investors a single window for government services.

In 2020-2021, the government attempted to improve the regulatory and institutional environment for investors. However, these changes have sometimes been associated with an over-structured system of preferences and an enhanced government role. For example, in January 2021 the Foreign Minister suggested for consideration establishment of an additional group, the Investment Command Staff (ICS) that would make decisions on granting special conditions and extending preferences for investors signing investment agreements. This Investment Command Staff is expected to consider project proposals after their verification by KazakhInvest and the Astana International Financial Center. The government maintains its dialogue with foreign investors through the Foreign Investors’ Council chaired by the President, as well as through the Council for Improving the Investment Climate chaired by the Prime Minister.

The COVID-19 pandemic and unprecedented low oil prices caused the government to amend the country’s mid-term economic development plans. In March 2020, the government approved a stimulus package of $13.7 billion, mostly oriented at maintaining the income of the population, supporting local businesses, and implementing an import-substitution policy.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

By law, foreign and domestic private firms may establish and own certain business enterprises. While no sectors of the economy are completely closed to foreign investors, restrictions on foreign ownership exist, including a 20 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of media outlets, a 49 percent limit on domestic and international air transportation services, and a 49 percent limit on telecommunication services. Article 16 in the December 2017 Code on Subsoil and Subsoil Use (the Code) mandates that share of the national company KazAtomProm be no less than 50% in new uranium producing joint ventures.

As a result of its WTO accession, Kazakhstan formally removed the limits on foreign ownership for telecommunication companies, except for the country’s main telecommunications operator, KazakhTeleCom. Still, to acquire more than 49 percent of shares in a telecommunication company, foreign investors must obtain a government waiver. No constraints limit the participation of foreign capital in the banking and insurance sectors. Starting in December 2020, the restriction on opening branches of foreign banks and insurance companies was lifted in compliance with the country’s OECD commitments. However, the law limits the participation of offshore companies in banks and insurance companies and prohibits foreign ownership of pension funds and agricultural land. In addition, foreign citizens and companies are restricted from participating in private security businesses.

Foreign investors have complained about the irregular application of laws and regulations and interpret such behavior as efforts to extract bribes. The enforcement process, widely viewed as opaque and arbitrary, is not publicly transparent. Some investors report harassment by the tax authorities via unannounced audits, inspections, and other methods. The authorities have used criminal charges in civil litigation as pressure tactics.

Foreign Investment in the Energy & Mining Industries

Despite substantial investment in Kazakhstan’s energy sector, companies remain concerned about the risk of the government legislating or otherwise advocating for preferences for domestic companies and creating mechanisms for government intervention in foreign companies’ operations, particularly in procurement decisions.  In 2020, developments ranged from a major reduction to a full annulment of work permits for some categories of foreign workforce (see Performance and Data Localization Requirements.)   During a March 2021 virtual meeting with international oil companies, Kazakhstan’s President urged the government to ensure legal protection and stability of investments and investment preferences. He also tasked the recently established Front Office for Investors to address investor challenges and bring them to the attention of the Prime Minister’s Council.  Moreover, Kazakhstan supported the request of oil companies to remove a discriminatory approach to fines imposed on them for gas flaring.  Under the current legislation, oil companies pay gas flaring fines several times higher than those paid by other non-oil companies.

In April 2008, Kazakhstan introduced a customs duty on crude oil and gas condensate exports, this revenue goes to the government’s budget and does not reach the National Fund.  The National Fund is financed by direct taxes paid by petroleum industry companies, other fees paid by the oil industry, revenues from privatization of mining and manufacturing assets, and from disposal of agricultural land.  The customs duty on crude oil and gas condensate exports is an indirect tax that goes to the government’s budget.  Companies that pay taxes on mineral and crude oil exports are exempt from that export duty.  The government adopted a 2016 resolution that pegged the export customs duty to global oil prices – if the global oil price drops below $25 per barrel, the duty zeros.

The Code defines “strategic deposits and areas” and restricts the government’s preemptive right to acquire exploration and production contracts to these areas, which helps to reduce significantly the approvals required for non-strategic objects.  The government approves and publishes the list of strategic deposits on its website.  The latest approved list is dated June 28, 2018: https://www.primeminister.kz/ru/decisions/28062018-389.

The Code entitles the government to terminate a contract unilaterally “if actions of a subsoil user with a strategic deposit result in changes to Kazakhstan’s economic interests in a manner that threatens national security.”  The Article does not define “economic interests.”  The Code, if properly implemented, appears to streamline procedures to obtain exploration licenses and to convert exploration licenses into production licenses.  The Code, however, appears to retain burdensome government oversight over mining companies’ operations.

Kazakhstan is committed under the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce GHG emissions 15 percent from the level of base year 1990 down to 328.3 million metric tons (mmt) by 2030.  In the meantime, Kazakhstan increased emissions 27.8 percent to 401.9 mmt in the five years from 2013 to 2018. The energy sector accounted for 82.4 percent of GHG emissions, agriculture for 9 percent, and others for 5.6 percent.  The successor of the Energy Ministry for environmental issues, Ministry of Ecology, Geology, and Natural Resources, started drafting the 2050 National Low Carbon Development Strategy in October 2019. The Concept is scheduled for submission to the government in June 2021.

In November 2020, the government adopted a National Plan for Allocation of Quotas for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions for 2021. The emissions cap (a total number of emissions allowed) is set for 159.9 million. The power sector received the highest number of allowances, or 91.4 million, for 90 power plants.  The cap for the oil and gas sector is 22.2 million for 61 installations, while 24 mining installations get 7.3 million allowances, and 21 metallurgical facilities have 29.6 million.  The combined caps for the chemical and processing sectors are 9.3 million. In February 2018, the Ministry of Energy announced the creation of an online GHG emissions reporting and monitoring system.  The system is not operational, and it is likely to be launched after the Environmental Code comes into effect in July 2021.  Some companies have expressed concern that Kazakhstan’s trading system will suffer from insufficient liquidity, particularly as power consumption and oil and commodity production levels increase.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The OECD Investment Committee presented its second Investment Policy Review of Kazakhstan in June 2017, available at: https://www.oecd.org/countries/kazakhstan/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-kazakhstan-2017-9789264269606-en.htm.

The OECD Investment Committee presented its second Investment Policy Review of Kazakhstan in June 2017, available at: https://www.oecd.org/countries/kazakhstan/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-kazakhstan-2017-9789264269606-en.htm.

The OECD review recommended Kazakhstan undertake corporate governance reforms at state-owned enterprises (SOEs), implement a more efficient tax system, further liberalize its trade policy, and introduce responsible business conduct principles and standards. The OECD Investment Committee is monitoring the country’s privatization program, that aims to decrease the SOE share in the economy to 15 percent of GDP by 2020.

In 2019, the OECD and the government launched a two-year project on improving the legal environment for business in Kazakhstan.

Business Facilitation

The 2020 World Bank’s Doing Business Index ranked Kazakhstan 25 out of 190 countries in the “Ease of Doing Business” category, and 22 out of 190 in the “Starting a Business” category. The report noted Kazakhstan made starting a business easier by registering companies for value added tax at the time of incorporation. The report noted Kazakhstan’s progress in the categories of dealing with construction permits, registering property, getting credit, and resolving insolvency. Online registration of any business is possible through the website https://egov.kz/cms/en.

In addition to a standard package of documents required for local businesses, non-residents must have Kazakhstan’s visa for a business immigrant and submit electronic copies of their IDs, as well as any certification of their companies from their country of origin. Documents should be translated and notarized. Foreign investors also have access to a “single window” service, which simplifies many business procedures. Investors may learn more about these services here: https://invest.gov.kz/invest-guide/business-starting/registration/.

According to the ‘Doing Business’ Index, it takes 4 procedures and 5 days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC) in Kazakhstan. This is faster than the average for Eastern Europe and Central Asia and OECD high-income countries. A foreign-owned company registered in Kazakhstan is considered a domestic company for Kazakhstan currency regulation purposes. Under the law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control, residents may open bank accounts in foreign currency in Kazakhstani banks without any restrictions.

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered new measures for easing the doing business process. In 2021, the government introduced a special three-percent retail tax for 114 types of small and medium-sized businesses. Companies can switch to the new regime voluntarily. The government also introduced an investment tax credit allowing entrepreneurs to receive tax deferrals for up to three years. As a part of his new economic policy, President Tokayev stated that prosecution or tax audits against entrepreneurs should be possible only after a respective tax court ruling.

In 2020, the government approved new measures aimed to facilitate the business operations of investors and to help Kazakhstan attract up to $30 billion in additional FDI by 2025. For example, the government introduced a new notional an investment agreement (see details in Section 4) and removed a solicitation of local regional authorities for obtaining a visa for a business-immigrant.

In order to facilitate the work of foreign investors, the government has recommended to use the law of the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) as applicable law for investment contracts with Kazakhstan and has planned some steps, including a harmonization of tax preferences of the AIFC, the International IT park Astana Hub, Astana Expo 2017 company and Nazarbayev University. Plans on the further liberalization of a visa and migration regime, and the development of international air communication with international financial centers were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Utilizing the advantages of the Astana International Financial Center may bring positive results in attracting foreign investments. Nonetheless, there is still room for improvement in business facilitation in the rest of Kazakhstan’s territory. For example, foreign investors often complain about problems finalizing contracts, delays, and burdensome practices in licensing. The problems associated with the decriminalization of tax errors still await full resolution, despite an order to this effect issued by the General Prosecutor’s Office in January 2020. The controversial taxation of dividends of non-residents that came into force in January 2021, has additionally raised concerns of foreign investors.

Outward Investment

The government neither incentivizes nor restricts outward investment.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The United States-Kazakhstan Bilateral Investment Treaty came into force in 1994, and the United States-Kazakhstan Treaty on the Avoidance of Double Taxation came into force in 1996.

Since independence, Kazakhstan has signed treaties on the avoidance of double taxation with 55 countries at: http://kgd.gov.kz/ru/content/konvencii-ob-izbezhanii-dvoynogo-nalogooblozheniya-i-predotvrashchenii-ukloneniya-ot, and bilateral investment protection agreements with 51 countries, four of which have not come into force yet and four other have been terminated. The list of investment protection agreements is here: https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/international-investment-agreements/countries/107/kazakhstan?type=bits.

Some foreign investors allege Kazakhstani tax authorities are reluctant to refer double taxation questions to the appropriate resolution bodies. Among other tax issues that cause concern with U.S. investors are the criminalization of tax errors, VAT refund issues, and a recently introduced taxation of dividends of non-residents.

Eurasian Economic Integration and WTO

Kazakhstan entered into a Customs Union with Russia and Belarus on July 1, 2010 and was a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) created on May 29, 2014 with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Russia. Kazakhstan joined the WTO in November 2015. The EAEU is governed by the Eurasian Economic Commission, a supra-national body headquartered in Moscow, and is expected to integrate further the economies of its member states, and to provide for the free movement of services, capital, and labor within their common territory.

Kazakhstan entered into a Customs Union with Russia and Belarus on July 1, 2010 and was a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) created on May 29, 2014 with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Russia. Kazakhstan joined the WTO in November 2015. The EAEU is governed by the Eurasian Economic Commission, a supra-national body headquartered in Moscow, and is expected to integrate further the economies of its member states, and to provide for the free movement of services, capital, and labor within their common territory.

Kazakhstan’s trade policy has been heavily influenced by EAEU regulations. While Kazakhstan asserts the EAEU agreements comply with WTO standards, since joining the Customs Union Kazakhstan doubled its average import tariff and introduced annual tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) on poultry, beef, and pork. Per its WTO commitments, Kazakhstan lowered 3,512 import tariff rates to an average of 6.1 percent as of December 2020. As a part of this commitment, Kazakhstan applies a lower-than-EAEU tariff rate on food products, automobiles, airplanes, railway wagons, lumber, alcoholic beverages, pharmaceuticals, freezers, and jewelry. After December 2020, Kazakhstan will have a three-year implementation period prior to starting tariff adjustment negotiations with its EAEU partners.

Furthermore, Kazakhstan is a signatory to the Free Trade Agreement with CIS countries, and as a member of the EAEU, is party to the Free Trade Agreements between the EAEU and Vietnam, between the EAEU and Serbia, and between the EAEU and Singapore. In addition, Kazakhstan is a part of the Interim Agreement on formation of a free trade zone between the EAEU with Iran. Kazakhstan is also party to the Eurasian Economic Union Mutual Investment Protection Agreement, which came into force in 2016.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Kazakhstani law sets out basic principles for fostering competition on a non-discriminatory basis.

Kazakhstan is a unitary state, and national legislation enacted by the Parliament and President are equally effective for all regions of the country. The government, ministries, and local executive administrations in the regions (“Akimats”) issue regulations and executive acts in compliance and pursuance of laws. Kazakhstan is a member of the EAEU, and decrees of the Eurasian Economic Commission have preemptive force over national legislation. Publicly listed companies indicate that they adhere to international financial reporting standards but accounting and valuation practices are not always consistent with international best practices.

The government consults on some draft legislation with experts and the business community; draft bills are available for public comment at www.egov.kz under Open Government section, however, the comment period is only ten days, and the process occurs without broad notifications. Some bills are excluded from public comment, and the legal and regulatory process, including with respect to foreign investment, remains opaque. All laws and decrees of the President and the government are available in Kazakh and Russian on the websites of the Ministry of Justice: http://adilet.zan.kz/rus and http://zan.gov.kz/en/ .

Implementation and interpretation of commercial legislation is reported to sometimes create confusion among foreign and domestic businesses alike. In 2016, the Ministry of Health and Social Development introduced new rules on attracting foreign labor, some of which (including a Kazakh language requirement) created significant barriers for foreign investors. After active intervention by the international investment community through the Prime Minister’s Council for Improving the Investment Climate, the government canceled the most onerous requirements.

The non-transparent application of laws remains a major obstacle to expanded trade and investment. Foreign investors complain of inconsistent standards and corruption. Although the central government has enacted many progressive laws, local authorities may interpret rules in arbitrary ways with impunity.

Many foreign companies say they must defend investments from frequent decrees and legislative changes, most of which do not “grandfather in” existing investments. Penalties are often assessed for periods prior to the change in policy. One of the recent cases involves a U.S. company that has objected to the retroactive application of a new rule on an exemption on dividend taxes in Kazakhstan’s Tax Code.  Other examples from the past include foreign companies reporting that local and national authorities arbitrarily imposed high environmental fines, saying the fines were assessed to generate revenue for local and national authorities rather than for environmental protection. Government officials have acknowledged the system of environmental fines required reform and developed the new Environmental Code (Eco Code), compliant with OECD standards, in 2018.  The new Eco Code signed into law in January 2021 will come into effect on July 1, 2021.  The Eco Code mandates local authorities to have 100 percent of environmental payments spent on environmental remediation.  Oil companies have complained that the emission payment rates for pollutants when emitted from gas flaring are at least twenty times higher than when the same pollutants are emitted from other stationary sources. The Parliament is currently reviewing the amendments to the Administrative Code to make gas flaring fines for oil companies equivalent to those imposed on non-oil companies.

In 2015, President Nazarbayev announced five presidential reforms and the implementation of the “100 Steps” Modernization program. The program calls for the formation of a results-oriented public administration system, a new system of audit and performance evaluation for government agencies, and introduction of an open government system with better public access to information held by state bodies.

President Tokayev, who was elected in June 2019, stated his adherence to reforms, initiated by former President Nazarbayev, and called the government to reset approaches to reforms, including robust implementation. The New Economic Course, announced by President Tokayev in 2020, included the streamlining of the taxation system to stimulate inflow of foreign investment and the decriminalization of tax errors. In addition, Tokayev tasked the government to develop in 2021 a new bill guaranteeing the right of citizens to access information on the government’s activity. Public financial reporting, including debt obligations, and explicit liabilities, are published by the National Bank of Kazakhstan at https://nationalbank.kz/en/news/vneshniy-dolg and by the Ministry of Finance on their site: https://www.gov.kz/memleket/entities/minfin/press/article/details/17399?directionId=261&lang=ru.

However, contingent liabilities, such as exposures to state-owned enterprises, their crossholdings, and exposures to banks, are not fully captured there.

International Regulatory Considerations

Kazakhstan is part of the Eurasian Economic Union, and EAEU regulations and decisions supersede the national regulatory system.  In its economic policy Kazakhstan has declared its adherence to the WTO and OECD standards. Kazakhstan became a member of the WTO in 2015.  It notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade about drafts of national technical regulations (although lapses have been noted).  Kazakhstan ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in May 2016, notified its Category A requirements in March 2016, and requested a five-year transition period for its Category B and C requirements.  Early in 2018, the government established an intra-agency Trade Facilitation Committee to implement its TFA commitments.  The status of the TFA implementation by Kazakhstan can be found here: https://tfadatabase.org/members/kazakhstan.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Kazakhstan’s Civil Code establishes general commercial and contract law principles. Under the constitution, the judicial system is independent of the executive branch, although the government interferes in judiciary matters. According to Freedom House’s Nations in Transit report for 2018, the executive branch effectively dominates the judicial branch. Allegedly, pervasive corruption of the courts and the influence of the ruling elites results in low public expectations and trust in the justice system. Judicial outcomes are perceived as subject to political influence and interference. Regulations or enforcement actions can be appealed and adjudicated in the national court system. Monetary judgments are assessed in the domestic currency.

Parties of commercial contracts, including foreign investors, can seek dispute settlement in Kazakhstan’s courts or international arbitration, and Kazakhstani courts nominally enforce arbitration clauses in contracts. However, in actual fact the Government has refused to honor at least one fully litigated international arbitral decision. Any court of original jurisdiction can consider disputes between private firms as well as bankruptcy cases.

The Astana International Financial Center, which opened in July 2018, includes its own arbitration center and court based on British Common Law and independent of the Kazakhstani judiciary. The court is now led by former Deputy President of the UK Supreme Court, Lord Mance, and several other Commonwealth judges have been appointed. The government advises foreign investors to use the capacities of the AIFC arbitration center and the AIFC court more actively. Provisions on using the AIFC law as applicable law are recommended for model investment contracts between a foreign investor and the government. In February 2020, the AIFC reported that both Chevron in Kazakhstan and Tengizchevroil included the AIFC arbitration center as their preferred institution for resolution of commercial disputes in Kazakhstan.  Local lawyers have observed a growing positive influence of the high standards of AIFC court and the AIFC arbitration over the entire judicial system of Kazakhstan.

President Tokayev’s policy on a new Economic Course anticipates further judiciary reforms aimed to strengthen public trust in courts.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The following legislation affects foreign investment in Kazakhstan: the Entrepreneurial Code; the Civil Code; the Tax Code; the Customs Code of the Eurasian Economic Union; the Customs Code of Kazakhstan; the Law on Government Procurement; the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control, and the Constitutional Law on the Astana International Financial Center. These laws provide for non-expropriation, currency convertibility, guarantees of legal stability, transparent government procurement, and incentives for priority sectors. However, inconsistent implementation of these laws and regulations at all levels of the government, combined with a tendency for courts to favor the government, have been reported to create significant obstacles to business in Kazakhstan.

The Entrepreneurial Code outlines basic principles of doing business in Kazakhstan and the government’s relations with entrepreneurs. The Code reinstates a single investment regime for domestic and foreign investors, and in principal codifies non-discrimination for foreign investors. The Code contains incentives and preferences for government-determined priority sectors, providing customs duty exemptions and in-kind grants detailed in section 4, Industrial Policies.

The Code also provides for dispute settlement through negotiation, use of Kazakhstan’s judicial process, and international arbitration. U.S. investors have expressed concern about the Code’s narrow definition of investment disputes and its lack of clear provisions for access to international arbitration.

In 2020, Kazakhstan enacted a new provision to the Entrepreneurial Code on investment agreement between strategic investors and the government. According to the law, the investment agreement is expected to provide investors with incentives, preliminarily negotiated with the government. The government guarantees the stability of the legal regime for these investment agreements. The investment agreement is an addition to a system of investment contacts already established in Kazakhstan (see Section 4 for details).

A law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control, which came into force July 1, 2019, expands the statistical monitoring of transactions in foreign currency and facilitates the process of de-dollarization. In particular, the law treats branches of foreign companies in Kazakhstan as residents and enables the National Bank of Kazakhstan (NBK) to enhance control over cross-border transactions. The NBK approved a list of companies that keep their non-resident status; the majority of these companies are from extractive industries (see also section 6, Financial Sector).

The legal and regulatory framework offered by AIFC to businesses registering on that territory differs substantially from that of Kazakhstan. The AIFC activity has gained momentum since its establishment in 2018. More detailed information on the legal and regulatory implications of operating within AIFC can be found here: https://aifc.kz/annual-report/ and in Section 6, Financial Sector. Additionally, the government’s single window for foreign investors, providing information to potential investors, business registration, and links to relevant legislation, can be found here: https://invest.gov.kz/invest-guide/.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Entrepreneurial Code regulates competition-related issues such as cartel agreements and unfair competition. In 2020, in order to enhance an anti-monopoly policy, the President ordered the transfer of the functions on protection of competition to a newly created Agency for Protection and Development of Competition that operates under his direct supervision. The Agency is responsible for reviewing transactions in terms of competition-related concerns. Regulation of natural monopolies remained with the Ministry of National Economy. In order to be responsive to public opinion, the Agency for Protection and Development of Competition has established various consultative bodies, including the Open Space, the Council on Identifying and Removal of Barriers for Entering Markets, the Public Council, and the Exchange Committee. Foreign companies may participate in the Council on Identifying and Removal of barriers for Entering Markets.

Expropriation and Compensation

The bilateral investment treaty between the United States and Kazakhstan requires the government to provide compensation in the event of expropriation. The Entrepreneurial Code allows the state to nationalize or requisition property in emergency cases but fails to provide clear criteria for expropriation or to require prompt and adequate compensation at fair market value.

The Mission is aware of cases where owners of flourishing and developed businesses have been forced to sell their businesses to companies affiliated with high-ranking and powerful individuals.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Kazakhstan has been a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since December 2001 and ratified the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in 1995. By law, any international award rendered by the ICSID, a tribunal applying the rules of the UN Commission on International Trade Law Arbitration, Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, London Court of International Arbitration, or Arbitration Commission at the Kazakhstan Chamber of Commerce and Industry is enforceable in Kazakhstan. However, the government does not always honor such awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government is a signatory to bilateral investment agreements with 47 countries, the Energy Charter Treaty, and one multilateral investment agreement with EAEU partners. These agreements recognize international arbitration of investment disputes. The United States and Kazakhstan signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty in 1994.

Kazakhstan is legally obligated to recognize arbitral awards, yet does not always honor this fact.

In January 2021, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice reported that in 2020, Kazakhstan was involved in 25 arbitration proceedings, including 15 in international arbitration courts.  A number of investment disputes involving foreign companies have arisen in the past several years linked to alleged violations of environmental regulations, tax laws, transfer pricing laws, and investment clauses. Some disputes relate to alleged illegal extensions of exploration schedules by subsurface users, as production-sharing agreements with the government usually make costs incurred during this period fully reimbursable. Some disputes involve hundreds of millions of dollars. Problems arise in the enforcement of judgments, and ample opportunity exists for influencing judicial outcomes given the relative lack of judicial independence.

To encourage foreign investment, the government has developed dispute resolution mechanisms aimed at enabling aggrieved investors to seek redress without requiring them to litigate their claims. The government established an Investment Ombudsman in 2013, billed as being able to resolve foreign investors’ grievances by intervening in inter-governmental disagreements that affect investors. However, investors who have entered such settlement discussions in good faith report that the government pursued criminal litigation just as the parties were closing in on a deal (after the investors had devoted significant time and resources toward achieving a settlement).

The Entrepreneurial Code defines an investment dispute as “a dispute ensuing from the contractual obligations between investors and state bodies in connection with investment activities of the investor,” and states such disputes may be settled by negotiation, litigation or international arbitration. Investment disputes between the government and investors fall to the Nur-Sultan City Court; disputes between the government and large investor are in the exclusive competence of a special investment panel at the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan. Amendments to legislation on the court system the Parliament adopted in March 2021 will change this system once implemented. Starting from July 1, 2021, the Special Economic Court and the Special Administrative Court of Nur-Sultan City will be the courts of first instance for investment disputes between the government and investors. The Nur-Sultan City Court and the Judicial Chamber on administrative cases of the Supreme Court will serve as the first court of appeal.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Law on Mediation offers alternative (non-litigated) dispute resolutions for two private parties. The Law on Arbitration defines rules and principles of domestic arbitration. As of April 2020, Kazakhstan had 18 local arbitration bodies unified under the Arbitration Chamber of Kazakhstan. Please see: https://palata.org/about/. The government noted that the Law on Arbitration brought the national arbitration legislation into compliance with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, and the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration. Local courts recognize and enforce court rulings of CIS countries. Judgement of other foreign state courts are recognized and enforceable by local courts when Kazakhstan has a bilateral agreement on mutual judicial assistance with the respective country or applies a principle of reciprocity.

When SOEs are involved in investment disputes, domestic courts usually find in the SOE’s favor. By law, investment disputes with private commercial entities, employees, or SOEs are in the jurisdiction of local courts. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s 2014 Judicial Decision Assessment, judges in local courts lacked experience with commercial law and tended to apply general principles of laws and Civil Code provisions with which they are more familiar, rather than relevant provisions of commercial legislation. President Tokayev has recognized that that the judicial system lacks specialists in taxation, subsoil use, intellectual property rights and corporate law.

Even when investment disputes are resolved in accordance with contractual conditions, the resolution process can be slow and require considerable time and resources. Many investors therefore elect to handle investment disputes privately, in an extrajudicial way.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Kazakhstan’s 2014 Bankruptcy and Rehabilitation Law (The Bankruptcy Law) protects the rights of creditors during insolvency proceedings, including access to information about the debtor, the right to vote against reorganization plans, and the right to challenge bankruptcy commissions’ decisions affecting their rights. Bankruptcy is not criminalized, unless the court determines the bankruptcy was premeditated, or rehabilitation measures are wrongful. The Bankruptcy Law improves the insolvency process by permitting accelerated business reorganization proceedings, extending the period for rehabilitation or reorganization, and expanding the powers of (and making more stringent the qualification requirements to become) insolvency administrators. The law also eases bureaucratic requirements for bankruptcy filings, gives creditors a greater say in continuing operations, introduces a time limit for adopting rehabilitation or reorganization plans, and adds court supervision requirements. Amendments to the law accepted in 2019-2020 introduced a number of changes. Among them are a more specified definition of premeditated bankruptcy; a requirement to prove a sustained insolvency when filing a claim on bankruptcy; a possibility for the bank-agent to file a request for bankruptcy on behalf of a syndicate of creditors; a possibility for individual entrepreneurs to apply for a rehabilitation procedure to reinstate its solvency, and an option to be liquidated without filing bankruptcy in the absence of income, property, and business operations.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The government’s primary industrial development strategies, such as the Concept for Industrial and Innovative Development 2020-2025 and the National Development Plan for 2025 aim to diversify the economy from its current dependence on extractive resources. The Entrepreneurial Code and Tax Code provide incentives for foreign and domestic investment in priority sectors, which include agriculture, metallurgy, extraction of metallic ore, chemical and petrochemical industries, textile and pharmaceutical industries, food production, machine manufacturing, waste recycling, and renewable energy. The approach helps the government to take decisions on projects on a case-by-case basis. After signing investment contracts with the government, firms in priority sectors receive tax and customs duty waivers, in-kind grants, investment credits, and simplified procedures for work permits. The government’s preference system applies to new and existing enterprises. The duration and scope of preferences depends on the priority sector, the size of investment and type of the investment project.

The government has outlined different categories of investment projects. Each category corresponds with a particular type of contract between an investor and the government, and a particular set of incentives. For example, model investment contracts are prepared and signed for investment priority projects by the Investment Committee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and KazakhInvest. Details on their requirements are available here: https://invest.gov.kz/  and at https://invest.gov.kz/doing-business-here/regulated-sectors/.

Special investment projects and projects on industrial assembly of vehicles and agricultural equipment are in the competence of the Ministry of Industry and Infrastructural Development. Volume of preferences in such agreements depends on the level of localization.

In 2020, the government modified this system slightly. The government introduced model contract clauses on guaranteeing the stability of laws and lowered the threshold for the cost of projects in textile and light industries to USD 7 million in order to make them eligible for preferences. In addition, investors received the right to adjust model contracts twice a year with the consent of the government.

In January 2021, the government introduced to the Entrepreneurial Code one more type of contract– an investment agreement. Such agreements will be applied to investment projects exceeding USD 50 million in industries selected by the government. Only Kazakhstan’s companies or residents of the Astana International Financial Center will be eligible to sign such agreements with the government. Under this agreement, the government provides an investor with an individual scope of incentives and a stability of legal regime for 25 years. In turn, the investor undertakes commitments on project implementation. Some obligations on supporting a certain level of localization may be a part of the agreement. Unlike model contracts, investment agreements are subject to negotiations between an investor and the government.

A U.S. investor signed the first investment agreement early in January 2021. The Prime Minister enacted this agreement by issuing a special decree. Per the agreement, the government will establish a special economic zone at the location of the project with all implied tax and customs preferences. Potential investors can apply for preferences through the government’s single window portal; which are special offices for serving investors located in the capital and at district service centers in every region of Kazakhstan. Submission for investment preferences requires a collection of documents, including a comprehensive government’s expertise on the proposed investment project. The law also allows the government to rescind incentives, collect back payments, and revoke an investor’s operating license if an investor fails to fulfill contractual obligations. More information is available here: https://invest.gov.kz/invest-guide/ and at https://irm.invest.gov.kz/en/support/.

Prior to the pandemic the government substantially liberalized the visa regime for foreign investors, especially for non-extractive industries. In particular, the government approved visa-free travel for citizens of 73 countries, including the United States, Germany, Japan, United Arab Emirates, France, Italy, and Spain. Residents of these countries could stay in Kazakhstan without visas for up to 30 days. However, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the government to suspend this regime temporarily. Through December 31, 2021, any visit of a foreigner, with some exceptions, must be approved by a special intra-agency government commission.

In 2020, the government also introduced a more liberal regime for violation of visa rules of stay. Foreign visitors are permitted to pay administrative fines only in the case of infringing rules for the first and the second time.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Law on Special Economic Zones allows foreign companies to establish enterprises in special economic zones (SEZs), simplifies permit procedures for foreign labor, and establishes a special customs zone regime not governed by Eurasian Economic Union rules. A system of tax preferences exists for foreign and domestic enterprises engaged in prescribed economic activities in Kazakhstan’s thirteen SEZs. In April 2019, President Tokayev signed amendments which extend the rights of SEZ managing companies. As of the beginning of 2021, twelve managing companies control the SEZ activity. The Ministry of Industry and Infrastructural Development is in charge of monitoring SEZ activity and developing new policies and rules in this area.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government requires local employment and content, although the country’s WTO accession commitments provide for abolition of most local content requirements over time. In 2015, Kazakhstan adopted legislative amendments to alter existing local content requirements to meet WTO accession requirements. Pursuant to these amendments, subsoil use contracts concluded after January 1, 2015, no longer contain local content requirements, and any local content requirements in contracts signed before 2015 phased out on January 1, 2021.

Kazakhstan’s WTO accession terms require that Kazakhstan relax limits on foreign nationals by increasing the quota for foreign nationals to 50 percent (from 30 percent for company executives and from 10 percent for engineering and technical personnel) by January 1, 2021.

Despite these commitments, the government, particularly at the regional level, continues to advocate for international businesses to increase their use of local content.  In October 2020, Tengizchevroil, North Caspian Operating Company, and Karachaganak Operating Consortium, which have stabilized contracts, committed to maintaining local content requirements after January 1, 2021.  The government has been signing voluntary agreements with other oil companies to support local businesses.  In November 2020, the government announced the establishment of a fund for the development of local content.  The new fund will invest in technology, IT, assembly of oil and gas equipment, and environmental projects..  The Ministry of Energy announced in March 2017 that foreign companies providing services for the oil and gas sector would need to create joint ventures with local companies to continue to receive contracts at the country’s largest oilfields.  Although these recommendations are not legally binding, companies have generally elected to abide by them. The Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development, the National Welfare Fund Samruk-Kazyna, and the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs Atameken monitor local content compliance.

The government regulates foreign labor at the macro and micro levels.  Foreign workers must obtain work permits. Amendments to the Expatriate Workforce Quota and Work Permit Rules: (a) eliminate special conditions for obtaining a work permit for foreign labor (e.g. requirements to train local personnel or create additional vacancies); (b) eliminate the requirement that companies conduct a search for candidates on the internal market prior to applying for a work permit; (c) reduce the timeframe for issuance or denial of a work permit from 15 to 7 days; (d) eliminate the required permission of local authorities for the appointment of CEOs and deputies of Kazakhstani legal entities that are 100 percent owned by foreign companies; and (e) expand the list of individuals requiring no permission from local authorities (including non-Kazakhstani citizens working in national holding companies as heads of structural divisions and non-Kazakhstani citizens who are members of the board of directors of national holding companies).  Kazakhstan offered a few extensions on work permits and visas due to pandemic- related restrictions on movement.  The latest resolution allows foreign citizens with work permits or certificates of self-employment to stay in the country until June 5, 2021.

Following the June 2019 brawl at Chevron-operated Tengiz oilfield that reportedly resulted from discontent with wage discrepancies between local and foreign workers with similar qualifications, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection has sought to revisit the definition of administrative liability and administrative violation to make state control over employers with foreign workers more effective.

The government approved a foreign labor quota for 2020 at 0.32 percent of the country’s total labor force. The number of work permits had been reduced by 37% for employees of category 3 (specialists) and by 23% for category 4 (qualified workers).  The largest decreases were in administrative; real estate; wholesale and retail; construction; professional scientific and technological activities; and accommodation and catering. To replace the gap in the foreign workforce, the government introduced an obligation to replace foreign workers with skilled Kazakhstani labor. The foreign workforce annual quota for 2021 is 0.31 percent or 29.3 thousand units.

In 2021, Kazakhstan introduced a so-called scoring system of localization assessment. This system is aimed at stimulating local assembly of vehicles and agricultural equipment. The volume of incentives in agreements on industrial assembly will depend on the number of scores received for localization. The more scores the enterprise obtains, the more preferences the government extends to this enterprise.

Foreign investors may, in theory, participate in government and quasi-government procurement tenders, however, they should have established production facilities in Kazakhstan and should go through a process of being recognized as a pre-qualified bidder. In 2019, the government enacted new procurement rules, according to which, only pre-qualified suppliers will be allowed to bid for government contracts.  A key requirement for being recognized as a pre-qualified bidder is that your product should be made in Kazakhstan and be added to a register of trusted products. While this requirement is applied to some selected sectors of government procurement (e.g. construction, IT, textile), it has been practiced since 2016 at procurement of quasi-sovereign companies under the National Welfare Fund Samruk-Kazyna. The pandemic has amplified the import substitution trend. In the course of 2020 and 2021 President Tokayev several times highlighted the importance of support to local producers and the increase of local content share at procurement processes and implementation of infrastructural projects.

The National Chamber of Entrepreneurs Atameken introduced in 2018 an industrial certificate that serves as an extra (and costly) tool to prove the financial and production abilities of the company to participate in tenders. The industrial certificate is also an indirect confirmation of status as a local producer. Thus, a foreign investor who plans to bid for government and quasi-government contracts can benefit from such an industrial certificate.

In 2019, the government introduced significant recycling fees on imported combines and tractors. Although major popular Western brands initially received waivers on recycling fees, the government revisited the exception and imposed recycling fees in 2020. The government suggested foreign producers start local production and hence, become eligible for preferential treatment. Foreign companies consider this measure to be a case of coercion to localize production.

Per Kazakhstan’s legislation, cross-border transmission of data would be possible if countries, receiving this data, provide due data protection. Otherwise, the data transmission should be regulated by respective bilateral agreements or allowed by the data subject. Kazakhstan reserves its right to restrict or to ban data transmission by enacting separate regulation. The National Security Committee and the Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry supervise data protection and date storage in Kazakhstan.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

With certain sectoral exceptions, private entities, both foreign and domestic, have the right to establish and own business enterprises, buy and sell business interests, and engage in all forms of commercial activity.

Secured interests in property (fixed and non-fixed) are recognized under the Civil Code and the Land Code. All property and lease rights for real estate must be registered with the Ministry of Justice through its local service centers. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, Kazakhstan ranks 24 out of 190 countries in ease of registering property.

Under Kazakhstan’s constitution, agricultural land and certain other natural resources may be owned or leased only by Kazakhstani citizens. The Land Code: (a) allows citizens and Kazakhstani companies to own agricultural and urban land, including commercial and non-commercial buildings, complexes, and dwellings; (b) permits foreigners to own land to build industrial and non-industrial facilities, including dwellings, with the exception of agricultural lands and land located in border zones; (c) authorizes the government to monitor proper use of leased agricultural lands, the results of which may affect the status of land-lease contracts; (d) forbids private ownership of: land used for national defense and national security purposes, specially protected nature reserves, forests, reservoirs, glaciers, swamps, designated public areas within urban or rural settlements, except land plots occupied by private building and premises, main railways and public roads, land reserved for future national parks, subsoil use and power facilities, and social infrastructure. The government maintains the land inventory and constantly updates its electronic data base, though the inventory data is not exhaustive. The government has also set up rules for withdrawing land plots that have been improperly or never used.

In 2015, the government proposed Land Code amendments that would allow foreigners to rent agricultural lands for up to 25 years. Mass protests in the spring of 2016 led the government to introduce a moratorium on these provisions until December 31, 2021. The moratorium is also effective on other related articles of the Land Code that regulate private ownership rights on agricultural lands. In March 2021, President Tokayev initiated changes in the legislation to ban both the sale and lease of agricultural lands to foreigners. On March 17, the Mazhilis, the lower Chamber of the Parliament, started to consider the amended legislation, according to which, foreigners, persons without citizenship, foreign legal entities and legal entities with foreign participation, international organizations, scientific centers with foreign participation, and repatriated Kazakhs cannot own and take in temporary use agricultural lands. The amendments are expected to be adopted in the first half of 2021.

Intellectual Property Rights

The legal structure for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection is relatively strong; however, enforcement needs further improvement. Kazakhstan is not currently included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report. To facilitate its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and attract foreign investment, Kazakhstan continues to improve its legal regime for protecting IPR. The Civil Code and various laws protect U.S. IPR. Kazakhstan has ratified 18 of the 24 treaties endorsed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO): https://wipolex.wipo.int/en/treaties/ShowResults?country_id=97C.

Kazakhstan’s IPR legislation has improved. The Criminal Code sets out punishments for violations of copyright, rights for inventions, useful models, industrial patterns, selected inventions, and integrated circuit topographies. The law authorizes the government to target internet piracy and shut down websites unlawfully sharing copyrighted material, provided that the rights holders had registered their copyrighted material with Kazakhstan’s IPR Committee. Despite these efforts, U.S. companies and associated business groups have alleged that 73 percent of software used in Kazakhstan is pirated, including in government agencies, and have criticized the government’s enforcement efforts.

To comply with OECD IPR standards, in 2018 Kazakhstan accepted amendments to its IPR legislation. The law set up a more convenient, one-tier system of IPR registration and provided rights holders the opportunity for pre-trial dispute settlement through the Appeals Council at the Ministry of Justice. In addition, the law included IPR protection as one of the government procurement principles that should be strictly followed by government organizations. Currently, the Parliament is considering a new bill on IPR issues. The bill introduces a notion of geographical indication, a short-term (up to three years) protection of unregistered industrial designs, an “opposition” system for challenging requests for registration of trademarks, geographical indications, and appellation of origin of goods. Also, the bill is expected to make copyright collective organizations more transparent and effective and to improve regulation of patent attorneys’ activity. In 2020, Kazakhstan ratified the Protocol on Protection of Industrial Designs of the Eurasian Patent Convention from September 1994 and signed the Agreement of the Eurasian Economic Union on trademarks, service marks, and appellation of origin of goods.

Kazakhstan’s authorities conduct nationwide campaigns called “Counterfeit”, “Hi-Tech” and “Anti-Fraud” that are aimed at detecting and ceasing IPR infringements and increasing public awareness about IP issues.  In 2020, these campaigns resulted in the seizing of 4.8 thousand units of counterfeit goods. The Ministry of Justice and law enforcement agencies regularly report the results of their inspections. However, the moratorium on inspections of small and medium-sized businesses that came into force in December 2019 reduced significantly the number of IPR-related inspections in 2020.

In 2020, the Ministry of Internal Affairs initiated 14 criminal cases for copyright violations and seven administrative cases, imposing penalties of USD 5,300. In addition, regional authorities reportedly seized 3,800 units of counterfeit goods worth around USD 4,000 and identified 24 foreign websites, selling pirated software. On the border, customs officials suspended the release of counterfeited goods in the amount of USD 20.1 million.

In 2020, the government agency on investigation of economic crimes identified and closed one illegal plant that produced counterfeited pharmaceuticals. Criminals fabricated packages using known trademarks and altered the expiry dates of the drugs. Although Kazakhstan continues to make progress to comply with WTO requirements and OECD standards, foreign companies complain of inadequate IPR protection. Judges, customs officials, and police officers also lack IPR expertise, which exacerbates weak IPR enforcement.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=KZ.

6. Financial Sector 

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Kazakhstan maintains a stable macroeconomic framework, although weak banks inhibit the financial sector’s development , valuation and accounting practices are inconsistent, and large state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that dominate the economy face challenges in preparing complete financial reporting. Capital markets remain underdeveloped and illiquid, with small equity and debt markets dominated by SOEs and lacking in retail investors. Most domestic borrowers obtain credit from Kazakhstani banks, although foreign investors often find margins and collateral requirements onerous, and it is often cheaper and easier for foreign investors to use retained earnings or borrow from their home country. The government actively seeks to attract FDI, including portfolio investment. Foreign clients may only trade via local brokerage companies or after registering at Kazakhstan’s Stock Exchange (KASE) or at the AIFC.

KASE, in operation since 1993 and with 189 listed companies, trades a variety of instruments, including equities and funds, corporate bonds, sovereign debt, international development institutions debt, foreign currencies, repurchase agreements (REPO) and derivatives. Most of KASE’s trading is comprised of money market (84 percent) and foreign exchange (10 percent). As of January1, 2021, stock market capitalization was USD 45.3 billion, while the corporate bond market was around USD 35.2 billion. The Single Accumulating Pension Fund, the key source of the country’s local currency liquidity accumulated USD 30.7 billion as of January1, 2021.

In 2018, the government launched the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC), a regional financial hub modeled after the Dubai International Financial Center. The AIFC has its own stock exchange (AIX), regulator, and court (see Part 4). The AIFC has partnered with the Shanghai Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, Goldman Sachs International, the Silk Road Fund, and others. AIX currently has 88 listings in its Official List, including 30 traded on its platform.

Kazakhstan is bound by Article VIII of the International Monetary Fund’s Articles of Agreement, adopted in 1996, which prohibits government restrictions on currency conversions or the repatriation of investment profits. Money transfers associated with foreign investments, whether inside or outside of the country, are unrestricted; however, Kazakhstan’s currency legislation requires that a currency contract must be presented to the servicing bank if the transfer exceeds USD 10,000. Money transfers over USD 50,000 require the servicing bank to notify the transaction to the authorities, so the transferring bank may require the transferring parties, whether resident or non-resident, to provide information for that notification.

Money and Banking System

As of January 1, 2021, Kazakhstan had 26 commercial banks. The five largest banks (Halyk Bank, Sberbank-Kazakhstan, Forte Bank, Kaspi Bank and Bank CenterCredit) held assets of approximately USD 47.4 billion, accounting for 64.0 percent of the total banking sector.

Kazakhstan’s banking system remains impaired by legacy non-performing loans, poor risk management, weak corporate governance practices, and significant related-party exposures.  In recent years, the government has undertaken measures to strengthen the sector, including capital injections, enhanced oversight, and expanded regulatory authorities. In 2019, the National Bank of Kazakhstan (NBK) initiated an asset quality review (AQR) of 14 major banks, which combined held 87 percent of banking assets as of April 1, 2019. According to NBK officials, the AQR showed sufficient capitalization on average across the 14 banks and set out individual corrective measure plans for each of the banks to improve risk management. As of January 2021, the ratio of non-performing loans to banking assets was 6.8 percent, down from 31.2 percent in January 2014. The COVID-19 pandemic and the fall in global oil prices may pose additional risks to Kazakhstan’s banking sector.

Kazakhstan has a central bank system led by the NBK. In January 2020, parliament established the Agency for Regulation and Development of the Financial Market (ARDFM), which assumed the NBK’s role as main financial regulator overseeing banks, insurance companies, the stock market, microcredit organizations, debt collection agencies, and credit bureaus. The NBK retains its core central bank functions as well as management of the country’s sovereign wealth fund and pension system assets. The NBK, and ARDFM as its successor, is committed to the incremental introduction of the Basel III regulatory standard. As of January 2021, Basel III methodology applies to capital and liquidity calculation with required regulatory ratios gradually changing to match the standard.  Starting December 16, 2020, as a part of WTO commitments, Kazakhstan allowed foreign banks to operate in the country via branches (previously only local subsidiaries were allowed). To open a branch, foreign banks must have international credit ratings of BBB or higher, a minimum of $20 billion in global assets, and comply with other NBK and ARDFM norms and requirements.  Foreigners may open bank accounts in local banks as long as they have a local tax registration number.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Transfers of currency are protected by Article VII of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Articles of Agreement (http://www.imf.org/External/Pubs/FT/AA/index.htm#art7).

There are no restrictions or limitations placed on foreign investors in converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with an investment (e.g. remittances of investment capital, earnings, loan or lease payments, or royalties). Funds associated with any form of investment may be freely converted into any world currency, though local markets may be limited to major world currencies.

Foreign company branches are treated as residents, except for non-financial organizations treated as non-residents based on previously made special agreements with Kazakhstan.  With some exceptions, foreign currency transactions between residents are forbidden. There are no restrictions on foreign currency operations between residents and non-residents, unless specified otherwise by local foreign currency legislation. Companies registered with AIFC are not subject to currency and settlement restrictions.

Kazakhstan abandoned its currency peg in favor of a free-floating exchange rate and inflation-targeting monetary regime in August 2015, although the NBK has intervened in foreign exchange markets to combat excess volatility. Kazakhstan maintains sufficient international reserves according to the IMF. As of January 1, 2021, international reserves at the NBK, including foreign currency, gold, and National Fund assets, totaled USD 94.4 billion.  

Remittance Policies

The U.S. Mission in Kazakhstan is not aware of any concerns about remittance policies or the availability of foreign exchange conversion for the remittance of profits. Local currency legislation permits non-residents to freely receive and transfer dividends, interest and other income on deposits, securities, loans, and other currency transactions with residents. However, such remittances are subject to reporting requirements. There are no time limitations on remittances; and timelines to remit investment returns depend on the internal procedures of the servicing bank. Residents seeking to transfer property or money to a non-resident in excess of USD 500,000 are required to register the contract with the NBK. 

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The National Fund of the Republic of Kazakhstan was established to support the country’s social and economic development via accumulation of financial and other assets, as well as to reduce the country’s dependence on the oil sector and external shocks. The National Fund’s assets are generated from direct taxes and other payments from oil companies, public property privatization, sale of public farmlands, and investment income. The government, through the Ministry of Finance, controls the National Fund, while the NBK acts as the National Fund’s trustee and asset manager. The NBK selects external asset managers from internationally recognized investment companies or banks to oversee a part of the National Fund’s assets.  Information about external asset managers and assets they manage is confidential. As of January 1, 2021, the National Fund’s assets were USD 58.7 billion or around 34 percent of GDP.

The government receives regular transfers from the National Fund for general state budget support, as well as special purpose transfers ordered by the President. The National Fund is required to retain a minimum balance of no less than 30 percent of GDP.

Kazakhstan is not a member of the IMF-hosted International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

According to the National Statistical Bureau, as of January 1, 2021, the government owns 25,386 state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including all forms of SOEs, from small veterinary inspection offices, kindergardens, regional departments for the protection of competition, and regional hospitals, to large national companies controlling energy, transport, agricultural finance, and product development.

A list of SOEs is available at: https://gr5.gosreestr.kz/p/ru/gr-search/search-objects.

SOEs plays a leading role in the country’s economy. According to the 2017 OECD Investment Policy Review, SOE assets amount to USD 48-64 billion, approximately 30-40 percent of GDP; net income was approximately USD 2 billion. In order to stop an expansion of the quasi-sovereign sector, President Tokayev introduced in 2019 a moratorium on establishing new parastatal companies that will be in effect until the end of 2021. A bill on improving the business climate adopted by Parliament in April 2020 disincentivizes the establishment of new parastatal companies.

In pursuance of his New Economic Course, President Tokayev proposed in September 2020 the creation of a unified information portal that would consolidate all information about the activity of quasi-sovereign companies (SOEs), including their financial statements. If this portal is established, it would improve transparency of the quasi-sovereign sector significantly. Portfolio investors are also required to have corporate governance standards and independent boards.

Despite these positive developments, the number of SOEs in the economy remains large. The preferential status of parastatal companies is also unchanged; for example, parastatals enjoy greater access to subsidies and government support.

The National Welfare Fund Samruk-Kazyna (SK) is Kazakhstan’s largest national holding company, and manages key SOEs in the oil and gas, energy, mining, transportation, and communication sectors. At the end of 2018, SK had 317 subsidiaries and employed around 300,000 people. By some estimates, SK controls around half of Kazakhstan’s economy, and is the nation’s largest buyer of goods and services. In 2019, SK reported USD 61 billion in assets and USD 3 billion in consolidated net profit. Created in 2008, SK’s official purpose is to facilitate economic diversification and to increase effective corporate governance.

In 2018, First President Nazarbayev approved a new SK strategy which declared effective management of its companies, restructuration and diversification of assets and investment projects, and compliance with principles of sustainable development as priority goals. SK stated its adherence to international standards of SOE management and its willingness to separate the role of the state as a main owner from its regulator’s role. To follow a new strategy, early in 2020, the SK removed the Prime Minister from the Board and elected four independent directors, one of whom became the Chair of the Board. Thus, the government is now represented by three members on the Board- an Aide to the President, the Minister of National Economy, and the CEO of Samruk-Kazyna. Regardless of these positive moves, in reality political influence continues to dominate SK. First President Nazarbayev is the life-long Chair of the Managing Council of SK, with the right to take strategically important decisions on SK activity. SK has special rights, such as the ability to conclude large transactions among members of its holdings without public notification. SK enjoys a pre-emptive right to buy strategic facilities and assets and is exempt from government procurement procedures. Critically, the government can transfer state-owned property to SK, easing the transfer of state property to private owners. More information is available at http://sk.kz/ .

Regardless of these positive moves, in reality political influence continues to dominate SK. First President Nazarbayev is the life-long Chair of the Managing Council of SK, with the right to take strategically important decisions on SK activity. SK has special rights, such as the ability to conclude large transactions among members of its holdings without public notification. SK enjoys a pre-emptive right to buy strategic facilities and assets and is exempt from government procurement procedures. Critically, the government can transfer state-owned property to SK, easing the transfer of state property to private owners. More information is available at http://sk.kz/ .

In addition to SK, the government created the national managing holding company Baiterek in 2013 to provide financial and investment support to non-extractive industries and to drive economic diversification. Baiterek is comprised of the Development Bank of Kazakhstan, the Investment Fund of Kazakhstan, the Housing and Construction Savings Bank – Otbassy Bank, the National Mortgage Company, KazakhExport, the Entrepreneurship Development Fund Damu and other financial and development institutions. In 2021, following the President’s request, Baiterek joined the other quasi-sovereign holding company – KazAgro. Thus, the financing of the agricultural sector will now be in the portfolio of Baiterek. Unlike SK, the Prime Minister remains Chairof the Baiterek Board, assisted by several cabinet ministers and independent directors. As of the end of September 2020, Baiterek had USD 14.3 billion in assets and earned USD 133.5 million in net profit. Please see https://www.baiterek.gov.kz/en .

Another significant SOE is the national holding company Zerde, which is charged with creating modern information and communication infrastructure, using new technologies, and stimulating investments in the communication sector (http://zerde.gov.kz/ ).

Officially, private enterprises compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions. In some cases, SOEs enjoy better access to natural resources, credit, and licenses than private entities.

In its 2017 Investment Review, the OECD recommended Kazakhstani authorities identify new ways to ensure that all corporate governance standards applicable to private companies apply to SOEs. Samruk-Kazyna adopted a new Corporate Governance Code in 2015. The Code, which applies to all SK subsidiaries, specified the role of the government as ultimate shareholder, underlined the role of the Board of directors and risk management, and called for transparency and accountability.

Privatization Program

Kazakhstan has stated the aim to decrease the SOE share in the economy to 15 percent by 2020, in line with OECD averages. The goal has not yet been reached, but the government continues a large-scale privatization campaign. According to a government report, 93 percent of the 2016-2020 plan has been implemented. In 2020, the government enacted a new comprehensive privatization program for 2021-2025. The government’s reports on both campaigns are available at: https://privatization.gosreestr.kz/.

As of March 30, 2021, out of 1,748 organizations planned for privatization, 729 had been sold for USD 1.7 billion. The government sells small, state owned and municipal enterprises through electronic auctions. The public bidding process is established by law. By law and in practice, foreign investors may participate in privatization projects. However, foreign investors may experience challenges in navigating the process.

SK has an important role in the privatization campaign and as of March 2021 had sold full or partial stakes in 88 subsidiaries of large national companies operating in the energy, mining, transportation, and service sectors. 53 subsidiaries have been liquidated or reorganized. In June 2020, SK completed the privatization of 25 percent of KazAtomProm by selling the remaining 6.28 percent of common shares via a dual-listed IPO on the London Exchange and the Astana International Stock Exchange. Although the pandemic affected the preliminary privatization timelines, SK plans to offer institutional investors non-controlling shares in eight national companies via initial public offerings (IPOs), secondary public offerings (SPO) and sale to strategic investors. These companies are: state oil company KazMunaiGas, Air Astana, national telecom operator Kazakhtelecom, railway operator Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, KazPost, and Samruk–Energy, Tau-Ken Samruk and Qazaq Air.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Entrepreneurs, the government, and non-governmental organizations are aware of the expectations of responsible business conduct (RBC). Kazakhstan continues to make steady progress toward meeting the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the government promotes the concept of RBC. The OECD National Contact Point is the Ministry of National Economy.

A legal framework for RBC was introduced in 2015. The Entrepreneurial Code has a special section on social responsibility, which is defined as a voluntary contribution for the development of social, environmental, and other spheres. The Code says that the state creates conditions for RBC but specifies that it cannot force entrepreneurs to take a due diligence approach to ensuring socially responsible actions. The Code considers donations to charity one of the forms of social responsibility and envisions a tax deduction for charitable giving, though no such rule currently exists.

In April 2015, the National Tripartite Commission on Social Partnership and Regulation of Social and Labor Relations adopted the National Concept on Social Corporate Responsibility, developed by the Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs and the corporate fund Eurasia-Central Asia. The non-binding document covers human rights, environmental protection, consumer interests, RBC, corporate governance, and community development.

First President Nazarbayev has repeatedly asked foreign investors and local businesses to implement RBC, including to provide occupational safety, pay salaries on time, and invest in human capital. The President presents annual awards for achievements in corporate social responsibility (CSR). Foreign investors report that local government officials regularly pressure them to provide donations to achieve local political objectives. Local officials attempt to exert as much control as possible over the selection and allocation of funding for such projects.

The government has signed on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  Kazakhstan produces EITI reports that disclose revenues from the extraction of its natural resources.  Companies disclose what they have paid in taxes and other payments, and the government discloses what it has received; these two sets of figures are then compared and reconciled.   The EITI Board started a second certification process on August 13, 2019, to review whether Kazakhstan has achieved meaningful progress and found that it had made considerable improvements since its first validation in 2017 by providing additional information on local content, social investment, and transportation of oil, gas, and minerals.  The Board gave Kazakhstan 18 months before a third validation, i.e. until October 14, 2021, to carry out corrective actions regarding multi-stakeholder group oversight, license allocations, state participation, production data, barter arrangements, transport revenues, social expenditures, and quasi-fiscal expenditures.

Starting 2019, members of EITI, including Kazakhstan, are required to disclose subsoil use contracts signed after January 1, 2021.  In June 2019 the Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development disclosed for the first time beneficial ownership data on its website. The data included names of beneficial owners and their level of ownership under new licenses only.

9. Corruption

Kazakhstan’s rating in Transparency International’s (TI) 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is 38/100, ranking Kazakhstan 94 out of 180 countries rated – a relatively weak score, but the best in Central Asia. According to the report, corruption remains a serious challenge for Kazakhstan, amplified by the instability of the economy. Improvement of Kazakhstan’s CPI under the conditions of the COVID-19 emergency indicates that the country took persistent efforts to combat corruption. The world community assessed positively measures taken by the government of Kazakhstan to support people and businesses during the pandemic, as well as legislative amendments to tighten up liability for corruption, and to further digitalize government services. However, the authorities violated democratic standards related to transparency and access to financial information on healthcare spending, and imposed excessive restrictions on media, human rights, and civil society activities.

The 2015-2025 Anti-Corruption Strategy focuses on measures to prevent the conditions that foster corruption rather than fighting the consequences of corruption. The Criminal Code imposes tough criminal liability and punishment for corruption, eliminates suspension of sentences for corruption-related crimes, and introduces a lifelong ban on employment in the civil service with mandatory forfeiture of title, rank, grade, and state awards. The law on Countering Corruption introduces broader definitions of corruption and risks, anticorruption monitoring and analysis, and stronger financial accountability measures. The law on Government Procurement prohibits companies, the managers of which are directly related to decision makers of contracting government agencies, from participation in tenders. The law on Countering Corruption states that private companies should undertake measures to prevent corruption, while business associations can develop codes of conduct for specific industries. The law on Public Service sets adherence to the rule of law principles including anti-corruption and professionalism of civil service as the main duty of public servants. In 2020, Kazakhstan made amendments to anti-corruption legislation to tighten up liability for corruption crimes (below please see detailed descriptions of those amendments).

The country took actions to tighten up control of corruption. In October and December 2020, it passed two sets of anti-corruption legislative amendments which: – tightened up liability for accepting gifts by officials and their family members (Counter-corruption law and the Civil Code);

– tightened up liability for accepting gifts by officials and their family members (Counter-corruption law and the Civil Code); – added quasi-government organizations’ procurement officers to the list of officials who can be held accountable for corruption (Counter-corruption law article 1.4);

– added quasi-government organizations’ procurement officers to the list of officials who can be held accountable for corruption (Counter-corruption law article 1.4); – mandated establishment of counter-corruption compliance units in the quasi-government sector; other business companies have the right to establish such units (Counter-corruption law articles 16 and 16.3);

– mandated establishment of counter-corruption compliance units in the quasi-government sector; other business companies have the right to establish such units (Counter-corruption law articles 16 and 16.3); – banned high-level officials from taking a job which would put them in direct subordination to a close family member (Counter-corruption law article 14);

– banned high-level officials from taking a job which would put them in direct subordination to a close family member (Counter-corruption law article 14); – prohibited early release from prison of individuals convicted of grave and particularly grave corruption crimes, with a few exceptions (Criminal Code article 72.8);

– prohibited early release from prison of individuals convicted of grave and particularly grave corruption crimes, with a few exceptions (Criminal Code article 72.8); – strengthened punishment of law enforcement employees and judges for commitment of corruption crimes (several articles in the Criminal Code);

– strengthened punishment of law enforcement employees and judges for commitment of corruption crimes (several articles in the Criminal Code); – banned government officials from opening and owning accounts in foreign banks (Counter-corruption law, article 12 subparagraph 1.5 and article 14-1).

– banned government officials from opening and owning accounts in foreign banks (Counter-corruption law, article 12 subparagraph 1.5 and article 14-1).

The Agency for Countering Corruption presents its report on countering corruption annually. Kazakhstan ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2008. It has been a participant of the Istanbul Anti-Corruption Action Plan of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network since 2004, the International Association of Anti-Corruption Agencies since 2009, and the International Counter-Corruption Council of CIS member-states since 2013. Kazakhstan became a member of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in January 2020. The government and local business entities are aware of the legal restrictions placed on business abroad, such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK Bribery Act.

Despite legal provisions, however, corruption allegations have been noted in nearly all sectors, including extractive industries, infrastructure projects, state procurements, and the banking sector. The International Finance Corporation’s Enterprise Survey, which gathers responses from thousand of small and medium-sized enterprises in each of more than 100 countries, finds that respondents indicate corruption as the most severe obstacle to doing business in Kazakhstan. For more information, please see: http://www.enterprisesurveys.org/data/exploreeconomies/2013/kazakhstan#corruption.

Transparency Kazakhstan conducted a survey in 2020 to assess corruption perception. 9,000 respondents were interviewed and 1347 written complaints were analyzed in all regions of the country, applying the methodology of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer and the Corruption Perception Index. 37.4 percent of common citizens and 45.9 percent of entrepreneurs indicated a decrease of corruption in their regions. 11.3 percent of respondents faced petty corruption (a decrease compared to 13.4 percent in 2019), 8.2 percent of entrepreneurs had to resort to illegitimate ways in resolving issues with government (9.2 percent in 2019). More than 80 percent of the interviewed entrepreneurs stated that business could be developed without giving bribes. The survey showed that the most trusted officials and offices were the President (70 percent), the Anti-corruption Agency (65 percent), the Cabinet (62 percent), the Civil Service Agency (59 percent) and the Nur Otan party (55 percent); the most corrupt state institutions were viewed to be healthcare, police, tax, fire services, land relations and urban planning authorities, public service centers, and education institutions: http://tikazakhstan.org/transparency-kazakhstan-prezentoval-rezultaty-monitoringa-sostoyaniya-korruptsii-v-strane-za-2020-god/.

The Law on the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan—Leader of the Nation establishes blanket immunity for First President Nazarbayev and members of his family from arrest, detention, search, or interrogation. Journalists and advocates for fiscal transparency are reported to have faced frequent harassment and administrative pressure.

Resources to Report Corruption

Under the Law on Countering Corruption, all government, quasi-government entities, and officials are responsible for countering corruption. Along with the Anti-Corruption Agency, prosecutors, national security agencies, police, tax inspectors, military police, and border guard service members are responsible for the detection, termination, disclosure, investigation, and prevention of corruption crimes, and for holding the perpetrators liable within their competence.

TI maintains a national chapter in Kazakhstan.

Contact at the government agency responsible for combating corruption:
Alik Shpekbayev
Chairman
Agency for Civil Service Affairs and Countering Corruption
37 Seyfullin Street, Nur-Sultan
+7 (7172) 909002
a.shpekbaev@kyzmet.gov.kz 

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:
Olga Shiyan
Executive Director
Civic Foundation “Transparency Kazakhstan”
Office 308/2
89 Dosmuhamedov Street,
Business Center Caspi
Almaty 050012 +7 (727) 292 0970; +7 771 589 4507
oshiyantikaz@gmail.com 

10. Political and Security Environment

There have been no reported incidents of politically motivated violence against foreign investment projects, and although small-scale protests do occur, large-scale civil disturbances are infrequent. No major terrorist attacks took place in Kazakhstan in 2020. In June 2016, individuals described by the government as Salafist militants attacked a gun shop and a military unit, killing 8 and injuring 37 people in the Aktobe region of northwestern Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan generally enjoys good relations with its neighbors. Although the presidential transition in neighboring Uzbekistan has opened the door to greater regional cooperation, including on border issues, Kazakhstan continues to exercise vigilance against possible penetration of its borders by extremist groups. The government also remains concerned about the potential return of foreign terrorist fighters from Syria and Iraq.

After close to three decades as President, Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned March 20, 2019, and was succeeded by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the former Senate Chairman and next in line of constitutional succession. On June 9, 2019, Kazakhstan held an early presidential election, and Tokayev was elected to a full term with 71 percent of the vote. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted in its final report that the election “was tarnished by clear violations of fundamental freedoms as well as pressure on critical voices;…significant irregularities were observed on election day”; “the election took place within a political environment dominated by the ruling Nur Otan party and with confined space for civil society and opposition views.” In the January 10, 2021 election for the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament), Kazakhstan’s largest party, Nur-Otan, received 71 percent of the vote, while the business-friendly Ak Zhol party received 11 and the People’s party 9 percent. The OSCE similarly criticized the January 10 elections for their lack of adherence to OSCE standards for democratic elections.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The July 2017 EBRD Kazakhstan Diagnostic Paper (the latest available) singles out skill mismatches across sectors as the fifth constraint that is holding back private sector growth in Kazakhstan.  The gaps create real operational challenges such as high recruitment and training costs, lower productivity and constraints on innovation and new product development, according to the EBRD.  The existing skill mismatches are not a result of lack of access to education, but rather failure to acquire job-relevant skills and competencies, the EBRD report reads. The 2019 OECD report on Monitoring Skills Development through Occupational Standards in Kazakhstan echoes the EBRD findings – despite improvements in educational attainment and labor market participation, Kazakhstan faces challenges with respect to skill relevance and availability, especially among large and middle-sized companies.  Strengthening vocational education and training is critical because skilled manual workers, with medium and high qualifications, represent 40% of the total workforce need, according to the OECD.  Many large investors rely on foreign workers and engineers to fill the void.  Kazakhstan has approved a foreign workforce quota of 29.3 thousand for 2021.  As of December 29, 2020, the Labor Ministry reported about 14,600 valid work permits.  Chinese workers received the largest number of permits, with the rest going to foreign workers from Uzbekistan, Turkey, India, the UK, and others.

The Kazakhstani government has made it a priority to ensure that Kazakhstani citizens are well represented in foreign enterprise workforces.  In 2009, the government instituted a comprehensive policy for local employment, particularly for companies in extractive industries.  The government is particularly keen to see Kazakhstanis hired into the managerial and executive ranks of foreign enterprises.  In January 2021, Energy Minister Nurlan Nogayev welcoming the new Director General of Tengizchevroil noted that a Kazakhstani citizen can become a future head of the company, according to the company’s charter documents.  In November 2015, the government amended legislation on migration and employment that resulted in new rules for foreign labor starting January 2017 (please see details in Performance and Data Localization Requirements). U.S. companies are advised to contact Kazakhstan-based law and accounting firms and the U.S. Commercial Service in Almaty for current information on work permits.  AIFC-registered entities may obtain and employ foreign workers without any work permit.

Kazakhstan joined the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1993, and has ratified 24 out of 189 ILO conventions, including eight fundamental conventions pertaining to minimum employment age, prohibition on the use of forced labor and the worst forms of child labor, and prohibition on discrimination in employment, as well as conventions on equal pay and collective bargaining.  In March 2019, Kazakhstan’s Federation of Trade Unions proposed that the Kazakhstani government join five more ILO technical conventions on social security (minimum standards), minimum wage fixing, collective bargaining, part-time work, and safety and health in agriculture.

The Constitution and National Labor Code guarantee basic workers’ rights, including occupational safety and health, the right to organize, and the right to strike.  In September 2017, the ILO expressed concern over Kazakhstan’s compliance with the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention and the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention by calling on the government to amend the relevant legislation in order to: (1) enable workers to form and join trade unions of their own choosing, (2) allow labor unions to benefit from joint projects with international organizations, and (3) allow financial assistance to labor unions from international organizations.

On May 4, 2020, the government enacted amendments to labor-related laws, including the trade union law, to bring them closer to compliance with ILO standards, in particular, the convention on freedom of association. The amendments removed the requirement that lower-level unions affiliate with higher-level sectoral, territorial, and national-level federations. The amendments also lowered membership requirements and simplified other registration requirements.   Kazakhstan’s three independent labor unions – the Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (FTUK), Commonwealth of Trade Unions of Kazakhstan Amanat, and Kazakhstan Confederation of Labor (KCL) – had over three million members, or 40 percent of the workforce, as of March 1, 2020. Another trade union, Yntymak, with more than 57,000 members, was established in 2018 to represent small and medium enterprises.  According to the FTUK, as of January 2020, ninety-eight percent of large and medium enterprises had collective agreements. Overall, 41.2 percent of all working enterprises had collective agreements.

Article 46 of the Labor Code gives the employer the right to change work due to fluctuating market conditions with proper and timely notifications to employees.  Article 52 of the Labor Code gives the employer the right to cancel an employment contract in case of a decline in production that may lead to the deterioration of economic and financial conditions of the company.  Article 131 of the Labor Code allows for severance payment of average monthly wages for two months in case of layoffs for economic reasons.  The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for offering alternative job openings with state programs of the so-called Employment Road Map, alternative professional training, or temporary jobs to workers laid off for economic reasons.  The 2017-2021 Productive Employment and Mass Entrepreneurship National Program, run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, aims at connecting workers with permanent jobs.  The program provides micro-loans, grants, and equips workers with basic entrepreneurial skills.

Chapter 15 of the Labor Code describes a mechanism for resolution of individual labor disputes via direct negotiations with an employer, mediation commission, and court.  Chapter 16 of the Labor Code identifies a mechanism for resolution of collective labor disputes via direct negotiations with an employer, mediation commission, labor arbitration, and the court.

Labor unrest presents a risk where unemployment is high and where the bargaining power of limited skilled labor is relatively high, but authorities have been quick to intervene with controls and mitigating measures.  On March 1, 2021, FTUK reported on 22 labor conflicts since January 1, 2021. The conflicts that resulted in strikes were mostly observed in Chinese oil companies.

On January 31, 2021, the workers of KMK Munay, affiliated with China National Petroleum Corporation, resumed their work, following a seven-day strike to demand a 100-percent wage increase they had been seeking since March 2020.  The workers of another Chinese company AMK Munay did not agree with the management offer to increase wages by seven percent.  Following a joint meeting at the local municipality, AMK Munay agreed to increase wages and pay a bonus equal to 50-percent of the workers monthly wage. On January 6, 2021, three hundred workers of Bonatti, a contractor of Karachaganak Petroleum Operating B.V., declared a hunger strike, demanding a 50-percent wage increase.  Local authorities reported that the company’s management and workers subsequently reached an agreement.

In August 2020, FTUK reported that over 4,000 employees appealed to FTUK during the pandemic, seeking clarifications on their rights.  Each trade union established a call center to respond to inquiries from the employees. FTUK negotiated with M-TechService a payment of 50-percent wages to workers who could not come to work due to movement restrictions and the payment of double wages to workers who worked on rotational shifts longer than usual.

Other employers agreed to provide workers interest-free loans or cut working hours by two hours without withholding wages.

Tengizchevroil provided unprecedented support to its contractors during the pandemic. From March 23, 2020 to July 1, 2020, Tengizchevroil paid 100 percent of the average wage to all contract employees in Tengiz during the downtime due to the pandemic. These payments helped to save jobs and stabilize the social situation. From July 1, 2020 to October 1, 2020, Tengizchevroil lowered this compensation to 50-percent of the employee’s salary to contractors.

Workers’ right to strike are limited by several conditions.  It may take over 40 days to initiate a strike in accordance with the law, representatives of labor unions report.  Workers can strike if all arbitration measures defined by law have been exhausted.  Strike votes must be taken in a meeting where at least half of workers are present, and strikers are required to give five days’ notice to their employer, include a list of complaints, and tell the employer the proposed date, time, and place of the strike.  Courts have the power to declare a strike illegal at the request of an employer or the Prosecutor General’s Office.  Employers may fire striking workers after a court declares a strike illegal.  The 2014 Criminal Code enabled the government to target labor organizers by imposing criminal charges and up to three years in prison for calls to participate in strikes declared illegal by the court. The 2020 amendments to the Code reduced the penalty for such calls. If the calls for strikes did not result in a material violation of rights and interests of other individuals, they would be classified as minor criminal offenses, and the penalty would be limited to a fine or community service.

The Labor Union Law enacted in 2014 restricted workers’ freedom of association.  Under the law, any local (and potentially independent) labor union had to be affiliated with larger unions, and the right to freely establish and join independent organizations without prior authorization had been restricted.  On the basis of this law, in 2016 authorities did not allow the registration of one independent labor union and ordered its liquidation.  In 2018, the U.S. government initiated a review of Kazakhstan’s compliance with the Generalized System of Preferences following a petition by the AFL-CIO, based on the country’s alleged failure to afford internationally recognized workers’ rights.  The AFL-CIO petition highlighted the Law on Unions and also raised concerns about the use of Article 404 of the Criminal Code, which appeared to prohibit unregistered organizations.  In May 2020, Kazakhstan signed into law amendments to labor-related laws.  The amendments removed the requirement of affiliation with a large labor union for local labor unions and simplified procedures for registration of labor unions.   The law no longer requires an industrial labor union to have no less than 50 percent of industry workers as its members. The time to register labor unions was extended from six months to one year.  Other changes included reducing restrictions on strikes.  Workers employed in the railway, transport and communications, civil aviation, healthcare, and public utilities sectors may strike if they maintain minimum services for the population, that is, provided there is no harm caused to other people.  The amendments also reduced penalties for calls to continue strikes declared illegal by a court.   Please see details at the Human Rights Report at:  https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/.

The official unemployment rate in Kazakhstan has regularly been near five percent in recent years. The unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2020 dropped to 4.9 percent, while it was 5 percent from April to September 2020.  Youth unemployment rate was 3.6 percent.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $181,666 2019 $181,666 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/kazakhstan?view=chart 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) Jan 1, 2021 $37,939 N/A N/A
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) Jan1, 2021 $193.2 N/A N/A
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 88.7 % 2019 83.3% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/system/
files/non-official-document/
wir20_fs_kz_en.pdf 

* Source for Host Country Data: *The National Statistical Bureau and The National Bank of Kazakhstan.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (2019)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 149,370 100% Total Outward 15,606 100%
The Netherlands 59,897 40.1% The Netherlands 15,081 96.6%
United States 36,510 24.4% Russia 1,597 10.2%
France 13,321 8.9% Cayman Islands 1,095 7%
China, P.R.: Main land 7,649 5.12% Luxembourg 633 4.1%
Japan 5,909 4% Cyprus 567 3.6%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (2019)
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 70,358 100% All Countries Amount14,688 100% All Countries 55,670 100%
United States 36,316 52% United States 8,675 59% United States 27,642 50%
United Kingdom 4,626 7% United Kingdom 1,321 9% International Organizations 3,459 6%
Japan 3,859 5% Japan 1,041 7% United Kingdom 3,305 6%
International Organizations 3,459 5% Switzerland 451 3% Korea, Rep.of 3,095 6%
Korea, Rep.of 3,096 4% France 437 3% Japan 2,817 5%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section at the U.S. Embassy in Nur-Sultan
3, Qoshkarbayev Str., Nur-Sultan
+7 7172 70 21 00
InvestmentClimateKZ@state.gov
Country/Economy resources: American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Kazakhstan www.amcham.kz 

Kyrgyzstan

Executive Summary

Against the backdrop of the worst economic downturn since 1991, a looming debt crisis, and a deteriorating COVID-19 situation in the region, the Kyrgyz Republic faces daunting prospects in 2021 to stabilize the economy and recuperate investor confidence. In October 2020, the toppling of the government under former President Soorenbai Jeenbekov in a populist uprising against vote-buying and administrative corruption created the path for the installation of a populist administration under President Sadyr Japarov, who quickly reorganized the government and enacted sweeping constitutional reforms. The Japarov administration, while maintaining its partnerships with key economic partners Russia and China, also seeks financial support and foreign investment from the United States and other Western countries to support economic recovery.  However, under the auspices of a sweeping anti-corruption campaign, detentions and aggressive tactics against private businesses have increased, raising serious concerns among foreign investors about the security of their investments. In May 2021, the government levied a $3 billion fine against the country’s largest foreign investor, Centerra Gold Inc, and installed external management for a three-month period. The government and Centerra Gold Inc. have entered into arbitration proceedings, but the matter will likely have long-lasting repercussions on the country’s already challenging investment climate.

The Kyrgyz economy significantly contracted by 8.6 percent of GDP in 2020, mainly due to decreases in construction, tourism, and non-gold exports. Total inbound foreign direct investment in 2020 shrank by over 50 percent, due to reduced inflows across the board among the country’s main investors: Canada, China, the United Kingdom, and Russia. The International Monetary Fund projected growth is expected to rebound in 2021 and with a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels by 2023, barring a severe resurgence of COVID-19 or political turbulence. The government’s focus on reducing public debt, which is currently 68 percent of GDP, may restrict fiscal space in the short to medium term to move forward on public investments and public private partnerships approved in 2019.

Corruption and government gridlock are major impediments to prospective investment and business development. Since February, the new government has undergone a mass re-structuring of ministries and state agencies, including re-organization of state bodies for economic policy formation such as the State Committee for Information and Communications Technology and the Investment Promotion and Protection Agency, as well as law enforcement oversight by disbanding the Financial Police. Until permanent leadership is assigned for new state bodies, the new government’s short-term priorities and internal capacity continue to be in a state of transition, which may increase some administrative costs for doing business. While the legal and regulatory framework is set up to be in accordance with international norms, poor implementation and weak enforcement, particularly with respect to intellectual property rights protection, and transparency in extractive licensing, are endemic problems. Since October 2020, President Japarov’s anti-corruption campaign resulted in a significant uptick in business investigations and detentions of business executives on criminal charges. Although the government extended the moratorium on business inspections until January 1, 2022, state security services are increasingly involved in economic crime cases, raising concerns about deteriorating transparency and oversight of business regulations.

The Kyrgyz Republic remains a frontier market, oriented towards higher-risk investors seeking to capitalize on the country’s minimal market entry barriers, lack of restrictions on foreign ownership, and export-oriented tax incentives to establish a foothold in Central Asia. Although FDI has historically targeted mining-related sectors, finance, and petroleum product manufacturing, the new government’s stated commitment to develop the country’s digital economy and to enhance regional trade integration presents numerous long-term investment opportunities in agribusiness and food processing, ICT infrastructure, energy, and transit and customs. The Kyrgyz Republic’s participation in the newly launched CASA-1000, a regional electricity transmission project, may increase the country’s export capacity and investment opportunities in the power sector.  This also may catalyze political will to pursue energy tariff reform and leverage new investment with the country’s largely untapped hydro resources. In order to unlock these opportunities, it will be contingent on the new government to prevent backsliding in structural reforms to increase competitiveness and transparency in the investment climate to unlock these opportunities.

*Some information in the report may be subject to change upon date of publication and will be updated in the ICS 2022.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 124 of 179 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 80 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 94 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $38 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $1,240 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Kyrgyz Republic is actively seeking foreign direct investment, and the government publicly recognizes that foreign direct investment is an important component to economic development. While the government has implemented laws to attract foreign investment, inconsistent application, onerous bureaucracy as well as inability to protect investors’ assets in the field continue to deter foreign investors. In particular, government activities, including demands for renegotiation of operating contracts, invasive and time-consuming audits, levies of large retroactive fines, and disputes over licenses, pose significant impediments to attracting foreign investment. Pandemic uncertainty coupled with political tumult has had an outsized negative impact in the country and net FDI inflows in 2020 collapsed by over 50 percent relative to 2019.  This includes a notable reduction in FDI inflows from all main investment partners, Canada, China, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Since 1993, the United States has had a Bilateral Investment Treaty with the Kyrgyz Republic that encourages and offers reciprocal protection of investment. The newly restructured Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (IPPA) of the Kyrgyz Republic (as of February 2021), under the Ministry of Economy and Finance, serves as a vehicle for maintaining an ongoing dialogue with foreign investors and advocates for investing in the Kyrgyz Republic. The agency participates in the development and implementation of measures to attract and stimulate investment activity. Its mandate is to coordinate with state bodies, local municipalities, business entities, and non-state actors to promote investment and support investors in the Kyrgyz Republic, including private investment and public-private partnerships, as well as assist local exporters to promote Kyrgyz goods to external markets, and develop Free Economic Zones (FEZ). The IPPA has investor support programs to help guide investors through the registration process and conducts outreach aimed at helping create an environment conducive to foreign investment. The IPPA often coordinates with international donor organizations on hosting round- tables discussions, exchanges, and capacity building workshops in the field of economic development.

The Institute of the Business Ombudsman was created in January 2019 as an independent non-state body, funded by external donor sources, to protect the rights, freedoms, and legitimate interests of business entities, both local and foreign. In August 2019, the Supervisory Board of the Institute of the Business Ombudsman appointed former UK Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, Robin Ord-Smith, as Business Ombudsman. The Institute of Business Ombudsman has concluded memorandums of cooperation with leading international business associations, including the American Chamber of Commerce in the Kyrgyz Republic (Amcham), International Business Council (IBC), and the Chamber of Commerce of Industry of the Kyrgyz Republic (CCI). In 2020, the Business Ombudsman recommended that business reform, protection and support of local entrepreneurs and protecting private property rights are key conditions for attracting direct investment.

The government has established several committees and councils to coordinate cooperation between the business associations and government bodies. Since 2017, the Business and Entrepreneurship Development Council under the Speaker of the Parliament regularly convenes MPs, business community representatives from various sectors of the economy to discuss measures to improve the investment, promotion of entrepreneurship, and legislation to facilitate doing business in the Kyrgyz Republic. The Committee on Development of Industry and Entrepreneurship under the President of the Kyrgyz Republic serves as a platform for entrepreneurs to turn to in case if their grievances are not addressed by the government. The presidential decree to establish the Committee under the National Council on Sustainable Development of the Kyrgyz Republic was signed on December 24, 2019 with the amendment to designate to the Vice-Prime-Minister for economic development, the Business Ombudsman and heads of business associations. The committee includes platforms to raise investment climate and other business concerns to the offices of the President, Parliament, and Prime Minister. The Kyrgyz government also interacts with the business community via a number of local associations that serve as a voice for entrepreneurs and corporations, including Amcham, IBC, and the National Alliance of Business Associations of the Kyrgyz Republic (http://caa.kg/ru/ru-naba/). The Ministry of Economy and Finance, Parliamentary Business and Entrepreneurship Development Council, and other government bodies often seek the opinion of these associations during the formulation of policy.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

While there are still no official limits on foreign control, a large investor in a politically sensitive industry may find that the government imposes investor-specific requirements such as a high percentage of local workforce employment or a minimum number of local seats on a board of directors. Foreigners have the right to establish and own businesses, and there have been no allegations of market access restrictions from U.S. investors since 2016.

By law, the Kyrgyz Republic guarantees equal treatment to investors and places no limit on foreign ownership or control. In the last two years, there were no known cases of sector-specific restrictions, limitations, or requirements applied to foreign ownership and control. In April 2017, amendments to the “Law on Mass Media” to limit foreign ownership of television (excluding radio and print media) broadcasters to 35 percent, was signed by the President and entered into force in June 2017.

Post is unaware of any formal investment screening processes in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2016, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, released a report on the Kyrgyz investment climate in January 2016. The report is available at: https://documents.worldbank.org/en/publication/documents-reports/documentdetail/259411467997285741/investment-climate-in-kyrgyz-republic-views-of-foreign-investors-results-of-the-survey-of-foreign-investors-operating-and-non-operating here.

The Investment Policy Review (IPR) of The Kyrgyz Republic for 2016 by UNCTAD is available at https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=1436.

Business Facilitation

Starting a business in the Kyrgyz Republic has become easier following the elimination of the minimum capital requirement for business registration, abolition of certain registration fees, and decreases in registration times. The Kyrgyz Republic does not have a business registration website. Registration of legal entities, branches, or representative offices in the Kyrgyz Republic is based on “registration by notification” and the “one stop-shop” practice. State registration of a legal entity is completed within three business days from the date of filing the necessary documents for a specified fee. The Kyrgyz Republic ranked in the top quintile of the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report (42nd out of 190 countries surveyed) in “Starting a Business.” In 2018-2019, 115 economies implemented 294 business regulatory reforms across the 10 areas measured by Doing Business ( https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/reforms/top-reformers-2020).

Outward Investment

Post is not aware of host government efforts to promote outward investment from the Kyrgyz Republic, nor of any instances in which the government sought to restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The Kyrgyz Republic currently has bilateral investment treaties with the United States, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, Lithuania, Malaysia, Moldova, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, United Kingdom, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

The U.S.-Kyrgyz Republic Bilateral Investment Treaty entered into force in 1994. Since 1993, the Kyrgyz Republic has been a beneficiary of the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, enabling the country to export approximately 3,500 products duty-free to the United States. These include most manufactured items; inputs used in manufacturing; jewelry; many types of carpets; certain agricultural and fishery products; and, many types of chemicals, minerals and marble.

In June 2004, the Kyrgyz Republic signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the United States, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The objective of the TIFA is to provide a forum for addressing trade issues and enhancing trade and investment between the United States and Central Asia. The TIFA also provides a platform to address regional trade issues that hamper intra-regional trade, economic development and investment. The TIFA creates a United States-Central Asia Council on Trade and Investment, which is designed to consider a wide range of issues that include, but are not limited to, intellectual property, labor rights, environmental issues and enhancing the participation of small- and medium-sized enterprises in trade and investment.

In August 2015, the Kyrgyz Republic fully acceded to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), joining Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia in the trade bloc giving access to 180 million population market. Though regulations are still being harmonized, free movement of labor, capital, and goods forms the basis of the EAEU.

The U.S.-U.S.S.R. treaty on double taxation, which was signed in 1973, remains in effect between the U.S. and the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyz Republic has also signed double taxation treaties with Armenia, Austria, Belarus, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Moldova, Mongolia, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The legal and regulatory system of the Kyrgyz Republic remains underdeveloped, and implementation regulations and court orders relating to commercial transactions remain inconsistent with international practices. Heavy bureaucracy, lack of accessibility among decision-makers responsible for investment promotion, and frequent changes in leadership due to political instability all undermine investor confidence. Moreover, there is a significant capacity gap between the capital (Bishkek) and regional municipalities, particularly in remote, rural areas, in terms of institutional legal expertise andlocal officials and local law enforcement capacity, which hinders the conduct of business especially in the regions of Kyrgyzstan.

There have been no known cases of U.S. investors facing discrimination.

Rule-making authority is vested in the Kyrgyz Parliament – Jogorku Kenesh, which has established robust committees that oversees legislation and regulations affecting several areas of the economy, including: the Committee on Economic and Fiscal Policy; the Committee on Fuel, Energy, and Subsoil Management; the Committee on Transport, Communications, Architecture, and Construction; and the Committee on Budget and Finance. The Office of the Prosecutor General is the supreme legal and regulatory enforcement body in the Kyrgyz Republic. The State Service on Financial Market Regulation and Supervision (Financial Supervision), the State Service on Financial (Financial Intelligence) and the State Service on Combating Economic Crimes (Financial Police), which was dissolved this year, have played important regulatory roles

Accounting procedures tend to adhere to internationally recognized accounting rules, such as the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), and audits are conducted regularly, often in compliance with agreements with international financial institutions (IFIs). Audit results of state organizations tend to be publicly available, unlike those of private organizations.

There have been lapses in the public consultation process, and significant reductions in transparency of Parliamentary committee meetings and failure to circulate draft bills for public review, including the draft new constitution that will be voted on in the April 11 referendum.

Draft bills or regulations are to be posted on Parliament’s web site and open to public comment for 30 days prior to consideration by Parliament and its committees. Parliament is required by regulation to hold public hearings on draft legislation, and has historically been open to the participation of representatives of civil society organizations and the business community in relevant hearings when held.

The IPPA assists investors with regulatory compliance. However, the efficacy of this office in assisting firms with setting up shop is limited since official bureaucratic procedures comprise only some of the hurdles to opening a business. Investment councils, under the auspices of the Office of the President, Parliament and Prime-Minister respectively, exist to further regulatory improvements for the business climate. Contradictory government decrees often create bureaucratic paralysis or opportunities for bribe solicitation in order to complete normal bureaucratic functions. As often in the Kyrgyz Republic, the legal and regulatory framework is largely sound, but implementation and enforcement are weak.

In February 2021, the government structure underwent “optimization,” which resulted in the significant downsizing of ministries and the dissolution and re-organization of several independent state regulatory bodies. The State Committee for Industry, Energy and Subsoil Use is under the supervision of the Ministry of Energy and Industry and, among its core functions, oversees mining licensing. The State Committee of Information and Communications Technology, responsible for implementation of the Digital Transformation Strategy 2019-2023 was dissolved in 2021 but will re-emerge under a new state body that is still undergoing transition. still in transition. The government also eliminated the State Service of Combating Economic Crimes (Financial Police) and will transfer its authority to investigate economic crimes to a new state body within the combined Ministry of Finance and Economy.

International Regulatory Considerations

In August 2015, the Kyrgyz Republic acceded to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), whose current members also include Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Belarus. The Kyrgyz Republic continues to harmonize its laws to comply with regulations set by the Eurasian Economic Commission, the executive body of the EAEU. However, the Kyrgyz Republic has yet to secure the benefits of increased bilateral trade with EAEU member countries, citing unilaterally imposed trade barriers restricting the flow of Kyrgyz exports. Numerous Kyrgyz entrepreneurs have criticized non-tariff measures that emerged after the country’s accession to the Union, preventing local exporters from fully accessing the wider EAEU market.

The United States and other international partners provided substantial technical assistance to the Kyrgyz Republic in support of its accession to the WTO in 1998, and the country’s regulatory system reflects many international norms and best practices. The Law on the Fundamentals of Technical Regulation in the Kyrgyz Republic, which provides for standardization principles under the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, entered into force in 2004. To Post’s knowledge, the Kyrgyz government notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). In 2016, the Kyrgyz Republic ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The government’s self-stated principles of the reformed legal system of the Kyrgyz Republic are “ideological and political pluralism, a socially oriented market economy, and the expansion of individual rights and freedoms.” Major barriers to foreign investment stem largely from a lack of adequate implementation rather than gaps in existing laws.

The judicial system is technically independent, but political interference and corruption regularly besmirch its reputation and undermine its effectiveness. Resolution of investment disputes within the Kyrgyz Republic depends on several factors, including who the parties are and the amount of investment.

The weak Kyrgyz judicial system often fails to act as an independent arbiter in the resolution of disputes. Since most disputes are lodged by foreign investors against the Kyrgyz Government, local courts often serve as an executor of the authorities’ political agenda. Regulations and enforcement actions can be appealed and are adjudicated in the national court system. International Court of Arbitration at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Kyrgyz Republic (ICA).and the Central Asian Alternative Dispute Resolution Center provide mediation services for public-private disputes, which remain a protracted and often impartial process in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Kyrgyz Republic’s main legal framework for foreign direct investment remains
the “2003 Law on Investments,” including multiple amendments up until December 2020 (http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/1190). The justice system in the Kyrgyz Republic is inefficient and lacks independence, and cases can take years to be resolved. The Kyrgyz Republic does not have a business registration website. The Investment Promotion and Protection Agency of the Kyrgyz Republic (IPPA) maintains the country’s main website for investment queries, https://invest.gov.kg/.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The State Agency for Anti-Monopoly Regulation of the Kyrgyz Republic conducts unified state antitrust price regulation in the economy. The main tasks of the State Agency are to develop and protect competition, to control compliance with legislation in the field of anti-trust, price regulation, to protect the legal rights of consumers against manifestations of monopoly and unfair competition, to ensure observance of legislation on advertising. To Post’s knowledge, there have been no developments in any significant competition cases over the past year.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to the Law on Investments in the Kyrgyz Republic, investments shall not be subject to expropriation, except as provided by Kyrgyz laws when such expropriation is in the public interests and is carried out on a non-discriminatory basis and pursuant to a proper legal procedure with the payment of timely, appropriate, and feasible reparation of damages (including lost profit).

Foreign investors have the right to compensation in the case of government seizure of assets. However, there is little understanding of the distinction between historical book value, replacement value, and actual market value, which brings into question whether the government would provide fair compensation in the event of expropriation. In the mining sector, there is a long history of investment disputes related to government seizure, revocation, or suspension of mining licenses. In May 2021, the Canadian mining company Centerra Gold Inc., the parent company of the subsidiary Kumtor Gold Company, initiated binding arbitration proceedings against the Kyrgyz government, following the government’s ownership takeover of the Kumtor gold mine and levying of a $3 billion fine against the company for alleged environmental damages. Arbitration proceedings remain ongoing.

In April 2016, the government expropriated four Uzbek-owned resorts on Lake Issyk-Kul on the grounds of the claimant’s failure to make payment to the Kyrgyz Social Fund. Post has no information on whether fair market value compensation was offered following expropriation. (The Kyrgyz Law on Investment specifies that the amount of reparation shall be equivalent to the fair market price of the expropriated investment, and that the reparation must be feasible and shall be payable in a freely convertible currency within the term agreed on by the parties.) In December 2017, the Kyrgyz Government returned the resorts to the claimant and extended the temporary rental of the lands on the basis that the claimant withdrew its claim filed to international arbitration, improved infrastructure at the resorts, and guaranteed that 80 percent of labor force will be Kyrgyz citizens.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Kyrgyz Republic is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). It signed the ICSID agreement on June 9, 1995, and ratified it on July 5, 1997. The Kyrgyz Republic became a member of the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards on March 18, 1997.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Code of Arbitration Procedure specifies that, if an international treaty of the Kyrgyz Republic establishes the rules of court procedure, other than those, provided by the legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic, rules of the international treaty shall apply. The U.S.-Kyrgyz BIT outlines procedures by which parties may consent to binding arbitration.

Post is unaware of any claims made by U.S. investors under the agreement since it entered into force. Between 2014 and 2018, twenty lawsuits were filed against the Kyrgyz Republic totaling over $2.2 billion in claims. Eleven international arbitration disputes totaling over $1.5 billion in claims have been awarded as of 2020.

The Kyrgyz government has a history of disputing UNCITRAL and other foreign arbitral awards in favor of the claimant. In a pending case in which a D.C. federal court has issued a default ruling enforcing the award, the Kyrgyz Republic has failed to appear for court appearances. The company has yet to receive compensation, and the Kyrgyz government has sought to undo this ruling.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Code of Arbitration Procedures allows for international and domestic arbitration of disputes. Parties can agree to any judicial institution, including third-party courts within or outside of the Kyrgyz Republic, or domestic or international arbitration. If the parties fail to settle the dispute within three months of the date of the first written request, any investment dispute between an investor and the public authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic will be subject to settlement by the judicial bodies of the Kyrgyz Republic. Any of the parties may initiate a settlement by recourse to: the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes under the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States or; arbitration or a provisional international arbitration tribunal (commercial court) established under the arbitration procedures of the UNCITRAL. Recognition and enforcement of international arbitration awards in the Kyrgyz Republic is carried out in accordance with the New York Convention and Kyrgyz laws. However, there are a number of features related to the recognition and enforcement of arbitration awards. In particular, Kyrgyz law expands a list of the grounds for refusal of recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitration awards in comparison with a list of the grounds referred to in the New York Convention.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Kyrgyz Republic has a written law governing bankruptcy procedures of legal persons and insolvent physical persons (Law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On Bankruptcy” September 22, 1997 with multiple amendments in December 30, 1998, July 1999, September 2000, June 2002, March and August 2005, January and July 2006, June 2007, July 2009, April 2015, June, July and December 2016, May 2017, and December 31, 2019), which covers industrial enterprises and banks, irrespective of the type of ownership, commercial companies, private entrepreneurs, or foreign commercial entities. Bankruptcy proceedings are conducted by the court of arbitration competent for the district in which enterprise is located. The procedure of liquidation can be carried out without the involvement of the judicial bodies if all creditors agree on out-of-court proceedings. Chapter 10 of the law on bankruptcy provides for the possibility of an amicable or peaceful settlement between the enterprise and its creditors, which can be made at any stage of the liquidation process. The World Bank ranked the Kyrgyz Republic 78 out of 190 countries in “Resolving Insolvency” in its 2020 Doing Business report.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Kyrgyz Government has reduced the tax burden on repatriation of profits by foreign investors to conform to the tax rate for domestic investors. The Ministry of Economy and IPPA often express the government’s willingness to discuss potential incentives, including access to land, with specific foreign investors. To attract investment in the IT sector, the Kyrgyz government has created a “zero-tax zone” at the High Technology Park of the Kyrgyz Republic, which waives tax burden for companies in which 80 percent of total products and services are exported.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are five Free Economic Zones (FEZs) in the Kyrgyz Republic: Bishkek, Naryn, Karakol (Issyk-Kul province), Leylek (Batken province) and Maimak (Talas province). Each is situated to make use of transportation infrastructure and/or customs posts along the Kyrgyz borders. Government incentives for investment in the zones include exemption from several taxes, duties and payments, simplified customs procedures, and direct access to utility suppliers. The production and sale of petroleum, liquor, and tobacco products in FEZs are banned. Additional information on FEZs can be found at https://invest.gov.kg/free-economic-zones/.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

While there are no formal legal requirements for local employment, most major international investors are subject to tremendous public pressure to support threshold local employment, particularly in the mining and construction sectors. New investors may find local employment quotas included in potential investment agreements, mandating numbers for boards of directors, senior management, and/or other employees. The Kyrgyz Government does not enforce any “forced localization” policies. There are no known government/authority-imposed conditions on permission to invest. The U.S.-Kyrgyz Bilateral Investment Treaty ensures that investments are guaranteed freedom from performance requirements, including requirements to use local products or to exports local goods. Foreign investors may freely transmit customer or other business-related data outside the country’s territory upon their own need as long as it does not contradict with local law on investments.

There are no known instances of requiring foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. There is no legislation on maintaining data storage within the country.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Inviolability of property rights is written in the Kyrgyz Constitution and the Civil Code. In the National Development Strategy for 2018-2040, the Kyrgyz Government identified property rights as one of the priority areas for strengthening investment climate in the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyz Republic was first among its neighboring Central Asian states to introduce private property rights for land ownership. The Kyrgyz Republic is among the easiest countries in which to register property, ranking 7th out of 190 countries (ranked 8th in 2017, 2018 and 2019) in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report.

Mortgages and liens are common in the Kyrgyz Republic and operate according to relevant legislation. The State Registration Service is the major operator of a recording system (database) on property under mortgage/lien commitments. When providing mortgages, local banks must request a reference from the State Registration Service that confirms the property is not under lien. However, several have questioned the reliability of the recording system, and the Service itself is frequently subject to allegations of corruption.

There are a number of legal restrictions on the right of foreign persons to own land in the Kyrgyz Republic. The land rights of foreign persons are limited to the following:

  • Foreign persons may not own or use agricultural land.
  • Foreign persons may not own or use any land except residential land, which has been foreclosed under a mortgage loan agreement in accordance with Kyrgyz Pledge Law. Foreclosed agricultural land may belong to foreign banks and specialized financial institutions but only for the period of two years (http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/386).
  • Foreign persons may use non-residential land transferred thereto by way of universal succession, except agricultural and mining use land, subject to permission of the Kyrgyz Government, for the period of up to 50 years.
  • Foreign persons who have acquired ownership of land by way of universal succession (inheritance, reorganization) must transfer such land to a Kyrgyz national or legal entity within one year from the date of acquiring such ownership.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Kyrgyz Republic has robust legislation protecting intellectual property (IP)  and the country is a signatory to several IP related international treaties; enforcement remains problematic. The State Service for Intellectual Property and Innovation under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic (“Kyrgyzpatent”) is the authorized body of the Executive Branch that issues documents to certify intellectual property. Kyrgyzpatent establishes the Appeal Council that is the primary body to hear intellectual property related disputes. The judicial system remains underdeveloped and lacks independence and the appeals process can be lengthy.

The Kyrgyz Republic is obligated to protect intellectual property rights as a member of the WTO. The Kyrgyz Republic acceded to both the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty in 2002. The Kyrgyz Republic was not included in the 2019 Special 301 report but was listed on the 2019 U.S. Trade Representative’s Notorious Markets report, due to the availability of counterfeit goods sold at the massive Dordoi bazaar – Central Asia’s largest market. Counterfeit goods imported from China are also re-exported to Russia and Kazakhstan. No specific action has been taken against Dordoi market. The Kyrgyz Republic did not pass any new IPR related laws or regulations in 2020.

IPR-related codes, laws and regulations of the Kyrgyz Republic are listed on Kyrgyzpatent’s website. The few pending IPR bills listed on the Parliament’s website are mainly aimed to make minor changes into the existing governmental IPR-related decrees ( http://patent.kg/ru/sample-page-5-4/sample-page-2-2-3/). Criminal liability for violation of IPR is listed in the Criminal Code. Unfortunately, enforcement is lax and according to sources, there have been no successful prosecution for IPR violations in the history of the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyz Republic is not known as a major producer of counterfeit goods but sale/re-export of imported counterfeit goods remains prevalent. The State Customs Service regularly publishes alerts and notifications on the recent seizure of counterfeit goods on its official website. There is no central database of official statistics on the seizure of counterfeit goods to date. IPPA has a whole chapter on its website dedicated to IPR.

Resources for Rights Holders

Contact at Mission:
Munara Niiazova
Commercial Assistant
+996 312 59 76 07
NiiazovaME@state.gov

Country/Economy Resources:
American Chamber of Commerce
Address: 191 Abdrakhmanov Street, Office #123
Phone: +996 312 623 389, 623 395
Fax: +996 312 623 406
E-mail: pa.amcham@gmail.com, memberservices@amcham.kg

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Kyrgyz government is generally open toward foreign portfolio investment, though experts from international financial institutions (IFIs) have noted that capital markets in the Kyrgyz Republic remain underdeveloped. The economy of the Kyrgyz Republic is primarily cash-based, although non-cash consumer transactions, such as debit cards and transaction machines, have quadrupled.  The number of bank payment cards in use increased by 2.5 times and e-wallets 10 times in the last five years. The Kyrgyz Republic maintained its B2 sovereign credit rating with Moody’s, which downgraded its outlook in November 2020 from stable to negative due to political instability. The government debt market is small and limited to short maturities, though Kyrgyz bonds are available for foreign ownership. Broadly, credit is allocated on market terms, but experts have noted that the presence of the Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund subsidized sources of credit have introduced market distortions. Bank loans remain the primary source of private sector credit, and local portfolio investors often highlight the need to develop additional financial instruments in the Kyrgyz Republic. There are two stock exchanges in the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyz Stock Exchange and Stock Exchange of the Kyrgyz Republic), but all transactions are conducted through the Kyrgyz Stock Exchange. In 2020, the total value of transactions amounted to 11.83 billion Kyrgyz soms (approximately USD 140 million). The small market lacks sufficient liquidity to enter and exit sizeable positions. Since 1995, the Kyrgyz Republic has accepted IMF Article VIII obligations. Foreign investors are able to acquire loans on the local market if the business is operating on the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic and collateral meets the requirements of local banks. The average interest rate for loans in USD is between 10-15 percent.

Money and Banking System

The National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic (NBKR) is a nominally independent body whose mandate is to achieve and maintain price stability through monetary policy. The Bank is also tasked with maintaining the safety and reliability of the banking and payment systems. The NBKR licenses, regulates, and supervises credit institutions. The penetration level of the banking sector is 48.4 percent.

According to the IMF, the Kyrgyz banking system at present remains well capitalized with still sizeable, non-performing loans (NPLs). NPLs increased from 8.0 percent to 10.5 percent in 2020, with restructured loans of about 25 percent. Net capital adequacy ratio increased from 24.1 percent to 24.9 percent in 2020. Total assets in the Kyrgyz banking system in 2020 equaled approximately USD 3.4 billion. As of June 2020, the Kyrgyz Republic’s three largest banks by total assets were Optima Bank (approximately USD 430 million), Aiyl Bank (approximately USD 353 million), and Kyrgyz Investment and Credit Bank (KICB; approximately USD 328 million).

There are currently 23 commercial banks in the Kyrgyz Republic, with 312 operating branches throughout the country; the five largest banks comprise more than 50 percent of the total market. No U.S. bank operates in the Kyrgyz Republic and Kyrgyz banks do not maintain correspondent accounts from U.S. financial institutions, following widespread de-risking in 2018. There are ten foreign banks operating in the Kyrgyz Republic: Demir Bank, National Bank of Pakistan, Halyk Bank, Optima Bank, Finca Bank, Bai-Tushum Bank, Amanbank, Kyrgyz-Swiss Bank, Chang An Bank,and Kompanion Bank are entirely foreign held. Other banks are partially foreign held, including KICB and BTA Bank. KICB has multinational organizations as shareholders including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Economic Finance Corporation, the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development and others.

The micro-finance sector in the Kyrgyz Republic is robust, representing nearly 10 percent the market size of the banking sector. Trade accounted for 37.5 percent of the total loan portfolio of the banking sector, followed by agriculture (29 percent) and consumer loans (12.5 percent). The microfinance sector in the Kyrgyz Republic is rapidly growing. In 2020, around 140 microfinance companies, 92 credit unions, 220 pawnshops and 421 currency exchange offices operated in the Kyrgyz Republic. Over the last five years, the three largest microfinance companies (Bai-Tushum, FINCA, and Kompanion) transformed into banks with full banking licenses.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Foreign exchange is widely available and rates are competitive. The local currency, the Kyrgyz som, is freely convertible and stable compared to other currencies in the region. While the som is a floating currency, the NBKR periodically intervenes in the market to mitigate the risk of exchange rate shocks. Given significant currency fluctuations among Post-Soviet countries in 2020, the Kyrgyz som was one of the most stable currencies, with the dollar exchange rate rising 18.9 percent over the year. In 2020, the NBKR conducted 29 foreign exchange interventions and in total, sold USD 265.9 million. The NBKR conducts weekly inter-bank currency auctions, in which competitive bids determine market-based transaction prices. Banks usually clear payments within a single business day. Complaints of currency conversion issues are rare. With occasional exceptions in the agricultural and energy sectors, barter transactions have largely been phased out.

Remittance Policies

Remittances typically account for 25-30 percent of GDP. In 2020 net remittances reached $2.37 billion, a 1,25 percent reduction from 2019. In January 2020, the Central Bank of Russia increased the cap on monthly money transfers to the Kyrgyz Republic to 150,000 rubles. (Note: In July 2019, the Central Bank of Russia had lowered the cap on money transfers per month to the Kyrgyz Republic to 100,000 ruble.)

In May 2019, the follow up assessment by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) concluded that the Kyrgyz Republic demonstrated political commitment in improving its anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism, and in addressing technical compliance deficiencies identified in the 2018 Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) assessment. However, the country still lacks a comprehensive national risk assessment and underlying risk-based approach for monitoring and identifying suspicious activities.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Kyrgyz Republic’s Sovereign Wealth Fund originated from proceeds of the Kumtor gold mine and is composed of shares in the parent company of the gold mine operator, Centerra Gold. The Kyrgyz Republic owns roughly 77.4 million shares of the company, which are currently valued at USD 836 million.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are approximately 106 SOEs in the Kyrgyz Republic that play a significant role in the local economy. However 51 SOEs out of them are not profitable. The State Property Management Fund of the Kyrgyz Republic (www.fgi.gov/kg) is the public executive authority representing the interests of the state. The purpose of the Fund is to ensure the efficiency of the use, management, and privatization of state property. Information on allocations to and earnings from SOEs is included in budget execution reports and is published (in Russian) by the Ministry of Finance and Economy (www.minfin.kg).

Information on SOE assets, earnings, profitability, working capital, and other financial indicators is available on the State Property Management Fund’s website (http://finance.page.kg/index.php?act=svod_profit), though the website is not actively maintained. The State Property Management Fund also reviews the budgets for the largest SOEs, while the Accounting Chamber reviews the accounts of all SOEs and publishes audit reports on their website (www.esep.kg ).

The Kyrgyz Republic does not fully adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs. Cronyism and corruption within SOEs are a major obstacle to the Kyrgyz Republic’s economic development. The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Economic Freedom report noted, elected officials appoint company board members based on political loyalty rather than professional skills and corporate governance knowledge. Positions on boards of directors are frequently used as rewards for political support, and the dynamic has reinforced the patronage system and resulted in poor economic performance and public service delivery. As of February 2021, the presidential decree on “State Personnel Hiring Policy” authorizes the State Personnel Service to direct all state agencies and SOEs to verify the qualifications of all candidates, including education and professional experience, as the basis for personnel appointments.

The government has attempted to improve transparency on contracts and bidding processes. Due to widespread corruption, there are common complaints that only individual government officials have access to government contracts and bidding processes. SOEs purchase goods and services from the private firms and usually place the calls for bids either on their websites or in public newspapers, as required. Private enterprises have the same access to financing as SOEs and are subject to the same tax burden. In some cases, SOEs have preferential access to land and raw materials.

In 2019, the Kyrgyz government established the National Managing Company JSC, a central holding company, to manage all 106 SOEs. The National Managing Company is wholly-owned by the Kyrgyz Government with a charter capital of USD 1.3 million. The intention of the centralized management system is to support poor-performing SOEs by facilitating more effective decision-making aimed at attracting management talent, additional resources, and investments in strategic SOE enterprises. Based on government assessments, as of November 2019, 51 companies out of 106 SOEs and 22 JSCs out of 52 were operating at a loss.

Privatization Program

The Kyrgyz government periodically auctions rights to subsoil usage and broadcasts tender announcements, including disseminating information to diplomatic missions, in order to attract foreign investors. There are no restrictions on foreign investors participating in privatization programs. The privatization process is not well defined and is subject to change. There is ongoing deliberation on the privatization of other state-owned assets, such as the postal service and the capital’s international airport, but lack of interest by private partners has stalled any potential moves.

The Kyrgyz government is no longer actively pursuing sale of its 100 percent stake in Megacom, the country’s largest telecommunications company. In 2015, the Kyrgyz government agreed to privatize AlfaTelecom (operating as MegaCom). In February 2017, the government authorities arrested the head of Parliament’s leading opposition faction, charging him with corruption based on allegations that he received a bribe from a Russian businessman in connection with the sale of a MegaCom stake in 2010. After years of delays, the Kyrgyz government announced it would auction its 100 percent stake in MegaCom in July 2017. To date, the Kyrgyz government has been unable to divest itself of the telecommunications firm.

Foreign investors – both companies and individuals – are generally able to participate in public auctions of state-owned properties unless specifically prohibited in the terms and conditions. There are, however, some land legislation restrictions concerning the property rights of foreigners. Information about terms and conditions of SOE sales are posted on the State Property Management Fund’s website (www.fgi.gov.kg).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Kyrgyz Government does not factor responsibility business conduct (RBC) policies or practices into its procurement decisions. Historically, the mining sector has been a lightning rod for public controversy concerning RBC violations. From 2017-2019, local residents staged rallies to protest against small gold mining operations owned and operated by Chinese and other foreign-owned mining companies based on claims of their detrimental impact on the environment.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not a fully developed concept or practice. Most companies have not yet developed the capacity to coordinate with civil society on this level. The companies that generally demonstrate CSR are large, foreign-owned companies that participate in or lead industry-strengthening training sessions, work with local universities to develop internship programs and donate to national development projects. Many new large investors, particularly in natural resource extraction, find that there is a requirement to establish a sizeable “social development fund” as a prerequisite for doing business in the Kyrgyz Republic. Charitable donations are not tax deductible.

The Kyrgyz Republic is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). According to the online license register of the State Committee on Industry, Energy, and Subsoil Use, the Kyrgyz Republic currently has 2413 active extractive licenses, and EITI covers more than 95 percent of mining revenues in the Kyrgyz Republic. The EITI Board in September 2020 decided that Kyrgyz Republic has made meaningful progress with considerable improvements in implementing the 2016 Standard.

Child labor is still used in the country especially in the country’s sizeable shadow economy which includes agriculture, bazaars (transportation of goods, shoes cleaning, sales of beverages and food etc), service sector and construction. In 2019, the Kyrgyz Republic made minimal advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, though a regressive moratorium on business inspections severely limits the labor inspectorate’s capacity to investigate child labor violations. The government passed a policy package that established a National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking, and drafted a new National Action Plan for 2020–2024 on the Prevention and Eradication of Child Labor.

There are a number of private security companies in Kyrgyz Republic, including around 50 private security companies. The Kyrgyz Republic is not currently a member of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, and is not a supporter of the International Code of Conduct or Private Security Service Providers, nor a participant in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA).

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption remains a serious problem at all levels of Kyrgyz society and in all sectors of the economy. All companies are recommended to establish internal codes of conduct, above all, to prohibit the bribery of public officials. There are laws criminalizing the giving and accepting of bribes, establishing penalties ranging from a small administrative fine to a prison sentence. However, the government’s enforcement of anti-corruption legislation has been notoriously uneven and often politically motivated.

According to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index, the Kyrgyz Republic ranked 124 out of 176 countries rated, climbing from its position of 132 in 2016. Kyrgyz politicians and citizens alike are aware of the systemic corruption, but the problem has been difficult to fight. Moreover, many in the Kyrgyz Republic view paying of bribes as the most efficient way to receive government assistance and many, albeit indirectly, gain benefits from corrupt practices. The Kyrgyz Republic is a signatory of the UN Anticorruption Convention but is not party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. The anticorruption service within the State Committee for National Security has taken action against a limited number of ministers and parliamentarians. Over the past year, instances of corruption-related arrests against public figures from the political opposition have increased, and since October 2020 state law enforcement agencies detained nearly 60 people on corruption charges.

In recent years, anti-corruption campaigners and Kyrgyz journalists involved in investigating corruption have been subject to intimidation and physical assault, as well as detention on unrelated charges. Such incidents are rarely investigated thoroughly by law enforcement.

In October 2020, the government instituted a policy of “economic amnesty” for corruption, if the perpetrator returns stolen assets. The legality of such amnesty has been disputed by international experts, and a number of high-profile arrests have resulted in swift release following payment of fines.

U.S. companies seeking to do business in the Kyrgyz Republic, regardless of their size, should assess the business climate in the relevant sector in which they will be operating or investing, and conduct due diligence to ensure full compliance with measures to prevent and detect corruption, including bribery. U.S. individuals and firms operating or investing in foreign markets should take the time to become familiar with the relevant anticorruption laws of both the Kyrgyz Republic and the United States in order to properly comply with them, and where appropriate, they should seek the advice of legal counsel.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

The Kyrgyz Republic ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in September 2005.  The Kyrgyz Republic is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery.

Hotline of the Anti-corruption Service of the State Committee for National Security:

Bishkek
Zhibek-Zholu Street
+996 (312) 660020
aks.gknb@gmail.com

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Mukanova N.A., General Secretary
Anticorruption Business Council of the Kyrgyz Republic
Ministry of Economy
114 Chui Avenue, Bishkek
+996 312 895 496
secretariat.adc@gmail.com
www.adc.kg

10. Political and Security Environment

The Kyrgyz Republic has a history of political upheaval, most recently in October 2020 when violent election protests ultimately resulted in the annulment of the election results and removal of former President Jeenbekov, who was replaced on an interim basis by current President Sadyr Japarov, who was elected in January 2021. Since independence, the Kyrgyz Republic has had 30 different prime ministers, often necessitating a change in cabinet members with the introduction of each new head of government. In 2005, 2010, and 2020 mass protests against government corruption precipitated the ouster of the country’s elected president. From 2010, the country experienced a period of relative political stability, and in October 2015, the Kyrgyz Republic successfully conducted competitive national parliamentary elections, and a nationwide Constitutional Referendum was held in December 2016. Another Constitutional Referendum is scheduled for April 2021.

In the days following the October 2020 toppling of the government and installation of the interim government led by Sadyr Japarov, political instability spilled over into the commercial sector; following the election protests, local marauders looted and raided the offices and facilities of multiple foreign-joint venture mining enterprises. In the recent past, the extractive resources companies have been the target of localized instability in 2018 and 2019, after relative calm in 2015 and 2016.

The Kyrgyz government has used aggressive tactics for political or economic leverage in negotiations with international companies. In May 2021, the Kyrgyz government assumed full control of the Kumtor Gold Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canadian gold mining company Centerra Gold Inc, following a local court ruling that fined the Canadian company $3 billion for environmental damages. Foreign-affiliated companies have been subjected to local protests, at times resulting in vandalism and violence. In 2019, the majority Chinese company Zhong Ji Mining suspended operations at the Solton-Sary gold mine following violent clashes with hundreds of local residents who blamed the company for environmental degradation. In December 2019, hundreds of protestors demanded local authorities of the Naryn Free Economic Trade Zone to cancel the land lease of a Chinese-Kyrgyz enterprise, resulting in the suspension of a major customs and trade logistics complex. Chinese investment projects continue to be treated with more significant scrutiny and pushback by local residents, relative to Russian, Korean, Japanese, and Western investment initiatives. Since the October incidents, local and foreign businesses show increasing concern about the government’s commitment to ensure the protection of private property and assets.

Supporters of extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Al-Qaeda, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) remain active in Central Asia. These groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and could potentially target U.S.-affiliated organizations and business interests. In August 2016, a suicide bomber, reportedly affiliated with ETIM and trained in Syria, detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device inside the Chinese Embassy compound in Bishkek, located less than 200 yards from the U.S. Embassy. The attack reportedly killed the perpetrator and injured four others, in addition to causing extensive damage. The United States has cooperated with the Kyrgyz Government to improve border and internal security and efforts to return Kyrgyz citizens from conflicts in Iraq and Syria are ongoing. Interethnic tensions persist in the southern part of the country but remain relatively contained from the rest of the country. In the Batken region, demarcation along portions of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek and Kyrgyz-Tajik borders are in dispute. These disputed areas occasionally experience skirmishes between border guards that have resulted in crossfire violence, sometimes involving civilians.

The political and security climate in the Kyrgyz Republic remains fraught with uncertainty as the Japarov administration pursues sweeping constitutional changes to strengthen the powers of the presidency. A resurgence of COVID-19 could not only damage the country’s fragile economy, it may also be the catalyst for further political instability.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

There is significant competition for skilled and educated individuals in the Kyrgyz labor market as many qualified Kyrgyz citizens find more lucrative job opportunities abroad, and the nation’s education system has largely failed to keep pace with advancing educational needs within many sectors. International organizations are generally able to employ competent staff, often bilingual in English or other languages. However, a shortage of highly qualified local candidates in IT, mining, energy, and manufacturing, forces international organizations to rely on expatriates for these skills. The official unemployment rate is approximately seven percent, though experts estimate the number of actual unemployed individuals exceeds this figure. Approximately one million Kyrgyz citizens work abroad because of limited opportunities in the Kyrgyz Republic.

There are no government policies that require hiring Kyrgyz nationals, though it is often added as a condition for investment, particularly in the mining sector. There are no restrictions on employers adjusting to fluctuating market, including hiring and firing workers at will. Many private companies use temporary or contract workers. The Labor Code does not provide any special conditions in order to attract investment. Labor unions are independent and are not subject to state bodies, employers, political parties, or other unions. In practice, labor unions have been inactive on advocating and enforcing the protection of workers’ rights.

Workers have the right to form and join trade unions. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, organize, and bargain collectively. Workers may strike, but the requirement to receive formal approval has made striking difficult and complicated. The law prohibits government employees from striking, but the prohibition does not apply to teachers or medical professionals. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers. Labor disputes are settled by Commission for Labor Disputes (established within all organizations with 10 or more employees), by the authorized state body, or by courts of the Kyrgyz Republic. The employee has the right to choose one of these bodies to settle the dispute. However, in March 2021, the Parliament hastily approved a controversial bill that will require all trade unions to be affiliated with the government sanctioned Federation of Trade Union. If signed by the President, the bill would violate the principle “freedom of association” enshrined in international labor rights, and the principle of independence of trade union organizations.

Safety and health conditions in factories are generally poor and weakly enforced by the government. Workers in the informal economy, which makes up 25-35 percent of the economy have neither legal protection nor mandated safety standards. The law establishes occupational health and safety standards, and the State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for protecting workers and carrying out inspections in the event that worker safety and well-being is compromised. Limited staffing and the temporary moratorium on all business inspections from January 1, 2019 until January 1, 2022, inhibits unannounced workplace site-visits. See more at: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm#wrapper

The Labor Code of the country complies with all required international laws and treaties, but gaps remain in protecting the rights of individuals employed by private companies. Many employees are hired based on basic or even oral agreements and lack knowledge of their rights.

In January 2017, amendments to the Labor Code of the Kyrgyz Republic entered into force that strengthened labor rights and protections for people under the age of 18. The law now prohibits people under the age of 18 from being sent on business trips, engaging in overtime work, night shifts, and working on days off or official holidays. However, child labor laws are not uniformly enforced.

The U.S. Embassy is unaware of the Kyrgyz government’s efforts to implement OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas or OECD or UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

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

The United States signed a bilateral OPIC (predecessor to DFC) agreement with the Kyrgyz Republic in 1992. OPIC financed part of the campus expansion of the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek and the University of Central Asia in Naryn.

Bank lending and international donor financing remain the primary mechanisms by which businesses in the Kyrgyz Republic seek to fund expansion projects. Few investment funds exist and operate in the Kyrgyz Republic. There are no new DFC-funded projects in the Kyrgyz Republic to date, but the lower-middle income country is considered a priority for DFC funding opportunities. The DFC currently supports two portfolio loan guarantees with two local banks to increase lending to Kyrgyz businesses. DFC products have the potential to facilitate social and commercial infrastructure developments, expand small and medium enterprise lending and assist the development of private equity funds in the Kyrgyz Republic, which are currently few in number.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $7,740 2019 $8,455 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 4.8 2019 38 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 2.8 2019 0 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 2,5 UNCTAD data available at

https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 

*Source for Host Country Data: National Statistics Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic: http://www.stat.kg; http://www.stat.kg/ru/opendata/category/2315/; http://www.stat.kg/ru/opendata/category/4428/; http://www.stat.kg/ru/statistics/investicii/

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 5,886 100% Total Outward 627 100%
China 1,521 27% Canada 611 57%
Canada 1,519 22% China 94.3 16%
Russian Federation 1,073 22% Tajikistan 54 14%
United Kingdom 406 7% Germany 1 11%
Kazakhstan 239 4% United Kingdom 1 1%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available. The Kyrgyz Republic has limited stock and bond markets for portfolio investors. The country is not listed on the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) site. It is unlikely the country has any large portfolio investors.

14. Contact for More Information

Dong-Thu Caohuu

Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy in the Kyrgyz Republic
171 Prospekt Mira
Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic 720016
+996-312-597-000

Maldives

Executive Summary

The Republic of Maldives comprises 1,190 islands in 20 atolls spread over 348 square miles in the Indian Ocean.  Tourism is the main source of economic activity for Maldives, directly contributing close to 30 percent of GDP and generating more than 60 percent of foreign currency earnings.  The tourism sector experienced impressive growth, from 655,852 arrivals in 2009 to 1.7 million in 2019, before a steep decline in 2020 resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Tourism began to recover in late 2020 and will continue to drive the economy.  However, following the COVID-19 outbreak, the government has re-emphasized the need to diversify the economy, with a focus on the fisheries and agricultural sectors.

GDP growth averaged six percent during the past decade, lifting Maldives to middle-income country status.  Per capita GDP is estimated at USD 11,890, the highest in South Asia.  However, income inequality and a lack of job opportunities remain a major concern for Maldivians, especially those in isolated atolls.  Following the COVID-19 outbreak, GDP fell 29.3 percent in 2020; following nascent signs of recovery in the tourism industry, the government forecast growth in 2021 to reach 13.5 percent.

Maldives is a multi-party constitutional democracy, but the transition from long-time autocracy to democracy has been challenging.  Maldives’ parliament ratified a new constitution in 2008 that provided for the first multi-party presidential elections.  In 2018, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party was elected president, running on a platform of economic and political reforms and transparency, following former President Abdulla Yameen whose term in office was marked by corruption, systemic limitations on the independence of parliament and the judiciary, and restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and association.  The MDP also won a super majority (65 out of 87) seats in parliamentary elections in April 2019, the first single-party majority in Maldives since 2008.  President Solih pledged to restore democratic institutions and the freedom of the press, re-establish the justice system, and protect fundamental rights.

Corruption across all sectors, including tourism, was a significant issue under the previous government and remains a concern.  There also remain serious concerns about a small number of violent Maldivian extremists who advocate for attacks against secular Maldivians and may be involved with transnational terrorist groups. In February 2020, attackers stabbed three foreign nationals – two Chinese and one Australian – in several locations in Hulhumalé.  ISIS claimed responsibility for an April arson incident on Mahibadhoo Island in Alifu Dhaalu atoll that destroyed eight sea vessels, including one police boat, according to ISIS’ online newsletter al-Naba. There were no injuries or fatalities.

Large scale infrastructure construction in recent years contributed to economic growth but has resulted in a significant rise in debt.  The Maldives’ debt-to-GDP ratio increased from 58.5 percent in 2018 to an estimated 61.8 percent in 2019 according to the World Bank (WB); this further increased to 138 percent in 2020 according to the Ministry of Finance, an increase driven by a sharp drop-off in government revenue.

Maldives welcomes foreign investment, although the ambiguity of codified law and competition from politically influential local businesses act as deterrents.  U.S. investment in Maldives thus far has been limited, and focused on the tourism sector, particularly hotel franchising and air transportation.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 75 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 147 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 N/A https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $9,680 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Maldives opened to foreign investment in the late 1980s and currently pursues an open policy for foreign investment, although the weak and, in some cases, arcane system of laws and regulations deter some investment.

Foreign investments in Maldives have primarily involved resort management, but also include telecommunications, accounting, banking, insurance, air transport, real estate, courier services, and some manufacturing.

The former administration began holding an annual investor forum in 2014 to showcase priority public and private sector investment projects, but the new government has not committed to hosting the annual forum.

Invest Maldives, an organization within the Ministry of Economic Development, is the government’s investment promotion arm.  Services provided by Invest Maldives include promoting Maldives as an investment destination, providing information to potential investors about the Maldives, guidance on investment approval and business registration, and facilitating the licensing of business.  As of March 2021, the Invest Maldives website was not functional.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Maldives allows foreign parties to register companies and partnerships but does not allow foreign parties to register cooperative societies or as a sole proprietor. Under a new Foreign Direct Investment policy established in February 2020, foreign investment is allowed in all major sectors of the economy apart from the following areas, which are restricted for locals only:

  1. Forestry
  2. Mining of sand
  3. Other mining and quarrying
  4. Manufacture of tobacco products
  5. Manufacture of wood and of products of wood and cork except furniture
  6. Manufacture of rubber and plastics products
  7. Manufacture of handicrafts and souvenirs
  8. Retail trade
  9. Wholesale trade in sectors except construction materials
  10. Land transport services and transport via pipelines
  11. Postal and courier activities
  12. Logistics activities (in transportation and storage)
  13. Operating picnic islands
  14. Food and beverage service activities (including café, restaurants, bakeries, and other eateries)
  15. Programming and broadcasting activities
  16. Legal activities (law firms etc.)
  17. Photography and videography
  18. Rental and leasing activities (including lease of heavy-duty machineries etc.)
  19. Employment activities such as employment agencies and recruitment services
  20. Travel agency, tour operator, reservation service and related activities
  21. Services to building and landscape activities
  22. Public administration and defense; compulsory social security
  23. Clinics except physiotherapy clinics
  24. Repair of computers and personal and household goods

The following sectors are open for foreign investment with a cap on equity ownership:

  1. Manufacture of fish products (75 percent)
  2. Manufacture of agricultural products (75 percent)
  3. Printing and reproduction of recorded media (49 percent)
  4. Manufacture of furniture (75 percent)
  5. Repair and installation of machinery and equipment (75 percent)
  6. Installation of equipment that forms an integral part of buildings or similar structures, such as installation of escalators and elevators (40 percent)
  7. Construction of buildings (65 percent)
  8. Civil engineering (65 percent)
  9. Wholesale trade of construction materials (75 percent)
  10. Franchising in international airports and approved locations (including products & services) (75 percent)
  11. Sea transport services (including ownership of vessels) (49 percent)
  12. Air transport services (including freight services) (75 percent)
  13. Warehousing and support activities for transportation (75 percent)
  14. Guest houses in approved locations (inclusive of all services) (49 percent)
  15. Real estate activities (65 percent)
  16. Accounting activities (75 percent)
  17. Architecture and engineering activities; technical testing and analysis (75 percent)
  18. Advertising (60 percent)
  19. Other professional, scientific, and technical activities (75 percent)
  20. Veterinary services (75 percent)
  21. Security and investigation activities (75 percent)
  22. Office administrative, office support and other business support activities (75 percent)
  23. Universities and colleges (75 percent)
  24. Private schools (75 percent)
  25. Computer training institutions (75 percent)
  26. Vocational and technical educational institutes (75 percent)
  27. Sports and recreation education (75 percent)
  28. Engineering schools (training and conduction of courses related to aircraft engineering) (75 percent)
  29. Educational support activities (75 percent)
  30. Residential care services (75 percent)
  31. Social work activities without accommodation (75 percent)
  32. Physiotherapy clinics (75 percent)
  33. Creative, arts and entertainment activities (excluding live music bands and DJs) (75 percent)
  34. Libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural activities (75 percent)
  35. Sports activities and amusement and recreation activities (75 percent)
  36. Water sports activities (49 percent)
  37. Dive centers and dive schools (75 percent)

The following conditions are applied to foreign investments in the construction sector, as per the foreign contractor regulation:

  • Construction companies valued below USD 5,000,000 are required to be at least 35 percent Maldivian owned.
  • Construction companies valued above USD 5,000,000 may be 100 percent foreign owned.

There is little private ownership of land; most land is leased from the government, but Maldivians are permitted to hold title to land.  In August 2019, parliament repealed a July 2015 constitutional amendment that allowed foreigners to own land and islands in connection with major projects, provided they invested at least USD 1 billion and at least 70 percent of the land was reclaimed.  Currently, there are no property and real estate laws or mechanisms to allow foreign persons to hold title to land.

The Land Act allows foreigners to lease land on inhabited islands for up to a maximum of 50 years, but there is no formal process for registration of leasehold titles.  The Uninhabited Land Act allows foreigners to lease land on uninhabited islands for purposes other than tourism for a maximum of 21 years for investments amounting to less than USD 1 million and up to a maximum of 50 years for investments over USD 10 million.  A 2010 amendment to the Tourism Act allows investors to lease an island for 50 years in general.  A subsequent 2014 amendment allows the extension of resort leases up to 99 years for a payment of USD 5 million.  The changes aim to incentivize investors, make it easier to obtain financing from international institutions, and increase revenue for the government.  Leases can be renewed at the end of their terms, but the formula for assessing compensation value of a resort at the end of a lease has not been developed.  In 2016, Parliament approved additional amendments to the Tourism Act, whereby islands and lagoons can be leased for tourism development based on unsolicited proposals submitted to the Tourism Ministry (Law No: 13/2016).

The Ministry of Economic Development screens and reviews all foreign investment proposals.  The process includes standard due diligence efforts such as a local police screening of all investors, determining the financial standing of the proposed shareholders through a bank reference, and performing a background check on the investors involved.  According to the government, each case is reviewed based on its merits accounting for factors such as the number of existing investors in the sector and the potential for employment and technology transfer.  In practice, the investment review process is not as transparent as policy would indicate, with potential for corruption to influence the decision-making process.

The approval procedure for foreign investments is as follows:

  1. Submit a completed Foreign Investment Application form to the Ministry of Economic Development, available at gov.mv.
  2. Walk-in consultations are available for foreign investors who may wish to discuss their proposals prior to submitting an application.
  3. Receive approval
  4. The standard processing time is three working days; however, if relevant ministries must be consulted, the approval may take 10-14 days.
  5. Register a business vehicle
  6. Once approval is received, an investor must register as a company, partnership, or a company which has been incorporated in another jurisdiction.
  7. Application forms for registering as a legal vehicle are available from the ministry’s website.
  8. Sign the Foreign Investment Agreement with the Ministry of Economic Development.
  9. This Agreement outlines the terms and conditions related to carrying out the specific business in Maldives. For tourism sector investments, a Foreign Investment Agreement is not required as the land lease signed with the Ministry of Tourism governs all matters relating to tourism businesses in Maldives.
  10. Obtain licenses and permits.
  11. Sectors which require operating licenses include fisheries and agriculture, banking and finance, health, tourism, transport, construction, and education.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The most recent World Trade Organization trade policy review was conducted in March 2016: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp432_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

Maldives ranked 147 out of 190 on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index in 2019, scoring especially low on getting electricity; registering property; trading across borders; protecting minority investors; getting credit; and resolving insolvency.  On average, it takes six steps and 12 days to start a business.

The Ministry of Economic Development manages the process for business incorporations, permits, licenses and registration of logos, trade markets, seals, and other processes.  The Ministry’s website details relevant policies and procedures: http://www.trade.gov.mv

The Ministry of Economic Development also maintains an online business portal at https://business.egov.mv/  to access the following services: Name Reservation; Business Name Registration; Sole Proprietorship registration submission; Company Registration Submission; SME Categorization; Issuance of Corporate Profile Sheet; Logo Registration; Seal Registration; Trade Mark Registration, Request for Certificate of Incumbency; Request for Letter of Good Standing; and a Request for re-issuance of registration certificate.  Foreign investment companies, including entities with any foreign shareholding, must receive foreign investment approval before they can register online.

As of March 2021, the government was drafting amendments to the Companies Act, Electronic Transactions Bill, and Mercantile Court Bill. A Bankruptcy Bill was submitted to Parliament in 2020 and is in the committee stage as of March 2021.  These bills could affect business facilitation. In June 2019, the government signed a USD 10 million project with the Asian Development Bank to develop a National Single Window project designed to establish a national single window system for international trade and reengineered trade processes, however the project is currently on hold due to contracting issues.

Outward Investment 

The government does not promote or incentivize outward investment but does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad either.  According to UNCTAD’s 2019 World Investment Report, Maldives has not registered any outward investment since 2005.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The United States does not have a bilateral investment treaty with Maldives.  Maldives signed a trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA) with the United States and held its first meeting in October 2014.  The second meeting was held in June 2019. The Maldives and the United Arab Emirates signed an Agreement on the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments in October 2017.

India and Maldives signed a trade agreement in 1981, providing for export of essential commodities.  Maldives signed and entered into the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) in 2006 and signed but has not ratified the Trade Preferential System of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 2014.

Maldives first signed an Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 2004 and then signed its first bilateral free trade agreement with the PRC in December 2017.  However, the agreement is not yet in effect.  The Government of Maldives also completed negotiations on an FTA with Hong Kong in 2017, but an agreement has not been signed.

The United States has not signed a bilateral taxation treaty with Maldives.  Maldives signed a Double Tax Avoidance Treaty with the United Arab Emirates, which entered into force in January 2017.  In April 2016, Maldives and India signed an agreement to avoid double taxation of income derived from air transport and an agreement to share information on taxes, both of which are currently in force.  In 2005 Maldives signed a double taxation avoidance treaty which is a limited multilateral agreement between members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for avoidance of double taxation and mutual assistance in tax matters.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Maldives’ Parliament (the People’s Majlis) formulates legislation, while ministries and agencies, primarily the Ministry of Economic Development, develop regulations pertaining to investment.  The Ministry of Tourism develops regulations relevant to the tourism sector.  Certain business sectors require sector-level operating licenses from other ministries/agencies, including fisheries and agriculture, banking and finance, health, tourism, transport, construction, and education.

The Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) regulates the financial sector and issues banking licenses.  The Capital Market Development Authority develops regulations for the capital market and pension industry and licenses securities market intermediaries.  The current Parliament, sworn in in April 2019, regularly makes draft bills and regulations available for public comment.

Since its inauguration in November 2018, the Solih administration has taken steps to improve fiscal transparency.  For example, beginning in December 2018, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) began issuing weekly updates on fiscal operations on its public website.  A limited write-up on total annual debt obligations for 2021 and projected annual debt obligations for 2022 and 2023 were included in a “budget book” published on the MoF website, along with the 2021 proposed budget.  It includes the total amount of debt, disaggregated into the totals of domestic and foreign debt; however, it does not include details of contingent or state-owned enterprise (SOE) debt. All contingent debt numbers are published on the MoF website, which includes Central Government debt as well as all SOE guaranteed debt (which are usually external borrowings).

Detailed information on SOE debt with sovereign loan guarantees and the total debt amount of individual SOEs is included in the MoF’s Quarterly Report on SOEs, which is published on the MoF’s website each quarter.

The MMA, which functions as Maldives’ Central Bank, includes information on domestic debt obligations on a monthly basis on their website: http://mma.gov.mv/#/research/statisticalPublications/mstat/Monthly percent20Statistics. 

The MoF published a mid-year “Fiscal and Debt Strategy Report” on their website in July 2020.  This report included details of the position of the debt portfolio at the end of 2019 and the estimated position by the end of 2020 19: https://www.finance.gov.mv/fiscal-and-debt-strategy-report

The website of the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) (www.mvlaw.gov.mv) publishes the full text of all existing laws and regulations, but most of the documents are in the Dhivehi language.  The AGO is establishing an English language database of laws and court judgements.

International Regulatory Considerations

Maldives is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and is a signatory of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).

Trade and investment related legislation and regulation are influenced by common law principles from the United Kingdom and other western jurisdictions.  The judiciary has cited foreign case law from jurisdictions from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia when interpreting local trade-related statues.

Maldives is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has submitted some of the notifications under Technical Barriers to Trade.  However, the Ministry of Economic Development reports that technical assistance is required for Maldives to fully comply with WTO obligations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The sources of law in Maldives are its constitution, Islamic Sharia law, regulations, presidential decrees, international law, and English common law, with the latter being most influential in commercial matters.  The Maldives has a Contract Law (Law No. 4/91) that codifies English common law practices on contracts.  The Civil Court is specialized to hear commercial cases.  The Employment Tribunal is mandated to hear claims of unfair labor practices.  A bill proposing the establishment of a Mercantile Court has been pending in Parliament since 2013.  The Judicial Services Commission is responsible for nominating, dismissing, and examining the conduct of all judges.  The Attorney General acts as legal advisor to the government and represents the government in all courts except on criminal proceedings, which are represented by the Prosecutor General.

A Supreme Court was established for the first time in 2008 under the new Maldives Constitution. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in Maldives.  In addition to the Supreme Court, there are six courts: the High Court; Civil Court; Criminal Court; Family Court; Juvenile Court; and a Drug Court.  There are approximately 200 magistrate courts, one in each inhabited island.  The Supreme Court and the High Court serve as courts of appeal.  There are no jury trials. In February 2020, President Solih stated his intent to submit a bill introducing a circuit court system in the Maldives.

Historically, the judicial process has been slow and, often, arbitrary.  In August 2010, the Judicial Services Commission reappointed—and confirmed for life—191 of the 200 existing judges.  Many of these judges held only a certificate in Sharia law, not a law degree.  The Maldivian judiciary is a semi-independent institution but has been subjected frequently to executive influence, particularly the Supreme Court.  The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2015 stated the judicial system is perceived as politicized, inadequate, and subject to external influence.  An estimated 25 percent of judges also have criminal records.  The media, human rights organizations, and civil society had repeatedly criticized the Judicial Services Commission for appointing judges deemed unqualified.

This history has led President Solih’s administration to make judicial reform is a top priority.  In 2019, the Judicial Service Commission was overhauled; it has since removed the former Supreme Court bench and initiated investigations into ethics standards complaints against several judges from the High Court, Criminal Court, Civil Court, Family Court, and several island magistrates courts.  In August 2019, Parliament amended the Judicial Service Commission Act to return control of the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA), which is responsible for the management of courts, to the judicial watchdog Judicial Service Commission. This amendment was intended to overcome longstanding issues of the former Supreme Court using its direct supervision of the DJA to punish judges exhibiting judicial independence by transferring them to a lower court or another island as retribution.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign parties can invest in Maldives through the Foreign Investment Law or the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act.  Details are available on the Ministry of Economic Development’s Doing Business in the Maldives Guide and in the tax guide:

A new Foreign Direct Investment policy announced in February 2020 consolidated existing practices and introduced new guidelines, including two new routes to get government approval for foreign direct investments and new caps on equity ownership for investments in certain sectors. The policy is available on http://trade.gov.mv/dms/669/1581480884.pdf 

Foreign investment in Maldives is governed by Law No. 25/79, covering agreements between the government and investors.  The Business Registration Act (18/2014) requires foreign businesses to register as a company or partnership.  The Companies Act (10/96) governs the registration and regulatory and operational requirements for public and private companies.  The Partnership Act of 2011 governs the formation and regulation of partnerships.  Foreign investments are currently approved for an initial period of five years, with the option to renew.

Maldives introduced income taxes through an Income Tax Act in December 2019.  Taxation under the act was set to commence on January 1, 2020 but remuneration was to come within the purview of income effective April 1, 2020.  The Business Profit Tax regime imposed under the Business Profit Tax Act and the Remittance Tax regime imposed under the Remittance Tax Act was repealed with the commencement of Income Tax. Under the Act, tax rates remain unchanged for banks at 25 percent on profits, while taxes of 15 percent on profits that exceed USD 32,425 (MVR 500,000) would be levied on corporations, partnerships, and other business entities.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

In 2019, Maldives drafted a Competition and Fair Business Practices Act to ensure a fair market and equitable opportunities for all small and medium enterprises.  President Solih ratified the bill on August 31, 2020, and it was due to enter into force in the first part of 2021, however it is still not in force as of March 31, 2020.  On entry into force, the Ministry of Economic Development will be the principal agency responsible for implementing the Act, including hearing, reviewing, and acting on competition-related complaints.  There had been no competition-related cases submitted to Ministry of Economic Development as of March 2021.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to the Law on Foreign Investment (No. 25/79), the government may, with or without notice, suspend an investment when an investor indulges in an act detrimental to the security of the country or where temporary closure is necessary for national security.  If, after due investigation, it cannot be concluded within 60 days of the temporary closure that the foreign investor had indulged in an activity detrimental to the security of Maldives, the government will pay compensation.  Capital belonging to an investment that is closed for these reasons may be taken out of the country in a mutually agreed upon manner.

In December 2012, the Maldivian government took over operation of the Malé International Airport from GMR Infrastructure Limited, an Indian company, after the Maldivian government repudiated the 2012 contract.  In 2016, the Maldivian government paid GMR USD 271 million in damages as ordered by a Singaporean Arbitration Tribunal.

Dispute Settlement

 

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

 

Maldives is not a Party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States.  In September 2019, Maldives acceded to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, which came into force in Maldives in December 2019.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

 

Maldives does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) or Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States.  An Arbitration Act modeled on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law was passed in 2013 and provides for implementation of international arbitral awards.  However, the judgments of foreign courts cannot directly be enforced through the courts.  Judgments of foreign courts must be submitted to domestic courts, which then make a separate judgment.  In April 2019, President Solih established the Maldives International Arbitration Centre, a requirement under the 2013 Act.

In 2013, Maldives-based Sun Travels and Tours terminated a foreign corporation’s 20-year management agreement for a luxury resort.  The business took the case to the International Court of Arbitration in Singapore and was awarded USD 27 million in damages.  The Court dismissed a USD 16 million counterclaim by Sun Travel and Tours.  In 2015, the foreign corporation then filed the case in Maldives High Court to enforce the ruling of the arbitration center.  In 2016, Sun appealed the arbitration center’s decision in Maldives’ Civil Court, which ruled in Sun’s favor and ordered the foreign corporation to pay USD 16 million to Sun as compensation for violating the terms of their agreement to manage the resort. This ruling was overturned by the Maldivian High Court on July 7, 2020 and led to the Civil Court ordering freeze on bank accounts of Sun. There are no further updates on the cases as of March 2021.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

 

An Arbitration Act modeled on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law was passed in 2013 and provides for implementation of international arbitral awards.  However, the judgments of foreign courts cannot directly be enforced through the courts.  Judgments of foreign courts must be submitted as a fresh action and established as a judgment by the local courts that may then be enforced. In April 2019, President Solih established the Maldives International Arbitration Centre, a requirement under the 2013 Act. Dispute resolution for significant investments can take years, and it can be a challenge to collect payment for any damages from the government or from Maldivian companies.  The Maldivian judicial system is subject to significant political pressure.

Bankruptcy Regulations 

Maldives scores 33.3 out of 100 on resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Distance to Frontier index.  Maldives does not have a bankruptcy law, although corporate insolvencies are dealt with under the Companies Act.  Debtors and creditors may file for liquidation.  There is no priority assigned to creditors and there is very limited legal framework to protect creditors following commencement of insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Maldives introduced a Special Economic Zones Act (Law No.: 24/2014) in September 2014, with the goal of encouraging private investment in large-scale projects in priority areas, including: export processing activities; transportation and transshipment; universities, hospitals, and research facilities; information communication and technology parks; international financial services; oil and gas exploration; and initiatives that introduce new technologies.  SEZ investments in excess of USD 150 million qualify for special tax and regulatory incentives guaranteed under the SEZ law.  The list of priority sectors is reviewed by the President on a yearly basis.

Incentives under the SEZ law include:

  1. Exemption from business profit tax
  2. Exemption from goods and services tax
  • Exemption from withholding tax
  1. Flexible procedures in foreign employment
  2. Exemption from taxes on sale and purchase of land
  3. Option of acquiring freehold land by registered companies in Maldives with at least 50 percent local shareholding

The duration of these tax exemptions depends on the business area of the investment and the scale of the investment.

As of March 2021, no companies have invested in Maldives under the SEZ law.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

As mentioned immediately above Maldives introduced a Special Economic Zones Act (Law No.: 24/2014) in September 2014. Please refer to the above section for details of investment incentives provided for under the Act.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

In an attempt to boost local employment, the Law on Foreign Investments requires Maldivian nationals to be employed unless employment of foreigners is a necessity.  Qualifying employers are provided a quota, limiting the number of expatriates who can be employed.  Quota levels depend on the sector and size of the investment.  Employers obtain quotas from the Ministry of Economic Development before applying for employment approval.  SEZ investments receive some exceptions to these rules.  A report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that the quota system is cumbersome and difficult to implement and that inefficiencies and red tape create unnecessary administrative burdens while doing little to increase local employment.  In addition, the ILO reported when labor is not available because of quota requirements, employers often resort to the irregular labor market, providing incentives to the phenomena of visa trading.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Secured interests in property, movable and real, are recognized and enforced under the 2002 Land Act, and the councils on each island maintain registries.  Rights in real estate are governed by the Land Act, the Uninhabited Islands Act (20/98) and the Tourism Act (2/99).  Foreign parties cannot own land but can lease land for periods no longer than 99 years for business activity under the remaining regimes.

Intellectual Property Rights

Although the government has an intellectual property unit within the Ministry of Economic Development, it is not active.  The government has not yet signed international agreements or conventions on intellectual property rights.  A Trademarks Bill is in the legislative agenda for 2021 and Ministry of Economic Development is in the drafting process of the bill which is planned to be submitted to Parliament during the second parliamentary session of 2021.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is providing assistance to the government on the drafting of bills regarding trademarks and geographical indicators.  For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Maldives Stock Exchange (MSE), first opened in 2002 as a small securities trading floor, was licensed as a private stock exchange in 2008.  The Securities Act of January 2006 created the Capital Market Development Authority (CMDA) to regulate the capital markets.  The MSE functions under the CMDA.  The only investment opportunities available to the public are shares in the Bank of Maldives, Islamic Bank of Maldives, five state-owned public companies, a foreign insurance company, a foreign telecommunications company, and a local shipping company.  The market capitalization of all listed companies listed was USD 857 million at the end of 2018.

Foreigners can invest in the capital market as both retail and institutional investors.  Capital market license holders from other jurisdictions can also seek licenses to carry out services in the Maldives capital market.  There are no restrictions on foreign investors obtaining credit from banks in Maldives nor are there restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Money and Banking System 

The Maldives financial sector is dominated by the banking sector.  The banking sector consists of eight banks, of which three are locally incorporated, four are branches of foreign banks and one is a fully owned subsidiary of a foreign bank.  There are 52 branches of these banks throughout the country of which 33 are in the rural areas.  Additionally, at the end of 2017 there were 116 automatic teller machines (of which 51 were in rural areas) and 230 agent banking service providers.  Maldives has correspondent banking relationships with six banks.  Maldives has not announced intentions to allow the implementation of blockchain technologies (cryptocurrencies) in its banking system.  International money transfer services are offered by four remittance companies through global remittance networks.  Two telecommunications companies offer mobile payment services through mobile wallet accounts and this service does not require customers to hold bank accounts.

Non-bank financial institutions in the country consist of four insurance companies, a pension fund, and a finance leasing company, a specialized housing finance institution and money transfer businesses.  Maldives Real Time Gross Settlement System and Automated Clearing House system is housed in the MMA for interbank payments settlements for large value and small value batch processing transactions respectively.  There has been an increase in usage of electronic payments such as card payments and internet banking.  All financial institutions currently operate under the supervision of the MMA.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Rules relating to the foreign exchange market are stipulated in the Monetary Regulation of the MMA.  Both residents and non-residents may freely trade and purchase currency in the foreign exchange market.  Residents do not need permission to maintain foreign currency accounts either at home or abroad and there is no distinction made between foreign national or non-resident accounts held with the banks operating in Maldives.  The exchange rate is maintained within a horizontal band, with the value of the Rufiyaa allowed to fluctuate against the U.S. dollar within a band of 20 percent on either side of a central parity of MVR12.85 per U.S. dollar.  In practice, however, the rufiyaa has been virtually fixed at the band’s weaker end of Rf 15.42 per dollar, according to the IMF.

Remittance Policies

Rules regarding foreign remittances are governed by the Regulation for Remittance Businesses under the Maldives Monetary Authority Act of 1981.  There are no restrictions on repatriation of profits or earnings from investments.  In 2016, the government imposed a three percent remittance tax on money transferred out of Maldives by foreigners employed in the Maldives.  However, Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) repealed the remittance tax effective from January 1, 2020 to reduce “out-of-bank” money transactions that have become commonplace following implementation of the tax.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

In 2016, Maldives Finance Minister announced plans to establish a “Sovereign Development Fund (SDF)” that would support foreign currency obligations incurred to executive public sector development projects.  The government has not published any documents related to the SDF and does not have a published policy document regulating funding or a general approach to withdrawals with regard to SDF.  The MoF plans to issue a separate publication on SDF investments sometime within 2021.  This publication will include information on deposits into and withdrawals/investments from the SDF.  The MoF also reported it is in the process of drafting regulations detailing a general approach to deposits, withdrawals, and investments from the SDF.

Allocations to the SDF are included in the budget and published in the MoF’s weekly and monthly fiscal development reports published regularly on its website.  The Ministry reported two sources of funding for the SDF – revenue gathered through Airport Development Fees charged to all travelers entering and departing Maldives and ad hoc allocations made by the MoF at its discretion.  Expected ADF receipts are included in the Revenue Tables of the Budget.  Reports from the MoF show that the size of the SDF fund had amassed USD 206.5 million as of February 25, 2021.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Maldives Privatization and Corporatization Board (PCB) monitors and evaluates all the majority and minority share holding companies of the government of Maldives.  PCB reported 32 SOEs in 2021, 22 of which are 100 percent state owned.  The government is a majority shareholder of Bank of Maldives, Maldives Transport and Contracting Company Plc, Malé Water and Sewerage Company Private Limited, State Trading Organization Plc, Addu International Airport Private Limited, and SME Development Finance Corporation Private Limited.  The government also holds minority shares in Maldives Tourism Development Corporation Plc, Dhivehi Raajjeyge Gulhun Plc (one of the two telecom providers), Housing Development Finance Corporation Plc, and Maldives Islamic Bank Plc. (https://www.finance.gov.mv/public-enterprises)

Maldivian SOEs do not strictly adhere to OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs.  When SOEs are involved in investment disputes, domestic courts tend to favor the government enterprise.  SOEs also follow different procurement regulations than government offices. As a result, SOEs have been a major contributor to fast rising Maldives’ public debt levels.

Privatization Program

A 2013 Privatization Act governs all privatization and corporatization efforts by the government.  The Privatization and Corporatization Board monitors and evaluates all the majority and minority share holding companies of the Government of Maldives https://www.finance.gov.mv/privatization-and-corporatization-board.  The Government of Maldives has announced plans for a privatization program in its 2021-23 budget, and the MoF is in the process of developing an action plan for the privatization strategy.  Further, an in-depth study will be undertaken for each SOE identified, and policy decisions to privatize will be based on these studies.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is limited but growing awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) or corporate social responsibility (CSR) among the business elite and tourism resort owners.  All new government leases for tourism resorts contain CSR requirements and individual resorts often implement their own RBC programs.  However, the government does not have a consistent policy or national action plan to promote responsible business conduct.

There are several workers’ organizations monitoring and advocating for RBC regarding workers’ rights, the most active of which is the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM).  Further, there are many NGOs advocating for RBC in environment-related issues.  Civil society organizations (CSOs) often work together to campaign for the introduction of new laws such as an Industrial Relations Law and an Occupational Health and Safety Law.  These CSOs can function without harassment from the government, though COVID-related restrictions during the pandemic made conducting their activities difficult.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Maldives made significant progress in its efforts to increase its transparency, jumping from 130 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception index in 2019 to 75th, in 2020.  Its score increased from 29 out of 100 to 43 out of 100, surpassing that of regional competitors like Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. Still, corruption practices exist at all levels of society, threatening inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

The Solih administration has publicly pledged to tackle widespread corruption and judicial reform.  As part of President Solih’s first 100 business day agenda, he established a Presidential Commission on Corruption and Asset Recovery to investigate corruption cases originating between February 2012 and November 2018.  As of March 2021, the commission had not issued a report of its findings.  Additional measures towards increased transparency include requiring public financial disclosures for cabinet members, political appointees, and all members of parliament.

Maldives law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but enforcement is weak.  The law on prevention and punishment of corruption (2000) defines bribery and improper pecuniary advantage and prescribes punishments.  The law also outlines procedures for the confiscation of property and funds obtained through the included offenses.  Penalties range from six months to 10 years banishment, or jail terms.  According to non-governmental organizations, a narrow definition of corruption in the law, and the lack of a provision to investigate and prosecute illicit enrichment, limited the Anti-Corruption Commission’s work.

Maldives acceded to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in March 2007, and under the 2008 Constitution, an independent Anti-Corruption Commission was established in December 2008.  The responsibilities of the Commission include inquiring into and investigating all allegations of corruption by government officials; recommending further inquiries and investigations by other investigatory bodies; and recommending prosecution of alleged offenses to the prosecutor general, where warranted.  The Commission does not have a mandate to investigate cases of corruption of government officials by the private sector.

The Maldives is a party to the UN Anticorruption Convention.  Maldives is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery.

A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.  Government officials, however, often have not been cooperative or responsive to their views.  Upon assumption of office, President Solih’s administration pledged to submit a new NGO bill that would increase protections for non-government organizations. The bill completed parliamentary debate and is undergoing committee review as of March 2021.

Resources to Report Corruption

Anti-Corruption Commission of the Maldives
Address: Huravee Building, Male, Maldives, 20114
Telephone: (800)3300007 (Toll free number), (960) 331 0451, (960) 331 7410 (General Inquiries)
Email: info@acc.gov.mvcomplaints@acc.gov.mv

Ms. Asiath Rilweena
Executive Director
Transparency Maldives
Address: MF Building, 7th Floor, Chaandhanee Magu, Male’, Republic of Maldives
Telephone: +960 330 4017
Email: office@transparencymaldives.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Maldives is a multi-party constitutional democracy, but the transition from long term autocracy to democracy has been challenging.  Maldives gained its independence from Britain in 1965.  For the first 40 years of independence, Maldives was run by President Ibrahim Nasir and then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was elected to six successive terms by single-party referenda.  August 2003 demonstrations forced Gayoom to begin a democratic reform process, leading to the legalization of political parties in 2005, a new constitution in August 2008, and the first multiparty presidential elections later that year, through which Mohamed Nasheed was elected president.

In February 2012 Nasheed resigned under disputed circumstances. President Abdulla Yameen’s tenure, beginning in 2013, was marked by corruption, systemic limitations on the independence of parliament and the judiciary, and restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and association.  Yameen’s tenure was also characterized by increased reliance on PRC-financing for large scale infrastructure projects, which were decided largely under non-transparent circumstances and procedures.  External debt rose rapidly during Yameen’s tenure.

In September 2018, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) won the campaign for president running on a platform of economic and political reforms and transparency.  The MDP also won a super majority (65 out of 87) seats in parliamentary elections in April 2019, the first single-party majority since the advent of multi-party democracy.  President Solih has pledged to restore democratic institutions and the freedom of the press, re-establish the justice system, and protect fundamental rights.

There is a global threat from terrorism to U.S. citizens and interests.  Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners and “soft targets” such as restaurants, hotels, recreational events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, and aircraft.  Concerns have significantly increased about a small number of violent Maldivian extremists who advocate for attacks against secular Maldivians and are involved with transnational terrorist groups.  For more information, travelers may consult the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism.

U.S. citizens traveling to Maldives should be aware of violent attacks and threats made against local media, political parties, and civil society.  In the past there have been killings and violent attacks against secular bloggers and activists.  For more information, travelers may consult the State Department’s 2019 Human Rights Report link: https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/maldives/

Maldives has a history of political protests. Some of these protests have involved use of anti-Western rhetoric. There are no reports of unrest or demonstrations on the resort islands or at the main Velana International Airport.  Travelers should not engage in political activity in Maldives. Visitors should exercise caution, particularly at night, and should steer clear of demonstrations and spontaneous gatherings.  Those who encounter demonstrations or large crowds should avoid confrontation, remain calm, and depart the area quickly.  While traveling in Maldives, travelers should refer to news sources, check the U.S. Embassy Colombo website for possible security updates, and remain aware of their surroundings at all times.

U.S. Embassy employees are not resident in Maldives.  This will constrain the Embassy’s ability to provide services to U.S. citizens in an emergency.  Many tourist resorts are several hours’ distance from Malé by boat, necessitating lengthy response times by authorities in case of medical or criminal emergencies.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Expatriate labor is allowed into Maldives to meet shortages.  Maldives Immigration reported approximately 200,000 registered expatriate workers in the country in 2019, mostly in tourism, construction, and personal services.  The government reported 63,000 unregistered expatriate migrant workers, but non-governmental sources estimate the number is even higher. During May 2020, President Solih announced that the government will be repatriating unregistered Bangladeshi nationals in the Maldives, following which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economic Development and the Bangladeshi High Commission collaboratively began a repatriation exercise, with the assistance from the Bangladeshi government. Close to 15,000 unregistered migrant workers were repatriated under the program as of November 2020.

Notwithstanding the labor shortage, unemployment in Maldives is high, as many youths leaving lower secondary school have few in-country avenues to pursue higher secondary education.  Although resorts may offer employment opportunities, locals are less likely to take advantage of these jobs as resort employment practices require employees to live and work on the island for long stretches of time, away from family.  Religious and cultural reasons also discourage women from seeking employment on distant islands.

The Law on Foreign Investments requires Maldivian nationals to be employed unless employment of foreigners is necessary.  See section on “Performance and Data Localization” for more detail.

The 2008 the Employment Act and a subsequent amendment to the Employment Act recognize workers’ right to strike and establish trade unions; however, current law does not adequately govern the formation of trade unions, collective bargaining, and the right to association.  While the constitution provides for workers’ freedom of association, there is no law protecting it, which is required to allow unions to register and operate without interference and discrimination.  As a matter of practice, workers’ organizations are treated as civil society.

A regulation on strikes requires employees to negotiate with the employer first, and if this is unsuccessful, then the employees must file advance notice prior to a strike.  The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act effectively prohibits strikes by workers in the resort sector, the country’s largest money earner.  Employees in the following services are also prohibited from striking: hospitals and health centers, electricity companies, water providers, telecommunications providers, prison guards, and air traffic controllers.

Maldives became a member of the International Labor Organization in 2008 and has ratified the eight core ILO Conventions.  Maldives has not ratified the four priority governance ILO Conventions.  In 2019, the ILO called on the Government to take the necessary measures to eliminate child labor, including through adopting a national policy and a national action plan to combat child labor in the country.

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

Development Finance Corporation (DFC)/Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) began operations in Maldives in 2011, but no projects have been identified.  Maldives became the 165th member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency on May 20, 2005.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $5,800 2019 $5,760 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 N/A BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 N/A BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 9.9% UNCTAD data available at

https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html     

* Source for Host Country Data: Country Data: Maldives National Bureau of Statistics   

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

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Alan Brinker
Maldives Policy Coordinator
U.S. Embassy Colombo, Sri Lanka
Phone: +94-11-249-8500
Email: commercialcolombo@state.gov

Morocco

Executive Summary

Morocco enjoys political stability, a geographically strategic location, and robust infrastructure, which have contributed to its emergence as a regional manufacturing and export base for international companies. Morocco actively encourages and facilitates foreign investment, particularly in export sectors like manufacturing, through positive macro-economic policies, trade liberalization, investment incentives, and structural reforms. Morocco’s overarching economic development plan seeks to transform the country into a regional business hub by leveraging its unique status as a multilingual, cosmopolitan nation situated at the tri-regional focal point of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. The Government of Morocco implements strategies aimed at boosting employment, attracting foreign investment, and raising performance and output in key revenue-earning sectors, such as the automotive and aerospace industries. Morocco continues to make major investments in renewable energy, boasting a 4 GW current capacity, 5 GW under construction, and an additional 6 GW in the planning phase.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2020 , Morocco attracted the eighth most foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa. Following a record year in 2018 where Morocco attracted $3.6 billion in FDI, inbound FDI dropped by 55 percent to $1.6 billion in 2019. Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, FDI inflows to Morocco remained largely stable totaling $1.7 billion in 2020, according to the Moroccan Foreign Exchange Office, a slight increase of one percent from the previous year. France, the UAE, and Spain hold a majority of FDI stocks. Manufacturing has the highest share of FDI stocks, followed by real estate, trade, tourism, and transportation. Morocco continues to orient itself as the “gateway to Africa” for international investors following Morocco’s return to the African Union in January 2017 and the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in March 2018, which entered into force in 2021. In June 2019, Morocco opened an extension of the Tangier-Med commercial shipping port, making it the largest in the Mediterranean and the largest in Africa. Tangier is connected to Morocco’s political capital in Rabat and commercial hub in Casablanca by Africa’s first high-speed train service. Morocco continues to climb in the World Bank’s Doing Business index, rising to 53rd place in 2020, rising on the list by 75 places over the last decade. Despite the significant improvements in its business environment and infrastructure, high rates of unemployment, weak intellectual property rights protections, inefficient government bureaucracy, and the slow pace of regulatory reform remain challenges.

Morocco has ratified 72 investment treaties for the promotion and protection of investments and 62 economic agreements – including with the United States and most EU nations – that aim to eliminate the double taxation of income or gains. Morocco is the only country on the African continent with a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, eliminating tariffs on more than 95 percent of qualifying consumer and industrial goods. The Government of Morocco plans to phase out tariffs for some products through 2030. The FTA supports Morocco’s goals to develop as a regional financial and trade hub, providing opportunities for the localization of services and the finishing and re-export of goods to markets in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Since the U.S.-Morocco FTA came into effect bilateral trade in goods has grown nearly five-fold. The U.S. and Moroccan governments work closely to increase trade and investment through high-level consultations, bilateral dialogue, and other forums to inform U.S. businesses of investment opportunities and strengthen business-to-business ties.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 86 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 53 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 75 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $406 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $3,190 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Morocco actively encourages foreign investment through macro-economic policies, trade liberalization, structural reforms, infrastructure improvements, and incentives for investors. Law 18-95 of October 1995, constituting the Investment Charter , is the foundational Moroccan text governing investment and applies to both domestic and foreign investment (direct and portfolio). The Ministry of Industry recently announced the second Industrial Acceleration Plan (PAI) to run from 2021-2025, which aims to build on the progress made in the previous 2014-2020 PAI and expand industrial development throughout all Moroccan regions. The PAI is based on establishing “ecosystems” that integrate value chains and supplier relationships between large companies and small- and medium-sized enterprises. Moroccan legislation governing FDI applies equally to Moroccan and foreign legal entities, with the exception of certain protected sectors.

Morocco’s Investment and Export Development Agency (AMDIE) is the national agency responsible for the development and promotion of investments and exports. Following the reform to the law  governing the country’s Regional Investment Centers (CRIs) in 2019, each of the 12 regions is empowered to lead their own investment promotion efforts. The CRI websites  aggregate relevant information for interested investors and include investment maps, procedures for creating a business, production costs, applicable laws and regulations, and general business climate information, among other investment services. The websites vary by region, with some functioning better than others. AMDIE and the 12 CRIs work together throughout the phases of investment at the national and regional level. For example, AMDIE and the CRIs coordinate contact between investors and partners. Regional investment commissions examine investment applications and send recommendations to AMDIE. The inter-ministerial investment committee, for which AMDIE acts as the secretariat, approves any investment agreement or contract which requires financial contribution from the government. AMDIE also provides an “after care” service to support investments and assist in resolving issues that may arise.

Further information about Morocco’s investment laws and procedures is available on AMDIE’s newly launched website  or through the individual websites of each of the CRIs. For information on agricultural investments, visit the Agricultural Development Agency website  or the National Agency for the Development of Aquaculture website .

When Morocco acceded to the OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises in November 2009, Morocco guaranteed national treatment of foreign investors. The only exception to this national treatment of foreign investors is in those sectors closed to foreign investment (noted below), which Morocco delineated upon accession to the Declaration. The National Contact Point for Responsible Business Conduct ( NCP ), whose presidency and secretariat are held by AMDIE, is the lead agency responsible for the adherence to this declaration.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities may establish and own business enterprises, barring certain restrictions by sector. While the U.S. Mission is unaware of any economy-wide limits on foreign ownership, Morocco places a 49 percent cap on foreign investment in air and maritime transport companies and maritime fisheries. Morocco currently prohibits foreigners from owning agricultural land, though they can lease it for up to 99 years; however, new regulation to open agricultural land to foreign ownership is forthcoming. The Moroccan government holds a monopoly on phosphate extraction through the 95 percent state-owned Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP). The Moroccan state also has a discretionary right to limit all foreign majority stakes in the capital of large national banks but apparently has never exercised that right. The Moroccan Central Bank (Bank Al-Maghrib) may use regulatory discretion in issuing authorizations for the establishment of domestic and foreign-owned banks. In the oil and gas sector, the National Agency for Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) retains a compulsory share of 25 percent of any exploration license or development permit. As established in the 1995 Investment Charter, there is no requirement for prior approval of FDI, and formalities related to investing in Morocco do not pose a meaningful barrier to investment. The U.S. Mission is not aware of instances in which the Moroccan government refused foreign investors for national security, economic, or other national policy reasons, nor is it aware of any U.S. investors disadvantaged or singled out by ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms, relative to other foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The last third-party investment policy review of Morocco was the World Trade Organization (WTO) 2016 Trade Policy Review  (TPR), which found that the trade reforms implemented since the prior TPR in 2009 contributed to the economy’s continued growth by stimulating competition in domestic markets, encouraging innovation, creating new jobs, and contributing to growth diversification.

Business Facilitation

In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report , Morocco ranks 53 out of 190 economies, rising seven places since the 2019 report. Since 2012, Morocco has implemented reforms that facilitate business registration, such as eliminating the need to file a declaration of business incorporation with the Ministry of Labor, reducing company registration fees, and eliminating minimum capital requirements for limited liability companies. Morocco maintains a business registration website that is accessible through the various Regional Investment Centers (CRI ).

Foreign companies may utilize the online business registration mechanism. Foreign companies, with the exception of French companies, are required to provide an apostilled Arabic translated copy of their articles of association and an extract of the registry of commerce in its country of origin. Moreover, foreign companies must report the incorporation of the subsidiary a posteriori to the Foreign Exchange Office (Office de Changes) to facilitate repatriation of funds abroad such as profits and dividends. According to the World Bank, the process of registering a business in Morocco takes an average of nine days, significantly less than the Middle East and North Africa regional average of 20 days. Morocco does not require that the business owner deposit any paid-in minimum capital.

In January 2019, the electronic creation of businesses law 18-17 was published, but as of April 2021 the new process is not yet operational. The new system will allow for the creation of businesses online via an electronic platform managed by the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property (OMPIC). All procedures related to the creation, registration, and publication of company data will be carried out via this platform, which is expected to launch by the end of 2021. A new national commission will monitor the implementation of the procedures. The Simplification of Administrative Procedures Law 55-19, passed in 2020, aims to streamline administrative processes by identifying and standardizing document requirements, eliminating unnecessary steps, and making the process fully digital via the National Administration Portal, which is expected to launch in Spring 2021.

The business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in the economy. Notably, according to the World Bank, the procedure, length of time, and cost to register a new business is equal for men and women in Morocco. The U.S. Mission is unaware of any official assistance provided to women and underrepresented minorities through the business registration mechanisms. In cooperation with the Moroccan government, civil society, and the private sector, there have been several initiatives aimed at improving gender quality in the workplace and access to the workplace for foreign migrants, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa.

Outward Investment

The Government of Morocco prioritizes investment in Africa. The African Development Bank ranks Morocco as the second biggest African investor in Sub-Saharan Africa, after South Africa, and the largest African investor in West Africa. According to the Department of Studies and Financial Forecasts, under the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Administration Reform, $640 million, or 47 percent of Morocco’s total outward FDI, was invested in the African continent in 2019. The U.S. Mission is not aware of a standalone outward investment promotion agency, although AMDIE’s mission includes supporting Moroccans seeking to invest outside of the country for the purpose of boosting Moroccan exports. Nor is the U.S. Mission aware of any restrictions for domestic investors attempting to invest abroad. However, under the Moroccan investment code, repatriation of funds is limited to “convertible” Moroccan Dirham accounts. Morocco’s Foreign Exchange Office (“Office des Changes,” OC) implemented several changes for 2020 that slightly liberalize the country’s foreign exchange regulations. Moroccans going abroad for tourism can now exchange up to $4,700 in foreign currency per year, with the possibility to attain further allowances indexed to their income tax filings. Business travelers can also obtain larger amounts of foreign currency, provided their company has properly filed and paid corporate income taxes. Another new provision permits banks to use foreign currency accounts to finance investments in Morocco’s Industrial Acceleration Zones.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and a mixed legal system of civil law based primarily on French law, with some influences from Islamic law. Legislative acts are subject to judicial review by the Constitutional Court excluding royal decrees (Dahirs) issued by the King, which have the force of law. Legislative power in Morocco is vested in both the government and the two chambers of Parliament, the Chamber of Representatives (Majlis Al-Nuwab) and the Chamber of Councilors (Majlis Al Mustashareen). The principal sources of commercial legislation in Morocco are the Code of Obligations and Contracts of 1913 and Law No. 15-95 establishing the Commercial Code. The Competition Council and the National Authority for Detecting, Preventing, and Fighting Corruption (INPPLC) have responsibility for improving public governance and advocating for further market liberalization. All levels of regulations exist (local, state, national, and supra-national). The most relevant regulations for foreign businesses depend on the sector in question. Ministries develop their own regulations and draft laws, including those related to investment, through their administrative departments, with approval by the respective minister. Each regulation and draft law is made available for public comment. Key regulatory actions are published in their entirety in Arabic and usually French in the official bulletin on the website  of the General Secretariat of the Government. Once published, the law is final. Public enterprises and establishments can adopt their own specific regulations provided they comply with regulations regarding competition and transparency.

Morocco’s regulatory enforcement mechanisms depend on the sector in question, and enforcement is legally reviewable. The National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (ANRT), for example, is the public body responsible for the control and regulation of the telecommunications sector. The agency regulates telecommunications by participating in the development of the legislative and regulatory framework. Morocco does not have specific regulatory impact assessment guidelines, nor are impact assessments required by law. Morocco does not have a specialized government body tasked with reviewing and monitoring regulatory impact assessments conducted by other individual agencies or government bodies.

The U.S. Mission is not aware of any informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations. The Moroccan Ministry of Finance posts quarterly statistics   (compiled in accordance with IMF recommendations) on public finance and debt on their website. A report on public debt is published on the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s website and is used as part of the budget bill formulation and voting processes. The fiscal year 2021 debt report was published on December 18, 2020.

International Regulatory Considerations

Morocco joined the WTO in 1995 and reports technical regulations that could affect trade with other member countries to the WTO. Morocco is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement   and has a 91.2 percent implementation rate of TFA requirements. European standards are widely referenced in Morocco’s regulatory system. In some cases, U.S. or international standards, guidelines, and recommendations are also accepted.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Moroccan legal system is a hybrid of civil law (French system) and some Islamic law, regulated by the Decree of Obligations and Contracts of 1913 as amended, the 1996 Code of Commerce, and Law No. 53-95 on Commercial Courts. These courts also have sole competence to entertain industrial property disputes, as provided for in Law No. 17-97 on the Protection of Industrial Property, irrespective of the legal status of the parties. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s 2015 Morocco Commercial Law Assessment Report , Royal Decree No. 1-97-65 (1997) established commercial court jurisdiction over commercial cases including insolvency. Although this led to some improvement in the handling of commercial disputes, the lack of training for judges on general commercial matters remains a key challenge to effective commercial dispute resolution in the country. In general, litigation procedures are time consuming and resource-intensive, and there is no legal requirement with respect to case publishing. Disputes may be brought before one of eight Commercial Courts located in Morocco’s main cities and one of three Commercial Courts of Appeal located in Casablanca, Fes, and Marrakech. There are other special courts such as the Military and Administrative Courts. Title VII of the Constitution provides that the judiciary shall be independent from the legislative and executive branches of government. The 2011 Constitution also authorized the creation of the Supreme Judicial Council, headed by the King, which has the authority to hire, dismiss, and promote judges. Enforcement actions are appealable at the Courts of Appeal, which hear appeals against decisions from the court of first instance.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The principal sources of commercial legislation in Morocco are the 1913 Royal Decree of Obligations and Contracts, as amended; Law No. 18-95 that established the 1995 Investment Charter; the 1996 Code of Commerce; and Law No. 53-95 on Commercial Courts. These courts have sole competence to hear industrial property disputes, as provided for in Law No. 17-97 on the Protection of Industrial Property, irrespective of the legal status of the parties. Morocco’s CRIs and AMDIE provide users with various investment-related information on key sectors, procedural information, calls for tenders, and resources for business creation. Their websites are infrequently updated.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Morocco’s Competition Law No. 06-99 on Free Pricing and Competition outlines the authority of the Competition Council  as an independent executive body with investigatory powers. Together with the INPPLC, the Competition Council is one of the main actors charged with improving public governance and advocating for further market liberalization. Law No. 20-13, adopted on August 7, 2014, amended the powers of the Competition Council to bring them in line with the 2011 Constitution. The Competition Council’s responsibilities include making decisions on anti-competition practices and controlling concentrations, with powers of investigation and sanction; providing opinions in official consultations by government authorities; and publishing reviews and studies on the state of competition.

In February 2020, the Moroccan telecommunications regulator, National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (ANRT), issued a $340 million fine against Maroc Telecom for abusing its dominant position in the market. Maroc Telecom is majority owned by Etisalat, based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and is minority owned by the Moroccan government. ANRT ruled in favor of rival telecoms operator INWI, which is majority-owned by Morocco’s royal holding company and is minority-owned by Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund and a private Kuwaiti company, which had filed the complaint with ANRT.

Following reported mishandling of an investigation into the alleged collusion by oil distribution companies, King Mohammed VI convened an ad hoc committee to investigate the Competition Council’s dysfunctions. In March 2021, the king appointed a new council president, and parliament adopted a new bill strengthening the Competition Council by improving its legal framework and increasing transparency.

Expropriation and Compensation

Expropriation may only occur in the public interest for public use by a state entity, although in the past, private entities that are public service “concessionaires” mixed economy companies, or general interest companies have also been granted expropriation rights. Article 3 of Law No. 7-81 (May 1982) on expropriation, the associated Royal Decree of May 6, 1982, and Decree No. 2-82-328 of April 16, 1983 regulate government authority to expropriate property. The process of expropriation has two phases: in the administrative phase, the State declares public interest in expropriating specific land and verifies ownership, titles, and appraised value of the land. If the State and owner can come to agreement on the value, the expropriation is complete. If the owner appeals, the judicial phase begins, whereby the property is taken, a judge oversees the transfer of the property, and payment compensation is made to the owner based on the judgment. The U.S. Mission is not aware of any recent, confirmed instances of private property being expropriated for other than public purposes (eminent domain), or in a manner that is discriminatory or not in accordance with established principles of international law.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Morocco is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and signed its convention in June 1967. Morocco is a party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Law No. 08-05 provides for enforcement of awards made under these conventions.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Morocco is signatory to over 70 bilateral treaties recognizing binding international arbitration of trade disputes, including one with the United States. Law No. 08-05 established a system of conventional arbitration and mediation, while allowing parties to apply the Code of Civil Procedure in their dispute resolution. Foreign investors commonly rely on international arbitration to resolve contractual disputes. Commercial courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitration awards. Generally, investor rights are backed by a transparent, impartial procedure for dispute settlement. There have been no claims brought by foreign investors under the investment chapter of the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement since it came into effect in 2006. The U.S. Mission is not aware of any investment disputes over the last year involving U.S. investors.

Morocco officially recognizes foreign arbitration awards issued against the government. Domestic arbitration awards are also enforceable subject to an enforcement order issued by the President of the Commercial Court, who verifies that no elements of the award violate public order or the defense rights of the parties. As Morocco is a member of the New York Convention, international awards are also enforceable in accordance with the provisions of the convention. Morocco is also a member of the Washington Convention for the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and as such agrees to enforce and uphold ICSID arbitral awards. The U.S. Mission is not aware of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Morocco has a national commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution with a mandate to regulate mediation training centers and develop mediator certification systems. Morocco seeks to position itself as a regional center for arbitration in Africa, but the capacity of local courts remains a limiting factor. To remedy this shortcoming, the Moroccan government established the Center of Arbitration and Mediation in Rabat, and the Casablanca Finance City Authority established the Casablanca International Mediation and Arbitration Center, which now see a majority of investment disputes. The U.S. Mission is aware of several investment disputes and has advocated on behalf of U.S. companies to resolve the disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Morocco’s bankruptcy law is based on French law. Commercial courts have jurisdiction over all cases related to insolvency, as set forth in Royal Decree No. 1-97-65 (1997). The Commercial Court in the debtor’s place of business holds jurisdiction in insolvency cases. The law gives secured debtors priority claim on assets and proceeds over unsecured debtors, who in turn have priority over equity shareholders. Bankruptcy is not criminalized. The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report ranked Morocco 73 out of 190 economies in “Resolving Insolvency”. The GOM revised the national insolvency code in March of 2018, but further reform is needed.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

As set out in the Investment Code, Morocco offers incentives designed to encourage foreign and local investment. Morocco’s Investment Charter gives the same benefits to all investors regardless of the industry in which they operate (except agriculture and phosphates, which remain outside the scope of the Charter). With respect to agricultural incentives, Morocco’s current Green Generation 2020-2030  plan aims to improve the competitiveness of the agribusiness industry by supporting value chains and making the industry more resilient and environmentally sound.

Morocco has several free zones offering companies incentives such as tax breaks, subsidies, and reduced customs duties. These zones aim to attract investment by companies seeking to export products from Morocco. As part of a government-wide strategy to strengthen its position as an African financial hub, Morocco offers incentives for firms that locate their regional headquarters in Morocco at Casablanca Finance City (CFC), Morocco’s flagship financial and business hub launched in 2010. For details on CFC eligibility, see CFC’s website .

In 2021, Morocco was removed from the European Union’s tax “ grey list ” after amending some tax policy measures deemed as potentially harmful based on the tax advantages offered to export companies, companies operating in free zones, and CFC. To enhance its competitiveness and investment attractiveness and to be aligned with international best practices, Morocco’s 2020 budget law transformed the country’s free zones into “Industrial Acceleration Zones” with a 15 percent corporate tax rate following an initial five years of exemption, compared to a previous corporate tax rate of 8.75 percent over 20 years. Similarly, the CFC regime provides companies holding CFC status a tax benefit exemption for five years followed by a reduced rate of 15% (compared to a rate of 31%). It applies to financial services (such as investment services and holding companies) and non-financial services activities (such as advisory and regional headquarters and distribution centers). The CFC regime is open to both Moroccan and foreign companies and provides the same tax benefits.

The Moroccan government launched its “investment reform plan” in 2016 to create a favorable environment for the private sector to drive growth. The plan includes the adoption of investment incentives to support the industrial ecosystem, tax and customs advantages to support investors and new investment projects, import duty exemptions, and a value added tax (VAT) exemption. AMDIE’s website  has more details on investment incentives, but generally these incentives are based on sectoral priorities (i.e. aerospace). Morocco does not issue guarantees or jointly finance FDI projects, except for some public-private partnerships in fields such as utilities.

The Moroccan Government offers several guarantee funds and sources of financing for investment projects to both Moroccan and foreign investors. For example, the Caisse Centrale de Garantie  (CCG), a public finance institution offers co-financing, equity financing, and guarantees.

Beyond tax exemptions granted under ordinary law, Moroccan regulations provide specific advantages for investors with investment agreements or contracts with the Moroccan Government if they meet the required criteria. These advantages include: subsidies for certain expenses related to investment through the Industrial Development and Investment Fund, subsidies of certain expenses for the promotion of investment in specific industrial sectors and the development of new technologies through the Hassan II Fund for Economic and Social Development, exemption from customs duties within the framework of Article 7.I of the Finance Law 12-98, and exemption from the Value Added Tax (VAT) on imports and domestic sales.

More information on specific incentives can be found at the Invest in Morocco website .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The government maintains several “Industrial Acceleration Zones” in which companies enjoy lower tax rates of 15 percent after an initial five years of tax exemption. In some cases, the government provides generous incentives for companies to locate production facilities in the country. The Moroccan government also offers a VAT exemption for investors using and importing equipment goods, materials, and tools needed to achieve investment projects whose value is at least $20 million.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Moroccan government views foreign investment as an important vehicle for creating local employment. Visa issuance for foreign employees is contingent upon a company’s inability to find a qualified local employee for a specific position and can only be issued after the company has verified the unavailability of such an employee with the National Agency for the Promotion of Employment and Competency (ANAPEC). If these conditions are met, the Moroccan government allows the hiring of foreign employees, including for senior management. The process for obtaining and renewing visas and work permits can be onerous and may take up to six months, except for CFC members, where the processing time is reportedly one week.

Although there is no requirement of the use of domestic content in goods or technology, the government has announced its intent to pursue an import-substitution policy as part of its COVID-related industrial recovery plan and has amended its finance law to increase custom duties on finished products coming from non-FTA countries. Additionally, the plan established a special industrial project bank with the goal of supporting projects in 11 target sectors.

The WTO Trade Related Investment Measures’ (TRIMs) database does not indicate any reported Moroccan measures that are inconsistent with TRIMs requirements. Though not required, tenders in some industries, including solar energy, are written with targets for local content percentages. Both performance requirements and investment incentives are uniformly applied to both domestic and foreign investors depending on the size of the investment.

The Moroccan Data Protection Act (Act 09-08 ) stipulates that data controllers may only transfer data if a foreign nation ensures an adequate level of protection of privacy and fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals with regard to the treatment of their personal data. Morocco’s National Data Protection Commission (CNDP) defines the exceptions according to Moroccan law. Local regulation requires the release of source code for certain telecommunications hardware products. However, the U.S. Mission is not aware of any Moroccan government requirement that foreign IT companies should provide surveillance or backdoor access to their source-code or systems.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Morocco permits foreign individuals and foreign companies to own land, except agricultural land. Recently passed Land Reform bill 62-19, which will open rural land acquisition to joint ventures and limited partnerships, is awaiting implementation. Foreigners may acquire agricultural land to carry out an investment or other economic project that is not agricultural in nature, subject to first obtaining a certificate of non-agricultural use from the authorities. Morocco has a formal registration system maintained by the National Agency for Real Estate Conservation, Property Registries, and Cartography (ANCFCC), which issues titles of land ownership. Approximately 30 percent of land is registered in the formal system, and almost all of that is in urban areas. In addition to the formal registration system, there are customary documents called moulkiya issued by traditional notaries called adouls. While not providing the same level of certainty as a title, a moulkiya can provide some level of security of ownership. Morocco also recognizes prescriptive rights whereby an occupant of a land under the moulkiya system (not lands duly registered with ANCFCC) can establish ownership of that land upon fulfillment of all the legal requirements, including occupation of the land for a certain period (10 years if the occupant and the landlord are not related and 40 years if the occupant is a family member). There are other specific legal regimes applicable to some types of lands, among which:

  • Collective lands: lands which are owned collectively by some tribes, whose members only benefit from rights of usufruct;
  • Public lands: lands which are owned by the Moroccan State;
  • Guich lands: lands which are owned by the Moroccan State, but whose usufruct rights are vested upon some tribes;
  • Habous lands: lands which are owned by a party (the State, a certain family, a religious or charity organization, etc.) subsequent to a donation, and the usufruct rights of which are vested upon such party (usually with the obligation to allocate the proceeds to a specific use or to use the property in a certain way).

Morocco’s rating for “Registering Property” regressed over the past year, with a ranking of 81 out of 190 countries worldwide in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report. Despite reducing the time it takes to obtain a non-encumbrance certificate, Morocco made property registration less transparent by not publishing statistics on the number of property transactions and land disputes for the previous calendar year, resulting in a lower score than in 2019.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Ministry of Industry, Trade, Investment, and the Digital Economy oversees the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property (OMPIC), which serves as a registry for patents and trademarks in the industrial and commercial sectors. The Ministry of Communications oversees the Moroccan Copyright Office (BMDA), which registers copyrights for literary and artistic works (including software), enforces copyright protection, and coordinates with Moroccan and international partners to combat piracy.

In 2020, OMPIC launched its second strategic plan, Strategic Vision 2025, following the conclusion of its 2016-2020 strategic plan. The new 2025 plan has three pillars: the creation of an environment conducive to entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation; the establishment of an effective system for the protection and defense of intellectual property rights; and the implementation of economic and regional actions to enhance intangible assets and market-oriented research and development. In 2016 OMPIC partnered with the European Patent Office and developed an agreement  for validating European patents in Morocco, and now receives roughly 80 percent of total applications via this channel. In 2020, OMPIC recorded a 25 percent increase of the patent applications filed domestically.

In 2016, the Ministry of Communication and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) signed an MOU to expand cooperation to ensure the protection of intellectual property rights in Morocco. The memorandum committed both parties to improving the judicial and operational dimensions of Morocco’s copyright enforcement. Following this MOU, in 2016, BMDA launched WIPOCOS, a database for collective royalty management organizations or societies, developed by WIPO. Despite these positive changes, BMDA’s current focus on redefining its legal mandate and relationship with other copyright offices worldwide has appeared to lessen its enforcement capacity.

Law No. 23-13 on Intellectual Property Rights increased penalties for violation of those rights and better defines civil and criminal jurisdiction and legal remedies. It also set in motion an accreditation system for patent attorneys to better systematize and regulate the practice of patent law. Law No. 34-05, amending and supplementing Law No. 2-00 on Copyright and Related Rights includes 15 items (Articles 61 to 65) devoted to punitive measures against piracy and other copyright offenses. These range from civil and criminal penalties to the seizure and destruction of seized copies. Judges’ authority in sentencing and criminal procedures is proscribed, with little power to issue harsher sentences that would serve as stronger deterrents.

Moroccan authorities express a commitment to cracking down on all types of counterfeiting, but due to resource constraints, focus enforcement efforts on the most problematic areas, specifically those with public safety and/or significant economic impacts. In 2017, BMDA brought approximately a dozen court cases against copyright infringers and collected $6.1 million in copyright collections. In 2018, Morocco’s customs authorities seized $62.7 million worth of counterfeit items. In 2018, Morocco also created a National Customs Brigade charged with countering the illicit trafficking of counterfeit goods and narcotics.

In 2015, Morocco and the European Union concluded an agreement on the protection of Geographic Indications (GIs), which is pending ratification by both the Moroccan and European parliaments. Should it enter into force, the agreement would grant Moroccan GIs sui generis. The U.S. government continues to urge Morocco to pursue a transparent and substantive assessment process for the EU GIs in a manner consistent with Morocco’s existing obligations, including those under the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement.

Morocco is not listed in USTR’s most recent Special 301 Report or notorious markets reports.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/. For assistance, please refer to the U.S. Embassy local lawyers’ list, as well as to the regional U.S. IP Attaché .

Resources for Intellectual Property Rights Holders:

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Morocco encourages foreign portfolio investment and Moroccan legislation applies equally to Moroccan and foreign legal entities and to both domestic and foreign portfolio investment. The Casablanca Stock Exchange (CSE), founded in 1929 and re-launched as a private institution in 1993, is one of the few exchanges in the region with no restrictions on foreign participation. The CSE is regulated by the Moroccan Capital Markets Authority. Local and foreign investors have identical tax exposure on dividends (10 percent) and pay no capital gains tax. With a market capitalization of around $66 billion and 76 listed companies, CSE is the second largest exchange in Africa (after the Johannesburg Stock Exchange). Nonetheless, the CSE saw only 14 new listings between 2010-2020. There was only one new initial public offering (IPO) in 2020. Short selling, which could provide liquidity to the market, is not permitted. The Moroccan government initiated the Futures Market Act (Act 42-12) in 2015 to define the institutional framework of the futures market in Morocco and the role of the regulatory and supervisory authorities. As of March 2021, futures trading was still pending implementation and is not expected to commence until 2023.

The Casablanca Stock Exchange demutualized in November of 2015. This change allowed the CSE greater flexibility and more access to global markets, and better positioned it as an integrated financial hub for the region. The Moroccan government holds a 25 percent share of the CSE but has announced its desire to sell to another major exchange to bring additional capital and expertise to the market. Morocco has accepted the obligations of IMF Article VIII, sections 2(a), 3, and 4, and its exchange system is free of restrictions on making payments and transfers on current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms, and foreign investors are able to obtain credit on the local market.

Money and Banking System

Morocco has a well-developed banking sector, where penetration is rising rapidly and recent improvements in macroeconomic fundamentals have helped resolve previous liquidity shortages. Morocco has some of Africa’s largest banks, and several are major players on the continent and continue to expand their footprint. The sector has several large, homegrown institutions with international footprints, as well as several subsidiaries of foreign banks. According to the IMF’s 2016 Financial System Stability Assessment on Morocco , Moroccan banks comprise about half of the financial system with total assets of 140 percent of GDP – up from 111 percent in 2008.

According to Bank Al-Maghrib (the Moroccan central bank) there are 24 banks operating in Morocco (five of these are Islamic “participatory” banks), six offshore institutions, 27 finance companies, 12 micro-credit associations, and 19 intermediary companies operating in funds transfer. Among the 19 traditional banks, the top seven banks comprise 90 percent of the system’s assets (including both on- and off-balance-sheet items). Attijariwafa, Morocco’s largest bank, is the sixth largest bank in Africa by total assets (approximately $55 billion in December 2019). The Moroccan royal family is the largest shareholder. Foreign (mainly French) financial institutions are majority stakeholders in seven banks and nine finance companies. Moroccan banks have built up their presence overseas mainly through the acquisition of local banks, thus local deposits largely fund their subsidiaries.

The overall strength of the banking sector has grown significantly in recent years. Since financial liberalization, credit is allocated freely and Bank Al-Maghrib has used indirect methods to control the interest rate and volume of credit. The banking penetration rate is approximately 56 percent, with significant opportunities remaining for firms pursuing rural and less affluent segments of the market. At the start of 2017, Bank Al-Maghrib approved five requests to open Islamic banks in the country. By mid-2018, over 80 branches specializing in Islamic banking services were operating in Morocco. The first Islamic bonds (sukuk) were issued in October 2018. In 2019, Islamic banks in Morocco granted $930 million in financing. The GOM passed a law authorizing Islamic insurance products (takaful) in 2019, but as of March 2021 the implementation regulations are still pending, and the products are not yet active.

Following an upward trend beginning in 2012, the ratio of non-performing loans (NPL) to bank credit stabilized in 2017 through 2019 at 7.6 percent. This was offset by COVID-related complications causing the NPL rate to jump to 9.9 percent in the end of 2020.

Morocco’s accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. Morocco is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures  . Bank Al-Maghrib is responsible for issuing accounting standards for banks and financial institutions. Bank Al Maghrib requires that all entities under its supervision use International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The Securities Commission is responsible for issuing financial reporting and accounting standards for public companies. Moroccan Stock Exchange Law ( Law 52-01 ) stipulates that all companies listed on the Casablanca Stock Exchange (CSE), other than banks and similar financial institutions, can choose between IFRS and Moroccan Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). In practice, most public companies use IFRS.

Legal provisions regulating the banking sector include Law No. 76-03 on the Charter of Bank Al-Maghrib, which created an independent board of directors and prohibits the Ministry of Finance and Economy from borrowing from the Central Bank except under exceptional circumstances. Even with the financial crisis caused by COVID-19, the central bank did not provide financing directly to the state, but instead used other monetary tools (such as reducing reserve requirements) to intervene and reinforce the banking sector. Law No. 34-03 (2006) reinforced the supervisory authority of Bank Al-Maghrib over the activities of credit institutions. Foreign banks and branches are allowed to establish operations in Morocco and are subject to provisions regulating the banking sector. At present, the U.S. Mission is not aware of Morocco losing correspondent banking relationships.

There are no restrictions on foreigners’ abilities to establish bank accounts. However, foreigners who wish to establish a bank account are required to open a “convertible” account with foreign currency. The account holder may only deposit foreign currency into that account; at no time can they deposit dirhams. There are anecdotal reports that Moroccan banks have closed accounts without giving appropriate warning and that it has been difficult for some foreigners to open bank accounts.

Morocco prohibits the use of cryptocurrencies, noting that they carry significant risks that may lead to penalties.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Foreign investments financed in foreign currency can be transferred tax-free, without amount or duration limits. This income can be dividends, attendance fees, rental income, benefits, and interest. Capital contributions made in convertible currency, contributions made by debit of forward convertible accounts, and net transfer capital gains may also be repatriated. For the transfer of dividends, bonuses, or benefit shares, the investor must provide balance sheets and profit and loss statements, annexed documents relating to the fiscal year in which the transfer is requested, as well as the statement of extra-accounting adjustments made to obtain the taxable income.

A currency-convertibility regime is available to foreign investors, including Moroccans living abroad, who invest in Morocco. This regime facilitates their investments in Morocco, repatriation of income, and profits on investments. Morocco guarantees full currency convertibility for capital transactions, free transfer of profits, and free repatriation of invested capital, when such investment is governed by the convertibility arrangement. Generally, the investors must notify the government of the investment transaction, providing the necessary legal and financial documentation. With respect to the cross-border transfer of investment proceeds to foreign investors, the rules vary depending on the type of investment. Investors may import freely without any value limits to traveler’s checks, bank or postal checks, letters of credit, payment cards or any other means of payment denominated in foreign currency. For cash and/or negotiable instruments in bearer form with a value equal to or greater than $10,000, importers must file a declaration with Moroccan Customs at the port of entry. Declarations are available at all border crossings, ports, and airports.

Morocco has achieved relatively stable macroeconomic and financial conditions under an exchange rate peg (60/40 Euro/Dollar split), which has helped achieve price stability and insulated the economy from nominal shocks. In March of 2020, the Moroccan Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Administrative Reform, in consultation with the Central Bank, adopted a new exchange regime in which the Moroccan dirham may now fluctuate within a band of ± 5 percent compared to the Bank’s central rate (peg). The change loosened the fluctuation band from its previous ± 2.5 percent. The change is designed to strengthen the capacity of the Moroccan economy to absorb external shocks, support its competitiveness, and contribute to improving growth.

Remittance Policies

Amounts received from abroad must pass through a convertible dirham account. This type of account facilitates investment transactions in Morocco and guarantees the transfer of proceeds for the investment, as well as the repatriation of the proceeds and the capital gains from any resale. AMDIE recommends that investors open a convertible account in dirhams on arrival in Morocco to quickly access the funds necessary for notarial transactions.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Ithmar Capital is Morocco’s investment fund and financial vehicle, which aims to support the national sectorial strategies. Ithmar Capital is a full member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds and follows the Santiago Principles. The $1.8 billion fund was launched in 2011 by the Moroccan government, supported by the royal Hassan II Fund for Economic and Social Development. This fund initially supported the government’s long-term Vision 2020 strategic plan for tourism. The fund is currently part of the long-term development plan initiated by the government in multiple economic sectors.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Boards of directors (in single-tier boards) or supervisory boards (in dual-tier boards) oversee Moroccan SOEs. The Financial Control Act and the Limited Liability Companies Act govern these bodies. The Ministry of Economy and Finance’s Department of Public Enterprises and Privatization monitors SOE governance. Pursuant to Law No. 69-00, SOE annual accounts are publicly available. Under Law No. 62-99, or the Financial Jurisdictions Code, the Court of Accounts and the Regional Courts of Accounts audit the management of a number of public enterprises. As of March 2021, the Moroccan Treasury held a direct share in 225 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and 43 companies. A list of SOEs is available on the Ministry of Finance’s website .

Several sectors remain under public monopoly, managed either directly by public institutions (rail transport, some postal services, and airport services) or by municipalities (wholesale distribution of fruit and vegetables, fish, and slaughterhouses). The Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP), a public limited company that is 95 percent held by the Moroccan government, is a world-leading exporter of phosphate and derived products. Morocco has opened several traditional government activities using delegated-management or concession arrangements to private domestic or foreign operators, which are generally subject to tendering procedures. Examples include water and electricity distribution, construction and operation of motorways, and the management of non-hazardous wastes. In some cases, SOEs continue to control the infrastructure while allowing private-sector competition through concessions. SOEs benefit from budgetary transfers from the state treasury for investment expenditures.

Morocco established the Moroccan National Commission on Corporate Governance in 2007. It prepared the first Moroccan Code of Good Corporate Governance Practices in 2008. In 2011, the Commission drafted a code dedicated to SOEs, drawing on the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs. The code, which came into effect in 2012, aims to enhance SOEs’ overall performance. It requires greater use of standardized public procurement and accounting rules, outside audits, the inclusion of independent directors, board evaluations, greater transparency, and better disclosure. The Moroccan government prioritizes a number of governance-related initiatives including an initiative to help SOEs contribute to the emergence of regional development clusters. The government is also attempting to improve the use of multi-year contracts with major SOEs as a tool to enhance performance and transparency.

Privatization Program

The government relaunched Morocco’s privatization program in the 2019 budget. Parliament enacted the updated annex to Law 38-89 (which authorizes the transfer of publicly held shares to the private sector) in February 2019 through publication in the official bulletin, including the list of entities to be privatized. The state still holds significant shares in the main telecommunications companies, banks, and insurance companies, as well as railway and air transport companies. In 2020, King Mohamed VI called for a sweeping reform to address the structural deficiencies of SOEs, after which the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Administration Reform announced plans to consolidate SOEs with overlapping missions, dissolve unproductive SOEs, and reorganize others to increase efficiencies. The government also authorized the establishment of the Mohammed VI Investment Fund, a public-limited company with initial capital of $4.7 billion to fund growth-generating projects through PPPs. The fund will contribute capital directly to large public and private companies operating in areas considered priorities. Public and private institutions will be able to collectively hold up to 49 percent of the Fund’s shares once the fund is fully operational.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible business conduct (RBC) has gained strength in the broader business community in tandem with Morocco’s economic expansion and stability. The Moroccan government does not have any regulations requiring companies to practice RBC nor does it give any preference to such companies. However, companies generally inform Moroccan authorities of their planned RBC involvement. Morocco joined the UN Global Compact network in 2006. The Compact provides support to companies that affirm their commitment to social responsibility. In 2016, the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs launched an annual gender equality prize to highlight Moroccan companies that promote women in the workforce. While there is no legislation mandating specific levels of RBC, foreign firms and some local enterprises follow generally accepted principles, such as the OECD RBC guidelines for multinational companies. NGOs and Morocco’s active civil society are also taking an increasingly active role in monitoring corporations’ RBC performance. Morocco does not currently participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, though it has held some consultations aimed at eventually joining EITI. No domestic transparency measures exist that require disclosure of payments made to governments. There have not been any cases of high-profile instances of private sector impact on human rights in the recent past.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

In Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index , Morocco maintained the same score of 40 but moved down six spots in the rankings (from 80th to 86th out of 180 countries). According to the State Department’s 2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Moroccan law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches during the year.

According to the Global Corruption Barometer Africa 2019 report published in July 2019, 53 percent of Moroccans surveyed think corruption increased in the previous 12 months, 31 percent of public services users paid a bribe in the previous 12 months, and 74 percent believe the government is doing a bad job in tackling corruption.

The 2011 constitution mandated the creation of a national anti-corruption entity. Morocco formally established the National Authority for Probity, Prevention, and Fighting Corruption (INPLCC) but did not become it operational until 2018 when its board was appointed by the king. The INPLCC is tasked with initiating, coordinating, and overseeing the implementation of policies for the prevention and fight against corruption, as well as gathering and disseminating information on the issue. Additionally, Morocco’s anti-corruption efforts include enhancing the transparency of public tenders and implementation of a requirement that senior government officials submit financial disclosure statements at the start and end of their government service, although their family members are not required to make such disclosures. Few public officials submitted such disclosures, and there are no effective penalties for failing to comply. Morocco does not have conflict of interest legislation. In 2018, thanks to the passage of an Access to Information (AI) law, Morocco joined the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral effort to make governments more transparent.

Although the Moroccan government does not require that private companies establish internal codes of conduct, the Moroccan Institute of Directors (IMA) was established in June 2009 with the goal of bringing together individuals, companies, and institutions willing to promote corporate governance and conduct. IMA published the four Moroccan Codes of Good Corporate Governance Practices. Some private companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. Morocco signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2007 and hosted the States Parties to the Convention’s Fourth Session in 2011. However, Morocco does not provide any formal protections to NGOs involved in investigating corruption. Although the U.S. Mission is not aware of cases involving corruption regarding customs or taxation issues, American businesses report encountering unexpected delays and requests for documentation that is not required under the FTA or standardized shipping norms.

Resources to Report Corruption

National Authority for Probity, Prevention, and Fighting Corruption 
Avenue Annakhil, Immeuble High Tech, Hall B, 3eme etage, Hay Ryad-Rabat
+212-5 37 57 86 60
inpplc@inpplc.ma

Transparency International National Chapter 
24 Boulevard de Khouribga, Casablanca 20250
Telephone number: +212-22-542 699
transparency@menara.ma

10. Political and Security Environment

Morocco does not have a significant history of politically motivated violence or civil disturbance. There has not been any damage to projects and/or installations with a continued impact on the investment environment. Demonstrations routinely occur in Morocco and usually center on political, social, or labor issues. They can attract thousands of people in major city centers, but most have been peaceful and orderly.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In the Moroccan labor market, many Moroccan university graduates cannot find jobs commensurate with their education and training, and employers report insufficient skilled candidates. The educational system does not prioritize STEM literacy and industrial skills and many graduates are unprepared to meet contemporary job market demands. In 2011, the Moroccan government restructured its employment promotion agency, the National Agency for Promotion of Employment and Skills (ANAPEC), to assist new university graduates prepare for and find work in the private sector that requires specialized skills. The government also is pursuing a strategy to increase the number of students in vocational and professional training programs. The Bureau of Professional Training and Job Promotion (OFPPT), Morocco’s main public provider for professional training, has made several large-scale investments to address the country’s skills gap, most recently announcing the launch of 12 regional training centers in April 2021 at cost of $400 million, adding to its network of dozens of specialized training centers across the county.

According to official government figures, unemployment was 11.9 percent in 2020, with youth (ages 15-24) unemployment hovering around 20 percent. The World Bank and other international institutions estimate that actual unemployment – and underemployment – rates may be higher. In 2018, the Government of Morocco launched a National Plan for Job Promotion, created after three years of collaboration with government partners involved in employment policy, to support job creation, strengthen the job market, and consolidate regional resources devoted to job promotion. This plan promotes entrepreneurship – especially in the context of regionalization outside the Casablanca-Rabat corridor – to boost youth employment.

Pursuing a forward-leaning migration policy, the Moroccan government has regularized the status of over 50,000 sub-Saharans migrants since 2014. Regularization provides these migrants with legal access to employment, employment services, and education and vocation training. The majority of sub-Saharan migrants who benefitted from the regularization program work in call centers and education institutes, if they have strong French or English skills, or domestic work and construction.

According to section VI of the labor law, employers in the commercial, industrial, agricultural, and forestry sectors with ten or more employees must communicate a dismissal decision to the employee’s union representatives, where applicable, at least one month prior to dismissal. The employer must also provide grounds for dismissal, the number of employees concerned, and the amount of time intended to undertake termination. With regards to severance pay (article 52 of the labor law), employees with permanent contracts are entitled to compensation in case of dismissal after six months of employment at the same company regardless of the type and frequency of payment. The labor law differentiates between layoffs for economic reasons and firing. In case of serious misconduct, the employee may be dismissed without notice or compensation or payment of damages. The employee must file an application with the National Social Security Funds (CNSS) agency within 60 days of termination. During this period, the employee shall be entitled to medical benefits, family allowances, and possibly pension entitlements. Labor law is applicable in all sectors of employment; there are no specific labor laws to foreign trade zones or other sectors. More information is available from the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Economic Diplomacy unit.

Morocco has roughly 20 collective bargaining agreements in the following sectors: Telecommunications, automotive industry, refining industry, road transport, fish canning industry, aircraft cable factories, collection of domestic waste, ceramics, naval construction and repair, paper industry, communication and information technology, land transport, and banks. The sectoral agreements that exist to date are in the banking, energy, printing, chemicals, ports, and agricultural sectors.

According to the State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices, the Moroccan constitution grants workers the right to form and join unions, strike, and bargain collectively, with some restrictions (S 396-429 Labor Code Act 1999, 65-99). The law prohibits certain categories of government employees, including members of the armed forces, police, and some members of the judiciary, from forming or joining unions and from conducting strikes. The law allows several independent unions to exist but requires 35 percent of the total employee base to be associated with a union for the union to be representative and engage in collective bargaining. The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Employers limited the scope of collective bargaining, frequently setting wages unilaterally for the majority of unionized and nonunionized workers. Domestic NGOs reported that employers often used temporary contracts to discourage employees from affiliating with or organizing unions. Legally, unions can negotiate with the government on national-level labor issues.

Labor disputes (S 549-581 Labor Code Act 1999, 65-99) are common, and in some cases result in employers failing to implement collective bargaining agreements and withholding wages. Trade unions complain that the government sometimes uses Article 288 of the penal code to prosecute workers for striking and to suppress strikes. Labor inspectors are tasked with mediation of labor disputes. In general, strikes occur in heavily unionized sectors such as education and government services, and such strikes can lead to disruptions in government services but usually remain peaceful.

In November 2020 following the large spike in unemployment caused by COVID-19, CNSS loosened eligibility requirements, allowing more individuals to qualify for unemployment benefits. Additional laws to further expand social protection in the legislative process, including universal health insurance, family allowances, pension plans, and unemployment benefits. The Domestic Worker Law ( 19-12 ) entered into force in 2020, giving domestic workers legal status and improving employment conditions.

Chapter 16 of the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement (FTA) addresses labor issues and commits both parties to respecting international labor standards.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $119,913 2019 $119,700 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $3,331 2019 $406 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $385 2019 $-21 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 55.3% 2019 56.2% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html    

* Source for Host Country Data: Moroccan GDP data from Bank Al-Maghrib, all other statistics from the Moroccan Exchange Office.  Conflicts in host country and international statistics are likely due to methodological differences

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 63,904 100% Total Outward 5,398 100%
France 20,052 31.4% Ivory Coast 742 13.7%
UAE 13,383 20.9% Luxembourg 490 9.1%
Spain 5,378 8.4% France 323 6%
Switzerland 3,530 5.5% Mauritius 235 5%
United States 3,331 5.2% Egypt 186 3.5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Foreign Commercial Service
U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco
+212522642082
FCSCasaSpecialist@trade.gov 

Nepal

Executive Summary

Nepal’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is approximately USD32.1 billion, and trade totaling USD11.1 billion. Despite considerable potential – particularly in the energy, tourism, information and communication technology (ICT), infrastructure and agriculture sectors – political instability, widespread corruption, cumbersome bureaucracy, and inconsistent implementation of laws and regulations have deterred potential investment. While the Government of Nepal (GoN) publicly states its keenness to attract foreign investment, this has yet to translate into meaningful practice. The COVID pandemic further slowed reform efforts that might have made Nepal a more attractive investment destination. Despite these challenges, foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country has been increasing in recent years. Historically, few American companies have invested in Nepal.

In 2017, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) signed a USD500 million Compact with the GoN that will focus on the electricity transmission and road maintenance sectors.  The GoN has agreed to contribute an additional USD130 million for these Compact programs. The GoN’s slow progress in securing Parliamentary ratification for the Compact and implementing it has not sent a good signal to potential investors.

Nepal’s location between India and China presents opportunities for foreign investors. Nepal also possesses natural resources that have significant commercial potential.

Hydropower – Nepal has an estimated 40,000 megawatts (MW) of commercially-viable hydropower electricity generation potential, which could become a major source of income through electricity exports.

Other sectors offering potential investment opportunities include agriculture, tourism, the ICT sector, and infrastructure, although the tourism sector is unlikely to recover until 2022 from the downturn due to the pandemic.

Nepal offers opportunities for investors willing to accept inherent risks and the unpredictability of doing business in the country and possess the resilience to invest with a long-term mindset.  While Nepal has established some investment-friendly laws and regulations in recent years, significant barriers to investment remain.

Corruption, laws limiting the operations of foreign banks, challenges in the repatriation of profits, limited currency exchange facilities, and the government’s monopoly over certain sectors of the economy, such as electricity transmission and petroleum distribution, undermine foreign investment in Nepal.

Millions of Nepalis seek employment overseas, creating a talent drain, especially among educated youth.

Trade unions – each typically affiliated with parties or even factions within a political party – and unpredictable general strikes create business risk.

Immigration laws and visa policies for foreign workers are cumbersome.  Inefficient government bureaucratic processes, a high rate of turnover among civil servants, and corruption exacerbate the difficulties for foreigners seeking to work in Nepal.

Political uncertainty is another continuing challenge for foreign investors. Nepal’s ruling party has spent much of its energy over the last years on internal political squabbles instead of governance.

Government restrictions on the media and non-governmental organizations highlight an increased tendency toward censorship.

The persistent use of intimidation, extortion, and violence – including the use of improvised explosive devices – by insurgent groups targeting domestic political leaders, GoN entities, and businesses is an additional source of instability, although the country’s most prominent insurgent group (led by Netra Bikram Chand, also known as Biplav) recently agreed on March 5, 2021 to enter peaceful politics, which may reduce this threat.

Nepal’s geography also presents challenges.  The country’s mountainous terrain, land-locked geography, and poor transportation infrastructure increases costs for raw materials and exports of finished goods.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 117 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 94 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 95 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 NA USD39.7M Nepal Rastra (central) Bank https://www.bea.gov/data/economic-accounts/international
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD1,090 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

There is recognition within the GoN that foreign investment is necessary to boost economic growth to meet the GoN’s target of becoming a middle-income country by 2030. While the GoN’s stated attitude toward FDI is positive, this has yet to translate into meaningful practice.

The most significant foreign investment laws are the revised Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Act (FITTA) of 2019, the Public-Private Partnership and Investment Act (PPIA) of 2019, the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1962, the Immigration Rules of 1994, the Customs Act of 2007 (a revised act is under Parliamentary review), the Industrial Enterprise Act of 2016 (and its 2020 revision), the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act of 2016 (and its 2019 amendment), the Company Act (2006), the Electricity Act of 1992, the Privatization Act of 1994, and the Income Tax Act (2002). Also important is the annual budget, which outlines customs, duties, export service charges, sales, airfreight and income taxes, and other excise taxes that affect foreign investment.

The FITTA attempted to create a friendlier environment for foreign investors. It streamlined the process for inbound foreign investment by requiring approval of FDI within seven days of application. Similarly, the FITTA streamlined the profit repatriation approval process, mandating decisions within 15 days. The revised FITTA set up a Single Window Service Center, through which foreign investors can avail themselves of the full range of services provided by the various government entities involved in investment approvals, including the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Supplies (MOICS), the Labor and Immigration Departments, and the Central Bank. The FITTA included a provision requiring the government to set a minimum threshold for foreign investment and publish it in the Nepal Gazette. On May 23, 2019, citing that provision, the government raised the minimum foreign investment threshold ten-fold to NPR 50 million (USD415,000) from the existing NPR 5 million (USD41,500). The new FITTA commits to providing “national treatment” to all foreign investors and that foreign companies will not be nationalized. Under the FITTA, investments up to NPR 6 billion (USD52 million) come under the purview, including approval authority, of the MOICS Department of Industry (DOI), and anything above that amount falls under the authority of the Investment Board of Nepal (IBN).

Other relevant laws include the Industrial Enterprise Act, the SEZ Act, an updated Labor Act (2017), and a pending Intellectual Property Rights Act. The Industrial Enterprise Act is intended to promote industrial growth in the private sector, includes a “no work, no pay” provision, and allows companies to take certain steps – such as buying land and establishing a line of credit – while environmental assessments and other regulatory requirements are being carried out. In practice, U.S. and other foreign companies comment that corruption, bureaucracy, inefficient implementation of existing procedures and requirements, and a weak regulatory environment make investing in Nepal unattractive, and Nepal’s new legislation has not improved the investment climate sufficiently to change that assessment.

Another significant piece of legislation that could affect investment decisions in Nepal is the Customs Act (2007), which established invoice-based customs valuations and replaced many investment tax incentives with a lower, uniform rate.  In 2017, the Department of Customs started to use the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) world software platform. In addition, the Electricity Act includes special terms and conditions for investment in hydropower development and the Privatization Act of 1994 authorizes and defines the procedures for privatization of state-owned enterprises.

There is no public evidence of direct executive interference in the court system that could affect foreign investors.  However, in recent years there has been public and media criticism of the politicization of the judiciary, including appointments of judges to Appellate Courts and the Supreme Court allegedly based on their political affiliations.

The IBN, a high-level government body chaired by the Prime Minister, was formed in 2011 to promote economic development in Nepal.  In addition to approving large-scale investment projects, the IBN is also the GoN body charged with assessing and managing public-private partnership (PPP) projects. It has the task of attracting large foreign investors to Nepal and was a key organizer of the last two Investment Summits in 2017 and 2019. It is the primary point of contact for large investors (above USD50 million), especially those engaged in public infrastructure projects.

The Nepal Business Forum ( http://www.nepalbusinessforum.org/ ) was formed in 2010 with the “aim of improving the business environment in Nepal through better interaction between the business community and government officials.” The NBF does not meet according to a regularized schedule, and the Embassy is not aware of any formal mechanisms or platforms to enable on-going dialogue, aside from the IBN, DOI, and the NBF.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises in Nepal and engage in various forms of remunerative activity.  The FITTA 2019 slightly increased the number of sectors open to foreign investment.  Outside of the restricted sectors listed below, foreign investment up to 100 percent ownership is permitted in most sectors. The GoN announced the opening of FDI in the primary agricultural sector for exports in January 2021. However, the matter is sub judice at the Supreme Court (as of March 2021), and so remains unimplemented.

During 2018 and 2019, the Market Monitoring Unit of the MOICS’s Department of Supply Management raided business establishments, seized records, closed business outlets, and brought charges against private businesses in various sectors, including retail, healthcare, and education, alleging that companies were charging prices that were too high.  Such raids are sporadic rather than a matter of sustained policy but contribute to creating an uncertain business environment.

The sectors excluded from foreign investment are listed in the annex of the FITTA 2019 and include:

  1. Primary agricultural sectors including animal husbandry, fisheries, beekeeping, oil-processing (from seeds or legumes), milk-based product processing; (Note: The GoN is attempting to open this sector for FDI if 75 percent of the products are exported. However, the matter is under review at the Supreme Court.)
  2. Small and cottage enterprises;
  3. Personal business services (haircutting, tailoring, driving, etc.);
  4. Arms and ammunition, bullets, gunpowder and explosives, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, industries related to atomic energy and radioactive materials;
  5. Real estate (excluding construction industries), retail business, domestic courier services, catering services, money exchange and remittance services;
  6. Tourism-related services – trekking, mountaineering and travel agents, tourist guides, rural tourism including arranging homestays;
  7. Mass media (print, radio, television, and online news), feature films in national languages;
  8. Management, accounting, engineering, legal consultancy services, language, music, and computer training; and
  9. Any consultancy services in which foreign investment is above 51 percent.

Investment proposals are screened by the DOI or the IBN to ensure compliance with the FITTA and other relevant laws.  Historically, the lack of clear, objective criteria and timeframes for decisions have resulted in complaints from prospective investors. While the GoN intended the FITTA to address these issues, the regulations enabling the implementation of the Act were only completed in January 2021, and thus how the law will work in practice remains to be seen.

The IBN website provides resources to prospective investors including the Nepal Investment Guide ( http://www.ibn.gov.np/ ). Similarly, the DOI maintains a website that should be helpful to investors ( http://www.investnepal.gov.np ).

U.S. investors are not disadvantaged or singled out relative to other foreign investors by any of the ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms.  U.S. companies often note that they struggle to compete with firms from neighboring countries when it comes to cost, but this is not a factor resulting from any specific GoN policy.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

There have been no recent investment policy reviews of Nepal.  The last one by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was conducted in 2003. The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted a trade policy review in 2019, available online at:   https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=((%20@Title=%20nepal)%20or%20(@CountryConcerned=%20nepal))%20and%20(%20(%20@Symbol=%20wt/tpr/g/*%20))&Language=ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true#  and https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp_rep_e.htm#bycountry .  The International Finance Corporation (IFC) conducted a Country Private Sector Diagnostics, available at:   https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/publications_ext_content/ifc_external_publication_site/publications_listing_page/creating+markets+in+nepal+country+private+sector+diagnostic .

Business Facilitation

In recent years, GoN officials have proclaimed Nepal “open for business” and explicitly welcomed foreign investment.  While the GoN likes to appear enthusiastic in its efforts to attract foreign investors, the reality has not yet matched the rhetoric.  Three laws directly affecting foreign investment (FITTA, PPP, and SEZ) were hurriedly revised and passed by Parliament but left little time for stakeholder consultations or transparency in the process. Both foreign and domestic private sector representatives often state that the GoN has not done enough to improve the business environment. While welcome provisions were included in the FITTA—for example, a streamlined approval process and single window service center—an assessment of the true effects of the reforms await full implementation.

After obtaining a letter of approval from DOI or IBN, Nepal’s Office of Company Registrar (OCR) maintains a website ( http://ocr.gov.np/index.php on which foreign companies can register.  OCR’s website also links to an information portal ( http://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/nepal ), maintained by UNCTAD and the International Chamber of Commerce, with resources and information for potential investors interested in Nepal.  According to the portal, registering a company takes “between three days and a week with the law authorizing up to 15 days.” Independent think tanks, however, have noted the online system does not eliminate corruption, and bureaucrats frequently request additional documentation that must be submitted in person, rather than online. Users ranked the Nepal portion of the OCR business registration website a four out of ten, according to the UNCTAD supported Global Enterprise Registration website  www.GER.co .

Outward Investment

The Act Restricting Investment Abroad (ARIA) of 1964 prohibits outbound investment from Nepal.  Some enterprising Nepalis have found ways around the Act, but for most Nepali investors, outward investment is a practical impossibility. The GoN is currently in the process of revising the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, which is expected to annul the ARIA, paving the way to limited capital account convertibility.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Nepal has Bilateral Investment Agreements in force with four countries:  France (1985), Germany (1988), the United Kingdom (1993), and Finland (2011).  In addition, Nepal has Bilateral Investment Agreement signed (but not in force) with Mauritius (signed 1999). Another one was signed with India in 2011 but was terminated in 2017.

Nepal has a free trade agreement with India, the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Trade, signed in 2002.  Nepal is a member of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) along with Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

Nepal is also a member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Free Trade Area, along with Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, and Thailand.

Nepal does not have a bilateral investment treaty or free trade agreement with the United States. Nepal has “Double Tax Avoidance” treaties with China, India, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand, Austria, Norway, and Qatar.  The United States Embassy in Nepal (Post) is not aware of any recent or upcoming changes to the taxation regime. Nepal’s shift to a federalist structure, however, means that there will be new tax policies at the local and provincial levels.

A Malaysian company, Axiata (owner of NCell, the largest private telecom company in Nepal), is working through a dispute with the GoN regarding alleged tax evasion at the 2015 transfer of NCell’s ownership from previous owners, Telia Sonera. The implication of this settlement (which is still playing out in the courts) appears to be that Nepal’s Income Tax Act 2002 needs to be carefully studied by foreign investors when buying/selling companies in Nepal to understand their tax liabilities.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The GoN has many laws, policies, and regulations that look good on paper, but are often not fully and consistently enforced.  Frequent government changes and staff rotations within the civil service result in officials who are often unclear on applicable laws and policies or interpret them differently than their predecessors.  Many foreign investors note that Nepal’s regulatory system is based largely on personal relationships with government officials, rather than systematic and routine processes.  Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are not transparent and are not consistent with international norms. The World Bank gives Nepal a score of 1.75 (on a scale of one to five) on its “Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance” index https://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/nepal , and notes that ministries in Nepal do not routinely create lists of “anticipated regulatory changes or proposals” and do not have the “legal obligation to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment.”

Historically, rule-making and regulatory authority resided almost exclusively with the central government in Kathmandu.  Nepal’s 2015 Constitution outlines a three-tiered federalist model. Following elections in 2017, seven provincial governments and 753 local government units were established.  Foreign businesses can expect to continue to interact with bureaucrats at the central government level in the near term, as national regulations remain the most relevant for foreign businesses. However, this could change over time as provincial governments become more established.

Traditionally, once acts are drafted and passed by Parliament, it has been incumbent upon the related government agencies and ministries to draft regulations to enforce the acts.  Regulations are passed by the cabinet and do not need parliamentary approval.  Nepal still lacks an established mechanism or system for the review of regulations based on scientific or data-driven assessments, or for conducting quantitative analyses for such purposes. The World Bank notes that the GoN is not required by law to solicit comments on proposed regulations, nor do ministries or regulatory agencies report on the results of the consultation on proposed regulations.  Post is not aware of any informal regulatory processes that are managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations.

Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are neither fully transparent nor consistent with international norms.  Though auditing is mandatory, professional accounting standards are low, and practitioners may be poorly trained. As a result, published financial reports can be unreliable, and investors often rely instead on businesses reputations unless companies voluntarily use international accounting standards.

Publicly listed companies in Nepal follow the 2013 Nepal Financial Reporting Standards (NFRSs), which were prepared on the basis of the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRSs) 2012, developed by the IFRS Foundation and their standard-setting body, the International Accounting Standards Board.  Audited reports of publicly listed companies are usually made available.

Draft bills or regulations are sometimes made available for public comment, although there is no legal obligation to do so.  The government agency that drafts the bill is responsible for undertaking a public consultation process with key stakeholders by issuing federal notices for comments and recommendations, although it is unclear in practice how many government agencies actually do so.  Additionally, all parliamentarians are given copies of the draft bills to share with their constituencies.  This applies to all draft laws, regulations, and policies. Parliamentary rules, however, require that draft amendments to bills be proposed only within 72 hours of a bill’s introduction, giving minimal time for lawmakers, constituents, or stakeholders to submit considered feedback. In practice, post’s observation has been that there is no clear timeline for the process of creating and passing bills, including the time period provided for public or stakeholder consultation.

Generally, the government agency that drafted the bill, legislation, policy, or regulation posts the actual draft (in Nepali language) online.  Once approved, the Department of Printing, an office that is part of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, posts all acts online. Regulatory actions and summaries of these actions are available at the Office of the Auditor General and the Ministry of Finance.  Both of these government agencies post periodic reports on the regulatory actions taken against agencies violating laws, rules, and regulations.  Such summaries and reports are available online in Nepali.

Individual ministries are responsible for enforcement of regulations under their purview.  The enforcement process is legally reviewable, making the agencies publicly accountable.  There are several government entities, including the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) that oversee the government’s administrative and regulatory processes. Post is not aware of any regulatory reform efforts.

Nepal’s budget and information on debt obligations are widely and easily accessible to the general public.  The annual budget is substantially complete and considered generally reliable. Nepal’s supreme audit institution reviews the government’s accounts, and its reports are publicly available.

International Regulatory Considerations

Nepal is one of eight members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of nations in South Asia including: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Under SAARC, Nepal is also a member of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) which came into force on January 1, 2006 with the goal of creating a duty-free trade regime among SAARC member countries.  According to SAFTA rules, member countries were supposed to reduce formal tariff rates to zero by 2016.  However, tariff barriers remain in place for hundreds of “sensitive” goods produced by various SAARC member countries that do not qualify for duty-free status.

Nepal is also a member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), an international organization of seven South Asian and Southeast Asian nations: Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal.

Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal – known collectively as BBIN – are working together to develop a platform for sub-regional cooperation in such areas as water resources management, power connectivity, transportation, and infrastructure development.  The four BBIN nations agreed on a motor vehicle agreement (MVA – both cargo and passengers) in 2015. In early 2018, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal also agreed on operating procedures for the movement of passenger vehicles, and in early 2020, the same three countries met to draft a memorandum of understanding to implement the MVA, without obligation to Bhutan.

Nepal’s regulatory system generally relies on international norms and standards developed by the United Nations, World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO), and other international organizations and regulatory agencies.

Nepal joined the WTO in March 2004.  According to its WTO accession commitments, the GoN agreed to provide notice of all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).  However, GoN officials are unable to confirm whether this procedure is followed consistently.

Nepal ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in January 2017.  As a least developed country (LDC), Nepal could benefit from additional technical assistance from WTO members through the TFA Facility.  A 2017 Asia Development Bank report noted, “Nepal has been making progress in undertaking trade facilitation reforms over the years, particularly those related to the customs.” The WTO’s December 2018 policy review ( https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp481_crc_e.htm ) noted Nepal’s efforts to diversify its narrow production and export base and encouraged Nepal to pursue further economic reform, including through its National Trade Integration Strategy ( https://www.oecd.org/aidfortrade/countryprofiles/dtis/Napal-DTIS-2016.pdf ) as well as address its supply side constraints, most notably high transit and transportation costs.  According to the TFA Facility’s website ( http://www.tfafacility.org ), Nepal has submitted provisions for all three categories, a key step for implementing TFA Category A, B, and C requisites.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Nepal’s court system is based on common law and its legal system is generally categorized under civil and criminal offences and laws. Contract law is codified.  In theory, contracts are automatically enforced, and a breach of contract can be challenged in a court of law. In practice, enforcement of contracts is weak. Nepal’s contracts are guided by the Contract Act of 2000.  Nepal does not have a commercial code. All civil courts are authorized to hear commercial complaints. A ‘commercial bench’ has been established at the High Court, but judges who preside on this bench are the same judges dealing with civil and criminal cases as well.

The judicial system is independent of the executive branch.  Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and they are adjudicated in the national court system. In general, the judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. In some isolated or high-profile cases, however, court judgments have come under criticism for alleged political interference favoring particular individuals and groups.  There remains widespread public perception that bribery and judicial conflicts of interest affect some judicial outcomes.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

In March 2019, three laws directly affecting foreign investment (FITTA, PPP, and SEZ) were hurriedly revised and passed by Parliament ahead of the 2019 Investment Summit.  This left little time for effective stakeholder consultations and transparency. While welcome provisions were included in the FITTA (a promised single window service center and a streamlined approval process, for example), the regulations to implement the reforms were only completed in January 2021 and observers remain skeptical given the GoN’s record of making lofty announcements without delivering on them in practice. As drafted, even these pieces of reform legislation retain various institutional and procedural impediments to smooth businesses practices which will dissuade all but the most risk-tolerant investors.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Competition Promotion and Market Protection Board, comprised of GoN officials from various ministries and chaired by the Minister of Industry, Commerce, and Supplies, is responsible for reviewing competition-related concerns.  Post is not aware of any competition cases that have involved foreign investors. MOICS’ Department of Supplies Management has a mandate to crack down on cartels and protect consumers. In the previous two years, it has played a more active role in cracking down on businesses—ranging from retailers to healthcare facilities to private schools—for alleged price-gouging.  However, private sector representatives have said that this department is interfering with the free market and is being used by businesses with political connections to target competitors, rather than as a mechanism to protect consumers.

Nepal’s private sector is dominated by cartels and syndicates—often under the banner of business associations–which are often successful in limiting competition from new market entrants in multiple sectors.  In 2018, the GoN issued new permits for transportation companies, and the Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Transport called the cartels “a curse to the nation.” Subsequently, however, the GoN has taken few additional steps to crack down on cartels.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Industrial Enterprise Act of 2016 states that “no industry shall be nationalized.”  To date, there have been no cases of nationalization in Nepal, nor are there any official policies that suggest expropriation should be a concern for prospective investors.  However, companies can be sealed or confiscated if they do not pay taxes in accordance with Nepali law, and bank accounts can be frozen if authorities have suspicions of money laundering or other financial crimes.  Nepal does not have a history of expropriations. There have been no government actions or shifts in government policy that indicate expropriations will become more likely in the foreseeable future.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Nepal is a member of both the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Award.  Nepal’s Arbitration Act of 1999 allows the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards and limits the conditions under which those awards can be challenged. The GoN has updated its legislation on dispute settlement to bring its laws into line with the requirements of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Award.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

As a signatory to the New York Convention and Nepal’s Arbitration Act of 1999, the GoN recognizes foreign arbitral awards as binding.  The Agreement between the Government of India and the Government of Nepal for the Promotion and Protection of Investments also discusses arbitration as a means to resolve investment disputes and notes that awards are binding.

Nepal does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty or Free Trade Agreement with the United States.  Investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors have not been frequent.  In the past ten years, Post is aware of only two cases in which a U.S. investor claimed the GoN had not honored terms of a contract.  In a third case, a U.S. investor complained about monetary compensation given to a landowner. This case was eventually resolved in favor of the investor. Under the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, local courts are obligated to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government, but Post is not aware of any cases that have involved foreign arbitral awards. There are no known cases of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Other than arbitration, Post is not aware of any alternative dispute resolution mechanisms available in Nepal. In disputes involving a foreign investor, the concerned parties are encouraged to settle through mediation in the presence of the DOI.  If the dispute cannot be resolved through mediation, depending on the amount of the initial investment and the procedures specified in the contractual agreement, cases may be settled either in a Nepali court or in another legal jurisdiction. Commercial disputes under the jurisdiction of Nepali courts and laws often drag on for years.

Under the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, local courts are obligated to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards, but Post is not aware of any cases that have involved foreign arbitral awards.

Domestic courts have a history of siding with state-owned enterprises (SOE) and other government entities in cases involving investment disputes. There have been cases in which local courts have refused to determine whether documents issued by an SOE were genuine.

Bankruptcy Regulations

There is no single specific act in Nepal that exclusively covers bankruptcy.  The 2006 Insolvency Act provides guidelines for insolvency proceedings in Nepal and specifies the conditions under which such proceedings can occur.  Additionally, the General Code of 1963 covers bankruptcy-related issues. Creditors, shareholders, or debenture holders can initiate insolvency proceedings against a company by filing a petition at the court.

If a company is solvent, its liquidation is covered by the Company Act of 2006.  If the company is insolvent and unable to pay its liabilities, or if its liabilities exceed its assets, then liquidation is covered by the Insolvency Act of 2006.  Under the Company Act, the order of claimant priority is as follows: 1) government revenue; 2) creditors; and 3) shareholders. Under the Insolvency Act, the government is equal to all other unsecured creditors.  Monetary judgments are made in local currency. Firms and entrepreneurs who have declared bankruptcy are blacklisted from receiving loans for 10 years.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Nepal Laws Revision Act of 2000 eliminated most tax incentives, however, exports are still favored, as is investment in certain “priority” sectors, such as agriculture, tourism, and hydropower.  Incentives for these sectors usually take the form of reduced or subsidized interest rates on bank loans. There is no discrimination against foreign investors with respect to export/import policies or non-tariff barriers.  The GoN also offers tax incentives to encourage industries to locate outside the Kathmandu Valley. Newly formed provincial governments are likely to consider offering their own investment incentives in the future. Post is unaware of the GoN issuing guarantees for FDI projects, but it has been open to joint financing arrangements.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In August 2016, Nepal’s Parliament approved the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act, which provides numerous incentives for investors in SEZs, including exemptions on customs duties for raw materials, streamlined registration processes, guaranteed access to electricity, and prohibition of labor strikes.  A revision to the SEZ Act in 2019 provided more incentives, including reducing to 60 percent the requirement that industries within an SEZ export 75 percent of their production. The GoN maintains plans to have a network of up to 15 SEZs throughout the country and is currently developing the country’s first two special economic zones in Bhairahawa and Simara, which are partly operational. Both are located in southern Nepal near the border with India.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no mandates for local employment.  However, numerous foreign investors and foreign workers have complained that obtaining work visas is an extremely onerous process, requiring the approval of multiple GoN agencies and instances of demands for bribes when obtaining and renewing visas.  (For information on work visas, http://www.nepalimmigration.gov.np . A recommendation letter from the relevant ministry overseeing the investment has become a de facto requirement. The GoN limits the number of expatriate employees permitted to work at a company, expressing concern that foreign workers are “taking jobs” from Nepali citizens. Representatives of foreign companies have told Post that these attitudes and extremely inflexible immigration laws make it difficult to legally get a visa for short-term employees or consultants. There are no mandates for local employees in senior management and on boards of directors.

There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest, other than those already discussed above, such as the list of sectors from which foreign investment is restricted.  The GoN does not use “forced localization” policies designed to compel companies to relocate all or part of their global business operations within its borders.

Nepal also does not have any requirements for IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to encryption.  In late 2018, parliament passed the Privacy Act and implementing regulations are being drafted. While the new regulations may clarify restrictions and responsibilities of companies around personal data management, Nepal has not previously had any regulations that would impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside Nepal. Similarly, there are no laws related to storage of data for law enforcement or privacy purposes.

Post is unaware of any Nepali laws regarding performance requirement, defined by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development as “stipulations, imposed on investors, requiring them to meet certain specified goals with respect to their operations in the host country.”

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Secured Transactions Act (2006) applies to all transactions involving mortgages or liens where the effect is to secure an obligation with collateral, including pledge (when lender takes actual possession of goods), hypothecation (when possession remains with the borrower), hire-purchase, sale of accounts and secured sales contracts, and lease of goods.  The GoN has established the Secured Transactions Registry Office for registering notices under this Act. Pursuant to this Act, the GoN may also designate any office to perform the notice registration function. There are no debt markets in which securitization (use of a physical asset to back up a financial instrument) would be used. However, physical assets, particularly property and land, are often used to secure personal and small business loans.

Nepal is ranked 97th in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report for registering property.  The report notes that registering property requires four procedures that typically take six days to complete. There are no exclusive regulations for land lease or acquisition by foreign and/or non-resident investors.  The FITTA and related laws governing foreign investment clearly state that investors can own property, but the title rests with the business/company rather than the foreign investor in an individual capacity.

The GoN does not maintain official statistics on untitled land.  The Ministry for Agriculture, Land Management and Cooperatives (previously known as the Ministry of Land Reform and Management) has been working for decades to identify property titles and registration.  Political instability, poor record-keeping, and resistance from stakeholders, however, has made this a difficult task. Most arable land has a title, although titles have sometimes been acquired in a fraudulent manner.

For legally purchased property, ownership does not revert to other owners.  But, if that property remains unoccupied or unused for an extended period, there is the possibility that squatters may occupy and claim the land.  Although such occupation is not legally enforceable, there are hundreds of cases of unsettled or unlawful occupation of property languishing in Nepal’s court system, most dating back to the 1996-2006 Maoist insurgency.

In 2007, Nepal ratified the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (1989), which guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples.  Post is not aware of any legal case in Nepal citing this convention.

Intellectual Property Rights

There is currently no single exclusive legislation in Nepal for the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), and protections remain weak with little enforcement. In 2017, the GoN finalized an IPR Policy and stated its intention to use it as the foundation for new IPR legislation. Nepal signed the 1994 World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). However, patent registration under the Patent, Design, and Trademark Act does not provide automatic protection to foreign trademarks and designs. Similarly, Nepal does not automatically recognize patents awarded by other nations. Trademarks must be registered in Nepal to receive protection. Once registered, trademarks are protected for a period of seven years. The Copyright Act of 2002 covers most modern forms of authorship and provides periods of protection consistent with international practice. Nepal became a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 1997 but has not yet signed the WIPO Copyright Treaty or the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

Nepal is not included in the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List. However, enforcement of existing IPR violations is sporadic at best. Law enforcement officials do not have adequate training on IPR issues and offenders can often pay a small bribe to avoid prosecution. Some of Nepal’s IPR laws are several decades old and penalties are too low to have deterrent effect. Awareness of IPR issues is low in the private sector and the legal system. As a result, Nepal faces serious challenges in preventing the sale of counterfeit goods. The primary marketplaces in Nepal are flooded with counterfeit products, including electronic equipment, clothing, digital media, and pharmaceutical products. Nepal does not track seizures of counterfeit goods and does not have a strong track record of prosecuting IPR violations.

Improving Nepal’s IPR policies has been a top priority for the U.S. Embassy, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has conducted nearly a dozen training courses for Nepali officials over the past several years on various aspects of IPR policy. Nepal’s Cabinet approved a new IPR Policy in March 2017 that has served as the foundation for new IPR legislation. Representatives from USPTO have reviewed the draft IPR bill, most recently in 2019, and provided the GoN recommendations on how the policy could be strengthened. This IPR Bill is currently awaiting clearance by the Ministry of Finance and will then be presented to the cabinet and parliament for ratification. It is expected that this new IP Act will be enacted some time in 2021. As Nepal works to update its IPR legislation, USPTO and the U.S. Embassy continue to advocate for stronger IPR protection.

Resources for Intellectual Property Rights Holders:

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

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Nepal Stock Exchange (NEPSE) is the only stock exchange in Nepal. The majority of NEPSE’s 255 listed companies are hydropower companies and banks, with the NEPSE listings for banks driven primarily by a regulatory requirement rather than commercial considerations. There are few opportunities for foreign portfolio investment in Nepal.  Foreign investors are not allowed to invest in the Nepal Stock Exchange nor permitted to trade in the shares of publicly listed Nepali companies; only Nepali citizens and Non-Resident Nepalis (NRNs) are allowed to invest in NEPSE and trade stock. The FITTA, however, allows for the creation of a “venture capital fund” to enable foreign institutional investors to take equity stakes in Nepali companies.

The Securities Board of Nepal (SEBON) regulates NEPSE, but the Board does little to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. While both NEPSE and SEBON have been enhancing their capabilities in recent years, Post’s view is that the NEPSE is far from becoming a mature stock exchange and likely does not have sufficient liquidity to allow for the entry and exit of sizeable positions. Some experts have raised concerns about the Ministry of Finance’s degree of influence over both SEBON and NEPSE and have cited lack of independence from government influence as an impediment to the development of Nepal’s capital market. (See: https://milkeninstitute.org/reports/framing-issues-modernizing-public-equity-market-nepal .)

Nepal moved to full convertibility (no foreign exchange restrictions for transactions in the current account)  when it accepted Article VIII obligations of IMF’s Articles of Agreement in May 1994. In line with this, the GoN and NRB refrain from imposing restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Credit is generally allocated on market terms, although special credit arrangements exist for farmers and rural producers through the Agricultural Development Bank of Nepal.  Foreign-owned companies can obtain loans on the local market. The private sector has access to a variety of credit and investment instruments. These include public stock and direct loans from finance companies and joint venture commercial banks. Foreign investors can access equity financing locally, but in order to do so, the investor must be incorporated in Nepal under the Companies Act of 2006 and listed on the stock exchange. The banking sector has grappled with shortages of loanable funds in the last couple of years resulting in high interest rates on loans. One of the major reasons for this is slow and inefficient government spending leading to lack of liquidity in the system. With the return of relative political stability in 2018, it was hoped this problem would be reduced but it has continued.

Money and Banking System

The NRB has promoted mergers in the financial sector and published merger bylaws in 2011 to help consolidate and better regulate the banking sector.  As of January 2021, there were 27 commercial banks, 19 development banks, and 21 finance companies registered with the NRB. This total does not include micro-finance institutions, savings and credit cooperatives, non-government organizations (NGOs), and other institutions, which provide many of the functions of banks and financial institutions.  There are no legal provisions to defend against hostile takeovers, but there have been no reports of hostile takeovers in the banking system.

Nepal’s poor infrastructure and challenging terrain has meant that many parts of the country do not have access to financial services.  A 2015 study by the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) reported that 61 percent of Nepalis had access to formal financial services (40 percent to formal banking). Following local elections in 2017, the GoN established 753 local government units and promised that each unit would be served by at least one bank.  As of January 2020, 8 local units were still without a bank. Most of the local units without banks are in remote locations with few suitable buildings and a lack of proper security and internet connectivity.

(UNCDF) reported that 61 percent of Nepalis had access to formal financial services (40 percent to formal banking). Following local elections in 2017, the GoN established 753 local government units and promised that each unit would be served by at least one bank.  As of January 2020, 8 local units were still without a bank. Most of the local units without banks are in remote locations with few suitable buildings and a lack of proper security and internet connectivity.

Nepal’s banking sector is relatively healthy, though fragmented, and NRB bank supervision, while improving, remains weak, allegedly due to political influence according to several private sector representatives.  The GoN hopes to strengthen the banking system by reducing the number of smaller banks and it has actively encouraged consolidation of commercial banks; there are currently 27 commercial banks, down from 78 in 2012. Most banks locate their branches in and around Kathmandu and in the large cities of southern Nepal.  Some banks are owned by prominent business houses, which could create conflicts of interest. There are also a large number of cooperative banks that are governed not by the NRB but by the Ministry of Agricultural, Land Management, and Cooperatives. These cooperatives compete with banks for customers.

In January 2017, Parliament approved the Bank and Financial Institutions (BAFI) Act.  First introduced in 2013, BAFI is designed to strengthen corporate governance by setting term limits for Chief Executive Officers and board members at banks and financial institutions.  The legislation also aims to reduce potential conflicts of interest by prohibiting business owners from serving on the board of any bank from which their business has taken loans.

In 2018, NRB was criticized for not taking action to relieve a liquidity crunch and the Nepal Banker’s Association came to a gentlemen’s agreement to limit deposit rates.  The NRB did not protest this action, leading to some criticism that it was not fulfilling its role as a regulator against what many perceived as cartel behavior.

The NRB regulates the national banking system and also functions as the government’s central bank. As a regulator, NRB controls foreign exchange; supervises, monitors, and governs operations of banking and non-banking financial institutions; determines interest rates for commercial loans and deposits; and determines exchange rates for foreign currencies.  As the government’s bank, NRB manages all government income and expenditure accounts, issues Nepali bills and treasury notes, makes loans to the government, and determines monetary policy.

Existing banking laws do not allow retail branch operations by foreign banks, which compels foreign banks to set up a local bank if choosing to operate in Nepal.  For example, Standard Chartered formed Standard Chartered Nepal. All commercial banks have correspondent banking arrangements with foreign commercial banks, which they use for transfers and payments.  Standard Chartered is the only correspondent bank with a physical presence in Nepal and handles foreign transactions for the NRB. Nepal will be undergoing a review by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 2021 to assess its anti-money laundering regime. Although unlikely, Nepal risks losing its correspondent banking relationships or increased FATF monitoring if it fails this assessment.  Foreigners who are legal residents of Nepal with proper work permits and business visas are allowed to open bank accounts.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The FITTA allows foreign investors to repatriate all profits and dividends, all money raised through the sale of shares, all payments of principal and interest on any foreign loans, and any amounts invested in transferring foreign technology. Doing so, however, requires multiple approvals and extended procedures which have historically resulted in such transactions taking months to complete. Foreign nationals working in local industries are also allowed to repatriate 75 percent of their income. Opening bank accounts and obtaining permission for remittance of foreign exchange are available based on the recommendation of the DOI, which usually has provided approval of the original investment.

In practice, repatriation is difficult, time consuming, and not guaranteed.  The relevant GoN department and the NRB, which regulates foreign exchange, must both approve the repatriation of funds. In most cases, approval must also be obtained from the DOI. In the case of the telecommunications sector, the Nepal Telecommunications Authority must also approve the repatriation. In joint venture cases, the NRB and the Ministry of Finance must grant approval. Repatriation of funds is expected to become easier after the single window service center, as provided for by the FITTA, comes fully into operation.

In the past, several foreign companies reported that the GoN insisted on contracts denominated in Nepal’s currency, the Nepali rupee (NPR), and not major world currencies, such as the U.S. dollar. This seems to be changing, at least in the energy sector, where the GoN has adopted a policy that permits the Nepal Electricity Authority to sign Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) denominated in U.S. dollars (or other hard foreign currency).  There are some limits on so-called “forex” or hard currency PPAs, including, for example, the stipulations that only costs or borrowing in foreign currency are covered and that payments may only be made for 10 years or the term of the loan, whichever is less. Provisions for repatriation are governed by NRB procedures, as is conversion of foreign investors’ funds into other currencies. Nepal’s currency has been pegged to the Indian rupee (INR) since 1994 at a rate of 1.6 NPR to 1 INR. As such, the NPR fluctuates relative to world currencies in line with the INR. According to the April 2020 IMF Article IV Consultation—Press Release; Staff Report; and Statement by the Executive Director for Nepal ( https://www.imf.org/en/Countries/NPL ), the peg to the INR reduces exchange rate uncertainty for trade and investment with India, its major trading partner, but the appreciation of the Nepali rupee against the Indian rupee has also resulted in the overvaluation of the Nepali rupee and could affect Nepal’s competitiveness.

Remittance Policies

The FITTA legislation promises to make it easier to remit investment earnings, but it will depend on how effectively the single window, as well as associated approvals and procedures, functions in practice. In the interim, foreign investors will continue to use the old process of applying to the NRB to repatriate funds from the sale of shares. For repatriation of funds connected with dividends, principal and interest on foreign loans, technology transfer fees, or expatriate salaries, the foreign investor applies first to the DOI and then to the NRB. At the DOI stage of obtaining remittance approval, foreign investors must submit remittance requests to a commercial bank. Final remittance approval is granted by the NRB Department of Foreign Exchange, a process that is reported by foreign investors to be opaque and time-consuming. After administrative approvals, a lengthy clearance process between the NRB and the commercial bank further slows the foreign exchange transfer. The experience of U.S. and other foreign investors so far indicates serious discrepancies between the government’s stated policies in the FITTA and implementation in practice.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Nepal has no sovereign wealth funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are 36 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in Nepal, including Nepal Airlines Corporation, Nepal Oil Corporation, and the Nepal Electricity Authority. Since 1993, Nepal has initiated numerous market policy and regulatory reforms in an effort to open eligible government-controlled sectors to domestic and foreign private investment. These efforts have had mixed results. The majority of private investment has been made in manufacturing and tourism—sectors where there is little government involvement and existing state-owned enterprises are not competitive. Many state-owned sectors are not open for foreign investment. Information on the annual performance of Nepal’s SOEs’ can be found on this website. https://mof.gov.np/uploads/document/file/Annual%20Status%20Review%20of%20Public%20Enterprises%202019_20200213054242.pdf .

Corporate governance of SOEs remains a challenge and executive positions have reportedly been filled by people connected to politically appointed government ministers. Board seats are generally allocated to senior government officials and the SOEs are often required to consult with government officials before making any major business decisions. A 2011 executive order mandates a competitive and merit-based selection process but has encountered resistance within some ministries. Third-party market analysts consider most Nepali SOEs to be poorly managed and characterized by excessive government control and political interference. According to local economic analysts, SOEs are sometimes given preference for government tenders, although official policy states that SOEs and private companies are to compete under the same terms and conditions.

Private enterprises do not have the same access to finance as SOEs. Private enterprises mostly rely on commercial banks and financial institutions for business and project financing. SOEs, however, also have access to financing from state-owned banks, development banks, and other state-owned investment vehicles. Similar concessions or facilities are not granted to private enterprises. SOEs receive non-market-based advantages, given their proximity to government officials, although these advantages can be hard to quantify. Some SOEs, such as the Nepal Electricity Authority or the Nepal Oil Corporation have monopolies that prevent foreign competitors from entering those market sectors.

The World Bank in Nepal assesses corporate governance benchmarks (both law and practice) against the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, focusing on companies listed on the stock market. Awareness of the importance of corporate governance is growing. The NRB has introduced higher corporate governance standards for banks and other financial institutions. Under the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, the World Bank recommended in 2011 that the GoN strengthen capital market institutions and overhaul the OCR. Although some reforms were initiated, many were never finalized and no reforms have been instituted at the OCR.

Privatization Program

The Privatization Act of 1994 authorizes and defines the procedures for privatization of state-owned enterprises to broaden participation of the private sector in the operation of such enterprises. The Privatization Act of 1994 generally does not discriminate between national and foreign investors, however, in cases where proposals from two or more investors are identical, the government gives priority to Nepali investors.

Economic reforms, deregulation, privatization of businesses and industries under government control, and liberalized policies toward FDI were initiated in the early 1990s. During this time, sectors such as telecommunications, civil aviation, coal imports, print and electronic media, insurance, and hydropower generation were opened for private investment, both domestic and foreign. The first privatization of a state-owned corporation was conducted in October 1992 through a Cabinet decision (executive order). Since then, a total of 23 state-owned corporations have been privatized, liquidated, or dissolved, though the process has been static since 2008.

The last company to be (partially) privatized was Nepal Telecom in 2008 (although the GoN still is the majority shareholder). Since then, no SOEs have been privatized. In the past, privatization was initiated with a public bidding process that was transparent and non-discriminatory. Procedural delays, resistance from trade unions, and a lack of will within the GoN, however, have created obstacles to the privatization process. The Corporate Coordination and Privatization Division of the Ministry of Finance is responsible for management of the privatization program. Foreign investors can participate in privatization programs of state-owned enterprises.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Awareness of the general international expectations of responsible business conduct (RBC) remains very low in Nepal. Government rules, policies, and standards related to RBC are mostly limited to environmental issues. Social and governance issues are poorly promoted and enforced by the government.

Government laws, policies, and rules concerning RBC, including environmental and social standards, are in place. However, the government agencies and officials responsible for enforcing them have been criticized for failing to fulfill their responsibilities. The GoN has not drafted a national action plan for RBC and does not factor RBC policies into procurement decisions. Workers’ organizations and unions are the most vocal entities promoting or monitoring RBC. Other than the Department of Labor, which works with workers’ organizations and unions, government agencies do not actively encourage foreign and domestic enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principles. The ILO is working to promote RBC in the agricultural sector, focusing on the tea, ginger, cardamom, and dairy industries.

The GoN’s efforts to develop and enforce laws for environmental protection, consumer protection, labor rights, and human rights have been sporadic and lacking in efficacy. Ministries and concerned departments occasionally initiate special campaigns to enforce laws and regulations protecting these rights, but this is not standard practice. Government agencies often do not enforce these laws, and the minor penalties imposed provide minimal deterrent effect. Post is not aware of any cases of private sector projects’ effects on human rights.

Various government agencies monitor business entities’ compliance with different standards and codes. For example, OCR looks after governance issues, the Inland Revenue Department monitors accounting, and the Department of Labor monitors executive compensation standards. There are no independent NGOs or investment funds focusing on promoting or monitoring RBC, although organizations like Goodweave help promote child labor-free products.

The GoN does not encourage adherence to OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. There are virtually no extractive industries in Nepal, other than sand mining in riverbeds and the country does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Some report that corruption is rampant in Nepal. In the words of a World Bank official, corruption in Nepal is “endemic, institutionalized, and driven from the top.” Corruption takes many forms but is pervasive in the awarding of licenses, government procurement, and revenue management. The primary law used to combat corruption in Nepal is the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002. This law prohibits corruption, bribery, money laundering, abuse of office, and payments to facilitate services, both in the public and private sector. According to a report by GAN Integrity, a company that works with businesses to mitigate corporate risk, “implementation and enforcement [of the Prevention of Corruption Act] is inadequate, leaving the levels of corruption in the country unchallenged.” The report goes on to note that Nepal’s judicial system is “subject to pervasive corruption and executive influence,” that “corruption is rife among low-level [police] officers,” and that “Nepali tax officials are prone to corruption, and some seek positions in the sector specifically for personal enrichment.” The full report is available at: https://www.ganintegrity.com/portal/country-profiles/nepal .

The CIAA is Nepal’s constitutional body for corruption control.  The 2015 constitution empowers the CIAA to conduct “investigations of any abuse of authority committed through corruption by any person holding public office.” In practice, CIAA arrests and investigations tend to focus on lower-level government bureaucrats. According to the 2020 Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International (TI), Nepal ranked 117th among 180 countries, placing it in the range of “highly corrupt” countries.  In January 2018, local media reported that the CIAA is drafting a bill to replace the Prevention of Corruption Act, with the goal of making the new law compatible with the UN Convention against Corruption that Nepal signed in 2011. Nepal is not a member of the OEDC Anti-Bribery Convention.

While anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to political parties, there are no laws or regulations that are specifically designed to counter conflict-of-interest in awarding contracts or government procurement. GoN officials are aware that there should be no conflict of interest when contracts are awarded, but how this is implemented is left to the discretion of the concerned government agency.

The GoN does not require companies to establish codes of conduct. Post is not aware of private companies that use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials, however, this does not mean that there are no companies that use such programs. American consulting firm Frost and Sullivan ( www.frost.com ) maintains an office in Kathmandu and investigates local investment partners for a fee. NGOs involved in investigating corruption do not receive special protections.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority
CIAA Headquarter, P.O. Box No. 9996
Tangal, Kathmandu, Nepal
Phone:  +9771-4440151, 4429688, 4432708

International nongovernmental organization:

Mr. Bharat Bahadur Thapa
President, Transparency International Nepal
P.O. Box 11486, Chakhkhu Bakhkhu Marga, New Baneshwor, Kathmandu
+977 1 4475112, 4475262
Email:  trans@tinepal.org 

Local nongovernmental organization:

Prof. Dr. Srikrishna Shrestha
President, Pro Public
P.O. Box: 14307, Gautambuddha Marg, Annamnagar
Phone:  +977-01-4268681, 4265023; Fax: +977-01-4268022
Email:   mailto:propublic@wlink.com.np 

10. Political and Security Environment

In 2017, Nepal successfully held local, provincial, and national elections to fully implement its 2015 constitution. The Madhesi population in Nepal’s southern Terai belt, together with other traditionally marginalized ethnic and caste groups, believes the constitution is insufficiently inclusive and that its grievances are not being addressed. Post-election, however, this feeling of disenfranchisement may be somewhat assuaged due to the fact that Madhesi parties achieved a majority in the Province 2 provincial assembly elections. The Nepal Communist Party (NCP)—formed by the merger of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist (UML)) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center)—swept the 2017 elections to form a two-thirds majority government in 2018. However, internal wrangling within the NCP broke into the open and dominated much of 2020, resulting in Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolving the parliament in December 2020. Although the parliament was reinstated by the Supreme Court on February 23, 2021, a March 7 Supreme Court ruling broke up the NCP into its original constituents, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN)-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and CPN-Maoist Center (CPN-MC) parties. It is unclear when or if a new coalition government will be formed among the various parties represented in the (reconvened) Parliament – or whether early elections will be called if the Oli government fails to win a confidence vote. Political negotiations, wrangling, and horse-trading are ongoing, with governance and lawmaking taking a back seat. In the meantime Oli continues as PM.

Criminal violence, sometimes conducted under the guise of political activism, remains a problem. Bandhs (general strikes) called by political parties and other agitating groups sometimes halt transport and shut down businesses, sometimes nationwide. However, in the last several years, few bandhs have been successfully carried out in Kathmandu. Americans and other Westerners are generally not targets of violence.

U.S. citizens who travel to or reside in Nepal are urged to register with the Consular Section of the Embassy by accessing the Department of State’s travel registration site at  https://step.state.gov/step,. The Consular Section provides updated information on travel and security on the embassy website, http://np.usembassy.gov., and can be reached through the Embassy switchboard at (977) (1) 423-4500, by fax at (977) (1) 400-7281, by email at  consktm@state.gov .

U.S. citizens also should consult the Department of State’s Consular Information Sheet for Nepal and Worldwide Caution Public Announcement on the Department of State’s home page at http://travel.state.gov, by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, by a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Over the last ten years, there have been frequent calls for strikes, particularly in the Terai. Occasionally, protesters have vandalized or damaged factories and other businesses. On February 22, 2019, a small improvised explosive device (IED) was placed overnight outside the entrance of NCell, Nepal’s second largest mobile carrier. One person died and two others were injured. The Indian-run Arun 3 hydro-power plant has been targeted by IEDs on three occasions and in early-2018 the U.S. Embassy issued a security notice about credible threats of violence targeting the private Chandragiri Hills Cable Car attraction. Such incidents remain infrequent, but unpredictable. Demonstrations have on occasion turned violent, although these activities generally are not directed at U.S. citizens or businesses. Biplav, a splinter Maoist group that threatened or attempted to extort NGOs, businesses, and educational institutions across Nepal over the past two years, is in negotiations with the KP Oli government to give up violence and enter peaceful politics.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Nepal’s labor force is characterized by an acute lack of skilled workers and an abundance of political party-affiliated unions. Only a small proportion (14%) of Nepal’s working age population has a secondary or above secondary education. In Nepal, there is little demand for skilled workers, and prior to the COVID pandemic, thousands of skilled and unskilled Nepalis departed each year to work in foreign countries, primarily Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, South Korea, Japan, and Malaysia. Thousands more also sought employment in India, which shares an open border with Nepal. Nepal’s unemployment rate of 11% and high rates of underemployment have provided push factors, but the gap between overseas migrant workers’ and domestic wage rates has made it difficult for Nepal’s agricultural and construction sectors to find enough workers, and many companies import laborers willing to work for lower wages from India.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the country’s literacy rate is 65.9 percent, with the literacy rate for men at 75.1 percent and 57.4 percent for women. Vocational and technical training are poorly developed, and the national system of higher education is overwhelmed by high enrollment and inadequate resources. Many secondary school and college graduates are unable to find jobs commensurate with their education levels. Hiring non-Nepali workers is not, with the exception of India, a viable option as the employment of foreigners is restricted and requires the approval of the Department of Labor. The Act and Labor Regulations of 2018 limit the number of foreign employees a firm can employ and the length of time foreign employees can remain in Nepal to three years for those with non-specialized skills and five years for those with technical expertise. These terms are renewable, but only after the employee has departed Nepal for at least one-year, further undermining firm’s ability to retain needed staff based on business needs.

Under Nepali law, it has historically been difficult to dismiss employees. Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and firing. In some cases, Nepal’s labor laws have forced companies to retain employees, even after a business has closed. Workers at state-owned enterprises often receive generous severance packages if they are laid off. Unemployment insurance does not exist. Many private enterprises hire workers on a contract basis for jobs that are not temporary in nature as a way to avoid cumbersome labor laws. In some commercial banks and other businesses, security guards, drivers, and administrative staff jobs are filled by contract workers. The Industrial Enterprise Act of 2016 and the Labor Act of 2017 both include a “no work, no pay” provision, and the later clarifies processes for hiring and firing employees. In practice, it remains difficult to fire workers in Nepal and the Labor Act encourages the hiring of Nepali citizens wherever possible. Some labor union representatives said the new Labor Act 2017 is generally worker friendly. It is unclear how effectively this law is being enforced. The new act details requirements for time off, payment, and termination of employees. It also has some provisions to end discrimination in the workplace. According to the act, the employer is prohibited from discriminating against any employee based on religion, color, sex, caste and ethnicity, origin, language or belief or any other related basis. The Labor Act also confirms that employees shall have the right to form a trade union.

By law, labor unions in Nepal are independent of the government and employer. In practice, however, all labor unions are affiliated with political parties, and have significant influence within the government. The constitution provides for the freedom to establish and join unions and associations. It permits restrictions on unions only in cases of subversion, sedition, or similar circumstances. Labor laws permit strikes, except by employees in essential services such as water supply, electricity, and telecommunications. Sixty percent of a union’s membership must vote in favor of a strike for it to be legal, though this law is often ignored. Laws also empower the government to halt a strike or suspend a union’s activities if the union disturbs the peace or adversely affects the nation’s economic interests; in practice, this is rarely done. Labor unions have staged frequent strikes, often unrelated to working conditions, although they have become less frequent and less effective in recent years. Political parties will frequently call for national strikes that are observed only in particular regions or that only last for a few hours. In the past year, Post is not aware of any strike that lasted long enough to pose an investment risk. The SEZ Act approved in August 2016 prohibits workers from striking in any SEZ. There are two SEZs that are partially operational, but the GoN hopes to eventually have as many as 15. However, private sector interest in SEZs has been lukewarm.

Total union participation is estimated at about one million, or about 10 percent of the total workforce. The three largest trade unions are affiliated with political parties. The Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Trade Union Federation (ANTUF) is the most active and its organizing tactics have led to violent clashes with other trade unions in the past. The ANTUF and its splinter group, the ANTUF-R, are aggressive in their defense of members and frequently engage in disputes with management. Labor union agitation is often conducted in violation of valid contracts and existing laws, and unions are rarely held accountable for their actions.

Collective bargaining is only applied in establishing workers’ salaries. Trade unions, employers, and government representatives actively engage in this practice. Nepal’s Labor Act, updated in 2017, includes two types of labor dispute resolution mechanisms, one for individual disputes and one for collective disputes for businesses with 10 or more employees. If a dispute cannot be resolved by the employee and management, the case is forwarded for mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, it is settled through arbitration. For individual disputes, the employee is required to submit an application to the business regarding their claim. The company’s management should then discuss the claim with the employee in order to settle it within 15 days. If a claim made by the employee cannot be settled between the employee and the company, the issue may be forwarded to the Department of Labor where discussions shall be held in the presence of Department of Labor officials. If the employee is not satisfied with the decision made by the Department of Labor, they can appeal to the Labor Court.

The Labor Act is applicable only to companies, private firms, partnerships, cooperatives, associations, or other organizations in operation or established, incorporated, registered, or formed under prevailing laws of Nepal regardless of their objective to earn profit or not. The Labor Act does not apply to the following entities: Civil Service, Nepal Army, Nepal Police, Armed Police Force, entities incorporated under other prevailing laws or situated in Special Economic Zones to the extent separate provisions are provided, and working journalists, unless specifically provided in the contract.

Nepal’s enforcement of regulations to monitor labor abuses and health and safety standards is weak. Operations in small towns and rural areas are rarely monitored. International labor rights are recognized within domestic law. No new labor-related laws have been enacted in the past year.

The GoN does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons, though it is making significant efforts to do so. The definition of human trafficking under Nepal’s Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act (HTTCA) does not match the definition of human trafficking under international law. In June 2020, Nepal formally acceded to the Palermo Protocol. Children in Nepal are engaged in child labor, including in the production of bricks, carpets, and embellished textiles, although the GoN claims to be serious about ending child labor. The Labor Inspectorate’s budget, the number of labor inspectors, and relevant resources and training are all insufficient for effective enforcement of Nepal’s labor laws, including those related to child labor. The most recent Human Rights Report can be found at:  https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/. The Department of Labor’s 2018 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor is available at:  https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/nepal 

Nepal has a modest level of trade with the United States, with USD180 million in bilateral trade in 2020 (down from USD214 million the previous year). In late 2016, the Nepal Trade Preferences Program – which grants duty free access to certain products made in Nepal – went into effect. Nepal exported approximately USD2.4 million worth of goods in 2020 under this program (down from USD3.1 million the previous year). To remain eligible for this program, Nepal must meet certain labor standards.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy* Source for Host Country Data:
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 USD29.2 2019 USD30.6 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 USD40.8 2019 USD39.7 Nepal Rastra (central) Bank
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 USD0 2019 USD0 Not permitted under Nepali law
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 6.6% 2019 6.2% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward            USD1,620 Amount 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
India                            USD496 Amount 31% N/A
China, P.R.: Mainland USD244 Amount 15% N/A
West Indies                         USD221 Amount 14% N/A
Ireland                    USD103 Amount 6% N/A
Singapore                     USD78 Amount 5% N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Nepalis are prohibited from investing abroad as per the Act Restricting Investment Abroad (ARIA), 1964. Post has heard this Law might be abrogated soon, but as of April 2021, no outward investment is permitted from Nepal.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Molly Rivera-Olds
Economic/Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy Kathmandu+977 1 423 4192
Email: rivera-oldsm@state.gov

Abhishek Basnyat
Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy Kathmandu
+977 1 423 4469
Email:   basnyatap@state.gov 

Russia

Executive Summary

The Russian Federation remained in 28th place out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report, reflecting modest incremental improvements in the regulatory environment in prior years. The World Bank paused the publication of the Doing Business 2021 report to assess a number of irregularities that have been reported, therefore no updates since last report are available. However, fundamental structural problems in Russia’s governance of the economy continue to stifle foreign direct investment throughout Russia. In particular, Russia’s judicial system remains heavily biased in favor of the state, leaving investors with little recourse in legal disputes with the government. Despite on-going anticorruption efforts, high levels of corruption among government officials compound this risk.

Throughout 2020, a prominent U.S. investor, who was arrested in February 2019 over a commercial dispute, remained under modified house arrest.  Moreover, Russia’s import substitution program gives local producers advantages over foreign competitors that do not meet localization requirements. Finally, Russia’s actions since 2014 have resulted in EU and U.S. sanctions – restricting business activities and increasing costs.

U.S. investors must ensure full compliance with U.S. sanctions, including sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, election interference, other malicious cyber activities, human rights abuses, use of chemical weapons, weapons proliferation, illicit trade with North Korea, support to Syria and Venezuela, and other malign activities. Information on the U.S. sanctions program is available at the U.S. Treasury’s website: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Pages/default.aspx . U.S. investors can utilize the “Consolidated Screening List” search tool to check sanctions and control lists from the Departments of Treasury, State, and Commerce: https://www.export.gov/csl-search .

Russia’s Strategic Sectors Law (SSL) established an approval process for foreign investments resulting in a controlling stake in one of Russia’s 46 “strategic sectors.” The law applies to foreign states, international organizations, and their subsidiaries, as well as to “non-disclosing investors” (i.e., investors not disclosing information about beneficiaries, beneficial owners, and controlling persons).

Since 2015, the Russian government has had an incentive program for foreign investors called Special Investment Contracts (SPICs). These contracts, managed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, allow foreign companies to participate in Russia’s import substitution programs by providing access to certain subsidies to foreign producers who establish local production. In August 2019, the Russian government introduced “SPIC-2.0,” which incentivizes long-term private investment in high-technology projects and technology transfer in manufacturing.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 129 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019* 28 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings * last year’s ranking due to the WB putting a pause on issuing the 2021 DB Report
Global Innovation Index 2020 47 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $14,439 https://www.bea.gov/international/di1usdbal 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $11,260 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Ministry of Economic Development (MED) is responsible for overseeing investment policy in Russia. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) was established in 2011 to facilitate direct investment in Russia and has already attracted over $40 billion of foreign capital into the Russian economy through long-term strategic partnerships. In 2013, Russia’s Agency for Strategic Initiatives (ASI) launched an “Invest in Russian Regions” project to promote FDI in Russian regions. Since 2014, ASI has released an annual ranking of Russia’s regions in terms of the relative competitiveness of their investment climates and provides potential investors with information about regions most open to foreign investment. In 2021, 40 Russian regions improved their Regional Investment Climate Index scores (https://asi.ru/investclimate/rating). The Foreign Investment Advisory Council (FIAC), established in 1994, is chaired by the Prime Minister and currently includes 53 international company members and four companies as observers. The FIAC allows select foreign investors to directly present their views on improving the investment climate in Russia and advises the government on regulatory rulemaking.

Russia’s basic legal framework governing investment includes 1) Law 160-FZ, July 9, 1999, “On Foreign Investment in the Russian Federation;” 2) Law No. 39-FZ, February 25, 1999, “On Investment Activity in the Russian Federation in the Form of Capital Investment;” 3) Law No. 57-FZ, April 29, 2008, “Foreign Investments in Companies Having Strategic Importance for State Security and Defense (Strategic Sectors Law, SSL);” and 4) the Law of the RSFSR No. 1488-1, June 26, 1991, “On Investment Activity in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR),” and (5) Law No. 69-FZ. April 1, 2020, “On Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements in the Russian Federation.” This framework of laws nominally attempts to guarantee equal rights for foreign and local investors in Russia. However, exemptions are permitted when it is deemed necessary to protect the Russian constitution, morality, health, human rights, or national security or defense, and to promote its socioeconomic development. Foreign investors may freely use the profits obtained from Russia-based investments for any purpose, provided they do not violate Russian law.

The new 2020 Federal Law on Protection and Promotion of Investments applies to investments made under agreements on protection and promotion of investments (“APPI”) providing for implementation of a new investment project. APPI may be concluded between a Russian legal entity (the organization implementing the project established by a Russian or a foreign company) and a regional and/or the federal government. APPI is a private law agreement coming under the Russian civil legislation (with exclusions provided for by the law). Support measures include reimbursement of (1) the costs of creating or reconstructing the infrastructure and (2) interest on loans needed for implementing the project. The maximum reimbursable costs may not exceed 50 percent of the costs actually incurred for supporting infrastructure facilities and 100 percent of the costs actually incurred for associated infrastructure facilities. The time limit for cost recovery is five years for the supporting infrastructure and ten years for the associated infrastructure.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Russian law places two primary restrictions on land ownership by foreigners. The first is on the foreign ownership of land located in border areas or other “sensitive territories.” The second restricts foreign ownership of agricultural land, including restricting foreign individuals and companies, persons without citizenship, and agricultural companies more than 50-percent foreign-owned from owning land. These entities may hold agricultural land through leasehold rights. As an alternative to agricultural land ownership, foreign companies typically lease land for up to 49 years, the maximum legally allowed.

In October 2014, President Vladimir Putin signed the law “On Mass Media,” which took effect on January 1, 2015. The law restricts foreign ownership of any Russian media company to 20 percent (the previous law applied a 50 percent limit to Russia’s broadcast sector). U.S. stakeholders have raised concerns about similar limits on foreign direct investments in the mining and mineral extraction sectors and describe the licensing regime as non-transparent and unpredictable. In December 2018, the State Duma approved in its first reading a draft bill introducing new restrictions on online news aggregation services. If adopted, foreign companies, including international organizations and individuals, would be limited to a maximum of 20 percent ownership interest in Russian news aggregator websites. The second, final hearing was planned for February 2019, but was postponed. To date, this proposed law has not been passed.

Russia’s Commission on Control of Foreign Investment (Commission) was established in 2008 to monitor foreign investment in strategic sectors in accordance with the SSL. Between 2008 and 2019, the Commission received 621 applications for foreign investment, 282 of which were reviewed, according to the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS). Of those 282, the Commission granted preliminary approval for 259 (92 percent approval rate), rejected 23, and found that 265 did not require approval (https://fas.gov.ru/news/29330). International organizations, foreign states, and the companies they control are treated as single entities under the Commission, and with their participation in a strategic business, are subject to restrictions applicable to a single foreign entity. There have been no updates regarding the number of applications received by the Commission since 2019. Due to COVID-19, the Commission met only twice since then, in December 2020 and February 2021.

Pursuant to legal amendments to the SSL that entered into force August 11, 2020, a foreign investor is deemed to exercise control over a Russia’s strategic entity even if voting rights in shares belonging to the investor have been temporarily transferred to other entities under the pledge or trust management agreement, or repo contract or a similar arrangement. According to the FAS, the amendments were aimed to exclude possible ways of circumventing the existing foreign investments control rules by way of temporary transfer of voting rights in the strategic entity’s shares.

In an effort to reduce bureaucratic procedures and address deficiencies in the SSL, on May 11, President Putin signed into law a draft bill introducing specific rules lifting restrictions and allowing expedited procedures for foreign investments into certain strategic companies for which strategic activity is not a core business.

Since January 1, 2019, foreign providers of electronic services to business customers in Russia (B2B e-services) have new Russian value-added tax (VAT) obligations. These obligations include VAT registration with the Russian tax authorities (even for VAT exempt e-services), invoice requirements, reporting to the Russian tax authorities, and adhering to VAT remittance rules.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The WTO conducted the first Trade Policy Review (TPR) of the Russian Federation in September 2016. The next TPR of Russia will take place in October 2021, with reports published in September. (Related reports are available at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp445_e.htm ).

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) issues an annual World Investment Report covering different investment policy topics. In 2020, the focus of this report was on international production beyond the pandemic ( https://unctad.org/en/Pages/Publications/WorldInvestmentReports.aspx ). UNCTAD also issues an investment policy monitor ( https://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IPM ).

Business Facilitation

The Federal Tax Service (FTS) operates Russia’s business registration website: www.nalog.ru . Per law (Article 13 of Law 129-FZ of 2001), a company must register with a local FTS office, and the registration process should not take more than three days. Foreign companies may be required to notarize the originals of incorporation documents included in the application package. To establish a business in Russia, a company must register with FTS and pay a registration fee of RUB 4,000. As of January 1, 2019, the registration fee has been waived for online submission of incorporation documents directly to the Federal Tax Service (FTS).

The publication of the Doing Business report was paused in 2020, as the World Bank is assessing its data collection process and data integrity preservation methodology.

The 2019 ranking acknowledged several reforms that helped Russia improve its position. Russia made getting electricity faster by setting new deadlines and establishing specialized departments for connection. Russia also strengthened minority investor protections by requiring greater corporate transparency and made paying taxes easier by reducing the tax authority review period of applications for VAT cash refunds. Russia also further enhanced the software used for tax and payroll preparation.

Outward Investment

The Russian government does not restrict Russian investors from investing abroad. Since 2015, Russia’s “De-offshorization Law” (376-FZ) requires that Russian tax residents notify the government about their overseas assets, potentially subjecting these assets to Russian taxes.

While there are no restrictions on the distribution of profits to a nonresident entity, some foreign currency control restrictions apply to Russian residents (both companies and individuals), and to foreign currency transactions. As of January 1, 2018, all Russian citizens and foreign holders of Russian residence permits are considered Russian “currency control residents.” These “residents” are required to notify the tax authorities when a foreign bank account is opened, changed, or closed and when funds are moved in a foreign bank account. Individuals who have spent less than 183 days in Russia during the reporting period are exempt from the reporting requirements and restrictions using foreign bank accounts. On January 1, 2020, Russia abolished all currency control restrictions on payments of funds by non-residents to bank accounts of Russian residents opened with banks in OECD or FATF member states. This is provided that such states participate in the automatic exchange of financial account information with Russia. As a result, from 2020 onward, Russian residents will be able to freely use declared personal foreign accounts for savings and investment in wide range of financial products.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

While the Russian government at all levels offers moderately transparent policies, actual implementation is inconsistent. Moreover, Russia’s import substitution program often leads to burdensome regulations that can give domestic producers a financial advantage over foreign competitors. Draft bills and regulations are made available for public comment in accordance with disclosure rules set forth in the Government Resolution 851 of 2012.

Key regulatory actions are published on a centralized web site which also maintains existing and proposed regulatory documents: www.pravo.gov.ru . (Draft regulatory laws are published on the web site: www.regulation.gov.ru . Draft laws can also be found on the State Duma’s legal database: http://asozd.duma.gov.ru/ ).

Accounting procedures are generally transparent and consistent. Documents compliant with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), however, are usually provided only by businesses that interface with foreign markets or borrow from foreign lenders. Reports prepared in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are required for the consolidated financial statements of all entities who meet the following criteria: entities whose securities are listed on stock exchanges; banks and other credit institutions, insurance companies (except those with activities limited to obligatory medical insurance); non-governmental pension funds; management companies of investment and pension funds; and clearing houses. Additionally, certain state-owned companies are required to prepare consolidated IFRS financial statements by separate decrees of the Russian government. Russian Accounting Standards, which are largely based on international best practices, otherwise apply.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of the EAEU, Russia has delegated certain decision-making authority to the EAEU’s supranational executive body, the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC). In particular, the EEC has the lead on concluding trade agreements with third countries, customs tariffs (on imports), and technical regulations. EAEU agreements and EEC decisions establish basic principles that are implemented by the member states at the national level through domestic laws, regulations, and other measures involving goods. The EAEU Treaty establishes the priority of WTO rules in the EAEU legal framework. Authority to set sanitary and phytosanitary standards remains at the individual country level.

U.S. companies cite SPS technical regulations and related product-testing and certification requirements as major obstacles to U.S. exports of industrial and agricultural goods to Russia. Russian authorities require product testing and certification as a key element of the approval process for a variety of products, and, in many cases, only an entity registered and residing in Russia can apply for the necessary documentation for product approvals. Consequently, opportunities for testing and certification performed by competent bodies outside Russia are limited. Manufacturers of telecommunications equipment, oil and gas equipment, construction materials and equipment, and pharmaceuticals and medical devices have reported serious difficulties in obtaining product approvals within Russia. Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) issues have also arisen with alcoholic beverages, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices. Certain SPS restrictions on food and agricultural products appear to not be based on international standards.

In April 2021, Russia adopted amendments to Article 1360 of the Civil Code that significantly simplified the mechanism of issuing compulsory licenses in the pharmaceutical industry. Under the adopted amendments, compulsory licenses are allowed “in the interest of life and health protection.” The use of the compulsory license mechanism and the lack of certainty for right holders regarding the calculation of compensation could negatively affect the investment attractiveness of Russia for pharmaceutical companies producing original drugs.

Russia joined the WTO in 2012. Although Russia has notified the WTO of numerous SPS technical regulations, it appears to be taking a narrow view regarding the types of measures that require notification. In 2020, Russia submitted 16 notifications under the WTO TBT Agreement, up from six notifications submitted in 2029. However, they may not reflect the full set of technical regulations that require notification under the WTO TBT Agreement. Russia submitted 38 SPS notifications in 2020, up from 16 in 2019. (A full list of notifications is available at: http://www.epingalert.org/en).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The U.S. Embassy advises any foreign company operating in Russia to have competent legal counsel and create a comprehensive plan on steps to take in case the police carry out an unexpected raid. Russian authorities have exhibited a pattern of transforming civil cases into criminal matters, resulting in significantly more severe penalties. In short, unfounded lawsuits or arbitrary enforcement actions remain an ever-present possibility for any company operating in Russia.

Critics contend that Russian courts, in general, lack independent authority and, in criminal cases, have a bias toward conviction. In practice, the presumption of innocence tends to be ignored by Russian courts, and less than one-half of one percent of criminal cases end in acquittal. In cases that are appealed when the lower court decision resulted in a conviction, less than one percent are overturned. In contrast, when the lower court decision is “not guilty,” 37 percent of the appeals result in a finding of guilt.

Russia has a code law system, and the Civil Code of Russia governs contracts. Specialized commercial courts (also called “Arbitrage Courts”) handle a wide variety of commercial disputes.

Russia was ranked by the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report as 21st in contract enforcement, down three notches compared to the 2019 report. Source: https://www.doingbusiness.org/content/dam/doingBusiness/country/r/russia/RUS.pdf

Commercial courts are required by law to decide business disputes efficiently, and many cases are decided on the basis of written evidence, with little or no live testimony by witnesses. The courts’ workload is dominated by relatively simple cases involving the collection of debts and firms’ disputes with the taxation and customs authorities, pension funds, and other state organs. Tax-paying firms often prevail in their disputes with the government in court. As with some international arbitral procedures, the weakness in the Russian arbitration system lies in the enforcement of decisions and few firms pay judgments against them voluntarily.

A specialized court for intellectual property (IP) disputes was established in 2013. The IP Court hears matters pertaining to the review of decisions made by the Russian Federal Service for Intellectual Property (Rospatent) and determines issues of IP ownership, authorship, and the cancellation of trademark registrations. It also serves as the court of second appeal for IP infringement cases decided in commercial courts and courts of appeal.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The 1991 Investment Code and 1999 Law on Foreign Investment (160-FZ) guarantee that foreign investors enjoy rights equal to those of Russian investors, although some industries have limits on foreign ownership. Russia’s Special Investment Contract program, launched in 2015, aims to increase investment in Russia by offering tax incentives and simplified procedures for dealings with the government. In addition, a new law on public-private-partnerships (224-FZ) took effect January 1, 2016. The legislation allows an investor to acquire ownership rights over a property. The SSL regulates foreign investments in “strategic” companies. Amendments to Federal Law No. 160-FZ “On Foreign Investments in the Russian Federation” and Russia’s Strategic Sectors Law (SSL), signed into law in May 2018 by President Putin, liberalized access of foreign investments to strategic sectors of the Russian economy and made the strategic clearance process clearer and more comfortable. The new concept is more investor-friendly, since applying a stricter regime can now potentially be avoided by providing the required beneficiary and controlling person information. In addition, the amendments expressly envisage a right for the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia (FAS) to issue official clarifications on the nature and application of the SSL that may facilitate law enforcement.

Federal Law № 69-ФЗ on the Protection and Promotion of Investment, entered into force in April 2020, requires that a contract be concluded between public entities and private investors, either domestic or foreign and contain stabilization clauses relating to import customs duties, measures of state support, rules regulating land use, as well as ecological and utilization fees and taxes.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) implements antimonopoly laws and is responsible for overseeing matters related to the protection of competition. Russia’s fourth and most recent anti-monopoly legislative package, which took effect January 2016, introduced a number of changes to Russia’s antimonopoly laws. Changes included limiting the criteria under which an entity could be considered “dominant,” broadening the scope of transactions subject to FAS approval and reducing government control over transactions involving natural monopolies. Over the past several years, FAS has opened a number of cases involving American companies. In February 2019, the FAS submitted to the Cabinet the fifth anti-monopoly legislative package devoted to regulating the digital economy. It includes provisions on introducing new definitions of “trustee,” and a definition of “price algorithms,” empowering the FAS to impose provisions of non-discriminated access to data as a remedy. It also introduced data ownership as a set of criteria for market analysis, etc. The legislative package is still undergoing an interagency approval process and will be submitted to the State Duma once it is approved by the Cabinet. As of March 2021, it was supported by the FAS Public Council, but the review by the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media was largely negative.

FAS has also claimed the authority to regulate intellectual property, arguing that monopoly rights conferred by ownership of intellectual property should not extend to the “circulation of goods,” a point supported by the Russian Supreme Court.

Expropriation and Compensation

The 1991 Investment Code prohibits the nationalization of foreign investments, except following legislative action and when such action is deemed to be in the public interest. Acts of nationalization may be appealed to Russian courts, and the investor must be adequately and promptly compensated for the taking. At the sub-federal level, expropriation has occasionally been a problem, as well as local government interference and a lack of enforcement of court rulings protecting investors.

Despite legislation prohibiting the nationalization of foreign investments, investors in Russia – particularly minority-share investors in domestically-owned energy companies – are encouraged to exercise caution. Russia has a history of indirectly expropriating companies through “creeping” and informal means, often related to domestic political disputes, and other treatment of investors leading to investment disputes. Some examples of recent cases include: 1) The privately owned oil company Bashneft was nationalized and then “privatized” in 2016 through its sale to the government-owned oil giant Rosneft without a public tender; 2) In the Yukos case, the Russian government used allegedly questionable tax and legal proceedings to ultimately gain control of the assets of a large Russian energy company; 3) In February 2019, a prominent U.S. investor was jailed over a commercial dispute and currently remains under house arrest. Other examples of Russia expropriation include foreign companies allegedly being pressured into selling their Russia-based assets at below-market prices. Foreign investors, particularly minority investors, have little legal recourse in such instances.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Russia is party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. While Russia does not have specific legislation providing for enforcement of the New York Convention, Article 15 of the Constitution specifies that “the universally recognized norms of international law and international treaties and agreements of the Russian Federation shall be a component part of [Russia’s] legal system. If an international treaty or agreement of the Russian Federation fixes other rules than those envisaged by law, the rules of the international agreement shall be applied.” Russia is a signatory but not a party, and never ratified the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

According to available information, at least 14 investment disputes have involved an American and the Russian government since 2006. Some attorneys refer international clients who have investment or trade disputes in Russia to international arbitration centers in Paris, Stockholm, London, or The Hague. A 1997 Russian law allows foreign arbitration awards to be enforced in Russia, even if there is no reciprocal treaty between Russia and the country where the order was issued, in accordance with the New York Convention. Russian law was amended in 2015 to give the Russian Constitutional Court authority to disregard verdicts by international bodies if it determines the ruling contradicts the Russian constitution.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

In addition to the court system, Russian law recognizes alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms, i.e., domestic arbitration, international arbitration, and mediation. Civil and commercial disputes may be referred to either domestic or international commercial arbitration. Institutional arbitration is more common in Russia than ad hoc arbitration. Arbitral awards can be enforced in Russia pursuant to international treaties, such as the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, the 1958 New York Convention, and the 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, as well as domestic legislation. Mediation mechanisms were established by the Law on Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure with participation of the Intermediary in January 2011. Mediation is an informal extrajudicial dispute resolution method whereby a mediator seeks mutually acceptable resolution. However, mediation is not yet widely used in Russia.

Beginning in 2016, arbitral institutions were required to obtain the status of a “permanent arbitral institution” (PAI) in order to arbitrate disputes involving shares in Russian companies. The requirement ostensibly combats the problem of dubious arbitral institutions set up by corporations to administer disputes in which they themselves are involved. The PAI requirement applies to foreign arbitral institutions as well. Until recently there were only four arbitral institutions – all of them Russian – which had been conferred the status of PAI. In April 2019, the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC) became the first foreign arbitral tribunal to obtain PAI status in Russia. In June 2019, the Vienna International Arbitration Center became the second foreign institution licensed to administer arbitrations in Russia. On May 19, 2021, the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) received from the Russian Ministry of Justice the right to act in Russia as PAIs. The London Court of International Arbitration, and the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce are occasionally chosen for administering international arbitrations seated in Russia, despite the fact that none of them has PAI status. Arbitral awards rendered by tribunals constituted under the rules of these institutions can be recognized and enforced in Russia.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Russia established a law providing for enterprises bankruptcy in the early 1990s. A law on personal bankruptcy came into force in 2015. Russia’s ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report for “Resolving Insolvency” is 57 out of 190 economies, down two notches compared to 2019. Article 9 of the Law on Insolvency requires an insolvent firm to petition the court of arbitration to declare the company bankrupt within one month of failing to pay the bank’s claims. The court then convenes a meeting of creditors, who petition the court for liquidation or reorganization. In accordance with Article 51 of the Law on Insolvency, a bankruptcy case must be considered within seven months of the day the petition was received by the arbitral court.

Liquidation proceedings by law are limited to six months and can be extended by six more months (art. 124 of the Law on Insolvency). Therefore, the time dictated by law is 19 months. However, in practice, liquidation proceedings are extended several times and for longer periods. The total cost of insolvency proceedings is approximately nine percent of the value of the estate.

In July 2017, amendments to the Law on Insolvency expanded the list of persons who may be held vicariously liable for a bankrupted entity’s debts and clarified the grounds for such liability. According to the new rules, in addition to the CEO, the following can also be held vicariously liable for a bankrupt company’s debts: top managers, including the CFO and COO, accountants, liquidators, and other persons who controlled or had significant influence over the bankrupted entity’s actions by kin or position, or could force the bankrupted entity to enter into unprofitable transactions. In addition, persons who profited from the illegal actions by management may also be subject to liability through court action. The amendments clarified that shareholders owning less than 10 percent in the bankrupt company shall not be deemed controlling unless they are proven to have played a role in the company’s bankruptcy. The amendments also expanded the list of people who may be subject to secondary liability and the grounds for recognizing fault for a company’s bankruptcy.

Amendments to the Law on Insolvency approved in December 2019 gave greater protection, in the context of insolvency of a Russian counterparty, to collateral arrangements and close-out netting in respect of over-the-counter derivative, repurchase, and certain other “financial” transactions documented under eligible master agreements.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Since 2005, Russia’s industrial investment incentive regime has granted tax breaks and other government incentives to foreign companies in certain sectors in exchange for producing locally. As part of its WTO Protocol, Russia agreed to eliminate the elements of this regime that are inconsistent with the Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) Agreement by July 2018. The TRIMS Agreement requires elimination of measures such as those that require or provide benefits for the use of domestically produced goods (local content requirements), or measures that restrict a firm’s imports to an amount related to its exports or related to the amount of foreign exchange a firm earns (trade balancing requirements). Russia notified the WTO that it had terminated these automotive investment incentive programs as of July 1, 2018. In 2019, the Ministry of Industry and Trade introduced a new points-based system to estimate vehicle localization levels to determine Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)’s eligibility for Russian state support. The government provides state support only to OEMs whose finished vehicles are deemed to be of Russian origin, which will depend upon them scoring at least 2,000 points under the new system to get some assistance and 6,000 point to enjoy a full range of support measures. Points will be awarded for localizing the supply of certain components. Localized engines or transmissions used in vehicle assembly, for instance, are worth 40 points. OEMs running a research and development business in Russia score an additional 20 points; and a further 20 points are granted to those using localized aluminum or electronic systems in their vehicles. In May 2021, the government introduced a points-based system to assess localization levels in the shipbuilding industry to determine Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)’s eligibility for Russian state support in a move to facilitate the development of shipbuilding industry and import substitution.

The government also introduced Special Investment Contracts (SPICs) as an alternative incentive program in 2015. On December 18, 2017, the government changed the rules for concluding SPICs to increase investment in Russia by offering tax incentives and simplified procedures for government interactions. These contracts allow foreign companies in Russia access to import substitution programs, including certain subsidies, if they establish local production. In principle, these contracts may aid in expediting customs procedures, however, in practice, reports suggest companies that sign such contracts find their business hampered by policies biased in favor of local producers.

In August 2019, the Government created “SPIC-2,” which aimed to increase long-term private investment in high-technology projects and introduce advanced technology for local content in manufacturing products. The Ministry of Industry and Trade also extended the maximum SPIC term to 20 years, depending on the amount of investment. The key criteria for evaluating bids are speed of introducing technology, the volume of manufacturing, and the level of technology in local manufacturing processes.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) was established in 2011 as a sovereign wealth fund to operate with long-term and strategic investors and by offering co-financing for foreign investments directed at the modernization of the Russian economy. To date, foreign partners of the RDIF have invested RUB 1.9 trillion ($26 billion) in Russia, with the RDIF having co-invested RUB 200 billion ($2.7 billion). The RDIF has also attracted over $40 billion of foreign capital into the Russian economy through long-term strategic partnerships. The RDIF, in conjunction with the Gamaleya National Center for Microbiology and Epidemiology, financed the development and marketing of Russia’s Sputnik V and Sputnik Light vaccines.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Russia continues to promote the use of high-tech parks, special economic zones (SEZs), and industrial clusters, which offer additional tax and infrastructure incentives to attract investment. “Resident companies” can receive a broad range of benefits, including exemption from profit tax, value-added tax, property tax, import duties, and partial exemption from social fund payments. Russia currently has 27 SEZs ( http://www.russez.ru/oez/ ). A Russian Accounts Chamber (RAC) investigation of SEZs in February 2020 found they have had no measurable impact on the Russian economy, despite RUB 136 billion ($1.7 billion) investment from the federal government from 2006-2018. In 2015, the Russian government created a separate but similar program – “Territories of Advanced Development” – with preferential tax treatment and simplified government procedures in Siberia, Kaliningrad, and the Russian Far East.

Performance and Localization Requirements

Russian law generally does not impose performance requirements, and they are not widely included as part of private contracts in Russia. Some have appeared, however, in the agreements of large multinational companies investing in natural resources and in production-sharing legislation. There are no formal requirements for offsets in foreign investments. Since approval for investments in Russia can depend on relationships with government officials and on a firm’s demonstration of its commitment to the Russian market, these conditions may result in offsets.

In certain sectors, the Russian government has pressed for localization and increased local content. For example, in a bid to boost high-tech manufacturing in the renewable energy sector, Russia guarantees a 12 percent profit over 15 years for windfarms using turbines with at least 65 percent local content. Russia is currently considering local content requirements for industries that have high percentages of government procurement, such as medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Russia is not a signatory to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement. Consequently, restrictions on public procurement have been a major avenue for Russia to implement localization requirements without running afoul of international commitments.

Russia’s data storage law (the “Yarovaya law”) took effect on July 1, 2018, requiring providers to store data in “full volume” beginning October 1, 2018. The law requires domestic telecoms and ISPs to store all customers’ voice calls and texts for six months; ISPs must store data traffic for one month. The Yarovaya law initially required longer retention with a shorter implementation window, which companies criticized as costly and unworkable. Until recently there were no special liabilities for violations of the data localization requirement. In December, President Putin signed into law legislative amendments establishing significant fines ranging from RUB 1 million ($15,600) to RUB 18 million ($282,000) for legal entities and from RUB 100,000 ($1,560) to RUB 800,000 ($12,500) for company CEOs. Amendments to the “Plan for Achieving Russia’s National Development Goals until 2024 and for the Planning Period until 2030 call for a one-year postponement of some implementation timelines set in Russia’s data storage law (the “Yarovaya law”) that took effect on July 1, 2018. Specifically, the requirement to move Russian citizens’ data onto servers located in Russia was pushed back from October 31, 2021 to October 30, 2022.

On November 21, 2019, Russia adopted the law on mandatory preinstallation of Russian-produced software for smartphones, computers, and other electronic devices, in the sale of certain types of technically complex goods. Starting from July 31, 2021, the regulators will apply fines for the sale of any electronics without preinstalled Russian software.

On September 16, 2020, the Federal Service for Technical and Export Control (FSTEC) published the order on the amendments to the Requirements for ensuring the security of significant objects of the Russian critical information infrastructure (CII). The changes require using predominantly domestic software and equipment for Russian CII to ensure its technological independence and safety, and create the conditions for promotion of the Russian-made products abroad.

The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) has imposed caps on the percentage of foreign employees in foreign banks’ subsidiaries. The ratio of Russian employees in a subsidiary of a foreign bank is set at less than 75 percent. If the executive of the subsidiary is a non-resident of Russia, at least 50 percent of the bank’s managing body should be Russian citizens.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Russia placed 12th overall in the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report for “registering property,” which analyzes the “steps, time and cost involved in registering property, assuming a standardized case of an entrepreneur who wants to purchase land and a building that is already registered and free of title dispute,” as well as the “the quality of the land administration system.”

The Russian Constitution, along with a 1993 Presidential Decree, gives Russian citizens the right to own, inherit, lease, mortgage, and sell real property. The state owns the majority of Russian land, although the structures on the land are typically privately owned. Mortgage legislation enacted in 2004 facilitates the process for lenders to evict homeowners who do not stay current in their mortgage payments.

Intellectual Property Rights

Russia remained on the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Priority Watch List in 2020 and had several illicit streaming websites and online markets reported in the 2019 Notorious Markets List. Particular areas of concern include copyright infringement, trademark counterfeiting/hard goods piracy, and non-transparent royalty collection procedures. Stakeholders continue to report significant piracy of video games, music, movies, books, journal articles, and television programming. Mirror sites related to infringing websites and smartphone applications that facilitate illicit trade are also a concern. Russia needs to direct more action to rogue online platforms targeting audiences outside the country. In December 2019, for the first time in Russia, the owner of several illegal streaming sites received a two-year suspended criminal sentence for violating Russia’s IP protection legislation. This case has set an important precedent for enforcing IPR laws in Russia.

Online piracy continues to pose a significant problem in Russia. Russia has not upheld its commitments to protect IPR, including commitments made to the United States as part of its WTO accession. Nevertheless, there are indications that the Russian internet piracy market is declining. According to Group-IB, a global cyber threat intelligence company, total revenue of the Russian video piracy market in 2020 reached $59 million. The market has been shrinking for several years in a row. In 2020, the market declined by 7 percent, compared to a 27 percent drop registered in 2019.

Despite Russia’s 2018 ban on virtual private networks (VPNs), the ban has not been fully enforced. Since 2017, search engines, including Google and Yandex, have been required to block IPR-infringing websites and “mirror” sites, as determined by federal communications watchdog Roskomnadzor. As a result of increased scrutiny, internet companies Yandex, Mail.Ru Group, Rambler, and Rutube signed an anti-piracy memorandum with several domestic right holders, which is valid through the end of 2021. From January to November 2020, Roskomnadzor blocked over 10,000 piracy websites and “mirror sites,” compared to over 6,000 in 2019.

Modest progress has been made in the area of customs IPR protection since the Federal Customs Service (FTS) can now confiscate imported goods that violate IPR. From January to November 2020, the FTS seized 12.8 million counterfeited goods, compared with 11 million in 2019. Over the same time period, the FTS prevented the infringement and damages to copyright holders amounting to RUB 4.6 billion ($64 million), and identified 11.8 million units of counterfeit industrial products in Russia, almost double compared to 2019. The turnover of counterfeit non-food consumer goods in Russia is estimated at around RUB 5.2 trillion ($70 billion), or 4.5 percent of Russia’s GDP.

In May 2020, the State Duma approved amendments to the Federal Law “On Information, Information Technologies and the Protection of Information” to allow blocking mobile applications with illegal content. The Law enables the Russian regulator (“Roskomnadzor”) to mandate app owners and app platforms such as AppStore, Google Play and Huawei AppGallery to delete the IP infringing content.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Russia is open to portfolio investment and has no restrictions on foreign investments. Russia’s two main stock exchanges – the Russian Trading System (RTS) and the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange (MICEX) – merged in December 2011. The MICEX-RTS bourse conducted an initial public offering on February 15, 2013, auctioning an 11.82 percent share.

The Russian Law on the Securities Market includes definitions of corporate bonds, mutual funds, options, futures, and forwards. Companies offering public shares are required to disclose specific information during the placement process as well as on a quarterly basis. In addition, the law defines the responsibilities of financial consultants assisting companies with stock offerings and holds them liable for the accuracy of the data presented to shareholders. In general, the Russian government respects IMF Article VIII, which it accepted in 1996. Credit in Russia is allocated generally on market terms, and the private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments. Foreign investors can get credit on the Russian market, but interest rate differentials tend to prompt investors from developed economies to borrow on their own domestic markets when investing in Russia.

Money and Banking System

Banks make up a large share of Russia’s financial system. Although Russia had 396 licensed banks as of March 1, 2020, state-owned banks, particularly Sberbank and VTB Group, dominate the sector. The top three largest banks are state-controlled (with private Alfa Bank ranked fourth). The top three banks held 51.4 percent of all bank assets in Russia as of March 1, 2020. The role of the state in the banking sector continues to distort the competitive environment, impeding Russia’s financial sector development. At the beginning of 2019, the aggregate assets of the banking sector amounted to 91.4 percent of GDP, and aggregate capital was 9.9 percent of GDP. By January 2020 and 2021, the aggregate assets of Russian banks reached 92.2 and 97.2 percent, respectively. Russian banks reportedly operate on short time horizons, limiting capital available for long-term investments. Overall, the share of retail non-performing loans (NPLs) to total gross loans slightly increased from 4.4 percent of total gross retail loans in January 2020 to 4.5 percent in April 2021, while corporate NPLs declined from 7.5 percent to 6.5 percent in the same period, according to the Central Bank of Russia. ACRA-Rating analytical agency expects an increase in retail NPLs to 6.0 percent and corporate NPL – to 8.8 percent by the end of 2021.

Foreign banks are allowed to establish subsidiaries, but not branches within Russia and must register as a business entity in Russia.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

While the ruble is the only legal tender in Russia, companies and individuals generally face no significant difficulty in obtaining foreign currency from authorized banks. The CBR retains the right to impose restrictions on the purchase of foreign currency, including the requirement that the transaction be completed through a special account, according to Russia’s currency control laws. The CBR does not require security deposits on foreign exchange purchases. Otherwise, there are no barriers to remitting investment returns abroad, including dividends, interest, and returns of capital, apart from the fact that reporting requirements exist and failure to report in a timely fashion will result in fines.

Currency controls also exist on all transactions that require customs clearance, which, in Russia, applies to both import and export transactions, and certain loans. As of March 1, 2018, the CBR no longer requires a “transaction passport” (i.e., a document with the authorized bank through which a business receives and services a transaction) when concluding import and export contracts. The CBR also simplified the procedure to record import and export contracts, reducing the number of documents required for bank authorization. The government has also lifted the requirement to repatriate export revenues if settlements under a foreign trade contract are set in Russian rubles effective January 1, 2020.

Remittance Policies

The CBR retains the right to impose restrictions on the purchase of foreign currency, including the requirement that the transaction be completed through a special account, according to Russia’s currency control laws. The CBR does not require security deposits on foreign exchange purchases. To navigate these requirements, investors should seek legal expert advice at the time of making an investment. Banking contacts confirm that investors have not had issues with remittances and in particular with repatriation of dividends.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

In 2018, Russia combined its two sovereign wealth funds to form the National Welfare Fund (NWF). The fund’s holdings amounted to $165.4 billion, or 12.0 percent of GDP as of April 1, 2020 and grew to $185.9 billion, or 12.0 percent of GDP as of May 1, 2021. The Ministry of Finance oversees the fund’s assets, while the CBR acts as the operational manager. Russia’s Accounts Chamber regularly audits the NWF, and the results are reported to the State Duma. The NWF is maintained in foreign currencies, and is included in Russia’s foreign currency reserves, which amounted to $563.4 billion as of March 31, 2020. In June 2021, Russia’s Ministry of Finance announced plans to completely divest the $41 billion worth of NWF U.S. dollar holdings within a month, replacing them with RMB (Chinese Yuan), Euros and gold by July 2021.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Russia does not have a unified definition of a state-owned enterprise (SOE). However, analysts define SOEs as enterprises where the state has significant control, through full, majority, or at least significant minority ownership. The OECD defines material minority ownership as 10 percent of voting shares, while under Russian legislation, a minority shareholder would need 25 percent plus one share to exercise significant control, such as block shareholder resolutions to the charter, make decisions on reorganization or liquidation, increase in the number of authorized shares, or approve certain major transactions. SOEs are subdivided into four main categories: 1) unitary enterprises (federal or municipal, fully owned by the government), of which there are 692 unitary enterprises owned by the federal government as of January 1, 2020; 2) other state-owned enterprises where government holds a stake of which there are 1,079 joint-stock companies owned by the federal government, as of January 1, 2019 – such as Sberbank, the biggest Russian retail bank (over 50 percent is owned by the government); 3) natural monopolies, such as Russian Railways; and 4) state corporations (usually a giant conglomerate of companies) such as Rostec and Vnesheconombank (VEB).  There are six functioning state corporations directly chartered by the federal government, as of March 2021. By 2020, the number of federal government-owned “unitary enterprises” declined by 44 percent from 1,247 in 2017; according to the Federal Agency for State Property Management, the number of joint-stock companies with state participation declined only by 33.6 percent in the same period.

SOE procurement rules are non-transparent and use informal pressure by government officials to discriminate against foreign goods and services. Sole-source procurement by Russia’s SOEs increased to 45.5 percent in 2018, or to 37.7 percent in value terms, according to a study by the non-state “National Procurement Transparency Rating” analytical center. The current Russian government policy of import substitution mandates numerous requirements for localization of production of certain types of machinery, equipment, and goods.

Privatization Program

The Russian government and its SOEs dominate the economy. The government approved in January 2020 a new 2020-22 plan identifying 86 “federal state unitary enterprises” (100 percent state-owned “FGUPs”) (12.3 percent of all FGUPs), sell its stakes in 186 joint stock companies (“JSCs”) (16.5 percent of all JSCs with state participation) and in 13 limited liability companies (“LLCs”) for privatization. The plan would also reduce the state’s share in VTB, one of Russia’s largest banks, from over 60 percent to 50 percent plus one share and in Sovkomflot to 75 percent plus one share within three years. On October 7, 2020, Sovcomflot sold the government’s 17.2 percent stake through an IPO at the Moscow Exchange. The government’s stake in Sovcomflot will remain at 82.8 percent. The government raised about $550 million through the sale. Other large SOEs might be privatized on an ad hoc basis, depending on market conditions. The Russian government still maintains a list of 136 SOEs with “national significance” that are either wholly or partially owned by the Russian state and whose privatization is permitted only with a special governmental decree, including Aeroflot, Rosneftegaz, Transneft, Russian Railways, and VTB. While the total number of SOEs has declined significantly in recent years, mostly large SOEs remain in state hands and “large scale” privatization, intended to help shore up the federal budget and spur economic recovery, is not keeping up with implementation plans. The government expects that “small-scale privatization” (excluding privatization of large SOEs) will bring up to RUB 3.6 billion ($58 million) to the federal budget annually in 2020-2022.

The government’s previous 2017-2019 privatization program has substantially underperformed its benchmarks. Only 24.8 percent of the 581 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) slated to be privatized were actually privatized in 2017-2019, according to a May 27, 2021 report by the Russian Accounts Chamber (RAC). As a result, total privatization revenues received in 2018 reached only RUB 2.44 billion ($39 million), down 58 percent compared to 2017. In 2019, privatization revenues (excluding large SOEs) reached RUB 2.2 billion ($35 million), down 40.5 percent compared to the official target of RUB 5.6 billion ($86.5 million).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

While not standard practice, Russian companies are beginning to show an increased level of interest in their reputation as good corporate citizens. When seeking to acquire companies in Western countries or raise capital on international financial markets, Russian companies face international competition and scrutiny, including with respect to corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards. As a result, most large Russian companies currently have a CSR policy in place, or are developing one, despite the lack of pressure from Russian consumers and shareholders to do so. CSR policies of Russian firms are usually published on corporate websites and detailed in annual reports, but do not involve a comprehensive “due diligence” approach of risk mitigation that the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises promotes. Most companies choose to create their own non-government organization (NGO) or advocacy outreach rather than contribute to an already existing organization. The Russian government is a powerful stakeholder in the development of certain companies’ CSR agendas. Some companies view CSR as merely financial support of social causes and choose to support local health, educational, and social welfare organizations favored by the government. One association, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), developed a Social Charter of Russian Business in 2004 in which 269 Russian companies and organizations have since joined, as of April 1, 2020.

According to a joint study conducted by Skolkovo Business School and UBS Bank, in 2017 corporate contributions to charitable causes in Russia reached an estimated RUB 220 billion (USD 3.8 billion). RSPP reported that as many as 185 major Russian companies published 1,038 corporate non-financial reports between 2000 and 2019, including on social responsibility initiatives.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Despite some government efforts to combat it, the level of corruption in Russia remains high. Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) puts Russia at 129th place among 180 countries – eight notches up from the rank assigned in 2019.

Roughly 24 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed by the Russian Chamber of Commerce in October and November 2019 said they constantly faced corruption. Businesses mainly experienced corruption during applications for permits (35.3 percent), during inspections (22.1 percent), and in the procurement processes (38.7 percent). The areas of government spending that ranked highest in corruption were public procurement, media, national defense, and public utilities.

In March 2020, Russia’s new Prosecutor General, Igor Krasnov, reported RUB 21 billion ($324 million) were recovered in the course of anticorruption investigations in 2019. In December 2019, Procurator General’s Office Spokesperson Svetlana Petrenko reported approximately over 7,000 corruption convictions in 2019, including of 752 law enforcement officers, 181 Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) officers, 81 federal bailiffs and 476 municipal officials.

Until recently, one of the peculiarities of Russian enforcement practices was that companies were prosecuted almost exclusively for small and mid-scale bribery. Several 2019 cases indicate that Russian enforcement actions may expand to include more severe offenses as well. To date, ten convictions of companies for large-scale or extra large-scale bribery with penalty payments of RUB 20 million ($320,000) or more have been disclosed in 2019 – compared to only four cases in the whole of 2018. In July 2019, Russian Standard Bank, which is among Russia’s 200 largest companies according to Forbes Russia, had to pay a penalty of RUB 26.5 million ($420,000) for bribing bailiffs in Crimea in order to speed up enforcement proceedings against defaulted debtors.

Still, there is no efficient protection for whistleblowers in Russia. In June 2019, the legislative initiative aimed at the protection of whistleblowers in corruption cases ultimately failed. The draft law, which had been adopted at the first reading in December 2017, provided for comprehensive rights of whistleblowers, and responsibilities of employers and law enforcement authorities. Since August 2018, Russian authorities have been authorized to pay whistleblowers rewards which may exceed RUB 3 million ($50,000). However, rewards alone will hardly suffice to incentivize whistleblowing.

Russia adopted a law in 2012 requiring individuals holding public office, state officials, municipal officials, and employees of state organizations to submit information on the funds spent by them and members of their families (spouses and underage children) to acquire certain types of property, including real estate, securities, stock, and vehicles. The law also required public servants to disclose the source of the funds for these purchases and to confirm the legality of the acquisitions.

In July 2018, President Putin signed a two-year plan to combat corruption. The plan required public discussion for federal procurement worth more than RUB 50 million ($660,000) and municipal procurement worth more than RUB 5 million ($66,000). The government also expanded the list of property that can be confiscated if the owners fail to prove it was acquired using lawful income. The government maintains an online registry of officials charged with corruption-related offences, with individuals being listed for a period of five years. The Constitutional Court gave clear guidance to law enforcement on asset confiscation due to the illicit enrichment of officials. Russia has ratified the UN Convention against Corruption, but its ratification did not include article 20, which deals with illicit enrichment. The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption reported in 2019 that Russia had implemented 18 out of 22 recommendations of the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) (nine fully implemented, nine partially implemented, and four recommendations have not been implemented), according to a Compliance Report released by GRECO in August 2020. GRECO made 22 recommendations to Russia on further combatting corruption developments: eight concern members of the parliament, nine concern judges, and five concern prosecutors.

In 2020, overall damage from the corruption crimes entailing criminal cases in Russia exceeded RUB 63 billion ($ 836.7 million). The number of detected corruption-related crimes in January-February 2021 increased by 11.8 percent to 7,100 up from 6,300 in the same period of 2020, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office. The number of bribery cases increased by 21 percent year-on-year in the same period to reach 3,500. The damage caused by corruption increased from RUB 7.2 billion ($ 98.2 million) in January-February 2020 to RUB 13 billion ($ 177.4 million) in the same period of 2021.

U.S. companies, regardless of size, are encouraged to assess the business climate in the relevant market in which they will be operating or investing and to have effective compliance programs or measures to prevent and detect corruption, including foreign bribery. U.S. individuals and firms operating or investing in Russia should become familiar with the relevant anticorruption laws of both Russia and the United States to comply fully with them. They should also seek the advice of legal counsel when appropriate.

Resources to Report Corruption

Andrey Avetisyan
Ambassador at Large for International Anti-Corruption Cooperation
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
32/34 Smolenskaya-Sennaya pl, Moscow, Russia +7 499 244-16-06
+7 499 244-16-06

Anton Pominov
Director General
Transparency International – Russia
Rozhdestvenskiy Bulvar, 10, Moscow
Email: Info@transparency.org.ru

Individuals and companies that wish to report instances of bribery or corruption that impact, or potentially impact their operations, and to request the assistance of the United States Government with respect to issues relating to issues of corruption may call the Department of Commerce’s Russia Corruption Reporting hotline at (202) 482-7945, or submit the form provided at http://tcc.export.gov/Report_a_Barrier/reportatradebarrier_russia.asp .

10. Political and Security Environment

Political freedom continues to be limited by restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association and crackdowns on political opposition, independent media, and civil society. Since July 2012, Russia has passed a series of laws giving the government the authority to label NGOs as “foreign agents” if they receive foreign funding, greatly restricting the activities of these organizations. To date, more than 77 NGOs have been labelled foreign agents. A May 2015 law authorizes the government to designate a foreign organization as “undesirable” if it is deemed to pose a threat to national security or national interests. As of June, 2021, 34 foreign organizations were included on this list. (https://minjust.ru/ru/activity/nko/unwanted)

According to the Russian Supreme Court, 7,763 individuals were convicted of economic crimes in 2019; the Russian business community alleges many of these cases were the result of commercial disputes. Potential investors should be aware of the risk of commercial disputes being criminalized. Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan and neighboring regions in the northern Caucasus have a high risk of violence and kidnapping.

Public protests continue to occur intermittently in Moscow and other cities. Russians protested in support of opposition leader Alexey Navalny after his return from Germany and detention in Moscow in January 2021. Rallies were held in almost 200 cities, the largest taking place in the capital. During these protests, authorities detained thousands and initiated several criminal cases against the participants; the number of detainees was record setting. Moscow saw the largest protests since 2011 in the summer of 2019 as many Muscovites were unhappy that opposition candidates had been banned from running in the September municipal elections.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Russian labor market remains fragmented, characterized by limited labor mobility across regions and substantial differences in wages and employment conditions. Earning inequalities are significant, enforcement of labor standards remains relatively weak, and collective bargaining is underdeveloped. Employers regularly complain about shortages of qualified skilled labor. This phenomenon is due, in part, to weak linkages between the education system and the labor market and a shortage of highly skilled labor. In 2019, the minimum wage in Russia was linked to the official “subsistence” level, which as of June 2021, was RUB 12,792 ($178).

The 2002 Labor Code governs labor standards in Russia. Normal labor inspections identify labor abuses and health and safety standards in Russia. The government generally complies with ILO conventions protecting worker rights, though enforcement is often insufficient, as the Russian government employs a limited number of labor inspectors. Employers are required to make severance payments when laying off employees in light of worsening market conditions. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Please note that the following tables include FDI statistics from three different sources, and therefore will not be identical. Table 2 uses BEA data when available, which measures the stock of FDI by the market value of the investment in the year the investment was made (often referred to as historical value). This approach tends to undervalue the present value of FDI stock because it does not account for inflation. BEA data is not available for all countries, particularly if only a few US firms have direct investments in a country. In such cases, Table 2 uses other sources that typically measure FDI stock in current value (or, historical values adjusted for inflation). Even when Table 2 uses BEA data, Table 3 uses the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) to determine the top five sources of FDI in the country. The CDIS measures FDI stock in current value, which means that if the U.S. is one of the top five sources of inward investment, U.S. FDI into the country will be listed in this table. That value will come from the CDIS and therefore will not match the BEA data.

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($trillion USD) 2020 $1.423 2019 $1.699 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $5,092 2019 $14,439 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-
comprehensive-data
 

CBR data available at https://cbr.ru/statistics/macro_itm/svs/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $7,362 2019 $4,371 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-
comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 $33.4% 2019 27.4% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data: FDI data – Central Bank of Russia (CBR); GDP data – Rosstat (GDP) (Russia’s GDP was RUB 110,046 billion in 2019, according to Rosstat. The yearly average RUB-USD- exchange rate in 2019, according to the CBR, was RUB 64.7362 to the USD).

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (as of January 1, 2021)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 537,118 100% Total Outward 470,098 100%
Cyprus 153,355 28.6% Cyprus 200,435 43%
Bermuda 47,991 8.9% Netherlands 33.839 7.2%
Netherlands 46,712 8.7% Austria 29,702 6.2%
UK 41,961 7.8% UK 25,126 5.3%
Luxemburg 32,250 6% Switzerland 21,923 4.7%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (as of October 1, 2020)
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 98,918 100% All Countries 14,131 100% All Countries 84,786 100%
Ireland 26,108 29% United States 6,844 48.4% Ireland 25,246 29.8%
Luxemburg 17,455 22% Cyprus 1,000 7.1% Luxemburg 16,913 19.9%
U.S. 11,422 11% Netherlands 951 6.7% UK 10,306 12.2%
UK 10,984 7% Ireland 863 6.1% Netherlands 6,201 7.3%
Netherlands 7,152 6% UK 678 4.8% Cyprus 4,752 5.6%

14. Contact for More Information

Embassy of the United States of America
Economic Section
Bolshoy Deviatinsky Pereulok No. 8
Moscow 121099, Russian Federation
+7 (495) 728-5000 (Economic Section)
Email: MoscowECONESTHAmericans@state.gov 

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

In 2020, the Saudi Arabian government (SAG) continued its ambitious socio-economic reforms, collectively known as “Vision 2030.” Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Vision 2030 provides a roadmap for the development of new economic sectors, including tourism and entertainment, and for a significant transformation toward a digital, knowledge-based economy. The reforms are aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy away from its reliance on oil and creating more private sector jobs for a young and growing population.

To help accomplish these goals, the Saudi Arabian government (SAG) took additional steps in 2020 to improve the Kingdom’s investment climate, attract increased foreign investment, and encourage greater domestic and international private sector participation in its economy. To accelerate development and facilitate investment, the SAG elevated two Saudi authorities to full ministries in 2020: the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority became the Ministry of Investment, and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage became the Ministry of Tourism. On March 30, 2021, the SAG also announced the new Shareek program, an initiative designed to generate $3.2 trillion of domestic investment from the SAG, the sovereign wealth Public Investment Fund, and the private sector into Saudi Arabia’s economic development.

The Saudi Arabian government and its new stand-alone intellectual property rights (IPR) agency, the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP), have taken important steps since 2018 to improve IPR protection, enforcement, and awareness. In 2020, SAIP continued its inspection campaigns and seized millions of items that violated IPR protection. However, despite making measurable progress, the continued lack of effective protection of IPR in the pharmaceutical sector remains a significant concern. Several U.S. and international pharmaceutical companies allege the SAG violated their IPR and the confidentiality of trade data by licensing local firms to produce competing generic pharmaceuticals without approval. Industry attempts to engage the SAG on these issues have not led to satisfactory outcomes for the affected companies, while legal recourse and repercussions for IPR violations remain poorly defined. Primarily for these reasons, the U.S. Trade Representative included Saudi Arabia on its Special 301 Priority Watch List for the second consecutive year.

Infrastructure development remains a priority component of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 aspiration to become the most important logistics hub in the region, linking Asia, Europe, and Africa. By establishing new business partnerships and facilitating the flow of goods, people, and capital, the country seeks to increase interconnectivity and economic integration with other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Improvements to transportation, such as the $23 billion Riyadh metro, are intended to support this plan. In addition, Saudi Arabia continues to create and expand “economic cities” – including plans for special economic zones – throughout the Kingdom as hubs for petrochemicals, mining, logistics, manufacturing, and digital industries. The Kingdom also continued its early-stage work on infrastructure for NEOM, a futuristic city in northwest Saudi Arabia that Saudi officials have said will cost $500 billion to develop.

Saudi Arabia is launching an $800 billion project to double the size of Riyadh city in the next decade and transform it into an economic, social, and cultural hub for the region. The project includes 18 “mega-projects” in the capital city to improve livability, strengthen economic growth, and more than double the population to 15-20 million by 2030. The SAG is seeking private sector financing of $250 billion for these projects with similar contributions from income generated by its financial, tourism, and entertainment sectors. While specific details of a new initiative announced in February 2021 to attract multinational companies’ regional headquarters offices to Saudi Arabia have not been finalized, senior SAG officials have said publicly that beginning in 2024, government contracts will only be awarded to companies whose regional headquarters are located in the Kingdom. “Saudization” polices requiring certain businesses to employ a quota of Saudi workers have led to disruptions in some private sector activities.

In recognition of the progress made in its investment and business climate, Saudi Arabia’s rankings on several world indexes improved between 2019 and 2021. The country jumped 13 places on the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2019, the biggest gain of any country surveyed, and increased two more spots in 2020 to 24th place, supported by improvements to government and business efficiency. The World Bank ranked Saudi Arabia the world’s top reformer and improver in its Doing Business 2020 report. The Kingdom rose 30 places, from 92nd to 62nd, and improved in 9 out of 10 areas measured in the report. World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Competitiveness Report Special Edition ranked Saudi Arabia among the top 10 countries in the world for digital skills. The report attributed this progress to a number of factors including the adoption of information and communication technology, flexible work arrangements, national digital skills, and the legal digital framework.

On the social front, the removal of guardianship laws and travel restrictions for adult women, the introduction of workplace protections, and recent judicial reforms that provide additional protection have enabled more women to enter the labor force. From 2016 to 2020, the Saudi female labor participation rate increased from 19 percent to 33 percent.

Development of the Saudi tourism sector is also a priority under Vision 2030, with plans to develop tourist attractions that meet the highest international standards and develop potential UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition to introducing a new tourism visa in 2019 for non-religious travelers, the SAG no longer requires that foreign travelers staying in the same hotel room provide proof of marriage or family relations. Construction of several multi-billion dollar giga-projects focused on tourism, including Qiddiya, the Red Sea Project, and Amaala, continue to progress. The SAG is seeking private investments through its Tourist Investment Fund, which has initial capital of $4 billion, and the Kafalah program, which provides loan guarantees of up to $400 million. In addition, the Tourism Fund signed MOUs with local banks to finance projects valued up to $40 billion in an effort to stimulate tourism investment and increase the sector’s contribution to GDP. Due to the global pandemic, the SAG paused its Saudi Seasons initiative comprised of 11 annual tourism ‘seasons’ held in each region of the country, but has announced the program will resume in November 2021.

The Saudi entertainment and sporting events sector is growing rapidly. AMC, Vox, and other cinema companies continue to develop hundreds of movie theaters. The SAG is seeking to sign agreements for film production studios in Saudi Arabia for end-to-end film production. Saudi film festivals, like the Red Sea Film Festival, are being developed to meet the SAG’s Vision 2030 Quality of Life objectives. The SAG has also hosted several world class sporting events including the European Tour, Diriyah ePrix, Dakar Rally, Saudi Formula One Grand Prix, Diriyah Tennis Cup, WWE Crown Jewel, and Supercoppa. In addition, several festivals and concerts have demonstrated strong demand for a variety of art and culture content.

Investor concerns persist, however, over the rule of law, business predictability, and political risk. Although some have recently been released, the continued detention and prosecution of activists, including prominent women’s rights activists, remains a significant concern, while there has been little progress on fundamental freedoms of speech and religion. Pressure on Saudi Arabia’s fiscal situation from the sharp downturn in oil prices and demand in 2020, as well as the unexpected spending needed to respond to COVID-19, will likely dampen some of the SAG’s ambitious plans. Despite budget cuts imposed in 2020 and the possibility that further spending reductions may be forthcoming, companies working on the SAG’s giga-projects reported the ongoing availability of funding in 2020. Revenues generated by the tripling of Saudi Arabia’s value-added tax rate from 5 to 15 percent in July 2020 have helped ease fiscal stress.

The pressure to generate non-oil revenue and provide more jobs for Saudi citizens have prompted the SAG to implement measures that may weaken the country’s investment climate going forward. Increased fees for expatriate workers and their dependents, as well as “Saudization” polices requiring certain businesses to employ a quota of Saudi workers, have led to disruptions in some private sector activities and may lead to a decrease in domestic consumption levels.

Finally, while some U.S. companies, including those with significant experience in Saudi Arabia, continue to experience payment delays for SAG contracts, many were paid in full from late 2020 through the beginning of 2021. The SAG has committed to speed up its internal payment process and pay companies in a timely manner.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 52 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 62 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 66 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $10,826 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $22,840 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The SAG seeks foreign investment that explicitly promotes economic development, transfers foreign expertise and technology to Saudi Arabia, creates jobs for Saudi nationals, and increases Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports. As part of Vision 2030, the SAG targets increasing foreign investments in Saudi Arabia to $3 trillion. The government encourages investment in nearly all economic sectors, with priority given to chemicals, industrial, and manufacturing; transport and logistics; information and communication technology; healthcare and life sciences; water and waste management; energy; education; tourism, entertainment and sports; real estate; financial services; and mining and metals. In March 2021, the SAG announced it is seeking to attract $420 billion in foreign investments over the next 10 years in the infrastructure and transportation sectors alone.

The Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia (MISA), formerly the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), governs and regulates foreign investment in the Kingdom, issues licenses to prospective investors, and works to foster and promote investment opportunities across the economy. Established originally as a regulatory agency, MISA has increasingly shifted its focus to investment promotion and assistance, offering potential investors detailed guidance and a catalogue of current investment opportunities on its website (https://investsaudi.sa/en/sectors-opportunities/).

MISA promotes efforts to improve the Kingdom’s attractiveness as an investment destination: e-licenses to provide a more efficient and user-friendly process; an online “instant” license issuance or renewal service to foreign investors that are listed on a local or international stock market and meet certain conditions; a reduction in the license approval period from days to hours; a reduction in required customs documents; 100 percent foreign ownership in most sectors; a reduction in customs clearance period from weeks to hours; the launch of Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration; and an increase in the investor license period to five years. MISA’s reforms appear to be yielding results: Saudi Arabia jumped 30 places to 62nd place in the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report.

In a country where most public entertainment was once forbidden, the SAG now regularly sponsors and promotes entertainment programming, including live concerts, dance exhibitions, sports competitions, and other public performances. Significantly, the audiences for many of those events are now gender-mixed, representing a larger consumer base. In addition to reopening cinemas in 2018, the SAG has hosted Formula E races, professional golf tournaments, a world heavyweight boxing title match, and a professional tennis tournament. Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Seasons initiative in 2019 with tourism and cultural events in each of the 11 regions of the country. The Riyadh Season included first-ever car exhibition and auction in Riyadh, which attracted 350 U.S. exhibitors. Saudi Arabia’s Gen