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Taiwan

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Promoting inward FDI has been an important policy goal for the Taiwan authorities because of Taiwan’s self-imposed public debt ceiling that limits public spending and its low levels of domestic private investment, which grew by 1.46 percent in 2018.  Taiwan has pursued various measures to attract FDI from both foreign companies and Taiwan firms operating overseas. A network of science and industrial parks, export processing zones, and free trade zones aim to expand trade and investment opportunities by granting tax incentives, tariff exemptions, low-interest loans, and other favorable terms.  Incentives tend to be more prevalent for investment in the traditional manufacturing sector. The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) Department of Investment Services (DOIS) Invest in Taiwan Center serves as Taiwan’s investment promotion agency and provides streamlined procedures for foreign investors, including single-window services and employee recruitment.  For investments of over NTD 500 million (USD 17 million), the authorities will assign a dedicated project manager to the investment process. DOIS services are available to all foreign investors. The Centre’s website contains an online investment aid system (at https://investtaiwan.nat.gov.tw/smartIndexPage?lang=eng) to help investors retrieve all the required applications forms based on various investment criteria and types.  Taiwan also passed the Foreign Talent Retention Act to attract foreign professionals with a relaxed visa and work permit issuance process as well as tax incentives. The proposed amendments to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals, which was under priority consideration by the Legislative Yuan in the first half of 2019, would replace the existing pre-approval investment review process with an ex-post reporting mechanism.  

Taiwan maintains a negative list of industries closed to foreign investment for reasons the authorities assert relate to national security and environmental protection, including public utilities, power distribution, natural gas, postal service, telecommunications, mass media, and air and sea transportation.  These sectors constitute less than one percent of the production value of Taiwan’s manufacturing sector and less than five percent of the services sector. Railway transport, freight transport by small trucks, pesticide manufactures, real estate development, brokerage, leasing, and trading are open to foreign investment.  The negative list of investment sectors, last updated in February 2018, is available at http://www.moeaic.gov.tw/download-file.jsp?do=BP&id=ZYi4SMROrBA= .

To accelerate industrial transformation that would boost both domestic demand and external market expansion, the authorities have been actively promoting the “5+N Innovative Industries” development program targeting industries including smart machinery, biomedicine, Internet of Things (IoT), green energy, and national defense, as well advanced agriculture, circular economy, and semiconductors, among other key industries.  Taiwan authorities also offer subsidies for the research and development expenses for Taiwan-foreign partnership projects. The central authorities take a cautious approach to approving foreign investment in innovative industries that utilize new and potentially disruptive business models, such as in the sharing economy. Investors have reported that investments in the sharing economy have been approved without clear regulatory frameworks in place, generating regulatory and political difficulties and, in some cases, targeted legislation and regulations regarded as highly punitive or restrictive in ways that harm the viability of such business models in Taiwan.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei meets regularly with Taiwan agencies such as the National Development Council (NDC) to promote resolution of concerns highlighted in the Chamber’s annual White Paper.  The authorities also regularly meet with other foreign business groups. Some U.S. investors have expressed concerns about a lack of transparency, consistency, and predictability in the investment review process, particularly with regard to transactions involving private equity investment.  Current guidelines on foreign investment state that private equity investors seeking to acquire companies in “important industries” must provide, for example, a detailed description of the investor’s long-term operational commitment, relisting choices, and the investment’s impact on competition within the sector.  U.S. investors have claimed to experience lengthy review periods for private equity transactions and redundant inquiries from the MOEA Investment Commission and its constituent agencies. Some report that public hearings convened by Taiwan regulatory agencies about specific private equity transactions have appeared designed to advance opposition to private equity rather than foster transparent dialogue.  Private equity transactions and other previously approved investments have, in the past, attracted Legislative Yuan scrutiny, including committee-level resolutions opposing specific transactions.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign entities are entitled to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity as local firms unless otherwise specified in relevant regulations.  Taiwan sets foreign ownership limits in certain industries, such as a 60 percent limit on direct foreign ownership of wireless and fixed line telecommunications firms, and a 49 percent limit on direct foreign investment in that sector.  State-controlled Chunghwa Telecom, which controls 97 percent of the fixed line telecom market, maintains a 49 percent limit on direct foreign investment and a 55 percent limit on indirect foreign investment. There is a 20 percent limit on foreign direct investment in cable television broadcasting services, and foreign ownership of up to 60 percent is allowed through indirect investment via a Taiwan entity, although in practice this kind of investment is subject to heightened regulatory and political scrutiny.  In addition, there is a foreign ownership limit of 49.99 percent for satellite television broadcasting services and piped distribution of natural gas, and a 49 percent limit for high-speed rail services. The foreign ownership cap on airport ground services firms, air-catering companies, aviation transportation businesses (airlines), and general aviation businesses (commercial helicopters and business jet planes) is less than 50 percent, with a separate limit of 25 percent for any single foreign investor. Foreign investment in Taiwan-flagged merchant shipping services is limited to 50 percent for Taiwan shipping companies operating international routes.

Taiwan has gradually eased restrictions on investments from the PRC since 2009.  Taiwan has opened more than two-thirds of its aggregate industrial categories to PRC investors, with 97 percent of manufacturing sub-sectors and 51 percent of construction and services sub-sectors open to PRC capital.  PRC nationals are prohibited from serving as chief executive officer in a Taiwan company, although a PRC board member may retain management control rights. The Taiwan authorities regard PRC investment in media or advanced technology sectors, such as semiconductors, as a national security concern.  The Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services and the Cross-Strait Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Enhancement of Tax Cooperation were signed in 2013 and 2015, respectively, but have not taken effect. Negotiations on the Agreement on Trade in Goods halted in 2016.

The Investment Commission screens applications for FDI, mergers, and acquisitions.  Taiwan authorities claim that 95 percent of investments not subject to the negative list and with capital less than New Taiwan Dollars (NTD) 500 million (USD 17 million) obtain approval at the Investment Commission staff-level within two to four days.  Investments between NTD 500 million (USD 17 million) and NTD 1.5 billion (USD 51 million) in capital take three to five days to screen, and the approval authority rests with the Investment Commission’s executive secretary. For investment in restricted industries, in cases where the investment amount or capital increase exceeds NTD 1.5 billion, or for mergers, acquisitions, and spin-offs, screening takes 10 to 20 days and includes review by relevant supervisory ministries and final approval from the Investment Commission’s executive secretary.  Screening for foreign investments involving cross-border mergers and acquisitions or other special situations takes 20-30 days, as these transactions require interagency review and deliberation at the Investment Commission’s monthly meeting.

The screening process provides Taiwan’s regulatory agencies opportunities to attach conditions to investments in order to mitigate concerns about ownership, structure, or other factors.  Screening may also include an assessment of the impact of proposed investments on a sector’s competitive landscape and protection of the rights of local shareholders and employees. Screening is also used to detect investments with unclear funding sources, especially PRC-sourced capital.  To ensure monitoring of PRC-sourced investment in line with Taiwan law and public sentiment, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau has participated in every investment review meeting since April 2014, regardless of the size of the investment. Blocked deals in recent years have reflected the authorities’ increased focus on national security concerns beyond the negative-list industries.  The proposed revisions to the main investment statute would, if passed, allow the authorities to apply political, social, and cultural sensitivity considerations in their investment review process.

Foreign investors must submit an application form containing the funding plan, business operation plan, entity registration, and documents certifying the inward remittance of investment funds.  Applicants and their agents must provide a signed declaration certifying that any PRC investors in a proposed transaction do not hold more than a 30 percent ownership stake and do not retain managerial control of the company.  When an investment fails review, an investor may re-apply when the reason for the denial no longer exists. Foreign investors may also petition the regulatory agency that denied approval, or may appeal to the Administrative Court.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Taiwan has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 2002.  In September 2018, the WTO conducted the fourth review of the trade policies and practices of Taiwan.  Related reports and documents are available at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp402_e.htm.  

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have not conducted investment policy reviews of Taiwan.  

Business Facilitation

MOEA has taken steps to improve the business registration process and has been finalizing amendments to the Company Act to make business registration more efficient.  Since 2014, the company registration application review period has been shortened to two days, while applications for a taxpayer identification number, labor insurance (for companies with five or more employees), national health insurance, and pension plans can be processed at the same time and granted decisions within five to seven business days.  Since January 1, 2017, foreign investors’ company registration applications are processed by the MOEA’s Central Region Office.

In recent years, the Taiwan authorities revised rules to improve the business climate for startups.  With the goal of developing Taiwan into a startup hub in Asia, Taiwan launched an entrepreneur visa program allowing foreign entrepreneurs to remain in Taiwan if they raise at least NTD 2 million (USD 66,000) in funding.  Taiwan has initiated rules to enable IP rights (IPR) holders to use intellectual property (IP) as collateral in obtaining bank loans, and this and other rules apply to foreign investors.

Further details about business registration process can be found in Invest Taiwan Center’s website at http://onestop.nat.gov.tw/oss/web/Show/engWorkFlow.do  

The Investment Commission website lists the rules, regulations, and required forms for seeking foreign investment approval: http://www.moeaic.gov.tw/  .

Approval from the Investment Commission is required before proceeding with business registration.  After receiving an approval letter from the Investment Commission, an investor can apply for capital verification and may then file an application for a corporate name and proceed with business registration.  The new company must register with the Bureau of Labor Insurance and the Bureau of National Health Insurance before it may start recruiting and hiring employees.

For the manufacturing, construction, and mining industries, the MOEA defines small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as companies with less than NTD 80 million (USD 2.5 million) of paid-in capital and fewer than 200 employees.  For all other industries, SMEs are defined as having less than NTD 100 million (USD 3.1 million) of paid-in capital and fewer than 100 employees. Taiwan runs a Small and Medium Enterprise Credit Guarantee Fund to help SMEs obtain financing from local banks.  Foreign firms may pay a fee to obtain a guarantee from the Fund. Taiwan’s National Development Fund has set aside NTD 10 billion (USD 330 million) to invest in SMEs.

Outward Investment

The PRC used to be the top destination for Taiwan companies’ overseas investment given the low cost of factors of production there, such as wages and land.  In recent years, however, the authorities have begun assisting Taiwan firms in relocating to lower-cost markets, including in Southeast Asia. Taiwan’s financial regulators have urged Taiwan banks to expand their presence in Southeast Asian economies either by setting up branches or by acquiring subsidiaries.  The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen launched the New Southbound Policy to enhance Taiwan’s economic connection with 18 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific. The Taiwan authorities seek investment agreements with these countries to incentivize Taiwan firms’ investment in those markets.  Invest Taiwan Center provides consultation and loan guarantee services to Taiwan firms operating overseas.

According to the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, all Taiwan individuals, juridical persons, organizations, or other institutions must obtain approval from the Investment Commission in order to invest in or have any technology-oriented cooperation with the PRC.  The authorities maintain a negative list for Taiwan firms’ investment in the PRC. The central authorities, Taiwan companies, and foreign investors in Taiwan are increasingly vigilant about the threat of IP theft in key strategic industries, such as the semiconductor industry.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Taiwan generally maintains transparent regulatory and accounting systems that conform to international standards.  Taiwan’s publicly listed companies adopted the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in 2013. Taiwan adopted IFRS 9 and IFRS 15 in January 2018. Ministries generally originate business-related draft legislation and submit it to the Executive Yuan for review.  Following approval by the Executive Yuan, draft legislation is forwarded to the Legislative Yuan for consideration. Legislators can also propose legislation. While the cabinet level agencies are the main contact windows for foreign investors prior to entry, foreign investors also need to abide by local government rules on transportation services and environmental protection, for example.

Draft laws, rules, and orders are published on The Executive Yuan Gazette Online for public comment, at http://gazette.nat.gov.tw/egFront/indexEng.do  .  The Taiwan authorities on December 25, 2015, first instituted a 14-day public comment period for new rules, but extended it to no less than 60 days beginning December 29, 2016.  All draft regulations and laws are required to be available for public comment and advanced notice, unless they meet certain criteria allowing a shorter window. While welcomed by the U.S. business community, the 60-day comment period is not uniformly applied.  Draft laws and regulations of interest to foreign investors are regularly shared with foreign chambers of commerce for their comments. For the ongoing amendment to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals, the authorities held several regional public hearing and professional consultations meetings before finalizing its draft for the Executive Yuan review.  

These announcements are also available for public comment on the NDC’s public policy open discussion forum at https://join.gov.tw/index  .  Foreign chambers of commerce and Taiwan business groups’ comments on proposed laws and regulations, as well as Taiwan ministries’ replies, are publicly posted on the NDC website.  In October 2017, the NDC launched a separate policy discussion forum specifically for startups, which can be found online at http://law.ndc.gov.tw/  , serving as the main platform to harmonizing regulatory requirements governing innovative businesses and startups operation.

The Executive Yuan Legal Affairs Committee oversees the enforcement of regulations.  Ministries are responsible for enforcement, impact analysis, draft amendments to existing laws, and petitions to laws pursuant to their individual authorities.  Impact assessments may be completed by in-house or private researchers.  To enhance Taiwan’s regulatory coherence in the wake of regional economic integration initiatives, the NDC in August 2017 released a Regulatory Impact Analysis Operational Manual as a practical guideline for central government agencies, available in Chinese here. 

Taiwan regularly discloses its public finance data to the public, including all debts incurred to all levels of government. Past information is also retrievable in a well-maintained fiscal database.  Taiwan’s national statistics agency also publishes the contingent debt information each year.

International Regulatory Considerations

Taiwan is not a member of any regional economic grouping.  Although Taiwan is not a member of many international organizations, it voluntarily adheres to or adopts international norms, including in the area of finance, such as IFRS.  MOEA in July 2014 notified other Taiwan agencies of the requirement to notify the WTO of all draft regulations covered by the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.  Taiwan is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), and has met some of the customs facilitation requirement specified in the TFA, such as single window customs services and preview of the origin. In January 2018, citing tax parity for domestic retailers and the risk of fraud, Taiwan lowered the de minimis threshold from NTD 3,000 (USD 100) to NTD 2,000 (USD67), an approach regarded as contrary to facilitating customs clearance and trade, especially for small and medium-sized U.S. businesses. 

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Taiwan has a codified system of law.  In addition to the specialized courts, Taiwan has a three-tiered court system composed of the District Courts, the High Courts, and the Supreme Court.  The Compulsory Enforcement Act provides a legal basis for enforcing the ownership of property.  Taiwan does not have discrete commercial or contract laws. A variety of different laws regulate businesses and specific industries, such as the Company Law, Commercial Registration Law, Business Registration Law, and Commercial Accounting Law.  Taiwan’s Civil Code provides the basis for enforcing contracts.  

Taiwan’s court system is generally viewed as independent and free from overt interference by other branches of government.  Taiwan established its Intellectual Property Court in July 2008 in response to the need for a more centralized and professional litigation system for IPR disputes.  There are also specialized divisions in the District Courts and High Courts to deal with labor disputes. Foreign court judgments are final and binding, and enforced on a reciprocal basis.  Companies can appeal regulatory decisions in the court system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Regulations governing FDI principally derive from the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals and the Statue for Investment by Overseas Chinese.  These two laws permit foreign investors to transact either in foreign currency or the NTD.  The laws specify that foreign-invested enterprises must receive the same regulatory treatment accorded local firms.  Foreign companies may invest in state-owned firms undergoing privatization and are eligible to participate in publicly financed R&D programs.  

Amendments the Legislative Yuan passed in June 2015 to the Merger and Acquisition Act clarified investment review criteria for mergers and acquisition transactions.  The Investment Commission is drafting amendments to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals in an aim to simplify the investment review process, including an amendment that would replace a pre-investment approval requirement with a post-investment reporting system for investments under a USD 1 million threshold, which is considered too low by many stakeholders.  Ex ante approval would still be required for investments in restricted industries and those exceeding the threshold. The new proposal would also allow the authorities to impose various penalties for violations of the law. Guidance that previously required special consideration of the impact of a private equity fund’s investment has been folded into the set of general evaluation criteria for foreign investment in important industries.  The MOEA in November 2016 released a supplementary document to clarify required documentations for different types of investment applications. This document, in Chinese only, can be found at http://www.moeaic.gov.tw/download-file.jsp?do=BP&id=5dRl9fU97Fk=  .   

All foreign investment related regulations, application forms, and explanatory information can be found at Investment Commission’s website, at http://run.moeaic.gov.tw/MOEAIC-WEB-SRC/OfimDownloadE.aspx  

The Invest in Taiwan Portal also provides other relevant legal information of interest to foreign investors, such as labor, entry and exit regulations, at https://investtaiwan.nat.gov.tw/showPageeng1031003?lang=eng&search=1031003  

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Taiwan’s Fair Trade Act was enacted in 1992.  Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission (TFTC) examines business practices that might impede fair competition.  In October 2017, TFTC imposed a USD 774 million antitrust fine on a U.S. technology company. The MOEA publicly expressed concern about the ruling’s potential impact on foreign investment.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to Taiwan law, the authorities may expropriate property whenever such a course is determined to be necessary for the public interest, such as for national defense, public works, and urban renewal projects.  The U.S. government is not aware of any recent cases of nationalization or expropriation of foreign-invested assets in Taiwan. There are no reports of indirect expropriation or any official actions tantamount to expropriation.  Under Taiwan law, no venture with 45 percent or more foreign investment may be nationalized, as long as the 45 percent capital contribution ratio remains unchanged for a period of 20 years after the establishment of the foreign business.  Taiwan law requires fair compensation be paid within a reasonable period when the authorities expropriate constitutionally-protected private property for public use.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In part due to its unique political status, Taiwan is neither a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) nor a signatory to the 1966 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention).  It also is not a signatory to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Foreign investment disputes with the Taiwan authorities are rare.  Taiwan resolves disputes according to its domestic laws and based on national treatment or investment guarantee agreements.  Taiwan has entered into bilateral investment agreements with countries including Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and India. Taiwan does not have an investment agreement with the United States.  Taiwan’s bilateral investment agreements serve to promote and protect foreign investments. DOIS is not aware of investment disputes involving U.S. investors, although there have been reports of disputes between U.S. investors and their local Taiwan partners.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Parties to a dispute may pursue mediation by a court, a mediation committee of a town or city, and/or the Public Procurement Commission.  Mediation is generally non-binding unless parties agree otherwise. Civil mediation approved by a court has the same power as a binding ruling under civil litigation.  The Judicial Yuan announced that alternative dispute resolution will be one of the issues addressed in an upcoming National Judicial Conference. Arbitration associations in Taiwan include the Chinese Arbitration Association, Taiwan Construction Arbitration Association, Labor Dispute Arbitration Association, and Chinese Construction Industry Arbitration Association in Taiwan.

A court order on recognition and enforcement must be obtained before a foreign arbitral award can be enforced in Taiwan.  Any foreign arbitral award may be enforceable in Taiwan, provided that it meets the requirements of Taiwan’s Arbitration Act.  In November 2015, the Legislative Yuan amended the Arbitration Act to stipulate that a foreign arbitral award, after an application for recognition has been granted by a court, shall be binding on the parties and have the same force as a final judgment of a court, and is enforceable.  Taiwan referred to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law when the Arbitration Act was revised in 1998.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Taiwan has a bankruptcy law that guarantees creditors the right to share the assets of a bankrupt debtor on a proportional basis.  Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced through a registration system. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Taiwan.  Corporate bankruptcy is generally governed by the Company Act and the Bankruptcy Act, while the Consumer Debt Resolution Act governed personal bankruptcy.   The quasi-public Joint Credit Information Center is the only credit-reporting agency in Taiwan.  In 2017, there were 227 rulings on bankruptcy petitions.

Tanzania

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The United Republic of Tanzania, according to Government officials, welcomes foreign direct investment (FDI) as it pursues its industrialization and development agenda.  However, in practice, government policies and actions do not effectively keep and attract investment. The 2018 World Investment Report indicates that FDI flows to Tanzania shrank by 14 percent in 2017 to USD 1.18 billion, a 24 percent decline from 2015.  Some concerns noted by stakeholders included difficulty in hiring foreign workers, reduced profits caused by unfriendly and opaque tax policies, increased local content requirements, regulatory/policy instability, lack of trust between the GoT and the private sector, and mandatory initial public offerings (IPOs) in mining and communication industries.

The United Republic of Tanzania does have framework agreements on investment, and offers various incentives and the services of investment promotion agencies.  Investment is mainly a non-Union matter, thus there are different laws, policies, and practices for the mainland and Zanzibar. However, international agreements on investment are covered as Union matters and therefore apply to both regions. 

The Tanzania Investment Center (TIC) is intended to be a one-stop center for investors, providing services to investors such as permits, licenses, visas, and land.  The Zanzibar Investment Promotion Authority (ZIPA) provides the same function in Zanzibar. In January 2019, the President moved the TIC from the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Investment (MITI) to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and appointed a Minister of State for Investment in the Prime Minister’s Office.  The move, part of Tanzania’s “2019: The Year of Investment” campaign, aims to improve the business climate by enabling better coordination and reduced bureaucracy. (See Chapter 4 for more information on TIC).

The Government of Tanzania has an ongoing dialogue with the private sector via the Tanzania National Business Council (TNBC), created in 2001.  TNBC meetings are chaired by the President of the United Republic of Tanzania and co-chaired by the head of the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF).  Unfortunately, the TNBC has only met twice in the past four years. There is also a Zanzibar Business Council (ZBC) launched in 2005, and Regional Business Councils (RBCs) and District Business Councils (DBCs).  In April 2019, the new Minister of State for Investment announced she was launching a new series of forums with foreign investors, including U.S. investors. 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investors generally receive treatment equivalent to domestic investors but limits still persist in a number of sectors.  Tanzania conforms to best practice in several cases. There are no geographical restrictions on location for private establishments with foreign participation or ownership, no limitations on number of foreign entities that can operate in a given sector, and no sectors in which foreign investment approval is required for greenfield FDI and not for domestic companies. 

However, Tanzania discourages foreign investment by imposing limitations on foreign equity ownership or activity in several sectors, including aerospace, agribusiness (fishing), construction, and heavy equipment, travel and tourism, energy and environmental industries, information and communication, and publishing, media, and entertainment.  For example,

  • Foreign companies may not provide tourism services like mountain guides, tour guides, car rental, or travel agency services, per the Tourism Act, 2008.
  • Per the Merchant Shipping Act of 2003, only citizen-owned ships are authorized to engage in local trade (waiver by ministerial discretion), and the Shipping Agency Act states that only Tanzanians may be licensed as shipping agents.  Port services licenses are solely for citizen-owned Tanzania companies.
  • The Fisheries (Amendment) Regulations, 2009 implies onerous conditions for foreigners to fish and export fishery products, and fishing licenses cost three times more for foreigners than locals, and foreigners can only deal with certain fish and fish products.
  • Foreign construction contractors can only obtain temporary licenses, per the Contractors Registration Act of 1997, and contractors must commit in writing to leave Tanzania upon completion of the set project.  The Contractors Registration (Amendment) By- Laws, 2004 limit foreign contractors to specified, more complex classes of work.
  • Foreign capital participation in the telecommunications sector is limited to a maximum of 75 percent. 
  • All insurers require one-third controlling interest by Tanzania citizens, per the Insurance Act.
  • The Electronic and Postal Communications (Licensing) Regulations 2011 limits foreign ownership of Tanzanian TV stations to 49 percent, and prohibits foreign capital participation in national newspapers. 
  • Mining projects must be at least partially owned by the GoT and “indigenous” companies and hire, or at least favor, local suppliers, service providers, and employees.  (See Chapter 4: Laws and Regulations on FDI for details.). Gemstone mining is limited to Tanzanian citizens with a possible waiver by ministerial discretion. In February 2019, responding to low growth and investment in the sector, the government revised the 2018 Mining (Local Content) Regulations 2018 by reducing the local shareholder requirement from 51 percent to 20 percent.  

Currently, foreigners can invest in stock traded on the Dar es Salaam Stock Exchange (DSE), but only East African residents can invest in government bonds.  East Africans, excluding Tanzanian residents, however, are not allowed to sell government bonds bought in the primary market for at least one year following purchase.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

There have not been any third-party investment policy reviews (IPRs) on Tanzania in the past three years, the most recent OECD report is for 2013.  The World Trade Organization (WTO) published a Trade Policy Review in 2019 on all the East African Community states, including Tanzania. 

WTO – Trade Policy Review: East African Community (2019)
https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp484_e.htm

OECD – Tanzania Investment Policy Review (2013)
http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investment-policy/tanzania-investment-policy-review.htm  

WTO – Secretariat Report of Tanzania
https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s384-04_e.pdf

UNCTAD – Trade and Gender Implications (2018)
https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ditc2017d2_en.pdf

Business Facilitation

The World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 Indicators rank Tanzania 144 out of 190 overall for ease of doing business, and 163rd for ease of starting a business.  There are 10 procedures to open a business, higher than the sub-Saharan average of 7.4. The Business Registration and Licensing Agency (BRELA) issues certificates of compliance for foreign companies, certificates of incorporation for private and public companies, and business name registration for sole proprietor and corporate bodies.  After registering with BRELA, the company must: obtain the taxpayer identification number (TIN) certificate, apply for a business license, apply for the VAT certificate, register for workmen’s compensation insurance, register with the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA), receive inspection from the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA), and obtain a Social Security registration number. 

The TIC provides simultaneous registration with BRELA, TRA, and social security (http://tiw.tic.co.tz/  ) for enterprises whose minimum capital investment is not less than USD 500,000 if foreign owned or USD 100,000 if locally owned. 

In May 2018, the government adopted the Blueprint for Regulatory Reforms to improve the business environment and attract more investors.  The reforms, which were developed as a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment and the private sector, seek to improve the country’s ease of doing business through regulatory reforms and to increase efficiency in dealing with the government and its regulatory authorities.  The Blueprint is largely pending implementation. 

Outward Investment

Tanzania does not promote or incentivize outward investment, and in fact, generally discourages capital flight.  There are restrictions on Tanzanian residents’ participation in foreign capital markets and ability to purchase foreign securities.  Under the Foreign Exchange (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (FEAR), however, there are circumstances where Tanzanian residents may trade securities within the East African Community (EAC).  In addition, FEAR provides some opportunities for residents to engage in foreign direct investment and acquire real assets outside of the EAC.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Tanzania has formal processes for drafting and implementing rules and regulations.  Generally, after an Act is passed by Parliament, the creation of regulations is delegated to a designated ministry.  In theory, stakeholders are legally entitled to comment on regulations before they are implemented. However, ministries and regulatory agencies do publish a list of anticipated regulatory changes or proposals intended to be adopted/implemented.  There is not a period of time set by law for the text of the proposed regulations to be publicly available. Thus, stakeholders often report that they are either not consulted or given too little time to provide useful comment. Ministries or regulatory agencies do not have the legal obligation to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment.  Moreover, the government has increasingly used presidential decree powers to bypass regulatory and legal structures.

In 2016, the President signed the Access to Information Act into law.  In theory, the Act gives citizens more rights to information; however, some claim that the Act gives too much discretion to the GoT to withhold disclosure.  Although information, including rules and regulations, is available on the GoT’s “Government Portal” (https://www.tanzania.go.tz/documents  ), the website is generally not current and incomplete.  Alternatively, rules and regulations can be obtained on the relevant ministry’s website, but many offer insufficient information.

Nominally independent regulators are mandated with impartially following the regulations.  The process, however, has sometimes been criticized as being subject to political influence, depriving the regulator of the independence it is granted under the law. 

Tanzania does not meet the minimum standards for transparency of public finances and debt obligations. 

International Regulatory Considerations

Tanzania is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its National Enquiry Point (NEP) is the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS).  As the WTO NEP, TBS handles information on adopted or proposed technical regulations, as well as on standards and conformity assessment procedures.  Tanzania is also part of both the EAC and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and subject to their respective regulations. However, according to the 2016 East African Market Scorecard (most recent), Tanzania is not compliant with several EAC regulations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Tanzania’s legal system is based on the English Common Law system. The first source of law is the 1977 Constitution, followed by statutes or acts of Parliament; and case law, which are reported or unreported cases from the High Courts and Courts of Appeal and are used as precedents to guide lower courts.  The Court of Appeal, which handles appeals from mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar, is the highest ranking court, followed by the High Court, which handles civil, criminal and commercial cases. There are four specialized divisions within the High Courts: Labor, Land, Commercial, and Corruption and Economic Crimes.  The Labor, Land, and Corruption and Economic Crimes divisions have exclusive jurisdiction over their respective matters, while the Commercial division does not claim exclusive jurisdiction. The High Court and the District and Resident Magistrate Courts also have original jurisdiction in commercial cases subject to specified financial limitations. 

Apart from the formal court system, there are quasi-judicial bodies, including the Tax Revenue Appeals Tribunal and the Fair Competition Tribunal, as well as alternate dispute resolution procedures in the form of arbitration proceedings.  Judgments originating from countries whose courts are recognized under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (REFJA) are enforceable in Tanzania. To enforce such judgments, the judgment holder must make an application to the High Court of Tanzania to have the judgment registered. Countries currently listed in the REFJA include Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Zambia, Seychelles, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, the United Kingdom, and Sri Lanka.  

The Tanzanian constitution guarantees judicial independence.  Judges are appropriately trained, appointed by the president in consultation with an independent Judicial Service Commission, have secure tenure until retirement at age 60, and are promoted and dismissed in a fair and unbiased manner.  This gives the higher-level courts considerable independence. In 2018, the head of Tanzania’s judiciary, Chief Justice Ibrahim Hamis Juma, publicly warned politicians to stay off his “territory” warning of grave consequences for those who do not. 

Corruption within the judiciary remains a concern, despite President Magufuli’s very public campaign against corruption.  According to the 2017 Afrobarometer Survey, the percentage of Tanzanians who believed that at least some/most/all of the Judiciary were corrupt was 48 percent/17 percent/3 percent, respectively.  The selection and appointment of judges in Tanzania is criticized for its non-transparent nature. The Judiciary Service Commission proposes judges to the President for appointment. However, the criteria and process for candidates is unknown. 

Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable and they are adjudicated in the national court system. 

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

In 2017, new laws/regulations were enacted that may impact the risk-return profile on foreign investments, especially those in the mining industry.  The laws/regulations include the Natural Wealth and Resources (Permanent Sovereignty) Act 2017, Natural Wealth and Resources Contracts (Review and Renegotiation of Unconscionable Terms) Act 2017, Written Laws (Miscellaneous Act) 2017, and Mining (Local Content) Regulations 2018.   The three new acts were introduced by the executive branch under a certificate of urgency, meaning that standard advance publication requirements were waived to expedite passage. As a result, there was minimal stakeholder engagement.

Investors, especially those in natural resources and mining, have expressed concern about the effects of these new laws.  Two of the new laws apply to “natural wealth and resources,” which are broadly defined and not only include oil and gas, but in theory could include wind, sun, and air space.  Investors are encouraged to seek legal counsel to determine the effect these laws may have on existing or potential investments. For natural resource contracts, the laws remove rights to international arbitration and subject contracts, past and present, to Parliamentary review.  More specifically, the law states “Where [Parliament] considers that certain terms …or the entire arrangement… are prejudicial to the interests of the People and the United Republic by reason of unconscionable terms it may, by resolution, direct the Government to initiate renegotiation with a view to rectifying the terms.”  Further, if the GoT’s proposed renegotiation is not accepted, the offending terms are automatically expunged. “Unconscionable” is defined broadly, including catch-all definitions for clauses that are, for example, “inequitable or onerous to the state.” Under the law, the judicial branch does not play a role in determining whether a clause is “unconscionable.”

The Mining (Local Content) Regulations 2018 require that indigenous Tanzanian companies are given first preference for mining licenses.  An ‘indigenous Tanzanian company’ is one incorporated under the Companies Act with at least 51 percent of its equity owned by and 100 percent of its non-managerial positions held by Tanzanians.  Furthermore, foreign mining companies must have at least 5 percent equity participation from an indigenous Tanzanian company and must grant the GoT a 16 percent carried interest. Lastly, foreign companies that supply goods or services to the mining industry must incorporate a joint venture company in which an indigenous Tanzanian company must hold equity participation of at least 20 percent.

The Mining (Local Content) Regulations 2018 also set the timeframe for local content percentages to be raised over the next 10 years which vary by type of good or service provided.  There are immediate requirements to use 100 percent local content for financial, insurance, legal, catering, cleaning, laundry, and security services. All contractors must submit a local content plan to the GoT, which includes provisions to favor local content and meets required local content percentages.  The plan must include five sub plans on employment and training; research and development; technology transfer; legal services; and financial services. The regulations also require contractors to implement bidding procedures to acquire goods and services and to award contracts to indigenous Tanzanian companies if they do not exceed the lowest bidder by more than 10 percent.  There are also regular contractor reporting requirements. Violating these regulations can lead to a fine of up to TZS 500 million or five years imprisonment.      

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Fair Competition Commission (FCC) is an independent government body mandated to intervene, as necessary, to prevent significant market dominance, price fixing, extortion of monopoly rent to the detriment of the consumer, and market instability. The FCC has the authority to restrict mergers and acquisitions if the outcome is likely to create market dominance or lead to uncompetitive behavior.

Expropriation and Compensation

The constitution and investment acts require government to refrain from nationalization.  However, the GoT may expropriate property after due process for the purpose of national interest.  The Tanzanian Investment Act guarantees payment of fair, adequate, and prompt compensation; access to the court or arbitration for the determination of adequate compensation; and prompt repatriation in convertible currency where applicable.  For protection under Tanzania Investment Act, foreign investors require USD 500,000 minimum capital (a local one needs USD 100,000).

GoT authorities do not discriminate against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives in expropriation.  There have been cases of government revocation of hunting concessions that grant land rights to foreign investors, including a U.S.-based company with strategic investor status in 2016.  In late-2018, the GoT expropriated several dormant cashew-processing factories. In the same vein, in early-2019, the GoT reportedly repossessed 16 previously-privatized factories that were not in operation.  At the same time, the government issued a notice to more than 30 businesses, including hotels and other factories, warning them that if they did not present a plan for revitalizing their businesses, the GoT would repossess them too.  The ownership structure of these businesses unconfirmed; however, there are reports that some have foreign ownership. At least one factory with substantial U.S. investment reports that the GoT has blocked the sale of its assets. 

There are numerous examples of indirect expropriation, such as confiscatory tax regimes or regulatory actions that deprive investors of substantial economic benefits from their investments.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Tanzania is a member of both the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).  ICSID was established under the auspices of the World Bank by the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States.  MIGA is World Bank-affiliated and issues guarantees against non-commercial risk to enterprises that invest in member countries. 

Tanzania is a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitration Awards.

The highly anticipated Public Private Partnership (PPP) (Amendment) Act, No. 9 of 2018 (the PPP Amendment Act) entered into force in September 2018.  PPP agreements are now subject to local arbitration under the arbitration laws of Tanzania. This provision augments the existing governing law provision which provides that the PPP agreement will be governed by Tanzanian law.  Therefore, in the event of a dispute, the parties must select a local arbitral forum i.e. the National Construction Council or the Tanzania Institute of Arbitrators. Additionally, Section 25A makes provision for PPP projects relating to natural wealth and resources to recognize the provisions under the Natural Wealth and Resources (Permanent Sovereignty) Act, 2017 and the Natural Wealth and Resources (Review and Re-Negotiation of Unconscionable Terms) Act, 2017 (collectively the Natural Wealth Laws).  These provisions include only local arbitration under Tanzanian law will be recognized as well as the right for Parliament to review any agreements in relation to, but not limited to, natural wealth and resources.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investment-related disputes in Tanzania can be protracted.  The Commercial Court of Tanzania operates two sub-registries located in the cities of Arusha and Mwanza.  The sub-registries, however, do not have resident judges. A judge from Dar es Salaam conducts a monthly one-week session at each of the sub-registries.  The government said it intends to establish more branches in other regions including Mbeya, Tanga, and Dodoma, though progress has stagnated. Court-annexed mediation is also a common feature of the country’s commercial dispute resolution system.

Despite legal mechanisms in place, foreign investors have claimed that the GoT sometimes does not honor its agreements.  Additionally, investors continue to face challenges receiving payment for services rendered for GoT projects. One high profile example of such a dispute is that of U.S.-based Symbion Power, which in 2017 filed an application for ICSID arbitration seeking USD 561 million for alleged breach of contract of a purchase power agreement, and the dispute is ongoing.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

On 12 September 2018, the Tanzanian Parliament enacted the Public Private Partnership (Amendment) Bill 2018.  The amendment includes a provision requiring foreign investors to resolve disputes exclusively through Tanzania’s domestic courts, without recourse to international arbitration.  This has been a cause of alarm among international investors. The bill comes just a year after two natural resources legislation handed the Tanzanian government and parliament greater control over mining, oil and gas operations in the country, including the right to renegotiate or remove certain terms from existing contracts.

The Attorney General, Adelarus Kilangi, told Members of Parliament during the passage of the bill that the Tanzanian judicial system was best placed to hear disputes from international investors.  He further commented that the amendments were necessary to counteract the “bias” of international arbitration institutions, such as the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the panels of international arbitrators who hear such disputes.

In August 2018, Tanzania Electric Supply Co (Tanesco), wholly owned by the Tanzanian government, lost an appeal against an ICSID award in a long-running case against Standard Chartered Bank and was ordered to pay USD 148 million.  Tanesco is also facing a claim from U.S.-based Symbion Power for USD 561 million. There are at least 22 pending filings of international arbitration against Tanzania. 

Bankruptcy Regulations

According to the 2019 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, it takes an average of three years to conclude bankruptcy proceedings in Tanzania. The recovery rate for creditors on insolvent firms was reported at 20.3 U.S. cents on the dollar, with judgments typically made in local currency.

Thailand

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Thailand continues to welcome investment from all countries and seeks to avoid dependence on any one country as a source of investment. The FBA prescribes a wide range of business that may not be conducted by foreigners unless a relevant license has been obtained or an exemption applies. The term “foreigner” includes Thai-registered companies in which half or more of the capital is held by non-Thai individuals, foreign-registered companies, and Thai-registered companies that are themselves majority foreign-owned.  BOI, Thailand’s investment promotion agency, assists Thai and foreign investors to start and conduct businesses in targeted economic sectors by offering both tax and non-tax incentives.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Various Thai laws set forth foreign-ownership restrictions in certain sectors, primarily in services such as banking, insurance, and telecommunications. The FBA details the types of business activities reserved for Thai nationals. Foreign investment in those businesses must comprise less than 50 percent of share capital, unless specially permitted or otherwise exempt.

The following three lists detail restricted businesses for foreigners:

List 1. This contains activities non-nationals are prohibited from engaging in, including:  newspaper and radio broadcasting stations and businesses; rice and livestock farming; forestry and timber processing from a natural forest; fishery in Thai territorial waters and specific economic zones; extraction of Thai medicinal herbs; trading and auctioning of antique objects or objects of historical value from Thailand; making or casting of Buddha images and monk alms bowls; and land trading.

List 2. This contains activities related to national safety or security, arts and culture, traditional industries, folk handicrafts, natural resources, and the environment. Restrictions apply to the production, sale and maintenance of firearms and armaments; domestic transportation by land, water, and air; trading of Thai antiques or art objects; mining, including rock blasting and rock crushing; and timber processing for production of furniture and utensils. A foreign majority-owned company can engage in List 2 activities if Thai nationals or legal persons hold not less than 40 percent of the total shares and the number of Thai directors is not less than two-fifths of the total number of directors.

List 3. Restricted businesses in this list include:  accounting, legal, architectural, and engineering services; retail and wholesale; advertising businesses; hotels; guided touring; selling food and beverages; and other service-sector businesses. A foreign company can engage in List 3 activities if a majority of the limited company’s shares are held by Thai nationals. Any company with a majority of foreign shareholders (more than 50 percent) cannot engage in List 3 activities unless it receives an exception from the Ministry of Commerce under its Foreign Business License (FBL) application.

Thailand does not maintain an investment screening mechanism, but investors can receive additional incentives/privileges if they invest in priority areas, such as high-technology industries. Investors should contact the Board of Investment [https://www.boi.go.th/index.php?page=index  ] for the latest information on specific investment incentives.

The U.S. Commercial Service, U.S. Embassy Bangkok, is responsible for issuing a certification letter to confirm that a U.S. company is qualified to apply for benefits under the Treaty of Amity. The applicant must first obtain documents verifying that the company has been registered in compliance with Thai law. Upon receipt of the required documents, the U.S. Commercial Service office will then certify to the Foreign Administration Division, Department of Business Development, Ministry of Commerce (MOC) that the applicant is seeking to register an American-owned and managed company or that the applicant is an American citizen and is therefore entitled to national treatment under the provisions of the Treaty. For more information on how to apply for benefits under the Treaty of Amity, please e-mail: ktantisa@trade.gov.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization conducted a Trade Policy Review of Thailand in November 2015https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp426_e.htm  . The next review is scheduled for October 2020.

Business Facilitation

The MOC’s Department of Business Development (DBD) is generally responsible for business registration, which can be performed online or manually. A legal requirement that documentation must be submitted in Thai language has caused foreign entities to spend three to six months to complete the process, as they typically have to hire a law firm or consulting firm to handle their applications. Firms engaging in production activities also must register with the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.

To operate restricted businesses as defined by the FBA’s List 2 and 3, non-Thai entities must obtain a foreign business license, approved by the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) and/or Director-General of the MOC’s Department of Business Development, depending on the business category.

Effective June 9, 2017, the MOC removed certain business categories from FBA’s Annex 3 list. Businesses no longer subject to restrictions include regional office services and contractual services provided to government bodies and state-owned enterprises.

American investors who wish to take majority shares or wholly own businesses under FBA’s Annex 3 list may apply for protection under the U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity. https://2016.export.gov/thailand/treaty/index.asp#P5_233  

Americans planning to invest in Thailand are advised to obtain qualified legal advice, especially considering Thai business regulations are governed predominantly by criminal, not civil, law. Foreigners are rarely jailed for improper business activities, but violations of business regulations can carry heavy criminal penalties. Thailand has an independent judiciary and government authorities are generally not permitted to interfere in the court system once a case is in process.

In March 2019, the MOC’s Department of Business Development completed an annual report on suggestions for FBA changes, particularly the possible removal of certain service businesses from FBA’s List 3.  The report is pending the Cabinet’s review, which is expected to take place after a new government assumes office.

A company is required to have registered capital of two million Thai baht per foreign employee in order to obtain work permits. Foreign employees must enter the country on a non-immigrant visa and then submit work permit applications directly to the Department of Labor. Application processing takes approximately one week. For more information on Thailand visas, please refer to http://www.mfa.go.th/main/en/services/4908/15388-Non-Immigrant-Visa- percent22B percent22-for-Business-and.html  .

In February 2018, the Thai government launched a Smart Visa program for foreigners with expertise in specialized technologies in ten targeted industries. Under this program, foreigners can be granted a maximum four-year visa to work in Thailand without having to obtain a work permit and can enjoy relaxed immigration rules for their spouses and children. More information is available at https://www.boi.go.th/index.php?page=detail_smart_visa&language=en.

Outward Investment

Thai companies are expanding and investing overseas, especially in neighboring ASEAN countries to take advantage of lower production costs, but also in the United States, Europe and Asia. A stronger domestic currency, rising cash holdings, and subdued domestic growth are helping to drive outward investment. Food, agro-industry, and chemical sectors account for the main share of outward flows. Thai corporate laws allow outbound investments in the form of an independent affiliate (foreign company), as a branch of a Thai legal entity, or by a financial investment abroad from a Thai company. BOI and the MOC’s Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) share responsibility for promoting outward investment, with BOI focused on outward investment in leading economies and DITP covering smaller markets.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

On March 24, Thailand held its first election since a military-led coup in May 2014. Election results are expected on or before May 9, with formation of a government to follow.

Under the military junta government, also known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), line ministries have drafted laws with little or no input from stakeholders, particularly international investors. In some cases, laws were passed quickly through the National Legislative Assembly, largely viewed as a “rubber stamp” legislature; in other cases, ministries have issued sudden notifications relying on the Prime Minister’s authority under Article 44 of the interim constitution, which empowers the NCPO leader to issue any order “for the sake of the reforms in any field, the promotion of love and harmony amongst the people in the nation, or the prevention, abatement or suppression of any act detrimental to national order or security, royal throne, national economy or public administration, whether the act occurs inside or outside the kingdom.” Such orders are deemed “lawful, constitutional and final.”

Foreign investors have, on occasion, expressed frustration that draft regulations are not made public until they are finalized, and that comments they submit on draft regulations they do see are not taken into consideration. Non-governmental organizations report, however, they are actively consulted by the government on policy, especially within the health sector, for example on policies related to pharmaceuticals, alcohol, infant formula, and meat imports, as well as on intellectual property policies. In other areas, such as digital and cybersecurity laws, there have been instances in which public outcry over leaked government documents has led to withdrawal and review of proposed legislation.

U.S. businesses have repeatedly expressed concern about the lack of transparency of the Thai customs regime, the significant discretionary authority exercised by Customs Department officials, and a system of giving rewards to officials and non-officials for seized goods based on a percentage of their sales price. The U.S. government and private sector have expressed concern about the inconsistent application of Thailand’s transaction valuation methodology and repeated use of arbitrary values by the Customs Department. Thailand’s new Customs Act, which entered into force on November 13, 2017, is a moderate step forward. The Act removed the Customs Department Director General’s authority and discretion to increase the Customs value of imports, and reduced the percentage of remuneration awarded to officials and non-officials from 55 percent to 40 percent of the sale price of seized goods (or of the fine amount). While a welcome development, reduction of this remuneration is insufficient to remove the personal incentives given Customs officials to seize goods and to address the conflicts of interest the system entails.

Consistent and predictable enforcement of government regulations remains problematic for investment in Thailand.   In 2017, the Thai government initiated a policy to cut down on red tape, licenses, and permits in order to encourage economic growth. The policy focused on reducing and amending certain outdated regulations in order to improve Thailand’s ranking on the World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” report. The policy reviewed national license and permit requirements, with the aim of eliminating redundant licenses and streamlining complex procedures for starting new businesses.

Gratuity payments to civil servants responsible for regulatory oversight and enforcement remain a common practice. Firms that refuse to make such payments can be placed at a competitive disadvantage when compared to other firms in the same field that do engage in such practices.

The Royal Thai Government Gazette (www.ratchakitcha.soc.go.th  ) is Thailand’s public journal of the country’s centralized online location of laws, as well as regulation notifications.

International Regulatory Considerations

While Thailand is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and notifies most draft technical regulations to the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee and the Sanitary and Phytosantitary Measures Committee, the country does not always follow WTO or other international standard-setting norms or guidance, preferring to set its own standards in many cases. In October 2015, the country ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, which came into effect in February 2017. On March 7, 2018, the Thai Ambassador to the WTO was elected unanimously by 164 WTO members to serve as Chair of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Thailand has a civil code, commercial code, and a bankruptcy law. Monetary judgments are calculated at the market exchange rate. Decisions of foreign courts are not accepted or enforceable in Thai courts. Disputes such as the enforcement of property or contract rights have generally been resolved in Thai courts. Thailand has an independent judiciary that is generally effective in enforcing property and contractual rights. The legal process is slow in practice, and litigants or third parties sometimes influence judgments through extra-legal means.

There are three levels to the judicial system in Thailand:  the Court of First Instance, which handles most matters at inception; the Court of Appeals; and the Supreme Court. There are also specialized courts, such as the Labor Court, Family Court, Tax Court, the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, and the Bankruptcy Court.

The Specialized Appeal Courts handles appeals from specialized courts. The Supreme Court has discretion whether to take a case that has been decided by the Specialized Appeal Court. If the Supreme Court decides not to take up a case, the Specialized Appeal Court decision stands.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Foreign Business Act (FBA) governs most investment activity by non-Thai nationals. Foreign investment in most service sectors is limited to 49 percent ownership. Other key laws governing foreign investment are the Alien Employment Act (1978) and the Investment Promotion Act (1977). Many U.S. businesses enjoy investment benefits through the U.S.-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations.

The 2007 Financial Institutions Business Act unified the legal framework and strengthened the Bank of Thailand’s (the country’s central bank) supervisory and enforcement powers. The Act allows the Bank of Thailand to raise foreign ownership limits for existing local banks from 25 percent to 49 percent on a case-by-case basis. The Minister of Finance can authorize foreign ownership exceeding 49 percent if recommended by the central bank. Details are available athttps://www.bot.or.th/English/AboutBOT/LawsAndRegulations/
SiteAssets/Law_E24_Institution_Sep2011.pdf
 
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Apart from acquiring shares of existing local banks, foreign banks can enter the Thai banking system by obtaining new licenses, issued by the central bank and the Ministry of Finance. The 2008 Life Insurance Act and the 2008 Non-Life Insurance Act apply a 25 percent cap on foreign ownership of insurance companies and on foreign boards of directors. However, in January 2016 the Office of the Insurance Commission (OIC), the primary insurance industry regulator, notified that any Thai life or non-life insurance company wishing to have one or more foreigners hold more than 25 percent (but no more than 49 percent) of its total voting shares, or to have foreigners comprise more than a quarter (but less than half) of its total directors, may apply to the OIC for approval. Any foreign national wishing to hold more than 10 percent of the voting shares in an insurance company must seek OIC approval. With approval, a foreign national can acquire up to 49 percent of the voting shares.

Any foreign shareholder holding more than ten percent of the voting shares prior to the effective date of the notification is grandfathered in and may maintain the current shareholding, but must obtain OIC approval to increase it.  Finally, the Finance Minister, with OIC’s positive recommendation, has discretion to permit greater than 49 percent foreign ownership and/or a majority of foreign directors, when the operation of the insurance company may cause loss to insured parties or to the public.

For information on Thailand’s “One Start One Stop” investment center, please visit: http://osos.boi.go.th  . Investors in Thailand can visit the physical office, located on the 18th floor of Chamchuri Square on Rama 4/Phayathai Road in Bangkok.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Thailand enacted an updated version of the Trade Competition Act on October 5, 2017. The updated Act covers all business activities, except:  state-owned enterprises exempted by law; government policies related to national security, public benefit, common interest and public utility; cooperatives, agricultural and cooperative groups, government agencies, and other enterprises exempted by the law.

The Office of Trade Competition Commission (OTCC) is an independent agency and the main enforcer of the Trade Competition Act. The OTCC, comprised of seven members nominated by a selection committee and endorsed by the Cabinet, advises the government on issuance of relevant regulations, ensures fair and free trade practices, investigates cases and complaints of unfair trade, and pursues criminal and disciplinary actions against those found guilty of unfair trade practices stipulated in the law. The law focuses on unlawful exercise of market dominance; mergers or collusion that could lead to monopoly, unfair competition and restricting competition; and unfair trade practices. Merger control thresholds and additional details will be provided in notifications and regulations to be issued at a later date.

The Act broadens the definition of a business operator to include affiliates and group companies, and broadens the liability of directors and management, subjecting them to criminal and administrative sanctions if their actions (or omissions) resulted in violations. The Act also provides more details about penalties in cases involving administrative court or criminal court actions. The amended Act has been noted as an improvement over the prior legislation and a step towards Thailand’s adoption of international standards in this area.

The government has authority to control the price of specific products under the Price of Goods and Services Act. The MOC’s Department of Internal Trade administers the law and interacts with affected companies, though the Committee on Prices of Goods and Services makes final decisions on products to add or remove from price controls. As of January 2019, the MOC increased the number of controlled commodities and services to 54 from 53 the previous year. Aside from these controlled commodities, raising prices of consumer products is prohibited without first notifying the Committee. The government uses its controlling stakes in major suppliers of products and services, such as Thai Airways and PTT Public Company Limited, to influence prices in the market. Thailand has extensive environmental-protection legislation, including the National Environmental Quality Act, the Hazardous Substances Act, and the Factories Act. Food purity and drug efficacy are controlled and regulated by the Thai Food and Drug Administration (with authority similar to its U.S. counterpart). The Ministry of Labor sets and administers labor and employment standards.

Expropriation and Compensation

Private property can be expropriated for public purposes in accordance with Thai law, which provides for due process and compensation. This process is seldom invoked and has been principally confined to real estate owned by Thai nationals and required for public works projects. In the past year, U.S. firms have not reported problems with property appropriation in Thailand.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Thailand is a signatory to the New York Convention and enacted its own rules governing conciliation and arbitration procedures in the Arbitration Act of 2002. Thailand signed the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes in 1985, but has not yet ratified it.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

There have been several notable cases of investor-state disputes in the last fifteen years, but none involved U.S. companies. Currently, Thailand is engaged in a dispute with Australian firm Kingsgate Consolidated Limited over the government’s invocation of special powers to shut down a gold mine in early 2017 because of environmental damage and conflicts with the local population. Kingsgate, a major shareholder of the operator of the disputed mine, claimed the Thai government violated the Australia-Thailand Free Trade Agreement and commenced international arbitration proceedings against the country to recover losses incurred from the closure. The process is still continuing as of May 2019.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Thailand’s Arbitration Act of 2002, modeled in part after the UNCITRAL Model Law, governs domestic and international arbitration proceedings. The Act states that “in cases where an arbitral award was made in a foreign country, the award shall be enforced by the competent court only if it is subject to an international convention, treaty, or agreement to which Thailand is a party.” The Thai Arbitration Institute (TAI) of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Office, Office of the Judiciary, and the Office of the Arbitration Tribunal of the Board of Trade of Thailand provide arbitration services for proceedings held in Thailand. In 2017, TAI adopted new rules aimed at addressing weaknesses in Thailand’s arbitration process. The new rules:  empower TAI to appoint arbitrators when any of the parties in dispute fails to do so; establish a 180-day duration for arbitration procedures; and mandate issuance of a final award within 30 days of the closure of pleadings.

An amendment to the Arbitration Act, which aims to allow foreign arbitrators to take part in cases involving foreign parties, was approved by the National Legislative Assembly in January 2019. As of May 2019, the new version of this Act is awaiting royal endorsement, after which it will be published in the Royal Gazette; both steps must occur before it enters into force. In addition, the semi-public Thailand Arbitration Center offers mediation and arbitration for civil and commercial disputes. Under very limited circumstances, a court can set aside an arbitration award. Thailand does not have a bilateral investment treaty or a free trade agreement with the United States.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Thailand’s bankruptcy law allows for corporate restructuring similar to U.S. Chapter 11 and does not criminalize bankruptcy. While bankruptcy is under consideration, creditors can request the following ex parte applications from the Bankruptcy Court:  an examination by the receiver of all the debtor’s assets and/or that the debtor attend questioning on the existence of assets; a requirement that the debtor provide satisfactory security to the court; and immediate seizure of the debtor’s assets and/or evidence in order to prevent the loss or destruction of such items.

The law stipulates that all applications for repayment must be made within one month after the Bankruptcy Court publishes the appointment of an official receiver. If a creditor eligible for repayment does not apply within this period, he forfeits his right to receive payment or the court may cancel the order to reorganize the business. If any person opposes a filing, the receiver shall investigate the matter and approve, partially approve, or dismiss the application. Any objections to the orders issued by the receiver may be filed with the court within 14 days after learning of the issued order.

The National Credit Bureau of Thailand (NCB) provides the financial services industry with information on consumers and businesses. In May 2018, the World Bank’s Doing Business Report ranked Thailand 24th out of 190 countries on resolving insolvency.

Turkey

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Turkey acknowledges that it needs to attract significant new foreign direct investment (FDI) to meet its ambitious development goals, as well as finance its current account deficit.  As a result, Turkey has one of the most liberal legal regimes for FDI in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). According to the Central Bank of Turkey’s balance of payments data, Turkey attracted a total of USD 6.5 billion of FDI in 2018, almost USD 1 billion down from USD 7.4 billion in 2017.  U.S. FDI to Turkey was USD 446 million in 2018, up from a historically low USD 180 million in 2017, as FDI dropped considerably following the 2016 coup attempt. (Note: Official statistics understate the amount of U.S. FDI in Turkey. The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey estimated, for example, that in 2013 and 2014 U.S. FDI inflows were 30 percent higher than official statistics.  End Note.) To attract more FDI, Turkey needs to improve enforcement of international trade rules, ensure the transparency and timely execution of judicial orders, increase engagement with foreign investors on policy issues, and pursue policies to promote strong, sustainable, and balanced growth. It also needs to take other political measures to increase stability and predictability for investors.  A stable banking sector, tight fiscal controls, efforts to reduce the size of the informal economy, increase flexibility of the labor market, improve labor skills, and continued privatization of state-owned enterprises have the potential to improve the investment environment in Turkey. 

Most sectors open to Turkish private investment are also open to foreign participation and investment.  All investors, regardless of nationality, face some challenges: excessive bureaucracy, a slow judicial system, high and inconsistently applied taxes, weaknesses in corporate governance, unpredictable decisions made at the local government level, and frequent changes in the legal and regulatory environment.  Structural reforms that will create a more transparent, equal, fair, and modern investment and business environment remain stalled. Venture capital and angel investing are still relatively new in Turkey, but regulators and new legislation should continue to facilitate greater development of these financing opportunities.

Turkey does not screen, review, or approve FDI specifically.  However, the government established regulatory and supervisory authorities to regulate different types of markets.  Important regulators in Turkey include the Competition Authority; Energy Market Regulation Authority; Banking Regulation and Supervision Authority; Information and Communication Technologies Authority; Tobacco, Tobacco Products and Alcoholic Beverages Market Regulation Board; Privatization Administration; Public Procurement Authority; Radio and Television Supreme Council; and Public Oversight, Accounting and Auditing Standards Authority.  Some of the aforementioned authorities screen as needed without discrimination, primarily for tax audits. Screening mechanisms are executed to maintain fair competition and for other economic benefits. If an investment fails a review, possible outcomes can vary from a notice to remedy, which allows for a specific period of time to correct the problem, to penalty fees. The Turkish judicial system allows for appeals of any administrative decision, including tax courts that deal with tax disputes. 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are no general limits on foreign ownership or control.  Nevertheless, there are increasing pressures in some sectors for foreign investors to partner with local companies and transfer technology and some discriminatory barriers to foreign entrants, such as on the basis of “anti-competitive practices,” especially in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector or pharmaceuticals.  In many areas, Turkey’s regulatory environment is business-friendly. Investors can establish a business in Turkey irrespective of nationality or place of residence. There are no sector-specific restrictions that discriminate against foreign investor access, which are prohibited by World Trade Organization Regulations. 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In recent years, Turkey has not conducted an investment policy review through the OECD. Turkey’s last investment policy review through the World Trade Organization (WTO) was conducted in March 2016.  Turkey has not conducted an investment policy review through the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Turkey has cooperated with the World Bank to produce several reports on the general investment climate that can be found at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/turkey/research  .

Business Facilitation

The Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Investment Support and Promotion Agency (ISPAT) was the official organization for promoting Turkey’s investment opportunities to the global business community and assisting investors before, during, and after their entry into Turkey.  Under the new presidential system, the institution has been re-organized and named as the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey Investment Office. Its website is clear and easy to use, with information about legislation and company establishment. (http://www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/investmentguide/investorsguide/Pages/EstablishingABusinessInTR.aspx  ).  The website is also a resource for foreigners registering their businesses.

The conditions for foreign investors setting up a business and transferring shares are the same as those applied to local investors.  International investors may establish any form of company set out in the Turkish Commercial Code (TCC), which offers a corporate governance approach that meets international standards, fosters private equity and public offering activities, creates transparency in managing operations, and aligns the Turkish business environment with EU legislation and the EU accession process.

Turkey defines micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises according to Decision No. 2018/11828 of the Official Gazette dated June 2, 2018:

  • Micro-sized enterprises: fewer than 10 employees and less than or equal to 3 million Turkish lira in net annual sales or financial statement.
  • Small-sized enterprises: fewer than 50 employees and less than or equal to 25 million Turkish lira in net annual sales or financial statement.
  • Medium-sized enterprises: fewer than 250 employees and less than or equal to 125 million Turkish lira in net annual sales or financial statement.

Outward Investment

The government promotes outward investment via investment promotion agencies and other platforms.  It does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Government of Turkey (GOT) has adopted policies and laws that, in principle, should foster competition and transparency.  The GOT makes its budgetary spending reports available online. Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures appear to be consistent with international norms, including standards set forth by the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the EU, and the OECD.

Publicly traded companies adhere to international accounting standards and are audited by well-respected international firms.  Copies of draft bills are generally made available to the public by posting them to the websites of the relevant ministry, Parliament, or Official Gazette.  Nevertheless, foreign companies in several sectors claim that regulations are applied in a nontransparent manner. In particular, public tender decisions and regulatory updates can be opaque and politically driven, according to critics. 

International Regulatory Considerations

Turkey is a candidate for membership in the EU; however, the accession process has stalled, with the opening of new accession chapters put on hold.  Some, though not all, Turkish regulations have been harmonized with the EU, and the country has adopted many European regulatory norms and standards. Turkey is a member of the WTO, though it does not notify all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Turkey’s legal system is based on civil law, and provides means for enforcing property and contractual rights, and there are written commercial and bankruptcy laws.  Turkey’s court system, however, is overburdened, which sometimes results in slow decisions and judges lacking sufficient time to grasp complex issues. Judgments of foreign courts, under certain circumstances, need to be upheld by local courts before they are accepted and enforced.  Recent developments reinforce the Turkish judicial system’s need to undertake significant reforms to adopt fair, democratic, and unbiased standards “There were indications the judiciary remained subject to influence, particularly from the executive branch, and faces a number of challenges that limited judicial independence.” See: https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/turkey/

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Turkey’s investment legislation is simple and complies with international standards, offering equal treatment for all investors.  The New Turkish Commercial Code No. 6102 (“New TCC”) was published in the Official Gazette on February 14, 2011. The backbone of the investment legislation is made up of the Encouragement of Investments and Employment Law No. 5084, Foreign Direct Investments Law No. 4875, international treaties and various laws and related sub-regulations on the promotion of sectorial investments.  Regulations related to mergers and acquisitions include: a) Turkish Code of Obligations: Article 202 and Article 203, b) Turkish Commercial Code: Articles 134-158, c) Execution and Bankruptcy Law: Article 280, d) Law on the Procedures for the Collection of Public Receivables: Article 30, and e) Law on Competition: Article 7. The government’s primary website for investors is http://www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/Pages/Home.aspx  .   Although most U.S. investors have not been directly affected to date, there is an increased perception that the government is willing to use its executive authority to interfere in the court system in ways that could affect foreign investors, including favoring domestic companies.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Competition Authority is the sole authority on competition issues in Turkey and handles private sector transactions.  Public institutions are exempt from its authority. The Constitutional Court can overrule the Competition Authority’s finding of innocence in a competition case.  There have been some cases of Turkish courts blocking foreign company operations on the basis of anti-competitive claims and a few investigations into foreign companies initiated.  Such cases can take over a year to resolve, during which time the companies can be prohibited from doing business in Turkey, benefitting their (local) competitors. 

Expropriation and Compensation

Under the U.S.-Turkey Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), expropriation can only occur in accordance with due process of law, can only be for a public purpose, and must be non-discriminatory.  Compensation must be prompt, adequate, and effective. The GOT occasionally expropriates private real property for public works or for state industrial projects. The GOT agency expropriating the property negotiates the purchase price.  If the owners of the property do not agree with the proposed price, they are able to challenge the expropriation in court and ask for additional compensation. There are no known outstanding expropriation or nationalization cases for U.S. firms.  Although there is not a pattern of discrimination against U.S. firms, the GOT aggressively targeted businesses, banks, media outlets, and mining and energy companies with alleged ties to the so-called “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO) and/or the July 2016 attempted coup, including the expropriation of over 1,100 private companies worth more than USD 11 billion.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Turkey is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and is a signatory of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  Turkey ratified the Convention of the Multinational Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1987. There are no known arbitration cases involving a U.S. company pending before ICSID. Foreign arbitral awards will be enforced if the country of origin of the award is a New York Convention state, if the dispute is commercial under Turkish law, and as long as none of the grounds under article V of the New York Convention are proved by the opposing party.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The U.S.-Turkey BIT ensures that U.S. investors have full access to Turkey’s local courts and the ability to take the host government directly to third-party international binding arbitration to settle investment disputes.  There is also a provision for state-to-state dispute settlement. There is limited data about investment disputes available to the U.S. Embassy’s economic team, with only a handful of known cases. Over the last decade, the government has a mixed record of handling investment disputes through international arbitration.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Turkey adopted the International Arbitration Law, based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade model law, in 2001.  Local courts accept binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and the state. In practice, however, Turkish courts have been reported to sometimes fail to uphold an international arbitration ruling involving private companies in favor of Turkish firms.  There are two main arbitration bodies in Turkey: the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (www.tobb.org.tr  ) and the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce Arbitration and Mediation Center (www.itotam.com/en  ).  Most commercial disputes can be settled through arbitration, including disputes regarding public services.  Parties decide the arbitration procedure, set the arbitration rules, and select the language of the proceedings.  The Istanbul Arbitration Center was established in October 2015 as an independent, neutral, and impartial institution to mediate both domestic and international disputes through fast track arbitration, emergency arbitrator, and appointments for ad hoc procedures.  Its decisions are binding and subject to international enforcement. (www.istac.org.tr/en  ).

As of January 2019, some commercial disputes may be subject to mandatory mediation; if the parties are unable to resolve the dispute through mediation, the case moves to a trial.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Turkey criminalizes bankruptcy and has a bankruptcy law based on the Execution and Bankruptcy Code No. 2004 (the “EBL”), published in the Official Gazette on June 19, 1932 and numbered 2128.  The World Bank’s Doing Business Report gave Turkey a rank of 109 out of 190 countries for ease of resolving insolvency. See: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploretopics/resolving-insolvency  )

United Arab Emirates

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The UAE is generally open to FDI, citing it as a key part of its long-term economic plans.  The UAE Vision 2021 strategic plan aims to achieve FDI flows of five percent of Gross National Product (GNP), a number one rank for the UAE in the Global Index for Ease of Doing Business, and a place among the top 10 countries worldwide in the Global Competitiveness Index.  The Eight-Point Plan and the Fifty-Year Charter, issued by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, stressed that Dubai is a politically neutral, business-friendly global hub and emphasized the importance of combating corruption.

UAE investment laws and regulations are evolving in support of these goals.  The long-awaited law on foreign direct investment was issued in 2018, and granted licensed foreign investment companies the same treatment as national companies, in certain sectors.

While some laws allow foreign-owned free zone companies to operate “onshore” in some instances, and permit majority-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ownership of public joint stock companies, there remains no national treatment for foreign investors, and foreign ownership of land and stocks is restricted.  Non-tariff barriers to investment persist in the form of restrictive agency, sponsorship, and distributorship requirements, although several emirates have recently introduced new long-term residency visas in an attempt to keep expatriates with sought-after skills in the UAE. Each emirate has its own investment promotion agency.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign companies or individuals are limited to 49 percent ownership/control in any part of the UAE not in a free trade zone.  These restrictions have been waived on a case-by-case basis. The 2015 Commercial Companies Law allows for full ownership by GCC nationals.  Neither Embassy Abu Dhabi nor Consulate General Dubai (collectively referred to as Mission UAE) has received any complaints from U.S. investors that they have been disadvantaged or singled out relative to other non-GCC investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The UAE government underwent a World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Policy Review in 2016.  The full WTO Review is available at:  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s338_e.pdf 

Business Facilitation

UAE officials emphasize the importance of facilitating business and tout the broad network of free trade zones as being attractive to foreign investment.  The UAE’s business registration process varies based on the emirate. The business registration process is not available online, and generally happens through an emirate’s Department of Economic Development.  Links to information portals from each of the emirates are available at https://ger.co/economy/197  .  At a minimum, a company must generally register with the Department of Economic Development, the Ministry of Labor, and the General Authority for Pension and Social Security with a required notary in the process.  In 2017, the Department of Economic Development of the Emirate of Dubai introduced an “Instant License” valid for one year, under which investors can obtain a license in minutes without a registered lease agreement.

Outward Investment

The UAE is an important participant in global capital markets, primarily through its various well-capitalized sovereign wealth funds, as well as through a number of emirate-level, government-related investment corporations.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

As indicated elsewhere in this report, the regulatory and legal framework in the UAE is generally more favorable for local rather than foreign investors.

The Commercial Companies Law requires all companies to apply international accounting standards and practices, generally International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).  The UAE does not have local generally accepted accounting principles.

Legislation is only published when it has been enacted into law and is not formally available for public comment beforehand, although the press will occasionally report details of high-profile legislation.  Final bills are published in an official register, usually only in Arabic, although there are private companies that translate laws into English. Regulators are not required to publish proposed regulations before enactment, but they share them either publicly or with stakeholders on a case-by-case basis.

International Regulatory Considerations

The UAE is a member of the GCC, along with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.  It maintains regulatory autonomy, but coordinates efforts with other GCC members through the GCC Standardization Organization (GSO).  Although not a member of the GCC, Yemen also participates in the GSO, with the same rights and obligations as GCC member states. In 2017, the UAE conducted 58 notifications to the WTO committee, including on restricting the use of hazardous materials in electronic devices, and on a guide for the control of imported foods.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

In the constitution, Islam is identified as the state religion, as well as the principal source of law.  The legal system of the country is generally divided between the British-based system of common law used in offshore free trade zones, and domestic law governed by Shari’a – the majority of which has been codified.  The mechanism for enforcing ownership of property through either court system is generally considered to be predictable and fair. As is the case with civil law systems, common law principles, such as adopting previous court judgments as legal precedents, are generally not recognized in the UAE, although lower courts typically apply higher court judgments.  Judgments of foreign civil courts are typically recognized and enforceable under the local courts.

The Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) and Ras Al Khaimah International Corporate Centre maintain a wills and probate registry, allowing non-Muslims to register a will under internationally-recognized common law principles.  The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York signed a memorandum with the DIFC courts that provides companies operating in Dubai and New York with procedures for the mutual enforcement of financial judgments.

The UAE constitution stipulates that each emirate can decide whether to set up its own judicial system (local courts) to adjudicate local cases, or use federal courts exclusively.  The Federal Judicial Authority has jurisdiction for all cases involving a “federal person,” with the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, the highest court at the federal-level, having exclusive jurisdiction in seven types of cases:  disputes between emirates, disputes between an emirate and the federal government, cases involving national security, interpretation of the constitution, questions over the constitutionality of a law, and cases involving the actions of appointed ministers and senior officials while performing their official duties.  Although the federal constitution permits each emirate to have its own judicial authority, all emirates except Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi have incorporated their local judicial systems into the Federal Judicial Authority. The federal government administers the courts in Ajman, Fujairah, Umm al Quwain, and Sharjah, including the vetting and hiring of judges, and payment of salaries.  Judges in these courts apply both local and federal law, as warranted. Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, administer their own local courts, hiring, vetting, and paying their own judges and attorneys. Abu Dhabi is the only emirate that operates both local (the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department) and federal courts in parallel. The local courts in Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi have jurisdiction over all matters that the constitution does not specifically reserve for the federal system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

There are four major federal laws affecting investment in the UAE:  the Federal Companies Law, the Commercial Agencies Law, the Industry Law, and the Government Tenders Law.

The Federal Commercial Companies Law (Law No. 2, 2015) was issued in April 2015 and applies to commercial companies operating in the UAE.  The new law, with which all companies had to come into compliance before July 2016, provides a stronger, more current basis for corporate regulation.  Federal Law No.19 of 2018 eased restrictions on foreign ownership of companies incorporated “onshore”. The new law allows foreigners to own up to 100 per cent of the share capital in UAE companies operating in certain sectors, subject to licensing requirements.  The sectors covered by the new law will be set out in future legislation.

Branch offices of foreign companies are required to have a national agent with 100 percent UAE national ownership, unless the foreign company has established its office pursuant to an agreement with the federal or emirate-level government.  Existing commercial law allows companies to offer between 30 and 70 percent of shares in an initial public offering (IPO), and eliminates the requirement to issue new shares at the time of the IPO. The law also eases the process for forming a limited liability company by requiring between 1 to 75 shareholders (the prior requirement was between 2 to 50 shareholders).  Public joint stock companies are required to have 51 percent GCC ownership at the time of listing, and UAE nationals must chair and comprise the majority of board members of any public joint stock company. A provision to allow 100 percent foreign ownership outside free zones requires Cabinet approval on a case-by-case basis. For example, in 2015, Apple opened stores outside free zones without local partners, having secured permission to do so on an exceptional basis via a decree from the Ministry of Economy.

The Commercial Agencies Law’s provisions are collectively set out in Federal Law No. 18 of 1981 on the Organization of Commercial Agencies as amended by Federal Law No. 14 of 1988 (the Agency Law), and apply to all registered commercial agents.  Federal Law No. 18 of 1993 (Commercial) and Federal Law No. 5 of 1985 (Civil Code) govern unregistered commercial agencies. The Commercial Agencies Law requires that foreign principals distribute their products in the UAE only through exclusive commercial agents who are either UAE nationals or companies wholly owned by UAE nationals.  The foreign principal can appoint one agent for the entire UAE or for a particular emirate or group of emirates. The Ministry of Economy handles registration of commercial agents. It remains difficult, if not impossible, to sell in UAE markets without a local agent. Only UAE nationals or companies wholly owned by UAE nationals can register with the Ministry of Economy as local agents.

The Federal Industry Law stipulates that industrial projects must have 51 percent UAE national ownership.  The law also requires that projects either be managed by a UAE national or have a board of directors with a majority of UAE nationals.  Exemptions from the law are provided for projects related to extraction and refining of oil, natural gas, and select hydrocarbon projects governed by special laws or agreements are exempt from the industry law.

To register with the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, go to: https://www.adx.ae/English/Pages/Members/BecomeAMember/default.aspx  

To obtain an investor number for trading on the Dubai Exchanges, go to: http://www.nasdaqdubai.com/assets/docs/NIN-Form.pdf 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Competition Regulation Committee under the Ministry of Economy reviews transactions for competition-related concerns.

Expropriation and Compensation

Mission UAE is not aware of foreign investors involved in any expropriations in the UAE in the recent past.  There are no set federal rules governing compensation if expropriations were to occur, and individual emirates would likely treat expropriations differently.  In practice, authorities would be unlikely to expropriate unless there were a compelling development or public interest need to do so, and in such cases compensation would likely be generous to maintain foreign investor confidence.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The UAE is a contracting state to the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID convention) and a signatory to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Mission UAE is aware of several substantial investment and commercial disputes over the past few years involving U.S. or other foreign investors and government and/or local businesses.  There have also been several contractor/payment disputes with the government as well as with local businesses. Some observers have characterized dispute resolution as difficult and uncertain.  Disputes are generally resolved by direct negotiation and settlement between the parties themselves, recourse to the legal system, or arbitration. Small, medium, and some larger enterprises continue to fear being frozen out of the UAE market for escalating payment issues through civil or arbitral courts, particularly when politically-connected local parties are involved.  Some firms might feel compelled to exit the UAE market as they are unable to sustain the pursuit of legal or dispute resolution mechanisms that can add months or years to the dispute resolution process. Arbitration may commence by petition to the UAE federal courts on the basis of mutual consent (a written arbitration agreement), independently (by nomination of arbitrators), or through a referral to an appointing authority without recourse to judicial proceedings.  There have been no confirmed reports of government interference in the court system that could affect foreign investors, but there is a widespread perception that domestic courts are likely to find in the favor of Emirati nationals over foreigners.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The UAE government’s accession to the UN Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the Convention) became effective in November 2006.  An arbitration award issued in the UAE is now enforceable in all 138 states that have acceded to the Convention, and any award issued in another member state is directly enforceable in the UAE.  The Convention supersedes all incompatible legislation and rulings in the UAE. Mission UAE is not aware of any U.S. firms attempting to use arbitration under the UN convention on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards.  While recognizing progress in compliance with this convention, some market watchers have raised concerns about delays and other obstacles encountered by firms seeking to enforce their arbitration awards in the UAE.

In June 2018, Federal Law No. 6 of 2018 on Arbitration came into force.  It repealed and replaced Articles 203 to 218 of Federal Law No 11 of 1992.  The Federal Law on Arbitration is based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  Prior to this legislation, there was no federal law governing arbitration in the UAE.  The new law is expected to bolster confidence in the UAE’s arbitration regime.

Bankruptcy Regulations

A new bankruptcy law, Federal Decree Law No. 9 of 2016, came into effect in December 2016 and was used for the first time in February 2019.  The law covers companies governed by the Commercial Companies Law, most free trade zone companies, sole proprietorships, and civil companies conducting professional business.  It allows creditors that are owed USD 27,225 or more, to file insolvency proceedings against a debtor 30 business days after notification in writing to the debtor.

The law decriminalized “bankruptcy by default,” requiring companies and their owners in default more than 30 days to initiate insolvency procedures rather than face fines and potential imprisonment.  However, observers allege that the law offers little protection to individual investors, and non-payment of debt generally remains a criminal offense.

In April, 2017, the UAE Federal Government’s Al Etihad Credit Bureau began issuing credit scores to UAE citizens and residents, according to local media reports.  The bureau has been issuing credit reports to foreigners living in the UAE since 2014.

United Kingdom

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The UK encourages foreign direct investment.  With a few exceptions, the government does not discriminate between nationals and foreign individuals in the formation and operation of private companies.  The Department for International Trade actively promotes direct foreign investment, and prepares market information for a variety of industries. U.S. companies establishing British subsidiaries generally encounter no special nationality requirements on directors or shareholders. Once established in the UK, foreign-owned companies are treated no differently from UK firms.   The British Government is a strong defender of the rights of any British-registered company, irrespective of its nationality of ownership.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign ownership is limited in only a few national security-sensitive companies, such as Rolls Royce (aerospace) and BAE Systems (aircraft and defense).  No individual foreign shareholder may own more than 15 percent of these companies. Theoretically, the government can block the acquisition of manufacturing assets from abroad by invoking the Industry Act 1975, but it has never done so in practice.  Investments in energy and power generation require environmental approvals. Certain service activities (like radio and land-based television broadcasting) are subject to licensing. The Enterprise Act of 2002 extends powers to the UK government to intervene in mergers and acquisitions which might give rise to national security implications and into which they would not otherwise be able to intervene.

The UK requires that at least one director of any company registered in the UK must be ordinarily resident in the UK.  The UK, as a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), subscribes to the OECD Codes of Liberalization, committed to minimizing limits on foreign investment.

While the UK does not have a formalized investment review body to assess the suitability of foreign investments in national security sensitive areas, an ad hoc investment review process does exist and is led by the relevant government ministry with regulatory responsibility for the sector in question (e.g., the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy who would have responsibility for review of investments in the energy sector).  To date, U.S. companies have not been the target of these ad hoc reviews. The UK is currently considering revisions to its national security review process related to foreign direct investment. (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/national-security-and-infrastructure-investment-review ).

The Government has proposed to amend the turnover threshold and share of supply tests within the Enterprise Act 2002. This is to allow the Government to examine and potentially intervene in mergers that currently fall outside the thresholds in two areas: (i) the dual use and military use sector, (ii) parts of the advanced technology sector. For these areas only, the Government proposes to lower the turnover threshold from £70 million (USD 92 million) to £1 million (USD 1.3 million) and remove the current requirement for the merger to increase the share of supply to or over 25 percent.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Economist’s “Intelligence Unit”, World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2018”, and the OECD’s “Economic Forecast Summary (May 2019) have current investment policy reports for the United Kingdom:

Business Facilitation

The UK government seeks to facilitate investment by offering overseas companies access to widely integrated markets.  Proactive policies encourage international investment through administrative efficiency in order to promote innovation and achieve sustainable growth.  The online business registration process is clearly defined, though some types of company cannot register as an overseas firm in the UK, including partnerships and unincorporated bodies. Registration as an overseas company is only required when it has some degree of physical presence in the UK.  After registering a business with the UK government body, named Companies House, overseas firms must register to pay corporation tax within three months. The process of setting up a business in the UK requires as few as thirteen days, compared to the European average of 32 days, which puts the country in first place in Europe and sixth place in the world for ease of establishing a business.  As of April 2016, companies have to declare their Persons of Significant Control (PSC’s).  This change in policy recognizes that individuals other than named directors can have significant influence on a company’s activity and that this information should be transparent.  More information is available at this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-the-people-with-significant-control-requirements-for-companies-and-limited-liability-partnerships .  Companies House maintains a free, publicly searchable directory, available at this link: https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about-a-company .  

The UK offers a welcoming environment to foreign investors, with foreign equity ownership restrictions in only a limited number of sectors covered by the Investing Across Sectors indicators.  As in all other EU member countries, foreign equity ownership in the air transportation sector is limited to 49 percent for investors from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA). Furthermore, the Industry Act (1975) enables the UK government to prohibit transfer to foreign owners of 30 percent or more of important UK manufacturing businesses, if such a transfer would be contrary to the interests of the country.  While these provisions have never been used in practice, they are still included in the Investing Across Sectors indicators, as these strictly measure ownership restrictions defined in the laws.

Special Section on the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies

The British Overseas Territories (BOTs) comprise Anguilla, British Antarctic Territory, Bermuda, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus.  The BOTs retain a substantial measure of responsibility for their own affairs. Local self-government is usually provided by an Executive Council and elected legislature. Governors or Commissioners are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the British Foreign Secretary, and retain responsibility for external affairs, defense, and internal security. However, the UK imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands in August 2009 after an inquiry found evidence of corruption and incompetence.  Its Premier was removed and its constitution was suspended. The UK restored Home Rule following elections in November 2012.

Many of the territories are now broadly self-sufficient.  However, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) maintains development assistance programs in St. Helena, Montserrat, and Pitcairn.  This includes budgetary aid to meet the islands’ essential needs and development assistance to help encourage economic growth and social development in order to promote economic self-sustainability.  In addition, all other BOTs receive small levels of assistance through “cross-territory” programs for issues such as environmental protection, disaster prevention, HIV/AIDS and child protection. The UK also lends to the BOTs as needed, up to a pre-set limit, but assumes no liability for them if they encounter financial difficulty.

Seven of the BOTs have financial centers:  Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.  These Territories have committed to the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for the automatic exchange of taxpayer financial account information.  They are already exchanging information with the UK, and began exchanging information with other jurisdictions under the CRS from September 2017. 

The OECD Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes has rated Anguilla as “partially compliant” with the internationally agreed tax standard.  Although Anguilla sought to upgrade its rating in 2017, it still remains at “partially compliant” as of April 2019. The Global Forum has rated the other six territories as “largely compliant.”  Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the Turks and Caicos Islands have also committed in reciprocal bilateral arrangements with the UK to hold beneficial ownership information in central registers or similarly effective systems, and to provide UK law enforcement authorities with near real-time access to this information.  These arrangements came into effect in June 2017. 

Anguilla:  Anguilla is a neutral tax jurisdiction.  There are no income, capital gains, estate, profit or other forms of direct taxation on either individuals or corporations, for residents or non-residents of the jurisdiction.  The territory has no exchange rate controls. Non-Anguillan nationals may purchase property, but the transfer of land to an alien includes a 12.5 percent tax.

British Virgin Islands:  The government of the British Virgin Islands welcomes foreign direct investment and offers a series of incentive packages aimed at reducing the cost of doing business on the islands.  This includes relief from corporation tax payments over specific periods but companies must pay an initial registration fee and an annual license fee to the BVI Financial Services Commission.  Crown land grants are not available to non-British Virgin Islanders, but private land can be leased or purchased following the approval of an Alien Land Holding License. Stamp duty is imposed on transfer of real estate and the transfer of shares in a BVI company owning real estate in the BVI at a rate of 4 percent for belongers and 12 percent for non-belongers.  There is no corporate income tax, capital gains tax, branch tax, or withholding tax for companies incorporated under the BVI Business Companies Act. Payroll tax is imposed on every employer and self-employed person who conducts business in BVI. The tax is paid at a graduated rate depending upon the size of the employer. The current rates are 10 percent for small employers (those which have a payroll of less than USD 150,000, a turnover of less than USD 300,000 and fewer than 7 employees) and 14 percent for larger employers. Eight percent of the total remuneration is deducted from the employee, the remainder of the liability is met by the employer. The first USD 10,000 of remuneration is free from payroll tax.

Cayman Islands:  There are no direct taxes in the Cayman Islands.  In most districts, the government charges stamp duty of 7.5 percent on the value of real estate at sale; however, certain districts, including Seven Mile Beach, are subject to a rate of nine percent.  There is a one percent fee payable on mortgages of less than KYD 300,000, and one and a half percent on mortgages of KYD 300,000 or higher. There are no controls on the foreign ownership of property and land.  Investors can receive import duty waivers on equipment, building materials, machinery, manufacturing materials, and other tools.

Falkland Islands:  Companies located in the Falkland Islands are charged corporation tax at 21 percent on the first GBP one million and 26 percent for all amounts in excess of GBP one million.  The individual income tax rate is 21 percent for earnings below USD 15,694 (GBP 12,000) and 26 percent above this level.

Gibraltar:  The government of Gibraltar encourages foreign investment.  Gibraltar has a buoyant economy with a stable currency and few restrictions on moving capital or repatriating dividends.  The corporate income tax rate is 20 percent for utility, energy, and fuel supply companies, and 10 percent for all other companies.  There are no capital or sales taxes. Gibraltar is currently a part of the EU and receives EU funding for projects that improve the territory’s economic development.

Montserrat:  The government of Montserrat welcomes new private foreign investment.  Foreign investors are permitted to acquire real estate, subject to the acquisition of an Alien Land Holding license which carries a fee of five percent of the purchase price.  The government also imposes stamp and transfer fees of 2.6 percent of the property value on all real estate transactions. Foreign investment in Montserrat is subject to the same taxation rules as local investment, and is eligible for tax holidays and other incentives.  Montserrat has preferential trade agreements with the United States, Canada, and Australia. The government allows 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses but the administration of public utilities remains wholly in the public sector.

St. Helena:  The island of St. Helena is open to foreign investment and welcomes expressions of interest from companies wanting to invest.  Its government is able to offer tax based incentives which will be considered on the merits of each project – particularly tourism projects.  All applications are processed by Enterprise St. Helena, the business development agency.

Pitcairn Islands:  The Pitcairn Islands have approximately 50 residents, with a workforce of approximately 29 employed in 10 full-time equivalent roles.  The territory does not have an airstrip or safe harbor. Residents exist on fishing, subsistence farming, and handcrafts.

The Turks and Caicos Islands:  The islands operate an “open arms” investment policy.  Through the policy, the government commits to a streamlined business licensing system, a responsive immigration policy to give investment security, access to government-owned land under long-term leases, and a variety of duty concessions to qualified investors.  The islands have a “no tax” status, but property purchasers must pay a stamp duty on purchases over USD 25,000. Depending on the island, the stamp duty rate may be up to 6.5 percent for purchases up to USD 250,000, eight percent for purchases USD 250,001 to USD 500,000, and 10 percent for purchases over USD500,000.

The Crown Dependencies:

The Crown Dependencies are the Bailiwick of Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Isle of Man.  The Crown Dependencies are not part of the UK but are self-governing dependencies of the Crown. They have their own directly elected legislative assemblies, administrative, fiscal and legal systems and their own courts of law. The Crown Dependencies are not represented in the UK Parliament.

Jersey’s standard rate of corporate tax is zero percent.  The exceptions to this standard rate are financial service companies, which are taxed at 10 percent, utility companies, which are taxed at 20 percent, and income specifically derived from Jersey property rentals or Jersey property development, taxed at 20 percent. VAT is not applicable in Jersey as it is not part of the EU VAT tax area.

Guernsey has a zero percent rate of corporate tax.  Some exceptions include some specific banking activities, taxed at 10 percent, utility companies, which are taxed at 20 percent, Guernsey residents’ assessable income is taxed at 20 percent, and income derived from land and buildings is taxed at 20 percent

The Isle of Man’s corporate standard tax is zero percent.  The exceptions to this standard rate are income received from banking business, which is taxed at 10 percent and income received from land and property in the Isle of Man which is taxed at 20 percent. In addition, a 10 percent tax rate also applies to companies who carry on a retail business in the Isle of Man and have taxable income in excess of £500,000 from that business.  VAT is applicable in the Isle of Man as it is part of the EU customs territory.

This tax data is current as of April 2019.  

Outward Investment

The UK is one of the largest outward investors in the world, often protected through Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), which have been concluded with many countries.  The UK’s international investment position abroad (outward investment) increased from GBP 1,696.5 billion in 2017 to GBP 1,713.3 billion in 2018. By the end of 2018 the UK’s stock of outward FDI was GBP 1,713 billion, a 52 rise percent since 2002.  The main destination for UK outward FDI is the United States, which accounted for approximately 23 percent of UK outward FDI stocks at the end of 2017. Other key destinations include the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and Ireland which, together with the United States, account for a little under half of the UK’s outward FDI stock.

Europe and the Americas remain the dominant areas for British FDI positions abroad, accounting for 16 of the top 20 destinations for total UK outward FDI.  The UK’s international investment position within the Americas was GBP 401.9 billion in 2017. This is the third largest recorded value in the time series since 2006 for the Americas.  The United States, at GBP 329.3 billion, continued to be the largest destination for UK international investment positions abroad within the Americas in 2017.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

U.S. exporters and investors generally find little difference between the United States and UK in the conduct of business.  The regulatory system provides clear and transparent guidelines for commercial engagement. Common law prevails in the UK as the basis for commercial transactions, and the International Commercial Terms (INCOTERMS) of the International Chambers of Commerce are accepted definitions of trading terms.  For accounting standards and audit provisions, firms in the UK currently use the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) set by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and approved by the European Commission. The UK’s Accounting Standards Board provides guidance to firms on accounting standards and works with the IASB on international standards.

Statutory authority over prices and competition in various industries is given to independent regulators, for example Ofcom, Ofwat, Ofgem, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the Rail Regulator, and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA).  The PRA was created out of the dissolution of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in 2013. The PRA reports to the Financial Policy Committee (FPC) in the Bank of England. The PRA is responsible for supervising the safety and soundness of individual financial firms, while the FPC takes a systemic view of the financial system and provides macro-prudential regulation and policy actions.  The Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) acts as a single integrated regulator focused on conduct in financial markets. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is a regulatory enforcement mechanism designed to address financial and market misconduct through legally reviewable processes. These regulators work to protect the interests of consumers while ensuring that the markets they regulate are functioning efficiently.  Most laws and regulations are published in draft for public comment prior to implementation. The FCA maintains a free, publicly searchable register of their filings on regulated corporations and individuals here: https://register.fca.org.uk/ .

The UK government publishes regulatory actions, including draft text and executive summaries, on the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy webpage listed below.  The current policy requires the repeal of two regulations for any new one in order to make the business environment more competitive.

The primary difference between the regulatory environment in the UK and the United States is that so long as the UK is a member of the European Union, it is mandated to comply with and enforce EU regulations and directives.  The U.S. government has expressed concerns about the degree of transparency and accountability in the EU regulatory process. The extent to which the UK will deviate from the EU regulatory regime after the UK withdraws from the EU is unknown at this time.

International Regulatory Considerations

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU may result in an extended period of regulatory uncertainty across the economy as the UK determines the extent to which it will maintain and enforce the current EU regulatory regime or deviate towards new regulations in any particular sector .  The UK is an independent member of the WTO, and actively seeks to comply with all its WTO obligations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The UK is a common law country.  UK business contracts are legally enforceable in the UK, but not in the United States or other foreign jurisdictions.  International disputes are resolved through litigation in the UK Courts or by arbitration, mediation, or some other alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method.  The UK has a long history of applying the rule of law to business disputes. The current judicial process remains procedurally competent, fair, and reliable, which helps position London as an international center for dispute resolution with over 10,000 cases filed per annum.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

There is no specific statute governing or restricting foreign investment in the UK.  The procedure for establishing a company in the UK is identical for British and foreign investors.  No approval mechanisms exist for foreign investment, apart from the ad hoc national security process outlined in Section 1.  Foreigners may freely establish or purchase enterprises in the UK, with a few limited exceptions, and acquire land or buildings.  The UK is currently reviewing its procedures and considering new rules for restricting foreign investment in those sectors of the economy with higher risk for adversely impacting national security.   

The practice of multinational enterprises structuring operations to minimize taxes, referred to as ‘tax avoidance’ in the UK, has been a controversial political issue and subject to investigations by the UK Parliament and EU authorities.  Both foreign and UK firms remain subject to the same tax laws. Foreign investors may have access to certain EU and UK regional grants and incentives designed to attract industry to areas of high unemployment.

In 2015, the UK flattened its structure of corporate tax rates.  The UK currently taxes corporations at a flat rate of 19 percent, with marginal tax relief granted for companies with profits falling between USD 391,000 (GBP 300,000) and 1.96 million (GBP 1.5 million).  Tax deductions are allowed for expenditure and depreciation of assets used for trade purposes. These include machinery, plant, industrial buildings, and assets used for research and development. A special rate of 20 percent is given to unit trusts and open-ended investment companies.  There are different Corporation Tax rates for companies that make profits from oil extraction or oil rights in the UK or UK continental shelf. These are known as ‘ring fence’ companies. Small ‘ring fence’ companies are taxed at a rate of 19 percent for profits up to USD 391,000 (GBP 300,000), and 30 percent for profits over USD 391,000 (GBP 300,000).

UK citizens also make mandatory payments of about 12 percent of income into the National Insurance system, which funds social security and retirement benefits.  The UK requires non-domiciled residents of the UK to either pay tax on their worldwide income or the tax on the relevant part of their remitted foreign income being brought into the UK.  If they have been resident in the UK for seven tax years of the previous nine, and they choose to pay tax only on their remitted earnings, they may be subject to an additional charge of USD 39,141 (GBP 30,000).  If they have been resident in the UK for 12 of the last 14 tax years, they may be subject to an additional charge of USD 78,282 (GBP 60,000).

The Scottish Parliament has the legal power to increase or decrease the basic income tax rate in Scotland, currently 20 percent, by a maximum of three percentage points.  The Scottish Government has been opposed to increasing tax rates, mainly because any financial advantage gained by an increase in taxes would be offset by the need to establish a new administrative body to manage the new revenue.

For guidance on laws and procedures relevant to foreign investment in the UK, follow the link below:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/investment-in-the-uk-guidance-for-overseas-businesses 

All USD conversions based on spot exchange rate as of April 08, 2019.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

UK competition law contains both British and European elements.  The Competition Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act 2002 are the most important statutes for cases with a purely national dimension.  However, if the impact of a business’ conduct crosses borders, EU law applies. Section 60 of the Competition Act 1998 provides that UK rules are to be applied in line with European jurisprudence.

The Companies Act of 1985, administered by the Department for Business, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Skills (BEIS), governs ownership and operation of private companies.  The Companies Act of 2006 replaced the 1985 Act, simplifying existing rules.

BEIS uses a transparent code of practice that is fully in accord with EU merger control regulations, in evaluating bids and mergers for possible referral to the Competition Commission.  The Competition Act of 1998 strengthened competition law and enhanced the enforcement powers of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). Prohibitions under the act relate to competition-restricting agreements and abusive behavior by entities in dominant market positions.  The Enterprise Act of 2002 established the OFT as an independent statutory body with a Board, and gives it a greater role in ensuring that markets work well. Also, in accordance with EU law, if deemed in the public interest, transactions in the media or that raise national security concerns may be reviewed by the Secretary of State of BEIS.

In 2014, the Competition Commission and the OFT merged into a single Non Departmental Government Body: the Competition and Markets Authority.  This new body is responsible for investigating mergers that could restrict competition, conducting market studies and investigations where there may be competition problems, investigating breaches of EU and UK prohibitions, initiating criminal proceedings against individuals who commit cartel offenses, and enforcing consumer protection legislation.  This body is unlikely to alter UK competition policy.

UK competition law has three main tasks: 1) prohibiting agreements or practices that restrict free trading and competition between business entities (this includes in particular the repression of cartels); 2) banning abusive behavior by a firm dominating a market, or anti-competitive practices that tend to lead to such a dominant position (practices controlled in this way may include predatory pricing, tying, price gouging, refusal to deal and many others); and 3) supervising the mergers and acquisitions of large corporations, including some joint ventures.  Transactions that are considered to threaten the competitive process can be prohibited altogether, or approved subject to “remedies” such as an obligation to divest part of the merged business or to offer licenses or access to facilities to enable other businesses to continue competing.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is the primary regulatory body for competition law enforcement.  It was created through the merger of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) with the Competition Commission through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013.  Competition law is closely connected with law on deregulation of access to markets, state aids and subsidies, the privatization of state owned assets, and the establishment of independent sector regulators.

Although the OFT and the Competition Commission have general review authority, specific “watchdog” agencies such as Ofgem (the electricity and gas markets regulation authority), Ofcom (the communications regulation authority), and Ofwat (the water services regulation authority) are also charged with seeing how the operation of those specific markets work.

Expropriation and Compensation

The OECD, of which the UK is a member, states that when a government expropriates property, compensation should be timely, adequate and effective.  In the UK, the right to fair compensation and due process is uncontested and is reflected in all international investment agreements. Expropriation of corporate assets or the nationalization of industry requires a special act of Parliament.  A number of key UK banks became subject to full or part-nationalization from early 2008 as a response to the global financial crisis and banking collapse. The first bank to become nationalized was Northern Rock in February 2008, and by March 2009 the UK Treasury had taken a 65 percent stake in Lloyds Banking Group and a 68 percent stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).  In the event of nationalization, the British government follows customary international law by providing prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.

Dispute Settlement

As a member of the World Bank-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the UK accepts binding international arbitration between foreign investors and the State.  As a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, the UK provides local enforcement on arbitration judgments decided in other signatory countries.

London is a thriving center for the resolution of international disputes through arbitration under a variety of procedural rules such as those of the London Court of International Arbitration, the International Chamber of Commerce, the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, the American Arbitration Association International Centre for Dispute Resolution, and others.  Many of these arbitrations involve parties with no connection to the jurisdiction, but who are drawn to the jurisdiction because they perceive it to be a fair, neutral venue with an arbitration law and courts that support efficient resolution of disputes. They also choose London-based arbitration because of the general prevalence of the English language and law in international commerce.  A wide range of contractual and non-contractual claims can be referred to arbitration in this jurisdiction including disputes involving intellectual property rights, competition, and statutory claims. There are no restrictions on foreign nationals acting as arbitration counsel or arbitrators in this jurisdiction. There are few restrictions on foreign lawyers practicing in the jurisdiction as evidenced by the fact that over 200 foreign law firms have offices in London.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The UK is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  The latter convention has territorial application to Gibraltar (September 24, 1975), Hong Kong (January 21, 1977), Isle of Man (February 22, 1979), Bermuda (November 14, 1979), Belize and Cayman Islands (November 26, 1980), Guernsey (April 19, 1985), Bailiwick of Jersey (May 28, 2002), and British Virgin Islands (February 24, 2014).

The United Kingdom has consciously elected not to follow the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  Enforcement of an arbitral award in the UK is dependent upon where the award was granted. The process for enforcement in any particular case is dependent upon the seat of arbitration and the arbitration rules that apply.  Arbitral awards in the UK can be enforced under a number of different regimes, namely: The Arbitration Act 1996, The New York Convention, The Geneva Convention 1927, The Administration of Justice Act 1920 and the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1933, and Common Law.

The Arbitration Act 1996 governs all arbitrations seated in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, both domestic and international. The full text of the Arbitration Act can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/23/data.pdf .

The Arbitration Act is heavily influenced by the UNCITRAL Model Law, but it has some important differences.  For example, the Arbitration Act covers both domestic and international arbitration; the document containing the parties’ arbitration agreement need not be signed; an English court is only able to stay its own proceedings and cannot refer a matter to arbitration; the default provisions in the Arbitration Act require the appointment of a sole arbitrator as opposed to three arbitrators; a party retains the power to treat its party-nominated arbitrator as the sole arbitrator in the event that the other party fails to make an appointment (where the parties’ agreement provides that each party is required to appoint an arbitrator); there is no time limit on a party’s opposition to the appointment of an arbitrator; parties must expressly opt out of most of the provisions of the Arbitration Act which confer default procedural powers on the arbitrators; and there are no strict rules governing the exchange of pleadings.  Section 66 of the Arbitration Act applies to all domestic and foreign arbitral awards. Sections 100 to 103 of the Arbitration Act provide for enforcement of arbitral awards under the New York Convention 1958. Section 99 of the Arbitration Act provides for the enforcement of arbitral awards made in certain countries under the Geneva Convention 1927.

Under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act, the court’s permission is required for an international arbitral award to be enforced in the UK.  Once the court has given permission, judgment may be entered in terms of the arbitral award and enforced in the same manner as a court judgment or order.  Permission will not be granted by the court if the party against whom enforcement is sought can show that (a) the tribunal lacked substantive jurisdiction and (b) the right to raise such an objection has not been lost.

The length of arbitral proceedings can vary greatly.  If the parties have a relatively straightforward dispute, cooperate, and adopt a fast track procedure, arbitration can be concluded within months or even weeks.  In a substantial international arbitration involving complex facts, many witnesses and experts and post-hearing briefs, the arbitration could take many years. A reasonably substantial international arbitration will likely take between one and two years.

There are two alternative procedures that can be followed in order to enforce an award.  The first is to seek leave of the court for permission to enforce. The second is to begin an action on the award, seeking the same relief from the court as set out in the tribunal’s award.  Enforcement of an award made in the jurisdiction may be opposed by challenging the award. However, the court also may refuse to enforce an award that is unclear, does not specify an amount, or offends public policy.  Enforcement of a foreign award may be opposed on any of the limited grounds set out in the New York Convention. A stay may be granted for a limited time pending a challenge to the order for enforcement. The court will consider the likelihood of success and whether enforcement of the award will be made more or less difficult as a result of the stay.  Conditions that might be imposed on granting the stay include such matters as paying a sum into court. Where multiple awards are to be rendered, the court may give permission for the tribunal to continue hearing other matters, especially where there may be a long delay between awards. UK courts have a good record of enforcing arbitral awards, which they will enforce in the same way that they would enforce an order or judgment of a court.  At the time of writing, there are no examples of the English courts enforcing awards which were set aside by the courts at the place of arbitration.

Most awards are complied with voluntarily.  If the party against whom the award was made fails to comply, the party seeking enforcement can apply to the court.  The length of time it takes to enforce an award which complies with the requirements of the New York Convention will depend on whether there are complex objections to enforcement which require the court to investigate the facts of the case.  If a case raises complex issues of public importance the case could be appealed to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court. This process could take around two years. If no complex objections are raised, the party seeking enforcement can apply to the court using a summary procedure that is fast and efficient.  There are time limits relating to the enforcement of the award. Failure to comply with an award is treated as a breach of the arbitration agreement. An action on the award must be brought within six years of the failure to comply with the award or 12 years if the arbitration agreement was made under seal. If the award does not specify a time for compliance, a court will imply a term of reasonableness.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The UK has strong bankruptcy protections going back to the Bankruptcy Act of 1542, and in modern days both individual bankruptcy and corporate insolvency are regulated in the UK primarily by the Insolvency Act 1986 and the Insolvency Rules 1986, regulated through determinations in UK courts.  The World Bank’s Doing Business report Ranks the UK 14/189 for ease of resolving insolvency.

Regarding individual bankruptcy law, the court will oblige a bankrupt individual to sell assets to pay dividends to creditors.  A bankrupt person must inform future creditors about the bankrupt status and may not act as the director of a company during the period of bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized in the UK, and the Enterprise Act of 2002 dictates that for England and Wales, bankruptcy will not normally last longer than 12 months.  At the end of the bankrupt period, the individual is normally no longer held liable for bankruptcy debts unless the individual is determined to be culpable for his or her own insolvency, in which case the bankruptcy period can last up to fifteen years.

For corporations declaring insolvency, UK insolvency law seeks to equitably distribute losses between creditors, employees, the community, and other stakeholders in an effort to rescue the company.  Liability is limited to the amount of the investment. If a company cannot be rescued, it is liquidated and assets are sold to pay debts to creditors, including foreign investors.

Vietnam

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Vietnam continues to welcome FDI and foreign companies play an important role in the economy. According to the Government Statistics Office (GSO), FDI exports of USD 175 billion accounted for 72 percent of total exports in 2018 (compared to 47 percent in 2000).

Despite improvements in the business environment, including economic reforms intended to enhance competitiveness and productivity, Vietnam has benefited from global investors’ efforts to diversify their supply chains. Vietnam’s rankings fell in the most recent World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index (from 74/135 in 2017 to 77/140 in 2018) and World Bank Doing Business Index (from 68 in 2018 to 69 in 2019), but its raw scores improved compared to prior years. According to the 2018 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Investment Policy Review, Vietnam has an “average” level of openness compared to other OECD countries, though it is second to only Singapore within ASEAN. The OECD ranked Vietnam’s openness to FDI as higher than that of South Korea, Australia, and Mexico.

Vietnam seeks to move up the global value chain by attracting FDI in sectors that will facilitate technology transfer, increase skill sets in the labor market, and improve labor productivity, specifically targeting high-tech, high value-added industries with good environmental safeguards. Assisted by the World Bank, the government is drafting a new FDI Attraction Strategy for 2030. This new strategy is intended to facilitate technology transfer and environmental protection, and will supposedly move away from tax reductions to other incentives, such as using accelerated depreciation and more flexible loss carry-forward provisions and focusing on value-added qualities instead of on sectoral categories.

Since the Prime Minister included the Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) as a target for improving national business competitiveness in Resolution 19 in 2014, PCI has become a major measurement for provincial economic governance policy reform. In January 2019, a new Resolution 02 also included PCI targets as a means to improve the business and investment environment in Vietnam.

Although there are foreign ownership limits (FOL), the government does not have investment laws discriminating against foreign investors; however, the government continues to favor domestic companies through various incentives. According to the OECD 2018 Investment Policy Review, SOEs account for one third of Vietnam’s gross domestic product and receive preferential treatment, including favorable access to credit and land. Regulations are often written to avoid overt conflicts and violations of bilateral or international agreements, but in reality, U.S. investors feel there is not always a level playing field in all sectors. In the 2018 Perceptions of the Business Environment Report, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) stated: “Foreign investors need a level playing field, not only to attract more investment in the future, but also to maintain the investment that is already here. Frequent and retroactive changes of laws and regulations – including tax rates and policies – are significant risks for foreign investors in Vietnam.”

The Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) oversees an Investment Promotion Department to facilitate all foreign investments, and most of provinces and cities have investment promotion agencies. The agencies provide information, explain regulations, and offer support to investors when requested.

The semiannual Vietnam Business Forum allows for a direct dialogue between the foreign business community and government officials. The U.S.-ASEAN Business Council (USABC) also hosts multiple missions for its U.S. company members enabling direct engagement with senior government officials through frequent dialogues to try to resolve issues. In addition, the 2018 PCI noted 68.5 percent of surveyed companies stated that dialogues and business meetings with provincial authorities helped address obstacles and that they were satisfied with the way provincial regulators dealt with their concerns.  

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own businesses in Vietnam, except in six prohibited areas (illicit drugs, wildlife trading, prostitution, human trafficking, human cloning, and chemical trading). If a domestic or foreign company wants to operate in 243 provisional sectors, it must satisfy conditions in accordance with the 2014 Investment Law. Future amendments to the law are likely to narrow this list further, allowing firms to engage in more business areas. Foreign investors must negotiate on a case-by-case basis for market access in sectors that are not explicitly open under existing signed trade agreements. The government occasionally issues investment licenses on a pilot basis with time limits, or to specifically targeted investors.

Vietnam allows foreign investors to acquire full ownership of local companies, except when mentioned otherwise in international and bilateral commitments, including equity caps, mandatory domestic joint-venture partner, and investment prohibitions. For example, as specified in the Vietnam’s World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments, highly specialized and sensitive sectors (such as banking, telecommunication, and transportation) still maintain FOL, but the Prime Minister can waive these restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Vietnam also limits foreign ownership of SOEs and prohibits importation of old equipment and technologies more than 10 years old. No mechanisms disadvantage or single out U.S. investors.

Merger and acquisition (M&A) activities can be complicated if the target domestic company is operating in a restricted or prohibited sector. For example, when a foreign investor buys into a local company through an M&A transaction, it is difficult to determine which business lines the acquiring foreign company is allowed to maintain and, in many cases, the targeted company may be forced to reduce its business lines.

The 2017 Law on Technology Transfer came into effect in July 2018, along with its implementing documents Decree 76/2018/ND-CP and Circular 02/2018/TT-BKHCN. These require mandatory registration of technology transfers from a foreign country to Vietnam. This registration is separate from registration of intellectual property rights and licenses.  

Vietnam allows for five years of regulatory data protection (RDP) as part of its U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement obligations.  However, Vietnamese law requires companies to apply separately for RDP within the 12 months following receipt of market authorization for any country in the world. Specifically, decree No. 169/2018/ND-CP, effective from February 2018, tightened the regulatory process for the registration of medical devices and no longer accepted foreign classification results in Vietnam, lengthening procedural time and increasing expenses for foreign manufacturers.

Vietnamese authorities screen investment-license applications using a number of criteria, including: 1) the investor’s legal status and financial capabilities; 2) the project’s compatibility with the government’s “Master Plan” for economic and social development and projected revenue; 3) technology and expertise; 4) environmental protection; 5) plans for land-use and land-clearance compensation; 6) project incentives including tax rates, and 7) land, water, and sea surface rental fees. The decentralization of licensing authority to provincial authorities has, in some cases, streamlined the licensing process and reduced processing times. However, it has also caused considerable regional differences in procedures and interpretations of investment laws and regulations. Insufficient guidelines and unclear regulations can prompt local authorities to consult national authorities, resulting in additional delays. Furthermore, the approval process is often much longer than the timeframe mandated by laws. Many U.S. firms have successfully navigated the investment process, though a lack of transparency in the procedure for obtaining a business license can make investing riskier.

Provincial People’s Committees approve all investment projects, except the following:

  • The National Assembly must approve investment projects that:
    • have a significant environmental impact;
    • change land usage in national parks;
    • are located in protected forests larger than 50 hectares; or
    • require relocating 20,000 people or more in remote areas such as mountainous regions.
  • The Prime Minister must approve the following types of investment project proposals:
    • building airports, seaports, or casinos;
    • exploring, producing and processing oil and gas;  
    • producing tobacco;
    • possessing investment capital of more than VND 5,000 billion (USD 233 million);
    • including foreign investors in sea transportation, telecommunication or network infrastructure, forest plantation, publishing, or press; and
    • involving fully foreign-owned scientific and technology companies or organizations.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Vietnam went through an OECD Investment Policy Review in 2018. The WTO reviewed Vietnam’s trade policy and the report is online. (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp387_e.htm  ).

U.N. Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) conducted an investment policy review in 2009. (https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationArchive.aspx?publicationid=521  )

Business Facilitation

Vietnam’s business environment continues to improve due to new laws that have streamlined the business registration processes.

The 2018 PCI report found that 75 percent of companies rated paperwork and procedures as simple, compared to 51 percent in 2015. Vietnam decreased duplicate and overlapping inspections with only 10 percent of companies reporting such cases in 2018, compared to 25 percent in 2015. However, many firms still felt the entry costs remain too high and 16 percent reported waiting over one month to complete all required paperwork (aside from getting a business license) to become fully legal. In addition, a 2018 AmCham position paper cited very frequent and largely unnecessary post-import audits as creating burdens for companies. Multiple U.S. companies report facing recurring and unpredictable tax audits based on assumptions or calculations not in alignment with international standards.

Vietnam’s nationwide business registration site is http://dangkykinhdoanh.gov.vn  . In addition, as a member of the UNCTAD international network of transparent investment procedures, information on Vietnam’s investment regulations can be found online (http://vietnam.eregulations.org/  ). The website provides information for foreign and national investors on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations, including the number of steps, name and contact details of the entities and persons in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal and regulatory citations for seven major provinces. The 2019 World Bank’s Doing Business Report stated it took on average 17 days to start a business compared to 22 days in 2018. Vietnam is one of the few countries to receive a 10-star rating from UNCTAD in business registration procedures.

Outward Investment

The government does not have a clear mechanism to promote or incentivize outward investments. The majority of companies engaged in overseas investments are large SOEs, which have strong government-backed financial resources. The government does not implicitly restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. Vietnamese companies have increased investments in the oil, gas, and telecommunication sectors in various developing countries and countries with which Vietnam has close political relationships. According to a government’s most recent report, between 2011-2016, SOE PetroVietnam made USD 7 billion in outbound investments out of a total of USD 12.6 billion from all SOEs.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

U.S. companies often report that they face significant challenges with inconsistent regulatory interpretation, irregular enforcement, and unclear laws. A 2017 survey of AmCham members in the ASEAN region found that, more than in any other ASEAN country, American companies perceive a lack of fair law enforcement in Vietnam, which heavily affects their ability to do business in the country. The 2018 PCI report found that access to land, taxes, and social insurance were the most burdensome administrative procedures. However, the report also found improvements in the area of post-entry regulations (regulations businesses face after they start operations), and the burden of administrative procedures was declining. In addition, according to that report, corruption has become less prevalent in certain areas for foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs).

In Vietnam, the National Assembly passes laws, which serve as the highest form of legal direction, but which often lack specifics. The central government, with the Prime Minister’s approval, issues decrees, which provide guidance on a law’s implementation. Individual ministries issue circulars, which provide guidance as to how that ministry will administer a law or a decree. Ministries draft laws and circulate for review among related ministries. Once the law is cleared through the various ministries, the government will post the law for a 60-day comment period. During the comment period or ministry review, if there are major issues with the law, the law will go back to the ministry that drafted the law for further revisions. Once the law is ready, it is submitted to the Office of Government (OOG) for approval, and then submitted to the National Assembly for a series of committee and plenary-level reviews. During this review, the National Assembly can send the law back to the drafting ministry for further changes. For some special or controversial laws, the Communist Party’s Politburo will review via a separate process.

Drafting agencies often lack the resources needed to conduct adequate scientific or data-driven assessments. In principle, before issuing regulations, agencies are required to conduct policy impact assessments that consider economic, social, gender, administrative, and legal factors. The quality of these assessments varies, however.

Regulatory authority exists in both the central and provincial governments, and foreign companies are bound by both central and provincial government regulations. Vietnam has its own accounting standards to which publicly listed companies are required to adhere.

The MOF updates the Vietnam Accounting Standards to match IFRS from time to time. In 2013, it set out a road map for public companies to apply 10 to 20 simple IFRS standards by 2020, 30 standards by 2023, and fully comply with IFRS by 2025. However, some companies already prepare financial statements in line with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in the interest of reporting to foreign investors.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is in charge of ensuring that government ministries and agencies follow administrative processes. The Ministry has a Regulatory Management Department, which oversees and reviews legal documents after they are issued to ensure compliance with the legal system. The Law on the Promulgation of Legal Normative Documents requires all legal documents and agreements be published online for comments for 60 days, and published in the Official Gazette before implementation. Business associations and various chambers of commerce regularly comment on draft laws and regulations. However, when issuing more detailed implementing guidelines, government entities sometimes issue circulars with little advance warning and without public notification, resulting in little opportunity for comment by affected parties. In several cases, authorities receive comments for the first draft only and make subsequent draft versions unavailable to the public. The centralized location where key regulatory actions are published can be found at http://vbpl.vn/  .

While Vietnam’s legal framework might comply with international norms in some areas, the biggest issue continues to be enforcement. For example, while anti-money laundering (AML) statutes comply with international standards, Vietnam has prosecuted very few AML cases so far. Therefore, while all state agencies participate in reviewing the regulatory enforcement under their legal mandates, regulatory review and enforcement mechanisms remain weak.

While general information is publically available, Vietnam’s public finances and debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) are not transparent. The National Assembly set a statutory limit for public debt at 65 percent of nominal GDP, and, according to official figures, Vietnam’s public debt to GDP ratio in late 2018 reached 61 percent, down 0.3 percent from 2017. However, the official public-debt figures exclude the debt of certain SOEs. This poses a risk to its public finances, as the state is ultimately liable for the debts of these companies. Vietnam could improve its fiscal transparency by making its executive budget proposal widely and easily accessible to the general public long before the National Assembly enacted the budget; including budgetary and debt expenses in the budget; ensuring greater transparency of off-budget accounts; and publicizing the criteria by which the government awards contracts and licenses for natural resource extraction.

International Regulatory Considerations

Vietnam is a member of ASEAN, a 10-member regional organization working to advance economic integration through cooperation in economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields. Within ASEAN, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC  ) has the goal of establishing a single market across ASEAN nations (similar to the EU), but that goal appears to be long term in nature. To date, the greatest success of the AEC has been tariff reductions. As a result, more than 97 percent of intra-ASEAN trade is tariff-free, and less than 5 percent is subject to tariffs above 10 percent.

Vietnam is a party to the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has been implementing the TFA’s Category A provisions. Vietnam submitted its Category B and Category C implementation timelines on August 2, 2018. According to these timelines, Vietnam will fully implement the Category B and C provisions by the end of 2023 and 2024, respectively. 

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The legal system is a mix of customary, French, and Soviet civil legal traditions. Vietnam generally follows an operational understanding of the rule of law that is consistent with its top-down, one-party political structure and traditionally inquisitorial judicial system. Various laws and regulations regulate contracts, with each type of contract subject to specific regulations.

If a contract does not contain a dispute-resolution clause, courts will have jurisdiction over a possible dispute. Vietnamese law allows dispute-resolution clauses in commercial contracts explicitly through the Law on Commercial Arbitration. The law follows the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law as an international standard for procedural rules, and the lawmakers’ intention is indeed arbitration-friendly.

Under the revised 2015 Civil Code, all contracts are “civil contracts” subject to uniform rules. In foreign civil contracts, parties may choose foreign laws as a reference for their agreement, if the application of the law does not violate the basic principles of Vietnamese law. When the parties to a contract are unable to agree on an arbitration award, they can bring the dispute to court.

The 2005 Commercial Law regulates commercial contracts between businesses. Specific regulations provide specific forms of contracts, depending on the nature of the deals. The hierarchy of the country’s courts is: (1) the Supreme People’s Court; (2) the High People’s Court; (3) Provincial People’s Courts; and (4) District People’s Courts. The People’s Courts operate in five divisions: criminal, civil, administrative, economic, and labor. The People’s Procuracy is responsible for prosecuting criminal activities as well as supervising judicial activities.

Vietnamese courts will only consider recognition of civil judgments issued by courts in countries that have entered into agreements on recognition of judgments with Vietnam or on a reciprocal basis. However, with the exception of France, these treaties only cover non-commercial judgments.

Vietnam lacks an independent judiciary, and there is a lack of separation of powers among Vietnam’s branches of government. For example, Vietnam’s Chief Justice is also a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. According to Transparency International, the risk of corruption in judicial rulings is significant, as nearly one-fifth of surveyed Vietnamese households that have been to court declared that they had paid bribes at least once. Many businesses therefore avoid Vietnamese courts.

Along with corruption, the judicial system continues to face additional problems. For example, many judges and arbitrators lack adequate legal training and are appointed through personal or political contacts with party leaders or based on their political views. In addition, extremely low judicial salaries engender corruption.

Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and appeals are adjudicated in the national court system. Through a separate legal mechanism, individuals and companies can file complaints against enforcement actions under the Law on Complaints.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The 2014 Investment Law aimed to improve the investment environment. Previously, Vietnam used a “positive list” approach, meaning that foreign businesses were only allowed to operate in a list of specific sectors outlined by law. Starting in July 2015, Vietnam implemented a “negative list” approach, meaning that foreign businesses are allowed to operate in all areas except for six prohibited sectors or business lines. In November 2016, the National Assembly amended the Investment Law to reduce the list of 267 provisional business lines to 243; subsequent amendments will likely further narrow this list, allowing firms to engage in more business areas.

The law also requires foreign and domestic investors to be treated the same in cases of nationalization and confiscation. However, foreign investors are subject to different business-licensing processes and restrictions, and Vietnamese companies that have a majority foreign investment are subject to foreign-investor business-license procedures. Since June 2017, foreign investors can choose to apply for ERC and Investment Registration Certificate (IRC) separately or through a “one-stop-shop” process, which saves time and cost. However, large-scale projects still require a high-level approval before receiving an IRC. This is often a lengthy process. Investment procedures for the seven major provinces of Binh Dinh, Danang, Hai Phuong, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Phu Yen, and Vinh Phuc can be found at https://vietnam.eregulations.org/  .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

In 2018, Vietnam passed a new Law on Competition, which will come into effect on July 1, 2019. While the 2014 Law on Competition only applied to activities, transactions, and agreements originating inside Vietnam, the new law applies to those originating inside and outside Vietnam that negatively affect competitiveness in Vietnam. The revised law included punishments to minimize impediments to competition created by government agencies and introduced leniency towards firms and individuals, as an incentive to align with international practices and improve the effectiveness of the law.

Unlike the 2014 Law on Competition, which specified that a firm was exercising market power if it had 30 percent or more of market share, the revised law contains more criteria to determine market power, including firm size, financial ability, advantages on technology and infrastructure, etc. The new law does not forbid market concentration for firms with combined market share over 50 percent unless the market concentration significantly constrains competition.

The law charges the National Competition Commission under the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) with competition management. The Commission will support the Trade Minister on competition management, conduct investigations, and review requests for exemptions.

Expropriation and Compensation

Under Vietnamese law, the government can only expropriate investors’ property in cases of emergency, disaster, defense, or national interest, and the government is required to compensate investors if it expropriates property. Under the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, Vietnam must apply international standards of treatment in any case of expropriation or nationalization of U.S. investor assets, which includes acting in a non-discriminatory manner with due process of law and with prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Vietnam has not yet acceded to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention. MPI has submitted a proposal to the government to join the ICSID, but this is still under consideration.

Vietnam is a party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning that foreign arbitral awards rendered by a recognized international arbitration institution should be respected by Vietnamese courts without a review of cases’ merits. Only a limited number of foreign awards have been submitted to the MOJ and local courts for enforcement so far, and almost none have successfully made it through the appeals process to full enforcement. As a signatory to the New York Convention, Vietnam is required to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards within its jurisdiction, with very few exceptions. However, in practice, this is not always the case.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government is not a signatory to a treaty or investment agreement in which binding international arbitration of investment disputes is recognized, and has yet to sign a BIT or FTA with the United States. Although the law states that the court should recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards, Vietnamese courts may reject these judgements if the award is contrary to the basic principles of Vietnamese laws.

According to UNCTAD, over the last 10 years there were two dispute cases against the Vietnamese government involving U.S. companies. The courts decided in favor of the government in one case, and the parties decided to discontinue the other case. The Vietnam government was a respondent state in seven disputes. More details are available at https://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/ISDS/CountryCases/229?partyRole=2  

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Vietnam’s legal system remains underdeveloped and is often ineffective in settling commercial disputes. Negotiation between concerned parties is the most common means of dispute resolution. Since the Law on Arbitration does not allow a foreign investor to refer an investment dispute to a court in a foreign jurisdiction, Vietnamese judges cannot apply foreign laws to a case before them, and foreign lawyers cannot represent plaintiffs in a court of law.

In February 2017, the government issued Decree No. 22/2017/ND-CP (Decree 22) on commercial mediation, which came into effect in April 2017. Decree 22 spells out in detail the principle procedures for commercial mediation. More information on Decree 22 can be found at http://eng.viac.vn/decree-no-.-22/2017/nd-cp-on-commercial-mediation-a487.html  .

The Law on Commercial Arbitration took effect in 2011. Currently there are no foreign arbitration centers in Vietnam, although the Arbitration Law permits foreign arbitration centers to establish branches or representative offices. Foreign and domestic arbitral awards are legally enforceable in Vietnam; however, in practice it can be very difficult.

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Vietnam is required to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards within its jurisdiction, with very few exceptions.

There are no readily available statistics on how often domestic courts rule in favor of SOEs. In general, the court system in Vietnam works slowly. International arbitration awards, when enforced, may take years from original judgment to payment. According to the 2018 PCI report, 20 percent of surveyed foreign companies had a contract dispute. Only 39 percent of private domestic companies and two percent of foreign firms were willing to use the courts to resolve ongoing disputes in 2018, due to concerns related to time, costs, and potential bribery during the process. Companies turned to other methods such as arbitration or using influential individuals trusted by both parties.

Bankruptcy Regulations

In 2014, Vietnam revised its Bankruptcy Law to make it easier for companies to declare bankruptcy. The law clarified the definition of insolvency as an enterprise that is more than three months overdue in meeting its payment obligations. The law also provided provisions allowing creditors to commence bankruptcy proceedings against an enterprise, and created procedures for credit institutions to file for bankruptcy. Despite these changes, according to the World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business Report, Vietnam ranked 133 out of 190 for resolving insolvency. The report noted that it still takes on average five years to conclude a bankruptcy case in Vietnam, and the recovery rate on average is only 21 percent. The courts have not improved bankruptcy case processing speed.  

The Credit Information Center of the State Bank of Vietnam provides credit information services.

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