1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign investment in New Zealand is generally encouraged without discrimination. New Zealand has an open and transparent economy. Some restrictions do apply in a few areas of critical interest including certain types of land, significant business assets, and fishing quotas. These restrictions are facilitated by a screening process conducted by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), described in the next section.
New Zealand has a rapidly expanding network of bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements that include investment components. New Zealand also has a well-developed legal framework and regulatory system, and the judicial system is generally effective in enforcing property and contractual rights. Investment disputes are rare, and there have been no major disputes in recent years involving U.S. companies.
The Labour Party-led government elected in 2017 has continued its program of tighter screening of some forms of foreign investment and has moved to restrict the availability of permits for oil and gas exploration. It has also focused on different aspects of trade agreement negotiation compared with the previous government, such as an aversion to investor-state dispute settlement provisions.
The implementation of the CPTPP has eased the criteria for partner nations to seek approval for certain investments in New Zealand by increasing the monetary threshold when government approval is required. This has also been triggered by New Zealand’s ‘most favored nation’ obligation in their FTA with China once the upgrade to the 2008 agreement enters into force. A separate bilateral agreement with Australia allows for its threshold to be reviewed each year and is significantly higher before triggering the need for approval. Separate agreements with Australia and Singapore exempt their respective citizens from restrictions introduced in 2018 on the purchase of New Zealand residential property by non-residents. In this respect in the absence of a similar free-trade agreement with New Zealand, certain investments by United States citizens can be subject to higher scrutiny.
In 2019 the OIO approved 139 overseas investment applications, up from 94 the previous year. Net investment increased slightly from NZD 3.5 billion (USD 2.3 billion) to NZD 3.8 billion (USD 2.5 billion) while the total value of assets of approved applications more than doubled to NZD 2.3 billion (USD 1.5 billion) in 2018 to NZD 5.2 billion (USD 3.4 billion) in 2019. Over 22,000 hectares (86.7 square miles; 55,500 acres) of land was sold, leased, or granted forestry rights from 119 approvals. In 2018 there were fewer approvals (64) securing more land area of almost 50,000 hectares (193.1 square miles; 123,600 acres).
Crown entity New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) is New Zealand’s primary investment promotion agency. In addition to its New Zealand central and regional presence, it has 40 international locations, including four offices in the United States. Approximately half of the NZTE staff is based overseas. The NZTE helps investors develop their plans, access opportunities, and facilitate connections with New Zealand-based private sector advisors: https://www.nzte.govt.nz/investment-and-funding/how-we-help. Once investors independently complete their negotiations, due diligence, and receive confirmation of their investment, the NZTE offers aftercare advice. The NZTE aims to channel investment into regional areas of New Zealand to build capability and to promote opportunities outside of the country’s main cities.
Under certain conditions, foreign investors can bid alongside New Zealand businesses for contestable government funding for research and development (R&D) grants. For more see: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/science-and-technology/science-and-innovation/international-opportunities/new-zealand-r-d/. Most of the programs which are operated by NZTE, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), and Callaghan Innovation, provide financial assistance, and support through skills and knowledge, or supporting innovative business ventures in the early stages of operation. For more see: https://www.business.govt.nz/how-to-grow/getting-government-grants/what-can-i-get-help-with/.
The New Zealand-United States Council, established in 2001, is a non-partisan organization funded by business and the government. It fosters a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between New Zealand and the United States through both government-to-government contacts and business-to-business links. The American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland provides a platform for New Zealand and U.S. businesses to network among themselves and with government agencies.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
The New Zealand government does not discriminate against U.S. or other foreign investors in their rights to establish and own business enterprises. It has placed separate limitations on foreign ownership of airline Air New Zealand and telecommunications infrastructure provider Chorus Limited.
Air New Zealand’s constitution requires that no person who is not a New Zealand national may hold 10 percent or more of the voting rights without the consent of the Minister of Transport. There must be between five and eight board directors, at least three of which must reside in New Zealand. In 2013, the government sold a partial stake in Air New Zealand reducing its equity interest from 73 percent to 53 percent.
The establishment of telecommunications infrastructure provider Chorus resulted from a demerger of provider Spark New Zealand Limited (Spark) in 2011. In 2019, Spark amended its constitution removing the requirement that half of the Spark Board be New Zealand citizens and, in accordance with NZX Listing Rules, requires at least two directors be ordinarily resident in New Zealand.
Chorus owns most of the telephone infrastructure in New Zealand, and provides wholesale services to telecommunications retailers, including Spark. The demerger freed Spark from its foreign ownership restrictions allowing it to compete with other retail providers which do not have such restrictions. The foreign ownership restrictions apply to Chorus as a natural monopoly and infrastructure provider.
Chorus’s constitution requires at least half of its Board be New Zealand citizens. It provides that without the approval of the Minister of Finance, no single shareholder may own more than 10 percent of the shares and no person who is not a New Zealand national may own more than 49.9 percent of the shares. To date, approval has been granted to two private entities to exceed the 10 percent threshold, increasing their interest in Chorus up to 15 percent.
New Zealand otherwise screens overseas investment to ensure quality investments are made that benefit New Zealand. Failure to obtain government approval before purchase can lead to significant financial penalties. The Overseas Investment Office (OIO) is responsible for screening foreign investment that falls within certain criteria specified in the Overseas Investment Act 2005.
The OIO requires government approval be obtained by overseas persons wishing to acquire or invest in significant business assets, sensitive land, farmland, or fishing quota, as defined below.
Acquiring or investing in a “significant business asset” includes: acquiring 25 percent or more ownership or controlling interest in a New Zealand company with assets exceeding NZD 100 million (USD 65 million); establishing a business in New Zealand that will be operational more than 90 days per year and expected costs of establishing the business exceeds NZD 100 million; or acquiring business assets in New Zealand that exceed NZD 100 million.
OIO consent is required for overseas investors to purchase “sensitive land” either directly or acquiring a controlling interest of 25 percent or more in a person who owns the land. Non-residential sensitive land includes land that: is non-urban and exceeds five hectares (12.35 acres); is part of or adjoins the foreshore or seabed; exceeds 0.4 hectares (1 acre) and falls under of the Conservation Act of 1987 or it is land proposed for a reserve or public park; is subject to a Heritage Order, or is a historic or wahi tapu area (sacred Maori land); or is considered “special land” that is defined as including the foreshore, seabed, riverbed, or lakebed and must first be offered to the Crown. If the Crown accepts the offer, the Crown can only acquire the part of the “sensitive land” that is “special land,” and can acquire it only if the overseas person completes the process for acquisition of the sensitive land.
Where a proposed acquisition involves “farm land” (land used principally for agricultural, horticultural, or pastoral purposes, or for the keeping of bees, poultry, or livestock), the OIO can only grant approval if the land is first advertised and offered on the open market in New Zealand to citizens and residents. The Crown can waive this requirement in special circumstances at the discretion of the relevant government Minister.
Commercial fishing in New Zealand is controlled by the Fisheries Act, which sets out a quota management system that prohibits commercial fishing of certain species without the ownership of a fishing quota which specifies the quantity of fish that may be taken. OIO legislation, operating together with the Fisheries Act, requires consent from the relevant Ministers in order for an overseas person to obtain an interest in a fishing quota, or an interest of 25 percent or more in a business that owns or controls a fishing quota.
Investors subject to OIO screening must demonstrate in their application that they meet the criteria for the “Investor Test” and the “Benefit to New Zealand test.” The former requires the investor to display the necessary business experience and acumen to manage the investment, demonstrate financial commitment to the investment, and be of “good character” meaning a person who would be eligible for a permit under New Zealand immigration law.
The “Benefit to New Zealand test” requires the OIO to assess the investment against 21 factors, which are set out in the Overseas Investment Act and Regulations. The OIO applies a counterfactual analysis to benefit factors where such analysis can be applied, and the onus is upon the investor to consider the likely counterfactual if the overseas investment does not proceed. Economic factors are given weighting, particularly if the investment will create new job opportunities, retain existing jobs, and lead to greater efficiency or productivity domestically.
The screening thresholds are significantly higher for Australian investors and are reviewed each year in accordance with the 2013 Protocol on Investment to the New Zealand-Australia Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement. In the 2020 calendar year Australian non-government investors are screened at NZD 536 million (USD 348 million) and Australian government investors at NZD 112 million (USD 73 million).
New Zealand and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) concluded negotiations on an upgrade to their FTA in November 2019. A side letter confirms higher screening thresholds applicable to investments from the PRC in New Zealand significant business assets, following the entry into force of CPTPP. Due to New Zealand’s “Most Favored Nation” obligations in the existing 2008 bilateral FTA, the screening threshold for PRC non-government investments in New Zealand significant business assets is NZD 200 million (USD 130 million), while the threshold for PRC government investments in New Zealand significant business assets is NZD100 million (USD 65 million).
New Zealand screens overseas investment mainly for economic reasons but has legislation that outlines a framework to protect the national security of telecommunication networks. The Telecommunications (Interception and Security) Act 2013 (TICSA) sets out the process for network operators to work with the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – in accordance with Section 7 – to prevent, sufficiently mitigate, or remove security risks arising from the design, build, or operation of public telecommunications networks and interconnections to or between public telecommunications networks in New Zealand or with networks overseas.
In 2019 as part of the second phase of overseas investment reform, the Government consulted on and released details for the addition of a National Interest test that will be added to the screening process to protect New Zealand assets deemed sensitive and “high-risk.” This will be discussed in the next chapter.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
New Zealand has not conducted an Investment Policy Review through the OECD or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in the past three years. New Zealand’s last Trade Policy Review was in 2015 and the next will take place in 2021: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp416_e.htm.
The New Zealand government has shown a strong commitment to continue efforts to streamline business facilitation. According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2020 report New Zealand is ranked first in “Starting a Business,” and “Getting Credit,” and is ranked second for “Registering Property.” Compared to 2019, New Zealand received a lower score for “Resolving Insolvency.”
There are no restrictions on the movement of funds into or out of New Zealand, or on the repatriation of profits. No additional performance measures are imposed on foreign-owned enterprises, other than those that require OIO approval. Overseas investors must adhere to the normal legislative business framework for New Zealand-based companies, which includes the Commerce Act 1986, the Companies Act 1993, the Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013, the Financial Reporting Act 2013, and the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 (AML/CFT). The Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 was passed to modernize and consolidate existing legislation underpinning contracts and commercial transactions.
The tightening of anti-money laundering laws has impacted the cross-border movement of remittance orders from New Zealanders and migrant workers to the Pacific Islands. Banks, non-bank institutions, and people in occupations that typically handle large amounts of cash, are required to collect additional information about their customers and report any suspicious transactions to the New Zealand Police. If an entity is unable to comply with the AML/CFT in its dealings with a customer, it must not do business with that person. For banks, this would mean not processing certain transactions, withdrawing the banking products and services it offers, and choosing not to have that person as a customer. This has resulted in some banks charging higher fees for remittance services in order to reduce their exposure to risks, which has led to the forced closing of accounts held by some money transfer operators. Phase 1 sectors which include financial institutions, remitters, trust and company service providers, casinos, payment providers, and lenders have had to comply with the AML/CFT since 2013. Phase 2 sectors which include lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, bookkeepers, and realtors have had to comply from January 2019.
In order to combat the increasing use of New Zealand shell companies for illegal activities, the Companies Amendment Act 2014 and the Limited Partnerships Amendment Act 2014 introduced new requirements for companies registering in New Zealand. Companies must have at least one director that either lives in New Zealand or lives in Australia and is a director of a company incorporated in Australia. New companies incorporated must provide the date and place of birth of all directors and provide details of any ultimate holding company. The Acts introduced offences for serious misconduct by directors that results in serious losses to the company or its creditors and aligns the company reconstruction provisions in the Companies Act with the Takeovers Act 1993 and the Takeovers Code Approval Order 2000.
The Companies Office holds an overseas business-related register and provides that information to persons in New Zealand who intend to deal with the company or to creditors in New Zealand. The information provided includes where and when the company was incorporated, if there is any restriction on its ability to trade contained in its constitutional documents, names of the directors, its principal place of business in New Zealand, and where and on whom documents can be served in New Zealand. For further information on how overseas companies can register in New Zealand, see https://www.companiesoffice.govt.nz/companies/learn-about/starting-a-company/register-an-overseas-company-other
The New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) Act 2016 allows the allocation of unique identifiers to eligible entities to enable them to conduct business more efficiently, interact more easily with the government, and to protect the entity’s security and confidentiality of information. All companies registered in New Zealand have had NZBNs since 2013 and are also available to other types of businesses such as sole traders and partnerships.
Tax registration is recommended when the investor incorporates the company with the Companies Office, but is required if the company is registering as an employer and if it intends to register for New Zealand’s consumption tax, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is currently 15 percent. Companies importing into New Zealand or exporting to other countries which have a turnover exceeding NZD 60,000 (USD 39,000) over a 12-month period or expect to pass NZD 60,000 in the next 12 months, must register for GST. Non-resident businesses that conduct a taxable activity supplying goods or services in New Zealand and make taxable supplies in New Zealand, must register for GST: https://www.ird.govt.nz/index/all-tasks. From 2014, non-resident businesses that do not make taxable supplies in New Zealand have been able to claim GST if they meet certain criteria.
To comply with GST registration, overseas companies need two pieces of evidence to prove their customer is a resident in New Zealand, such as their billing address or IP address, and a GST return must be filed every quarter even if the company does not make any sales.
In 2016 mandatory GST registration was extended to non-resident suppliers of “remote services” to New Zealand customers, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold. In 2019, legislation was enacted that requires non-resident suppliers of “low-value” import goods destined for New Zealand to register for GST, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold. Both are discussed in a later section.
The New Zealand government does not place restrictions on domestic investors to invest abroad.
NZTE is the government’s international business development agency. It promotes outward investment and provides resources and services for New Zealand businesses to prepare for export and advice on how to grow internationally. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and Customs New Zealand each operates business outreach programs that advise businesses on how to maximize the benefit from FTAs to improve the competitiveness of their goods offshore, and provides information on how to meet requirements such as rules of origin.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
New Zealand policies generally facilitate the free flow of financial resources to support the flow of resources in the product and factor markets. Credit is generally allocated on market terms, and foreigners are able to obtain credit on the local market. The private sector has access to a limited variety of credit instruments. New Zealand has a strong infrastructure of statutory law, policy, contracts, codes of conduct, corporate governance, and dispute resolution that support financial activity. The banking system, mostly dominated by foreign banks, is rapidly moving New Zealand into a “cashless” society.
New Zealand adheres to International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII and does not place restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions.
New Zealand has a range of other financial institutions, including a securities exchange, investment firms and trusts, insurance firms and other non-bank lenders. Non-bank finance institutions experienced difficulties during the global financial crisis (GFC) due to risky lending practices, and the government of New Zealand subsequently introduced legal changes to bring them into the regulatory framework. This included the introduction of the Non-bank Deposit Takers Act 2013 and associated regulations which impose requirements on exposure limits, minimum capital ratios, and governance. It requires non-bank institutions be licensed and have suitable directors and senior officers. It also provides the RBNZ with powers to detect and intervene if a non-bank institution becomes distressed or fails.
The RBNZ is the prudential regulator and supervisor of all insurers carrying on insurance business in New Zealand and is responsible for administering the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act 2010. The RBNZ administers the Act to promote the maintenance of a sound and efficient insurance sector; and promoting public confidence in the insurance sector.
The GFC also prompted New Zealand to introduce broad-based financial market law reform which included the establishment of the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) in 2014. The Financial Markets Conduct Act (FMC) 2013 provided a new licensing regime to bring New Zealand financial market regulations in line with international standards. It expanded the role of the FMA as the primary regulator of fair dealing conduct in financial markets, provided enforcement for parts of the Financial Advisers Act 2008, and made the FMA one of the three supervisors for AML/CFT, alongside the RBNZ and the Department of Internal Affairs. The FMA supervises approximately 800 reporting entities.
Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent. Financial accounting standards are issued by the New Zealand Accounting Standards Board (NZASB), which is a committee of the External Reporting Board established under the Crown Entities Act 2004. The NZASB has the delegated authority to develop, adopt and issue accounting standards for general purpose financial reporting in New Zealand and are based largely on international accounting standards, and GAAP.
Smaller companies (except issuers of securities and overseas companies) that meet proscribed criteria face less stringent reporting requirements. Entities listed on the stock exchange are required to produce annual financial reports for shareholders. Stocks in a number of New Zealand listed firms are also traded in Australia and in the United States. Small, publicly held companies not listed on the NZX may include in their constitution measures to restrict hostile takeovers by outside interests, domestic, or foreign. However, NZX rules generally prohibit such measures by its listed companies.
In December 2019, the government introduced the Financial Market Infrastructure Bill to establish a new regulatory regime for financial market infrastructures (FMI), and to provide certain FMIs with legal protections relating to settlement finality, netting, and the enforceability of their rules. The bill aims to maintain a sound and efficient financial system; avoid significant damage to the financial system resulting from problems with an FMI, an operator of an FMI, or a participant of an FMI; promote the confident and informed participation of businesses, investors, and consumers in the financial markets; and promote and facilitate the development of fair, efficient, and transparent financial markets. The bill if passed would be administered jointly by the RBNZ and the FMA. The bill passed its first reading in February 2020 and is with the select committee.
In 2018, the market capitalization of listed domestic companies in New Zealand was 42 percent of GDP, at USD 86 billion. The small size of the market reflects in part the risk averse nature of New Zealand investors, preferring residential property and bank term deposits over equities or credit instruments for investment. New Zealand’s stock of investment in residential property is valued at NZD 1.19 trillion (USD 774 billion).
Money and Banking System
The Reserve Bank (RBNZ) regulates banks in New Zealand in accordance with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1989. The RBNZ is statutorily independent and is responsible for conducting monetary policy and maintaining a sound and efficient financial system. The New Zealand banking system consists of 26 registered banks, and more than 90 percent of their combined assets are owned by foreign banks, mostly Australian. There is no requirement in New Zealand for financial institutions to be registered to provide banking services, but an institution must be registered to call itself a bank.
In November 2017, the government announced it would undertake the first ever review of the RBNZ Act. In December 2018, the government passed an amendment to the Act to broaden the legislated objective of monetary policy beyond price stability, to include supporting maximum sustainable employment. It also requires that monetary policy be decided by a consensus of a Monetary Policy Committee, which must also publish records of its meetings. While policy decisions at the RBNZ have been made by the Governing Committee for several years before the amendment, the Act had laid individual accountability with the Governor, who could be removed from office for inadequate performance according to the goals set through the Policy Targets Agreement.
Applicants for bank registration must meet qualitative and quantitative criteria set out in the RBNZ Act. Applicants who are incorporated overseas are required to have the approval of their home supervisor to conduct banking business in New Zealand, and the applicant must meet the ongoing prudential requirements imposed on it by the overseas supervisor. Accordingly, the conditions of registration that apply to branch banks mainly focus on compliance with the overseas supervisor’s regulatory requirements.
The RBNZ introduced a Dual Registration Policy for Small Foreign Banks in December 2016. Foreign-owned banks are permitted to apply for dual registration – operating both a branch and a locally incorporated subsidiary in New Zealand – provided both entities comply with relevant prudential requirements. Locally incorporated subsidiaries are separate legal entities from the parent bank. They are required, among other things, to maintain minimum capital requirements in New Zealand and have their own board of directors, including independent directors. In contrast, bank branches are essentially an extension of the parent bank with the ability to leverage the global bank balance sheet for larger lending transactions. Capital and governance requirements for branch banks are established by the home regulatory authority. There are no local capital or governance requirements for registered bank branches in New Zealand.
In addition to registered banks, the RBNZ supervises and regulates insurance companies in accordance with the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act 2010 and non-bank lending institutions. Non-bank deposit takers are regulated under the Non-bank Deposit Takers Act 2013.
New Zealand has no permanent deposit insurance scheme and the RBNZ has no requirement to guarantee the viability of a registered bank. The RBNZ operates the Open Bank Resolution (OBR) which allows a distressed bank to be kept open for business, while placing the cost of a bank failure primarily on the bank’s shareholders and creditors, rather than on taxpayers. While the scheme has been generally successful, in 2010 the government paid out NZD 1.6 billion (USD 1 billion) to cover investor losses when New Zealand’s largest locally-owned finance company at the time, went into receivership. There have since been bailouts of several insurance companies and other small finance companies.
New Zealand’s banking system relies on offshore wholesale funding markets as a result of low levels of domestic savings. Banks can raise funds in international markets relatively easily at reasonable cost, but are vulnerable to global market volatility, geopolitics, and domestic economic conditions. Domestically, banks face exposure due to the concentration of New Zealand exports in a small number of commodity-based sectors which can be subject to considerable price volatility. Residential mortgage and agricultural lending exposures have also presented risk.
The four largest banks (ASB, ANZ, BNZ and Westpac) control 88 percent of the retail and commercial banking market measured in terms of total banking assets. With the addition of Kiwibank, that rises to 91 percent. Kiwibank launched in 2002 and is majority owned by NZ Post (53 percent), with the NZ Superannuation Fund (25 percent), and the Accident Compensation Corporation (22 percent).
The RBNZ report the total assets of registered banks to be about NZD 631 billion (USD 410 billion) as of March 2020. Assets of insurance companies’ assets were valued at NZD 81 billion (USD 53 billion) and NZD 14.4 billion (USD 9.4 billion) for non-bank lending institutions. The RBNZ estimate approximately 0.6 percent of bank loans are non-performing. Agriculture loans make up about 13 percent of bank lending and has seen higher rates of non-performing loans – particularly dairy farms – in 2019. The RBNZ expect non-performing to rise again having recovered only in the past few years from the Global Financial Crisis.
The four banks have capital generally above the regulatory requirements. The initial findings from a RBNZ review of bank capital requirements released in March 2017 found New Zealand banks to be “in the pack” in terms of capital ratios relative to international peers. There have since been subsequently four rounds of consultations revisiting capital requirements after the Australian Financial System Inquiry made recommendations that were subsequently accepted by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority to improve the resilience of the Australian banks. While this contributes to the ultimate soundness of the New Zealand subsidiaries, it does not directly strengthen their balance sheets.
In February 2019, the RBNZ proposed to almost double capital requirements for the four big banks. The RBNZ proposed to require banks’ Tier 1 capital to be comprised solely of equity and to increase from the current minimum of 8.5 percent of total capital to 16 percent over five years. It also wants Tier 1 capital to be pure equity, rather than hybrid-type securities that usually behave as debt, but which can be converted into equity if required, and which are about a fifth of the cost of pure equity. Since the GFC, the minimum tier 1 capital has already been raised from 4 percent of risk-weighted assets to 8.5 percent.
In December 2019, the RBNZ announced the minimum total capital ratio will increase from 10.5 percent currently to 18 percent for the four largest banks, and 16 percent for the smaller local banks. For the largest banks, at least 16 percent must consist of tier 1 capital, and within this at least 13.5 percent must be common equity. For the small banks, the requirements are 14 percent and 11.5 percent respectively. Debt instruments that can be converted to equity will no longer count towards regulatory capital. However, banks will able to make greater use of redeemable preference shares. Initially in order to give the banks time to accumulate capital through retained earnings the changes were to be phased in over a seven-year period starting from July 2020. The RBNZ has delayed the introduction until July 1, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The penetration of New Zealand’s major banks has improved since the introduction of the voluntary superannuation scheme, KiwiSaver in 2007. The increase in their market share is also a result of the appointment of three additional banks as default KiwiSaver providers in 2014. People who start a new job are automatically enrolled in KiwiSaver and must opt-out if they do not want to be a member. Contributions are made by the employee, the employer and if eligible from the government in the form of a tax credit. In 2019 there were over 2.9 million KiwiSaver members, and the amount invested in KiwiSaver schemes is estimated to be NZD 64 billion (USD 42 billion). The government spent NZD 778 million (USD 506 million) in the form of member tax credits in 2019. While funds can only be withdrawn at the age of 65 with very few exceptions, members can shift their funds. In March 2020 as markets dropped, KiwiSavers shifted NZD 1.4 billion (USD 910 million) from share-heavy funds to cash or conservative funds.
There are some restrictions on opening a bank account in New Zealand that include providing proof of income and needing to be a permanent New Zealand resident of 18 years old or above. Access to money in the account will not be granted until the individual presents one form of photo ID and a proof of address in-person at a branch of the bank in New Zealand. Some banks will require a copy of the applicant’s visa. If the applicant does not apply for an IRD number, the tax rate on income earned will default to the highest rate of 33 percent. New Zealand banks typically have a dedicated branch for migrants and businesses to set up banking arrangements.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
New Zealand has revoked all foreign exchange controls. Accordingly, there are no such restrictions – beyond those that seek to prevent money laundering and financing of terrorism – on the transfer of capital, profits, dividends, royalties or interest into or from New Zealand. Full remittance of profits and capital is permitted through normal banking channels and there is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange. However, withholding taxes can apply to certain payments out of New Zealand including dividends, interest, and royalties, and may apply to capital gains for non-residents and on the payment of profits to certain non-resident contractors.
New Zealand operates a free-floating currency. As a small nation that relies heavily on trade and global financial and geopolitical conditions, the New Zealand currency experiences more fluctuation when compared with other developed high-income countries.
The Pacific Islands are the main destination of New Zealand remittances from residents and from temporary workers participating in the Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. The RSE allows the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from nine Pacific Island nations for seasonal work when there are not enough New Zealand workers. Other people who use remittance services include recently resettled refugees, and other migrant workers particularly in the hospitality and construction sectors.
Anti-money laundering and combatting terrorism financing laws have made access to cross-border financial services difficult for some Pacific island countries. Banks, non-bank institutions, and people in occupations that typically handle large amounts of cash, are required to collect additional information about their customers and report any suspicious transactions to the New Zealand Police.
Financial institutions have had to comply with the AML/CFT Act since 2013 including remitters, trust and company service providers, payment providers, and other lending institutions. If a bank is unable to comply with the Act in its dealings with a customer, it must not do business with that person. This would include not processing certain transactions, withdrawing the banking products and services it offers, and choosing not to have that person or entity as a customer. Since then New Zealand banks have been reducing their exposure to risks and charging higher fees for remittance services, which in some instances has led to the forced closing of accounts held by money transfer operators (MTOs).
The New Zealand government is working with banks to improve the bankability of small MTOs, and to develop low cost products for seasonal migrant workers in the RSE. New Zealand is also using its membership in global fora to encourage a coordinated approach to addressing high remittance costs, and is working with Pacific Island governments to find ways to lower costs in the receiving country, such as the adoption and use of an electronic payments systems infrastructure.
The New Zealand Treasury released a report in March 2017 to explore feasible policy options to address the issues in the New Zealand remittance market that would maintain access and reduce costs of remitting money from New Zealand to the Pacific.
In 2018, the New Zealand and Australian governments hosted a series of roundtable meetings in Auckland, Sydney, and Tonga, with the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund that included officials from banks, MTOs, and regulators from Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific, senior officials from international financial institutions, and training providers to discuss the issue and identify practical solutions to address the costs and risks of transferring remittances to Pacific countries and difficulties in undertaking cross-border transactions.
Barriers to remittances to Pacific nations remain a significant public policy issue during 2019, and work is underway led by MFAT and involving financial regulators in New Zealand and overseas, to address some of these barriers. A pilot of a Know Your Customer and Customer Due Diligence Utility is being planned for remittances between Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The New Zealand Superannuation Fund was established in September 2003 under the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001. The fund was designed to partially provide for the future cost of New Zealand Superannuation, which is a universal benefit paid by the New Zealand government to eligible residents over the age of 65 years irrespective or income or asset levels.
The Act also created the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, a Crown entity charged with managing and administering the fund. It operates by investing government contributions and the associated returns in New Zealand and internationally, in order to grow the size of the fund over the long term. Between 2003 and 2009, the government contributed NZD 14.9 billion (USD 9.7 billion) to the fund, after which it temporarily halted contributions during the Global Financial Crisis. In December 2017, the newly elected government resumed contributions, with plans to resume contributions to the full amount according to the formula set out in the 2001 Act from 2022. The Fund received an estimated NZD 500 million (USD 325 million) payment in the year to June 2018, and a NZD 1 billion (USD 650 million) contribution in the year to June 2019.
Planned contributions for the year to June 2020 will be NZD 1.5 billion (USD 975 million) according to Budget 2020 announced in May. This increases to NZD 2.1 billion (USD 1.4 billion) in the year to June 2021 and NZD 2.4 billion (USD 1.6 billion) in the year to June 2022. The legislated formula suggests lower contributions be made due to the impact of COVID-19 on GDP forecasts. Between fiscal years 2019/20 and 2022/23, Budget 2020 transfers small amounts of the capital contributions to a new fund administered by the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, which will invest via the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund Limited (NZVIF). The government has not indicated it will suspend its contributions during the economic impact of the pandemic.
In June 2019, the fund was valued at NZD 43.1 billion (USD 28 billion) of which 48.8 percent was in North America, 17.3 percent in Europe, 12.9 percent in New Zealand, 10.9 percent in Asia excluding Japan, 6 percent in Japan, and 1.6 percent in Australia. During 2018/19 the fund earned a pre-tax return of 7 percent. In the first four months of 2020, the fund made losses of NZD 4.6 billion (USD 3 billion).
The guardians have a stated commitment to responsible investment, including environmental, social and governance factors, which is closely aligned to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. It is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds and is signed up to the Santiago Principles.
The fund operates its own Environmental, Social, and Governance principles with a Responsible Investment Framework. Companies that are directly involved in the following activities are excluded from the Fund: the manufacture of cluster munitions, testing of nuclear explosive devices, and anti-personnel mines; the manufacture of tobacco; the processing of whale meat; recreational cannabis; and the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts. As of December 2019, the fund does not make investments in 14 countries, mainly located in Africa and the Middle East.
Following the attack on two Christchurch mosques by a gunman using legally obtained guns on March 15, the fund divested NZD 19 million (USD 13 million) from seven companies (including four U.S. companies), involved in the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts that are prohibited under recently enacted New Zealand law. Due to the live-stream of the attack the NZSF announced on March 20, 2019 it had joined up with other New Zealand wealth funds as a shareholder of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube owner Alphabet, to strengthen controls to prevent the live-streaming of objectionable content. The NZSF aims to achieve this from the collective action from New Zealand’s investor sector with a global coalition of shareholders as well as the pressure put on the companies by other stakeholder groups. The NZSF will undertake discussions with the companies concerned in confidence and will report on milestones achieved in future Annual Reports. For further information including a full list of participants see: https://nzsuperfund.nz/how-we-invest-responsible-investmentcollaboration/social-media-collaborative-engagement
In recent years the NZSF has explicitly excluded companies that are directly involved in the manufacture of: cluster munitions, testing of nuclear explosive devices, anti-personnel mines, tobacco, recreational cannabis, and the processing of whale meat. In 2013, the fund divested a group of five U.S. companies due to their involvement with nuclear weapons. In 2007, the fund divested NZD 37.6 million (USD 24.4 million) in 20 tobacco companies.
In June 2017, the fund transitioned NZD 14 billion (USD 9 billion) passive global equity portfolio (constituting 40 percent of the fund) to low carbon, selling passive holdings in 297 companies worth NZD 950 million (USD 617 million). The aim of the Climate Change Investment Strategy is to reduce exposure to investments in carbon and fossil fuels. The guardians applied their carbon exclusion methodology again in June 2018 and June 2019.
The government manages two other wealth funds that also aim to reduce future liability and burden on New Zealanders. The Government Superannuation Fund (GSF) aims to meet the cost of 57,000 state sector employees who worked between 1948 to 1995 and are entitled to an additional fixed retirement income. The GSF was valued at NZD 4.5 billion (USD 2.9 billion) in June 2019. The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) covers all New Zealanders and visitors’ costs if they are injured in an accident under a no-fault scheme. In addition to ACC levies paid by workers and businesses, the ACC operates a fund to meet the future costs of injuries. As of June 2019, it was valued at NZD 44 billion (USD 29 billion), of which about 72 percent in New Zealand and 4 percent in Australia. Over 2018/19 the fund earned a return of 13.1 percent. ACC is one of the largest investors, owning about 2.6 percent of the market capitalization of the New Zealand share market, and directly owns 22 percent of Kiwibank.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The New Zealand government actively promotes corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is widely practiced throughout the country. There are New Zealand NGOs dedicated to facilitating and strengthening CSR, including the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Business Network, and the American Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand.
New Zealand is committed to both the OECD due diligence guidance for responsible supply chains of minerals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Multi-national businesses are the main focus, such as a New Zealand company that operates overseas, or a foreign-owned company operating in New Zealand. The guidance can also be applied to businesses with only domestic operations that form part of an international supply chain. Individuals wishing to complain about the activity of a multi-national business that happened in another country, will need to contact the National Contact Points of that country. In New Zealand, MBIE is the NCP to carry out the government’s responsibilities under the guidelines.
To help businesses meet their responsibilities, MBIE has developed a short version of the guidelines to assess the social responsibility ‘health’ of enterprises, and for assessing the actions of governments adhering to the guidelines. If further action is needed, MBIE provide resolution assistance, such as mediation, but do not adjudicate or duplicate other tribunals that assess compliance with New Zealand law. MBIE is assisted by a liaison group that meets once a year, with representatives from other government agencies, industry associations, and NGOs.
U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to investing in New Zealand. New Zealand is renowned for its efforts to ensure a transparent, competitive, and corruption-free government procurement system. Stiff penalties against bribery of government officials as well as those accepting bribes are strictly enforced. The Ministry of Justice provides guidance on its website for businesses to create their own anti-corruption policies, particularly improving understanding of the New Zealand laws on facilitation payments.
New Zealand consistently achieves top ratings in Transparency International’s Perceptions of Corruption Perception Index. In 2019 Transparency International ranked New Zealand 1st out of 183 countries and territories, scoring 87 out of 100. An area of concern noted by Transparency International is New Zealand being one of several top-ranking countries that conduct “moderate and limited enforcement of foreign bribery.”
Transparency International NZ has had concerns with the historical inconsistency in the level of public accessibility and Parliamentary oversight and application of secondary legislation which is law made under powers delegated by Parliament to 150 government agencies, entities, and local government. New Zealand hast 550 Acts, which delegate power to make secondary legislation.
In December 2019 the government introduced the Secondary Legislation Bill to improve and support the law relating to the making of secondary legislation by applying and adjusting the framework of access to, and Parliamentary oversight of, secondary legislation provided for in the Legislation Act 2019. It is currently with at the select committee stage: https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_93428/secondary-legislation-bill
New Zealand joined the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) in 2012, citing benefits for exporters, while noting that there would be little change for foreign companies bidding within New Zealand’s totally deregulated government procurement system. New Zealand’s accession to the GPA, came into effect in August 2015. New Zealand supports multilateral efforts to increase transparency of government procurement regimes. New Zealand also engages with Pacific island countries in capacity building projects to bolster transparency and anti-corruption efforts.
New Zealand has regulations to counter conflict-of-interest in awarding contracts and government procurement. As mentioned in the previous section, MBIE operates a transparent procurement process using the Government Electronic Tenders Service (GETS) platform and their revised Procurement Rules which must be followed by New Zealand government departments, the Police, the Defense Force, and most Crown entities. All other New Zealand government agencies are encouraged to follow the Rules.
New Zealand has signed and ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. In 2003, New Zealand signed the UN Convention against Corruption and ratified it in 2015.
The legal framework for combating corruption in New Zealand consists of domestic and international legal and administrative methods. Domestically, New Zealand’s criminal offences related to bribery are contained in the Crimes Act 1961 and the Secret Commissions Act 1910. For the bribery offences under sections 99 to 106 of the Crimes Act, New Zealand authorities have jurisdiction where any act or omission takes place in New Zealand. If the acts or omissions alleged relate to Person of Position and occur outside New Zealand, proceedings may be brought against them under the Crimes Act if they are a New Zealand citizen, ordinarily resident in New Zealand, have been found in New Zealand and not been extradited, or are a body corporate incorporated under the law of New Zealand. Penalties include imprisonment up to 14 years and foreign bribery offences can incur fines up to the greater of NZD 5 million (USD 3.3 million) or three times the value of the commercial gain obtained.
The New Zealand government has a strong code of conduct, the Standards of Integrity and Conduct, which applies to all State Services employees and is rigorously enforced. The Independent Police Conduct Authority considers complaints against New Zealand Police and the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner was established in August 2005 to deal with complaints about the conduct of judges. New Zealand’s Office of the Controller and Auditor-General and the Office of the Ombudsman take an active role in uncovering and exposing corrupt practices. The Protected Disclosures Act 2000 was enacted to protect public and private sector employees who engage in “whistleblowing.”
The Ministry of Justice is responsible for drafting and administering the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) legislation and regulations. It also provides guidance online to companies and NGOs in how to combat corruption and bribery. The New Zealand Police Financial Intelligence Unit collates information required under AML/CFT legislation.
The Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Amendment Act 2017 extends the 2009 Act to cover lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, real estate agents, and sports and racing betting. Businesses that deal in certain high-value goods, such as motor vehicles, jewelry and art, will also have obligations when they accept or make large cash transactions.
Businesses had two years to comply with the Act and compliance costs are estimated to be USD 554 million and USD 762 million over ten years. The New Zealand Police Financial Intelligence Unit estimate that NZD 1.35 billion (USD 878 million) of domestic criminal proceeds is generated for laundering in New Zealand each year, driven in part by New Zealand’s reputation as a safe and non-corrupt country. The Department of Internal Affairs is working on a solution for businesses that are facing difficulty meeting their AML/CFT obligations during COVID-19.
Following the “Panama Papers” incident in April 2016, an independent inquiry found New Zealand’s tax treatment of foreign trusts to be appropriate but recommended changes to the regime’s disclosure requirements, which were subsequently legislated to dispel concerns New Zealand was operating as a “tax haven.” The Taxation (Business Tax, Exchange of Information, and Remedial Matters) Act 2017 changed foreign trust registration and disclosure to deter offshore parties from misusing New Zealand foreign trusts, and to reaffirm New Zealand’s reputation as being free of corruption.
In July 2019, the government passed the Trusts Act and repealed the Trustee Act 1956 and the Perpetuities Act 1964 to make trust law more accessible, clarify and simplify core trust principles and essential obligations for trustees. It also aims to preserve the flexibility of the common law to allow trust law to continue to evolve through the courts. It applies to all trusts including family trusts and those for corporate structures. New Zealand has one of the highest per capita number of trusts in the world due to favorable tax treatment and the absence of estate duty, gift duty, stamp duty, or capital gains tax. It is estimated that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 trusts in New Zealand.
After a standard review of the 2017 general election and 2016 local body elections, the Justice Select Committee conducted an inquiry in 2019 of the issue of foreign interference through politicized social media campaigns and from foreign donations to political candidates standing in New Zealand elections. New Zealand intelligence agencies acknowledged political donations as a legally sanctioned form of participation in New Zealand politics, but raised concerns when aspects of a donation is obscured or is channeled in a way that prevents scrutiny of the origin of the donation, when the goal is to covertly build and project influence.
In December 2019 the government passed the Electoral Amendment Act under urgency to ban donations from overseas persons to political parties and candidates over NZD 50 (USD 32.50) down from the previous NZD 1,500 (USD 975) maximum, to reduce the risk of foreign money influencing the election process. It also introduces a requirement for party secretaries “to take all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that a donation over NZD 50 is not from an overseas person.”
The Act requires party secretaries to reside in New Zealand, and extending the existing offense of promoting anonymous advertisements relating to an election “so that it applies to all advertising mediums, including online advertising, in order to deter misleading anonymous online advertisements.”
Resources to Report Corruption
The Serious Fraud Office and the New Zealand Police investigate bribery and corruption matters. Agencies such as the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General and the Office of the Ombudsmen act as watchdogs for public sector corruption. These agencies independently report on and investigate state sector activities.
Serious Fraud Office
P.O. Box 7124 – Wellesley Street
Transparency International New Zealand is the recognized New Zealand representative of Transparency International, the global civil society organization against corruption.
Transparency International New Zealand
P.O. Box 5248 – Lambton Quay
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
* Source for Host Country Data: Host country statistics differ from USG and international sources due to calculation methodologies, and timing of exchange rate conversions. Almost a third of inbound foreign direct investment in New Zealand is in the financial and insurance services sector. Foreign direct investment data for March 2019 was released in September 2019. Statistics New Zealand data available at www.stats.govt.nz
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||75,158||100%||Total Outward||17,278||100%|
|China,P.R.:Hong Kong||7,433||10%||United States||2,357||14%|
|United States||4,931||7%||China,P.R.:Hong Kong||1,609||9%|
|United Kingdom||4,311||6%||United Kingdom||885||5%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||108,101||100%||All Countries||73,142||100%||All Countries||34,959||100%|
|United Kingdom||4,388||4%||United Kingdom||3,222||4%||Japan||1,793||5%|