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Bahrain

Executive Summary

The investment climate in Bahrain is generally good and has remained relatively stable in the last year.  Bahrain takes a liberal approach to foreign investment and actively seeks to attract foreign investors and businesses.

In an economy largely dominated by state-owned enterprises, the Government of Bahrain (GOB) aims to promote a greater role for the private sector in economic growth.  Government efforts focus on encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI) in the manufacturing, logistics, information and communications technology (ICT), financial services, and tourism sectors.  Inbound FDI into the Kingdom jumped 138 percent to a record USD 830 million in 2018, compared to USD 733 million in 2017. Manufacturing and logistics comprised most of the new investments into the country, as investors sought to take advantage of Bahrain’s close proximity to Saudi Arabia’s large and diverse market.

To strengthen Bahrain’s position as a startup hub and to enhance the Kingdom’s investment ecosystem, the GOB in 2018 launched Bahrain FinTech Bay, the largest FinTech hub in the Middle East & Africa; issued four new laws covering data protection, competition, bankruptcy, and health insurance; established the USD 100 million Al Waha venture capital fund for Bahraini investments; and a USD 100 million ‘Superfund’ to support the growth of start-ups.

The U.S.-Bahrain Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) entered into force in 2001.  The BIT provides benefits and protection to U.S. investors in Bahrain, such as most-favored nation treatment and national treatment, the right to make financial transfers freely and without delay, international law standards for expropriation and compensation cases, and access to international arbitration.

Bahrain permits 100 percent foreign-ownership of new industrial entities and the establishment of representative offices or branches of foreign companies without local sponsors.  In 2017, the GOB expanded the number of sectors in which foreigners are permitted to maintain 100 percent ownership stakes to include tourism services, sporting events production, mining and quarrying, real estate activities, water distribution, water transport operations, and crop cultivation and propagation.

The U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement (FTA) entered into force in 2006.  Under the FTA, Bahrain committed to world-class Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection.

Despite the Government of Bahrain’s transparent, rules-based government procurement system, U.S. companies sometimes report operating at a perceived disadvantage compared with other firms when competing for certain government procurements.  Many ministries require firms to pre-qualify prior to bidding on a tender, often rendering firms with little or no prior experience in Bahrain ineligible to bid on major tenders. 

Since 2017, the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has operated a financial technology (FinTech) regulatory “sandbox” that enables the testing and launching of non-conventional FinTech startups in Bahrain, including cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies.  The CBB also issued regulations to enable conventional and Sharia-compliant financing-based crowdfunding businesses.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 99 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2018 62 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 72 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $423 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/

https://www.selectusa.gov/country-fact-sheet/Bahrain

World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $21,150 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of Bahrain (GOB) has a liberal approach to foreign investment and actively seeks to attract foreign investors and businesses.  Increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) is one of the government’s top priorities. The GOB permits 100 percent foreign ownership of a business or branch office, without the need for a local partner.  The GOB does not tax corporate income, personal income, wealth, capital gains, withholding, or death/inheritance. There are no restrictions on repatriation of capital, profits or dividends, aside from income generated by companies in the oil and gas sector, where profits are taxable at the rate of 46 percent.  The Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB), charged with promoting FDI in Bahrain, places particular emphasis on attracting FDI to the manufacturing, logistics, information and communications technology (ICT), financial services and tourism and leisure sectors. As a reflection of the Kingdom’s openness to FDI, the EDB won the 2018 United Nations Investment Promotion Award for its role in attracting large-scale investments.

To date, U.S. investors have not alleged any legal or practical discrimination against them based on nationality.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The GOB permits foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.  The GOB imposes only minimal limits on foreign control, and the right of ownership and establishment of a business. The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism (MoICT) maintains a small list of business activities that are restricted to Bahraini ownership, including press and publications, Islamic pilgrimage, clearance offices, and workforce agencies.  The U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement outlines all activities in which the two countries restrict foreign ownership.

U.S. citizens may own and operate companies in Bahrain, though many choose to integrate influential local partners into the ownership structure to facilitate quicker resolution of bureaucratic issues such as labor permits, issuance of foreign visas, and access to industrial zones.  The most common challenges faced by U.S firms are related to bureaucratic government processes, lack of market information, and customs clearance.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has conducted a formal Trade Policy Review of Bahrain every seven years.  Its last formal review was in 2014 (see link below).

https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=(@Symbol= percent20wt/tpr/g/*) percent20and percent20(( percent20@Title= percent20bahrain percent20) percent20or percent20(@CountryConcerned= percent20bahrain))&Language=ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true#  

Business Facilitation

The Central Bank of Bahrain’s regulatory sandbox allows local and international FinTech firms and digitally focused financial institutions to test innovative solutions in a regulated environment, allowing successful firms to obtain licensing upon successful product application.

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism (MoICT) operates an online commercial registration portal, “Sijilat” (www.sijilat.bh  ) to facilitate the commercial registration process.  Through Sijilat, investors can obtain a business license and requisite approvals from relevant ministries.  The registration process normally takes two to three weeks, but can take longer if a business requires specialized approvals.  In practice, some business people retain an attorney or clearing agent to assist them through the commercial registration process.

In addition to obtaining primary approval to register a company, most business owners must also obtain licenses from the following entities to operate their businesses:

  • MoICT
  • Ministry of Electricity and Water
  • The Municipality in which their business will be located
  • Labour Market Regulatory Authority
  • General Organization for Social Insurance

The GOB provides industrial lands at reduced rental rates for short periods of time to incentivize foreign investment in Bahrain’s targeted investment zones.

Outward Investment

The Government of Bahrain (GOB) neither promotes nor incentivizes outward investment.  The GOB does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

9. Corruption

The King and Crown Prince have advocated publicly in favor of reducing corruption and some ministries have initiated “clean-up” efforts.  Legislation regulating corruption is outlined in Bahrain’s “Economic Vision 2030” plan, and in the National Anti-Corruption Strategy. Bahrain joined the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2003.  Accordingly, Bahrain ratified its penal code on combatting bribery in the public and private sectors in 2008, mandating criminal penalties for official corruption. Under the law, government employees at all levels are subject to prosecution and punishments of up to 10 years imprisonment if they use their positions to engage in embezzlement or bribery, either directly or indirectly.  The law does not require government officials to make financial disclosures. In 2010, Bahrain ratified the UNCAC and the Arab Convention Against Corruption, and in 2016, it joined the International Anti-Corruption Academy. In 2018, Bahrain again updated its penal code to more closely align with international standards. The General Directorate of Anti-corruption and Economic and Electronic Security dealt with 63 cases in 2018, of which 53 were referred to the Public Prosecutor.

Giving or accepting a bribe is illegal.  The government, however, has not fully implemented the law, and some officials reportedly continue to engage in corrupt practices with impunity.  Officials have at times been dismissed for what is widely believed to be blatant corruption, but the grounds for dismissal rarely have been tied to corruption.

The National Audit Office, established in 2002, is mandated to publish annual reports that highlight fiscal irregularities within government ministries and other public-sector entities.  The reports enable legislators to exercise oversight and call for investigations of fiscal discrepancies in government accounts. In 2013, the Crown Prince established an Investigation Committee to oversee cases highlighted within the National Audit Office’s annual report.

The Minister of Follow-Up Affairs at the Royal Court was designated in 2015 to execute recommendations made in that year’s National Audit Report.  At the same time, the Crown Prince urged all government entities and the Council of Representatives to work closely to implement the recommendations made in the report.  Bahrain’s National Audit Office issues annual reports that list violations committed by various Bahraini state bodies and agencies.

As a result of the 2011 National Dialogue process, the Ministry of Interior established an anti-corruption directorate.  In 2011 the Ministry of Interior signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Development Program to enhance the anti-corruption directorate’s capabilities.

Bahrain has conflict-of-interest laws in place, however, in practice, their application in awarding contacts is not fully enforced.

Local NGOs generally do not focus their efforts on corruption-related issues, and human rights activists and members of the political opposition who have spoken out about corruption have at times been detained, prosecuted, and banned from travel for reasons related to their broader political activism.  All civil society groups are required to register with the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, which has the discretion to reject registration if it determines the organization’s services unnecessary, already provided by another society, or contrary to state security.

Few cases have been registered by U.S. companies reporting corruption as an obstacle to their investments in Bahrain.

Bahrain signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2005 and 2010, respectively.  Bahrain, however, is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery. In 2018, Bahrain joined the OECD’s Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS).

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies responsible for combating corruption:

General Directorate of Anti- Corruption & Economic & Electronic Security
Ministry of Interior
P.O. Box 26698, Manama, Bahrain
Hotline: 992

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Sharaf AlMosawi
President
Bahrain Transparency Association
P.O. Box 26059
Adliya, Bahrain
Telephone: +973 39640929
Email: Sharaf115@gmail.com

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2017 $3,540 2017 $3,543 https://www.cbb.gov.bh/fact-sheet  

https://data.worldbank.org/country/bahrain  

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $3,165 2017 $423 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $2,573 2017 $281 https://www.selectusa.gov/country-fact-sheet/Bahrain  
http://www.data.gov.bh/en/ResourceCenter  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2017 77.5% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $26,574 100% Total Outward $19,233 100%
Kuwait $7,442 28% Kuwait $5,299 28%
Saudi Arabia $6,522 25% India $4,475 23%
Libya $3,348 13% United  States $1,266 7%
United Arab Emirates  $2,282 9% Cayman Islands $1,251 7%
Cayman Islands $1,742 7% Egypt $726 4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $39,501 100% All Countries $8,261 100% All Countries $31,239 100%
UAE $5,502 14% Cayman Islands $2,036 25% UAE $4,936 16%
United States $5,145 13% United States $1,511 18% Turkey $4,072 13%
  Turkey $4,089 10% Saudi Arabia $708 9% United States $3,633 12%
Cayman Islands $3,252 9% UAE $565 7% Not Specified $2,508 8%
Qatar $2,794 7% Qatar $374 5% Qatar $2,420 8%

Kuwait

Executive Summary

Kuwait is a country of 1.4 million citizens and 2.4 million expatriate workers.  With a land mass slightly smaller than New Jersey, the country possesses six percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and is a global top ten oil exporter.  The economy is heavily dependent upon oil production and related industries, which are almost wholly owned and operated by the government. The energy sector accounts for more than half of GDP and almost 90 percent of government revenue.

The government employs more than four out of five working-aged Kuwaiti citizens.  In recent years, the size of the government workforce has expanded rapidly to accommodate young Kuwaitis entering the job market.  Because half the population of Kuwaiti citizens is under the age of 21, the government would have to employ over the next 10 years approximately 40 percent more than it does today to maintain the same four-out-of-five employment ratio.  When oil prices fell dramatically in 2014, government revenues also fell, putting pressure on government expenditures and creating a budget deficit.

The government faces two central challenges as it seeks to develop a robust private sector: it must improve the business climate; and it must stimulate attitudes more conducive to competing in the private sector among a Kuwaiti population that has grown accustomed to assured public sector employment and extensive government benefits.  In 2019, Kuwait ranked 97 out of 190 in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report when it came to the ease of doing business, still the lowest of all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. A number of opinion leaders have focused attention on the need to improve the educational system to prepare young Kuwaitis to compete in the private sector.

In an attempt to attract foreign investment to help diversify the economy and grow private sector employment, Kuwait passed a new foreign direct investment law in 2013 permitting up to 100 percent foreign ownership of a business, if approved by the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA).  Without such approval, businesses must be at least 51 percent-owned by Kuwaiti or GCC citizens. In reviewing applications from foreign investors, KDIPA places emphasis on creating jobs and the provision of training and education opportunities for Kuwaiti citizens, technology transfer, diversification of national income sources, increasing exports, support for local small- and medium-sized enterprises, and the utilization of Kuwaiti products and services.  As of March 2019, KDIPA had sponsored 29 foreign firms, including six U.S. companies. In addition to KDIPA assistance in navigating the bureaucracy, investment incentives include tax benefits, customs duties relief, and permission to recruit required foreign labor.

The government has remained committed to executing its long-term national vision, called NewKuwait, which involves investing tens of billions of dollars in major infrastructure projects, including new airport terminals, ports, roads, industrial cities, large residential developments, hospitals, rail and metro rail.  The Northern Gateway (also referred to as the Five Islands or Silk City) project envisions public and private sector investment exceeding USD 400 billion.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 78 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2018 97 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 60 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2017 $296 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=506
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $31,430 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=KW

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Kuwait reintroduced its national development plan in 2018 as NewKuwait.  Key economic objectives in the plan include creating a business environment that will stimulate private sector growth and attract foreign investors.  The Foreign Direct Investment Law of 2013 allows up to 100 percent foreign ownership in certain industries, including: infrastructure (water, power, wastewater treatment, and communications); insurance; information technology and software development; hospitals and pharmaceuticals; air, land, and sea freight; tourism, hotels, and entertainment; housing projects and urban development; and investment management.  The law also established KDIPA (http://kdipa.gov.kw/en  ) to solicit investment proposals, evaluate their potential, and assist foreign investors in the licensing process.  The government believes that providing greater access to the Kuwaiti market will encourage foreign companies to invest in the private sector elements of the Northern Gateway/Five Islands and other projects that constitute the NewKuwait development plan.

In 2015, KDIPA delivered its first investment license to IBM, allowing the company to establish a 100 percent foreign-owned company in Kuwait and to benefit from the incentives and exemptions granted under the new law.  Since then, KDIPA has granted foreign ownership licenses to 28 additional foreign firms, including U.S. companies GE, Berkeley Research Group, Malka Communications, Maltbie, and McKinsey & Company.

U.S. companies operate successfully in the country.  American engineering firms such as Fluor have participated in large infrastructure development projects, including the USD 16 billion Al-Zour Refinery and Clean Fuels Project.  Dow Chemical Company participates in several joint ventures in the petrochemical industry. General Electric is a major vendor to power generation and desalination facilities. Citibank operates a branch in Kuwait City.  Numerous franchises of U.S. restaurants and retail chains operate successfully.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Companies Law No. 1 of 2016 simplified the process for registering new companies and has helped to reduce wait-times associated with starting a new business.  This law maintained the requirement that a Kuwaiti or GCC national own at least 51 percent of a local company. If non-GCC investors qualify to invest through the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority , this requirement may be waived.  In 2017, the law was amended to eliminate prohibitive requirements placed on limited liability companies.

Council of Ministers Decision No. 75 of 2015 directs KDIPA to exclude foreign firms from sensitive sectors.  Sensitive sectors include: extraction of crude petroleum, extraction of natural gas, manufacture of coke oven products, manufacture of fertilizers and nitrogen compounds, manufacture of gas, distribution of gaseous fuels through mains, real estate, security and investigation activities, public administration, defense, compulsory social security, membership organizations, and recruitment of labor.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In the past three years, no investment policy reviews on Kuwait were conducted by the Organization of Economically Developed Countries, the World Trade Organization (WTO), or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Business Facilitation

Kuwait’s ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index improved to 133 (from 149) out of 190 for Starting a Business in 2019.  The World Bank’s Doing Business project lists the steps required to start a business in Kuwait in the following link: (http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/kuwait/starting-a-business  ).

Its time-to-complete estimates may be optimistic, as anecdotal reports indicate that starting a new business in Kuwait can take up to a year.  The government has been working with the World Bank to resolve doing business issues in Kuwait.

In 2016, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) inaugurated the Kuwait Business Center (KBC) (visit website: http://www.kbc.gov.kw  ) to facilitate the issuance of commercial licenses and to start limited liability and single owner companies within 3-5 working days.  However, the business center has encountered challenges in coordinating interagency cooperation. The government outlines steps for starting a business in the following website: https://www.e.gov.kw/sites/kgoenglish/Pages/Business/InfoSubPages/StartingABusiness.aspx  .

KDIPA also established a unit to streamline registration and licensing procedures for qualifying foreign investors.  Its goal is to approve licenses within 30 days of the completed application.

The April 2013 Law No. 98 established the National Fund for the Support and Development of small- and medium-sized enterprises, which it defines as enterprises that employ up to 50 Kuwaitis and require less than Kuwaiti Dinars (KD) 500,000 in financing.  Financing is limited to enterprises established by Kuwaiti citizens. During FY 2017/18, the National Fund approved 350 project applications, including applications for 137 industrial projects.

Outward Investment

The government neither promotes nor restricts outward private investment.  The largest, single outward investor is the country’s Future Generations sovereign wealth fund, managed by the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA).  By law, however, KIA may not disclose the total amount of its investments. In 2018, the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute estimated that KIA managed USD 592 billion in assets, which would make it the fourth largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.  Kuwaiti officials have indicated that KIA has invested more than USD 300 billion in the United States across a wide portfolio. The press has reported that KIA holds a significant interest in the New York City Hudson Yards project, one of the largest private redevelopment projects in U.S. history.  Another large Kuwaiti investment involves MEGlobal, a subsidiary of Equate, which is a partnership between Kuwait’s Petrochemicals Industries Company and Dow Chemical Company. MEGlobal is building a billion-dollar monoethylene glycol production facility in Texas, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019.  Individual Kuwaitis have found investments in U.S. securities and real estate attractive.

9. Corruption

Corruption is criminalized, and several investigations and trials involving current or former government officials accused of malfeasance are underway.

Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Kuwait 78 out of 180 countries.  Within the Gulf Cooperation Council, Kuwait ranked behind UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman, ahead of only Bahrain.  According to Transparency International, Kuwait’s numeric score of 41 (out of 100) indicated that the country has a serious corruption problem.

The often-lengthy procurement process in Kuwait occasionally results in accusations of attempted bribery or the offering of other inducements by bidders.  In 1996, the government passed Law No. 25, which required all companies securing contracts with the government valued at KD 100,000 (USD 330,000) or more to report all payments made to Kuwaiti agents or advisors while securing the contract.  The law similarly requires entities and individuals to report any payments they received as compensation for securing government contracts.

Kuwait signed the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2003 and ratified it in 2007.  In 2016, the National Assembly passed legislation to establish the Anti-Corruption Authority, also known as Nazaha (integrity).  The legislation was passed in order to comply with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Nazaha has sent several cases to the Public Prosecution Office for failure to comply with financial disclosure requirements.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact information for the government agency responsible for combating corruption is as follows:

Mr. Abdulrahman Al-Namash
President
Kuwait Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha)
Shamia, Block 2, Opposite Wahran Park, Kuwait City, Kuwait
Tel:  +965 2464-0200

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

According to the 2018 World Investment Report published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Kuwait attracted USD 301 million in foreign direct investment in 2017, compared to USD 8.1 billion in foreign direct investment outflows.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2017 U.S. direct investment in Kuwait was USD 296 million, up from USD 250 million in 2016.  Kuwait’s FDI position in the United States totaled USD 1.15 billion in 2017. Kuwaiti direct investment in the United States is primarily in real estate. Estimates of total Kuwaiti investment in the United States, including securities and real estate, range from USD 500 billion to USD 1 trillion.

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy (millions)

Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (M USD) 2017 $119,280 2017 $120,126 http://www.cbk.gov.kw/en/statistics-and-publication/statistical-releases/quarterly.jsp?selYear=2018&selMonth=tcm%3A10-128499-1024&selTable=128569&publication-id=10&table-type=2&btn-submit=Submit  

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=KW  

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2017 N/A 2017 $296 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=506   
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD, stock positions) 2017 N/A 2017 $1,115 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=506   
Total inbound FDI stock as % host GDP 2017 N/A 2017 11.9% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx   


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (Millions, U.S. Dollars)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $15,167 100% Total Outward $9,610 100%
Qatar $4,157 27% Bahrain $5,299 55%
Bahrain $1,000 7% Italy $2,826 29%
Saudi Arabia $838 6% Netherlands $853 9%
United Arab Emirates $668 4% United States $296 3%
Oman $499 3% Germany $275 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $16,562 100% All Countries $9,650 100% All Countries $6,912 100%
Bahrain $4,084 25% Bahrain $3,438 36% United Arab Emirates $1,332 19%
Saudi Arabia $2,580 16% Saudi Arabia $1,591 16% Saudi Arabia $988 14%
United Arab Emirates $2,099 13% United States $1,047 11% Malaysia $871 13%
United States $1,522 9% Cayman Islands $825 9% Bahrain $646 9%
Cayman Islands $1,016 6% United Arab Emirates $766 8% Qatar $608 9%

Oman

Executive Summary

Oman’s investment climate is conducive to U.S. investment, in part due to the ten-year-old bilateral free trade agreement, which includes U.S. product duty exemptions and the right to 100 percent U.S. ownership.  Oman offers other distinct advantages to international investors as an island of stability in a turbulent region, located just outside the Arabian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, with an educated workforce and developed infrastructure.  Oman’s close proximity to shipping lanes carrying a significant share of the world’s maritime commercial traffic and access to larger regional markets also present many investment opportunities. Oman’s most promising development projects involve its ports and free zones, most notably in Duqm, where the government envisions a 2,000 square kilometer free trade zone and logistics hub at the crossroads of the Gulf, Africa, and South Asia.

Since the 2014 crash in oil prices, Oman’s investment climate has become increasingly mixed.   The temporary recovery in oil prices in 2018 buoyed the hopes of some investors, but it also contributed to a sense of government complacency towards much-needed economic reforms.  Recent credit downgrades by the three major rating agencies reflect skepticism about the Omani government’s efforts to control spending, diversify the economy, foster private sector-led economic growth, and make foreign private investment more attractive.  Modest increases in foreign direct investment during the first half of 2018 occurred before the dip in oil prices exposed Oman’s chronic fiscal vulnerabilities. 

U.S. companies in the oil and gas industry continue to enjoy success, but smaller, less-established investors face significant challenges due to burdensome bureaucratic procedures, a difficult labor market, and an overly oil-dependent economy.  Delayed payments for government contracts, onerous requirements to hire and retain Omani national employees, and lackluster economic diversification efforts top the list of complaints.  Significant delays in government payment for work completed on transportation projects are a particularly concerning trend.

A key issue to watch is whether the newly promulgated Commercial Companies Law leads to the enactment of a long-awaited foreign capital investment law.  A foreign capital investment law would provide much needed clarity to investors and may include incentives for foreign investment. Another variable is whether the government can reconcile its labor policies with its broader macroeconomic goals.  Current labor policies seek to increase employment of Omani nationals through government mandates to the private sector, undermining Oman’s investment climate and the private sector-led growth essential to long-term job creation.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 53 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2018 78 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 69 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $1,840 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $14,440 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Oman actively seeks foreign direct investment and is in the process of improving the regulatory framework to encourage such investments.  A draft foreign capital investment law proposes to allow 100 percent foreign ownership and remove the minimum capital requirement to provide foreign investors with an open market in Oman: privileges already extended to U.S. nationals due to the provisions in the U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (FTA).  If enacted, this law could boost foreign investment.

The Government of Oman’s (GoO) “In-Country Value” (ICV) policy seeks to incentivize companies, both Omani and foreign, to procure local goods and services and provide training to Omani national employees.  The GoO includes bidders’ demonstrations of support for ICV as one factor in government tender awards. While the GoO initially applied ICV primarily to oil and gas contracts, the principle is now embedded in government tenders in all sectors, including transportation and tourism.  The original policy included a number of factors to determine a project’s ICV rating including capital investment, local training, local supplier development, and investment in local institutions. This GoO policy aims to increase economic diversification and local capacity building.  New-to-market foreign companies, including U.S. firms, may find the bid requirements related to ICV prohibitive.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

With the implementation of the United States-Oman FTA in 2009, U.S. firms may establish and fully own a business in Oman without a local partner.  Although U.S. investors are provided national treatment in most sectors, Oman has an exception in the FTA for legal services, limiting U.S. ownership in legal services firms to no more than 70 percent.  The GoO also has a “negative list” that restricts foreign investment to safeguard national security interests. The list includes some services related to radio and television transmission as well as air and internal waterway transportation. 

According to current Omani laws, foreign nationals seeking to own 100 percent shares in local companies must seek approval of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI).  To obtain such approval, a company must submit a detailed business plan highlighting the capital investment and the projected benefits to the Omani economy, including the number of local jobs to be created; minimum of two shareholders and two directors and minimum capital of one million Omani rials (RO) (approximately USD 2.6 million).

Over the past year, Oman has banned non-Omani ownership of real estate and land in various governorates and other areas the government deems necessary to restrict under Royal Decree 29/2018.  However, Oman has allowed the establishment of real estate investment funds (REIF) in order to encourage new inflows of capital into Oman’s property sector. The new regulations permit foreign investors, as well as expatriates in Oman, to own units in REIFs.  The first Omani REIF is set to debut on the Muscat Securities Market in 2019.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Oman has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews in the past five years.  The last World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Policy Review was in April 2014, before the drop in global oil prices.  (Link to 2014 report: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp395_e.htm  .)

Business Facilitation

The GoO has tasked the Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Export Development (ITHRAA), with attracting foreign investors and smoothing the path for business formation and private sector development.  ITHRAA works closely with government organizations and businesses based in Oman and internationally to provide a comprehensive range of business support. ITHRAAalso offers a comprehensive range of business investor advice geared exclusively to support international companies looking to invest in Oman, and this service is based on company-specific needs.

MOCI has an online business registration site, known as “Invest Easy” (business.gov.om  ), and businesses can obtain a Commercial Registration certificate from MOCI in approximately three or four days.  However, commercial registration and licensing decisions often require the approval of multiple ministries, slowing down the process in many cases. 

Outward Investment

The government neither promotes nor provides incentives for outward investment but does not restrict its citizens from investing abroad.

9. Corruption

U.S. businesses do not identify corruption as one of the top concerns of operating in Oman.

The Sultanate has the following national legislation in place to address corruption in the public and private sectors:

The Law for the Protection of Public Funds and Avoidance of Conflicts of Interest (the “Anti-Corruption Law” promulgated by Royal Decree 112/2011)  The Law predominantly concerns employees working within the public sector.  It is also applicable to private sector companies if the government holds at least 40 percent shares in the company or in situations where the private sector company has punishable dealings with government bodies and officials.

The Omani Penal Code (promulgated by Royal Decree 7/2018)  In January 2018, the GoO issued a new penal code that completely replaced Oman’s 1974 penal code.  Minimum sentencing guidelines for public officials guilty of embezzlement have increased from three months to three years.  The definition of “public officials” has also expanded to include officers of parastatal corporations in which the GoO has at least a 40 percent controlling interest.  The new penal code may make Oman seem more investment-friendly, by virtue of modern references to corporations as legal entities, as an example. However, its language on money laundering is still ambiguous and descriptions of licit and illicit banking are unclear, potentially contributing to confusion about investment regulations.

A lack of domestic whistleblower protection legislation in Oman has resulted in the private sector taking the lead in enacting internal anti-bribery and whistleblowing programs.  Omani and international companies doing business in Oman that plan on implementing anti-corruption measures will likely find it difficult to do so without also putting in place an effective whistleblower protection program and a culture of zero tolerance.

Ministers are not allowed to hold offices in public shareholding companies or serve as chairperson of a closely held company.  However, many influential figures in government maintain private business interests and some are also involved in public-private partnerships.  These activities either create or have the potential to create conflicts of interest. In 2011, the Tender Law (Royal Decree No. 36/2008) was updated to preclude Tender Board officials from adjudicating projects involving interested relatives to “the second degree of kinship.”

The Sultan has dismissed several ministers and senior government officials for corruption during his reign.  The “State Financial and Administrative Audit Institution” (SFAAI) was granted expanded powers under Royal Decree 27/2011, largely in response to public protests against the perception of corruption and nepotism at the highest levels of government.

Oman has stiff laws, regulations, and enforcement against corruption, and authorities have pursued several high profile cases.  For example, cases this year involving alleged bribes to public officials were well covered in the media and resulted in heavy fines and jail terms.  The Courts have signaled that corruption will not be tolerated.

In an extra attempt to prevent and eradicate corruption in the Sultanate of Oman, Oman joined the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (the “UNCAC”) in 2013.  Oman is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.

Resources to Report Corruption

State Audit Institution
http://www.sai.gov.om/en/Complain.aspx  
Phone number: +968 8000 0008

There are no “watchdog” organizations operating in Oman that monitor corruption.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Oman’s National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) is currently the only source of 2018 data on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).  Total cumulative FDI at the end of the second quarter of 2018, was RO 9.7 billion (over USD 25.22 billion) compared to RO 8.3 billion (about USD 21.58 billion) from the second quarter of last year, a growth rate of almost 17 percent.

The United Kingdom remains by far the biggest investor in FDI, followed by other Gulf countries (see Table 3), but the U.S. investors are not far behind.  World Bank data for net outflows in FDI shows a steep drop after 2014 followed by a gradual recovery.

Major foreign investors that have entered the Omani market within the last five years include BP (UK), Sembcorp (Singapore), Daewoo (Korea), LG (Korea), Veolia (France), Huawei (China), SinoHydro (China), and Vale (Brazil).

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2017 $73,700 2016 $66,800 www.worldbank.org/en/country   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $1,419 2017 NA BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) NA NA 2017 NA BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP NA NA 2018 34.3% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

* Source for Host Country Data: National Centre for Statistical Analysis, 2018 Q2.


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)*
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward NA N/A Total Outward N/A N/A
United Kingdom 4,700 48% N/A N/A N/A
UAE 1,000 10% N/A N/A N/A
Kuwait 426 4% N/A N/A N/A
Qatar 390 4% N/A N/A N/A
Bahrain 345 4% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

*Source for Host Country Data: National Centre for Statistical Analysis, 2018 Q2. 


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

Qatar

Executive Summary

The State of Qatar is the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and has the highest per capita income in the world.  Amid an ongoing diplomatic dispute with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, which began in June 2017, the International Monetary Fund estimates Qatar’s real gross domestic product (GDP) will grow by 2.8 percent in 2019.  Qatar projects a budget surplus in 2019, based on an oil price assumption of USD 55 per barrel. In contrast to other oil- and gas-dependent economies, Qatar’s LNG supply contracts and relatively low production costs have largely shielded the economy from the impact of the 2014 global oil price downturn.  Qatar maintains high levels of government spending in pursuit of its National Vision 2030 development plan and in the lead-up to hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. 

The government remains the dominant actor in the economy, though it encourages private investment in many sectors and continues to take steps to encourage more foreign direct investment (FDI).  The dominant driver of Qatar’s economy remains the oil and gas sector, which has attracted tens of billions of dollars in FDI. In adherence to the country’s National Vision 2030 plan to establish a knowledge-based and diversified economy, the government recently introduced reforms to its foreign investment and foreign property ownership laws to allow 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses in most sectors and real estate in newly designated areas.  

There are significant opportunities for foreign investment in infrastructure, healthcare, education, tourism, energy, information and communications technology, and services.  Qatar’s 2019 budgetary spending is focused on infrastructure, health, education, manufacturing, and transportation. By value of inward FDI stock, manufacturing, mining and quarrying, finance, and insurance are the primary sectors that attract foreign investors.  Qatar provides various incentives to local and foreign investors, such as exemptions from customs duties and certain land-use benefits. The World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report ranked Qatar second globally for its favorable taxation regime. The corporate tax rate is 10 percent and there is no personal income tax.

The government has created a regulatory regime to curb corruption and anti-competitive practices.  In 2016, Qatar streamlined its procurement processes and created an online portal for all government tenders in an effort to improve transparency. 

In recent years, Qatar has begun to invest heavily in the United States through its sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), and its subsidiaries, notably Qatari Diar.  QIA has pledged to invest USD 45 billion in the United States. QIA opened an office in New York City in September 2015 to help facilitate these investments. The second annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue in January 2019 in Doha further strengthened strategic and economic partnerships and addressed obstacles to investment and trade.  The third round of strategic talks will take place in Washington, D.C. in 2020.   

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 33 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 83 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 51 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $8,183 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $60,510 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

In pursuit of its National Vision 2030, the government of Qatar has enacted reforms to incentivize foreign investment in the economy.  As Qatar finalizes major infrastructure developments in preparation for hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the government has allocated USD 13.2 billion for new, non-oil sector projects in its FY2019 budget.  The government also plans to increase LNG production by 43 percent by 2024. Significant investment in the upstream and downstream sectors is expected. In February 2019, national oil company Qatar Petroleum announced a localization initiative, Tawteen, which will provide incentives to local and foreign investors willing to establish domestic manufacturing facilities for approximately 100 oil and gas sector inputs.  These economic spending plans create significant opportunities for foreign investors.

In 2019, the government enacted a new foreign investment law (Law 1/2019) to ease restrictions on foreign investment.  The law permits full foreign ownership of businesses in most sectors with full repatriation of profits, protection from expropriation, and several other benefits.  Excepted sectors include banking, insurance, and commercial agencies, where foreign capital investment remains limited at 49 percent, barring special dispensation from the Cabinet.  Qatar’s primary foreign investment promotion and evaluation body is the Invest in Qatar Center within the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The government is currently in the process of publishing regulations for the implementation of the new law; pending these new regulations, the old law still applies (Law 13/2000).  Qatar is also home to the Qatar Financial Centre, Qatar Science and Technology Park, and the Qatar Free Zones, all of which offer full foreign ownership and repatriation of profits, tax incentives, and investment funds for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

In accordance with Law 24/2015, which was enacted to increase transparency of available investment opportunities, the Qatari government streamlined its procurement processes and the Ministry of Finance launched an online procurement portal to consolidate information on government tenders.  The procurement portal can be accessed via this link: https://monaqasat.mof.gov.qa  

When competing for government contracts, preferential treatment is given to suppliers who use local content in their bids.  To further boost local production amid an economic and political rift with neighboring Gulf countries, the government announced in October 2017 that it will favor bids that use Qatari products that meet necessary specifications and obey tender rules.  Participation in tenders with a value of Qatari riyal (QAR) 5 million or less (USD 1.37 million) is confined to local contractors, suppliers, and merchants registered by the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Higher-value tenders sometimes do not require any local commercial registration to participate, but in practice certain exceptions exist. 

Qatar maintains ongoing dialogue with the United States through both official and private sector tracks, including through the annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue and official trade missions undertaken in cooperation with both nations’ chambers of commerce.  Qatari officials have repeatedly emphasized their desire to increase both American investments in Qatar and Qatari investments in the United States. 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The government has recently reformed its foreign investment legal framework.  As noted above, full foreign ownership is now permitted in all sectors with the exception of banking, insurance and commercial agencies.  Law 1/2019 on Regulating the Investment of Non-Qatari Capital in Economic Activity (replacing Law 13/2000) stipulates that foreigners can invest in Qatar either through partnership with a Qatari investor owning 51 percent or more of the enterprise, or by applying to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry for up to 100 percent foreign ownership.  The Invest in Qatar Center within the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is the entity responsible for vetting full foreign ownership applications. The law includes provisions on the protection of foreign investment from expropriation, the exemption of some foreign investment projects from income tax and customs duties, and the right to transfer profits and ownership without delay.

Another recent foreign investment reform is Law 16/2018 on Regulating Non-Qatari Ownership and Use of Properties, which allows foreign individuals, companies, and real estate developers freehold ownership of real estate in 10 designated zones and ‎usufructuary rights up to 99 years in 16 other zones.  Foreigners may also own villas within residential complexes, as well as retail outlets in certain commercial complexes. Foreign real estate investors and owners will be granted residency in Qatar for as long as they own their property. The Committee on Non-Qatari Ownership and Use of Real Estate, formed in December 2018 under the Ministry of Justice, is the regulator of non-Qatari real estate ownership and use. 

There are also other FDI incentives in the country provided by the Qatar Financial Centre, the Qatar Free Zones, and the Qatar Science and Technology Park.  A draft Public-Private Partnership law to facilitate direct foreign investment in national infrastructure development (currently focused on schools, hospitals, and drainage networks) was approved by the Cabinet on April 4, 2019, and is currently pending the Amir’s final review. 

U.S. investors and companies are not any more disadvantaged by ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms relative to other foreign investors. 

For more information on FDI in Qatar, visit:

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Qatar underwent a World Trade Organization (WTO) policy review in April 2014.  The review may be viewed on the WTO website: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp396_e.htm  

Business Facilitation

Recent reforms have further streamlined the commercial registration process.  Local and foreign investors may apply for a commercial license through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s physical “one-stop-shop” or online through the Invest in Qatar Center’s portal.  Per Law 1/2019, upon submission of a complete application, the Ministry will issue its decision within 15 days. Rejected application can be resubmitted or appealed. For more information on the application and required documentation, visit:  https://invest.gov.qa    

The World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report estimates that registering a small-size limited liability company in Qatar takes seven to eight days. For detailed information on business registration procedures, as evaluated by the World Bank, visit:   http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/qatar/  

Outward Investment

Qatar does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  According to the latest foreign investment survey from the Planning and Statistics Authority, Qatar’s outward foreign investment stock reached USD 105.8 billion in the third quarter of 2018.  In 2017, sectors that accounted for most of Qatar’s outward FDI were finance and insurance (40 percent of total), transportation, storage, information and communication (33 percent), and mining and quarrying (18 percent).  As of 2017, Qatari investment firms held investments in about 80 countries; the top destinations were the European Union (34 percent of total), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC, 24 percent), and other Arab countries (14 percent).

9. Corruption

Corruption in Qatar does not generally affect business although the power of personal connections plays a major role in business culture.  Qatar is one of the least corrupt countries in the Middle East and North Africa, according to Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, and ranked 33 out of 180 nations globally with a score of 62 out of 100, with 100 indicating full transparency.

Qatari law imposes criminal penalties to combat corruption by public officials and the government practices these laws.  In recent years, corruption and misuse of public money has been a focus of the executive office. Decree 6/2015 restructured the Administrative Control and Transparency Authority, granting it juridical responsibility, its own budget, and direct affiliation with the Amir’s office.  The objectives of the Authority are to prevent corruption and ensure that ministries and public employees operate with transparency. It is also responsible for investigating alleged crimes against public property or finances perpetrated by public officials.

Law 22/2015 stipulates hefty penalties for corrupt officials and Law 11/2016 grants the State Audit Bureau more financial authority and independence, allowing it to publish parts of its findings (provided that confidential information is removed) – something it was not previously empowered to do.

In 2007, Qatar ratified the UN Convention for Combating Corruption (through Amiri Decree 17/2007) and established a National Committee for Integrity and Transparency, (through Amiri Decree 84/2007).  The permanent committee is headed by the Chairman of the State Audit Bureau. Qatar also opened the Anti-Corruption and Rule of Law Center in 2013 in Doha in partnership with the United Nations. The purpose of the center is to support, promote, and disseminate legal principles to fight against corruption.

Those convicted of embezzlement and damage to the public treasury are subject to terms of imprisonment of no less than five and up to ten years.  The penalty is extended to a minimum term of seven and a maximum term of fifteen years if the perpetrator is a public official in charge of collecting taxes or exercising fiduciary responsibilities over public funds.  Investigations into allegations of corruption are handled by the Qatar State Security Bureau and Public Prosecution. Final judgments are made by the Criminal Court.

Bribery is also a crime in Qatar and the law imposes penalties on public officials convicted of taking action in return for monetary or personal gain, or for other parties who take actions to influence or attempt to influence a public official through monetary or other means.  The current Penal Code (Law 11/2004) governs corruption law and stipulates that individuals convicted of bribery may receive up to ten years imprisonment and a fine equal to the amount of the bribe but no less than USD 1,374.

The Procurement Law 24/2015 is designed to promote a fair, transparent, simple, and expeditious tendering process.  It abolishes the Central Tendering Committee and establishes a Procurement Department within the Ministry of Finance which has oversight over the majority of government tenders.  The new department has an online portal which consolidates all government tenders and provides relevant information to interested bidders, facilitating the process for foreign investors (https://monaqasat.mof.gov.qa  ). 

Despite these efforts, some American businesses continue to cite lack of transparency in government procurement and customs as recurring issues faced in the Qatari market.  U.S. investors and Qatari nationals, if they are agents of U.S. firms, are subject to the provisions of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Qatar is not a party to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials.

Resources to Report Corruption

In 2015, the Public Prosecution’s Anti-Corruption Office launched a campaign encouraging the public to report corruption and bribery cases, establishing hotlines and a tip reporting inbox and vowing to protect the confidentiality of submitted information:

Public Prosecution
Anti-Corruption Office
Hotlines:  +974-3353-1999 and +974-3343-1999
Email: 
aco@pp.gov.qa

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2017 $166,929 2017 $166,928 www.worldbank.org/en/country   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $8,297 2017 $8,183 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2017 $2,255 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 21.5% 2017 20.1% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx    

* Source for Host Country Data: Qatar’s Planning and Statistics Authority http://www.mdps.gov.qa/en/  


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $35,852 100% Total Outward $40,357 100%
Other American Countries $12,802 36% European Union $13,764 34%
European Union $10,549 29% Gulf Cooperation Council $9.808 24%
United States of America $8,297 23% Other Arab Countries $5,632 14%
Asia (excluding Gulf Cooperation Council) $1,758 5% Other Asian Countries  $3,269 8%
Other $2,445 7% Other $7,885 20%

* Source: 2017 Data form Qatar’s Planning and Statistics Authority http://www.mdps.gov.qa/en/  

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

During 2018, the Saudi Arabian government (SAG) continued to pursue its ambitious series of socio-economic reforms, collectively known as “Vision 2030.”  Aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy away from oil revenues and creating more private sector jobs for a growing population, Vision 2030 contemplates the development of new economic sectors and a significant transformation of the economy.  Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the reform program seeks to expand and sharpen the country’s knowledge base, technical expertise, and commercial competitiveness.

To help accomplish these goals, Saudi Arabia seeks increased foreign investment and international participation in the Saudi private sector.  To this end, the SAG took a number of steps in 2018 to improve the investment climate in the Kingdom. During 2018, the SAG established and reinforced a variety of institutions that facilitate investment in new segments of economic activity, such as the entertainment sector.  These efforts led to the April 2018 opening of the first cinema in the Kingdom in over 35 years. Furthermore, as of June 2018, women are permitted to drive in the Kingdom, thereby facilitating increased female workforce participation and increased access to Saudi human capital resources.  Improvements to infrastructure, such as the USD 23 billion Riyadh metro and the new Jeddah airport, also progressed during 2018 and will facilitate future economic activity. Additionally, the incorporation of Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul Stock Exchange into the FTSE Russell Emerging Market Index in March 2019 resulted in sizeable foreign capital infusions into the Kingdom, which increased international interest in Saudi markets and economic sectors.

However, a number of high-profile SAG actions led to a negative impact on the investment climate in the Kingdom during 2018.  Principal among these actions was the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government personnel on October 2, 2018, in Istanbul, Turkey.  Subsequently, several U.S. and international investors withdrew or indefinitely put on hold plans to invest in the Kingdom. Other SAG actions in 2018 gave rise to additional investor concerns over rule of law, business predictability, and political risk in Saudi Arabia, such as the Kingdom’s public dispute with Canada, the reported exclusion of German firms from certain Saudi government tenders, the arrest of prominent women’s rights activists, the continued detention and prosecution of prominent Saudi businessmen under the anti-corruption campaign launched in November 2017, and the continuation of the diplomatic rift with Qatar.  

In addition, U.S. and international stakeholders have continued to claim violations of their intellectual property rights in Saudi Arabia.  U.S. and international pharmaceutical companies allege the SAG violated their intellectual property rights and the confidentiality of their trade data by licensing local firms to produce competing generic pharmaceuticals.  Industry attempts to engage the SAG on these issues have not led to satisfactory outcomes for the companies. Furthermore, during 2018, an illicit satellite and online provider of sports and entertainment content known as “beoutQ” became widely available in the Kingdom.  Despite SAG assurances of a crackdown on this unprecedented case of satellite piracy, as of February 2019, beoutQ set-top boxes were openly sold in public markets in Riyadh and the pirated satellite signal continued to beam U.S. and international-sourced entertainment and sports content.  

Lastly, economic pressures to generate non-oil revenue and provide more jobs for Saudi citizens have prompted the SAG to implement measures that may weaken the country’s investment climate.  In particular, increased fees for expatriate workers and their dependents, as well as “Saudization” polices requiring certain businesses to employ a quota of Saudi workers, have led to disruptions in some private sector activities and may lead to a decrease in domestic consumption levels.  


Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 58 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 92 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 61 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $11,085 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $20,090 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Attracting foreign direct investment remains a critical component of the SAG’s broader Vision 2030 program to diversify an economy overly dependent on oil and to create employment opportunities for a growing youth population.  As such, the SAG seeks foreign investment that explicitly promotes economic development, transfers foreign expertise and technology to Saudi Arabia, creates jobs for Saudi nationals, and increases Saudi’s non-oil exports. The government encourages investment in nearly all economic sectors, with priority given to transportation, health/biotechnology, information and communications technology (ICT), media/entertainment, industry (mining and manufacturing), and energy.

Saudi Arabia’s economic reform programs are opening up new areas for potential investment.  For example, in a country where most public entertainment was once forbidden, the SAG now regularly sponsors and promotes entertainment programming, including live concerts, dance exhibitions, sports competitions, and other public performances.  Significantly, the audiences for many of those events are now gender-mixed, representing a larger consumer base. In addition to the reopening of cinemas in April 2018, the SAG hosted its first Formula E race in December 2018 in Riyadh, as well as the Saudi International Golf Tournament in Jeddah in early 2019 (a leg of the PGA European Tour).

The SAG is proceeding with “economic cities” and new “giga-projects” that are at various stages of development and welcomes foreign investment in them.  These projects are large-scale and self-contained developments in different regions focusing on particular industries, e.g., technology, energy, tourism, and entertainment.  Principal among these projects are:

  • Qiddiya, a new, large-scale entertainment, sports, and cultural complex near Riyadh;
  • King Abdullah Financial District, a USD 10 billion commercial center development in Riyadh;
  • Red Sea Project, a massive tourism development on the western Saudi coast, which aims to create 70,000 jobs and attract one million tourists per year.
  • Amaala, a wellness, healthy living, and meditation resort on the Kingdom’s northwest coast, projected to include more than 2,500 luxury hotel rooms and 700 villas.  
  • NEOM, a new USD 500 billion project to build a futuristic “independent economic zone” in northwest Saudi Arabia;

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) governs and regulates foreign investment in the Kingdom, issues licenses to prospective investors, and works to foster and promote investment opportunities across the economy.  Established originally as a regulatory agency, SAGIA has increasingly shifted its focus to investment promotion and assistance, offering potential investors detailed guides and a catalogue of current investment opportunities on its website (www.sagia.gov.sa  ).

Despite Saudi Arabia’s overall welcoming approach to foreign investment, some structural impediments remain.  Foreign investment is currently prohibited in 11 sectors, including:

  1. Oil exploration, drilling, and production;
  2. Catering to military sectors;
  3. Security and detective services;
  4. Real estate investment in the holy cities, Makkah and Medina;
  5. Tourist orientation and guidance services for religious tourism related to Hajj and Umrah;
  6. Recruitment offices;
  7. Printing and publishing (subject to a variety of exceptions);
  8. Certain internationally classified commission agents;
  9. Services provided by midwives, nurses, physical therapy services, and quasi-doctoral services;
  10. Fisheries; and
  11. Poison centers, blood banks, and quarantine services.

(The complete “negative list” can be found at www.sagia.gov.sa  .)  

In addition to the negative list, older laws that remain in effect prohibit or otherwise restrict foreign investment in some economic subsectors not on the list, including some areas of healthcare.  In 2018, Saudi Arabia began to allow foreign ownership in businesses providing services relating to road transportation, real estate brokerage, labor recruitment, and audiovisual display. At the same time, SAGIA has demonstrated some flexibility in approving exceptions to the “negative list” exclusions.  

Foreign investors must also contend with increasingly strict localization requirements in bidding for certain government contracts, labor policy requirements to hire more Saudi nationals (usually at higher wages than expatriate workers), an increasingly restrictive visa policy for foreign workers, and gender segregation in business and social settings (though gender segregation is becoming more relaxed as the SAG introduces socio-economic reforms).  

Additionally, in a bid to bolster non-oil income, the government implemented new taxes and fees in 2017 and early 2018, including significant visa fee increases, higher fines for traffic violations, new fees for certain billboard advertisements, and related measures.  The government implemented a value-added tax (VAT) in January 2018 at a rate of five percent, in addition to excise taxes implemented in June 2017 on cigarettes (at a rate of 100 percent), carbonated drinks (at a rate of 50 percent), and energy drinks (at a rate of 100 percent).  In January 2018, the government also implemented new fees for expatriate employers ranging between USD 80 and USD 107 per employee per month, as well as increasing levies on expatriates with dependents amounting to a USD 54 monthly fee for each dependent. These expatriate fees are scheduled to increase every year through 2020.  On January 1, 2018, the SAG also reduced previous subsidies on electricity and gasoline, which resulted in a doubling of residential electricity rates and an increase in price of gasoline by more than 80 percent.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Saudi Arabia fully recognizes rights to private ownership and the establishment of private business.  As outlined above, the SAG excludes foreign investors from some economic sectors and places some limits on foreign control.  With respect to energy, Saudi Arabia’s largest economic sector, foreign firms are barred from investing in the upstream hydrocarbon sector, but the SAG permits foreign investment in the downstream energy sector, including refining and petrochemicals.  There is significant foreign investment in these sectors. ExxonMobil, Shell, China’s Sinopec, and Japan’s Sumitomo Chemical are partners with Saudi Aramco (the SAG’s state-owned oil firm) in domestic refineries. ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and other international investors have joint ventures with Aramco and/or the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) in large-scale petrochemical plants that utilize natural-gas feedstock from Aramco’s operations.  In Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, the Dow Chemical Company and Aramco are partners in a USD 20 billion joint venture to construct, own, and operate the world’s largest integrated petrochemical production complex.

With respect to other non-oil natural resources, the national mining company, Ma’aden, has a USD 12 billion joint venture with Alcoa for bauxite mining and aluminum production and a USD 7 billion joint venture with the leading American fertilizer firm Mosaic and SABIC to produce phosphate-based fertilizers.  

Joint ventures almost always take the form of limited-liability partnerships, to which there are some disadvantages.  Foreign partners in service and contracting ventures organized as limited-liability partnerships must pay, in cash or in kind, 100 percent of their contribution to authorized capital.  SAGIA’s authorization is only the first step in setting up such a partnership.

Professionals, including architects, consultants, and consulting engineers, are required to register with, and be certified by, the Ministry of Commerce and Investment (MCI), in accordance with the requirements defined in the Ministry’s Resolution 264 from 1982.  These regulations, in theory, permit the registration of Saudi-foreign joint-venture consulting firms. As part of its WTO accession commitments, Saudi Arabia generally allows consulting firms to establish a local office without a Saudi partner. The requirement that law firms and engineering consulting firms must have a Saudi partner was rescinded in 2017.  Foreign engineering consulting companies must have been incorporated for at least 10 years and have operations in at least four different countries to qualify. However, offices practicing accounting and auditing, architecture, or civil planning, or providing healthcare, dental, or veterinary services must still have a Saudi partner, and the foreign partner’s equity cannot exceed 75 percent of the total investment.  

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has opened additional service markets to foreign investment, including financial and banking services; aircraft maintenance and repair and computer reservation systems; wholesale, retail, and franchise distribution services (traditionally subject to minimum 25 percent local ownership and minimum 20 million Saudi riyal (USD 5.3 million) foreign investment); both basic and value-added telecom services; and investment in the computer and related services sectors.  In 2016, for example, Saudi Arabia formally approved full foreign ownership of retail and wholesale businesses in the Kingdom, thereby removing the former 25 percent local ownership requirement. While some companies have already received licenses under the new rules, the restrictions attached to obtaining full ownership – including a requirement to invest over USD 50 million during the first five years and ensure that 30 percent of all products sold are manufactured locally – have proven difficult to meet and precluded many investors from taking full advantage of the reform.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Saudi Arabia completed its second WTO trade policy review in late 2015, which included investment policy (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp433_e.htm  ).  

Business Facilitation

In addition to applying for a license from SAGIA as described above, foreign and local investors must register a new business via the MCI, which has begun offering online registration services for limited liability companies at:  http://www.mci.gov.sa/en  .  Though users may submit articles of association and apply for a business name within minutes on MCI’s website, final approval from the ministry often takes a week or longer.  Applicants must also complete a number of other steps in order to start a business, including obtaining a municipality (baladia) license for their office premises and registering separately with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, Chamber of Commerce, Passport Office, Tax Department, and the General Organization for Social Insurance.  From start to finish, registering a business in Saudi Arabia takes a foreign investor on average three to five months from the time an initial SAGIA application is complete, placing the country at 141 of 190 countries in terms of ease of starting a business, according to the World Bank (2019 rankings).  With respect to foreign direct investment, the investment approval by SAGIA is a necessary, but not sufficient, step in establishing an investment in the Kingdom. There are a number of other government ministries, agencies, and departments regulating business operations and ventures.

Saudi officials have stated their intention to attract foreign small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to the Kingdom.  The SAG established the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority in 2015 to facilitate the growth of the SME sector. In 2016, the SAG released a new Companies Law designed in part to promote the development of the SME sector.  The law allows one person, rather than the previous minimum of two, to form a corporation, though in very limited cases. It also substantially reduced the minimum capital and number of shareholders required to form a joint stock company (from five previously to two).

Outward Investment

Saudi Arabia does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  Private Saudi citizens, Saudi companies, and SAG entities hold extensive overseas investments.  The SAG is attempting to transform its Public Investment Fund (PIF), traditionally a holding company for government shares in state-controlled enterprises, into a major international investor and sovereign wealth fund.  In 2016, the PIF made its first high-profile international investment by taking a USD 3.5 billion stake in Uber. The PIF has also announced a USD 400 million investment in Magic Leap, a Florida-based company that is developing “mixed reality” technology, and a USD 1 billion investment in Lucid Motors, a California-based electric car company.  Saudi Aramco and SABIC are also major investors in the United States. In 2017, Aramco acquired full ownership of Motiva, the largest refinery in the United States, in Port Arthur, Texas. SABIC has announced a multi-billion dollar joint venture with ExxonMobil in a petrochemical facility in Texas.

9. Corruption

Foreign firms have identified corruption as a barrier to investment in Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia has a relatively comprehensive legal framework that addresses corruption, but many firms perceive enforcement as selective.  The Combating Bribery Law and the Civil Service Law, the two primary Saudi laws that address corruption, provide for criminal penalties in cases of official corruption.  Government employees who are found guilty of accepting bribes face 10 years in prison or fines of up to one million riyals (USD 267,000). Ministers and other senior government officials appointed by royal decree are forbidden from engaging in business activities with their ministry or organization.  Saudi corruption laws cover most methods of bribery and abuse of authority for personal interest, but not bribery between private parties. Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws. Some officials have engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and perceptions of corruption persist in some sectors.  

On November 4, 2017, King Salman issued a royal decree forming a new Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee.  The SAG subsequently detained approximately 200 government officials, businesspersons, and royal family members as part of the anti-corruption campaign.  The royal decree exempted committee members – which included the Crown Prince, attorney general, chairman of the National Anticorruption Commission (“Nazaha”), chief of the General Audit Bureau, chairman of the Saudi Monitoring and Investigation Commission, and head of the State Security Presidency – from “all laws, regulations, instructions, orders, and decisions” that would impede anticorruption efforts.  Some of the detainees reportedly negotiated financial settlements in exchange for their release. In January 2018, the attorney general announced that the SAG had collected more than USD 100 billion in various types of assets, including real estate, commercial entities, securities, cash, and other assets as part of its anti-corruption campaign. In January 2019, the Saudi government announced the end of the anti-corruption campaign.  

The Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee, National Anticorruption Commission/Nazaha, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the Control and Investigation Board are units of the government with authority to investigate reports of criminal activity, corruption, and “disciplinary cases” involving government employees.  These bodies are responsible for investigating potential cases and referring them to the administrative courts.

Nazaha, established in 2011, is responsible for promoting transparency and combating all forms of financial and administrative corruption.  Nazaha’s ministerial-level director reports directly to the King. Nazaha refers cases of possible public corruption to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.  Some evidence suggests the organization has not shied away from prosecuting influential players whose indiscretions may previously have been ignored. In 2016, for example, it referred the Minister of Civil Service for investigation over allegations of abuse of power and nepotism.  In November 2016, Nazaha announced it found irregularities in the appointment of the minister’s son to the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs. The Commission regularly publishes news of its investigations on its website (http://www.nazaha.gov.sa/en/Pages/Default.aspx  ).

The Control and Investigation Board is responsible for investigating financial and administrative malfeasance, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office has the lead on all criminal investigations.  The General Auditing Bureau is also charged with combating corruption, as is the Human Rights Commission, which responds to and researches complaints of corruption.

SAMA, the central bank, oversees a strict regime to combat money laundering.  Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Money Laundering Law provides for sentences up to 10 years in prison and fines up to USD 1.3 million.  The Basic Law of Governance contains provisions on proper management of state assets and authorizes audits and investigation of administrative and financial malfeasance.  

The Government Tenders and Procurement Law regulates public procurements, often a source of corruption.  The law provides for public announcement of tenders and guidelines for the award of public contracts. Saudi Arabia is an observer of the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA).  Although Saudi Arabia committed to initiate negotiations for accession to the WTO GPA when it became a WTO Member in 2005, it has not yet begun those negotiations.

Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in April 2013 and signed the G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan in November 2010.

Globally, Saudi Arabia ranks 58th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2018.  

Resources to Report Corruption

The National Anti-Corruption Commission’s address is:  

National Anti-Corruption Commission
P.O. Box (Wasl) 7667, Al Olaya – Ghadir District
Riyadh 2525-13311
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: 0112645555
E-mail: info@nazaha.gov.sa

Nazaha accepts complaints about corruption through its website http://www.nazaha.gov.sa  or mobile application.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2017 $686,738 2017 $686,738 www.worldbank.org/en/country  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2017 $11,085 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2017 $14,055 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2017 32.8% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx    

* Source for Host Country Data: Saudi General Authority for Statistics


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

According to the 2018 UNCTAD World Investment Report, Saudi Arabia’s total FDI inward stock was $232.2 billion and total FDI outward stock was $79.6 billion (in both cases, as of 2017).   

Detailed data for inward direct investment (below) is as of 2010, which is the latest available breakdown of inward FDI by country.

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 $169,206 100% Data not available
Kuwait $16,761 10%
France $15,918 9%
Japan $13,160 8%
United Arab Emirates $12,601 7%
China, P.R.: Mainland $9,035 5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

*Source: IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (2010 – latest available complete data)


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $156,967 100% All Countries $95,897 100% All Countries $61,069 100%
United States $55,449 35.3% United States $42,602 44.4% United States $12,847 21.0%
Japan $15,730 10.0% Japan $11,406 11.9% U.A.E. $5,522 9.0%
U.K. $9,934 6.3% China P.R. $6,980 7.3% U.K. $5,061 8.3%
China P.R. $7,435 4.7% U.K. $4,874 5.1% Japan $4,324 7.1%
France $6,119 3.9% Korea DPR $3,487 3.6% Germany $2,890 4.7%

Source: IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS); data as of December 2017.

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is pursuing economic diversification to promote the development of the private sector as a complement to the historical economic dominance of the state.  The country’s seven emirates have implemented numerous initiatives, laws, and regulations that aim to develop a more conducive environment for foreign investment.

The UAE maintains a position as a major trade and investment hub for a large geographic region, which includes not only the Middle East and North Africa, but also South Asia, Central Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.  Multinational companies cite the UAE’s political and economic stability, rapid population and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, fast-growing capital markets, and a perceived absence of systemic corruption as positive factors contributing to the UAE’s attractiveness to foreign investors.

While the UAE implemented an excise tax on certain products in October 2017 and a five percent Value-Added Tax (VAT) on all products and services beginning in January 2018, many investors continue to cite the absence of corporate and personal income taxes as a strength of the local investment climate, relative to other regional options.

While foreign investment continues to grow, the regulatory and legal framework in the UAE continues to favor local over foreign investors.  There is no national treatment for investors in the UAE and foreign ownership of land and stocks remains restricted. In September 2018, the UAE issued Decree-Law No. 19 on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which grants licensed foreign investment companies the same treatment as national companies, within the limits permitted by the legislation in force.  Sectors restricted from 100 percent foreign ownership appear on a negative list that includes 14 major sectors. The new law does not mention sectors on the positive list, but these details are expected to be issued in 2019. The Minister of Economy said publicly that increased foreign ownership would be permitted in sectors of strategic importance including technology, space, renewable energy, and artificial intelligence.

Foreign investors expressed concern over spotty intellectual property rights protection, a lack of regulatory transparency, and weak dispute resolution mechanisms and insolvency laws.  In March 2019, the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department oversaw the first restructuring of a UAE company under the bankruptcy law issued in 2016. Labor rights and conditions, although improving, continue to be an area of concern as the UAE prohibits both labor unions and worker strikes.

Free trade zones form a vital component of the local economy, and serve as major re-export centers to other markets in the Gulf, South Asia, and Africa.  U.S. and multinational companies indicate that these zones tend to have stronger and more equitable frameworks than the onshore economy. For example, in free trade zones, foreigners may own up to 100 percent of the equity in an enterprise; have 100 percent import and export tax exemptions; have 100 percent exemption from commercial levies; and may repatriate 100 percent of capital and profits.  Commercial transactions in most free trade zones are now subject to the five percent VAT.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 23 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” Report 2018 11 of 190 www.doingbusiness.org/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2018 38 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($B USD, stock positions) 2017 $16.8 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $39,130 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

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.

9. Corruption

The UAE has stiff laws, regulations, and enforcement against corruption, and has pursued several high profile cases.  For example, the UAE federal penal code and the federal human resources law criminalize the acceptance of bribes by public and private sector workers and embezzlement.  The Dubai financial fraud law criminalizes receipt of illicit monies or public funds. There is no evidence that corruption of public officials is a systemic problem. The State Audit Institution and the Abu Dhabi Accountability Authority investigate corruption in the government.  The Companies Law requires board directors to avoid conflicts of interest. In practice, however, given the multiple roles occupied by relatively few senior Emirati government and business officials, myriad conflicts of interest exist.

The monitoring organizations GAN Integrity and Transparency International describe the corruption environment in the UAE as low-risk, and rate the UAE highly with regard to anti-corruption efforts both regionally and globally.  Third-party organizations note, however, that the involvement of members of the ruling families in certain businesses can create economic disparities in the playing field, and most foreign companies outside the UAE’s free zones must rely on an Emirati national partner who retains majority ownership.  The UAE has ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption. There are no civil society organizations or NGOs investigating corruption within the UAE.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:

Dr. Harib Al Amimi
President
State Audit Institution
20th Floor, Tower C2, Aseel Building, Bainuna (34th) Street, Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi, UAE
+971 2 635 9999
Email:
info@saiuae.gov.ae

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($B USD) 2017 $387.2 2017 $382.6 www.worldbank.org/en/ country  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($B USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2017 $16.8 BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_multinational_companies_comprehensive_data.htm   
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($B USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2017 $4.8 BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_multinational_companies_comprehensive_data.htm   
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A  N/A  2016 33.84% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

* Economic Report: Ministry of Economy


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Data from the Annual Report of the Ministry of Economy (2018) indicates that the GDP estimates for 2017 in real prices (base year 2010) were approximately USD 387.2 billion, while the estimated non-oil GDP at current prices was about USD 297.3 billion in 2017.

According to the UAE Ministry of Economy’s Annual Economic Report 2018, the net annual FDI inflows to the UAE in 2017 were $10.4 billion, compared to $9.6 billion in 2016. The largest investors in the UAE were:  India, United States, UK, Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Kuwait, France and the Netherlands.

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 N/A 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
United States 13,355 N/A N/A N/A
United Kingdom 6,066 N/A N/A N/A
India 5,385 N/A N/A N/A
Japan 564 N/A N/A N/A
France 452 N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

Investment Climate Statements
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