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Democratic Republic of the Congo

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

The DRC remains a challenging environment in which to conduct business.  The accession of Felix Tshisekdi to the Presidency in January 2019 and his announcement of his interest in attracting more international investment, particularly from the United States, have raised hopes the DRC government (GDRC) can impose and follow through on policies more favorable to foreign direct investment.  To encourage U.S. visitors, in January 2020 the GDRC lowered the price of a single-entry visa to USD 100 and a three month multiple-entry visa to USD 160.  The DRC’s rich endowment of natural resources, large population and generally open trading system provide significant potential opportunities for U.S. investors.

Current investment regulations prohibit foreign investors from engaging in informal small retail commerce and ban foreign majority-ownership of agricultural concerns.  Investors have expressed concern that the ban on foreign agricultural ownership will stifle any attempts to kick-start the agrarian sector.

The official investment agency, the National Agency for Investment Promotion (ANAPI), provides investment facilitation services for initial investments over USD 200,000, and is mandated to simplify the investment process, make procedures more transparent, assist new foreign investors, and improve the image of the DRC as an investment destination.

There are several public and private sector forums which speak to the government on the investment climate in specific sectors.  In December 2019 President Tshisekedi created the business climate cell (CCA) to listen and develop ways to improve the business climate.  The CCA in June 2020 presented a roadmap for reform.  The public-private Financial and Technical Partners (PTF) mining group represents the different countries with significant mining investments in the DRC.  The Federation of Congolese Enterprises (FEC) has a dialogue on business interests with the government.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

In general, there are no limits on foreigners owning a business or engaging in all forms of remunerative activity, with the exceptions of small commerce and owning more than 49 percent of an agribusiness.  Many investors note that in practice the GDRC requires foreign investors to hire local agents and participate in a joint venture with the government or local partners.

In response to private sector complaints, in June 2020 the GDRC repealed a law on subcontracting in the private sector that restricted using foreign entities.

The government promulgated a new mining code in 2018 which increased royalty rates from two to ten percent, raised tax rates on “strategic” metals, and imposed a surcharge on “super profits” of mining companies.  The government unilaterally removed a stability clause contained in the previous mining code protecting investors from any new fees or taxes for ten years.  Removal of the stability clause may deter future investment in the mining sector.  The Tshisekedi government has indicated that it is willing to reopen discussions on the new mining code.

The government does not maintain an organization to screen inbound investment.  The Presidency and the ministries serve this purpose de facto.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The DRC has not undergone a World Trade Organization (WTO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), or a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Investment Policy Review in the last three years.  Cities with high custom clearance traffic use Sydonia, which is an advanced software system for custom administrations in compliance with ASYCUDA.  (ASYCUDA is a large technical assistance software program recommended by UNCTAD for custom clearance management.)

Business Facilitation

Since 2013, the GDRC has operated a “one-stop shop” (https://www.guichetunique.cd/ ) that brings together all the government entities involved in the registration of a company in the DRC.  The registration process now officially takes three days, but in practice it can take much longer.  Some businesses have reported that the Guichet Unique has considerably shortened and simplified the overall process of business registration.

Outward Investment

The GDRC does not prohibit outward investment, nor does it particularly promote it.  There are no current government restrictions preventing domestic investors from investing abroad, and there are no current blacklisted countries with which domestic investors are precluded from doing business.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The U.S.-DRC Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) was signed in 1984 and entered into force in 1989.  The BIT guarantees reciprocal rights and privileges to each country’s investors and provides that, should a claim arise under the treaty, it can be submitted to a dispute resolution mechanism through international arbitration.  U.S. companies have at times reported difficulties with the tax authorities from arbitrary enforcement of the taxation code.

Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, South Korea, and China have also signed bilateral investment treaties with the DRC, while South Africa and Kenya are currently negotiating BITs.  Lebanon, Côte d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso have negotiated, but not signed, BITs with the DRC.  In October 2016, the DRC and Rwanda signed an agreement on a simplified trade regime covering only small-scale commerce between the countries.

There is no bilateral taxation treaty between the United States and the DRC.  In August 2015, Zambia and the DRC signed a bilateral taxation treaty that abolished customs taxes across their common border.

3. Legal Regime

The DRC does not have a legal system to address the issue of competition.  By joining the regional legal body OHADA and the regional Central and Southern African trade group COMESA, the DRC plans to implement the standards and regulations of these structures in order to create a more transparent and effective policy to promote competition.

There are no informal regulations run by private or nongovernmental organizations that discriminate against foreign investors.  However, some investors perceive the regulations in the mining code as discriminatory against foreign investment.

The GDRC authority on business standards, the Congolese Office of Control (OCC), oversees foreign businesses engaged in the DRC.

There are no formal or informal provisions systematically employed by the GDRC to impede foreign investment.  Companies most often complain of facing administrative hurdles as laws and regulations are often poorly or unevenly applied.

Proposed laws and regulations are rarely published in draft format for public discussion and comment;  discussion is typically limited to the governmental entity that proposes the draft law and Parliament prior to enactment.  Sometimes the government will hold a public hearing after public appeals.

By implementing the OHADA system, the GDRC strengthened its legal framework in the areas of contract, company, and bankruptcy law and set up an accounting system better aligned to international standards.  For this purpose, a Coordination Committee was established internally in the GDRC to monitor OHADA implementation.

The government announced the creation of a business unit (CCA) in December 2019 to enact needed regulatory reforms.

The DRC is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a multi-stakeholder initiative to increase transparency in transactions between governments and companies in the extractive industries.  The DRC’s validation process for compliance with the EITI Standard commenced in November 2018, with an assessment due in 2020.  The initial report published by the International EITI Secretariat in April 2019 stated that the DRC EITI failed to adequately address 13 of the  requirements of the EITI Standard, with two of these assessed as unmet with inadequate progress.  The report also stressed the need to clarify the financial flows of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the DRC’s extractive sector.

In 2019 the DRC failed to meet the minimum requirements of fiscal transparency according to the State Department’s Fiscal Transparency report.  While the DRC publishes budgets that are publicly available and timely, the published budgets were not reliable indicators of actual government spending.

International Regulatory Considerations

The DRC is a member of several regional economic blocs, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (ECGLC).

According to the Congolese National Standardization Committee, the DRC has adopted 470 harmonized COMESA standards.

The DRC is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and seeks to comply with Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIM) requirements, including notifying regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The DRC is a civil law country, and the main provisions of its private law can be traced to the Napoleonic Civil Code.  The general characteristics of the Congolese legal system are similar to those of the Belgian system.  Various local customary laws regulate both personal status laws and property rights, especially the inheritance and land tenure systems in traditional communities throughout the country.  The Congolese legal system is divided into three branches: public law, private law and economic law.  Public law regulates legal relationships involving the state or state authority; private law regulates relationships between private persons; and economic law regulates interactions in areas such as labor, trade, mining and investment.

In 2018 the DRC established thirteen commercial courts located in DRC’s main business cities, including Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Matadi, Boma, Kisangani, and Mbuji-Mayi.  These courts are designed to be led by professional judges specializing in commercial matters and exist in parallel to an otherwise inadequate judicial system.  A lack of qualified personnel and a reluctance by some DRC jurisdictions to fully recognize OHADA law and institutions have hindered the development of commercial courts.

The current judicial process is not procedurally reliable and its rulings are not always respected.  The current executive branch has generally not interfered with the proceedings.  The national court system provides an appeals mechanism under the OHADA framework.  Legal documents in the DRC can be found at: http://www.leganet.cd/index.htm .

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The 2002 Investment Code governs most foreign direct investment (FDI), providing for the protection of investments.  In practice, an inadequate legal system has insufficiently protected foreign investors in the event of a dispute.  Mining, hydrocarbons, finance, and other sectors have sector-specific investment laws.

ANAPI is the DRC agency with the mandate to simplify the investment process, make procedures more transparent, assist new foreign investors, and improve the image of the country as an investment destination (www.investindrc.cd).

The GDRC has a “Guichet Unique,” which is a one-stop shop to simplify business creation, cutting processing time from five months to three days, and reducing incorporation fees from USD 3,000 to USD 120. (www.guichetunique.cd ). A “one-stop-shop” also exists for import-export business, covering aspects such as the collection of taxes and transshipment operations. (https://segucerdc.cd/ ).

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

There is no national agency that reviews transactions for competition or antitrust-related concerns.  As a member of COMESA the DRC follows the COMESA Competition Regulations and rules, and the COMESA competition body regulates competition.

Expropriation and Compensation

The GDRC may proceed with an expropriation when it benefits the public interest, and the person or entity subject to an expropriation should receive fair compensation.  The U.S. Embassy is unaware of any new expropriation activities by the GDRC against U.S. citizens in the past three years, but there are a number of existing and long-standing claims made against the GDRC.  Some claims have been taken to arbitration, though many arbitral judgments against the GDRC are not paid in a timely manner, if at all.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The DRC is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention and a Contracting State to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).  It is important to note that the New York Convention does not apply toward disputes relating to immovable property, which includes mining rights.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The DRC is subject to international arbitration.  A U.S. mining company  sued under the BIT to recover losses suffered when FARDC troops sacked its mine in Kasai Central Province in 1995. The arbitration courts ruled the GDRC liable for damages totaling USD 13 million, and the GDRC started paying back the awarded amount plus interest to the U.S. company.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The DRC adopted the OHADA Uniform Act on Arbitration (the UAA).  The UAA sets out the basic rules applicable to any arbitration where the seat of arbitration is located in an OHADA member state.  The requirements set out under Article 5 of the New York Convention for the recognition and enforcement of foreign awards applies where the seat of any arbitration is outside an OHADA member state, or where the parties choose arbitration rules outside the UAA.

OHADA‘s UAA offers an alternative dispute resolution mechanism for settling disputes between two parties where the place of arbitration is situated in a Member State.  Disputes must be submitted to the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA) in Abidjan in accordance with the provisions of the OHADA Treaty and the OHADA Arbitration Rules.

The UAA, while not directly based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, is similar in that it provides for the recognition and enforcement of arbitration agreements and arbitral awards and supersedes the national laws on arbitration to the extent that any conflict arises.  Arbitral awards with a connection to an OHADA member state are given final and binding status in all OHADA member states, on par with a national court judgment.  Support is provided by the CCJA which can rule on the application and interpretation of the UAA.

Arbitral awards rendered in any OHADA Member State are enforceable in any other OHADA member state, subject to obtaining an exequatur (a legal document issued by a sovereign authority allowing a right to be enforced in the authority’s domain of competence) of the competent court of the State in which the award is to be made.  Exequaturs are granted unless the award clearly affects public order in that State.  Decisions granting or refusing to grant an exequatur may be appealed to the CCJA.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The OHADA Uniform Act on Insolvency Proceedings provides a comprehensive framework not only for companies encountering financial difficulties and seeking relief from the pressing demands of creditors, but also for creditors to file their claims.  The GDRC judiciary system has agreed to enforce the OHADA Insolvency Act.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized.

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, there were no foreclosure, liquidation or reorganization proceedings filed in the country in 2019, making it impossible to assess the time, cost or outcome for an insolvency proceeding.

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