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Indonesia

Executive Summary

While Indonesia’s population of 268 million, GDP over USD 1 trillion, growing middle class, and stable economy are attractive to U.S. investors, different entities have noted that investing in Indonesia remains challenging. Since October 2014, the Indonesian government under President Joko Widodo, widely referred to as ‘Jokowi,’ has prioritized boosting infrastructure investment to support Indonesia’s economic growth goals, and has committed to reducing bureaucratic barriers to investment, including the launch of a “one-stop-shop” for permits and licenses via the online single submission (OSS) system at the Investment Coordination Board. However, factors such as a decentralized decision-making process, legal uncertainty, economic nationalism, and powerful domestic vested interests in both the private and public sectors, create a complex investment climate. Other factors relevant to investors include: government requirements, both formal and informal, to partner with Indonesian companies, and to purchase goods and services locally; restrictions on some imports and exports; and, pressure to make substantial, long-term investment commitments. While the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission continues to investigate and prosecute high-profile corruption cases, investors still cite corruption as an obstacle to pursuing opportunities in Indonesia.

Other barriers to foreign investment that have been reported include difficulties in government coordination, the slow rate of land acquisition for infrastructure projects, relatively weak enforcement of contracts, bureaucratic issues challenging the efficiency of the process, and ambiguous legislation in regards to tax enforcement. Businesses have also complained about changes to rules at the government discretion with little or no notice and opportunity for comment, and lack of communication with companies in the development of laws and regulations. Investors have noted that new regulations are at times difficult to understand and often not properly communicated to those impacted. In addition, companies have complaint of the complexity of  coordination among ministries that continues to delay some processes important to companies, such as securing business licenses and import permits.

Indonesia restricts foreign investment in some sectors through a Negative Investment List. The latest version, issued in 2016, details the sectors in which foreign investment is restricted and outlines the foreign equity limits in a number of other sectors. The 2016 Negative Investment List allows greater foreign investments in some sectors, including e-commerce, film, tourism, and logistics. In health care, the 2016 list loosens restrictions on foreign investment in categories such as hospital management services and manufacturing of raw materials for medicines, but tightens restrictions in others such as mental rehabilitation, dental and specialty clinics, nursing services, and the manufacture and distribution of medical devices. Companies have reported that energy and mining still face significant foreign investment barriers.

Indonesia began to abrogate its more than 60 existing Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in February 2014, allowing some of the agreements to expire. The United States does not have a BIT with Indonesia.

Despite the challenges that the industry has reported, Indonesia continues to attract foreign investment. Singapore, China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States were among the top sources of foreign investment in the country in 2017 (latest available full-year data). Private consumption is the backbone of the largest economy in ASEAN, making Indonesia a promising destination for a wide range of companies, ranging from consumer products and financial services, to digital start-ups and franchisors. Indonesia has ambitious plans to improve its infrastructure with a focus on expanding access to energy, strengthening its maritime transport corridors, which includes building roads, ports, railways and airports, as well as improving agricultural production, telecommunications, and broadband networks throughout the country. Indonesia continues to attract U.S. franchises and consumer product manufacturers. UN agencies and the World Bank have recommended that Indonesia do more to grow financial and investor support for women-owned businesses, noting obstacles that women-owned business sometimes face in early-stage financing.

Table 1

Measure Year Index or Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions index 2018 89 of 175 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 73 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 85 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $15,170 M http://www.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $3,540 https://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=ID

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

With GDP growth of 5.17 percent in 2018, Indonesia’s young population, strong domestic demand, stable political situation, and well-regarded macroeconomic policy make it an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI). Indonesian government officials welcome increased FDI, aiming to create jobs and spur economic growth, and court foreign investors, notably focusing on infrastructure development and export-oriented manufacturing. However, foreign investors have complained about vague and conflicting regulations,  bureaucratic issues, ambiguous legislation in regards to  tax enforcement, poor existing infrastructure, rigid labor laws, sanctity of contract issues, and corruption.

The Investment Coordination Board, or BKPM, serves as an investment promotion agency, a regulatory body, and the agency in charge of approving planned investments in Indonesia. As such, it is the first point of contact for foreign investors, particularly in manufacturing, industrial, and non-financial services sectors. In July 2018, Indonesia launched the OSS system to streamline 488 licensing and permitting processes through the issuance of Government Regulation No.24/2018 on Electronic Integrated Business Licensing Services. As a new process, OSS implementation is a work in progress and would benefit from greater socialization, especially at the subnational level. Special expedited licensing services are available for investors meeting certain criteria, such as making investments in excess of approximately IDR100 billion (USD7.4 million) or employing 1,000 local workers.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Restrictions on FDI are, for the most part, outlined in Presidential Decree No.44/2016, commonly referred to as the Negative Investment List or the DNI. The Negative Investment List aims to consolidate FDI restrictions from numerous decrees and regulations, in order to create greater certainty for foreign and domestic investors. The 2016 revision to the list eased restrictions in a number of previously closed or restricted fields. Previously closed sectors, including the film industry (including filming, editing, captioning, production, showing, and distribution of films), on-line marketplaces with a value in excess of IDR100 billion (USD7.4 million), restaurants, cold chain storage, informal education, hospital management services, and manufacturing of raw materials for medicine, are now open for 100 percent foreign ownership. The 2016 list also raises the foreign investment cap in the following sectors, though not fully to 100 percent: online marketplaces under IDR100 billion (USD7.4 million), tourism sectors, distribution and warehouse facilities, logistics, and manufacturing and distribution of medical devices. In certain sectors, restrictions are liberalized for foreign investors from other ASEAN countries. Though the energy sector saw little change in the 2016 revision, foreign investment in construction of geothermal power plants up to 10 MW is permitted with an ownership cap of 67 percent, while the operation and maintenance of such plants is capped at 49 percent foreign ownership. For investment in certain sectors, such as mining and higher education, the 2016 Negative Investment List is useful only as a starting point, as additional licenses and permits are required by individual ministries. A number of sensitive business areas, involving, for example, alcoholic beverages, ocean salvage, certain fisheries, and the production of some hazardous substances, remain closed to foreign investment or are otherwise restricted.

Foreign investment in small-scale and home industries (i.e. forestry, fisheries, small plantations, certain retail sectors) is reserved for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) or requires a partnership between a foreign investor and local entity. Even where the 2016 DNI revisions lifted limits on foreign ownership, certain sectors remain subject to other restrictions imposed by separate laws and regulations. In November 2018, the government announced its plans to liberalize further DNI sectors through the XVI economic policy package, before shelving the idea a few weeks later.

In November 2016, Bank Indonesia issued Regulation No.18/2016 on the implementation of payment transaction processing.  The regulation governs all companies providing the following services: principal, issuer, acquirer, clearing, final settlement operator, and operator of funds transfer.  The BI regulation capped foreign ownership of payments companies at 20 percent, though it contained a grandfathering provision.  BI’s July 2017 Regulation No.19/2017 on the National Payment Gateway (NPG) subsequently imposed a 20 percent foreign equity cap on all companies engaging in domestic debit switching transactions.  Firms wishing to continue executing domestic debit transactions are obligated to form partnership agreements with a NPG switching company.

Foreigners may purchase equity in state-owned firms through initial public offerings and the secondary market. Capital investments in publicly listed companies through the stock exchange are not subject to Indonesia’s Negative Investment List.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The latest World Trade Organization (WTO) Investment Policy Review of Indonesia was conducted in April 2013 and can be found on the WTO website: http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp378_e.htm .

The most recent OECD Investment Policy Review of Indonesia, conducted in 2010, can be found on the OECD website: http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investmentfordevelopment/indonesia-investmentpolicyreview-oecd.htm .

UNCTADs report on ASEAN Investment can be found here: http://www.unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/unctad_asean_air2017d1.pdf .

Business Facilitation

Business Registration

In order to conduct business in Indonesia, foreign investors must be incorporated as a foreign-owned limited liability company (PMA) through the Ministry of Law and Human Rights. Once incorporated, a PMA must register through the OSS system. Upon registration, a company will receive a business identity number (NIB) along with proof of participation in the Workers Social Security Program (BPJS) and endorsement of any Foreign Worker Recruitment Plans (RPTKA).  An NIB remains valid as long as the business operates in compliance with Indonesian laws and regulations. Existing businesses will eventually be required to register through the OSS system. In general, the OSS system simplified processes for obtaining NIB from three days to one day.

Once an investor has obtained a NIB, he/she may apply for a business license. At this stage, investors must: document their legal claim to the proposed project land/location; provide an environmental impact statement (AMDAL); show proof of submission of an investment realization report; and provide a recommendation from relevant ministries as necessary.  Investors also need to apply for commercial and/or operational licenses prior to commencing commercial operations. Previously the business license process averaged 260 days.  Following establishment of the 2018 OSS system, which includes 488 licenses for various ministries/agencies, the process of starting business has been reduced to 20 days according to the World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business report, which placed Indonesia 73rd out of the 190 countries surveyed in the report. Special expedited licensing services are also available for investors meeting certain criteria, such as making investments in excess of approximately IDR 100 billion (USD 7.2 million) or employing 1,000 local workers. After obtaining a NIB, investors in some designated industrial estates can immediately start project construction.

Foreign investors are generally prohibited from investing in MSMEs in Indonesia, although the 2016 Negative Investment List opened some opportunities for partnerships in farming and catalog and online retail. In accordance with the Indonesian SMEs Law No. 20/2008, MSMEs are defined as enterprises with net assets less than IDR10 billion (USD0.8 million) or with total annual sales under IDR50 billion (USD 3.7 million). However, the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics defines MSMEs as enterprises with fewer than 99 employees. The government provides assistance to MSMEs, including: expanded access to business credit for MSMEs in farming, fishery, manufacturing, creative business, trading and services sectors; a tax exemption for MSMEs with annual sales under IDR 200 million (USD 14.8 million); and assistance with international promotion.

The Ministry of Law and Human Rights’ implementation of an electronic business registration filing and notification system has dramatically reduced the number of days needed to register a company. Foreign firms are not required to disclose proprietary information to the government.

Screening of FDI

BKPM is responsible for issuing “investment licenses” (the term used to encompass both NIB and business licenses) to foreign entities and has taken steps to simplify the application process. The OSS serves as an online portal which allows foreign investors to apply for and track the status of licenses and other services online. The OSS coordinates many of the permits issued by more than a dozen ministries and agencies required for investment approval. In addition, BKPM now issues soft-copy investment and business licenses. While the OSS’s goal is to help streamline investment approvals, investments in the mining, oil and gas, plantation, and most other sectors still require multiple licenses from related ministries and authorities. Likewise, certain tax and land permits, among others, typically must be obtained from local government authorities. Though Indonesian companies are only require to obtain one approval at the local level, businesses report that foreign companies often must additional approvals in order to establish a business.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform, and BKPM issued a circular in 2010 to clarify which government offices are responsible for investment that crosses provincial and regional boundaries. Investment in a regency (a sub-provincial level of government) is managed by the regency government; investment that lies in two or more regencies is managed by the provincial government; and investment that lies in two or more provinces is managed by the central government, or central BKPM. BKPM has plans to roll out its one-stop-shop structure to the provincial and regency level to streamline local permitting processes at more than 500 sites around the country.

Outward Investment

Indonesia’s outward investment is limited, as domestic investors tend to focus on the domestic market. BKPM has responsibility for promoting and facilitating outward investment, to include providing information about investment opportunities in and policies of other countries. BKPM also uses their investment and trade promotion centers abroad to match Indonesian companies with potential investment opportunities. The government neither restricts nor provides incentives for outward investment.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Indonesia has investment agreements with 41countries, including: Algeria, Australia, Bangladesh, Chile, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Guyana, Iran,  Jamaica, Jordan, Libya, Mauritius, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovak Republic, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Sweden, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

In 2014, Indonesia began to abrogate its existing BITs by allowing the agreements to expire. By 2018, 26 BITs had expired, including those with Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey, and Vietnam. However, Indonesia renewed its BIT with Singapore in October 2018. Indonesia is currently developing a new model BIT that could limit the scope of Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions.

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) arrangement came into effect on January 1, 2016, and was expected to reduce barriers for goods, services and some skilled employees across ASEAN. Under the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, duties on imports from ASEAN countries generally range from zero to five percent, except for products specified on exclusion lists. Indonesia also provides preferential market access to Australia, China, Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan, and New Zealand under regional ASEAN agreements and to Japan under a bilateral agreement. In accordance with the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA), in August 2012 Indonesia increased the number of goods from China receiving duty-free access to 10,012 tariff lines. Indonesia is also participating in negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes the 10 ASEAN Member States and 6 additional countries (Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand). In February 2019, RCEP entered the 25th round of negotiations, which included discussion on trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement, e-commerce, SMEs and other issues. In March 2019, ASEAN and Japan signed the First Protocol to Amend their Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

Indonesia has been actively engaged in bilateral FTA negotiations. In 2018, Indonesia signed trade agreements with Australia, Chile, and the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland). Indonesia is currently negotiating bilateral trade agreements with the European Union, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, Mozambique, South Korea, Tunisia, and Turkey. In addition, Indonesia seeks to initiate trade negotiations with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Gulf Cooperation Council, South Africa, and Kenya.

The United States and Indonesia signed the Convention between the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Government of the United States of America for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of the Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income in Jakarta on July 11, 1988. This was amended with a Protocol, signed on July 24, 1996. There is no double taxation of personal income.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Indonesia continues to bring its legal, regulatory, and accounting systems into compliance with international norms, but progress is slow.  Notable developments included passage of a comprehensive anti-money laundering law in late 2010 and a land acquisition law in January 2012. Although Indonesia continues to move forward with regulatory system reforms foreign investors have indicated to still encounter challenges in comparison to domestic investors, and have criticized the current regulatory system in its function to establish clear and transparent rules for all actors.  Certain laws and policies, including the Negative Investment List, establish sectors that are either fully off-limits to foreign investors or are subject to substantive conditions.

Decentralization has introduced another layer of bureaucracy for firms to navigate, resulting in what companies have identified as costly red tape.  Certain business claim that Indonesia encounters challenges in launching bureaucratic reforms due to ineffective management, resistance from vested interests, and corruption. U.S. businesses cite regulatory uncertainty and a lack of transparency as two significant factors hindering operations. Government ministries and agencies, including the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR), continue to publish many proposed laws and regulations in draft form for public comment; however, not all draft laws and regulations are made available in public fora and it can take years for draft legislation to become law.  Laws and regulations are often vague and require substantial interpretation by the implementers, leading to business uncertainty and rent-seeking opportunities.

U.S. companies note that regulatory consultation in Indonesia is inconsistent, at best, despite the existence of Law No. 12/2011 on the Development of Laws and Regulations and its implementing Government regulation 87/204, which states that the community is entitled to provide oral or written input into draft laws and regulations. The law also sets out procedures for revoking regulations and introduces requirements for academic studies as a basis for formulating laws and regulations. Nevertheless, the absence of a formal consultation mechanism has been reported to lead to different interpretations among policy makers of what is required.

In June 2016, the Jokowi administration repealed 3,143 regional bylaws that overlapped with other regulations and impeded the ease of doing business. However, a 2017 Constitutional Court ruling limited the Ministry of Home Affairs’ authority to revoke local regulations and allowed local governments to appeal the central government’s decision. The Ministry continues to play a consultative function in the regulation drafting stage, providing input to standardize regional bylaws with national laws.

In November 2017, the government issued Presidential Instruction No. 7/2017, which aims to improve the coordination among ministries in the policy-making process. The new regulation requires lead ministries to coordinate with their respective coordinating ministry before issuing a regulation. Presidential Instruction No. 7 also requires Ministries to conduct a regulatory impact analysis and provide an opportunity for public consultation. The presidential instruction did not address the frequent lack of coordination between the central and local governments. Pursuant to various Indonesian economy policy reform packages over the past several years, the government has eliminated 220 regulations as of September 2018. Fifty-one of the eliminated regulations are at the Presidential level and 169 at the ministerial or institutional level.

In July 2018, President Jokowi issued Presidential Regulation No. 54/2018, updating and streamlining the National Anti-Corruption Strategy to synergize corruption prevention efforts across ministries, regional governments, and law enforcement agencies. The regulation focuses on three areas: licenses, state finances (primarily government revenue and expenditures), and law enforcement reform. An interagency team, including KPK, leads the national strategy’s implementation efforts.

In October 2018, the government issued Presidential Regulation No. 95/2018 on e-government that requires all levels of government (central, provincial, and municipal) to implement online governance tools (e-budgeting, e-procurement, e-planning) to improve budget efficiency, government transparency, and the provision of public services.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of ASEAN, Indonesia has successfully implemented regional initiatives, including ratification of the legal protocol and becoming one of the first five ASEAN Member States to implement real-time movement of electronic import documents through the ASEAN Single Window, which reduces shipping costs, speeds customs clearance, and reduces opportunities for corruption.  Indonesia has also committed to ratify the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA), ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS), and the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement. Notwithstanding progress made in certain areas, the often-lengthy process of aligning national legislation has caused delays in implementation. The complexity of interagency coordination and/or a shortage of technical capacity are among the challenges being reported.

Indonesia joined the WTO in 1995. Indonesia’s National Standards Body (BSN) is the primary government agency to notify draft regulations to the WTO concerning technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS); however, in practice, notification is inconsistent.

In December 2017, Indonesia ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). At this point, Indonesia has met 88.7 percent of its commitments to the TFA provisions, including publication and availability information, consultations, advance ruling, review procedure, detention and test procedure, fee and charges discipline, goods clearance, border agency cooperation, import/export formalities, and goods transit.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Indonesia’s legal system is based on civil law. The court system consists of District Courts (primary courts of original jurisdiction), High Courts (courts of appeal), and the Supreme Court (the court of last resort). Indonesia also has a Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court has the same legal standing as the Supreme Court, and its role is to review the constitutionality of legislation. Both the Supreme and Constitutional Courts have authority to conduct judicial reviews. Many businesses have noted that the judiciary is susceptible to corruption and influence from outside parties.

Certain companies have claimed that the court system often does not provide the necessary recourse for resolving property and contractual disputes and that cases that would be adjudicated in civil courts in other jurisdictions sometimes result in criminal charges in Indonesia. Judges are not bound by precedent and many laws are open to various interpretations. According to the U.S. industry, corruption also continues to plague Indonesia’s judiciary, with graft investigations involving senior judges and court staff.

A lack of clear land titles has plagued Indonesia for decades, although the land acquisition law No.2/2012 enacted in 2012 included legal mechanisms designed to resolve some past land ownership issues. In addition, companies find Indonesia to have a poor track record on the legal enforcement of contracts, and civil disputes are sometimes criminalized. Government Regulation No. 79/2010 opened the door for the government to remove recoverable costs from production sharing contracts. Indonesia has also required mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work to include higher royalties, more divestment to local partners, more local content, and domestic processing of mineral ore.

Indonesia’s commercial code, grounded in colonial Dutch law, has been updated to include provisions on bankruptcy, intellectual property rights, incorporation and dissolution of businesses, banking, and capital markets. Application of the commercial code, including the bankruptcy provisions, remains uneven, in large part due to corruption and training deficits for judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

FDI in Indonesia is regulated by Law No. 25/2007 (the Investment Law). Under the law, any form of FDI in Indonesia must be in the form of a limited liability company, with the foreign investor holding shares in the company. In addition, the government outlines restrictions on FDI in Presidential Decree No. 44/2016, issued in May 2016, commonly referred to as the 2016 Negative Investment List. It aims to consolidate FDI restrictions in certain sectors from numerous decrees and regulations to provide greater certainty for foreign and domestic investors. The 2016 Negative Investment List enables greater foreign investment in some sectors like film, tourism, logistics, health care, and e-commerce. A number of sectors remain closed to investment or are otherwise restricted. The 2016 Negative List contains a clause that clarifies that existing investments will not be affected by the 2016 revisions. The website of the Investment Coordination Board (BKPM) provides information on investment requirements and procedures: http://www2.bkpm.go.id/ .  Indonesia mandates reporting obligations for all foreign investors through BKPM Regulation No.7/2018.  See section two for Indonesia’s procedures for licensing foreign investment.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Indonesian Competition Authority (KPPU) implements and enforces the 1999 Indonesia Competition Law. The KPPU reviews agreements, business practices and mergers that may be deemed anti-competitive, advises the government on policies that may affect competition, and issues guidelines relating to the Competition Law. Strategic sectors such as food, finance, banking, energy, infrastructure, health, and education are KPPU’s priorities. In April 2017, the Indonesia DPR began deliberating a new draft of the Indonesian antitrust law, which would repeal the current Law No. 5/1999 and strengthen KPPU’s enforcement against monopolistic practices and unfair business competition.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Indonesian government generally recognizes and upholds the property rights of foreign and domestic investors. The 2007 Investment Law opened major sectors of the economy to foreign investment, while providing investors protection from nationalization, except where corporate crime is involved. However, Indonesian economic nationalism and an oft-stated desire for “self-sufficiency” continues to manifest itself through negotiations, policies, regulations, and laws in way that companies describe as eroding investor value. These include local content requirements, requirements to divest equity shares to Indonesian stakeholders, and requirements to establish manufacturing or processing facilities in Indonesia.

In 2012, the government issued a regulation requiring foreign-owned mining operations to divest majority equity to Indonesian shareholders within 10 years of operational startup using cost of investment incurred, rather than market value, for purposes of divestment valuation. In 2014, with Regulation No. 77/2014, the government eased the foreign ownership restrictions to 60 percent for companies that smelt domestically (40 percent divestment) and 70 percent for companies that operate underground mines (30 percent divestment). However, regulations enacted in 2017 again require foreign-owned miners to gradually divest over ten years 51 percent of shares to Indonesian interests, with the price of divested shares determined based on fair market value and not taking into account existing reserves. The government has indicated it intends the majority-share divestment requirement to supersede Regulation No. 77/2014 and apply to all foreign investors in the sector. Based on the 2009 Mining Law, all mining contracts of work must be renegotiated to alter the terms to more favor the government, including royalty and tax rates, local content levels, domestic processing of minerals, and reduced mine areas. Some mining companies had to reduce the size of their original mining work area without compensation.

In general, Indonesia’s rising resource nationalism advances the idea that domestic interests should not have to pay prevailing market prices for domestic resources. In addition, in the oil and gas sector, the government is increasingly explicit in its policy that expiring production sharing contracts operated by foreign companies be transferred to domestic interests rather than extended. While there is no obligation of compensation under the production sharing contract, this policy has begun to affect the Indonesian business interests of foreign companies.

The Law on Land Acquisition Procedures for Public Interest Development passed in 2011 sought to streamline government acquisition of land for infrastructure projects. The law seeks to clarify roles, reduce the time frame for each phase of the land acquisition process, deter land speculation, and curtail obstructionist litigation, while still ensuring safeguards for land-right holders. The implementing regulations went into effect in 2015. Some reports indicate that the law has reduced land acquisition timelines, with no accusations of illegal government expropriation of land.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Indonesia is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) through the ratification of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). Thus, foreign arbitral awards are legally recognized and enforceable in the Indonesian courts; however, some note that these awards are not always enforced in practice.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Since 2004, Indonesia has faced seven known Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) arbitration cases, including those that have been settled and discontinued cases. In 2016, an ICSID tribunal ruled in favor of Indonesia in the arbitration case of British firm Churchill Mining. In March 2019, the tribunal rejected an annulment request from the claimants. In addition, a Dutch arbitration court recently ruled in favor of the Indonesian government in USD 469 million arbitration case against Indian firm Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys.  Two cases involved Newmont Nusa Tenggara under BIT with Netherlands and Oleovest under BIT with Singapore were discontinued.

Indonesia recognizes binding international arbitration of investment disputes in its bilateral investment treaties (BITs). All of Indonesia’s BITs include the arbitration under ICSID or UNCITRAL rules, except the BIT with Denmark. However, in response to an increase in the number of arbitration cases submitted to ICSID, BKPM formed an expert team to review the current generation of BITs and formulate a new model BIT that would more seek to better protect perceived national interests. The Indonesian model BIT is under legal review.

In spite of the cancellation of many BITs, the 2007 Investment Law still provides protection to investors through a grandfather clause. In addition, Indonesia also has committed to ISDS provisions in regional or multilateral agreement signed by Indonesia (i.e. ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement).

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Judicial handling of investment disputes remains mixed. Indonesia’s legal code recognizes the right of parties to apply agreed-upon rules of arbitration. Some arbitration, but not all, is handled by Indonesia’s domestic arbitration agency, the Indonesian National Arbitration Body.

Companies have resorted to ad hoc arbitrations in Indonesia using the UNCITRAL model law and ICSID arbitration rules. Though U.S. firms have reported that doing business in Indonesia remains challenging, there is not a clear pattern or significant record of investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors. Companies complain that the court system in Indonesia works slowly as international arbitration awards, when enforced, may take years from original judgment to payment.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Indonesian Law No. 37/2004 on Bankruptcy and Suspension of Obligation for Payment of Debts is decidedly pro-creditor and the law makes no distinction between domestic and foreign creditors. As a result, foreign creditors have the same rights as all potential creditors in a bankruptcy case, as long as foreign claims are submitted in compliance with underlying regulations and procedures. Monetary judgments in Indonesia are made in local currency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Indonesia provides incentive facilities through fiscal incentives, non-fiscal incentives, and other benefits. Fiscal incentives are in the form of tax holidays, tax allowances, and exemptions of import duties for capital goods and raw materials for investment. As part of the Economic Policy Package XVI, Indonesia issued a modified tax holiday scheme in November 2018 through Ministry of Finance (MOF) Regulation 150/2018, which revokes MOF Regulation 35/2018.  This regulation is intended to attract more direct investment in pioneer industries and simplify the application process through the OSS. The period of the tax holiday is extended up to 20 years; the minimum investment threshold is IDR 100 trillion (USD 7.14 billion), which is a significant reduction from the previous regulation at IDR 500 trillion (USD 35.7 billion). In addition to the tax holiday, depending on the investment amount, this regulation also provides either 25 or 50 percent income tax reduction for the two years after the end of the tax holiday. The following table explains the parameters of the new scheme:

Provision New Capital Investment IDR 100 billion to less than IDR 500 billion New Capital Investment IDR more  than IDR 500 billion
Reduction in Corporate Income Tax Rate

 

50 percent 100 percent
Concession Period

 

5 years 10 years
Transition Period 25 percent Corporate Income Tax Reduction for the next 2 years 50 percent Corporate Income Tax Reduction for the next 2 years

Based on BKPM Regulation 1/2019, the coverage of pioneer sectors was expanded to the digital economy, agricultural, plantation, and forestry, bringing the total to eighteen industries:

  1. Upstream basic metals;
  2. Oil and gas refineries;
  3. Petrochemicals derived from petroleum, natural gas, and coal;
  4. Inorganic basic chemicals;
  5. Organic basic chemicals;
  6. Pharmaceutical raw materials;
  7. Semi-conductors and other primary computer components;
  8. Primary medical device components;
  9. Primary industrial machinery components;
  10. Primary engine components for transport equipment;
  11. Robotic components for manufacturing machines;
  12. Primary ship components for the shipbuilding industry;
  13. Primary aircraft components;
  14. Primary train components;
  15. Power generation including waste-to-energy power plants;
  16. Economic infrastructure;
  17. Digital economy including data processing; and
  18. Agriculture, plantation, and forestry-based processing

Government Regulation No. 9/2016 expanded regional tax incentives for certain business categories in May 2016. Apparel, leather goods, and footwear industries in all regions are now eligible for the tax incentives. In this regulation, existing tax facilities are maintained, including:

  • Deduction of 30 percent from taxable income over a six-year period
  • Accelerated depreciation and amortization
  • Ten percent of withholding tax on dividend paid by foreign taxpayer or a lower rate according to the avoidance of double taxation agreement
  • Compensation losses extended from 5 to 10 years with certain conditions for companies that are:
    1. Located in industrial or bonded zone;
    2. Developing infrastructure;
    3. Using at least 70 percent domestic raw material;
    4. Absorbing 500 to 1000 laborers;
    5. Doing research and development (R&D) worth at least 5 percent of the total investment over 5 years;
    6. Reinvesting capital; or,
    7. Exporting at least 30 percent of their product.

The government also provides the facility of Government-Borne Import Duty (Bea Masuk Ditanggung Pemerintah /BMDTP) with zero percent import duty to improve industrial competitiveness and public goods procurement in high value added, labor intensive, and high growth sectors. MOF Regulation 209/2018 provides zero import duty for imported raw materials in 36 sectors including plastics, cosmetics, polyester, resins, other chemical materials, machinery for agriculture, electricity, toys, vehicle components, telecommunication, fertilizer, and pharmaceuticals until December 2019.

Research and Development

At present, Indonesia does not have formal regulations granting national treatment to U.S. and other foreign firms participating in government-financed or subsidized research and development programs. The Ministry for Research and Technology and Higher Education handles applications on a case-by-case basis.

Natural Resources

Indonesia’s vast natural resource wealth has attracted significant foreign investment over the last century and continues to offer significant prospects. However, some report that a variety of government regulations have made doing business in the resources sector increasingly difficult, and Indonesia now ranks near the bottom, 70th of 83 jurisdictions in the Fraser Institute’s 2018 Mining Policy Perception Index. In 2012, Indonesia banned the export of raw minerals, dramatically increased the divestment requirements for foreign mining companies, and required major mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work with the government. The ban on the export of raw minerals went into effect in January 2014. In July 2014, the government issued regulations that allowed, until January 2017, the export of copper and several other mineral concentrates with export duties and other conditions imposed. When the full ban came back into effect in January 2017, the government issued new regulations that again allowed exports of copper concentrate and other specified minerals, but imposed  more onerous requirements. Of note for foreign investors, provisions of the regulations require that to be able to export non-smelted mineral ores, companies with contracts of work must convert to mining business licenses—and thus be subject to prevailing regulations—and must commit to build smelters within the next five years. Also, foreign-owned mining companies must gradually divest over ten years 51 percent of shares to Indonesian interests, with the price of divested shares determined based on fair market value and not taking into account existing reserves. The 2009 mining law devolved the authority to issue mining licenses to local governments, who have responded by issuing more than 10,000 licenses, many of which have been reported to overlap or be unclearly mapped. In the oil and gas sector, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court disbanded the upstream regulator in 2012, injecting confusion and more uncertainty into the natural resources sector. Until a new oil and gas law is enacted, upstream activities are supervised by the Special Working Unit on Upstream Oil and Gas (SKK Migas).

Infrastructure

Since taking office in October 2014, President Jokowi has made infrastructure development a top priority. The government originally announced plans to add 35,000 megawatts of electricity capacity by 2019, but in 2017 revised this target downward to 19,000 megawatts. The Jokowi administration also announced plans to create a maritime nexus, to include the development or expansion of 24 ports and other transportation infrastructure.  The Indonesian government is also implementing a PPP scheme to develop broadband internet access throughout the country as part of its “Palapa Ring” initiative. The initiative, which will install over 12,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable, is divided into three segments.  The western and central segments have been completed, and the eastern segment is expected to be complete by the end of 2019. Following completion of the Palapa Ring, Indonesia plans to deploy high-throughput satellites to connect remote and frontier areas for internet access. Many businesses report that the current institutional arrangement for infrastructure development still suffers from functional overlap, lack of capacity for public-private partnership (PPP) projects in regional governments, lack of solid value-for-money methodologies, crowding out of the private sector by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), legal uncertainty, lack of a solid land-acquisition framework, long-term operational risks for the private sector, unwillingness from stakeholders to be the first ones to test a new policy approach, and, especially, lack of a PPP apex agency. Currently infrastructure development is largely taking place through SOEs, with PPPs having only a marginal share of infrastructure projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Trade/ Trade Facilitation

Indonesia offers numerous incentives to foreign and domestic companies that operate in special trade zones throughout Indonesia. The largest zone is the free trade zone (FTZ) island of Batam, located just south of Singapore. Neighboring Bintan Island and Karimun Island also enjoy FTZ status. Investors in FTZs are exempt from import duty, income tax, VAT, and sales tax on imported capital goods, equipment, and raw materials until the portion of production destined for the domestic market is “exported” to Indonesia, in which case fees are owed only on that portion.  Foreign companies are allowed up to 100 percent ownership of companies in FTZs. Companies operating in FTZs may lend machinery and equipment to subcontractors located outside of the zone for a maximum two-year period.

Indonesia also has numerous Special Economic Zones (SEZs), regulated under Law No. 39/2009, Government Regulation No. 2/2011 on SEZ management, and Government Regulation No. 96/2015. These benefits include a reduction of corporate income taxes for a period of years (depending on the size of the investment), income tax allowances, and expedited or simplified administrative processes for import/export, expatriate employment, immigration, and licensing. As of April 2019, Indonesia has identified twelve SEZs in manufacturing and tourism centers that are operational or under construction, with 20 additional areas proposed as new SEZs. Ten SEZs are operational (though development is sometimes limited) at: 1) Sei Mangkei, North Sumatera; 2) Tanjung Lesung, Banten, 3) Palu, Central Sulawesi; 4) Mandalika, West Nusa Tenggara, 5) Arun Lhokseumawe, Aceh, 6) Galang Batang, Bintan, Riau Islands 7) Tanjung Kelayang, Pulau Bangka, Bangka Belitung Islands; 8) Bitung, North Sulawesi; 9) Morotai, North Maluku; 10) Maloy Batuta Trans Kalimantan, East Kalimantan. Two more SEZs are expected to operate in 2019: Tanjung Api-Api, South Sumatera; and Sorong, Papua. In 2016, the government began the process of transitioning Batam from an FTZ to SEZ in order to provide further investment incentives in Batam. The Indonesian government announced in December 2018 that it plans to transition management of the Batam FTZ to the local government, creating a single regulatory authority on the island. The conversion to an SEZ is expected to be finished in 2019 and will not affect the status of the neighboring FTZs on Bintan and Karimun islands.

Indonesian law also provides for several other types of zones that enjoy special tax and administrative treatment.  Among these are Industrial Zones/Industrial Estates (Kawasan Industri), bonded stockpiling areas (Tempat Penimbunan Berikat), and Integrated Economic Development Zones (Kawasan Pengembangan Ekonomi Terpadu).  Indonesia is home to 97 industrial estates that host thousands of industrial and manufacturing companies.  Ministry of Finance Regulation No. 105/2016 provides several different tax and customs facilities available to companies operating out of an industrial estate, including corporate income tax reductions, tax allowances, VAT exemptions, and import duty exemptions depending on the type of industrial estate.  Bonded stockpile areas include bonded warehouses, bonded zones, bonded exhibition spaces, duty free shops, bonded auctions places, bonded recycling areas, and bonded logistics centers. Companies operating in these areas enjoy concessions in the form of exemption from certain import taxes, luxury goods taxes, and value added taxes, based on a variety of criteria for each type of location. Most recently, bonded logistics centers (BLCs) were introduced to allow for larger stockpiles, longer temporary storage (up to three years), and a greater number of activities in a single area. The Ministry of Finance issued Regulation 28/2018, providing additional guidance on the types of BLCs and shortening approval for BLC applications. By September 2018, Indonesia had designated 59 BLCs in 81 locations, with plans to designate more in eastern Indonesia.  KAPET zones, first announced in a 1996 presidential decree, are eligible for partial tax holidays, certain income tax exemptions and deductions, flexible treatment of amortization of capital and losses, and fiscal loss compensation. In 2018, Ministry of Finance and the Directorate General for Customs and Excise (DGCE) issued regulations (MOF Regulation No. 131/2018 and DGCE Regulation No. 19/2018) to streamline the licensing process for bonded zones.  Together the two regulations are intended to reduce processing times and the number of licenses required to open a bonded zone.

Shipments from FTZs and SEZs to other places in the Indonesia customs area are treated similarly to exports and are subject to taxes and duties.  Under MOF Regulation 120/2013, bonded zones have a domestic sales quota of 50 percent of the preceding realization amount on export, sales to other bonded zones, sales to free trade zones, and sales to other economic areas (unless otherwise authorized by the Indonesian government).  Sales to other special economic areas are only allowed for further processing to become capital goods, and to companies which have a license from the economic area organizer for the goods relevant to their business.

In 2017, the government issued Presidential Regulation 91 on the Acceleration of Business Operations, aiming to reduce and simplify the Indonesian business licensing regime, including in SEZs. Under this regulation, Indonesia has established national, ministerial, provincial and regional task forces to examine inefficiencies in the process of starting a business, including business licensing practices, the availability of one-stop business registration in SEZs and FTZs, and data sharing between different jurisdictions. The Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, which leads implementation of the regulation, reports that all Indonesian provinces, FTZs, and SEZs, and more than 90 percent of regencies (kabupaten) had established one-stop business licensing services by February 2018.  Under the new rules, businesses that apply for a license under a one-stop system must begin setting up within 90 days unless given an extension. The regulation also provides that the central government may take control of business licensing if a local government unduly delays business license issuance. Business and bonded zone licensing is increasingly integrated into Indonesia’s OSS.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance Requirements

Indonesia expects foreign investors to contribute to the training and development of Indonesian nationals, allowing the transfer of skills and technology required for their effective participation in the management of foreign companies. Generally, a company can hire foreigners only for positions that the government has deemed open to non-Indonesians. Employers must have training programs aimed at replacing foreign workers with Indonesians. If a direct investment enterprise wants to employ foreigners, the enterprise should submit an Expatriate Placement Plan (RPTKA) to the Ministry of Manpower.

Indonesia recently made significant changes to its foreign worker regulations. Under Presidential Regulation No. 20/2018, issued in March 2018, the Ministry of Manpower now has two days to approve a complete RPTKA application, and an RPTKA is not required for commissioners or executives. An RPTKA’s validity is now based on the duration of a worker’s contract (previously it was valid for a maximum of five years). The new regulation no longer requires expatriate workers to go through the intermediate step of obtaining a Foreign Worker Permit (IMTA). Instead, expatriates can use an endorsed RPTKA to apply with the immigration office in their place of domicile for a Limited Stay Visa or Semi-Permanent Residence Visa (VITAS/VBS). Expatriates receive a Limited Stay Permit (KITAS) and a blue book, valid for up to two years and renewable for up to two extensions without leaving the country. Regulation No. 20/2018 also abolished the requirement for all expatriates to receive a technical recommendation from a relevant ministry. However, ministries may still establish technical competencies or qualifications for certain jobs, or prohibit the use of foreign worker for specific positions, by informing and obtaining approval from the Ministry of Manpower. Foreign workers who plan to work longer than six months in Indonesia must apply for employee social security and/or insurance.

Regulation No. 20/2018 provides for short-term working permits (maximum 6 months) for activities such as conducting audits, quality control, inspections, and installation of machinery and electrical equipment. Ministry of Manpower issued Regulation No.10/2018 to implement Regulation 20/2018, revoking its Regulation No. 16/2015 and No. 35/2015. Regulation 10/2018 provides additional details about the types of businesses that can employ foreign workers, sets requirements to obtain health insurance for expatriate employees, requires companies to appoint local “companion” employees for the transfer of technology and skill development, and requires employers to “facilitate” Indonesian language training for foreign workers. Any expatriate who holds a work and residence permit must contribute USD 1,200 per year to a fund for local manpower training at regional manpower offices. The Ministry of Manpower is preparing additional rules listing the specific types of jobs that will be open for foreign workers. Foreign workers will not be eligible for positions not listed in the decree. Some U.S. firms report difficulty in renewing KITASs for their foreign executives. In February 2017, the Ministry of Energy and Natural resources abolished regulations specific to the oil and gas industry, bringing that sector in line with rules set by the Ministry of Manpower.

With the passage of a defense law in 2012 and subsequent implementing regulations in 2014, Indonesia established a policy that imposes offset requirements for procurements from foreign defense suppliers. Current laws authorize Indonesian end users to procure defense articles from foreign suppliers if those articles cannot be produced within Indonesia, subject to Indonesian local content and offset policy requirements. On that basis, U.S. defense equipment suppliers are competing for contracts with local partners. The 2014 implementing regulations still require substantial clarification regarding how offsets and local content are determined. According to the legislation and subsequent implementing regulations, an initial 35 percent of any foreign defense procurement or contract must include local content, and this 35 percent local content threshold will increase by 10 percent every five years following the 2014 release of the implementing regulations until a local content requirement of 85 percent is achieved. The law also requires a variety of offsets such as counter-trade agreements, transfer of technology agreements, or a variety of other mechanisms, all of which are negotiated on a per-transaction basis. The implementing regulations also refer to a “multiplier factor” that can be applied to increase a given offset valuation depending on “the impact on the development of the national economy.” Decisions regarding multiplier values, authorized local content, and other key aspects of the new law are in the hands of the Defense Industry Policy Committee (KKIP), an entity comprising Indonesian interagency representatives and defense industry leadership. KKIP leadership indicates that they still determine multiplier values on a case-by-case basis, but have said that once they conclude an industry-wide gap analysis study, they will publish a standardized multiplier value schedule. According to government officials, rules for offsets and local content apply to major new acquisitions only, and do not apply to routine or recurring procurements such as those required for maintenance and sustainment.

WTO/Trade-Related Investment Measures

Indonesia notified the WTO of its compliance with Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) on August 26, 1998. The 2007 Investment Law states that Indonesia shall provide the same treatment to both domestic and foreign investors originating from any country. Nevertheless, the government pursues policies to promote local manufacturing that could be inconsistent with TRIMS requirements, such as linking import approvals to investment pledges, or requiring local content targets in some sectors.

Data Localization Requirements

In 2012, Indonesia issued Government Regulation No. 82/2012 requiring certain “public service providers” to establish data storage and disaster recovery centers on Indonesian soil. The regulation went into effect in October 2017 and several ministries have issued data localization regulations, including regulations related to data privacy, peer-to-peer lending, and insurance. As of April 2019, the Indonesian government has prepared a draft amendment to Government Regulation No. 82/2012 that would classify data into three categories: strategic, high-level, and low-level. The draft amendment offers vague definitions of these categories, defining strategic data as data potentially disruptive to the national governance, security, stability of the financial system, and/or other criteria established by law. The proposed amendment would require that “strategic” data be managed, stored, and processed only in Indonesia. The draft regulation would allow high- and low-level data to be managed, stored, and processed overseas so long as it does not reduce the effective implementation of Indonesian legal jurisdiction, subject to technical requirements established by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (KOMINFO).  The draft regulation would give financial sector regulators independent authority to identify and set conditions on the treatment of high-level financial data. It remains unclear how the proposed regulation would affect existing data localization requirements and what additional requirements may be imposed if the revised regulation is issued.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Basic Agrarian Law of 1960, the predominant body of law governing land rights, recognizes the right of private ownership and provides varying degrees of land rights for Indonesian citizens, foreign nationals, Indonesian corporations, foreign corporations, and other legal entities. Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution states that all natural resources are owned by the government for the benefit of the people. This principle was augmented by the passage of a land acquisition bill in 2011 that enshrined the concept of eminent domain and established mechanisms for fair market value compensation and appeals. The National Land Agency registers property under Regulation No. 24/1997, though the Ministry of Forestry administers all ‘forest land’. Registration is sometimes complicated by local government requirements and claims, as a result of decentralization. Registration is also not conclusive evidence of ownership, but rather strong evidence of such. Government Regulation No.103/2015 on house ownership by foreigners domiciled in Indonesia allows foreigners to have a property in Indonesia with the status of a “right to use” for a maximum of 30 years, with extensions available for up to 20 additional years.

Intellectual Property Rights

Indonesia is currently on the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 priority watch list for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. According to U.S. stakeholders, Indonesia’s failure to effectively protect intellectual property and enforce IPR laws has resulted in high levels of physical and online piracy. Local industry associations have reported tens of millions of pirated films, music, and software in circulation in Indonesia in recent years, causing potentially billions of dollars in losses.  Indonesian physical markets, such as Pasar Mangga Dua, and online markets Tokopedia, Bukalapak, and IndoXXI.com were included in USTR’s Notorious Markets list in 2018.

Indonesian efforts to enhance IP protection policy were mixed this year. The 2016 Patent Law, continues to be a source of significant concern for IP stakeholders, especially expansive compulsory license provisions and a requirement under Article 20 to produce a patented product in Indonesia within 36 months of the grant of a patent. In July 2018, the Ministry of Law and Human Rights (MLHR) enacted Ministerial Regulation 15/2018, allowing patent holders to request a five-year, renewable exemption from the 36-month local production requirement under Article 20.  However, MLHR issued Ministerial Regulation 39/2018 on December 28, providing new procedures for obtaining compulsory licenses for a variety of patented products. Regulation 39/2018 would allow individuals, government institutions, and patent holders to apply for a compulsory license on three bases: 1) failure to produce a patented product in Indonesia within 36 months; 2) use of a patent in a manner detrimental to the public interest; and 3) where a patent cannot be implemented without utilizing another party’s patent. The new regulation also gives MLHR the discretion to grant compulsory licenses to produce, import, and export patented products needed to remedy human disease in Indonesia and third countries.

MLHR reports that the five-year exemption from local production requirements under Regulation 15/2018 will continue to be available despite the issuance of Regulation 39/2018. The 2016 Patent Law contains several other provisions that some have defined as “concerning”, including a  definition of “invention” that potentially imposes an additional “increased meaningful benefit” requirement for patents on new forms of existing compounds, an expansive national interest test for proposed patent licenses, and disclosure of genetic information and traditional knowledge to promote access and benefit sharing.  The Directorate General for Intellectual Property (DGIP) is currently drafting guidelines on pharmacy, computer, and biotechnology patents for examiners; DGIP plans to release the guidelines in 2019.

DGIP has become more active in its efforts to collect patent annuity fees. On August 16, 2018, DGIP issued a circular letter warning stakeholders that it may refuse to accept new patent applications from rights holders that have not paid patent annuity fee debts. The letter gave rights holders until February 16, 2019, to settle unpaid patent annuity payments. On February 17, 2019, DGIP issued another circular letter on its website to extend the period of time for a patent holder to settle any unpaid annuities for 6 months to August 17, 2019. The U.S. government continues to monitor implementation of this policy with DGIP and industry stakeholders.

Indonesia deposited its instrument of accession to the Madrid Protocol with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in October 2017 and issued implementing regulations in June 2018. Under the new rules, Madrid Protocol applicants are required to register their application with DGIP first, and must be Indonesian citizens, domiciled in Indonesia, or have clear industrial or commercial interests in Indonesia. Although the Trademark Law of 2016 expanded recognition of non-traditional marks, Indonesia still does not recognize certification marks. In response to stakeholder concerns over a lack of consistency in treatment of international well-known trademarks, the Supreme Court issued Circular Letter 1/2017, which advised Indonesian judges to recognize cancellation claims for well-known international trademarks with no time limit stipulation.

The Ministry of Finance’s Directorate General for Customs and Excise (DGCE) continued to implement ex officio authorities to investigate shipments of infringing goods in 2018. Under MOF Regulation 40/2018, DGCE launched an online trademark recordation system that enables customs officials to detain a shipment of potentially IP-infringing goods for up to two days in order to inform a registered rights holder of the suspect shipment. Once the rights holder confirms the shipment is suspect, it has four days to file a request to suspend the shipment with the Indonesian Commercial Court. Rights holders are required to provide a monetary guarantee of IDR 100 million (approximately USD 7,700) when they request suspension of a shipment. Despite  business stakeholder concerns, the GOI retained a requirement that only companies with offices domiciled in Indonesia may use the recordation system.

In 2015, DGIP and KOMINFO jointly released implementing regulations under the Copyright Law to provide for rights holders to report websites that offer IP-infringing products and sets forth procedures for blocking IP-infringing sites. Also in 2015, Indonesia’s Creative Economy Agency (BEKRAF) launched an anti-piracy task force with film and music industry stakeholders. BEKRAF reported that the taskforce remained focused on coordinating the review of complaints from industry about infringing websites in 2018. KOMINFO reported that it blocked 442 infringing websites in 2018.

DGIP reports that its directorate of investigation has increased staffing to 187 investigators, including 40 nationwide investigators and 147 staff certified to act as local investigators in 33 provinces when needed for a pending case, and saw the number of investigations double from 16 in 2017 to 36 in 2018. BPOM, Indonesia’s food and drug administration, reported the seizure of more than USD 6.3 billion in counterfeit drugs and cosmetics during the year. Trademark, Patent, and Copyright legislation requires a rights-holder complaint for investigations, and DGIP and BPOM investigators lack the authority to make arrests so must rely on police cooperation for any enforcement action.

Resources for Rights Holders

Additional information regarding treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, can be found at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) country profile website http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .For a list of local lawyers, see: http://jakarta.usembassy.gov/us-service/attorneys.html.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX) index has 618 listed companies as of December 2018 with a market capitalization of USD 526 billion. There were 57 initial public offerings in 2018 – the most in 26 years. As of January 2019, domestic entities conducted more than half of total IDX stock trades (65.08 percent). In November 2018, IDX introduced T+2 settlement, with sellers now receiving proceeds within two days instead of the previous standard of three days (T+3).

In 2011, the IDX launched the Indonesian Sharia Stock Index (ISSI), its first index of sharia-compliant companies, primarily to attract greater investment from Middle East companies and investors. In 2017, the IDX introduced the first online sharia stock trading platform. As of December 2018, the ISSI is composed of 403 stocks that are a part of IDX’s Jakarta Composite Index, with a total market cap of USD 275 billion.

Government treasury bonds are the most liquid bonds offered by Indonesia. Treasury bills are less liquid due to their small issue size. Liquidity in BI-issued Sertifikat Bank Indonesia (SBI) is also limited due to the three-month required holding period. The government also issues sukuk (Islamic treasury notes) treasury bills as part of its effort to diversify Islamic debt instruments and increase their liquidity. Indonesia’s sovereign debt as of December 2018 was rated as BBB- by Standard and Poor, BBB by Fitch Ratings and Baa2 by Moody’s.

The Financial Services Supervisory Authority (OJK) began overseeing capital markets and non-banking institutions in 2013, replacing the Capital Market and Financial Institution Supervisory Board, and assumed BI’s supervisory role over commercial banks as of 2014. Foreigners have access to the Indonesian capital markets and are a major source (37.32 percent of government securities) of portfolio investment. Indonesia respects International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Foreign ownership of Indonesian companies may be limited in certain industries as determined by the Negative Investment List.

Money and Banking System

Although there is some concern regarding the operations of the many small and medium sized family-owned banks, the banking system is generally considered sound, with banks enjoying some of the widest interest rate margins in the region. As of May 2018, the 11 top banks had IDR 4,877 trillion (USD 348.3 billion) in total assets. Loans grew 11.5 percent in 2018 compared to 8.1 percent a year earlier. Gross non-performing loans in December 2018 remained at 2.4 percent y-o-y from 2.4 percent the previous year. For 2019, analysts project annual credit growth at 10-12 percent and deposit growth around 8-10 percent for Indonesia’s banking industry.

OJK Regulation No.56/03/2016 has limited bank ownership to no more than 40 percent by any single shareholder, applicable to foreign and domestic shareholders. This does not apply to foreign bank branches in Indonesia. Foreign banks may establish branches if the foreign bank is ranked in the top 200 global banks by assets.  A special operating license is required from OJK in order to establish a foreign branch. The OJK granted an exception in 2015 for foreign banks buying two small banks and merging them. To establish a representative office, a foreign bank must be ranked in the top 300 global banks by assets. In 2017, HSBC, which previously registered as a foreign branch, changed its legal status to a Limited Liability Company and merged with a local bank subsidiary which it had purchased in 2008.

In 2015, OJK eased rules for foreigners to open a bank account in Indonesia. Foreigners can open a bank account with a balance between USD 2,000-50,000 with just their passport. For accounts greater than USD 50,000, foreigners must show a supporting document such as a reference letter from a bank in the foreigner’s country of origin, a local domicile address, a spousal identity document, copies of a contract for a local residence, and/or credit/debit statements.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The rupiah (IDR), the local currency, is freely convertible. Currently, banks must report all foreign exchange transactions and foreign obligations to the central bank, Bank Indonesia (BI). With respect to the physical movement of currency, any person taking rupiah bank notes into or out of Indonesia in the amount of IDR 100 million (approximately USD 7,377) or more, or the equivalent in another currency, must report the amount to DGCE. The limit for any person or entity to bring foreign currency bank notes into or out of Indonesia is the equivalent of IDR 1 billion (USD 71,429).

Banks on their own behalf or for customers may conduct derivative transactions related to derivatives of foreign currency rates, interest rates, and/or a combination thereof. BI requires borrowers to conduct their foreign currency borrowing through domestic banks registered with BI. The regulations apply to borrowing in cash, non-revolving loan agreements, and debt securities.

Under the 2007 Investment Law, Indonesia gives assurance to investors relating to the transfer and repatriation of funds, in foreign currency, on:

  • capital, profit, interest, dividends and other income;
  • funds required for (i) purchasing raw material, intermediate goods or final goods, and (ii) replacing capital goods for continuation of business operations;
  • additional funds required for investment;
  • funds for debt payment;
  • royalties;
  • income of foreign individuals working on the investment;
  • earnings from the sale or liquidation of the invested company;
  • compensation for losses; and
  • compensation for expropriation.

U.S. firms report no difficulties in obtaining foreign exchange.

BI began in 2012 to require exporters to repatriate their export earnings through domestic banks within three months of the date of the export declaration form. Once repatriated, there are currently no restrictions on re-transferring export earnings abroad. Some companies report this requirement is not enforced.

In 2015, the government announced a regulation requiring the use of the rupiah in domestic transactions. While import and export transactions can still use foreign currency, importers’ transactions with their Indonesian distributors must now use rupiah, which has impacted some U.S. business operations. The central bank may grant a company permission to receive payment in foreign currency upon application, and where the company has invested in a strategic industry.

Remittance Policies

The government places no restrictions or time limitations on investment remittances. However, certain reporting requirements exist. Banks should adopt Know Your Customer (KYC) principles to carefully identify customers’ profile to match transactions.

Carrying rupiah bank notes of more than IDR 100 million (approximately USD 7,377) in cash out of Indonesia requires prior approval from BI, as well as verifying the funds with Indonesian Customs upon arrival. Indonesia does not engage in currency manipulation.

As of 2015, Indonesia is no longer subject to the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) monitoring process under its on-going global Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) compliance process. It continues to work with the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) to further strengthen its AML/CTF regime. In July 2018, Indonesia was granted observer status by FATF, a necessary milestone toward becoming a full FATF member.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Indonesia does not operate a traditional sovereign wealth fund, but several SOEs invest in the domestic market. In 2015, the Finance Ministry authorized one of those SOEs, PT Sarana Multi Infrastruktur (SMI) to manage the assets of the Pusat Investasi Pemerintah (PIP), or Government Investment Center (which had previously been seen as a potential sovereign wealth fund). SMI can use the funds for direct investment in infrastructure financing, the placement of funds in the form of government securities, Bank Indonesia Certificates, and/or other financial instruments in accordance with the provisions of laws. Indonesia does not participate in the IMF’s Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Indonesia had 114 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and 28 subsidiaries divided into 12 sectors as of December 2018, 10 of which contributed more than 85 percent of total SOE profit. Of the 114 SOEs, 17 are listed on the Indonesian stock exchange, and 14 are special purpose entities under the SOE Ministry (BUMN), with one SOE, the Indonesian Infrastructure Guarantee Fund, under the Ministry of Finance. Since mid-2016, the Indonesian government has been publicizing plans to consolidate SOEs into six holding companies based on sector of operations. In November 2017, Indonesia announced the creation of a mining holding company, PT Inalum, the first of the six planned SOE-holding companies.  Information regarding the SOEs can be found at the SOE Ministry website (http://www.bumn.go.id/ ) (Indonesian language only). There are also an unknown number of SOEs owned by regional or local governments. SOEs are present in almost all sectors/industries including banking (finance), tourism (travel), agriculture, forestry, mining, construction, fishing, energy, and telecommunications (information and communications).

In 2018 (the most recent data available), SOE profits increased by 0.01 percent year-on-year to IDR 188 trillion (USD 13.4 billion). As of year-end 2018, SOEs assets stood at IDR 8,092 trillion (USD578 billion) compared to the previous year at IDR 7,210 trillion (USD 515 billion). On December 31, 2018, the 17 listed state-owned companies had a market capitalization of IDR 1,578 trillion (USD 112.7 billion) or 22.46 percent of the total capitalization of shares listed on the IDX stock exchange. Indonesia is not a party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement. Private enterprises can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations. However, in reality, many sectors report that SOEs receive strong preference for government projects. SOEs purchase some goods and services from private sector and foreign firms. SOEs publish an annual report and are audited by the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK), the Financial and Development Supervisory Agency (BPKP), and external and internal auditors.

Privatization Program

While some state-owned enterprises have offered shares on the stock market, Indonesia does not have an active privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Indonesian businesses are required to undertake responsible business conduct (RBC) activities under Law 40/2007 concerning Limited Liability Companies. In addition, sectoral laws and regulations have further specific provisions on RBC. Indonesian companies tend to focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs offering community and economic development, and educational projects and programs. This is at least in part caused by the fact that such projects are often required as part of the environmental impact permits (AMDAL) of resource extraction companies, which undergo a good deal of domestic and international scrutiny of their operations. Because a large proportion of resource extraction activity occurs in remote and rural areas where government services are reported to be limited or absent, these companies face very high community expectations to provide such services themselves. Despite significant investments – especially by large multinational firms – in CSR projects, businesses have noted that there is limited general awareness of those projects, even among government regulators and officials.

The government does not have an overarching strategy to encourage or enforce RBC, but regulates each area through the relevant laws (environment, labor, corruption, etc.). Some companies report that these laws  are not always enforced evenly. In 2017, the National Commission on Human Rights launched a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in Indonesia, based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The Financial Services Authority (OJK) regulates corporate governance issues, but the regulations and enforcement are not yet up to international standards for shareholder protection.

OECD Guidelines On Corporate Governance Of SOEs

Indonesia does not adhere to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, nor has been recorded  the government encouraging adherence to those guidelines. Many companies claim that the government does not encourage adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas or any other supply chain management due diligence guidance. Indonesia does participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Indonesia was suspended by the EITI Board due to a missed deadline for its first EITI report, but the suspension was lifted following publication of its 2012-2013 EITI Report in November 2015.

9. Corruption

President Jokowi was elected in 2014 on a strong good-governance platform. However, corruption remains a serious problem according to some U.S. companies, preventing increased FDI. The government has issued detailed directions on combating corruption in targeted ministries and agencies, and the 2018 release of the updated and streamlined National Anti-Corruption Strategy mandates corruption prevention efforts across the government in three focus areas (licenses, state finances, and law enforcement reform). The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) was established in 2002 as the lead government agency to investigate and prosecute corruption.  KPK is one of the most trusted and respected institutions in Indonesia, and President Jokowi has continually expressed support for a strong and independent KPK, opposing proposals by legislators to weaken the anti-graft body’s authorities. The KPK has taken steps to encourage companies to establish effective internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of public officials. By law, the KPK is authorized to conduct investigations, file indictments, and prosecute corruption cases involving law enforcement officers, government executives, or other parties connected to corrupt acts committed by those entities; attracting the “attention and the dismay” of the general public; and/or involving a loss to the state of at least IDR 1 billion (approximately USD 74,500).The government began prosecuting companies who engage in public corruption under new corporate criminal liability guidance issued in a 2016 Supreme Court regulation, with the first conviction of a corporate entity in January 2019.  Presidential decree No. 13/2018 issued in March 2018 clarifies the definition of beneficial ownership and outlines annual reporting requirements and sanctions for non-compliance.

Indonesia’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2018 improved to 89 out of 180 countries surveyed, compared to 96 out of 180 countries in 2017.  Indonesia’s score of public corruption in the country, according to Transparency International, improved to 38 in 2018 (scale of 0/very corrupt to 100/very clean). At the beginning of President Jokowi’s term in 2014, Indonesia’s score was  34. Indonesia ranks 4th of the 10 ASEAN countries.

Nonetheless, according to certain reports, corruption remains pervasive despite laws to combat it. Some have noted that KPK leadership, along with the commission’s investigators and prosecutors, are sometimes harassed, intimidated, or attacked due to their anticorruption work. In early 2019, a Molotov cocktail and bomb components were placed outside the homes of two KPK commissioners, and in 2017 unidentified assailants committed an acid attack against a senior KPK investigator. Police have not identified the perpetrators of either attack. The Indonesian National Police and Attorney General’s Office also investigate and prosecute corruption cases; however, neither have the same organizational capacity or track-record of the KPK. Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal act, with possible fines ranging from USD 3,850 to USD 77,000 and imprisonment up to a maximum of 20 years or life imprisonment, depending on the severity of the charge.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Indonesia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in September 2006. Indonesia has not yet acceded to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, but attends meetings of the OECD Anti-Corruption Working Group. In 2014, Indonesia chaired the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral platform to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and strengthen governance. Several civil society organizations function as vocal and competent corruption watchdogs, including Transparency International Indonesia and Indonesia Corruption Watch.

Resources to Report Corruption

Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Anti-Corruption Commission)
Jln. HR Rasuna Said Kav. C1 Kuningan
Jakarta Selatan 12920
informasi@kpk.go.id

Indonesia Corruption Watch
Jl. Kalibata Timur IV/D No. 6 Jakarta Selatan 12740
Tel: +6221.7901885 or +6221.7994015
Email: info@antikorupsi.org

10. Political and Security Environment

As in other democracies, politically motivated demonstrations occasionally occur throughout Indonesia, but are not a major or ongoing concern for most foreign investors.

Since the large-scale Bali bombings in 2002 that killed over 200 people, Indonesian authorities have aggressively and successfully continued to pursue terrorist cells throughout the country, disrupting multiple aspirational plots. Despite these successes, violent extremist networks and terrorist cells remain intact and have the capacity to become operational and conduct attacks with little or no warning, as do lone wolf-style ISIL sympathizers.

According to the industry, foreign investors in Papua face certain unique challenges. Indonesian security forces occasionally conduct operations against the Free Papua Movement, a small armed separatist group that is most active in the central highlands region. Low-intensity communal, tribal, and political conflict also exists in Papua and has caused deaths and injuries. Anti-government protests have resulted in deaths and injuries, and violence has been committed against employees and contractors of a U.S. company there.

Travelers to Indonesia can visit the U.S. Department of State travel advisory website for the latest information and travel resources: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Indonesia.html.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Companies have reported that the Indonesian labor market faces a number of structural barriers, including skills shortages and lagging productivity, restrictions on the use of contract workers, and reduced gaps between minimum wages and average wages. Recent significant increases in the minimum wage for many provinces have made unskilled and semi-skilled labor more costly. In the bellwether Jakarta area, the minimum wage was raised again from IDR 3.3 million (USD 243.4) per month in 2017 to IDR 3.6 million (USD 256.6) per month in 2018. Unions staged largely peaceful protests across Indonesia in 2018 demanding the government increase the minimum wage, decrease the price for basic needs, and stop companies from outsourcing and employing foreign workers. Under the new wage setting policy adopted as part of the 2018 economic stimulus package, annual minimum wage increases will be indexed directly to inflation and GDP growth. Previously, minimum wage adjustments were subject to negotiations between local governments, industry, and unions, and the changes varied widely from year to year and from region to region.

As only about 7.6 percent of the workforce is unionized, the benefits of union advocacy (including increases in minimum wage) do not always filter down to the rest of the workforce. While restrictions on the use of contract workers remain in place, continued labor protests focusing on this issue suggest that government enforcement continues to be lax. Unemployment has remained steady at 5.5 percent. Unemployment tends to be higher than the national average among young people.

Indonesian labor is relatively low-cost by world standards, but inadequate skills training and complicated labor laws combine to make Indonesia’s competitiveness lag behind other Asian competitors. Investors frequently cite high severance payments to dismissed employees, restrictions on outsourcing and contract workers, and limitations on expatriate workers as significant obstacles to new investment in Indonesia.

Employers also note that the skill base provided by the education system is lower than that of neighboring countries, and successive Labor Ministers have listed improved vocational training as a top priority. Labor contracts are relatively straightforward to negotiate but are subject to renegotiation, despite the existence of written agreements. Local courts often side with citizens in labor disputes, contracts notwithstanding. On the other hand, some foreign investors view Indonesia’s labor regulatory framework, respect for freedom of association, and the right to unionize as an advantage to investing in the country. Expert local human resources advice is essential for U.S. companies doing business in Indonesia, even those only opening representative offices.

Minimum wages vary throughout the country as provincial governors set an annual minimum wage floor and district heads have the authority to set a higher rate. Indonesia’s highly fractured and historically weak labor movement has gained strength in recent years, evidenced by significant increases in the minimum wage. As noted above, recent changes to the minimum wage setting system may make the process less dependent on political factors and more aligned with actual changes in inflation and GDP growth. Labor unions are independent of the government. The law, with some restrictions, protects the rights of workers to join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Indonesia has ratified all eight of the core ILO conventions underpinning internationally accepted labor norms. The Ministry of Labor maintains an inspectorate to monitor labor norms, but enforcement is stronger in the formal than in the informal sector. A revised Social Security Law, which took effect in 2014, requires all formal sector workers to participate. Subject to a wage ceiling, employers must contribute an amount equal to 4 percent of workers’ salaries to this plan. In 2015, Indonesia established the Social Security Organizing Body of Employment (BPJS-Employment), a national agency to support workers in the event of work accident, death, retirement, or old age.

A proposed revision to Indonesia’s 2003 labor law may establish more stringent restrictions on outsourcing, currently used by many firms to circumvent some formal-sector job benefits.

Additional information on child labor, trafficking in persons, and human rights in Indonesia can be found online through the following references:

Child Labor Report: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/indonesia .

Trafficking in Persons Report: https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-trafficking-in-persons-report/indonesia/

Human Rights Report: https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

In 2010, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) updated its 1967 Investment Support Agreement between the United States and Indonesia by adding OPIC products such as direct loans, coinsurance, and reinsurance to the means of OPIC support which U.S. companies may use to invest in Indonesia. OPIC projects in Indonesia cover various sectors, including but not limited to banking, renewable energy, agribusiness, extractive industries, science, health care, and social assistance. Since 1974, OPIC has committed USD 2.35 billion in finance and insurance across 116 projects in Indonesia. Currently, OPIC has seven active projects in Indonesia with total commitment of USD 131.2 million. OPIC’s latest project was financing for Indonesia’s first utility-scale wind power project in 2016.

Indonesia has joined the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). MIGA, a part of the World Bank Group, is an investment guarantee agency to insure investors and lenders against losses relating to currency transfer restrictions, expropriation, war and civil disturbance, and breach of contract. In 2018, MIGA provided a guarantee loan to Indonesian state-owned financial institutions and financed a hydroelectric power plant.

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)  

2018

$1,107 2017 $1,016 https://data.worldbank.org/country/Indonesia 

*Bank of Indonesia, GDP from the host country website is converted into USD with the exchange rate 13.400 for 2018.

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $1,217.6 2017 $15,171 http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_data.htm
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2017 $311 http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_data.htm
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 2.6% 2017 24.5% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

*Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), January 2019

There is a discrepancy between U.S. FDI recorded by BKPM and BEA due to differing methodologies. While BEA recorded transactions in balance of payments, BKPM relies on company realization reports. BKPM also excludes oil and gas, non-bank financial institutions, and insurance.


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 2016 Outward Direct Investment 2016
Total Inward 240,104 100% Total Outward 65,871 100%
Singapore 58,046 24.2% N/A
Netherlands 43,667 18.2%
United States 24,020 10.0%
Japan 22,609 9.4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source:  IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey for inward investment data. World Investment Report 2018 UNTCAD for outward investment data, country specific data for outward investment is unavailable.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets 2016
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 17,316 100% All Countries 5,954 100% All Countries 11,361 100%
Netherlands 6,002 34.7% United States 2,289 38.4% Netherlands 5,998 52.8%
United States 3,276 18.9% India 1,531 25.7% Luxembourg 1,259 11.1%
India 1,577 9.1% China (PR Mainland) 774 13.0% United States 986 8.7%
Luxembourg 1,260 7.3% China (PR
Hong Kong)
534 9.0% Singapore 483 4.3%
China
(Mainland)
974 5.6% Australia 353 5.9% China (Mainland) 200 1.8%

Source: IMF Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey, 2018. Sources of portfolio investment are not tax havens.

The Bank of Indonesia published comparable data.

14. Contact for More Information

Reggie Singh
Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Jakarta
+62-21-50831000
BusinessIndonesia@state.gov

Malaysia

Executive Summary

Since May 2018 elections, the new government has focused on delivering on some of its key campaign promises such as tackling corruption, improving livelihoods for the bottom 40 percent (B40) income earners, and introducing open tenders for infrastructure projects.  The Ministry of Finance has also revised Malaysia’s GDP to debt ratio when the government included previously off budgets in their reported figures. A key campaign promise, the abolishment of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) provided for a three-month tax holiday and was then replaced with a Sales and Services Tax (SST).  

The Government of Malaysia has traditionally encouraged foreign direct investment (FDI), and the Prime Minister and many Cabinet ministers have engaged with foreign investors a number of times since taking office.  The government has encouraged interested investors to meet with relevant government authorities to negotiate incentive packages, actively targeting industries. Government officials have called for investments in high technology and research and development, focusing on artificial intelligence, Internet of Things device design and manufacturing, Smart Cities, electric vehicles, automation of the manufacturing industry, telecommunications infrastructure, and other “catalytic sub-sectors,” such as aerospace.  It also seeks further development in sectors such as oil, gas and energy; palm oil and rubber; wholesale and retail operations; financial services; tourism; electrical and electronics (E&E); business services; communications content and infrastructure; education; agriculture; and health care.

Under the previous administration, inbound FDI had been steady in nominal terms, and Malaysia’s performance in attracting FDI relative to both earlier decades and the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had slowed.  According to the 2013 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Investment Policy Review of Malaysia, FDI to Malaysia began to decline in 1992, and private investment overall started to slide in 1997 following the Asian financial crises.  In the intervening years, domestic demand has increasingly been the source of Malaysia’s economic performance, with foreign investment receding as a driver of GDP growth. The OECD concluded in its Review that Malaysia’s FDI levels in recent years had reached record high levels in absolute terms, but were at low levels as a percentage of GDP.  The current government estimates that GDP will grow at 4.9 percent in 2019.

The business climate in Malaysia has been conducive to U.S. investment.  Increased transparency and structural reforms that will prevent future corrupt practices could make Malaysia a more attractive destination for FDI in the long run.  The largest U.S. investments are in the oil and gas sector, manufacturing, and financial services. Firms with significant investment in Malaysia’s oil and gas and petrochemical sectors include: ExxonMobil, Caltex, ConocoPhillips, Hess Oil, Halliburton, Dow Chemical and Eastman Chemicals.  Major semiconductor manufacturers, including ON Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, Intel, and others have substantial operations in Malaysia, as do electronics manufacturers Western Digital, Honeywell, St. Jude Medical Operations (medical devices), and Motorola. In recent years Malaysia has attracted significant investment in the production of solar panels, including from U.S. firms.  Many of the major Japanese consumer electronics firms (Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Matsushita, etc.) have facilities in Malaysia.


Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 61 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2018 15 of 190 http://doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 35 of 127 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $15,100 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $9,650 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Malaysia has one of the world’s most trade-dependent economies with exports and imports of goods and services reaching about 130 percent of annual GDP according to the World Trade Organization. The Malaysian government values foreign investment as a driver of continued national economic development, but has been hampered by restrictions in some sectors and an at-times burdensome regulatory regime.  Some of these restrictions may be lifted by the new government in an effort to attract FDI.

In 2009, Malaysia removed its former Foreign Investment Committee (FIC) investment guidelines, enabling transactions for acquisitions of interests, mergers, and takeovers of local companies by domestic or foreign parties without FIC approval. Although the FIC itself still exists, its primary role is to review of investments related to distributive trade (e.g., retail distributors) as a means of ensuring 30 percent of the equity in this economic segment is held by the bumiputera (ethnic Malays and other indigenous ethnicities in Malaysia).

Since 2009, the government has gradually liberalized foreign participation in the services sector to attract more foreign investment. Following removal of certain restrictions on foreign participation in industries ranging from computer-related consultancies, tourism, and freight transportation, the government in 2011 began to allow 100 percent foreign ownership across the following sectors: healthcare, retail, education as well as professional, environmental, and courier services. Some limits on foreign equity ownership remain in place across in telecommunications, financial services, and transportation.

Foreign investments in services, whether in sectors with no foreign equity limits or controlled sub-sectors, remain subject to review and approval by ministries and agencies with jurisdiction over the relevant sectors. A key function of this review and approval process is to determine whether proposed investments meet the government’s qualifications for the various incentives in place to promote economic development goals. Nevertheless, the Ministerial Functions Act grants relevant ministries broad discretionary powers over the approval of specific investment projects. Investors in industries targeted by the Malaysian government often can negotiate favorable terms with ministries, or other bodies, regulating the specific industry. This can include assistance in navigating a complex web of regulations and policies, some of which can be waived on a case-by-case basis. Foreign investors in non-targeted industries tend to receive less government assistance in obtaining the necessary approvals from the various regulatory bodies and therefore can face greater bureaucratic obstacles.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The legal framework for foreign investment in Malaysia grants foreigners the right to establish businesses and hold equity stakes across all parts of the economy.  However, despite the progress of reforms to open more of the economy to a greater share of foreign investment, limits on foreign ownership remain in place across many sectors.

Telecommunications

Malaysia began allowing 100 percent foreign equity participation in Applications Service Providers (ASP) in April 2012.  However, for Network Facilities Providers (NFP) and Network Service Provider (NSP) licenses, a limit of 70 percent foreign participation remains in effect.  In certain instances, Malaysia has allowed a greater share of foreign ownership, but the manner in which such exceptions are administered is non-transparent.  Restrictions are still in force on foreign ownership allowed in Telekom Malaysia. The limitation on the aggregate foreign share is 30 percent or five percent for individual investors.

Oil and Gas

Under the terms of the Petroleum Development Act of 1974, the upstream oil and gas industry is controlled by Petroleum Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS), a wholly state-owned company and the sole entity with legal title to Malaysian crude oil and gas deposits.  Foreign participation tends to take the form of production sharing contracts (PSCs). PETRONAS regularly requires its PSC partners to work with Malaysian firms for many tenders. Non-Malaysian firms are permitted to participate in oil services in partnership with local firms and are restricted to a 49 percent equity stake if the foreign party is the principal shareholder.  PETRONAS sets the terms of upstream projects with foreign participation on a case-by-case basis.

Financial Services

Malaysia’s 10-year Financial Sector Blueprint envisages further opening to foreign institutions and investors, but does not contain specific market-opening commitments or timelines.  For example, the services liberalization program that started in 2009 raised the limit of foreign ownership in insurance companies to 70 percent. However, Malaysia’s Central Bank (Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM)), would allow a greater foreign ownership stake if the investment is determined to facilitate the consolidation of the industry.  The latest Blueprint, 2011-2020, helped to codify the case-by-case approach. Under the Financial Services Act passed in late 2012, issuance of new licenses will be guided by prudential criteria and the “best interests of Malaysia,” which may include consideration of the financial strength, business record, experience, character and integrity of the prospective foreign investor, soundness and feasibility of the business plan for the institution in Malaysia, transparency and complexity of the group structure, and the extent of supervision of the foreign investor in its home country.  In determining the “best interests of Malaysia,” BNM may consider the contribution of the investment in promoting new high value-added economic activities, addressing demand for financial services where there are gaps, enhancing trade and investment linkages, and providing high-skilled employment opportunities. BNM, however, has never defined criteria for the “best interests of Malaysia” test, and no firms have qualified.

While there has been no policy change in terms of the 70 percent foreign ownership cap for insurance companies, the government did agree to let a foreign owned insurer maintain a 100 percent equity stake after that firm made a contribution to a health insurance scheme aimed at providing health coverage to lower income Malaysians.

BNM currently allows foreign banks to open four additional branches throughout Malaysia, subject to restrictions, which include designating where the branches can be set up (i.e., in market centers, semi-urban areas and non-urban areas).  The policies do not allow foreign banks to set up new branches within 1.5 km of an existing local bank. BNM also has conditioned foreign banks’ ability to offer certain services on commitments to undertake certain back office activities in Malaysia.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Malaysia’s most recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) investment review occurred in 2013.  Although the review underscored the generally positive direction of economic reforms and efforts at liberalization, the recommendations emphasized the need for greater service sector liberalization, stronger intellectual property protections, enhanced guidance and support from Malaysia’s Investment Development Authority (MIDA), and continued corporate governance reforms.

Malaysia also conducted a WTO Trade Policy Review in February 2018, which incorporated a general overview of the country’s investment policies.  The WTO’s review noted the Malaysian government’s action to institute incentives to encourage investment as well as a number of agencies to guide prospective investors.  Beyond attracting investment, Malaysia had made measurable progress on reforms to facilitate increased commercial activity. Among the new trade and investment-related laws that entered into force during the review period were: the Companies Act, which introduced provisions to simplify the procedures to start a company, to reduce the cost of doing business, as well as to reform corporate insolvency mechanisms; the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) to replace the sales tax; the Malaysian Aviation Commission Act, pursuant to which the Malaysian Aviation Commission was established; and various amendments to the Food Regulations.  Since the WTO Trade Policy Review, however, the new government has already eliminated the GST, and has revived the Sales and Services Tax, which was implemented on September 1, 2018.

http://www.oecd.org/investment/countryreviews.htm  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp466_e.htm  

Business Facilitation

The principal law governing foreign investors’ entry and practice in the Malaysian economy is the Companies Act of 2016 (CA), which entered into force on January 31, 2017 and replaced the Companies Act of 1965.  Incorporation requirements under the new CA have been further simplified and are the same for domestic and foreign sole proprietorships, partnerships, as well as privately held and publicly traded corporations. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019, Malaysia streamlined the process of obtaining a building permit and made it faster to obtain construction permits; eliminated the site visit requirement for new commercial electricity connections, making getting electricity easier for businesses; implemented an online single window platform to carry out property searches and simplified the property transfer process; and introduced electronic forms and enhanced risk-based inspection system for cross-border trade and improved the infrastructure and port operation system at Port Klang, the largest port in Malaysia, thereby facilitating international trade; and made resolving insolvency easier by introducing the reorganization procedure.  These changes led to a significant improvement of Malaysia’s ranking per the Doing Business Report, from 24 to 15 in one year.

In addition to registering with the Companies Commission of Malaysia, business entities must file: 1) Memorandum and Articles of Association (ie, company charter); 2) a Declaration of Compliance (ie, compliance with provisions of the Companies Act); and 3) a Statutory Declaration (ie, no bankruptcies, no convictions).  The registration and business establishment process takes two weeks to complete, on average. The new government repealed GST and installed a new sales and services tax (SST), which began implementation on September 1, 2018.

Beyond these requirements, foreign investors must obtain licenses.  Under the Industrial Coordination Act of 1975, an investor seeking to engage in manufacturing will need a license if the business claims capital of RM2.5 million (approximately USD 641,000) or employs at least 75 full-time staff.  The Malaysian Government’s guidelines for approving manufacturing investments, and by extension, manufacturing licenses, are generally based on capital-to-employee ratios. Projects below a threshold of RM55,000 (approximately USD 14,100) of capital per employee are deemed labor-intensive and will generally not qualify.  Manufacturing investors seeking to expand or diversify their operations will need to apply through MIDA.

Manufacturing investors whose companies have annual revenue below RM50 million (approximately USD12.8 million) or with fewer than 200 full-time employees meet the definition of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and will generally be eligible for government SME incentives.  Companies in the services or other sectors that have revenue below RM20 million (approximately USD5.1 million) or fewer than 75 full-time employees will meet the SME definition.

[Reference]

Outward Investment

While the Malaysian government does not promote or incentivize outward investment, a number of Government-Linked companies, pension funds, and investment companies do have investments overseas.  These companies include the sovereign wealth fund of the Government of Malaysia, Khazanah Nasional Berhad, KWAP, Malaysia’s largest public services pension fund, and the Employees’ Provident Fund of Malaysia.  Government owned oil and gas firm Petronas also has investments in several regions outside Asia.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

As a member of ASEAN, Malaysia is a party to trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand; China; India; Japan; and the Republic of Korea. During the review period, the ASEAN-India Agreement was expanded to cover trade in services. Malaysia also has bilateral FTAs with: Australia; Chile; India; Japan; New Zealand; Pakistan; and Turkey.

Reference: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s366_sum_e.pdf 

Malaysia has bilateral investment treaties with 36 countries, but not yet with the United States.  Malaysia does have bilateral “investment guarantee agreements  ” with over 70 economies, including the United States. The Government reports that 65 of Malaysia’s existing investment agreements contain Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions.  Malaysia has double taxation treaties with over 70 countries, though the double taxation agreement with the U.S. currently is limited to air and sea transportation.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In July 2013, the Malaysian Government initiated a National Policy on Development and Implementation of Regulations (NPDIR).  Under this policy, the federal government embarked on a comprehensive approach to minimize redundancies in the country’s regulatory framework.  The benefits to the private sector thus far have largely been reduced licensing requirements, fees, and approval wait-times for construction projects.  The main components of the policy have been: 1) a regulatory impact assessment (a cost-benefit analysis of all newly proposed regulations); and 2) the creation of a regulations guide, PEMUDAH (similar to the role MIDA plays for prospective investors), to aid businesses and civil society organizations in understanding regulatory requirements affecting their organizations’ activities.  Under the NPDIR, the government has committed to reviewing all new regulations every five years to determine with the new regulations need to be adjusted or eliminated.

Despite this effort to make government more accountable for its rules and to make the process more inclusive, many foreign investors continue to criticize the lack of transparency in government decision making.  The implementation of rules on government procurement contracts are a recurring concern. Non-Malaysian pharmaceutical companies claim to have lost bids against bumiputera (ethnic Malay)-owned companies further claiming they’d offered more effective medicines at lower cost.

[Reference]

(http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/  provides data for 185 economies on whether governments publish or consult with public about proposed regulations)

International Regulatory Considerations

Malaysia is one of 10 Member States that constitute the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). On December 31, 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community formally came into existence. For many years ahead of that date, and since, ASEAN’s economic policy leaders have met regularly to discuss promoting greater economic integration within the 10-country bloc.  Although trade within the 10-country bloc is robust, Member States have prioritized steps to facilitate a greater flow of goods, services, and capital. No regional regulatory system is in place. As a member of the WTO, Malaysia provides notification of all draft technical regulations to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Malaysia’s legal system generally reflects English Law in that it consists of written and unwritten laws.  Written laws include the federal and state constitutions as well as laws passed by Parliament and state legislatures.  Unwritten laws are derived from court cases and local customs. The Contract Law of 1950 still guides the enforcement of contracts and resolution of disputes.  States generally control property laws for residences, although the Malaysian government has recently adopted measures, including high capital gains taxes, to prevent the real estate market from overheating.  Nevertheless, through such programs as the Multimedia Super Corridor, Free Commercial Zones, and Free Industrial Zones, the federal government has substantial reach into a range of geographic areas as a means of encouraging foreign investment and facilitating ownership of commercial and industrial property.

In 2007 the judiciary introduced dedicated intellectual property (IP) courts that consist of 15 “Sessions Courts” that sit in each state, and six ‘High Courts’ that sit in certain states (i.e. Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Perak, Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak).  Malaysia launched the IP courts to deter the use of IP-infringing activity to fund criminal activity and to demonstrate a commitment to IP development in support of the country’s goal to achieve high-income status. These lower courts hear criminal cases, and have the jurisdiction to impose fines for IP infringing acts.  There is no limit to the fines that they can impose. The higher courts are designated for civil cases to provide damages incurred by rights holders once the damages have been quantified post-trial. High courts have the authority to issue injunctions (i.e., to order an immediate cessation of infringing activity) and to award monetary damages.

Labor Courts, which the Ministry of Human Resources describes as “a quasi-judicial system that serves as an alternative to civil claims,” provide a means for workers to seek payment of wages and other financial benefits in arrears.  Proceedings are generally informal but conducted in accordance with civil court principles. The High Court has upheld decisions which Labor Courts have rendered.

Certain foreign judgments are enforceable in Malaysia by virtue of the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act 1958 (REJA).  However, before a foreign judgment can be enforceable, it has to be registered. The registration of foreign judgments is only possible if the judgment was given by a Superior Court from a country listed in the First Schedule of the REJA: the United Kingdom, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, New Zealand, Republic of Sri Lanka, India, and Brunei.

To register a foreign judgment under the REJA, the judgment creditor has to apply for the same within six years after the date of the foreign judgment. Any foreign judgment coming under the REJA shall be registered unless it has been wholly satisfied, or it could not be enforced by execution in the country of the original Court.

If the judgment is not from a country listed in the First Schedule to the REJA, the only method of enforcement at common law is by securing a Malaysian judgment. This involves suing on the judgment in the local Courts as an action in debt. Summary judgment procedures (explained above) may be used to expedite the process.

Post is not aware of instances in which political figures or government authorities have interfered in judiciary proceedings involving commercial matters.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of Malaysia established the Malaysia Investment Development Authority (MIDA) to attract foreign investment and to serve as a focal point for legal and regulatory questions.  Organized as part of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), MIDA serves as a guide to foreign investors interested in the manufacturing sector and in many services sectors.  Regional bodies providing support investors include: Invest Kuala Lumpur, Invest Penang, Invest Selangor, the Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA), and the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation, among others.

As noted, the Ministerial Functions Act authorizes government ministries to oversee investments under their jurisdiction.  Prospective investors in the services sector will need to follow requirements set by the relevant Malaysian Government ministry or agency over the sector in question.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

On April 21, 2010, the Parliament of Malaysia approved two bills, the Competition Commission Act 2010 and the Competition Act 2010.  The Acts took effect January 1, 2012. The Competition Act prohibits cartels and abuses of a dominant market position, but does not create any pre-transaction review of mergers or acquisitions.  Violations are punishable by fines, as well as imprisonment for individual violations. Malaysia’s Competition Commission has responsibility for determining whether a company’s “conduct” constitutes an abuse of dominant market position or otherwise distorts or restricts competition.  As a matter of law, the Competition Commission does not have separate standards for foreign and domestic companies. Commission membership consists of senior officials from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism (MDTCC), the Ministry of Finance, and, on a rotating basis, representatives from academia and the private sector.

In addition to the Competition Commission, the Acts established a Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) to hear all appeals of Commission decisions.   In the largest case to date, the Commission imposed a fine of RM10 million on Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia in September 2013 for colluding to divide shares of the air transport services market.  The airlines filed an appeal in March 2014. In February 2016, the CAT ruled in favor of the airlines in its first-ever decision and ordered the penalty to be set aside and refunded to both airlines.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Embassy is not aware of any cases of uncompensated expropriation of U.S.-held assets, or confiscatory tax collection practices, by the Malaysian government. The government’s stated policy is that all investors, both foreign and domestic, are entitled to fair compensation in the event that their private property is required for public purposes. Should the investor and the government disagree on the amount of compensation, the issue is then referred to the Malaysian judicial system.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Malaysia signed the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) on October 22, 1965, coming into force on October 14, 1966.  In addition, it is a contracting state of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards since November 5, 1985.

Malaysia adopted the following measures to make the two conventions effective in its territory:

The Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Act, 1966. (Act of Parliament 14 of 1966); the Notification on entry into force of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Act, 1966. (Notification No. 96 of March 10, 1966); and the Arbitration (Amendment) Act, 1980. (Act A 478 of 1980).

Although the domestic legal system is accessible to foreign investors, filing a case generally requires any non-Malaysian citizen to make a large deposit before pursuing a case in the Malaysian courts.  Post is unaware of any U.S. investors’ recent complaints of political interference in any judicial proceedings.

References:

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Malaysia’s investment agreements contain provisions allowing for international arbitration of investment disputes.  Malaysia does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty with the United States.

Post has little data concerning the Malaysian Government’s general handling of investment disputes.  In 2004, a U.S. investor filed a case against the directors of the firm, who constituted the majority shareholders.  The case involves allegations by the U.S. investor of embezzlement by the other directors, and its resolution is unknown.

The Malaysian government has been involved in three ICSID cases — in 1994, 1999, and 2005.  The first case was settled out of court. The second, filed under the Malaysia-Belgo-Luxembourg Investment Guarantee Agreement (IGA), was concluded in 2000 in Malaysia’s favor.  The 2005 case, filed under the Malaysia-UK Bilateral Investment Treaty, was concluded in 2007 in favor of the investor. However, the judgment against Malaysia was ultimately dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, namely that ICSID was not the appropriate forum to settle the dispute because the transaction in question was not deemed an investment since it did not materially contribute to Malaysia’s development. Nevertheless, Malaysian courts recognize arbitral awards issued against the government. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Malaysia’s Arbitration Act of 2005 applies to both international and domestic arbitration. Although its provisions largely reflect those of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, there are some notable differences, including the requirement that parties in domestic arbitration must choose Malaysian law as the applicable law.  Although an arbitration agreement may be concluded by email or fax, it must be in writing: Malaysia does not recognize oral agreements or conduct as constituting binding arbitration agreements.

Many firms choose to include mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts.  The government actively promotes use of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Center for Arbitration (http://www.rcakl.org.my), established under the auspices of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee to offer international arbitration, mediation, and conciliation for trade disputes.  The KLRCA is the only recognized center for arbitration in Malaysia. Arbitration held in a foreign jurisdiction under the rules of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States 1965 or under the United Nations Commission on International trade Law Arbitration Rules 1976 and the Rules of the Regional Centre for Arbitration at Kuala Lumpur can be enforceable in Malaysia.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Malaysia’s Department of Insolvency (MdI) is the lead agency implementing the Insolvency Act of 1967, previously known as the Bankruptcy Act of 1967.  On October 6, 2017, the Bankruptcy Bill 2016 came into force, changing the name of the previous Act, and amending certain terms and conditions. The most significant changes in the amendment include — (1) a social guarantor can no longer be made bankrupt; (2) there is now a stricter requirement for personal service for bankruptcy notice and petition; (3) introduction of the voluntary arrangement as an alternative to bankruptcy; (4) a higher bankruptcy threshold from RM30,000 to RM50,000; (5) introduction of the automatic discharge of bankruptcy; (6) no objection to four categories of bankruptcy for applying a discharge under section 33A (discharge of bankrupt by Certificate of Director General of Insolvency); (7) introduction of single bankruptcy order as a result of the abolishment of the current two-tier order system, i.e. receiving and adjudication orders; (8) creation of the Insolvency Assistance fund.

The distribution of proceeds from the liquidation of a bankrupt company’s assets generally adheres to the “priority matters and persons” identified by the Companies Act of 2016.  After the bankruptcy process legal costs are covered, recipients of proceeds are: employees, secured creditors (i.e., creditors of real assets), unsecured creditors (i.e., creditors of financial instruments), and shareholders.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Malaysia. The country ranks 46th on the World Bank Group’s Doing Business Rankings for Ease of Resolving Insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Malaysian Government has codified the incentives available for investments in qualifying projects in target sectors and regions.  Tax holidays, financing, and special deductions are among the measures generally available for domestic as well as foreign investors in the following sectors and geographic areas: information and communications technologies (ICT); biotechnology; halal products (e.g., food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals); oil and gas storage and trading; Islamic finance; Kuala Lumpur; Labuan Island (off Eastern Malaysia); East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia; Sabah and Sarawak (Eastern Malaysia); Northern Corridor.

The lists of application procedures and incentives available to investors in these sectors and regions can be found at: http://www.mida.gov.my/home/invest-in-malaysia/posts/ 

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Free Zone Act of 1990 authorized the Minister of Finance to designate any suitable area as either a Free Industrial Zone (FIZ), where manufacturing and assembly takes place, or a Free Commercial Zone (FCZ), generally for warehousing commercial stock.  The Minister of Finance may appoint any federal, state, or local government agency or entity as an authority to administer, maintain and operate any free trade zone. Currently there are 13 FIZs and 12 FCZs in Malaysia. In June 2006, the Port Klang Free Zone opened as the nation’s first fully integrated FIZ and FCZ, although the project has been dogged by corruption allegations related to the land acquisition for the site. The government launched a prosecution in 2009 of the former Transport Minister involved in the land purchase process, though he was later acquitted in October 2013.

The Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) is an initiative by the Malaysian Government, implemented through MDEC, launched in November 2017 with the participation of China’s Alibaba.  DFTZ aims to facilitate seamless cross-border trading and eCommerce, and enable Malaysian SMEs to export their goods internationally. According to the Malaysian government, the DFTZ consists of two components:

An eFulfilment Hub to help Malaysian SMEs export their goods with the help of leading fulfilment service providers;

An eServices Platform to efficiently manage cargo clearance and other processes needed for cross-border trade

For more information, please visit https://mydftz.com  

Raw materials, products and equipment may be imported duty-free into these zones with minimum customs formalities. Companies that export not less than 80 percent of their output and depend on imported goods, raw materials, and components may be located in these FZs.  Ports, shipping and maritime-related services play an important role in Malaysia since 90 percent of its international trade by volume is seaborne. Malaysia is also a major transshipment center.

Goods sold into the Malaysian economy by companies within the FZs must pay import duties.  If a company wants to enjoy Common External Preferential Tariff (CEPT) rates within the ASEAN Free Trade Area, 40 percent of a product’s content must be ASEAN-sourced. In addition to the FZs, Malaysia permits the establishment of licensed manufacturing warehouses outside of free zones, which give companies greater freedom of location while allowing them to enjoy privileges similar to firms operating in an FZ. Companies operating in these zones require approval/license for each activity. The time needed to obtain licenses depends on the type of approval and ranges from two to eight weeks.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Fiscal incentives granted to both foreign and domestic investors historically have been subject to performance requirements, usually in the form of export targets, local content requirements and technology transfer requirements.  Performance requirements are usually written into the individual manufacturing licenses of local and foreign investors.

The Malaysian government extends a full tax exemption incentive of fifteen years for firms with “Pioneer Status” (companies promoting products or activities in industries or parts of Malaysia to which the government places a high priority), and ten years for companies with “Investment Tax Allowance” status (those on which the government places a priority, but not as high as Pioneer Status).  However, the government appears to have some flexibility with respect to the expiry of these periods, and some firms reportedly have had their pioneer status renewed. Government priorities generally include the levels of value-added, technology used, and industrial linkages. If a firm (foreign or domestic) fails to meet the terms of its license, it risks losing any tax benefits it may have been awarded.  Potentially, a firm could lose its manufacturing license. The New Economic Model stated that in the long term, the government intends gradually to eliminate most of the fiscal incentives now offered to foreign and domestic manufacturing investors. More information on specific incentives for various sectors can be found at www.mida.gov.my.

Malaysia also seeks to attract foreign investment in the information technology industry, particularly in the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), a government scheme to foster the growth of research, development, and other high technology activities in Malaysia.  However, since July 1, 2018, the Government decided to put on hold the granting of MSC Malaysia Status and its incentives, including extension of income tax exemption period or adding new MSC Malaysia Qualifying Activities in order to review and amend Malaysia’s tax incentives.  While the MSC Malaysia Status Services Incentive has been approved and gazetted on December 31, 2018 and applications are accepted starting on April 2, 2019 for non-Intellectual Property (IP) activities, the MSC Malaysia Status IP Incentive policy is still under review. For further details on incentives, see www.mdec.my.  The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) approves all applications for MSC status. For more information please visit: https://www.mdec.my/msc-malaysia  

In the services sector, the government’s stated goal is to attract foreign investment in regional distribution centers, international procurement centers, operational headquarter research and development, university and graduate education, integrated market and logistics support services, cold chain facilities, central utility facilities, industrial training, and environmental management.  To date, Malaysia has had some success in attracting regional distribution centers, global shared services offices, and local campuses of foreign universities. For example, GE and Honeywell maintain regional offices for ASEAN in Malaysia. In 2016, McDermott moved its regional headquarters to Malaysia and Boston Scientific broke ground on a medical devices manufacturing facility.

Malaysia seeks to attract foreign investment in biotechnology, but sends a mixed message on agricultural and food biotechnology. On July 8, 2010, the Malaysian Ministry of Health posted amendments to the Food Regulations 1985 [P.U. (A) 437/1985] that require strict mandatory labeling of food and food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology.  The amendments also included a requirement that no person shall import, prepare or advertise for sale, or sell any food or food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology without the prior written approval of the Director. There is no ‘threshold’ level on the labeling requirement. Labeling of “GMO Free” or “Non-GMO” is not permitted. The labeling requirements only apply to foods and food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology but not to food produced with GMO feed.  The labeling regulation was originally scheduled to be enforced beginning in July 2012. However, a Ministry of Health circular published on August 27, 2012 announced that enforcement would be deferred until July 8, 2014. However, there has not been any announcement to date of its enforcement. A copy of the law and regulations respectively can be found at: http://www.biosafety.nre.gov.my/BiosafetyAct2007.shtml, and http://www.biosafety.nre.gov.my/BIOSAFETY percent20REGULATIONS percent202010.pdf.

Malaysia has not implemented measures amounting to “forced localization” for data storage.  Bank Negara Malaysia has amended its recent Outsourcing Guidelines to remove the original data localization requirement and shared that it will similarly remove the data localization elements in its upcoming Risk Management in Technology framework.  The government has provided inducements to attract foreign and domestic investors to the Multimedia Super Corridor, but does not mandate use of onshore providers. Companies in the information and communications technology sector are not required to hand over source code.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Land administration is shared among federal, state, and local government.  State governments have their own rules about land ownership, including foreign ownership.  Malaysian law affords strong protections to real property owners. Real property titles are recorded in public records and attorneys review transfer documentation to ensure efficacy of a title transfer.  There is no title insurance available in Malaysia. Malaysian courts protect property ownership rights. Foreign investors are allowed to borrow using real property as collateral. Foreign and domestic lenders are able to record mortgages with competent authorities and execute foreclosure in the event of loan default.  Malaysia ranks 29th (ranked 42nd in 2018) in ease of registering property according to the Doing Business 2019 report, right behind Finland and ahead of Hungary, thanks to changes it made to its registration procedures.

[Reference]

http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings .

Intellectual Property Rights

In December 2011, the Malaysian Parliament passed amendments to the copyright law designed to, inter alia, bring the country into compliance with the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonogram Treaty, define Internet Service Provider (ISP) liabilities, and prohibit unauthorized recording of motion pictures in theaters.  Malaysia subsequently acceded to the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonogram Treaty in September 2012. In addition, the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism (MDTCC) took steps to enhance Malaysia’s enforcement regime, including active cooperation with rights holders on matters pertaining to IPR enforcement, ongoing training of prosecutors for specialized IPR courts, and the 2013 reestablishment of a Special Anti-Piracy Taskforce.

In response to trends of rising internet piracy, the interagency Special Anti-Piracy Task Force established a Special Internet Forensics Unit (SIFU) within MDTCC.  The SIFU team’s responsibilities include monitoring for sites suspected of being, or known as, purveyors of infringing content. This organization follows MDTCC’s practice of launching investigations based on information and complaints from legitimate host sites and content providers.  Capacity building remains a priority for the SIFU. Coordination with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), which has responsibility for overall regulation of internet content, has been improving, according to many rights holders in Malaysia. Our contacts at MDTCC have told Post that the process of developing investigative leads that would support a case for the Attorney General’s Chambers (equivalent to the U.S. Department of Justice) is a work in progress.

Despite Malaysia’s success in improving IPR enforcement, key issues remain, including relatively widespread availability of pirated and counterfeit products in Malaysia, high rates of piracy over the Internet, and continued problems with book piracy.  USTR conducted an Out-of-Cycle Review of Malaysia in 2018 to consider the extent to which Malaysia is providing adequate and effective IP protection and enforcement, including with respect to patents.  During this review, the United States and Malaysia have held numerous consultations to resolve outstanding issues.  In 2019, USTR extended the Out-of-Cycle Review of Malaysia while asking Malaysia to complete actions to fully resolve these concerns in the near term.

The United States continues to encourage Malaysia to accede to the WIPO Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure.  In addition, the United States continues to urge Malaysia to provide effective protection against unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products, and to provide an effective system to address patent issues expeditiously in connection with applications to market pharmaceutical products.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Foreigners may trade in securities and derivatives.  Malaysia houses one of Asia’s largest corporate bond markets, and is the largest sukuk (Islamic bond) market in East Asia.  Both domestic and foreign companies regularly access capital in Malaysia’s bond market. Malaysia provides tax incentives for foreign companies issuing Islamic bonds and financial instruments in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s stock market (Bursa Malaysia) is open to foreign investment and foreign corporation issuing shares.  However, foreign issuers remain subject to bumiputera ownership requirements of 12.5 percent if the majority of their operations are in Malaysia.  Listing requirements for foreign companies are similar to that of local companies. There are additional criteria for foreign companies wanting to list in Malaysia including, among others: approval of regulatory authorities of foreign jurisdiction where the company was incorporated, valuation of assets that are standards applied in Malaysia or International Valuation Standards, and the company must have been registered with the Registrar of Companies under the Companies Act 1965 or 2016.

Malaysia has taken steps to promote good corporate governance by listed companies.  Publicly listed companies must submit quarterly reports that include a balance sheet and income statement within two months of each financial quarter’s end and audited annual accounts for public scrutiny within four months of each year’s end. An individual may hold up to 25 corporate directorships.  All public and private company directors are required to attend classes on corporate rules and regulations.

Legislation also regulates equity buybacks, mandates book entry of all securities transfers, and requires that all owners of securities accounts be identified.  A Central Depository System (CDS) for stocks and bonds established in 1991 makes physical possession of certificates unnecessary. All shares traded on the Bursa Malaysia must be deposited in the CDS.  Short selling of stocks is prohibited.

Money and Banking System

International investors generally regard Malaysia’s banking sector as dynamic and well regulated.  Although privately owned banks are competitive with state-owned banks, the state-owned banks dominate the market.  The five largest banks – Maybank, CIMB, Public Bank, RHB, and Ambank – account for an estimated 75 percent of banking sector loans.  According to the World Bank, total banking sector lending for 2017 was 140.27 percent of GDP, and 1.5 percent of the Malaysian banking sector’s loans were non-performing for 2017.

Bank Negara prohibits hostile takeovers of banks, but the Securities Commission has established non-discriminatory rules and disclosure requirements for hostile takeovers of publicly traded companies.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

In December 2016, the central bank, began implementing new foreign exchange management requirements. Under the policy, exporters are required to convert 75 percent of their export earnings into Malaysian ringgit. The goal of this policy was to deepen the market for the currency, with the goal of reducing exchange rate volatility.  The policy remains in place, with the Central Bank giving case-by-case exceptions. All domestic trade in goods and services must be transacted in ringgit only, with no optional settlement in foreign currency. The Central Bank has demonstrated little flexibility with respect to the ratio of earnings that exporters hold in ringgit. Post is unaware of any instances where the requirement for exporters to hold their earnings in ringgit has impeded their ability to remit profits to headquarters.

Remittance Policies

Malaysia imposes few investment remittance rules on resident companies. Incorporated and individual U.S. investors have not raised concerns about their ability to transfer dividend payments, loan payments, royalties or other fees to home offices or U.S.-based accounts.  Tax advisory firms and consultancies have not flagged payments as a significant concern among U.S. or foreign investors in Malaysia. Foreign exchange administration policies place no foreign currency asset limits on firms that have no ringgit-denominated debt. Companies that fund their purchases of foreign exchange assets with either onshore or offshore foreign exchange holdings, whether or not such companies have ringgit-denominated debt, face no limits in making remittances.  However, a company with ringgit-denominated debt will need approval from the Central Bank for conversions of RM50 million or more into foreign exchange assets in a calendar year.

The Treasury Department has not identified Malaysia as a currency manipulator.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Malaysian Government established government-linked investment companies (GLICs) as vehicles to harness revenue from commodity-based industries and promote growth in strategic development areas.  Khazanah is the largest of the GLICs, and the company holds equity in a range of domestic firms as well as investments outside Malaysia. The other GLICs – Armed Forces Retirement Fund (LTAT), National Capital (PNB), Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Pilgrimage Fund (Tabung Haji), Public Employees Retirement Fund (KWAP) – execute similar investments but are structured as savings vehicles for Malaysians.  Khazanah follows the Santiago Principles and participates in the International Forum on Sovereign Wealth Funds

Khazanah was incorporated in 1993 under the Companies Act of 1965 as a public limited company with a charter to promote growth in strategic industries and national initiatives.  As of December 31, 2018, Khazanah reported a 21 percent drop in its net worth and a decline in its “realizable” assets to RM136 billion (from USUSD 39.3 billion to USUSD 32.9 billion).  Khazanah also recorded a pre-tax loss of RM6.27 billion (USUSD 1.52 billion) compared to a pre-tax profit of RM2.89 billion (USUSD 723 million) the previous year. The sectors comprising its major holdings include telecommunications and media, airports, banking, real estate, health care, and the national energy utility.  According to its Annual Review 2019 presentation, in 2018, Khazanah’s mandate and objectives were refreshed, and the company will now pursue its two distinct objectives (commercial vs. strategic) through a dual-fund investment structure: (1) an intergenerational wealth fund to meet its commercial objectives (which will include public and private assets); and (2) a strategic fund to meet its strategic objective (which will include strategic assets and developmental ones).

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises play a very significant role in the Malaysian economy.  Such enterprises have been used to spearhead infrastructure and industrial projects.  As of July 2017, the government owns approximately 42 percent of the value of firms listed on the Bursa Malaysia through its seven Government-Linked Investment Corporations (GLICs), including a majority stake in a number of companies.  Only a minority portion of stock is available for trading for some of the largest publicly listed local companies. Khazanah, often considered the government’s sovereign wealth fund, owns stakes in companies competing in many of the country’s major industries.  Prime Minister Mahathir chairs Khazanah’s Board of Directors. PETRONAS, the state-owned oil and gas company, is Malaysia’s only Fortune Global 500 firm.

As part of its Government Linked Companies (GLC) Transformation Program, the Malaysian Government embarked on a two-pronged strategy to reduce its shares across a range of companies and to make those companies more competitive.  Among the notable divestments of recent years, Khazanah, the largest Government-Linked Investment Company (GLIC), offloaded its stake in the national car company Proton to DRB-Hicom Bhd in 2012. In 2013, Khazanah divested its holdings in telecommunications services giant Time Engineering Bhd.  In 2015, Khazanah cut its equity ownership of national utility company Tenaga Nasional from 31 percent to 29 percent. Khazanah’s annual report for 2017 noted only that the fund had completed 12 divestments that produced a gain of RM 2.5 billion (USD 625 million). In 2018, Khazanah partially divested its shares in IHH Healthcare Berhad, saw two successful IPOs, and issued USUSD 321 million in exchangeable sukuk.  However, significant losses at domestic companies including at Axiata, Telekom Malaysia, Tenaga Nasional, IHH Healthcare Berhad, CIMB Bank, and Malaysia Airports led to the pre-tax loss of USUSD 1.52 billion the company experienced in 2018. In April 2019, Khazanah sold 1.5 percent of its stake in Tenaga Nasional on Bursa Malaysia, after which Khazanah still owned 27.27 percent of the national electric company.

https://www.khazanah.com.my/getmedia/806f3b69-9bb5-452d-a3fa-ce7e77e612b4/Khazanah-Annual-Review-2019-Presentation-Deck-5-Mar-2019_2.aspx

State-owned enterprises (SOEs), which in Malaysia are called government-linked companies (GLCs), with publicly traded shares must produce audited financial statements every year.  These SOEs must also submit filings related to changes in the organization’s management. The SOEs that do not offer publicly traded shares are required to submit annual reports to the Companies Commission.  The requirement for publicly reporting the financial standing and scope of activities of SOEs has increased their transparency. It is also consistent with the OECD’s guideline for Transparency and Disclosure.  Moreover, many SOEs prioritize operations that maximize their earnings. However, the close relationships SOEs have with senior government officials blur the line between strictly commercial activity pursued for its own sake and activity that has been directed to advance a policy interest.  For example, Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas) is both SOE in the oil and gas sector and the regulator of the industry. Malaysia Airlines (MAS), in which the government previously held 70 percent but now holds 100 percent, required periodic infusions of resources from the government to maintain the large numbers of the company’s staff and senior executives.  The airline is still undergoing a restructuring, and the stated goal of the country’s largest sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah, which holds all of the airline’s shares, is to re-list the airline in early 2019.

Privatization Program

In several key sectors, including transportation, agriculture, utilities, financial services, manufacturing, and construction, Government Linked Corporations (GLCs) continue to dominate the market.  However, the Malaysian Government remains publicly committed to the continued, eventual privatization, though it has not set a timeline for the process and faces substantial political pressure to preserve the roles of the GLCs.  The Malaysian Government established the Public-Private Partnership Unit (UKAS) in 2009 to provide guidance and administrative support to businesses interested in privatization projects as well as large-scale government procurement projects.  UKAS, which used to be a part of the Office of the Prime Minister, is now under the Ministry of Finance. UKAS oversees transactions ranging from contracts and concessions to sales and transfers of ownership from the public sector to the private sector.

Foreign investors may participate in privatization programs, but foreign ownership is limited to 25 percent of the privatized entity’s equity.  The National Development Policy confers preferential treatment to the bumiputera, which are entitled to at least 30 percent of the privatized entity’s equity.

The privatization process is formally subject to public bidding.  However, the lack of transparency has led to criticism that the government’s decisions tend to favor individuals and businesses with close ties to high-ranking officials.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The development of responsible business conduct programs in Malaysia has shifted from a government-led initiative to business-led practices.  In 2006, Malaysian stock market regulator, the Securities Commission, published a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Framework for all publicly listed companies, which are required to disclose their CSR programs in their annual financial reports.  In 2007 the Women, Family and Community Ministry launched the Prime Minister’s CSR’s Awards to encourage the spread of CSR programs. In 2011, the Malaysian Government launched the 1Malaysia Training Plan (SL1M), an employment incentive that allows businesses to double the tax deduction for expenses to hire and train graduates from rural areas or from low-income families.  In 2011, the Board for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Malaysia (BCSRM) supplanted the Institute for Corporate Responsibility Malaysia as the focal point for the country’s responsible business conduct programs. The BCSRM is the local affiliate of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Although the Malaysian Government encourages companies to adopt RBC programs, it does not promote adherence to the principles in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises or the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  Malaysia is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

9. Corruption

The Malaysian government established the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2008 and the Whistleblower Protection Act in 2010.  The Malaysian government considers bribery a criminal act and does not permit bribes to be deducted from taxes. Malaysia’s anti-corruption law prohibits bribery of foreign public officials, permits the prosecution of Malaysians for offense committed overseas, and provides for the seizure of property.

The MACC conducts investigations, but prosecutorial discretion remains with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC).  There is no systematic requirement for public officials to disclose their assets and the Whistleblower Protection Act does not provide protection for those who disclose allegations to the media.   In 2015, the Attorney General and Parliament opened investigations into allegations of financial mismanagement at the state development fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), chaired by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak.  After Najib installed a new Attorney General and removed other ministers, the MACC’s investigation closed in late 2015 and the new Attorney General declared the Prime Minister innocent.

The new government prioritized  anti-corruption efforts in its campaign manifesto. Since taking office in May 2018, it established Royal Commissions of Inquiry into alleged corruption at 1MDB, the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA), the Council of Trust for the People (MARA), and the Hajj Pilgrims Fund (Tabung Haji), all government or government-linked agenices.  On May 21, 2018 the MACC established a 1MDB taskforce, including the police and central bank. As of April 2019, the government has charged former Prime Minister Najib with 42 counts of money laundering, criminal breach of trust, and abuse of power.

On July 2, 2018, the government announced it was reducing the number of agencies and departments under the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) from over 90 to only 26 for greater transparency.  Of those reduced, 40 will be re-designated to other ministries, while 10 agencies, offices, and task forces will be abolished. Nine have been given the green light to operate as independent entities, reporting directly to Parliament while five other agencies have been merged.  The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Election Commission, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and the National Audit Department will now report directly to Parliament instead of the PMD

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri bin Abdull -Chief Commissioner
Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission
Block D6, Complex D, Pusat Pentadbiran
Kerajaan Persekutuan, Peti Surat 6000
62007 Putrajaya
+6-1800-88-6000
Email: info@sprm.gov.my

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:

Cynthia Gabriel, Director
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
C Four Consultancies Sdn Bhd
A-2-10, 8 Avenue
Jalan Sg Jernih 8/1, Seksyen 8, 46050 Petaling Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia
Email: info@c4center.org

10. Political and Security Environment

There have been no significant incidents of political violence since the 1969 national elections.  The May 9, 2018 national election led to the first transition of power between coalitions since independence and was peaceful.  In April 2012, the Peaceful Assembly Act took effect, eliminating the need for permits for public assemblies, but outlaws street protests and placing other significant restrictions on public assemblies.  On April 28 2012, the police disrupted a large protest march that took place despite restrictions the government attempted to impose. Subsequent demonstrations and protest marches took place in 2013 and 2014 without disruption.  Following the July 2014 Israeli incursion into Gaza, several Malaysian non-governmental entities organized a boycott of McDonald’s. Over a several week period, protestors picketed at several McDonalds restaurants, at times taunting and harassing employees.  Periodically, Malaysian groups will organize modest protests against U.S. government policies, usually involving demonstrations outside the U.S. embassy. To date, these have remained peaceful and localized, with a strong police presence. Likewise, several non-governmental organizations have organized mass rallies in major cities in peninsular and East Malaysia related to domestic policies that have been peaceful.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Malaysia’s 1.78 million documented and 2-4 million undocumented foreign workers make up over 20 percent of the country’s workforce.  The new Pakatan Harapan coalition government has pledged to reduce Malaysia’s reliance on foreign labor while bringing the nation’s laws up to international standards, and has begun taking steps towards reforming a foreign worker recruitment process accused of corrupt practices and leading workers into debt bondage under the former government.

Malaysia’s shortage of skilled labor is the most frequently mentioned impediment to economic growth cited in numerous studies.  Malaysia has an acute shortage of highly qualified professionals, scientists, and academics. The Embassy has heard from some U.S. companies that the shortage of skilled labor has resulted in more on-the-job training for new hires.

The Malaysian labor market operates at essentially full employment, with unemployment for Malaysians at 3.3 percent as of February 2019.  In an effort to improve the employability of local graduates, the GOM offers additional training modules at public universities in English language skills, presentation techniques, and entrepreneurship.

Malaysia is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO).  Labor relations in Malaysia are generally non-confrontational. While  a system of government controls strongly discourages strikes and restricts the formation of unions, the new government has created a National Labor Advisory Council – comprised of the Malaysian Trade Unions Congress and Malaysian Employer’s Federation – to increase labor participation in unions.  The government plans to amend its Trade Unions Act and Industrial Relations Act in July 2019 to increase freedom of association in Malaysia. Some labor disputes are settled through negotiation or arbitration by an industrial court and the new Minister of Human Resources has significantly reduced the backlog of industrial court cases over the past nine months.  Malaysian authorities have pledged to move forward with amendments to the country’s labor laws as a means of boosting the economy’s overall competitiveness and combatting forced labor conditions. In its first year in power, the government has outlawed outsourcing companies, improved oversight of employment agencies, and brought the Employment Act, Children and Young Persons Act, and Occupational Safety and Health Act in line with ILO principles.

Although national unions are currently proscribed due to sovereignty issues within Malaysia, there are a number of territorial federations of unions (the three territories being Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak).  The government has prevented some trade unions, such as those in the electronics and textile sectors, from forming territorial federations. Instead of allowing a federation for all of Peninsular Malaysia, the electronics sector is limited to forming four regional federations of unions, while the textile sector is limited to state-based federations of unions, for those states which have a textile industry.  Upcoming changes to the Trade Unions Act should address this issue and allow unions to form. Employers and employees share the costs of the Social Security Organization (SOSCO), which covers an estimated 12.9 million workers and has been expanded to cover foreign workers. No systematic welfare programs or government unemployment benefits exist; however, the Employee Provident Fund (EPF), which employers and employees are required to contribute to, provides retirement benefits for workers in the private sector.  Civil servants receive pensions upon retirement.

The regulation of employment in Malaysia, specifically as it affects the hiring and redundancy of workers remains a notable impediment to employing workers in Malaysia. The high cost of terminating their employees, even in cases of wrongdoing, is a source of complaint for domestic and foreign employers.  The Prime Minister formed an Independent Committee on Foreign Workers to study foreign worker policies. The Committee submitted 40 recommendations for streamlining the hiring of migrant workers and protecting employees from debt bondage and forced labor conditions. The recommendations remain under consideration by the Cabinet.

Some contacts at U.S. companies have reported that the government monitors the ethnic balance among employees and enforces an ethnic quota system for hiring in certain areas.  Race-based preferences in hiring and promotion are widespread in government, government-owned universities and government-linked corporations.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, the new government has increased and standardized the minimum wage across the country to RM 1100 (USD 275), a raise from RM 1,000 (USD 250) in Peninsular Malaysia and RM 920 (USD 230) in East Malaysia.  While campaigning, the government pledged to raise the minimum wage to RM1,500 (USD 375) within five years, although it has faced resistance from employer associations and the business community.

In 2018, the Department of Labor’s Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) listing of goods produced with child labor and forced labor included Malaysian palm oil (forced and child labor), electronics (forced labor), and garments (forced labor).  Senior officials across the Malaysian interagency have taken this listing seriously and have been working with the private sector and civil society to address concerns relating to the recruitment, hiring, and management of foreign workers in all sectors of the Malaysian economy, including palm oil and electronics.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Malaysia has a limited investment guarantee agreement with the U.S. under the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) program, for which it has qualified since 1959.  Few investors have sought OPIC insurance in Malaysia.

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 $315,000 2017 $314,710 www.worldbank.org/en/country  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2016 $9,500 2017 $15,100 BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_multinational_companies_comprehensive_data.htm  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2015 $1,300 2017 $1,100 BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_multinational_companies_comprehensive_data.htm  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2016 44.8% 2017 45% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/sections/dite_dir/docs/wir2018/wir18_fs_my_en.pdf 


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data (as of June 2018)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $140,399 100% Total Outward $129,308 100%
Singapore $28,684 20.4% Singapore $23,171 18%
Japan $17,679 12.6% Indonesia $11,348 8.8%
Hong Kong $12,582 9.0% Mauritius $8,718 6.7%
Netherlands $9,557 6.8% Cayman Islands $7,297 5.6%
United States $8,306 6.0% Canada $6,859 5.3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets (as of June 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $86,675 100% All Countries $60,004 100% All Countries $26,671 100%
United States $27,515 31.7% United States $22,020 36.7% Singapore $9,956 37.3%
Singapore $25,951 29.9% Singapore $15,996 26.7% United States $5,495 20.6%
Hong Kong $5,142 5.9% Hong Kong $4,422 7.4% Australia $1,682 6.3%
United Kingdom $4,591 5.3% United Kingdon $3,781 6.3% Indonesia $1.108 4.2%
Australia $3,545 4.1% Luxembourg $2,161 3.6% United Kingdom $809 3%

14. Contact for More Information

Embassy Kuala Lumpur Economic Section
376 Jalan Tun Razak / 50400 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
+6-03-2168-5153
Email: KualaLumpurEcon@state.gov

Philippines

Executive Summary

The Philippines has improved its overall investment climate throughout the past decade, and the country’s sovereign credit ratings remain investment grade due to the country’s sound macroeconomic fundamentals.  The Philippines continues to experience high levels of net foreign direct investment (FDI), even as FDI inflows slightly dipped to USD 9.8 billion for 2018 from a record high of USD 10.3 billion in 2017, according to Department of Trade and Industry data. The majority of FDI investments included manufacturing, financial and insurance activities, real estate, gas, steam, and tourism/recreation.  (https://www.dti.gov.ph/resources/statistics/net-foreign-direct-investments-fdi#table)

Foreign investment pledges approved by Philippine investment promotion agencies (IPAs) increased from USD 2.04 billion in 2017 to USD 3.45 billion in 2018, a 69 percent increase. (https://www.dti.gov.ph/resources/statistics/ipa-approved-investments).  FDI in the Philippines, however, remains relatively low in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as it ranks fourth out of 10 ASEAN countries for total FDI in 2018.

Foreign ownership limitations in many sectors of the economy constrain investments.  Poor infrastructure, high power costs, slow broadband connections, regulatory inconsistencies, and corruption are major disincentives to investment.  The Philippines’ complex, slow, and sometimes corrupt judicial system inhibits the timely and fair resolution of commercial disputes. Investors often describe the business registration process as slow and burdensome.  Traffic in major cities and congestion in the ports remain a regular cost of business. Proposed tax reform legislation to reduce the corporate income tax from ASEAN’s highest rate of 30 percent would be positive for business investment, although some foreign investors have concerns about a possible reduction of investment incentives proposed in the measure.

The Philippines is working to address investment constraints.  In October 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which enumerates investment areas where foreign ownership or investment is banned or limited.  The most significant changes permit foreign companies to have a 100 percent investment in internet businesses (not a part of mass media), insurance adjustment firms, investment houses, lending and finance companies, and wellness centers.  It also allows foreigners to teach higher educational levels, provided the subject is not professional nor requires bar examination/government certification. The latest FINL now allows 40 percent foreign participation in construction and repair of locally funded public works, up from 25 percent.  The FINL, however, is limited in scope since it cannot change prior laws relating to foreign investments, such as Constitutional provisions which bar investment in mass media, utilities, and natural resource extraction.

There are currently several pending pieces of legislation which would have a large impact on investment and unleash investment within the country.  Congress approved the Ease of Doing Business Bill and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act in May 2018 (which amends the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007) that allows for a standardized maximum deadline for government transactions, a single business application form, a one-stop shop, an automation of business permits processing, a zero contact policy, and a central business databank (https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2018/05/28/republic-act-no-11032/).  It is presently awaiting the President’s signature and expected to be signed in 2019.  Touted as one of the Duterte Administrations’ landmark law, it creates an Anti-Red Tape Authority under the Office of the President that oversees national policy on anti-red tape issues implement reforms to improve competitiveness rankings.  It will also monitor compliance of agencies and issue notices to erring and non-compliant government employees and officials.

While the Philippine bureaucracy can be slow and opaque in its processes, the business environment is notably better within the special economic zones, particularly those available for export businesses operated by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), known for its regulatory transparency, no red-tape policy, and one-stop shop services for investors.  Finally, the Philippines plans to spend about USD 180 billion through 2022 to upgrade its infrastructure through the Build, Build, Build program.

Table 1

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 “Ease of Doing Business” 2018 124 of 190 doingbusiness.org/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2017 73 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $7.1  http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $3,660 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Philippines seeks foreign investment to generate employment, promote economic development, and contribute to sustained growth.  The Board of Investments (BOI) and PEZA are the lead investment promotion agencies (IPAs). They provide incentives and special investment packages to investors.  Noteworthy advantages of the Philippine investment landscape include free trade zones, including PEZAs, and a large, educated, English-speaking, relatively low-cost Filipino workforce.  Philippine law treats foreign investors the same as their domestic counterparts, except in sectors reserved for Filipinos by the Philippine Constitution and the Foreign Investment Act (see details under Limits on Foreign Control section).  Additional information regarding investment policies and incentives are available on the BOI   and PEZA   websites.

Restrictions on foreign ownership, inadequate public investment in infrastructure, and lack of transparency in procurement tenders hinder foreign investment.  The Philippines’ regulatory regime remains ambiguous in many sectors of the economy, and corruption is a significant problem. Large, family-owned conglomerates, including San Miguel, Ayala, and SM, dominate the economic landscape, crowding out other smaller businesses.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreigners are prohibited from fully owning land under the 1987 Constitution, although the 1993 Investors’ Lease Act allows foreign investors to lease a contiguous parcel of up to 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) for a maximum of 75 years.  Dual citizens are permitted to own land.

The 1991 Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing every two years of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted.  The latest FINL was released in October 2018. The FINL bans foreign ownership/participation in the following investment activities: mass media (except recording and internet businesses); small-scale mining; private security agencies; utilization of marine resources, including the small-scale use of natural resources in rivers, lakes, and lagoons; cooperatives; cockpits; manufacturing of firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices; and manufacturing, repair, stockpiling and/or distribution of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons and anti-personnel mines.  With the exception of the practices of law, radiologic and x-ray technology, and marine deck and marine engine officers, other laws and regulations on professions allow foreigners to practice in the Philippines if their country permits reciprocity for Philippine citizens, these include medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, accountancy, architecture, engineering, criminology, teaching, chemistry, environmental planning, geology, forestry, interior design, landscape architecture, and customs brokerage. In practice, however, language exams, onerous registration processes, and other barriers prevent this from taking place.

The Philippines limits foreign ownership to 40 percent in the manufacturing of explosives, firearms, and military hardware.  Other areas that carry varying foreign ownership ceilings include: private radio communication networks (40 percent); private employee recruitment firms (25 percent);  advertising agencies (30 percent); natural resource exploration, development, and utilization (40 percent, with exceptions); educational institutions (40 percent, with some exceptions); operation and management of public utilities (40 percent); operation of commercial deep sea fishing vessels (40 percent); Philippine government procurement contracts (40 percent for supply of goods and commodities); contracts for the construction and repair of locally funded public works (40 percent with some exceptions); ownership of private lands (40 percent); and rice and corn production and processing (40 percent, with some exceptions).

Retail trade enterprises with capital of less than USD 2.5 million, or less than USD 250,000, for retailers of luxury goods, are reserved for Filipinos.  The Philippines allows up to full foreign ownership of insurance adjustment, lending, financing, or investment companies; however, foreign investors are prohibited from owning stock in such enterprises, unless the investor’s home country affords the same reciprocal rights to Filipino investors.

Foreign banks are allowed to establish branches or own up to 100 percent of the voting stock of locally incorporated subsidiaries if they can meet certain requirements.  However, a foreign bank cannot open more than six branches in the Philippines. A minimum of 60 percent of the total assets of the Philippine banking system should, at all times, remain controlled by majority Philippine-owned banks.  Ownership caps apply to foreign non-bank investors, whose aggregate share should not exceed 40 percent of the total voting stock in a domestic commercial bank and 60 percent of the voting stock in a thrift/rural bank.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted a Trade Policy Review of the Philippines in March 2018 and an Investment Policy Review of the Philippines in 2016, respectively.  The reviews are available online at the WTO website. (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp468_e.htm ) and OECD website (http://www.oecd.org/daf/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-philippines-2016-9789264254510-en.htm ).

Business Facilitation

Business registration in the Philippines is cumbersome due to multiple agencies involved in the process.  It takes an average of 31 days to start a business in Quezon City in Metro Manila, according to the 2019 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report.  Touted as one of the Duterte Administrations’ landmark laws, the Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act amends the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007, and legislates standardized deadlines for government transactions, a single business application form, a one-stop-shop, automation of business permits processing, a zero contact policy, and a central business databank.

The law was passed in May 2018, and it creates an Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA – http://arta.gov.ph/  ) under the Office of the President to carry out the mandate of business facilitation.  ARTA is governed by a council that includes the Secretary’s of Trade and Industry, Finance, Interior and Local Governments, and Information and Communications Technology.  The Department of Trade and Industry serves as interim Secretariat for ARTA. Without the rules and regulations being issued, compliance has not been in effect. The implementing rules and regulations are currently being drafted (http://arta.gov.ph/pages/IRR.html  ).

The Philippines also signed into law the Revised Corporation Code, a business friendly legislation amendment that encourages entrepreneurship, improves the ease of business, and promotes good corporate governance.  This new law amends part of the four-decade-old Corporation Code and allows for existing and future companies to hold a perpetual status of incorporation, compared to the previous 50-year term limit which required renewal.  More importantly, the amendments allow for the formation of one-person corporations, providing more flexibility to conduct business; the old code required all incorporation to have at least five stockholders and provided less protection from liabilities.

Outward Investment

There are no restrictions on outward portfolio investments for Philippine residents, defined to include non-Filipino citizens who have been residing in the country for at least one year; foreign-controlled entities organized under Philippine laws; and branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates of foreign enterprises organized under foreign laws operating in the country.  However, outward investments funded by foreign exchange purchases above USD 60 million or its equivalent per investor per year, or per fund per year for qualified investors, may require prior approval.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The Philippines has neither a bilateral investment nor a free trade agreement with the United States.  The only bilateral free trade agreement the Philippines has is with Japan. The Philippines has signed bilateral investment agreements with 39 countries or entities: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Kuwait, Mongolia, Myanmar, Netherlands, Pakistan, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

The Philippines is party to ASEAN regional trade agreements, including an investment chapter with trading partners Australia and New Zealand, Republic of Korea, India, and China.  It also has an investment agreement with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland under the Philippines-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Free Trade Agreement.

The Philippines has a tax treaty with United States to avoid double taxation and provide procedures for resolving interpretative disputes and tax enforcement in both countries.  The treaty encourages bilateral trade and investment by allowing the exchange of capital, goods, and services under clearly defined tax rules and, in some cases, preferential tax rates or tax exemptions.

U.S. recipients of royalty income qualify for preferential tax rates (currently 10 percent) under the most favored nation clause of the United States-Philippines tax treaty.  A preferential tax treaty rate of 15 percent applies to dividends and interest income from bona fide loans; and 10 percent on interest income from government bonds. The Philippine Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that securing a tax treaty relief ruling from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is not a legal requirement to qualify for preferential treatment and tax treaty rates; however, based on experience, tax experts generally still advise filing a tax treaty relief application to avoid potential challenges or controversies.  Despite efforts to streamline processes, taxpayers find documentation requirements for tax treaty relief applications burdensome. The volume of tax treaty relief applications has resulted in processing delays, with most applications reportedly pending for over a year. Inconsistent taxation rulings are also a concern.

The BIR rules and regulations for tax accounting have not been fully harmonized with the Philippine Financial Reporting Standards.  The BIR requires taxpayers to maintain records reconciling figures presented in financial statements and income tax returns. Additional information regarding BIR regulations is available on the BIR website   (https://www.bir.gov.ph/ ).

The Philippines and United States signed a reciprocal Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) in July 2015 for automatic exchange of information between tax authorities to implement the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA).  The bilateral agreement has yet to enter into force pending completion of domestic legal remedies to overcome stringent bank secrecy restrictions to the disclosure/sharing of information.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Proposed Philippine laws must undergo public comment and review.  Government agencies are required to craft implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) through public consultation meetings within the government and with private sector representatives after laws are passed.  New regulations must be published in newspapers or in the government’s official gazette, available online, before taking effect (https://www.gov.ph/ ). The 2016 Executive Order on Freedom of Information (FOI) mandates full public disclosure and transparency of government operations, with certain exceptions.  The public may request copies of official records through the FOI website (https://www.foi.gov.ph/).  Implementing rules for the Executive Order had not been fully developed, as of April 2019.  The order is criticized for its long list of exceptions, rendering the policy less effective.

Stakeholders report regulatory enforcement in the Philippines is generally weak, inconsistent, and unpredictable.  Many U.S. investors describe business registration, customs, immigration, and visa procedures as burdensome and frustrating.  Regulatory agencies are generally not statutorily independent but are attached to cabinet departments or the Office of the President and, therefore, are subject to political pressure.  Issues in the judicial system also affect regulatory enforcement.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Philippines is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and provides notice of draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade  (TBT).

The Philippines continues to fulfill required regulatory reforms under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).  The Philippines is still completing its National Single Window (NSW) Phase 2 Project and targets to run and connect the NSW trade portal to the ASEAN Single Window (ASW) by end of 2019.

The Philippines passed the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act in 2016, which enables the country to largely comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation.  However, the various implementing rules and regulations to execute specific provisions had not been completed by the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs as of April 2019.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Philippines has a mixed legal system of civil, common, Islamic, and customary laws, along with commercial and contractual laws.

The Philippine judicial system is a separate and largely independent branch of the government, made up of the Supreme Court and lower courts.  The Supreme Court is the highest court and sole constitutional body. More information is available on the court’s website   (http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/).  The lower courts consist of: (a) trial courts with limited jurisdictions (i.e. Municipal Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, etc.); (b) Regional Trial Courts (RTCs); (c) Shari’ah District Courts (Muslim courts); and (d) Court of Appeals (appellate courts).  Special courts include the “Sandiganbayan” (anti-graft court for public officials) and the Court of Tax Appeals. Several RTCs have been designated as Special Commercial Courts (SCC) to hear intellectual property (IP) cases, with four SCCs authorized to issue writs of search and seizure on IP violations, enforceable nationwide.  In addition, nearly any case can be appealed to appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, increasing caseloads and further clogging the judicial system.

Foreign investors describe the inefficiency and uncertainty of the judicial system as a significant disincentive to investment.  Many investors decline to file dispute cases in court because of slow and complex litigation processes and corruption among some personnel.  The courts are not considered impartial or fair. Stakeholders also report an inexperienced judiciary when confronted with complex issues such as technology, science, and intellectual property cases.  The Philippines ranked 149th out of 190 economies, and 23rd among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of enforcing contracts.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The BOI regulates and promotes investment into the Philippines.  The Investment Priorities Plan (IPP), administered by the BOI, identifies preferred economic activities approved by the President.  Government agencies are encouraged to adopt policies and implement programs consistent with the IPP.

The Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL) that outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted.  The FINL consists of two parts: Part A details sectors in which foreign equity participation is restricted by the Philippine Constitution or laws; and Part B lists areas in which foreign ownership is limited for reasons of national security, defense, public health, morals, and/or the protection of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The 1995 Special Economic Zone Act allows PEZAs to regulate and promote investments in export-oriented manufacturing and service facilities inside special economic zones, including grants of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.

Further information about investing in the Philippines is available at BOI website (http://boiown.gov.ph/ ) and PEZA website (http://www.peza.gov.ph/ ).

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The 2015 Philippine competition law established the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), an independent body mandated to resolve complaints on issues such as price fixing and bid rigging, and to stop mergers that would restrict competition.  More information is available on PCC website (http://phcc.gov.ph/#content ). The Department of Justice (https://www.doj.gov.ph/ ) prosecutes criminal offenses involving violations of competition laws.

Expropriation and Compensation

Philippine law allows expropriation of private property for public use or in the interest of national welfare or defense in return for fair market value compensation.  In the event of expropriation, foreign investors have the right to receive compensation in the currency in which the investment was originally made and to remit it at the equivalent exchange rate.  However, the process of agreeing on a mutually acceptable price can be protracted in Philippine courts. No recent cases of expropriation involve U.S. companies in the Philippines.

The 2016 Right-of-Way Act facilitates acquisition of right-of-way sites for national government infrastructure projects and outlines procedures in providing “just compensation” to owners of expropriated real properties to expedite implementation of government infrastructure programs.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Philippines is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and has adopted the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, or the New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Philippines is signatory to various bilateral investment treaties that recognize international arbitration of investment disputes.  Since 2002, the Philippines has been respondent to six investment dispute cases filed before the ICSID. Details of cases involving the Philippines are available on the ICSID website  .

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Investment disputes can take years to resolve due to systemic problems in Philippine courts.  Lack of resources, understaffing, and corruption make the already complex court processes protracted and expensive. Several laws on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms (i.e. arbitration, mediation, negotiation, and conciliation) were approved to decongest clogged court dockets.  Public-Private Partnership (PPP) infrastructure contracts are required to include ADR provisions to make resolving disputes less expensive and time-consuming.

A separate action must be filed for foreign judgments to be recognized or enforced under Philippine law.  Philippine law does not recognize or enforce foreign judgments that run counter to existing laws, particularly those relating to public order, public policy, and good customary practices.  Foreign arbitral awards are enforceable upon application in writing to the regional trial court with jurisdiction. The petition may be filed any time after receipt of the award.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The 2010 Philippine bankruptcy and insolvency law provides a predictable framework for rehabilitation and liquidation of distressed companies, although an examination of some reported cases suggests uneven implementation.  Rehabilitation may be initiated by debtors or creditors under court-supervised, pre-negotiated, or out-of-court proceedings. The law sets conditions for voluntary (debtor-initiated) and involuntary (creditor-initiated) liquidation.  It also recognizes cross-border insolvency proceedings in accordance with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, allowing courts to recognize proceedings in a foreign jurisdiction involving a foreign entity with assets in the Philippines.  Regional trial courts designated by the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over insolvency and bankruptcy cases. The Philippines ranked 63rd out of 190 economies, and eighth among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of resolving insolvency and bankruptcy cases.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Philippines’ Investment Priorities Plan (IPP) enumerates investment activities entitled to incentives facilitated by BOI, such as an income tax holiday.  Non-fiscal incentives include the following: employment of foreign nationals, simplified customs procedures, duty exemption on imported capital equipment and spare parts, importation of consigned equipment, and operation of a bonded manufacturing warehouse.

The 2017 IPP, updated every three years, provides incentives to the following activities: manufacturing (e.g. agro-processing, modular housing components, machinery, and equipment); agriculture, fishery, and forestry; Integrated Circuit design, creative industries, and knowledge-based services (e.g. IT-Business Process Management services for the domestic market, repair/maintenance of aircraft, telecommunications, etc.); healthcare (e.g. hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers); mass housing; infrastructure and logistics (e.g. airports, seaports, and PPP projects); energy (development of energy sources, power generation plants, and ancillary services); innovation drivers (e.g. fabrication laboratories); and environment (e.g. climate change-related projects).  Further details of the 2017 IPP are available on the BOI website (http://boi.gov.ph/  ).

BOI-registered enterprises that locate in less-developed areas are entitled to pioneer incentives and can deduct 100 percent of the cost of necessary infrastructure work and labor expenses from taxable income.  Pioneer status can be granted to enterprises producing new products or using new methods, goods deemed highly essential to the country’s agricultural self-sufficiency program, or goods utilizing non-conventional fuel sources.  Furthermore, an enterprise with more than 40 percent foreign equity that exports at least 70 percent of its production may be entitled to incentives even if the activity is not listed in the IPP. Export-oriented firms with at least 50 percent of revenues derived from exports may register for additional incentives under the 1994 Export Development Act.

Multinational entities that establish regional warehouses for the supply of spare parts, manufactured components, or raw materials for foreign markets also enjoy incentives on imports that are re-exported, including exemption from customs duties, internal revenue taxes, and local taxes.  The first package of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law which took effect January 1, 2018, removed the 15 percent special tax rate on gross income of employees of multinational enterprises’ regional headquarters (RHQ) and regional operating headquarters (ROHQ) located in the Philippines.  RHQ and ROHQ employees are now subjected to regular income tax rates, usually at higher and less competitive rates.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Export-related businesses enjoy preferential tax treatment when located in export processing zones, free trade zones, and certain industrial estates, collectively known as economic zones, or ecozones.  Businesses located in ecozones are considered outside customs territory and are allowed to import capital equipment and raw material free of customs duties, taxes, and other import restrictions. Goods imported into ecozones may be stored, repacked, mixed, or otherwise manipulated without being subject to import duties and are exempt from the Bureau of Customs’ Selective Pre-shipment Advance Classification Scheme.  While some ecozones are designated as both export processing zones and free trade zones, individual businesses within them are only permitted to receive incentives under a single category.

Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA)

PEZA operates 379 ecozones, primarily in manufacturing, IT, tourism, medical tourism, logistics/warehousing, and agro-industrial sectors.  PEZA manages four government-owned export-processing zones (Mactan, Baguio, Cavite, and Pampanga) and administers incentives to enterprises in other privately owned and operated ecozones.  Any person, partnership, corporation, or business organization, regardless of nationality, control and/or ownership, may register as an export, IT, tourism, medical tourism, or agro-industrial enterprise with PEZA, provided the enterprise physically locates its activity inside any of the ecozones.  PEZA administrators have earned a reputation for maintaining a clear and predictable investment environment within the zones of their authority. (http://www.peza.gov.ph/index.php/economic-zones/list-of-economic-zones/operating-economic-zones)

Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA)

The ecozones located inside former U.S. military bases were established under the 1992 Bases Conversion and Development Act.  The BCDA (http://www.bcda.gov.ph/  ) operates Clark Freeport Zone (Angeles City, Pampanga), John Hay Special Economic Zone (Baguio), Poro Point Freeport Zone (La Union), and Bataan Technology Park (Morong, Bataan).  The SBMA operates Subic Bay Freeport Zone (Subic Bay, Zambales). Clark and Subic have their own international airports, power plants, telecommunications networks, housing complexes, and tourist facilities.  These ecozones offer comparable incentives to PEZA. Enterprises already receiving incentives under the BCDA law are disqualified to receive incentives and benefits offered by other laws.

Other Zones

The Phividec Industrial Estate (Misamis Oriental Province, Mindanao) is governed by Phividec Industrial Authority (PIA) (http://www.piamo.gov.ph/ ), a government-owned and controlled corporation.  Other ecozones are Zamboanga City Economic Zone and Freeport (Zamboanga City, Mindanao) (http://www.zfa.gov.ph/  ) and Cagayan Special Economic Zone (CEZA) and Freeport (Santa Ana, Cagayan Province) (http://ceza.gov.ph/  ).  CEZA grants gaming licenses in addition to offering export incentives.  The Regional Economic Zone Authority (Cotabato City, Mindanao) (http://reza.armm.gov.ph/ ) has been operated by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).  The incentives available to investors in these zones are similar to PEZA, but administered independently.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The BOI imposes a higher export performance requirement on foreign-owned enterprises (70 percent of production) than on Philippine-owned companies (50 percent of production) when providing incentives under IPP.

Companies registered with BOI and PEZA may employ foreign nationals in supervisory, technical, or advisory positions for five years from date of registration (possibly extendable upon request).  Top positions and elective officers of majority foreign-owned BOI-registered enterprises (such as president, general manager, and treasurer, or their equivalents) are exempt from employment term limitation.  Foreigners intending to work locally must secure an Alien Employment Permit from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE  ), renewable every year or co-terminus with the duration of employment (which in no case shall exceed five years).  The BOI and PEZA facilitate special investor’s resident visas with multiple entry privileges and extend visa facilitation assistance to foreign nationals, their spouses, and dependents.

The 2006 Biofuels Act establishes local content requirements for diesel and gasoline, which must have a minimum content of locally produced biofuel (currently 2 percent for diesel and 10 percent for gasoline, by volume).  There is no other data localization requirement imposed on other goods. The Philippines does not impose restrictions on cross-border data transfers. Sensitive personal information is protected under the 2012 Data Privacy Act, which provides penalties for unauthorized processing and improper disposal of data even if processed outside the Philippines.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Philippines recognizes and protects property rights, but the enforcement of laws is weak and fragmented.  The Land Registration Authority and the Register of Deeds (http://www.lra.gov.ph/), which facilitate the registration and transfer of property titles, are responsible for land administration, with more information available on their website  s.  Property registration processes are tedious and costly.  Multiple agencies are involved in property administration, which results in overlapping procedures for land valuation and titling processes.  Record management is weak due to a lack of funds and trained personnel. Corruption is also prevalent among land administration personnel and the court system is slow to resolve land disputes.  The Philippines ranked 114th out of 190 economies in terms of ease of property registration in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business report.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Philippines is not listed on the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report.  The country has a robust intellectual property rights (IPR) regime in place, although enforcement is irregular and inconsistent.  The total estimated value of counterfeit goods reported seized in 2018 was USD 453 million, nearly a 180 percent increase from USD 162 million in 2017.  The sale of imported counterfeit goods in local markets has visibly decreased, though stakeholders report the amount of counterfeit goods sold online is gradually increasing.

The Intellectual Property (IP) Code provides legal framework for IPR protection, particularly in key areas of patents, trademarks, and copyrights.  The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) is the implementing agency of the IP Code, with more information available on its website  .  The Philippines generally has strong patent and trademark laws.  IPOPHL’s IP Enforcement Office (IEO) reviews IPR-related complaints and visits establishments reportedly engaged in IPR-related violations.  However, weak border protection, corruption, limited enforcement capacity by the government, and lack of clear procedures continue to weaken enforcement.  In addition, IP owners still must assume most enforcement costs when counterfeit goods are seized.

Enforcement actions are often not followed by successful prosecutions.  The slow and capricious judicial system keeps most IP owners from pursuing cases in court.  IP infringement is not considered a major crime in the Philippines and takes a lower priority in court proceedings, especially as the courts become more crowded out with criminal cases, which receive higher priority.  Many IP owners opt for out-of-court settlements (such as ADR) rather than filing a lawsuit that may take years to resolve in the unpredictable Philippine courts. The IPOPHL has jurisdiction to resolve certain disputes concerning alleged infringement and licensing through its Arbitration and Mediation Center.

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

Resources for Rights Holders

Contact at Mission:

Douglas Fowler, Economic Officer
Economic Section, U.S. Embassy Manila
Telephone: (+632) 301.2000
Email: ManilaEcon@state.gov

A list of local lawyers can be found on the U.S. Embassy’s website: https://ph.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Philippines welcomes the entry of foreign portfolio investments, including into local and foreign-issued equities listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE  ).  Investments in certain publicly listed companies are subject to foreign ownership restrictions specified in the Constitution and other laws.  Non-residents are allowed to issue bonds/notes or similar instruments in the domestic market with prior approval from the Central Bank; in certain cases, they may also obtain financing in Philippine pesos from authorized agent banks without prior Central Bank approval.

Although growing, the PSE (with fewer than 270 listed firms as of the end of 2017) lags behind many of its neighbors in size, product offerings, and trading activity.  The securities market is growing but remains dominated by government bills and bonds. Hostile takeovers are uncommon because most companies’ shares are not publicly listed and controlling interest tends to remain with a small group of parties.  Cross-ownership and interlocking directorates among listed companies also decrease the likelihood of hostile takeovers.

In September 1995, the Philippines accepted International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII obligations to refrain from imposing restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.  The IMF staff did not raise/report any issues involving restrictions on current international payments and transfers following its most recent annual consultations with the Philippines in 2017.

Credit is generally granted on market terms and foreign investors are able to obtain credit from the liquid domestic market.  However, some laws require financial institutions to set aside loans for preferred sectors (e.g. agriculture, agrarian reform, and MSMEs).  To help promote lending at competitive rates to MSMEs, the government is working to fully operationalize a centralized credit information system that collects and disseminates information about the track record of borrowers and credit activities of entities in the financial system.

Money and Banking System

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP, the Central Bank) is a highly respected institution.  The banking system is stable. The Central Bank has pursued regulatory reforms promoting good governance and aligning/adapting risk management regulations and the risk-based capital framework with international standards.  Capital adequacy ratios are well above the 8 percent international standard and the central bank’s 10 percent regulatory requirement. The non-performing loan ratio was at 1.7 percent as of the end of 2018. There is ample liquidity, with the liquid assets-to-deposits ratio estimated at about 48 percent.  Commercial banks constitute more than 90 percent of the total assets of the Philippine banking industry. The five largest commercial banks represented about 60 percent of the total resources of the commercial banking sector as of 2018. Twenty-two of the 44 commercial banks operating in the country are foreign branches, including three U.S. banks (Citibank, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase).  Citibank has the largest presence among the foreign bank branches and currently ranks 12th overall in terms of assets.

Foreign residents and non-residents may open foreign and local currency bank accounts.  Although non-residents may open local currency deposit accounts, they are limited to the funding sources specified under central bank regulations.  Non-residents’ foreign currency accounts cannot be funded from foreign exchange purchases from banks and banks’ subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

The Central Bank has actively pursued reforms since the 1990s to liberalize and simplify foreign exchange regulations.  As a general rule, the Central Bank allows residents and non-residents to purchase foreign exchange from banks, banks’ subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations, and other non-bank entities operating as foreign exchange dealers and/or money changers and remittance agents to fund legitimate foreign exchange obligations, subject to provision of information and/or supporting documents on underlying obligations.  No mandatory foreign exchange surrender requirement is imposed on exporters, overseas workers’ incomes, or other foreign currency earners; these foreign exchange receipts may be sold for pesos or retained in foreign exchange in local and/or offshore accounts. The Central Bank follows a market-determined exchange rate policy, with scope for intervention to smooth excessive foreign exchange volatility.

Remittance Policies

The Central Bank does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions, including payments for imports, subject to submission of a duly accomplished foreign exchange purchase application form if the foreign exchange is sourced from banks and/or their subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations within specified thresholds (currently USD 500,000 for individuals and USD 1 million for corporates/other entities).  Purchases above the thresholds are also subject to the submission of minimum documentary requirements but do not require prior Central Bank approval.

Foreign exchange policies do not require approval of inward foreign direct and portfolio investments.  Registration of foreign investments with the Central Bank or custodian banks is generally optional. Duly registered foreign investments are entitled to full and immediate repatriation of capital and remittance of dividends, profits, and earnings.

As a general policy, current regulations require prior Central Bank approval of government-guaranteed foreign loans/borrowings (including those in the form of notes, bonds, and similar instruments) by the private sector.  Although there are exceptions, private sector loan agreements should also be registered with the Central Bank if serviced through the purchase of foreign exchange from the banking system.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) removed the Philippines from its gray list of countries with strategic deficiencies in countering money laundering and the financing of terrorism in 2013.  Although a high reporting threshold and exclusion of junket operators and non-cash transactions are weaknesses, a law signed in July 2017 to include casinos as covered institutions in the Philippine anti-money laundering regime has allowed the Philippines to stave off a return to the FATF gray list thus far.  Although not a systemic issue, some local banks and money service businesses have been affected by the “de-risking” phenomenon reported by various jurisdictions in recent years, driven in part by risk aversion of foreign banks due to anti-money laundering/terrorism financing compliance costs. The Philippines has a restrictive regime for accessing bank accounts to detect or prosecute financial crimes, which is a significant impediment to enforcing laws against corruption, tax evasion, smuggling, laundering, and other economic crimes.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Philippines does not presently have sovereign wealth funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises, known in the Philippines as government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC), are predominant in the power, transport, infrastructure, communications, land and water resources, social services, housing, and support services sectors.  There were 103 operational and functioning GOCCs as of April 2019 (a list is available on the Governance Commission for GOCC [GCG] website  ).  GOCCs are required to remit at least 50 percent of their annual net earnings (e.g. cash, stock, or property dividends) to the national government.

Private and state-owned enterprises generally compete equally.  The Government Service Insurance System (GSIS  ) is the only agency, with limited exceptions, allowed to provide coverage for the government’s insurance risks and interests, including those in BOT projects and privatized government corporations.  Since the national government acts as the main guarantor of loans, stakeholders report GOCCs often have an advantage in getting financing from government financial institutions and some private banks.  Most GOCCs are not statutorily independent, but attached to cabinet departments, and, therefore, subject to political interference.

OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs

The Philippines is not an OECD member country.  The 2011 GOCC Governance Act addresses problems experienced by GOCCs, including poor financial performance, weak governance structures, and unauthorized allowances.  The law allows unrestricted access to GOCC account books and requires strict compliance with accounting and financial disclosure standards; establishes the power to privatize, abolish, or restructure GOCCs without legislative action; and sets performance standards and limits on compensation and allowances.  The GCG   formulates and implements GOCC policies.  GOCC board members are limited to one-year term, subject to reappointment based on a performance rating set by GCG, with final approval by the Philippine President.

Privatization Program

The Philippine Government’s privatization program is managed by the Privatization Management Office (PMO) under the Department of Finance (DOF).  The privatization of government assets undergoes a public bidding process. Apart from restrictions stipulated in FINL, no regulations discriminate against foreign buyers and the bidding process appears to be transparent.  Additional information is available on the PMO website (http://www.pmo.gov.ph/index.htm )

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) is regularly practiced in the Philippines, although no domestic laws require it.  The Philippine Tax Code provides RBC-related incentives to corporations, such as tax exemptions and deductions. Various non-government organizations and business associations also promote RBC.  The Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP  ) is the largest corporate-led social development foundation involved in advocating corporate citizenship practice in the Philippines.  U.S. companies report strong and favorable responses to RBC programs among employees and within local communities.

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

The Philippines is not an OECD member country.  The Philippine government strongly supports RBC practices among the business community but has not yet endorsed the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to stakeholders.

9. Corruption

Corruption is a pervasive and long-standing problem in both the public and private sectors.  The country’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index declined from 101 in 2016 to 111 in 2017 of 176 countries worldwide yet rebounded to 99 out of 180 in 2018.   The World Economic Forum’s 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Report ranked corruption among the top problematic factors for doing business in the Philippines. The Bureau of Customs is still considered to be one of the most corrupt agencies in the country, having fired and replaced five customs commissioners in as many years.

The Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 outlines strategies to reduce corruption by streamlining government transactions, modernizing regulatory processes, and establishing mechanisms for citizens to report complaints.  A front line desk in the Office of the President, the Presidential Complaint Center, or PCC (https://op-proper.gov.ph/contact-us/  ), receives and acts on corruption complaints from the general public.  The PCC can be reached through its complaint hotline, text services (SMS), and social media sites.

The Philippine Revised Penal Code, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the Code of Ethical Conduct for Public Officials all aim to combat corruption and related anti-competitive business practices.  The Office of the Ombudsman investigates and prosecutes cases of alleged graft and corruption involving public officials, with more information available on its website  .  Cases against high-ranking officials are brought before a special anti-corruption court, the Sandiganbayan, while cases against low-ranking officials are filed before regional trial courts.

The Office of the President can directly investigate and hear administrative cases involving presidential appointees in the executive branch and government-owned and controlled corporations.  Soliciting, accepting, and/or offering/giving a bribe are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment, a fine, and/or disqualification from public office or business dealings with the government.  Government anti-corruption agencies routinely investigate public officials, but convictions by courts are limited, often appealed, and can be overturned. Recent positive steps include the creation of an investors’ desk at the Ombudsman’s Office, and corporate governance reforms of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

The Philippines ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003.  It is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Office of the Ombudsman
Ombudsman Building, Agham Road, North Triangle
Diliman, Quezon City
Hotline:  (+632) 926.2662
Telephone:  (+632) 479.7300
Email/Website: pab@ombudsman.gov.ph / http://www.ombudsman.gov.ph  /

Presidential Complaint Center
Gama Bldg., Minerva St. corner Jose Laurel St.
San Miguel, Manila
Telephone: (+632) 736.8645, 736.8603, 736.8606
Email: pcc@malacanang.gov.ph / https://op-proper.gov.ph/presidential-action-center/ 

Contact Center ng Bayan
Text:  (+63) 908 881.6565
Call:  1-6565
Email/Website: email@contactcenterngbayan.gov.ph / contactcenterngbayan.gov.ph  

10. Political and Security Environment

Terrorist groups and criminal gangs operate in some regions.  The Department of State publishes a consular information sheet and advises all Americans living in or visiting the Philippines to review the information periodically.  A travel advisory is in place for those U.S. citizens contemplating travel to the Philippines.

Terrorist groups, including the ISIS-Philippines affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Maute Group, Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP) and elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), periodically attack civilian targets, kidnap civilians – including foreigners – for ransom, and engage in armed attacks against government security forces.  These groups have mostly carried out their activities in the western and central regions of Mindanao, including the Sulu Archipelago and Sulu Sea. They are also capable of operating in some areas outside Sulu, as evidenced by the 2015 kidnapping of four hostages from Samal Island, just outside Davao City.

ISIS-affiliated groups in Mindanao occupied and held siege to Marawi City for five months in 2017, prompting President Duterte to declare martial law over the entire Mindanao region – approximately one-third of the country’s territory.  Congress granted multiple extensions of martial law, which will remain in place until the end of 2019. Security forces ultimately cleared the city and eliminated much of the terrorist leadership, but suffered many casualties during the siege.

The New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is responsible in some parts of the country, mostly Mindanao, for civil disturbances through assassinations of public officials, sporadic attacks on military and police forces, bombings, and attacks on infrastructure, such as power generators and telecommunications towers.  The NPA relies on extortionist revolutionary taxes from local and some foreign businesses to fund its operations. The Philippine government ended a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA in 2017 and initiated a process for designating the group as a terrorist organization under domestic law.

The Philippines’ most significant human rights problems were killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes, security forces, and insurgents; cases of apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process; official corruption; and a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators.

President Duterte’s administration continued a nationwide campaign, led primarily by the Philippine National Police (PNP), to eliminate illegal narcotics.  The ongoing operation received worldwide attention for its harsh tactics.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Managers of U.S. companies in the Philippines report that local labor costs are relatively low and workers are highly motivated, with generally strong English language skills.  In 2018, the Philippine labor force reached 43 million workers, with an employment rate of 94.6 percent and an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent. These figures include employment in the informal sector and do not capture the substantial rates of underemployment in the country.  Youths between the ages of 15 and 24 made up nearly 50 percent of the unemployed. More than half of all employment was in the services sector, with 23.1 percent and 19.4 percent in agriculture and industry sectors, respectively.

Compensation packages in the Philippines tend to be comparable with those in neighboring countries.  Regional Wage and Productivity Boards meet periodically in each of the country’s 16 administrative regions to determine minimum wages.  The non-agricultural daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is approximately USD 9.86, although some private sector workers receive less. Most regions set their minimum wage significantly lower than Metro Manila.  Violation of minimum wage standards is common, especially non-payment of social security contributions, bonuses, and overtime. Philippine law also provides for a comprehensive set of occupational safety and health standards.  The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has responsibility for safety inspection, but a shortage of inspectors has made enforcement difficult.

The Philippines Constitution enshrines the right of workers to form and join trade unions.  The trend among firms using temporary contract labor to lower employment costs continues despite government efforts to regulate the practice.  The DOLE Secretary has the authority to end strikes and mandate a settlement between parties in cases involving national interest. DOLE amended its rules concerning disputes in 2013, specifying industries vital to national interest:  hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC). Economic zones often offer on-site labor centers to assist investors with recruitment.  Although labor laws apply equally to economic zones, unions have noted some difficulty organizing inside the zones.

The Philippines is signatory to all International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions, but has faced challenges with enforcement.  Unions allege that companies or local officials use illegal tactics to prevent workers from organizing. The quasi-judicial National Labor Relations Commission reviews allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities.  Meanwhile, the NTIPC monitors the application of international labor standards.

Reports of forced labor in the Philippines continue, particularly in connection with human trafficking in the commercial sex, domestic service, agriculture, and fishing industries.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provides debt financing, political risk insurance, and private equity capital to support U.S. investors and their investments.  It does so under a bilateral agreement with the Philippines. Going forward, the BUILD Act will consolidate OPIC and USAID’s Development Credit Authority program into one organization, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, allowing it to use tools such as loans, guarantees, and political risk insurance to facilitate private-sector investment in the region.

Previously, OPIC has provided debt financing in the form of direct loans and loan guarantees of up to USD 350 million per project for business investments with U.S. private sector participation in the Philippines.  Past OPIC programs in the Philippines include projects with the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR), the Asia Foundation for economic development activities, and a cloud-based technology program for the local cargo and courier industry.

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) (millions of U.S. dollars) 2018 $330.8  2017 $313.6 www.worldbank.org/en/country   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 N/A 2017 $7,116 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/xls/usdia-position-2010-2017.xlsx  
Host Country’s FDI in the United States (millions of U.S. dollars, stock positions) 2018 N/A 2017 $750 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/xls/fdius-current/fdius-detailed-country-2008-2017.xlsx  
Total Inbound Stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 16% 2016 11% http://www.bsp.gov.ph/statistics/statistics_sdds0.asp   

*Host Country Statistical Sources:
Philippine Statistical Authority (http://psa.gov.ph/nap-press-release/data-charts  )
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (http://www.bsp.gov.ph/statistics/efs_ext2.asp#FCDU  )


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data, as of end-2017
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (U.S. Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $50,876 100% Total Outward $13,565 100%
Japan $14,986 29% China, P.R.: Mainland $1,733 13%
Netherlands $12,958 25% Singapore $4,469 33%
United States $7,116 14% India $2,067 15%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong $3,702 7% Netherlands $1,637 12%
Rep. of Korea $2,477 5% France $1,353 10%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- $500,000.

The Philippine Central Bank does not publish or post inward and outward FDI stock broken down by country.  Total stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that the Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB).  As of the 4th quarter of 2018, inward direct investment (i.e. liabilities) is USD 83 billion, while outward direct investment (i.e. assets) is USD 51.9 billion.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets, as of end-2018
Top Five Partners (Millions, U.S. Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $13,060 100% All Countries $1,270 100% All Countries $11,790 100%
United States $4,695 36% United States $658 52% United States $4,037 34%
Indonesia $2,365 18% Luxembourg $339 27% Indonesia $2,364 20%
China, P.R.: Mainland $467 4% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $64 5% China, P.R.: Mainland $463 4%
Cayman Islands $354 2.7% Ireland $90 7% Cayman Islands $349 3%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong  $553 4.2% Netherlands $1 0% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $489 4%

The Philippine Central Bank disaggregates data into equity and debt securities but does not publish or post the stock of portfolio investments assets broken down by country.  Total foreign portfolio investment stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB).  As of 2018, outward portfolio investment (i.e. assets) was USD 19.5 billion, of which USD 1.9 billion was in equity investments and USD 17.7 billion was in debt securities.

14. Contact for More Information

Douglas Fowler
Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy Manila
1201 Roxas Boulevard, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (+632) 301.2000
Email: ManilaEcon@state.gov

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore maintains an open, heavily trade-dependent economy, characterized by a predominantly open investment regime, with strong government commitment to maintaining a free market and to actively managing Singapore’s economic development. U.S. companies regularly cite transparency and lack of corruption, business-friendly laws and regulations, tax structure, customs facilitation, intellectual property protections, and well-developed infrastructure as attractive features of the investment climate. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2018 report ranked Singapore as the world’s second-easiest country in which to do business.  The Global Competitiveness Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore as the second-most competitive economy globally. Singapore typically ranks as the least corrupt country in Asia and one of the least corrupt in the world, and actively enforces its robust anti-corruption laws. Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index placed Singapore as the third least corrupt nation. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which came into force on January 1, 2004, expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and environmental protections.

Singapore has a diversified economy and attracts substantial foreign investment in manufacturing (petrochemical, electronics, machinery, and equipment) and services (financial services, wholesale and retail trade, and business services). The government actively promotes the country as a research and development (R&D) and innovation center for businesses by offering tax incentives, research grants, and partnership opportunities with domestic research agencies. U.S. direct investment in Singapore in 2017 reached USD 274.3 billion, primarily in non-bank holding companies, manufacturing (particularly computers and electronic products), and finance and insurance – an increase of 7.4 percent from the previous year.  The investment outlook remains positive due to regional GDP growth. In 2018, U.S. companies pledged USD 4.1 billion in future investments in Singapore’s manufacturing and services sectors.

Looking ahead, Singapore is poised to attract foreign investments in digital innovation and cybersecurity. The Government of Singapore (hereafter, “the government”) is investing heavily in automation, artificial intelligence, and integrated systems under its Smart Nation banner and seeks to establish itself as a regional hub.

In recent years, the government has tightened foreign labor policies to encourage firms to improve productivity and employ more Singaporean workers. The government introduced measures in the 2019 budget to further decrease the ratio of mid- and low-skilled foreign workers to local employees in a firm from 40 percent to 38 percent beginning January 1, 2020 and then down to 35 percent in 2021. These cuts, which target the service sector, were taken despite industry concerns about skills gaps. To address some of these concerns, the government has introduced programs that partially subsidize the cost to firms of recruiting, hiring, and training local workers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 3 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2018 2 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 5 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $274,260 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $54,530 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore maintains a heavily trade-dependent economy characterized by an open investment regime, with some licensing restrictions in the financial services, professional services, and media sectors. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2018 report ranked Singapore as the world’s second-easiest country in which to do business. The 2018 Global Competitiveness Report ranks Singapore as the second -most competitive economy globally. The 2004 USSFTA expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and the environment.

The Government of Singapore is committed to maintaining a free market, but it also actively plans Singapore’s economic development, including through a network of government-linked corporations (GLCs). As of February 2019, the top three Singapore-listed GLCs accounted for 13.1 percent of total capitalization of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Some observers have criticized the dominant role of GLCs in the domestic economy, arguing that they have displaced or suppressed private sector entrepreneurship and investment.

Singapore’s legal framework and public policies are generally favorable toward foreign investors. Foreign investors are not required to enter into joint ventures or cede management control to local interests, and local and foreign investors are subject to the same basic laws. Apart from regulatory requirements in some sectors (reference Limits on National Treatment and Other Restrictions), eligibility for various incentive schemes depends on investment proposals meeting the criteria set by relevant government agencies. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings or capital. The judicial system, which includes international arbitration and mediation centers and a commercial court, upholds the sanctity of contracts, and decisions are generally considered to be transparent and effectively enforced.

Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead investment promotion agency that facilitates foreign investment into Singapore (https:www.edb.gov.sg). EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development and works with international businesses, both foreign and local, by providing information and facilitating introductions and access to government incentives. The government maintains close engagement with investors through the EDB, which provides feedback to other government agencies to ensure that infrastructure and public services remain efficient and cost-competitive.

Exceptions to Singapore’s general openness to foreign investment exist in telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal and accounting services, and ports and airports sectors, as well as property ownership. Under Singapore law, articles of incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in corporations by foreign persons.

Telecommunications

Since 2000, the Singapore telecommunications market has been fully liberalized. This move has allowed foreign and domestic companies seeking to provide facilities-based (e.g. fixed line or mobile networks) or services-based (e.g. local and international calls and data services over leased networks) telecommunications services to apply for licenses to operate and deploy telecommunication systems and services. Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) – a GLC that is majority owned by Temasek, a state-owned investment company with the Singapore Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder – faces competition in all market segments. However, its main competitors, M1 and StarHub, are also GLCs. In December 2018, Australian telco TPG Telecom announced a limited, free mobile service to run through 2019. TPG offers only subscriber identity module (SIM) services in Singapore. In the past three years, four Singapore start-ups offering mobile virtual network operator services (MVNOs) have also entered the market. The three established Singapore telecommunications competitors are expected to strengthen their partnerships with the MVNOs in a defensive move against TPG’s entry.

As of November 2018, Singapore has 69 facilities-based operators and 257 services-based (individual) operators offering prepaid services. Since 2007, SingTel has been exempted from dominant licensee obligations for the residential and commercial portions of the retail international telephone services. SingTel is also exempted from dominant licensee obligations for wholesale international telephone services, international managed data, international IP transit, leased satellite bandwidth (VSAT, DVB-IP, satellite TV Downlink, and Satellite IPLC), terrestrial international private leased circuit, and backhaul services. The info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) granted Singtel’s exemption after assessing that the market for these services had effective competition.

In April 2017, Singapore held a General Spectrum Auction for mobile airwaves, the largest such auction in 16 years, allocating additional blocks of spectrum to accommodate increasing demand for mobile data services. Singtel, Starhub, M1, and TPG paid a combined total of USUSD 870 million (SUSD 1.15billion) in this heavily-bid auction for additional frequency bands.  To facilitate 5G technology and service trials, IMDA has waived frequency fees for companies interested in conducting 5G trials for equipment testing, research, and assessment of commercial potential.

Singapore’s IMDA operates as both the regulatory agency and the investment promotion agency for the country’s telecommunications sector. IMDA conducts public consultations on major policy reviews and provides decisions on policy changes to relevant companies.

Media

The local free-to-air broadcasting, cable, and newspaper sectors are effectively closed to foreign firms. Section 44 of the Broadcasting Act restricts foreign equity ownership of companies broadcasting in Singapore to 49 percent or less, although the Act does allow for exceptions. Individuals cannot hold shares that would make up more than five percent of the total votes in a broadcasting company without the government’s prior approval. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) restricts equity ownership (local or foreign) of newspaper companies to less than five percent per shareholder and requires directors to be Singapore citizens. Newspaper companies must issue two classes of shares, ordinary and management, with the latter available only to Singapore citizens or corporations approved by the government. Holders of management shares have an effective veto over selected board decisions.

Singapore regulates content across all major media outlets. The government controls the distribution, importation, and sale of any newspaper and has curtailed or banned the circulation of some foreign publications. Singapore’s leaders have also brought defamation suits against foreign publishers, which have resulted in the foreign publishers issuing apologies and paying damages. Several dozen publications remain prohibited under the Undesirable Publications Act, which restricts the import, sale, and circulation of publications that the government considers contrary to public interest. Examples include pornographic magazines, publications by banned religious groups, and publications containing extremist religious views. Following a routine review in 2015, the then-Media Development Authority lifted a ban on 240 publications, ranging from decades-old anti-colonial and communist material to adult interest content.

Singaporeans generally face few restrictions on the internet. However, the IMDA has blocked various websites containing material that the government deems objectionable, such as pornography and racist and religious hatred sites. Online news websites that report regularly on Singapore and have a significant reach are individually licensed, which requires these sites to submit a bond of USD 40,000 (SGD 50,000) and to adhere to requirements to remove prohibited content within 24 hours of notification from IMDA. Some view this regulation as a way to censor online critics of the government. In December 2018 authorities charged the editor of an online news site with criminal defamation following the publication of a contributor’s allegedly defamatory letter, although the editor had removed the post when advised to do so by the authorities.

In April 2019, the government introduced legislation in Parliament to counter “deliberate online falsehoods.” The legislation, called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, would require websites to run corrections alongside “online falsehoods” and would impose penalties on sites or individuals that spread “misinformation,” as determined by the government.

Pay-Television

MediaCorp TV is the only free-to-air TV broadcaster and is 100 percent owned by the government via Temasek Holdings (Temasek). Local Pay-TV providers are StarHub and Singtel, which are both partially owned by Temasek or its subsidiaries. Local free-to-air radio broadcasters are MediaCorp Radio Singapore, which is also owned by Temasek Holdings, SPH Radio, owned by the publically-held Singapore Press Holdings, and So Drama! Entertainment, owned by the Singapore Ministry of Defense. BBC World Services is the only foreign free-to-air radio broadcaster in Singapore.

To rectify the high degree of content fragmentation in the Singapore pay-TV market, and shift the focus of competition from an exclusivity-centric strategy to other aspects such as service differentiation and competitive packaging, the MDA implemented cross-carriage measures in 2011 requiring pay-TV companies designated by MDA to be Receiving Qualified Licensees (RQL) – currently SingTel and StarHub – to cross-carry content subject to exclusive carriage provisions. Correspondingly, Supplying Qualified Licensees (SQLs) with an exclusive contract for a channel are required to carry that content on other RQL pay-TV companies. In February 2019, the IMDA proposed to continue the current cross-carriage measures. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has expressed concern that this measure restricts copyright exclusivity. Content providers consider the measures an unnecessary interference in a competitive market that denies content holders the ability to negotiate freely in the marketplace, and an interference with their ability to manage and protect their intellectual property. More common content is now available across the different pay-TV platforms, and the operators are beginning to differentiate themselves by originating their own content, offering subscribed content online via PCs and tablet computers, and delivering content via fiber networks.

Streaming services have entered the market, which MPAA has found leads to a significant reduction in intellectual property infringements. StarHub and Singtel have both partnered with multiple content providers, including U.S. companies, to provide streaming content in Singapore and around the region.

Banking and Finance

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) regulates all banking activities as provided for under the Banking Act. Singapore maintains legal distinctions between foreign and local banks and the type of license (i.e. full service, wholesale, and offshore banks) held by foreign commercial banks. As of March 2019, 28 foreign full-service licensees and 97 wholesale banks operated in Singapore. An additional 27 merchant banks are licensed to conduct corporate finance, investment banking, and other fee-based activities. Offshore and wholesale banks are not allowed to operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities. Only Full Banks and “Qualifying Full Banks” (QFBs) can operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities but are subject to restrictions on the number of places of business, ATMs, and ATM networks. Additional QFB licenses may be granted to a subset of full banks, which provide greater branching privileges and greater access to the retail market than other full banks. As of March 2019, there are ten banks operating QFB licenses.

Except in retail banking, Singapore laws do not distinguish operationally between foreign and domestic banks. Currently, all banks in Singapore are required to maintain a Domestic Banking Unit (DBU) and an Asian Currency Unit (ACU), separating international and domestic banking operations from each other. Transactions in Singapore dollars can be booked only in the DBU whereas transactions in foreign currency are typically booked in the ACU. The ACU is an accounting unit that the banks use to book all their foreign currency transactions conducted in the Asian Dollar Market (ADM). This enables additional prudential requirements to be imposed on banks’ domestic businesses in Singapore, while also avoiding undue restrictions on the offshore activities of banks. Following public consultations, MAS initiated a 30-month implementation timeline from February 2017 for the removal of the DBU-ACU divide, which will be aligned with the revisions made to MAS 610 (Submission of Statistics and Returns).

The government initiated a banking liberalization program in 1999 to ease restrictions on foreign banks and has supplemented this with phased-in provisions under the USSFTA, including removal of a 40 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of local banks and a 20 percent aggregate foreign shareholding limit on finance companies. The Minister in charge of the Monetary Authority of Singapore must approve the merger or takeover of a local bank or financial holding company, as well as the acquisition of voting shares in such institutions above specific thresholds of five percent, 12 percent, or 20 percent of shareholdings.

Although Singapore’s government has lifted the formal ceilings on foreign ownership of local banks and finance companies, the approval of controllers of local banks ensures that this control rests with individuals or groups whose interests are aligned with the long-term interests of the Singapore economy and Singapore’s national interests. Of the 29 full-service licenses granted to foreign banks, three have gone to U.S. banks. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, U.S.-licensed full-service banks that are also QFBs, which is only one as of March 2019, have been able to operate at an unlimited number of locations (branches or off-premises ATMs) versus 25 for non-U.S. full-service foreign banks with QFB status. U.S. and foreign full-service banks with QFB status can freely relocate existing branches and share ATMs among themselves. They can also provide electronic funds transfer and point-of-sale debit services and accept services related to Singapore’s compulsory pension fund. In 2007, Singapore lifted the quota on new licenses for U.S. wholesale banks.

Locally and non-locally incorporated subsidiaries of U.S. full-service banks with QFB status can apply for access to local ATM networks. However, no U.S. bank has come to a commercial agreement to gain such access. Despite liberalization, U.S. and other foreign banks in the domestic retail-banking sector have reported to still face barriers. Under the enhanced QFB program launched in 2012, MAS requires QFBs it deems systemically significant to incorporate locally. If those locally incorporated entities are deemed “significantly rooted” in Singapore, with a majority of Singaporean or permanent resident members, Singapore may grant approval for an additional 25 places of business, of which up to ten may be branches. Local retail banks do not face similar constraints on customer service locations or access to the local ATM network. As noted above, U.S. banks are not subject to quotas on service locations under the terms of the USSFTA.  Holders of credit cards issued locally by U.S. banks incorporated in Singapore cannot access their accounts through the local ATM networks. They are also unable to access their accounts for cash withdrawals, transfers, or bill payments at ATMs operated by banks other than those operated by their own bank or at foreign banks’ shared ATM network. Nevertheless, full-service foreign banks have made significant inroads in other retail banking areas, with substantial market share in products like credit cards and personal and housing loans.

In January 2019, MAS announced the passage of the Payment Services Bill after soliciting public feedback for design of the bill. The bill requires more payment services such as digital payment tokens, dealing in virtual currency and merchant acquisition, to be licensed and regulated by MAS. It also limits the amount of money stored in personal mobile wallets and how much can be transferred to another user’s bank accounts in a year. Regulations are tailored to the type of activity preformed and address issues related to terrorism financing, money laundering, and cyber risks.

Singapore has no trading restrictions on foreign-owned stockbrokers. There is no cap on the aggregate investment by foreigners regarding the paid-up capital of dealers that are members of the SGX. Direct registration of foreign mutual funds is allowed provided MAS approves the prospectus and the fund. The USSFTA has relaxed conditions foreign asset managers must meet in order to offer products under the government-managed compulsory pension fund (Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme).

Legal Services

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) under the Ministry of Law oversees the regulation, licensing, and compliance of all law practice entities and the registration of foreign lawyers in Singapore. Foreign law firms with a licensed Foreign Law Practice (FLP) may offer the full range of legal services in foreign law and international law but cannot practice Singapore law except in the context of international commercial arbitration. U.S. and foreign attorneys are allowed to represent parties in arbitration without the need for a Singapore attorney to be present. To offer Singapore law, FLPs require either a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license, a Joint Law Venture (JLV) with a Singapore Law Practice (SLP), or a Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with a SLP. The vast majority of Singapore’s 127 foreign law firms operate FLPs, while QFLPs and JLVs each number in the single digits.

The QFLP licenses allow foreign law firms to practice in permitted areas of Singapore law, which excludes constitutional and administrative law, conveyancing, criminal law, family law, succession law, and trust law. As of March 2019 there are nine QFLPs in Singapore, including five U.S. firms. In January 2019, the Ministry of Law announced the deferral to 2020 of the decision to renew the licenses of five QFLPs, which were set to expire in 2019 so that the government can better assess their contribution to Singapore along with the other four firms whose licenses were also extended to 2020. Decisions on the renewal considers the firms’ quantitative and qualitative performance such as the value of work that the Singapore office will generate, the extent to which the Singapore office will function as the firm’s headquarter for the region, the firm’s contributions to Singapore, and the firm’s proposal for the new license period.

A Joint Law Venture (JLV) is a collaboration between a Foreign Law Practice and Singapore Law Practice, which may be constituted as a partnership or company. The Director of Legal Services in the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) will consider all the relevant circumstances including the proposed structure and its overall suitability to achieve the objectives for which JLV are permitted to be established. There is no clear indication on the percentage of shares that each JLV partner may hold in the JLV.

Law degrees from designated U.S., British, Australian, and New Zealand universities are recognized for purposes of admission to practice law in Singapore. Under the USSFTA, Singapore recognizes law degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Michigan. Singapore will admit to the Singapore Bar law school graduates of those designated universities who are ranked among the top 70 percent of their graduating class or have obtained lower-second class honors (under the British system).

Engineering and Architectural Services

Engineering and architectural firms can be 100 percent foreign-owned. Engineers and architects are required to register with the Professional Engineers Board and the Board of Architects, respectively, to practice in Singapore. All applicants (both local and foreign) must have at least four years of practical experience in engineering or two years of practical training in architectural works, and pass written and oral examinations set by the respective Board.

Accounting and Tax Services

Major international accounting firms operate in Singapore. Registration as a public accountant under the Accountants Act is required to provide public accountancy services (i.e. the audit and reporting on financial statements and other acts that are required by any written law to be done by a public accountant) in Singapore, although registration as a public accountant is not required to provide other accountancy services, such as accounting, tax, and corporate advisory work. All accounting entities that provide public accountancy services must be approved under the Accountants Act and their supply of public accountancy services in Singapore must be under the control and management of partners or directors who are public accountants ordinarily resident in Singapore. In addition, if the accounting entity firm has two partners or directors, at least one of them must be a public accountant. If the business entity has more than two partners or directors, two-thirds of the partners or directors must be public accountants.

Energy

Singapore further liberalized its gas market with the amendment of the Gas Act and implementation of a Gas Network Code in 2008, which were designed to give gas retailers and importers direct access to the onshore gas pipeline infrastructure. However, key parts of the local gas market, such as town gas retailing and gas transportation through pipelines remain controlled by incumbent Singaporean firms. Singapore has sought to grow its supply of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), and BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd (acquired by Royal Dutch Shell in February 2016) was appointed in 2008 as the first aggregator with an exclusive franchise to import LNG to be sold in its re-gasified form in Singapore. In October 2017, Shell eastern Trading Pte Ltd and Pavilion Gase Pte Ltd were awarded import licenses to market up to 1 Million Tonnes Per Annum (Mtpa) or for three years, whichever occurs first. This also marked the conclusion of the first exclusive franchise awarded to BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd.

In November 2018, Singapore began a progressive launch of an Open Electricity Market that will be completed in May 2019. Over 1.4 million households and business accounts will have the option of buying electricity from a retailer licensed by the Energy Market Authority (EMA). To participate in the Open Electricity Market licensed retailers must satisfy additional credit, technical, and financial requirements set by EMA in order to sell electricity to households and small businesses. There are two types of electricity retailers: Market Participant Retailers (MPRs) and Non-Market Participant Retailers (NMPRs). MPRs have to be registered with the Energy Market Company (EMC) to purchase electricity from the National Electricity Market of Singapore (NEMS) to sell to contestable consumers. NMPRs need not register with EMC to participate in the NEMS since they will purchase electricity indirectly from the NEMS through the Market Support Services Licensee (MSSL). As of April 2019, there were 13 firms in the market, including foreign and local.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and local entities may readily establish, operate, and dispose of their own enterprises in Singapore subject to certain requirements. A foreigner who wants to incorporate a company in Singapore is required to appoint a locally resident director; foreigners may continue to reside outside of Singapore.  Foreigners who wish to incorporate a company and be present in Singapore to manage its operations are strongly advised to seek approval from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before incorporation. Except for representative offices (where foreign firms maintain a local representative but do not conduct commercial transactions in Singapore) there are no restrictions on carrying out remunerative activities. As of October 2017, foreign companies may seek to transfer their place of registration and be registered as companies limited by shares in Singapore under Part XA (Transfer of Registration) of the Companies Act. Such transferred foreign companies are subject to the same requirements as locally-incorporated companies.

All businesses in Singapore must be registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). Foreign investors can operate their businesses in one of the following forms: sole proprietorship, partnership, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, incorporated company, foreign company branch or representative office. Stricter disclosure requirements were passed in March 2017 requiring foreign company branches registered in Singapore to maintain public registers of their members, while locally incorporated companies. Foreign company branches registered in Singapore as well as limited liability partnerships will be required to maintain registers of controllers (generally defined as individuals or legal entities with more than 25 percent interest or control of the companies and foreign companies) aimed at preventing money laundering.

While there is currently no cross-sectional screening process for foreign investments, investors are required to seek approval from specific sector regulators for investments into certain firms. These sectors include energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal services, public accounting services, ports and airports, and property ownership. Under Singapore law, Articles of Incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in corporations by foreign persons.

Singapore does not maintain an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment. There are no reports of U.S. investors being especially disadvantaged or singled out relative to other foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Singapore underwent a trade policy review with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in July 2016. No major policy recommendations were raised. This was the country’s only policy review in the past three years. (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp443_e.htm)

The OECD and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) released a joint report in February 2019 on the ASEAN-OECD Investment Program. The Program aims to foster dialogue and experience sharing between OECD countries and Southeast Asian economies on issues relating to the business and investment climate. It is implemented through regional policy dialogue, country investment policy reviews, and training seminars. (http://www.oecd.org/countries/singapore/seasia.htm  )

The OECD released a Transfer Pricing Country Profile for Singapore in June 2018. The country profiles focus on countries’ domestic legislation regarding key transfer pricing principles, including the arm’s length principle, transfer pricing methods, comparability analysis, intangible property, intra-group services, cost contribution agreements, transfer pricing documentation, administrative approaches to avoiding and resolving disputes, safe harbors and other implementation measures. (http://www.oecd.org/countries/singapore/transfer-pricing-country-profile-singapore.pdf )

The OECD released a peer review report in March 2018 on Singapore’s implementation of internationally agreed tax standards under Action Plan 14 of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project. Action 14 strengthens the effectiveness and efficiency of the mutual agreement procedure, a cross-border tax dispute resolution mechanism.

The UNCTAD has not conducted an IPR of Singapore.

Business Facilitation

Singapore’s online business registration process is clear and efficient and allows foreign companies to register branches. All businesses must be registered with the Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) through Bizfile, its online registration and information retrieval portal (http://bizfile.gov.sg  ), including any individual, firm or corporation that carries out business for a foreign company. Applications are typically processed immediately after the application fee is paid, but may take between 14 days to two months if the application is referred to another agency for approval or review. The process of establishing a foreign-owned limited liability company in Singapore is among the fastest of the countries surveyed by IAB.

ACRA provides a single window for business registration. However, additional regulatory approvals (e.g. licensing or visa requirements) are obtained via individual applications to the respective Ministries or Statutory Boards. Additional information and business support on registering a branch of a foreign company is available through the EDB (https://www.edb.gov.sg/en/how-we-help/setting-up.html  ). Furthermore, GuideMeSingapore by corporate services firm Hawskford provides details on setting up a business in Singapore (https://www.guidemesingapore.com/).

Foreign companies may lease or buy privately or publicly held land in Singapore, though there are some restrictions on foreign ownership of property. Foreign companies are free to open and maintain bank accounts in foreign currency. There is no minimum paid-in capital requirement, but at least one subscriber share must be issued for valid consideration at incorporation.

At GER (ger.co), Singapore’s online business registration process scores 7/10 in Online Single Windows (https://www.bizfile.gov.sg/).

Business facilitation processes provide for fair and equal treatment of women and minorities, and there are no mechanisms that provide special assistance to women and minorities.

Outward Investment

Singapore places no restrictions on domestic investors investing abroad. The government promotes outward investment through Enterprise Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). It provides market information, business contacts, and financial assistance and grants for internationalizing companies. While it has a global reach and runs overseas centers in major cities across the world, a large share of its overseas centers are located in major trading and investment partners and regional markets like China, India, and ASEAN.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Singapore has 33 bilateral investment treaties (BIT) currently in force. These agreements mutually protect nationals or companies of either economy against non-commercial risks of expropriation and nationalization. It has signed an additional eight BITs that have yet to be implemented, including some that were signed several years ago.

Singapore has 13 bilateral and ten regional free trade agreements (FTA) currently in force. Singapore has signed free trade or economic cooperation agreements that include investment chapters with ASEAN, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, China, the European Free Trade Association (Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland), India, Japan, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, South Korea, Costa Rica, the United States, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Chinese Taipei. Singapore also has agreements with Jordan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), but these agreements do not contain investment chapters. Singapore is a member of ASEAN, which has in force FTAs with Australia and New Zealand, China, India, South Korea, and a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan. Singapore also has a Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement with Brunei, Chile, and New Zealand.

Singapore and the European Union signed a bilateral FTA in October 2018, which is awaiting ratification. Singapore also signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Singapore is actively negotiating FTAs with the Eurasian Economic Union (including Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) and the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru). ASEAN is currently negotiating FTA extensions with Japan, China, and Australia, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes ASEAN members plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Singapore has signed Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs) with 90 countries, but Singapore does not have a comprehensive Avoidance of Taxation Agreement with the United States. U.S. financial regulations do not restrict foreign banks’ ability to hold accounts for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens are encouraged to alert the nearest U.S. Embassy of any practices they encounter with regard to the provision of financial services. No tax disputes have been reported.

In November 2018, Singapore signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement and a reciprocal Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act Model 1 Intergovernmental Agreement with the United States. The new reciprocal Intergovernmental Agreement will supersede the current non-reciprocal one (entered into force in 2015) upon ratification.

In November 2018, Singapore’s parliament passed a bill to apply the goods and services tax (GST) to digital service supplies beginning January 1, 2020.  The current GST rate of seven percent is scheduled to increase to nine percent between 2021 and 2025.  Currently, GST is not applied to services provided by a foreign-based digital service supplier with no presence in Singapore. Other recent changes in Singapore’s taxation regime include an extension of the Writing Down Allowance for acquisition of qualifying Intellectual Property Rights.  In the 2019 budget, Singapore revised the quantum of GST import relief for travelers for the value of goods bought overseas. Singapore plans to initiate a carbon tax in 2019 by pricing carbon at approximately USD 3.61 (5 Singaporean dollars) per metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions from 2019 to 2023.  The initial pricing level for the first five years was designed to provide companies with a transition period to adjust to the law. Singapore will review the rate by 2023 and intends to increase the pricing level between USD 7.30 to USD 10.95 (10 to 15 Singaporean dollars) per metric ton by 2030.  At that time, Singapore will take into account its economic competitiveness, international environmental developments and Singapore’s progress towards its environmental goals. Instead of imposing differing taxes on specific sectors, Singapore opted for a simple carbon tax with no exemptions. Despite new tax announcements, the Government of Singapore pledged to “extend and strengthen” tax incentives to enhance business competitiveness.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Transparency Policies and Non-Discrimination:

The government establishes clear rules that foster competition. The USSFTA enhances transparency by requiring regulatory authorities to consult with interested parties before issuing regulations, and to provide advance notice and comment periods for proposed rules, as well as to publish all regulations. Singapore’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Formal Regulatory Authority and Processes:

Rule-making authority is vested in the Parliament to pass laws that determine the regulatory scope, purpose, rights and powers of the regulator and the legal framework for the industry. Regulatory authority is vested in government statutory boards, which are organizations that have been given autonomy to perform an operational function by legal statutes passed as Acts in parliament, and report to a specific Ministry. Local laws give regulatory bodies wide discretion to modify regulations and impose new conditions, but in practice agencies use this positively to adapt incentives or other services on a case-by-case basis to meet the needs of foreign as well as domestic companies. Acts of Parliament also confer certain powers on a Minister or other similar persons or authorities to make rules or regulations in order to put the Act into practice; these rules are known as subsidiary legislation.

National-level regulations are the most relevant for foreign businesses. Singapore, being a city-state, has no local or state regulatory layers.

Before a ministry instructs the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to draft a new bill or make an amendment to a bill, the ministry has to seek in-principle approval from the Cabinet for the proposed bill. The Legislation Division of AGC advises and helps vet or draft bills in conjunction with policymakers from relevant ministries. Proposed draft legislative amendments are released for public or private consultation. Thereafter, approval from the Ministry of Law is required, followed by the Cabinet’s approval, before the bill can be introduced in Parliament.  All Bills passed by Parliament (with some exceptions) must be forwarded to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights (PCMR) for scrutiny, and thereafter presented to the President for assent. Only after the President has assented to the Bill does the Bill become law (i.e. an Act of Parliament).

While ministries or regulatory agencies do conduct internal impact assessments of proposed regulations, there are no criteria used for determining which proposed regulations are subjected to an impact assessment, and there are no specific regulatory impact assessment guidelines. There is no independent agency tasked with reviewing and monitoring regulatory impact assessments and distributing findings to the public. The Ministry of Finance publishes a biennial Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review (http://www.mof.gov.sg/Resources/Singapore-Public-Sector-Outcomes-Review-SPOR). It focuses on broad outcomes and indicators rather than policy evaluation. Results of scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted in review of policies and regulations are not made publicly available.

Informal Regulatory Processes:

Industry self-regulation occurs in several areas, including advertising and corporate governance. Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore   (ASAS), an advisory council under the Consumers Association of Singapore, administers the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, which focuses on ensuring that advertisements are legal, decent, and truthful. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange (SGX) Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code. Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code, and, if their practices vary from any provisions of the Code, they must note the reason for the variation and explain how the practices they have adopted are consistent with the intent of the relevant principle. The SGX plays the role of a self-regulatory organization (SRO) in listings, market surveillance, and member supervision to uphold the integrity of the market and ensure participants’ adherence to trading and clearing rules. There have been no reports of discriminatory practices aimed at foreign investors.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures:

Singapore’s legal and accounting procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms and rank similar to the U.S. in international comparisons (http://worldjusticeproject.org/rule-of-law-index  ). The prescribed accounting standards for Singapore-incorporated companies listed on the Singapore Exchange or SFRS(1), Singapore Financial Reporting Standards, are identical to those of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). Non-listed Singapore-incorporated companies can voluntarily apply for SFRS(1). Otherwise, they are required to comply with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS), which are aligned with those of IASB. For the use of foreign accounting standards, the companies are required to seek approval of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

For foreign companies with primary listings on the Singapore Exchange, the SGX Listing Rules allow the use of alternative standards such as International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or the U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (U.S. GAAP). Accounts prepared in accordance with IFRS U.S. GAAP need not be reconciled to SFRS(1). Companies with secondary listings on the Singapore Exchange need only reconcile their accounts to SFRS(1), IFRS, or U.S. GAAP.

Draft Legislation:

Notices of proposed legislation to be considered by Parliament are published, including the text of the laws, the dates of the readings, and whether or not the laws eventually pass. The government has established a centralized Internet portal (www.reach.gov.sg) to solicit feedback on selected draft legislation and regulations, a process that is being used with increasing frequency. There is no stipulated consultative period.  Results of consultations are usually consolidated and published on relevant websites. As noted in the “Openness to Foreign Investment” section, some U.S. companies, in particular in the telecommunications and media sectors, are concerned about the government’s lack of transparency in its regulatory and rule-making process.  However, many U.S. firms report they have opportunities to weigh in on pending legislation that affects their industries. These mechanisms also apply to investment laws and regulations.

Online Regulatory Disclosure:

The Parliament of Singapore website (https://www.parliament.gov.sg/publications/bills-introduced  ) publishes a database of all Bills introduced, read, and passed in Parliament in chronological order as of 2006. The contents are the actual draft texts of the proposed legislation/legislative amendments. All statutes are also publicly available in the Singapore Statutes Online website (https://sso.agc.gov.sg  ). However, there is no centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published. Regulatory actions are published separately on websites of Statutory Boards.

Transparency Enforcement Mechanisms:

Enforcement of regulatory offences is governed by both Acts of Parliament and subsidiary legislation. Enforcement powers of government statutory bodies are typically enshrined in the Act of Parliament constituting that statutory body. There is accountability to Parliament for enforcement action through Question Time, where Members of Parliament may raise questions with the Ministers on their respective Ministries’ responsibilities.

Singapore’s judicial system and courts serve as the oversight mechanism in respect of executive action (such as the enforcement of regulatory offences) and dispense justice based on law. The Supreme Court is made up of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, and hears both civil and criminal matters. The Chief Justice heads the Judiciary. The President appoints the Chief Justice, the Judges of Appeal and the Judges of the High Court if he, acting at his discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister.

No systemic regulatory reforms or enforcement reforms relevant to foreign investors have been announced. The Monetary Authority of Singapore stated focus in enforcement is on timely disclosure of corporate information, business conduct of financial advisors, compliance with anti-money laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism requirements, deterring stock market abuse, and insider trading as of March 2019. In March 2019, MAS published its inaugural Enforcement Report that details enforcement actions over previous periods.

International Regulatory Considerations

Singapore was the 2018 chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is working towards the 2025 ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint aimed at achieving a single market and production base, with a free flow of goods, services, and investment within the region. While ASEAN is working towards regulatory harmonization, there are no regional regulatory systems in place; instead, ASEAN agreements and regulations are enacted through each ASEAN Member State’s domestic regulatory system.

The WTO’s 2016 trade policy review notes that Singapore’s guiding principle for standardization is to align national standards with international standards, and Singapore is an elected member of the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Councils. Singapore encourages the direct use of international standards whenever possible. Singapore Standards (SS) are developed when there is no appropriate international standard equivalent, or when there is a need to customize standards to meet domestic requirements. At the end of 2015, Singapore had a stock of 553 SS, about 40 percent of which were references to international standards. Enterprise Singapore, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and the Ministry of Trade and Industry are the three national enquiry points under the TBT Agreement. There are no known reports of omissions in reporting to TBT.

A non-exhaustive list of major international norms and standards referenced or incorporated into the country’s regulatory systems include Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPs) project, Common Reporting Standards (CRS), Basel III, EU Dual-Use Export Control Regulation, 27 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on labor rights and governance, UN conventions, and WTO agreements.

Singapore is signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The WTO reports that Singapore has fully implemented the TFA (https://www.tfadatabase.org/members/singapore  ).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Singapore’s legal system has its roots in English common law and practice and is enforced by courts of law. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. In the 2019 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, it is ranked overall 13th in the world, 1st on order and security, 3rd on regulatory enforcement, 3rd in absence of corruption, 5th on civil and criminal justice, 27th on constraints on government powers, 25th on open government, and 30th on fundamental rights. Singapore’s legal procedures are ranked 2nd in the world in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business sub-indicator on contract enforcement which measures speed, cost, and quality of judicial processes to resolve a commercial dispute. The judicial system remains independent of the executive branch and the executive does not interfere in judiciary matters.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore strives to promote an efficient, business-friendly regulatory environment. Tax, labor, banking and finance, industrial health and safety, arbitration, wage, and training rules and regulations are formulated and reviewed with the interests of both foreign investors and local enterprises in mind. Starting in 2005, a Rules Review Panel, comprising senior civil servants, began overseeing a review of all rules and regulations; this process will be repeated every five years. A Pro-Enterprise Panel of high-level public sector and private sector representatives examines feedback from businesses on regulatory issues and provides recommendations to the government.

The Cybersecurity Act, which came into force in August 2018, establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework for cybersecurity. The Act provides the Commissioner of Cyber Security with powers to investigate, prevent, and assess the potential impact of cyber security incidents and threats in Singapore.  These can include requiring persons and organizations to provide requested information, requiring the owner of a computer system to take any action to assist with cyber investigations, directing organizations to remediate cyber incidents, and, if safeguards have been met, authorizing officers to enter premises, and installing software and take possession of computer systems to prevent serious cyber-attacks in the event of severe threat. The Act also establishes a framework for the designation and regulation of Critical Information Infrastructure (CII). Requirements for CII owners include a mandatory incident reporting regime, regular audits and risk assessments, and participation in national cyber security stress tests. In addition, the Act will establish a regulatory regime for cyber security service providers and required licensing for penetration testing and managed security operations center (SOC) monitoring services. U.S. business chambers have expressed concern about the effects of licensing and regularly burdens on compliance costs, insufficient checks and balances on the investigatory powers of the authorities, and the absence of a multidirectional cyber threat sharing framework that includes protections from liability.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and is tasked with administering and enforcing the Competition Act. The Act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices; abuse of dominance; enforcement and appeals process; and mergers and acquisitions. The Competition Act was enacted in 2004 in accordance with U.S-Singapore FTA commitments, which contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that Singapore’s GLCs will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the FTA.

In September 2018, CCCS issued an infringement decision against Grab and Uber in relation to the sale of Uber’s Southeast Asia business to the private-hire transport company Grab, which led to a substantial lessening of competition in the provision of ride-hailing platform services in Singapore. Combined financial penalties of USD 9.5 million were imposed on Grab and Uber. A spokesperson for Uber said it believed the decision was based on an “inappropriately narrow definition of the market.” Uber will also be required to sell its car rental business to any rival that makes a reasonable offer and will not be allowed to sell those vehicles to Grab. Uber will have its appeal of the ruling heard in the second half of 2019.

In January 2018 CCCS imposed record financial penalties of USD 14.8 million (SUSD 19.6 million) against five Japanese capacitor manufacturers for price-fixing and the exchange of confidential sales, distribution and pricing information for Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitors.

Expropriation and Compensation

Singapore has not expropriated foreign owned property and has no laws that force foreign investors to transfer ownership to local interests. Singapore has signed investment promotion and protection agreements with a wide range of countries. These agreements mutually protect nationals or companies of either country against certain non-commercial risks, such as expropriation and nationalization and remain in effect unless otherwise terminated. The USSFTA contains strong investor protection provisions relating to expropriation of private property and the need to follow due process; provisions are in place for an owner to receive compensation based on fair market value. No disputes are pending.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID convention) and the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards (1958 New York Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID convention in 1968. Singapore acceded to the 1958 New York Convention in August 1986 and gave effect to it via the International Arbitration Act (IAA).  The 1958 New York Convention is annexed to the IAA as the Second Schedule. Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention. (http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3f833e8e-722a-4fca-8393-f35e59ed1440  )

Domestic arbitration in Singapore is governed by the Arbitration Act (Cap 10). The Arbitration Act was enacted to align the laws applicable to domestic arbitration with the Model Law.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

After Singapore’s accession to the New York Convention of 1958 on August 21, 1986, it re-enacted most of its provisions in Part III of the IAA. By acceding to this Convention, Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the Convention. Singapore is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and, under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (RECJA), recognizes judgments made in the United Kingdom, as well as jurisdictions that are part of the Commonwealth and with which Singapore has reciprocal arrangements for the recognition and enforcement of judgments. The Act lists the countries with which such arrangements exist, and of the 53 countries that are members of the Commonwealth, nine have been listed. (http://www.lawgazette.com.sg/2001-8/Aug01-focus4.htm  ) Singapore also has reciprocal recognition of foreign judgements with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. ICSID Convention has an enforcement mechanism for arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 New York Convention. Investor-State dispute settlement provisions in Singapore’s trade agreements, including the USSFTA, refer to ICSIID rules as one of the possible options for resolving disputes. Investor-State arbitration under rules other than ICSID’s would result in an arbitration award that may be enforced using the 1959 New York Convention.

Singapore has had no investment disputes with U.S. persons or other foreign investors in the past ten years that have proceeded to litigation. Any disputes settled by arbitration/mediation would remain confidential. There have been no claims made by U.S. investors under the USSFTA. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Dispute resolution (DR) institutions include the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), and the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA). Singapore’s extensive dispute resolution institutions and integrated dispute resolution facilities at Maxwell Chambers have contributed to its development as a regional hub for alternative disputes mechanisms. The SIAC is the major arbitral institution and its increasing caseload reflects Singapore’s policy of encouraging the use of alternative modes of dispute resolution, including arbitration. On average, it takes approximately eight weeks to enforce an arbitration award rendered in Singapore, from filing an application to a writ of execution attaching assets (assuming there is no appeal), and seven weeks for a foreign award.

Arbitral awards in Singapore, for either domestic or international arbitration, are legally binding and enforceable in Singapore domestic courts, as well as in jurisdictions that have ratified the 1958 New York Convention.

The International Arbitration Act (IAA) regulates international arbitrations in Singapore. Domestic arbitrations are regulated by the Arbitration Act (AA). The IAA is heavily based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, with a few significant differences. For example, arbitration agreements must be in writing. This requirement is deemed to be satisfied if the content is recorded in any form, including electronic communication, regardless of whether the arbitration agreement was concluded orally, by conduct, or by other means (e.g. an arbitration clause in a contract or a separate agreement can be incorporated into a contract by reference). The AA is also primarily based on the UNCITRAL Model Law. There have been no reported complaints about the partiality or transparency of court processes in investment and commercial disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Singapore has bankruptcy laws allowing both debtors and creditors to file a bankruptcy claim. Singapore is ranked number 27 for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business index. While Singapore performed well in recovery rate and time and cost of proceedings, it did not score highly in the creditor participation and reorganization sub-indexes. In particular, the insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for sale of substantial assets of the debtor or approval by the creditors for selection or appointment of the insolvency representative.

Singapore has made several reforms to enhance corporate rescue and restructuring processes, including features from Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Amendments to the Companies Act, which came into force in May 2017, include additional disclosure requirements by debtors, rescue financing provisions, provisions to facilitate the approval of pre-packaged restructurings, increased debtor protections, and cram-down provisions that will allow a scheme to be approved by the court even if a class of creditors oppose the scheme, provided the dissenting class of creditors are not unfairly prejudiced by the scheme.

In October 2018, the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act was passed and will go into effect in the first half of 2019. It updates the insolvency legislation and introduces a significant number of new provisions, particularly with respect to corporate insolvency. It mandates licensing, qualifications, standards, and disciplinary measures for insolvency practitioners. It also includes standalone voidable transaction provisions for corporate insolvency and, a new wrongful trading provision.  The Act allows ‘out of court’ commencement of judicial management, permits judicial managers to assign the proceeds of certain insolvency related claims, restricts the operation of contractual ‘ipso facto clauses’ upon the commencement of certain restructuring and insolvency procedures, and modifies the operation of the scheme of arrangement cross class ‘cram down’ power.

Two MAS-recognized consumer credit bureaus operate in Singapore: the Credit Bureau (Singapore) Pte Ltd and DP Credit Bureau Pte Ltd. U.S. industry advocates enhancements to Singapore’s credit bureau system, in particular, adoption of an open admission system for all lenders, including non-banks. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Singapore. https://www.acra.gov.sg/CA_2017/  

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead investment promotion agency facilitating foreign investment into Singapore (https://www.edb.gov.sg  ). EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development, and works with international businesses, both foreign and local, by providing information, connection to partners, and access to government incentives for their investments. The Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore’s lead public sector agency focused on economic-oriented research to advance scientific discovery and innovative technology. (https://www.a-star.edu.sg  ) The National Research Foundation (NRF) provides competitive grants for applied research through an integrated grant management system, (https://researchgrant.gov.sg/pages/index.aspx  ). Various government agencies (including Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), NRF, and EDB,) provide venture capital co-funding for startups and commercialization of intellectual property.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Singapore has nine free-trade zones (FTZs) in five geographical areas operated by three FTZ authorities. The FTZs may be used for storage and repackaging of import and export cargo, and goods transiting Singapore for subsequent re-export. Manufacturing is not carried out within the zones. Foreign and local firms have equal access to the FTZ facilities.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements are applied uniformly and systematically to both domestic and foreign investors. Singapore has no forced localization policy requiring domestic content in goods or technology. The government does not require investors to purchase from local sources or specify a percentage of output for export. There are no rules forcing the transfer of technology. There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. The industry regulator is the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

The industry regulator is the Info-communications Media Development Personal data matters are independently overseen by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers and enforces the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) of 2012. The PDPA governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data by the private sector and covers both electronic and non-electronic data.

Singapore is currently reviewing the PDPA to ensure that it keeps pace with the evolving needs of businesses and individuals in a digital economy such as introducing an enhanced framework for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data and a mandatory breach notification regime.

Singapore does not have a data localization policy. Singapore participates in various regional and international frameworks that promote interoperability and harmonization of rules to facilitate cross-border data flows. The ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance is one example. Another is Singapore’s participation in the APEC Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) and Privacy Recognition for Processors (PRP) systems, to facilitate data transfers for certified organizations across APEC economies.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are enforced in Singapore. Residents have access to mortgages and liens, with reliable recording of properties. In the 2018 World Bank Doing Business Report, Singapore ranks first in the world in enforcing contracts and number 21st in registering property.

Foreigners are not allowed to purchase public housing (HDB) in Singapore, and prior approval from the Singapore Land Authority is required to purchase landed residential property and residential land for development. Foreigners are allowed to purchase non-landed, private sector housing (e.g. condominiums or any unit within a building) without the need to obtain prior approval, however they are not allowed to acquire all the apartments or units in s development without prior approval. These restrictions also apply to foreign companies.

There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of industrial and commercial real estate. In December 2011, the government enacted an additional effective ten percent tax, or Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD), on foreigners who purchase homes in Singapore. In July 2018 the government raised the ABSD to 20 percent; however, U.S. citizens are accorded national treatment under the FTA, meaning only second and subsequent purchases of residential property will be subject to 12 and 15 percent ABSD, equivalent to Singaporean citizens.

The availability of covered bond legislation under MAS Notice 648 has provided an incentive for Singapore financial institutions to issue covered bonds. Under Notice 648, only a bank incorporated in Singapore may issue covered bonds. The three main Singapore banks: DBS, OCBC, and UOB, all have in place covered bond programs, with the majority of issues being private placements. The banking industry has made suggestions to allow the use of covered bonds in repo transactions with the central bank and to increase the encumbrance limit, currently at four percent. (http://www.mas.gov.sg/regulations-and-financial-stability/regulations-guidance-and-licensing/commercial-banks/notices/2013/notice-648-issuance-of-covered-bonds-by-banks-incorporated-in-singapore.aspx )

Intellectual Property Rights

Singapore has developed one of the strongest intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes in Asia and has brought its IPR laws in line with international standards. However, some businesses have expressed concern in certain areas such as business software piracy, online piracy, and enforcement.

The Patents (Amendment) Act will close the foreign route for examination which allows granting of a patent based on a search and examination results of a foreign patent office with effect from January 1, 2020. All patent applications must be fully examined by Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) to ensure that granted patents fully satisfy Singapore’s patentability criteria. The Registered Designs (Amendment) Act broadens the scope of registered designs to include virtual designs and color as a design feature, and will stipulate the default owner of designs to be the designer of a commissioned design, rather than the commissioning party.

The USSFTA ensures that government agencies will not grant regulatory approvals to patent- infringing products, but Singapore does allow parallel imports. Under the Patents Act, with regards to pharmaceutical products, the patent owner has the right to bring an action to stop an importer of “grey market goods” from importing the patent owner’s patented product, provided that the product has not previously been sold or distributed in Singapore. If the conditions are met, the importation results in a breach of contract between the proprietor of the patent and any person licensed by the proprietor of the patent to distribute the product outside Singapore and the importer has knowledge of such.

The USSFTA ensures protection of test data and trade secrets submitted to the government for regulatory approval purposes. Disclosure of such information is prohibited. Such data may not be used for approval of the same or similar products without the consent of the party who submitted the data for a period of five years from the date of approval of the pharmaceutical product and ten years from the date of approval of an agricultural chemical. Singapore has no specific legislation concerning protection of trade secrets. Instead, it protects investors’ commercially valuable proprietary information under common law by the Law of Confidence as well as legislation such as the Penal Code (e.g. theft) and the Computer Misuse Act (e.g., unauthorized access to a computer system to download information). U.S. industry has expressed concern that this provision is inadequate.

Singapore is a member of the WTO and a party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It is a signatory to other international intellectual property rights agreements, including the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Madrid Protocol, and the Budapest Treaty. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Secretariat opened a regional office in Singapore in 2005 (http://www.wipo.int/about-wipo/en/offices/singapore/  ). Amendments to the Trademark Act, which were passed in January 2007, fulfill Singapore’s obligations in WIPO’s revised Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks.

Singapore ranked 10th out of 50 in the world in the 2019 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index. The index noted that Singapore’s key strengths include an advanced national IP framework and efforts to accelerate patent examination and grants.  The index also lauded Singapore as a global leader in online copyright enforcement.  Despite a decrease in estimated software piracy from 35 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2019, the Index noted that piracy levels remain high for a developed high-income country.  Lack of transparency and data on customs seizures of IP-infringing goods was also noted as a key area of weakness.

Singapore does not publicly report statistics on seizures of counterfeit goods, and does not score highly on enforcement of physical counterfeit goods, online sales of counterfeit goods or digital online piracy, according to the 2018 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index. Singapore is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 report, or the notorious market report.  For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/  

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment and fixed asset investments. While it welcomes capital market investments, the government has introduced macro-prudential policies aimed at reducing foreign speculative inflows in the real estate sector since 2009. The government promotes Singapore’s position as an asset and wealth management center, and asset under management grew 7 percent in 2016 to USUSD 2.1 trillion (SUSD 2.7 trillion)– the latest year for which data are available.

The Government of Singapore facilitates the free flow of financial resources into product and factor markets, and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) is Singapore’s stock market. An effective regulatory system exists to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors can access credit, U.S. dollars, Singapore dollars (SGD), and other foreign currencies on the local market. The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments through banks operating in Singapore. The government respects IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Money and Banking System

Singapore’s banking system is sound and well regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), and it serves as a financial hub for the region. Banks have a very high domestic penetration rate, and according to World Bank Financial Inclusion indicators, over 97 percent of persons held a financial account in 2017 (latest year available). According to a 2014 McKinsey Asia Personal Financial Services Survey, the average number of banking products held by the customer is 5.72, while 94 percent of respondents used internet banking via PC or smartphone. Local Singapore banks saw net profits rise 27 percent in the last quarter of 2019. Banks are statutorily prohibited from engaging in non-financial business. Banks can hold 10 percent or less in non-financial companies as an “equity portfolio investment.” As of 2018Q4, the non-performing loans ratio (NPL ratio) of the three local banks averaged 1.5 percent, down from the NPL ratio of 1.7in 2017 Q4. The World Bank records Singapore’s banking sector overall NPL ratio at 1.22 in 2016.

Foreign banks require licenses to operate in the country. The tiered licenses, for Merchant, Offshore, Wholesale, Full Banks and Qualifying Full Banks (QFBs) subject banks to further prudential safeguards in return for offering a greater range of services. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, U.S.-licensed full service banks that are also QFBs have been able to operate at an unlimited number of locations (branches or off-premises ATMs) versus 25 for non-U.S. full service foreign banks with QFB status.

Under the OECD Common Reporting Standards (CRS) which has been in effect since January 2017, Singapore-based Financial Institutions (SGFIs) – depository institutions such as banks, specified insurance companies, investment entities, and custodial institutions – are required to establish the tax residency status of all their account holders, collect and retain CRS information for all non-Singapore tax residents in the case of new accounts and report to tax authorities the financial account information of account holders who are tax residents of jurisdictions with which Singapore has a Competent Authority Agreement (CAA) to exchange the information.

U.S. financial regulations do not restrict foreign banks’ ability to hold accounts for U.S. citizens. U.S. Citizens are encouraged to alert the nearest U.S. Embassy of any practices they encounter with regard to the provision of financial services.

Fintech investments in Singapore doubled in 2018 to USD 365 million. To strengthen Singapore’s position as a global Fintech hub, MAS has created a dedicated Fintech Office as a one-stop virtual entity for all FinTech-related matters to enable FinTech experimentation and promote an open-API (Application Programming Interfaces) in the financial industry. According to Research and Markets, the Singapore mobile wallet and payment market is expected to be worth over USD 40 billion by 2025.

MAS also aims to be a regional leader in the implementation of blockchain technologies to position Singapore as a financial technology center. MAS and the Association of Banks in Singapore are prototyping the use of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) for inter-bank clearing and settlement of payments and securities. Two phases have been completed, including a proof-of-concept project for inter-bank payments and software prototypes for decentralized inter-bank payment and settlements. Two spin-off projects are currently under development. (http://www.mas.gov.sg/Singapore-Financial-Centre/Smart-Financial-Centre/Project-Ubin.aspx  ).

Alternative financial services include retail and corporate non-bank lending via finance companies, co-operative societies, and pawnshops; and burgeoning financial technology-based services across a wide range of sectors: crowdfunding, Initial Coin Offerings, payment services and remittance, which remains a small but growing sector. In January 2019, the Payment Services Bill went into effect which will require all cryptocurrency service providers to be licensed with the intent to provide more user protection. Smaller payment firms will receive a different classifications from larger institutions and will be less heavily regulated. Key infrastructures supporting Singapore’s financial market include interbank (MEP), Foreign exchange (CLS, CAPS), retail (SGDCCS, USDCCS, CTS, IBG, ATM), securities (MEPS+-SGS, CDP, SGX-DC) and derivatives settlements (SGX-DC, APS).

Please consult http://www.mas.gov.sg/Singapore-Financial-Centre/Payment-and-Settlement-Systems/Clearing-and-Settlement-Systems.aspx   and https://www.bis.org/cpmi/publ/d97.htm to read about to find additional information regarding payment, clearing/ and settlement systems that are used in Singapore.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The USSFTA commits Singapore to the free transfer of capital, unimpeded by regulatory restrictions. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings and capital, and maintains no significant restrictions on remittances, foreign exchange transactions and capital movements.

Singapore’s monetary policy has been centered on the management of the exchange rate since 1981, with the stated primary objective of promoting medium term price stability as a sound basis for sustainable economic growth. As described by MAS, there are three main features of the exchange rate system in Singapore. MAS operates a managed float regime for the Singapore dollar with the trade-weighted exchange rate allowed to fluctuate within a policy band. The Singapore dollar is managed against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners. The exchange rate policy band is periodically reviewed to ensure that it remains consistent with the underlying fundamentals of the economy.

Remittance Policies

There are no time or amount limitations on remittances. No significant changes to investment remittance was implemented or announced over the past year.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Government of Singapore has three key investment entities. GIC Private Limited (GIC) is the sovereign wealth fund in Singapore that manages the government’s substantial investments, fiscal, and foreign reserves, with the stated objective to achieve long-term returns and preserve the international purchasing power of the reserves. Temasek is a holding company wholly owned by the Singapore Minister for Finance. Under the Singapore Minister for Finance (Incorporation) Act, the Minister for Finance is a corporate body. The MAS, as the central bank of Singapore, manages the Official Foreign Reserves, and a significant proportion of its portfolio is invested in liquid financial market instruments.

GIC does not publish the size of the funds under management, but some industry observers estimate its managed assets exceed USD 390 billion. GIC does not invest domestically, but manages Singapore’s international investments, which are generally passive (non-controlling) investments in publicly traded entities. The United States is its top investment destination, accounting for 32 percent of GIC’s portfolio as of March 2018, while Asia ex-Japan accounts for 19 percent, the Eurozone 13 percent, Japan 13 percent, and UK 6 percent. Investments in the United States are diversified and include industrial and commercial properties, student housing, power transmission companies, and financial, retail and business services. Although not required by law, GIC has published an annual report since 2008.

Temasek began as a holding company for Singapore’s state-owned enterprises, now GLCs, but has since branched to other asset classes, and often holds significant stake in companies. As of March 2018, Temasek’s portfolio value reached USD 235 billion, and its asset exposure to Singapore was 27 percent; 41 percent in the rest of Asia, and 13 percent in North America. As set out in the Temasek Charter, Temasek delivers sustainable value over the long term for its stakeholders. Temasek formerly focused on managing industries to promote economic development, but has since shifted its emphasis to commercial objectives. Temasek has published a Temasek Review annually since 2004. The statements only provides consolidated financial statements, which aggregate all of Temasek and its subsidiaries into a single financial report. Temasek Group’s annual statutory financial statements are audited by a major international audit firm. GIC and Temasek uphold the Santiago Principles for sovereign investments. Singapore is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

Other investing entities of government funds include EDB Investments Pte Ltd, Singapore’s Housing Development Board, and other government statutory boards with funding decisions driven by goals emanating from the central government.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Singapore has an extensive network of government-linked corporations (GLC) that are fully or partially owned by Temasek Holdings, a holding company with the Singapore Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder. Singapore GLCs play a substantial role in Singapore’s domestic economy, especially in strategically important sectors including telecommunications, media, healthcare, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. In addition, the GLCs are also present in many other sectors of the economy, including banking, subway, airline, consumer/lifestyle, commodities trading, oil and gas engineering, postal services, infrastructure, and real estate.

The Government of Singapore is generally opposed to the term GLC and prefers to use the term State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). The government emphasizes that whether referring to GLCs or SOEs, the entities operate on an equal basis with both local and foreign businesses without exception. Consolidated figures of total assets, net income, and numbers employed in SOEs) are not publicly available, but Temasek’s domestic asset ownership stake in SOEs is estimated at USD 64 billion. There is no published list of SOEs.

Temasek’s annual report notes that its portfolio companies are guided and managed by their respective boards and management, and Temasek does not direct their business decisions or operations. However, as a substantial shareholder, corporate governance within GLCs typically are guided or influenced by policies developed by Temasek. There are differences in corporate governance disclosures and practices across the GLCs, and GLC boards are allowed to determine their own governance practices, with Temasek advisors occasionally meeting with the companies to make recommendations. GLC board seats are not specifically allocated to government officials, although it “leverages on its networks to suggest qualified individuals for consideration by the respective boards”, and leaders formerly from the armed forces or civil service are often represented on boards and fill senior management positions. Temasek exercises its shareholder rights to influence the strategic directions of its companies but does not get involved in the day-to-day business and commercial decisions of its firms and subsidiaries.

GLCs operate on a commercial basis and compete on an equal basis with private businesses, both local and foreign. Singapore officials highlight that the government does not interfere with the operations of GLCs or grant them special privileges, preferential treatment or hidden subsidies, asserting that GLCs are subject to the same regulatory regime and discipline of the market as private sector companies. Observers, however, have been critical of cases where GLCs have entered into new lines of business or where government agencies have “corporatized” certain government functions, in both circumstances entering into competition with already-existing private businesses. Some private sector companies have said they encountered unfair business practices and opaque bidding processes that appeared to favor incumbent, government-linked firms. In addition, they note that the GLC’s institutional relationships with the government give them natural advantages in terms of access to cheaper funding and opportunities to shape the economic policy agenda in ways that benefit their companies.

The USSFTA contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that GLCs will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the USSFTA. In accordance with its USSFTA commitments, Singapore enacted the Competition Act in 2004 and established the Competition Commission of Singapore in January 2005. The Act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices, abuse of dominance, enforcement and appeals process, and mergers and acquisitions.

Privatization Program

The government has  privatized GLCs in multiple sectors and has not publicly announced further privatization plans, but is likely to retain controlling stakes in strategically important sectors, including telecommunications, media, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. The Energy Market Authority (EMA) is in the midst of fully opening up, from 2018 to the first half of 2019, extending the liberalization of the retail market from commercial and industrial consumers with an average monthly electricity consumption of at least 2,000 kWh to households and smaller businesses. The Electricity Act and the Code of Conduct for Retail Electricity Licensees govern licensing and standards for electricity retail companies.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The awareness and implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Singapore has been increasing since the formation of the Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS) under the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) network, with the goals of encouraging companies to adopt sustainability principles related to human and labor rights, environmental conservation, and anti-corruption. GCNS facilitates exchanges, conducts research, and provides training in Singapore to build capacity in areas including sustainability reporting, supply chain management, ISO 26000, and measuring and reporting carbon emissions.

KPMG’s 2017 Corporate Responsibility Reporting survey showed that 84 percent of the largest companies in Singapore are fulfilling their corporate responsibility and sustainability reporting responsibilities, which is higher than the global average at 72 percent. KPMG’s survey also noted that climate and environment risks are not adequately recognized or addressed by Singapore companies. Only 17 percent of Singapore companies have set carbon-reduction targets, lower than the global rate of 50 percent.  The Government of Singapore notes that in 2018 as part of the Year of Climate Action, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources received more than 500 pledges from companies that have made public commitments toward taking climate action. A 2017 World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) survey showed a lack of transparency by Singapore companies in disclosing palm oil sources. However, awareness is growing and the Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (Saspo) has received additional pledges in 2018 by companies to adhere to standards for palm oil sourcing set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A group of F&B, retail and hospitality companies announced in January 2019 what the WWF calls “the most impactful business response to-date on plastics.” The pact, initiated by WWF and supported by Singapore’s National Environment Agency, is a commitment to significantly reduce plastic production and usage by 2030.

In January 2019, Singapore’s Ministry of Environment and Water Resources and MAS released a joint statement welcoming the formation of the Asia Sustainable Finance Initiative. With WWF as secretariat, the initiative seeks to shift Asia’s financial flows towards sustainable economic, social, and environmental outcomes.

In June 2016, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) introduced mandatory, comply-or-explain, sustainability reporting requirements for all listed companies, including material environmental, social and governance practices, from the financial year ending December 31, 2017 onwards. The Singapore Environmental Council (SEC) operates a green labeling scheme, which endorses environmentally-friendly products, numbering over 3,000 from 29 countries. The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) issued voluntary guidelines to banks in Singapore in October 2015 encouraging them to adopt sustainable lending practices, including the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into their lending and business practices. Singapore-based banks have been listed in a 2018 Market Forces report on contributions to regional coal-financing.

Singapore has not developed a National Action Plan on business and human rights, but promotes responsible business practices, and encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted CSR principles. The government does not explicitly factor responsible business conduct (RBC) policies into its procurement decisions.

The host government effectively and fairly enforces domestic laws with regard to human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. The private sector’s impact on migrant workers and their rights, and domestic migrant workers in particular (due to the latter’s exemption from the Employment Act which stipulates the rights of workers), remains an area of advocacy by civil society groups. The government has taken incremental steps to improve the channels of redress and enforcement of workers’ rights; however, key concerns about legislative protections remain unaddressed for domestic migrant workers. The government generally encourages businesses to comply with international standards. However, there are no specific mentions of the host government encouraging adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance, or supply chain due diligence measures.

The Companies Act principally governs companies in Singapore. Key areas of corporate governance covered under the act include separation of ownership from management, fiduciary duties of directors, shareholder remedies, and capital maintenance rules. Limited liability partnerships are governed by the Limited Liability Partnerships Act. Certain provisions in other statutes such as the Securities and Futures Act are also relevant to listed companies.  Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code of Corporate Governance (the code). Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code and if their practices vary from any provision in the Code, they must explain the variation and demonstrate the variation is consistent with the relevant principle.  The Code of Corporate Governance was revised in 2018 and will impact Annual Reports covering financial years beginning on January 1, 2019. The revised code encourages board renewal, strengthens director independence, increases transparency of remuneration practices, enhances board diversity, and encourages communication with all stakeholders. MAS also established an independent Corporate Governance Advisory Committee (CGAC) to advocated good corporate governance practices in February 2019. The CGAC monitors companies’ implementation of the code and advises regulators on corporate governance issues.

There are independent NGOs promoting and monitoring responsible business conduct (RBC). Those monitoring or advocating around RBC are generally able to do their work freely within most areas. However, labor unions are tightly controlled and legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under the Trade Disputes Act.

Singapore has no oil, gas, or mineral resources and is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). A small sector processes and rare minerals, and complies with responsible supply chains and conflict mineral principles. Under the new Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework introduced in 2014, it is a requirement for Corporate Service Providers to develop and implement internal policies, procedures and controls to comply with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations on combating of money laundering and terrorism financing.

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption

Singapore actively enforces its strong anti-corruption laws and corruption is not cited as a concern for foreign investors. Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception index ranks Singapore 3rd of 175 countries globally, the highest ranking for an Asian country. The Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), and the Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act provide the legal basis for government action by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), which is the only agency authorized under the PCA to investigate corruption offences and other related offences. These laws cover acts of corruption within Singapore as well as those committed by Singaporeans abroad. When cases of corruption are uncovered, whether in the public or private sector, the government deals with them firmly, swiftly, and publicly. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials, and to political parties. The CPIB is effective and non-discriminatory. Singapore is generally perceived to be one of the least corrupt countries in Asia and the world, and corruption is not identified as an obstacle to FDI in Singapore. Singapore is a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention, but not the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau
2 Lengkok Bahru, Singapore 159047
+65 6270 0141
info@cpib.gov.sg

10. Political and Security Environment

Singapore’s political environment is stable and there is no history of incidents involving politically motivated damage to foreign investments in Singapore. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has dominated Singapore’s parliamentary government since 1959 and currently controls 83 of the 89 regularly contested parliamentary seats. Singapore opposition parties, which currently hold six regularly contested parliamentary seats and three additional seats reserved to the opposition by the constitution, do not usually espouse views that are radically different from the mainstream of Singapore political opinion.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

As of June 2018, Singapore’s labor market totaled 3.68 million workers; this includes about 1.37 million foreigners, of whom about 84 percent are basic skilled or semi-skilled workers. The labor market continues to be tight, with overall unemployment rate averaging at 2.0 percent the first half of 2018. Local labor laws allow for relatively free hiring and firing practices. Either party can terminate employment by giving the other party the required notice. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) must approve employment of foreigners.

Since 2011, the government has introduced policy measures to support productivity increases coupled with reduced dependence on foreign labor. In Budget 2019, MOM announced a decrease in the foreign worker quota ceiling from 40 percent to 38 percent on January 1, 2020 and to 35percent on January 1, 2021. The quota reduction does not apply to those on Employment Passes which are high skilled workers making above USD 32,000 per year. Singapore’s labor force did not change in size in 2018 and is expected to face significant demographic headwinds from an aging population and low birth rates, alongside restrictions on foreign workers. Singapore’s local workforce growth is slowing, heading for stagnation over the next ten years.

In November 2018, the Infocommunications and Media Development Authority announced a new program to support and scale start-ups in Singapore.

To address concerns over an aging and shrinking workforce, MOM has expanded its training and grant programs to more than 15. In Budget 2019, MOM raised the work-life grant budget from USD 22.2 million to USD 73.8 million. An example of an existing program is SkillsFuture, a government initiative managed by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), a statutory board under the Ministry of Education, designed to provide all Singaporeans with enhanced opportunities and skills-capacity building. SSG also administers the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ), a national credential system that trains, develops, assesses and certifies skills and competencies for the workforce.

All foreigners must have a valid work pass before they can start work in Singapore, with Employment Pass (for professionals, managers and executives), S Pass (for mid-level skilled staff), and Work Permits (for semi-skilled workers), among the most widely issued. Workers need to have a job with minimum fixed monthly salary and acceptable qualifications to be eligible for the Employment Pass and S Pass. The minimum monthly salary eligibility thresholds for S Pass will be raised from USD 1,667 to USD 1,819 from January 1 2020. The government further regulates the inflow of foreign workers through the Foreign Worker Levy (FWL) and the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC). The DRC is the maximum permitted ratio of foreign workers to the total workforce that a company is allowed to hire, and serves as a quota on the hiring of foreign workers. The DRC varies across sectors. Employers of S Pass and Work Permit holders are required to pay a monthly FWL to the government. The FWL varies according to the skills, qualifications and experience of their employees. The FWL is set on a sector-by-sector basis and is subject to annual revisions. FWLs have been progressively increased for most sectors since 2012.

MOM requires employers to consider Singaporeans before hiring skilled professional foreigners. The Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), implemented in August 2014, affects employers who apply for Employment Passes (EP), the work pass for foreign professionals working in professional, manager, and executive (PME) posts. Companies have noted inconsistent and increasingly burdensome documentation requirements and excessive qualification criteria to approve EP applications. Under the rules, firms making new EP applications must first advertise the job vacancy in a new jobs bank administered by Workforce Singapore (WSG) for at least 14 days. The jobs bank will be free for use by companies and job seekers and the job advertisement must be open to all Singaporeans. Employers are encouraged to keep records of their interview process as proof that they have done due diligence in trying to look for a Singaporean worker. If an EP is still needed, the employer will have to make a statutory declaration that a job advertisement with the national jobs bank had been made. Smaller firms with 10 or fewer employees and jobs, which pay a fixed monthly salary of USD 8,857 or more, are exempt from the requirements, which were newly tightened and took effect from July 2018.

Consistent with Singapore’s WTO obligations, intra-corporate transfers (ICT) are allowed for managers, executives, and specialists who had worked for at least one year in the firm before being posted to Singapore. ICT would still be required to meet all EP criteria, but the requirement for an advertisement in the jobs bank would be waived. In April 2016, MOM outlined measures to refine the work pass applications process, looking not only at the qualifications of individuals, but at company-related factors.  Companies found not to have a “healthy Singaporean core, lacking a demonstrated commitment to developing a Singaporean core, and not found to be essential to Singapore’s economy and society, will be labeled “triple weak” and put on a watch list. Companies unable to demonstrate progress may have work pass privileges suspended after a period of scrutiny. Approximately 500 companies were placed on the watch-list from 2016 to 2018, and 150 companies exited it after compliance with requirements.

The Employment Act covers all employees under a contract of service, and under the act, employees who have served the company for at least two years are eligible for retrenchment benefits, and the amount of compensation depends on the contract of service or what is agreed collectively. Employers have to abide by notice periods in the employment contract before termination, and stipulated minimum guidelines in the absence of a notice period previously agreed upon, or provide salary in lieu of notice. Dismissal on grounds of wrongful conduct by the employee is differentiated from retrenchments in the labor laws, and is exempted from the above requirements. Employers must notify MOM of retrenchments within five working days after they notify the affected employees to enable the relevant agencies to help affected employees find alternative employment and/or identify relevant training to enhance employability. Singapore does not provide unemployment benefits, but provides training and job matching services to retrenched workers.

Labor laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investment in Singapore. There are no additional or different labor law provisions in free trade zones.

Collective bargaining is a normal part of labor-management relations in all sectors. As of 2016 about 20 percent of the workforce is unionized. Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Almost all unions are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the sole national federation of trade unions in Singapore, which has a close relationship with the PAP ruling party and the government. The current NTUC Secretary General is also a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. Given that nearly all unions are NTUC affiliates, the NTUC has almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consult with unions on both problems, and the Tripartite Panel on Retrenched Workers issues guidelines calling for early notification to unions of layoffs. Data on coverage of collective bargaining agreements is not publicly available. The Industrial Relations Act (IRA) regulates collective bargaining. The Industrial Arbitration Courts must certify any collective bargaining agreement before it is deemed in effect and can deny certification on public interest grounds. Additionally, the IRA restricts the scope of issues over which workers may bargain, excluding bargaining on hiring, transfer, promotion, dismissal, or reinstatement of workers.

Most labor disagreements are resolved through conciliation and mediation by MOM. Since April 2017 the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) under MOM has provided advisory and mediation services, including mediation for labor disputes. Where the conciliation process is not successful, the disputing parties may submit their dispute to the IAC for arbitration.  Depending on the nature of the dispute, the Court may be constituted either by the President of the IAC and a member of the Employer and Employee Panels, or by the President alone. The Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) was established under the Employment Claims Act (2016). To bring a claim before the ECT, parties must first register their claims at the TADM for mediation. Mediation at TADM is compulsory. Only disputes which remain unresolved after mediation at TADM may be referred to the ECT.

The ECT hears statutory salary-related claims, contractual salary-related claims and claims for salary in lieu of notice of termination by all employers. There will be a limit of SGD USD 30,000 on claims for cases with union involvement, and SGD USD 20,000 for all other claims. Prior to April 2017, TADM arbitration was available only to those employees covered under the Employment Act who earned less USD USD 3,180 per month for cases of salary arrears, breach of individual employment contracts and payment of retrenchment benefits. In March 2019, MOM announced that 85 percent of salary claims had been resolved by TADM. Salary-related disputes that are not resolved by mediation are covered by the Employment Claims Tribunals under the State Courts. Disputing parties

Industrial disputes may also submit their case be referred to the tripartite Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC). The IAC composed has two panels: an employee panel and a management panel.  For a majority of dispute hearings, a Court is constituted comprising the President of the IAC and a member each from the employee and employer panels’ representatives and chaired by a judge. In some situations, the law provides for compulsory arbitration. The court must certify collective agreements before they go into effect. The court may refuse certification at its discretion on the ground of public interest.

The legal framework in Singapore provides for some restrictions in the registration of trade unions, labor union autonomy and administration, the right to strike, who may serve as union officers or employees, and collective bargaining. Under the Trade Union Act (TUA), every trade union must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions, which has broad discretion to grant, deny, or cancel union registration. The TUA limits the objectives for which unions can spend their funds, including for contributions to a political party or for political purposes, and allows the Registrar to inspect accounts and funds “at any reasonable time.” Legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under the Trade Disputes Act. The law requires more than 50 percent of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to 51 percent of those participating in the vote. Strikes cannot be conducted for any reason apart from a dispute in the trade or industry in which the strikers are employed, and it is illegal to conduct a strike if it is “designed or calculated to coerce the government either directly or by inflicting hardship on the community.” Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before conducting a strike. Although workers, other than those employed in the three essential services of water, gas and electricity, may strike, no workers did so since 1986 with the exception of a strike by bus drivers in 2012. The TUA bars non-citizens from serving as union officers or employees, unless prior written approval is received from the Minister for Manpower.

The Employment Act, which prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA), strengthens labor trafficking victim protection, and governs labor protections. Labor laws set the standard legal workweek at 44 hours, with one rest day each week, and establish a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, with regular inspections designed to enforce the standards. MOM effectively enforces laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health (OSH) laws, and implements enforcement procedures and promoted educational and training programs to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents.  Changes to the Employment Act took effect on April 1, including for extension of core provisions to managers and executives, increasing the monthly salary cap, transferring adjudication of wrongful dismissal claims from MOM to the ECT, and increasing flexibility in compensating employees working during public holidays (for more detail see https://www.mom.gov.sg/employment-practices/employment-act   ). All workers, except for public servants, domestic workers and seafarers are still excluded from the Employment Act, and additional time-based provisions for more vulnerable employees.

Singapore has no across the board minimum wage law, although there are some exceptions in certain low skill industries. Generally, the government follows a policy of allowing free market forces to determine wage levels. In specific sectors where wages have stagnated and market practices such as outsourcing reduce incentive to upskill workers and limit their bargaining power, the government has implemented Progressive Wage Models to uplift wages.  These are currently implementing in the cleaning, security, and landscape sectors. The National Wage Council (NWC), a tripartite body comprising representatives from the government, employers and unions, recommends non-binding wage adjustments on an annual basis. The NWC recommendations apply to all employees in both domestic and foreign firms, and across the private and public sectors. While the NWC wage guidelines are not mandatory, they are published under the Employment Act and form the basis of wage negotiations between unions and management. The NWC recommendations apply to all employees in both domestic and foreign law firms, and across the public and private sectors. The level of implementation is generally higher among unionized companies compared to non-unionized companies.

MOM is responsible for combating labor trafficking and improving working conditions for workers, and generally enforces anti-trafficking legislation, although some workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors are vulnerable to labor exploitation and abuse. PHTA sets out harsh penalties (including up to nine strokes of the cane and 15 years’ imprisonment) for those found guilty of trafficking, including forced labor, or abetting such activities. The government developed a mechanism for referral of forced labor, among other trafficking-in-persons activities, to the interagency taskforce, co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower. Some observers note that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor, because they cannot change employers without the consent of the current employer. MOM effectively enforces laws and regulations pertaining to child labor. Penalties for employers that violated child labor laws were subject to fines and/or imprisonment, depending on the violation. Government officials assert that child labor is not a significant issue. The incidence of children in formal employment is low, and almost no abuses are reported.

The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement came into effect on January 1, 2004 and includes a chapter on labor protections. The chapter contains a statement of shared commitment by each party that the principles and rights set forth in Article 17.7 of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up are recognized and protected by domestic law, and each party shall strive to ensure it does not derogate protections afforded in domestic labor law as an encouragement for trade or investment purposes. The chapter includes the establishment of a labor cooperation mechanism, which promotes the exchange of information on ways to improve labor law and practice, and the advancement of effective implementation of the principles reflected in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up.

See the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report (https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/) as well as the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report (https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/)

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Under the 1966 Investment Guarantee Agreement with Singapore, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) offers insurance to U.S. investors in Singapore against currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and losses arising from war. Singapore became a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1998. In March 2019, Singapore and the United States signed a MOU aimed at strengthening collaboration between the infrastructure agency of Singapore, Infrastructure Asia, and OPIC. According to MTI, both countries will work together on information sharing, deal facilitation, structuring and capacity building initiatives in sectors of mutual interest such as energy, natural resource management, water, waste, transportation, and urban development. The aim is to enhance Singapore-based and U.S. companies’ access to project opportunities, while building on Singapore’s role as an infrastructure hub in Asia.

In June 2018, OPIC committed to USD 100 million investment in Singapore-headquartered Quadria Capital, which is an Asian healthcare-focused private equity firm.

Singapore’s domestic public infrastructure projects are funded primarily via Singapore government reserves or capital markets, reducing the scope for direct project financing subsidies by foreign governments.

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) 2018 $359, 519 2017 $323, 907 www.worldbank.org/en/country  
www.singstat.gov.sg   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $250,415 2017 $274, 260 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
www.singstat.gov.sg  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $21,635 2017 $22,360 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
www.singstat.gov.sg   
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 300% 2017 440.3% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  
www.singstat.gov.sg   

* Data taken from www.singstat.gov.sg  . Note: Exchange rate of SGD$1/US$0.7381


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 $1,151,049 100% Total Outward* $601,921 100%
United States $223,039 19.4% China $98,979 16.4%
Netherlands $85,386 7.4% Cayman Islands $51,150 8.5%
Cayman Islands $80,539 7.0% Indonesia $47,534 7.9%
Japan $80,151 7.0% Hong Kong $42,736 7.1%
British Virgin Islands $73,509 6.4% United Kingdom $37,126 6.2%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Outward investment not available from CDIS. Data taken from www.singstat.gov.sg  .


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $1,238,125 100% All Countries $622,315  100% All Countries $615,810 100%
United States $361,675 29% United States $145,981 23% United States $215,694 35%
China $107,140 9% China $78235 13% China $28,905 5%
Republic of Korea $43,049 3% Japan $35,706 6% Germany $23,567 4%
United Kingdom $41,021 3% India $27,046 4%  Australia $20,518 3%
India $40,616 3% Republic of Korea $24,544 4% United Kingdom $20,07 3%

14. Contact for More Information

Tovan McDaniel
Economic Unit Chief
U.S. Embassy
27 Napier Road
Singapore 258508
+65 9248-9344
McDanielST@state.gov

Thailand

Executive Summary

Thailand, the second largest economy in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after Indonesia, is an upper middle-income country with pro-investment policies and well-developed infrastructure. The interim military coup government held elections on March 24, 2019 and 2014 coup leader General Prayut Chan-o-cha was elected by Parliament as Prime Minister on June 5.   Thailand celebrated the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn May 4-6, 2019, further stabilizing the country. Despite some political uncertainty, Thailand continues to encourage foreign direct investment as a means of promoting economic development, employment, and technology transfer. In recent decades, Thailand has been a major destination for foreign direct investment, and hundreds of U.S. companies have invested in Thailand successfully. Thailand continues to encourage investment from all countries and seeks to avoid dependence on any one country as a source of investment.

The Foreign Business Act (FBA) governs most investment activity by non-Thai nationals. Many U.S. businesses also enjoy investment benefits through the U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, signed in 1833 and updated in 1966. The Treaty allows U.S. citizens and U.S. majority-owned businesses incorporated in the United States or Thailand to engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies (national treatment) and exempts them from most FBA restrictions on foreign investment, although the Treaty excludes some types of business.  Notwithstanding their Treaty rights, many U.S. investors choose to form joint ventures with Thai partners who hold a majority stake in the company, leveraging their partner’s knowledge of the Thai economy and local regulations.

The Thai government maintains a regulatory framework that broadly encourages investment, though the process of rule-making and interpretation is not always transparent or predictable. Government policies generally do not restrict the free flow of financial resources to support product and factor markets, and credit is generally allocated on market terms rather than by directed lending.

The Board of Investment (BOI) is Thailand’s principal investment promotion authority. The BOI offers business support and investment incentives uniformly to qualified domestic and foreign investors through clearly articulated application procedures. Investment incentives include both tax and non-tax privileges.

The government launched the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development plan in 2017. The EEC is a part of the “Thailand 4.0” economic development strategy introduced in 2016. Many planned infrastructural projects, such as high-speed trains, U-Tapao Airport commercialization, and Laem Chabang Port expansion, could provide opportunities for investments, and good and services support. Thailand 4.0 offers to incentives for investments in ten “new” targeted industries, namely advanced robotics, digital technology, integrated aviation, medical, biofuels/biochemical, defense manufacturing, and human resource development.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 36/ 99 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2018 27 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 44 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 USD 15,006 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 USD 5,950 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

The following three lists detail restricted businesses for foreigners:

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

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

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outward Investment

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

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The 1966 iteration of the U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations allows U.S. citizens, and U.S. majority-owned businesses incorporated in the United States or Thailand, to engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies (national treatment). However, the FBA applies restrictions to U.S. investment in the following sectors:  communications; transportation; exploitation of land and other natural resources; and domestic trade in agricultural products.

In October 2002, the United States and Thailand signed a bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), which established a forum to discuss bilateral trade and investment issues, such as intellectual property rights, customs, market-access barriers, and other areas of mutual concern.

Thailand has bilateral investment treaties with Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Netherlands, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation (signed, not in force), Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan (signed, not in force), Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe (signed, not in force). Thailand is a member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), currently under negotiation.  Thailand is also preparing its application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force on December 30, 2018.

Thailand belongs to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional free-trade and economic bloc comprising a total population of 600 million. ASEAN has free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Korea, and Hong Kong. ASEAN also has a comprehensive economic partnership with Japan and is pursuing FTA negotiations with the EU, Pakistan, and Canada.

Thailand and the United States concluded a bilateral tax treaty in 1996. Thailand signed the U.S.-Thailand Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) on March 4, 2016. Implementing legislation for FATCA, the Act on the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand to Improve International Tax Compliance and to Implement FATCA, BE 2560, went into effect in October 2017.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

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

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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

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

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

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

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

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

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Board of Investment is Thailand’s central investment promotion authority. BOI offers investment incentives to qualified domestic and foreign investors based on clear application procedures. To upgrade the country’s technological capacity, the BOI presently gives more weight to applications in high-tech, innovative, and sustainable industries, such as digital technology, “smart agriculture” and biotechnology, aviation and logistics, medical and wellness tourism, and other high-value services.

Two of the most significant privileges offered by the BOI for promoted projects are:

  • Tax privileges, such as corporate income tax exemptions, and tariff reductions or exemptions on the import of machinery and/or imported raw materials used in the investment.
  • Nontax privileges, such as permission to own land, permission to bring foreign experts to work on the promoted projects, exemptions on foreign ownership limitations of companies, and exemptions from work permit and visa rules.

Thailand’s flagship investment zone, the “Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC),” spans the provinces of Chachoengsao, Chonburi, and Rayong with a combined area of 5,129 square miles. The EEC leverages the adjacent Eastern Seaboard industrial area that has been an investment destination for more than 30 years. The Thai government aims to establish the EEC as a primary investment and infrastructure hub in ASEAN, serving as a central gateway to east and south Asia. Among the EEC development projects are:  smart cities; an innovation district (EECi); a digital park (EECd); an aerotropolis (EEC-A); and other state-of-the-art facilities to help promote EEC’s following targeted industries:

  • Next-generation automotives
  • Intelligent electronics
  • Advanced agriculture and biotechnology
  • Food processing
  • Tourism
  • Advance robotics and automation
  • Integrated aviation industry
  • Medical hub and total healthcare services
  • Biofuels and biochemicals
  • Digital technology
  • Defense industry
  • Human resource development

The EEC Act provides investment incentives and privileges. Investors will be able to obtain long-term land leases of 99 years (with an initial lease of up to 50 years and a renewal of up to 49 years). The public-private partnership approval process is shortened to approximately nine months. The BOI will offer corporate income tax exemptions of up to 13 years for strategic projects in the EEC area. Foreign experts who work in the EEC will be subject to a maximum personal income tax rate of 17 percent; a 15 percent personal income tax rate will apply to executives whose companies have International Business Centers in the EEC. Investment projects with a significant R&D, innovation, or human resource development component may be eligible for additional grants and incentives. Moreover, grants will be provided to support targeted technology development under the Competitive Enhancement Act. There will be a one-stop service to expedite multiple business processes for investors.

On March 26, 2019, the Thai Cabinet approved Royal Decrees cancelling grandfathered tax incentives under former incentive regimes for foreign investors who establish:  regional operating headquarters; international headquarters (including a treasury center); and international trading centers. The repeal will become effective June 1, 2019 for corporate income tax incentives and effective January 1, 2020 for individual income tax incentives.  The Ministry of Finance (MOF) asserts this measure is in response to a 2017 OECD report (2017 Progress Report on Preferential Regimes (Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) 2: Action 5); the report labelled Thailand’s regional/international headquarters and trading and treasury hub regimes as harmful tax practices. MOF also indicated its  actions will ensure Thailand will not be classified as ”Potentially Harmful” or ”Actually Harmful” by the Forum on Harmful Tax Practices (FHTP) and BEPS. The Thai government has announced current beneficiaries of the suspended regimes will be able to transition into a new scheme, the “International Business Center” (IBC) investment incentive program, provided the applicant meets the IBC regime’s to-be-announced conditions.

For additional information, contact the Thai Board of Investment, 555 Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900. Tel: 0-2553-8111. Website: www.boi.go.th  .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT), a state-enterprise under the Ministry of Industry, has established a network of industrial estates in Thailand, including Laem Chabang Industrial Estate in Chonburi Province (eastern) and Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong Province (eastern). Foreign-owned firms generally have the same investment opportunities in the industrial zones as Thai entities, but the IEAT Act requires that in the case of foreign-owned firms, the IEAT Committee must consider and approve the amount of space/land that such firms plan to buy or lease in industrial estates. In practice, there is no record of disapproval for requested land. Private developers are heavily involved in the development of these estates. The IEAT currently operates 9 estates, plus 41 more in conjunction with the private sector, in 15 provinces nationwide. Private-sector developers operate over 50 industrial estates, most of which have received promotion privileges from the Board of Investment.

The IEAT has established 12 special IEAT Free Zones reserved for industries manufacturing for export only. Businesses may import raw materials into and export finished products from these zones free of duty (including value added tax). These zones are located within industrial estates and many have customs facilities to speed processing. The free trade zones are located in Chonburi, Lampun, Pichit, Songkhla, Samut Prakarn, Bangkok (at Lad Krabang), Ayuddhya, and Chachoengsao. In addition to these zones, factory owners may apply for permission to establish a bonded warehouse within their premises to which raw materials, used exclusively in the production of products for export, may be imported duty free.

Thailand is focusing on improving trade and investment with neighboring countries. It is therefore establishing Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in ten provinces bordering neighboring countries e.g., Tak, Nong Khai, Mukdahan, Sa Kaeo, Trad, Narathiwat, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Phanom, and Kanchanaburi. Business sectors and industries that might benefit from tax and non-tax incentives offered in the SEZs include logistics, warehouses near border areas, distribution, services, tourism, labor-intensive factories, and manufacturers using raw materials from neighboring countries.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

In 2018, Thailand enacted a Royal Decree on Foreign Worker Management (no.2), which replaced the Foreign Employment Act and the Royal Decree on the Management of Migrant Employment, to manage the employment of foreigners, regardless of industry, in a more systematic fashion. The new decree eliminates mandatory prison time for undocumented workers. It also narrows the range of penalties from a minimum of USD 157 to a maximum of USD 1,571 (THB 5,000-50,000) (compared to USD 63 to USD 3,142 (THB 2,000-100,000) under the prior law). The new decree also bans sub-contract employers from hiring migrant workers and requires employers to provide to migrant workers a copy of their employment contracts.

The decree prohibits employers and employment agencies from charging workers fees other than “personal expenses,” defined as passport fees, medical checks, and work permit fees. Employers may only deduct the actual cost of these personal expenses, and these deductions may not exceed 10 percent of any worker’s monthly salary. The law makes retention of worker documents illegal and prescribes mandatory penalties of between USD 12,517 to USD 25,142 (THB 400,000 to THB 800,000) and/or imprisonment of up to six months to employers who violate these rules. The decree also increases the grace period for migrant workers to change employers from 15 to 30 days. Employers and employment agencies are required by law to bear the cost of repatriating migrant workers back to their home country when workers resign or when their employment contract ends.

Thai law requires foreign workers to have a work permit issued by the Ministry of Labor in order to work legally in Thailand. The Ministry of Labor considers the following factors when deciding whether to issue a work permit:

  •  whether a Thai employee could perform the job;
  •  whether the foreigner is qualified for the job; and
  •  whether the job fits the present economic needs of the Kingdom.

Thai law also reserves 39 occupations for Thai workers; the Ministry of Labor will not grant work permits for foreigners to engage in these occupations, which include lawyers, architects, and civil engineers. Generally, employers must hire four Thai nationals for every one foreign employee.

Different requirements apply to companies promoted by the BOI, which typically result in greater flexibility and ease in obtaining work permits for foreign nationals. Such schemes apply equally to senior management and boards of directors. According to the Foreign Business Act, if a foreigner is the firm’s managing partner or the manager, the company is subject to the restrictions applicable to foreign businesses and the Foreign Business License application.

While the employment of foreigners in some sectors is subject to the foreign equity restrictions of the Foreign Business Act, exceptions can be granted as promotional privileges by BOI or IEAT, or, as a temporary measure, in the form of government approval issued by the Thai government. Exceptions can also be provided based on international treaties to which Thailand is a party. Under the Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations between Thailand and the United States, U.S. companies or nationals can be eligible for national treatment, allowing them, with some exceptions, to obtain the same treatment in their business dealings as Thai nationals.

The Thai government does not currently have any specific law governing “forced localization” policy, under which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology, but it has encouraged such an approach through domestic preferences in procurement. While there are currently no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance, the Thai government in February 2019 passed new laws and regulations on cybersecurity and personal data protection that raise concerns over Thai authorities’ broad power to demand confidential and sensitive information without sufficient legal protections or a company’s ability to appeal or limit such access. IT providers have expressed concern that the new laws might place unreasonable burdens on them and have introduced new uncertainties in the technology sector. Thailand has implemented a requirement that all debit transactions processed by a domestic debit card network must use a proprietary chip. Regarding Thailand’s import permitting process for several agricultural products, such as soybean and milk, the government imposes separate domestic absorption rate requirements to purchase local products at fixed prices.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights are guaranteed by the Constitution against being condemned or nationalized without fair compensation. Thai government policy generally does not permit foreigners to own land, but there have been cases of granting official permission under certain laws or ministerial regulations for residential, business or even religious purposes. Foreigners can freely lease land, as the governing Civil and Commercial Code does not distinguish between foreign and Thai nationals in the exercise of lease rights. Foreign ownership of condominiums and buildings is also permitted under certain laws. Secured interests in property, such as mortgage and pledge, are recognized and enforced. Under Thai law, unoccupied property legally owned by foreigners or Thais may be subject to adverse possession by squatters or people who stay on that property for at least 10 years. According to the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business report, Thailand’s Registering Property ranking rose to 66 from 68 in 2018.

Intellectual Property Rights

Thailand’s efforts to clamp down on widespread commercial IP counterfeiting and piracy have been enhanced by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s strong political commitment to IPR enforcement. The Prime Minister ordered the establishment of a 12-agency IPR Cabinet sub-committee and the development of a 20-year IP Roadmap as well as closer coordination among the country’s Internal Security Operations Command, law enforcement agencies, and IP rights holders. In December 2018, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the country’s telecom regulator, the Royal Thai Police, and the Department of the Intellectual Property (DIP) at the Ministry of Commerce combined to set up a new “Center of Operational Policing for Thailand against Intellectual Property Violations and Crimes on the Internet Suppression” to expedite efforts to tackle online IPR violations.

Patents and Trademarks

Thailand’s patent regime generally provides protection for most inventions. The examination of patent applications through issuance of patents takes on an average of six to eight years. Patent issuance may take longer in certain technology sectors. In order to address the backlog problem, DIP hired 88 additional patent and trademark examiners over the last few years.  Additional examiners helped decrease the patent application backlog by 20 percent in 2018. As of September 2018, approximately 16,000 patent applications were pending for examination, according to DIP. With regard to trademarks, DIP takes on average 10-14 months for trademark approvals.

The Thai government is in the process of adopting an amendment to the Patent Act that would streamline the patent registration process and implement its international obligations under the Amendment of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) related to patent and public health, which Thailand ratified in January 2016.  The draft amendment is pending the legislature’s approval.

Starting in September 2017, rights owners can file for sound trademark registration, a development enabled by a July 2016 amendment of Thailand’s Trademark Act. Thailand acceded to the Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks (Madrid Protocol) in August 2017, and the agreement entered into effect in November 2017. The Thai government is also working on an amendment to the Patent Act to prepare Thailand for accession to the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs.

Copyrights

Thailand’s amended Copyright Act came into effect on March 11, 2019. Thailand is a member of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. Thailand deposited the instrument of accession to the Marrakesh Treaty with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on January 28, 2019.  

In addition, Thailand is in the process of a two-phase amendment of the Copyright Act. The first phase would enhance mechanisms to protect copyrights in the digital environment and prepare Thailand for accession to the WIPO Copyright Treaty; the second phase would prepare Thailand for accession to the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. The first-phase draft is under review by the Council of State, while the second phase amendment is in the drafting process.  

The Thai government amended the Computer Crime Act in 2017 to add IPR infringement as a predicate offense under Section 20, enabling IP right holders to file requests to either DIP or the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society for removal of IPR-infringing content from online computer systems or disabling of access to it. Online video providers and human rights advocates continue to voice serious concerns regarding use of the Computer Crimes Act to limit free speech and to compel internet service providers (ISP) to comply with Thai government requests to remove content or else face penalties.

Geographical Indications

Thailand’s Geographical Indications (GI) Act has been in force since April 2004. Thailand protects GIs, which identify goods by their specific geographical origins. The geographical origins identified by a GI must attribute to the reputation, qualities, or characteristics of the good. In Thailand, a registered trademark does not prevent a similar geographical name to be registered as a GI.

IP Enforcement

Thailand has provided ex-officio authority for border enforcement officials with respect to in-transit goods; set enforcement benchmarks; began monthly publishing of enforcement statistics online; and stepped up efforts to investigate IP cases. Thailand has a Court of Appeal for Specialized Cases, which hears appeals from the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, including administrative appeals from DIP that already received a first instance decision from the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court.

In late 2017, Thailand was upgraded from the USTR Special 301 Priority Watch List, where it had been placed since 2007, to the Watch List. Currently, there are no Thai markets listed in the USTR Notorious Markets Report.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Thai government maintains a regulatory framework that broadly encourages and facilitates portfolio investment and largely avoids market-distorting support for specific sectors. The Stock Exchange of Thailand, the country’s national stock market, was set up under the Securities Exchange of Thailand Act B.E. 2535 in 1992. There is sufficient liquidity in the markets to allow investors to enter and exit sizeable positions. Government policies generally do not restrict the free flow of financial resources to support product and factor markets. The Bank of Thailand, the country’s central bank, has respected IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Credit is generally allocated on market terms rather than by “direct lending.” Foreign investors are not restricted from borrowing on the local market. In theory, the private sector has access to a wide variety of credit instruments, ranging from fixed term lending to overdraft protection to bills of exchange and bonds. However, the private debt market is not well developed; most corporate financing, whether for short-term working capital needs, trade financing, or project financing, requires borrowing from commercial banks or other financial institutions.

Money and Banking System

In general, a commercial bank in Thailand provides services of accepting deposits from the public, granting credit, buying and selling foreign currencies, buying and selling bills of exchange (including discounting or re-discounting, accepting, and guaranteeing bills of exchange).  Commercial banks also provide credit guarantees, payment, remittance and financial instruments for risk management, such as interest-rate derivatives and foreign-exchange derivatives. Additional business to support capital market development, such as debt and equity instruments, is allowed. A commercial bank may also provide other services, such as bank assurance and e-banking, which enhance its efficiency.

Thailand’s banking sector, with 14 domestic commercial banks, is sound and well-capitalized. As of December 2018, non-performing loan rates were low (around 2.93 percent) and the ratio of capital funds/risk assets (capital adequacy) was high (17.6 percent). Thailand’s largest commercial bank is Bangkok Bank, with assets totaling USD 96.5 billion as of December 2018. The combined assets of the five largest commercial banks totaled USD 413 billion, or 77 percent of the total assets of the Thai banking system, at the end of 2018.

Thailand’s central bank is the Bank of Thailand (BOT), which is headed by a Governor appointed for a five-year term. The BOT prints and issues banknotes and other security documents, promotes monetary stability and formulates monetary policies, manages the BOT’s assets, provides banking facilities to the government, acts as the registrar of government bonds, and provides banking facilities for financial institutions.

There are currently 11 registered foreign bank branches and four foreign bank subsidiaries operating in Thailand, including Citibank, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase. Foreign commercial banks can set up a branch in Thailand, once the applicant obtains a recommendation from the Bank of Thailand and a license from the Ministry of Finance. Foreign commercial bank branches are limited to three branches/ATMs and foreign commercial bank subsidiaries are limited to 20 branches and 20 off-premise ATMs per subsidiary. Foreign banks must maintain minimum capital funds of 125 million baht (USD 3.86 million at end of 2018 exchange rates) invested in government or state enterprise securities, or directly deposited in the Bank of Thailand. The number of expatriate management personnel is limited to six people at full branches, although Thai authorities frequently grant exceptions on the basis of need. There are no records of losses among banks in the past three years.

Non-residents can open and maintain foreign currency accounts without deposit and withdrawal ceilings. Any deposits in Thai Baht currency must be derived from one of the following sources:  conversion of foreign currencies; payment of goods and services; or capital transfers. Withdrawals are freely permitted, except the withdrawal of funds for credit to another non-resident person or purchase of foreign currency involving an overdraft.

Since mid-2017, the BOT has approved Thai domestic banks’ requests to develop financial innovations based on blockchain technology, but the system is being closely monitored under the BOT’s “Regulatory Sandbox guidelines.”

Thailand’s alternative financial services include cooperatives, micro-saving groups, the state village funds, and informal money lenders, who provide basic but expensive financial services to households, mostly in rural areas. These alternative financial services, with the exception of informal money lenders, are regulated by the government.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no limitations placed on foreign investors for converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with an investment; however, supporting documentation is required. Any person who brings Thai Baht currency or foreign currency in or out of Thailand with aggregate amount exceeding USD 15,000 or the equivalent must declare the currency at a Customs checkpoint. Investment funds are allowed to be freely converted into any currency.

The exchange rate is generally determined by market fundamentals but is carefully scrutinized by the BOT under a managed float system. During periods of excessive capital inflows/outflows (i.e., exchange rate speculation), the central bank has stepped in to prevent extreme movements in the currency and to reduce the duration and extent of the exchange rate’s deviation from a targeted equilibrium.

Remittance Policies

Thailand imposes no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue for direct and portfolio investments. There are no time limitations on remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Thailand does not have a sovereign wealth fund and the Bank of Thailand is not pursuing the creation of such a fund. However, the International Monetary Fund has urged Thailand to create a sovereign wealth fund due to its large accumulated foreign exchange reserves (USD 205.6 billion as of December 2018.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Thailand’s 56 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have total assets of USD 422 billion and a combined net income of USD 8.3 billion (end of 2018 figures). They employ around 270,000 people, or 0.7 percent of the Thai labor force. Thailand’s SOEs operate primarily in service delivery, in particular in the energy, telecommunications, transportation, and financial sectors. The full list of SOEs is available at the website of the State Enterprise Policy Office under the Ministry of Finance: (www.sepo.go.th  ).

The Thai government generally defines SOEs as special agencies established by law for a particular purpose that are 100 percent owned by the government (through the Ministry of Finance as a primary shareholder). The government recognizes a second category of “limited liability companies/public companies” in which the government owns 50 percent or more of the shares. Of the 56 total SOEs, 43 are wholly-owned and 13 are majority-owned. Twelve of these companies are classed as limited liability companies. Five are publicly listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand:  Thai Airways International Public Company Limited; Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited; PTT Public Company Limited; MCOT Public Company Limited; and Krung Thai Bank Public Company Limited. By regulation, at least one-third of SOE boards must be comprised of independent directors.

Private enterprises can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives in most sectors, but there are some exceptions, such as fixed-line operations in the telecommunications sector.

According to officials at the State Enterprise Policy Committee (SEPO), Thai SOEs adhere to OECD guidelines on corporate governance, including guidelines relating to the state acting as an owner. Nevertheless, adherence to the OECD guidelines is not sufficient in Thailand to ensure a level playing field between SOEs and private sector enterprises, which are often disadvantaged in competing with Thai SOEs for contracts.

Generally, SOE senior management reports directly to a line minister and to SEPO. Corporate board seats are typically allocated to senior government officials or politically-affiliated individuals. The SEPO Committee purportedly tries to limit political interference in board appointments.

Privatization Program

The 1999 State Enterprise Corporatization Act provides a framework for conversion of SOEs into stock companies, and corporatization is viewed as an intermediate step toward eventual privatization. (Note: “corporatization” describes the process by which an SOE adjusts its internal structure to resemble a publicly-traded enterprise; “privatization” denotes that a majority of the SOE’s shares is sold to the public; and “partial privatization” refers to a situation in which less than half of a company’s shares are sold to the public.) Foreign investors are allowed to participate in privatizations, but restrictions are applied in certain sectors, as regulated by the FBA and the Act on Standards Qualifications for Directors and Employees of State Enterprises of 1975, as amended. However, privatizations have been on hold since 2006 largely due to strong opposition from labor unions.

A 15-member State Enterprises Policy Commission, or “superboard,” oversees reform of the country’s 56 SOEs. In March 2015, the superboard approved, in principle, the establishment of a holding firm to supervise 12 SOEs, which have been partially equitized and listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand. The reform plan calls for SEPO to retain supervisory authority over SOEs that have been established by specific laws, including the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, the Metropolitan Electricity Authority, and the Provincial Electricity Authority. As of the end of 2018, the superboard is still in the process of advancing a new law that would reform SOEs and ensure transparent management decisions; however, privatization is not part of this process.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

In 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights visited Thailand and commended the Thai government’s 2017 commitment to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). Thailand does not have a National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct (RBC), nor does it maintain a National Contact Point (NCP) for OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Various line ministries have taken steps to encourage RBC through integrated sustainable business practices focused on respecting human rights, environmental protection, labor relations, and financial accountability. The Ministry of Justice is currently drafting a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP).

The Ministry of Industry’s Department of Industrial Works encourages the private sector to implement its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR-DIW) standards as a precursor to achieving ISO 26000 standards (an international standard on CSR). In 2017, the Ministry of Industry joined the National Human Rights Committee, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries, the Thai Bankers Association, the Thai Chamber of Commerce, and the Global Computing Network of Thailand in signing a memorandum of cooperation to advance implementation of the UNGP.

There are several local NGOs that promote and monitor RBC. Most such NGOs operate without hindrance, though a few have experienced intimidation as a result of their work monitoring civil rights issues. International NGOs continue to call on the Thai government and Thai companies with transboundary investments to act more responsibly with respect to human and labor rights.

9. Corruption

Thailand has a legal framework and a range of institutions to counter corruption. The Organic Law to Counter Corruption criminalizes corrupt practices of public officials and corporations, including active and passive bribery of public officials. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to political parties.

Thai Procurement Regulations prohibit collusion amongst bidders. If an examination confirms allegations or suspicions of collusion among bidders, the names of those applicants must be removed from the list of competitors.

Thailand adopted its first national government procurement law in December 2016. Based on UNCITRAL model laws and the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement, the law applies to all government agencies, local authorities, and state-owned enterprises, and aims to improve transparency. Officials who violate the law are subject to 1-10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to USD 11,000.

Since 2010, the Thai Institute of Directors has built an anti-corruption coalition of Thailand’s largest businesses. Coalition members sign a Collective Action Against Corruption Declaration and pledge to take tangible, measurable steps to reduce corruption-related risks identified by third party certification. The Center for International Private Enterprise equipped the Thai Institute of Directors and its coalition partners with an array of tools for training and collective action.

Established in 2011, the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT) aims to encourage the government to create laws to reduce corruption. ACT has 51 member organizations drawn from the private, public and academic sectors. Their signature program is the “integrity pact.” Drafted by ACT and the Finance Ministry and based on a tool promoted by Transparency International, the pact forbids bribes from signatory members in bidding for government contacts. Member agencies and companies must adhere to strict transparency rules by disclosing and making easily available to the public all relevant bidding information such as the terms of reference and the cost of the project.

Thailand is a party to the UN Anti-Corruption Convention, but not the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Thailand’s Witness Protection Act offers protection (to include police protection) to witnesses, including NGO employees, who are eligible for special protection measures in anti-corruption cases.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Thailand 99th out of 180 countries in 2018. According to some studies, a cultural propensity to forgive bribes as a normal part of doing business and to equate cash payments with finders’ fees or consultants’ charges, coupled with the low salaries of civil servants, encourages officials to accept illegal inducements. U.S. executives with experience in Thailand often advise new-to market companies that it is far easier to avoid corrupt transactions from the beginning than to stop such practices once a company has been identified as willing to operate in this fashion. American firms that comply with the strict guidelines of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) are able to compete successfully in Thailand. U.S. businessmen say that publicly affirming the need to comply with the FCPA helps to shield their companies from pressure to pay bribes.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies responsible for combating corruption:

International Affairs Strategy Specialist
Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission
361 Nonthaburi Road, Thasaai District, Amphur Muang Nonthaburi 11000, Thailand
Tel: +662-528-4800
Email: TACC@nacc.go.th

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Dr. Mana Nimitmongkol
Secretary General
Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand
44 Srijulsup Tower, 16th floor, Phatumwan, Bangkok 10330
Tel: +662-613-8863
Email: mana2020@yahoo.com

10. Political and Security Environment

On March 24, 2019, Thailand held its first national election since the 2014 military coup that ousted democratically elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. On June 5, the newly-seated Parliament elected coup leader General Prayut Chan-o-cha to continue on in his role as Prime Minister. However, stark political divisions remain in the country.

Violence related to an ongoing Malay-Muslim insurgency in Thailand’s southernmost provinces has claimed more than 7,000 lives since 2004. Although the number of deaths and violent incidents has decreased year-over-year, efforts to end the ethno-nationalist insurgency have so far been unsuccessful. The government is currently engaged in peace talks with an insurgent umbrella group, but the principal insurgent faction refuses to participate. Almost all attacks have occurred in the three southernmost provinces of the country.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In 2018, 38.4 million people were in Thailand’s formal labor pool, comprising 58 percent of the total population. Thailand’s official unemployment rates stood at 1.1 percent at the end of 2018, slightly less than 1.2 percent the previous year. Unemployment among youth (15-24 years old) is around 4.8 percent, while the rate is only 0.5 percent for adults over 25 years old. Well over half the labor force (55.3 percent) earns income in the informal sector, including through self-employment and family labor, which limits their access to social welfare programs.

Low fertility rates and an aging population, as well as a skills mismatch, is exacerbating labor shortages in many sectors. Despite provision of 15 years of universal, free education, Thailand continues to suffer from a skills mismatch that impedes innovation and economic growth. Manufacturing firms in Thailand consider the lack of skilled workers a top constraint for further investment and growth. However, as the second-largest economy in ASEAN, Thailand has an agile business sector and a large cohort of educated individuals who could increase productivity in the future. Regional income inequality and labor shortages, particularly in labor-intensive manufacturing, construction, hospitality and service sectors, have attracted millions of migrant workers, mostly from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. In 2019, the International Organization for Migration estimated Thailand hosts 4.9 million migrant workers, or 13 percent of country’s labor force. Flows of documented migrant workers entering the country through formal work agreements, or “MOUs,” increased by 40 percent over the previous year to 442,726 in 2018. However, about two-thirds of registered migrant workers currently in Thailand initially entered the country through unauthorized channels, often without any primary identity documents from their countries of origin.

In 2018, the Thai government sought to strengthen labor migration management and increase protections for migrant workers by, first, working with neighboring source countries to make it easier for migrant workers to obtain primary identity documents and, second, registering 1.2 million previously undocumented migrant workers. Thailand is the first country in ASEAN to accede to the ILO Forced Labor Protocol (P29) and ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188). Additional information on migrant workers issues and rights can be found in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, as well as the Labor Rights chapter of the U.S. Human Rights report.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Under an agreement with the Thai government, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provides debt financing, political risk insurance, and private equity capital to support U.S. investors and their investments. OPIC can provide debt financing, in the form of direct loans and loan guarantees, of up to USD 350 million per project for business investments with U.S. private sector participation, covering sectors as diverse as tourism, transportation, manufacturing, franchising, power, infrastructure, and others. OPIC political risk insurance for currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and political violence for U.S. investments including equity, loans and loan guarantees, technical assistance, leases, and consigned inventory or equipment is also available for business investments in Thailand. In addition, OPIC supports five private equity funds that are eligible to invest in projects in Thailand. In all cases OPIC support is available only where sufficient or appropriate investment support is unavailable from local or other private sector financial institutions.

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) 2018 $504,990  2017 $455,303  www.worldbank.org/en/country  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $16,110 2017 $15,006 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $7,887 2017 $2,900 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 50.7% N/A

 

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 $235,390 100% Total Outward $134,015 100%
Japan $86,600 37.0% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $22,127 16.5%
Singapore $32,946 14.4% Singapore $15,586 11.6%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong $21,030 8.9% Mauritius $10,480 7.8%
United States $16,110 7.3% Netherlands $9,276 6.9%
Netherlands $15,628 5.6% United States $7,887 5.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment:
https://www.bot.or.th/English/Statistics/EconomicAndFinancial/
Pages/StatInternationalInvestmentPosition.aspx
 

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $52,349 100% All Countries $30,095 100% All Countries $22,299 100%
Luxembourg $8,222 16% Luxembourg $7,888 26% Japan $2,604 12%
United States $7,331 14% United States $5,440 18% China, P.R. Mainland $2,557 12%
Ireland $5,108 10% Ireland $5,014 17% Laos DPR $2,094 9%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong $3,458 7% Singapore $2,512 8% United States $1,892 8%
Singapore $3,101 6% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $1,752 6% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $1,706 8%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Bangkok
Economic Section
BangkokEconSection@state.gov

Vietnam

Executive Summary

Vietnam continues to welcome foreign direct investment (FDI). In 2018, Vietnam attracted USD 19.1 billion of FDI, a 9.1 percent increase from 2017, while global foreign direct investment fell by nearly a fifth, according to the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) 2018 report. Vietnam’s 2018 GDP grew 7.08 percent, the highest rate since prior to the 2008 global financial crisis, thanks to strong FDI inflows and growth in the services and manufacturing sectors, productivity, private consumption, and exports.  

Continued strong FDI inflows are due in part to ongoing economic reforms, a young, and increasingly urbanized, population, political stability, and inexpensive labor. Despite the strong FDI inflows, significant challenges remain in the business climate, including corruption, a weak legal infrastructure and judicial system, poor intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement, a shortage of skilled labor, restrictive labor practices, and impediments to infrastructure investment.

Examples of large investment projects approved in 2018 include a Hanoi-area “smart” residential township with USD 4.1 billion in Japanese investment; a USD 1.2 billion polypropylene factory, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facility, and two electronics factories worth USD 500 million, all by Korean investors; and an additional USD 1.2 billion investment in an existing Singaporean resort.

Vietnam must continue to reform in order to maintain or boost competitiveness in the face of internal factors such as a sustained budget deficit, high debt levels, a weak domestic sector that has low linkages to the global supply chain, low productivity of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and a financial sector burdened by non-performing loans.

The recently entered-into-force Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EV FTA), if approved, present significant potential benefits for Vietnam.  They are expected to fuel robust economic gains, in the form of more FDI, increased competitiveness of Vietnamese exports, and millions more jobs. These trends may accelerate if foreign companies relocate manufacturing facilities from China to Vietnam due to trade tensions, rising cost of Chinese labor, and China’s shift towards more high-tech industries.  Private-sector analysts predict that the electronics, textiles, shoes, and auto-parts sectors in Vietnam would benefit most.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 117 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 69 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/vietnam
Global Innovation Index 2018 45 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/

analysis-indicator  

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $2,010 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $2,160 http://data.worldbank.org/

indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

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

Business Facilitation

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

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

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

Outward Investment

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

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Vietnam maintains trade relations with more than 200 countries, and has 66 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and 26 treaties with investment provisions. It is a party to five free trade agreements (FTAs) with ASEAN, Chile, the Eurasian Customs Union, Japan, and South Korea. As a member of ASEAN, Vietnam also is party to ASEAN FTAs with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.   

In addition, CPTPP entered into force January 14, 2019, in Vietnam. Once fully implemented, CPTPP will form a trading bloc representing 495 million consumers and 13.5 percent of global GDP – worth a total of USD 10.6 trillion.  

In July 2018, the EU and Vietnam agreed on the final text of the EV FTA and the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (EV IPA), which are due to be voted upon by the European Parliament in 2019.

Vietnam is a participant in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, which include the 10 ASEAN countries and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand, and it is negotiating FTAs with other countries, including Israel. A full list of signed agreements to which Vietnam is a party is on the UNCTAD website:  http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/229#iiaInnerMenu  .

Vietnam has signed double taxation avoidance agreements with 80 countries, listed at http://taxsummaries.pwc.com/ID/Vietnam-Individual-Foreign-tax-relief-and-tax-treaties  . The United States and Vietnam concluded and signed a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTA) in 2016, but it is still awaiting ratification by the U.S. Congress.

There are no systematic tax disputes between the government and foreign investors. However, an increasing number of U.S. companies disputed tax audits, which resulted in retroactive tax assessments. U.S. businesses generally attribute these cases to unclear, conflicting, and amended language in investment and tax laws and the government’s desire for revenue to reduce chronic budget deficits. These retroactive tax cases against U.S. companies can obscure the true risks of operating in Vietnam and give some U.S. investors pause when deciding whether to expand operations.

Decree 20/2017/ND-CP, effective since May 2017, introduced many new transfer-pricing reporting and documentation requirements, as well as new guidance on the tax deductibility of service and interest expenses. The Ministry of Finance (MOF) is drafting revisions to its Law on Tax Administration and expects to submit the draft law to the National Assembly for review and approval in 2019.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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

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

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

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

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

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

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Foreign investors are exempt from import duties on goods imported for their own use that cannot be procured locally, including machinery, vehicles, components and spare parts for machinery and equipment, raw materials, inputs for manufacturing, and construction materials. Remote and mountainous provinces are allowed to provide additional tax breaks and other incentives to prospective investors.

In addition, projects in the following areas are entitled to investment incentives such as lower corporate income tax, exemption of import tariffs, or favorable land rental rates: high-tech; research and development; new materials; energy; clean energy; renewable energy; energy saving products; automobiles; software; waste treatment and management; primary or vocational education; and those located in remote areas or in industrial zones.

According to the OECD’s 2018 Investment Policy Review, Vietnam has an expansionary tax policy aimed at stimulating investment. Vietnam’s corporate income tax rate is highly competitive regionally at 20 percent.

Vietnam has also offered non-tax incentives, including exemption or reduction of infrastructure-use fees and land-use fees; assistance with recruitment and training of skilled labor; and assistance with immigration and residence procedures.

Vietnam promotes foreign investment in certain priority sectors, and in geographic regions that are remote or underdeveloped. The government encourages investment in the following areas: production of new materials, new energy sources, metallurgy and chemical industries; manufacturing of high-tech products, biotechnology, information technology, mechanical engineering; agricultural, fishery and forestry production; salt production; generation of new plant varieties and animal species; ecology and environmental protection; research and development; knowledge-based services; processing and manufacturing; labor-intensive projects (using 5,000 or more full-time laborers); infrastructure projects; education and training; and health and sports development.

Although Vietnam seeks FDI in infrastructure, including the energy sector, it has been reluctant to give government guarantees that investors often seek, due to its concerns about reaching its public-debt ceiling of 65 percent of GDP.  (In 2018, its public debt was 61 percent of GDP.) This has delayed some approvals of large-scale projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In recent years, Vietnam has prioritized efforts to establish free trade zones (FTZs). Vietnam currently has more than 350 industrial zones (IZs) and export processing zones (EPZs). Many foreign investors report that it is easier to implement projects in industrial zones because they do not have to be involved in site clearance and infrastructure construction. Enterprises pay no duties when importing raw materials if they export the finished products. Customs warehouse keepers in FTZs can provide transportation services and act as distributors for the goods deposited. Additional services relating to customs declaration, appraisal, insurance, reprocessing, or packaging, require the approval of the provincial customs office. In practice, the time involved for clearance and delivery of goods by provincial custom officials can be lengthy and unpredictable.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Vietnam does not mandate that businesses hire local workers, including for senior management roles or the board of directors. However, companies must prove their efforts to hire suitable local employees were unsuccessful before recruiting foreigners. This does not apply to board members elected by shareholders or capital contributors. In February 2016, the government issued Decree No.11/2016/ND-CP, guiding a number of articles of the Labor Code on foreigners working in Vietnam, which entered into force in April 2016. Decree 11 included positive changes, including changes to the conditions, paperwork, and timeline for work-permit applications and exemptions, and clarification that the work-permit and exemption-certificate requirements did not apply to foreigners coming to work for less than 30 days with less than 90 days of cumulative working time in one year.

In October 2018, the government issued Decree No. 140/2018/ND-CP (Decree 140), which amends various decrees on investment, business conditions, and administration procedures, and Decree No. 143/2018/ND-CP (Decree 143) on compulsory social insurance for foreigners working in Vietnam. Decree 140 streamlines the work-permit process for foreigners working in Vietnam. Decree 143 requires foreign individuals with a work permit, practicing certificate, or practicing license, and working under a labor contract with an indefinite term or a definite term of one year or more with a company in Vietnam, to participate in a mandatory social insurance scheme, which previously was applicable to Vietnamese workers only.  

The government has been increasingly adopting policies to encourage or require foreign investors to use domestic content in goods and technology. For example, Circular 14/2015/TT-BKHDT applied high tariffs to imported automotive parts to protect domestic production and encourage foreign auto manufacturers to source component parts locally. Another example is Decree 54/2017/ND-CP, which stipulates foreign invested entities can import drugs into Vietnam, but are not permitted to transport, store, or distribute drugs.

In June 2018, the National Assembly approved a Law on Cybersecurity, effective January 1 2019, which requires cross-border services to store data of Vietnamese users in Vietnam, despite sustained international and domestic opposition to the regulation.  The law’s data-localization provisions are broad and vague, with subsequent draft guidance implying the data-localization requirements will only apply to firms that do not comply with strict online content removal requests from the government. Foreign firms and legal experts await implementing decrees expected in mid-2019 to clarify how the government intends to implement the law. In 2015, the National Assembly issued the Law on Network Information Security, effective July 1, 2016, which included obligations to disclose proprietary information as a condition to enter the market, overly broad definitions of personal information, overly broad provisions requiring “cooperation with the Government” regarding access to data, and requirements to decrypt encrypted information held by third parties. MOF is also proposing draft legislation in 2019 to request cross-border service providers via internet protocols to have a representative office in Vietnam, citing the necessity of local office requirements for taxation purposes.

There are currently no measures preventing or unduly impeding companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside of Vietnam. The most important regulation is Decree 72/2013/ND-CP, on the management, provision, and use of internet services and online information. While Decree 72 technically requires organizations establishing “general websites,” or social networks and companies providing online gaming services or services across mobile networks to maintain at least one server in Vietnam, in practice the regulation is only applied to domestic firms, and then only sporadically. It also establishes requirements for storing certain types of data (personally identifiable information of users, user activity logs, etc.), but it is unclear if that information must be stored on a local server. In 2016, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) issued Circular 38/2016/TT-BTTT, one of the implementing circulars of Decree 72. The circular does not require localization of servers, though it does require offshore service providers with a large number of users in Vietnam to comply with local content restrictions. Specific requirements under Circular 38 apply to offshore entities that provide cross-border public information into Vietnam (including websites, social networks, online applications, search engines and other similar forms of services) that (a) have more than one million hits from Vietnam per month or (b) lease a data center to store digital information in Vietnam in order to provide its services.

Provisions of the new cybersecurity law require firms to hand over unencrypted user information upon request by law enforcement. However, application of this requirement hinges on issuance of implementing decrees, expected in mid-2019. Vietnam has no international commitments in this area and does not permit cross-border online gaming. Therefore, gaming providers tend to establish a joint venture with a Vietnamese company and locate one server in Vietnam. Regarding financial data localization, Circular 31 requires backup information, but does not impede cross-border data flows.

When Vietnam joined the WTO in 2007, it established minimum commitments on market access for U.S. goods and services, as well as equal treatment for Vietnamese and foreign companies. Vietnam undertook commitments on goods (tariffs, quotas, and ceilings on agricultural subsidies) and services (provisions of access to foreign-service providers and related conditions). It has also committed to implementing agreements on intellectual property (the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement), customs valuation, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, import licensing provisions, anti-dumping and countervailing measures, and rules of origin. As part of its WTO accession, Vietnam also committed to remove performance requirements that are inconsistent with the agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs). The 2014 Investment Law specifically prohibits the following: giving priority to domestic goods or services; compulsory purchases from a specific domestic firm; export of goods or services at a fixed percentage; restricting the quantity, value, or type of goods or services exported or sourced domestically; fixing import goods at the same quantity and value as goods exported; requirements to achieve certain local content ratios in manufacturing goods; stipulated levels or values on research and development activities; supplying goods or services in a particular location; and mandating the establishment of head offices in a particular location.

The government updates, on an ad hoc basis, the list of investment priority high-tech products and companies investing in research and development for items that are entitled to the highest tax incentives and may be eligible for funding from the National High-Tech Development Program. Companies that develop infrastructure for high-tech parks will also receive land incentives.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The State collectively owns and manages all land in Vietnam, and therefore neither foreigners nor Vietnamese nationals can own land. However, the government grants land-use and building rights, often to individuals.  According to the Ministry of National Resources and Environment (MONRE), as of September 2018, the government has issued land-use rights certificates for 96.9 percent of land in Vietnam. If land is not used, according to the land-use rights certificate or if it is unoccupied, it reverts to the government. Vietnam is building a national land-registration database, and some localities have already digitized their land records.

The MONRE is drafting amendments to the 2013 Land Law, which would focus on several major issues, including eradicating the farmland acquisition quota, increasing cases of land recovery by the State, assigning district-level administrators rather than provincial-level administrators to accurately set land prices, and allowing foreigners to own homes in Vietnam. MONRE expects to submit the draft law to the National Assembly for review and approval in 2020.    

State protection of property rights is still evolving, as the State can expropriate land for socio-economic development. Under the Housing Law and Real Estate Business Law passed by the National Assembly in November 2014, the government can take land if it deems it necessary for socio-economic development in the public or national interest and the Prime Minister, the National Assembly, or the Provincial People’s Council approves such action. However, the law loosely defined “socio-economic” development, and there are many outstanding legal disputes between landowners and local authorities. Disputes over land rights continue to be a significant driver of social protest in Vietnam. Foreign investors also may be exposed to land disputes through merger and acquisition activities when they buy into a local company.

In addition to land, the State’s collective property includes “forests, rivers and lakes, water supplies, wealth lying underground or coming from the sea, the continental shelf and the air, the funds and property invested by the government in enterprises, and works in all branches and fields – the economy, culture, society, science, technology, external relations, national defense, security – and all other property determined by law as belonging to the State.”

The Housing Law and Real Estate Business Law extended “land-use rights” to foreign investors, allowing titleholders to conduct property transactions, including mortgages. Foreign investors can lease land for renewable periods of 50 years, and up to 70 years in some poor areas of the country.

In June 2018, the National Assembly decided to delay indefinitely the debate on and adoption of the controversial draft Law on Special Administrative and Economic Zones. The law aimed to loosen regulations on foreign investors, permitting them to lease land in the Van Don, Bac Van Phong, and Phu Quoc Special Administrative and Economic Zones for up to 99 years. The National Assembly’s decision followed widespread protests against the proposed law.  

Some investors have encountered difficulties amending investment licenses to expand operations onto land adjoining existing facilities. Investors also note that local authorities may intend to increase requirements for land-use rights when current rights must be renewed, particularly in instances when the investment in question competes with Vietnamese companies.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

The legal basis for IPR includes the 2005 Civil Code, the 2005 Intellectual Property (IP) Law as amended in 2009, the 2015 Penal Code, and implementing regulations and decrees. Vietnam has joined the Paris Convention on Industrial Property and the Berne Convention on Copyright; the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations; the Patent Cooperation Treaty; the Madrid Protocol; and the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. It has worked to meet its commitments under these international treaties. The Vietnamese government has ratified the revised Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights protocol, which took effect on January 23, 2017.  On January 1, 2018, the 2015 Penal Code entered into force with clearer guidelines on the application of criminal penalties for certain acts of IPR infringement or piracy. For the first time, commercial entities can be liable for violations. On June 12, 2018, the National Assembly passed a new Law on Competition, eliminating outdated IP-related unfair competition provisions and bringing guidelines in line with Vietnam’s other IP laws. The government also issued Decree No. 22/2018/ND-CP, which replaced a 2006 regulation and updated copyright guidelines under the Civil Code and Law on IP. However, enforcement agencies still lack clarity and experience in how to impose criminal penalties on IPR violators and continue to wait for further implementing guidelines. On June 19, 2018, the Prime Minister issued Directive No. 17/CT-TTg to strengthen the fight against smuggling, commercial fraud, and the production and trade of low-quality foods and fake goods, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.

Circular No. 16/2016/TT-BKHCN, which amends and supplements a number of articles of Circular No. 01/2007/TT-BKHCN, one of the core regulations in the Vietnam IP system, came into force on January 15, 2018. IP attorneys expect the circular will have a significant, positive impact on patent and trademark examination procedures, but also expect further revisions in 2019 and in the IP Law revision. The National Assembly ratified the CPTPP on November 2, 2018, and Vietnam intends to amend laws, including the Law on Intellectual Property, to align with the international treaty by 2021. With technical support from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Vietnam in 2017 also completed a National Strategy for Intellectual Property to create a roadmap for promoting innovation and a more effective IP framework by 2030.

Although Vietnam has made progress in establishing a legal framework for IPR protection, significant problems remain and new challenges are emerging. The country remains on the Special 301 Watch List. The rate of unlicensed software in Vietnam is still high, at 74 percent, according to the Software Alliance’s latest data, representing a commercial value of USD 492 million. In 2018, Vietnam had mixed results in its efforts to protect IPR. Vietnam’s continued integration into the global economic community, as well as increasing domestic pressure for IP protections, may stimulate positive change. Nevertheless, infringement and piracy remained commonplace, and the impact of digital piracy and the increasing prevalence of counterfeit goods sold online continued to undermine the IPR environment. The increasingly sophisticated capabilities of domestic counterfeiters, coupled with developing smuggling routes through Vietnam’s porous borders, were also worrisome trends. There are ten ministries sharing some level of responsibility for IPR enforcement and protection, which often leads to duplication or confusion. Additionally, the roles and power of these ministries and agencies varies widely. In October 2018, the MOIT upgraded the Market Surveillance Agency, the country’s leading IP enforcement agency, to the Directorate of Market Surveillance (DMS). The move requires all 63 provincial-level market surveillance departments to report directly to the national agency rather than to local provincial governments, improving coordination and efficiency among enforcement agencies.

In 2018, the Intellectual Property Office of Vietnam (IP Vietnam) reported receiving 108,375 IP applications of all types (an increase of 5.9 percent compared to 2017), of which 63,617 were registered for industrial property rights (up 8.7 percent compared to 2017). IP Vietnam reported granting 2,212 patents in 2018 (up 27 percent from 2017). Industrial designs registrations reached 2,360 in 2018 (up 4.1 percent from 2017). In total, IP Vietnam granted more than 29,040 protection titles for industrial property, out of more than 63,617 applications in 2018 (up 8.1 percent from 2017). The DMS processed 6,149 counterfeit and IP infringement cases and collected USD 5,500 in fines.  The most infringed products were agricultural materials, agricultural and pharmaceutical products, and spare automobile parts.  

The Copyright Office of Vietnam received and settled seven copyright petitions, and received and settled 12 requests for copyright assessment in 2018. In 2018, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism Inspectorate carried out inspections for software licensing compliance and discovered 46 violations that resulted in fines of USD 58,000, a 15 percent decrease in fines from 2017.

For more information, please see the following reports from the U.S. Trade Representative:

Special 301 Report:

https://ustr.gov/issue-areas/intellectual-property/special-301/2018-special-301-review  

Notorious Markets Report: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/Press/Reports/2017 percent20Notorious percent20Markets percent20List percent201.11.18.pdf 

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

While the government has acknowledged the need to strengthen both the capital and debt markets, there has been little progress, leaving the banking sector as the primary capital source for Vietnamese companies. Challenges to raising capital domestically include insufficient transparency in Vietnam’s financial markets and non-compliance with internationally accepted accounting standards.

Vietnam welcomes foreign portfolio investment; however, Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) continues to classify Vietnam as a Frontier Market, which precludes some of the world’s biggest asset managers from investing in its stock markets. Vietnam is improving its legal framework in an effort to reach its goal of meeting the “emerging market” criteria in 2020 and attracting more foreign capital. The UK-based FTSE Russell’s decision to place Vietnam on its watch list for possible reclassification as a “Secondary Emerging Market” in September 2018 could also encourage faster reforms.  

The government is drafting amendments to the Securities Law (revised in 2010) along with decrees, circulars, and guiding documents, and is targeting submission to the National Assembly for approval late in 2019. These will likely include comprehensive changes on securities trading, corporate governance, share issuance, and most notably foreign ownership limits (FOL), to help move Vietnam toward emerging market status.

The State Securities Commission (SSC) under the MOF regulates Vietnam’s two stock exchanges, the HCMC Stock Exchange (HOSE), which lists larger companies, and the Hanoi Stock Exchange (HNX), which has smaller companies, bonds, and derivatives. Vietnam also has a market for unlisted public companies (UPCOM) at the Hanoi Securities Center, where many equitized SOEs first list their shares (due to lower transparency requirements) before moving to the HOSE or HNX. In January 2019, the Prime Minister approved a plan to establish the Vietnam Stock Exchange (VSE) as a MOF wholly state-owned company, which would own both the HOSE and HNX.

There is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and maintain sizable positions.  Stock and fund certificate liquidity increased in 2018, reaching an average trading value per session of around USD 280 million, up 30 percent from 2017. Combined market capitalization at the end of 2018 was approximately USD 169 billion, equal to 80 percent of Vietnam’s GDP, with the HOSE accounting for USD 124 billion, the HNX USD 8 billion, and the UPCOM USD 37 billion. Bond market capitalization reached over USD 50 billion in 2018, the majority of which were government bonds, largely held by domestic commercial banks. Insurance firms also were noticeably more active government bond investors in 2018.  

Vietnam complies with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII. The government notified the IMF that it accepted the obligations of Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4, effective November 8, 2005.

Local banks charge relatively high interest rates for new loans because they must continue to service existing non-performing loans (NPLs). Domestic companies, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), often have difficulty accessing credit. Foreign investors are generally able to obtain local financing.

Money and Banking System

Since recovering from the 2008 global downturn, Vietnam’s banking sector has been stable. However, despite various banking reforms, the sector continues to be concentrated at the top and fragmented at the bottom. Based on its 2018 survey, the central bank, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV), estimated that 50 percent of Vietnam’s population is underbanked or does not have bank accounts, due to an inherent distrust of the banking sector; the ingrained habit of holding assets in cash, foreign currency, and gold; and the limited use of financial technology tools. However, this SBV estimate appears significantly understated, with the likely percentage being closer to 70 percent.  The World Bank’s The Global Findex Database 2017 (the most recent available) estimated that only 31 percent of Vietnamese over the age of 15 had an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider.

The banking sector’s estimated total assets in 2018 were USD 481 billion, of which USD 207 billion belonged to seven state-owned and majority state-controlled commercial banks, accounting for 44 percent of total assets. Though grouped under joint-stock (private) commercial banks, the Bank of Investment and Development Bank (BIDV), Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade (VietinBank), and Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank) all are majority-controlled by SBV. In addition, the SBV holds 100 percent of Agribank, Global Petro Commercial Bank (GPBank), Construction Bank (CBBank), and Oceanbank.  

In addition, there were nine foreign-owned banks (HSBC, Standard Chartered, Shinhan, Hong Leong, Woori Bank, Public Bank, CIMB Bank, ANZ, and United Overseas Bank), 49 branches of foreign banks, 52 representatives of foreign credit institutions, and two joint-venture banks (Vietnam-Russia Bank and Indovina Bank).

Vietnam has made progress in recent years to reduce its NPLs, but most domestic banks remain under-capitalized with high NPL levels that continue to drag on economic growth. Accurate NPL data is not available and the central bank frequently underreports the level of NPLs. In 2018, the NPL ratio on the banks’ balance sheets reportedly went down to 2.4 percent, from 2.5 percent in 2017, while the off-balance sheet NPL ratio remain unpublished. The SBV attributes the declining NPL level to the uptrend of the property markets and its application of the National Assembly’s 2017 Resolution 42 which helps credit institutions and the Vietnam Asset Management Company (VAMC) to repossess collateral and better manage bad loans. Under its Development Strategy of the Vietnam Banking Sector to 2025, the SBV aims to reduce the NPL ratio at the banks and the VAMC to below 3 percent by 2020 (excluding poorly performing banks under a separate structure.)

Other issues in the banking sector include state-directed lending by state-owned commercial banks, cross-ownership, related-party lending under non-commercial criteria, and preferential loans to SOEs that crowd out credit to SMEs. By law, banks must maintain a minimum-chartered capital of VND 3 trillion (roughly USD 134 million); however, Vietnam is moving towards adoption of Basel II standards in 2020.

Currently, the total FOL in a Vietnamese bank is 30 percent, with a 5 percent limit for non-strategic individual investors, a 15 percent limit for non-strategic institutional investors, and a 20 percent limit for strategic institutional partners. Prudential measures and regulations apply the same to domestic and foreign banks. To meet the capital adequacy ratio required by Basel II, many banks are seeking overseas capital, and calling for relaxation of the FOL.

We are unaware of any lost correspondent-banking relationships in the past three years. However, after the SBV took over three failing banks (Ocean Bank, Construction Bank, and GP Bank), and placed Dong A Bank under special supervision in 2015, correspondent-banking relationships with those banks may have been limited.

The government is trying to leverage Vietnam’s high adoption rate of mobile and smart phones to promote financial inclusion, increase use of electronic payments, and shift Vietnam towards a cashless society. Although the SBV announced plans to implement a “regulatory sandbox” for financial technology (fintech) activities to inform its future updates to the legal framework, it has not yet published details and has licensed only 26 organizations to provide cashless services. Fintech is rapidly gaining market acceptance as many banks have implemented QR code payments and others have deployed online payment services. Nearly 100 fintech startups have reportedly launched in Vietnam, operating mainly in the e-payments space. However, these startups must overcome many legal mechanisms and policies, such as obtaining licenses.  No foreign e-payments fintech companies have such licenses yet.

Cryptocurrencies remain prohibited as legal tender, preventing the issuance, supply, and use of Bitcoin and other similar virtual currency as a means of payment. Failure to comply can result in criminal prosecution. However, in 2018, the MOJ reportedly submitted to the Prime Minister’s office for approval a crypto-assets proposal, though it has yet to make public any details.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

There are no restrictions on foreign investors converting and repatriating earnings or investment capital from Vietnam. However, funds associated with any form of investment cannot be freely converted into any world currency.

The SBV has a mechanism to determine the interbank reference exchange rate. In order to provide flexibility in responding to exchange rate volatility, the SBV announces a daily interbank reference exchange rate. The rate is determined based on the previous day’s average interbank exchange rates, taking into account movements in the currencies of Vietnam’s major trading and investment partners.

Remittance Policies

Vietnam mandates all monetary transactions must be in Vietnamese Dong (VND), and allows foreign businesses to remit lawful profits, capital contributions, and other legal investment activity revenues in foreign currency authorized credit institutions. There are no time constraints on remittances or limitations on outflow; however, outward foreign currency transactions require supporting documents (such as audited financial statements, import/foreign-service procurement contracts and proof of tax obligation fulfillment, and approval of the SBV on loan contracts etc.). Foreign investors are also required to submit notification of profit remittance abroad to tax authorities at least seven working days prior to the remittance.

The inflow of foreign currency to Vietnam is less constrained.  There are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies that either tighten or relax access to foreign exchange for investment remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The State Capital Investment Corporation (SCIC) technically qualifies as a sovereign wealth fund (SWF), as its mandate includes investing dividends and proceeds from privatization.  The Ministry of Finance transferred oversight of SCIC and 18 other large SOEs to the Committee for Management of State Capital at Enterprises (CMSC) in November 2018, following the CMSC’s launch in September 2018 and the issuance of the Prime Minister’s Decree 131 defining its functions, tasks, powers, and organizational structure.

As of August 31, 2018, the SCIC had invested in 139 businesses, with nearly USD 866.3 million in state capital (book value). The SCIC does not manage or invest balance-of-payment surpluses, official foreign currency operations, government transfer payments, fiscal surpluses, or surpluses from resource exports. SCIC’s primary mandate is to manage the non-privatized portion of SOEs. The SCIC invests 100 percent of its portfolio in Vietnam, and the SCIC’s investment of dividends and divestment proceeds does not appear to have any ramifications for U.S. investors. The SCIC budget is reasonably transparent, audited, and can be found at http://www.scic.vn/  .

7. State-Owned Enterprises

According to the World Bank, SOEs would benefit from a “modern corporate governance system that separates state ownership rights from regulatory functions and implements an objective and transparent mechanism for the selection of CEOs and board members.” The government framework for wholly owned SOEs is fragmented, incoherent, and the management of SOEs is not in line with sound corporate governance. To improve corporate governance and SOE efficiency, the government established the CMSC in 2018. The government’s aim was to separate state ownership from regulatory oversight of 19 large centrally owned SOEs by moving their supervision away from the line ministries to CMSC.

Vietnam currently has over 500 wholly owned SOEs – including seven groups, 57 corporations, and 441 other enterprises managed by ministries and localities, according to the Ministry of Finance. Vietnam does not publish a full list of SOEs and they operate in nearly every industrial sector. However, in 2016, the government issued Decision 58/2016/QD-TTg (Decision 58) specifying the industries and areas in which the government will have wholly owned and majority-owned enterprises, including electricity distribution, airport management and operation, large-scale mineral mining, production of basic chemicals, and telecommunications services with network infrastructure, among others.

While SOEs have boards of directors, these boards are not independent. After CMSC’s establishment, it took over the oversight of the 19 largest SOEs. Aside from the CMSC’s supervision of the 19 largest SOEs, ministries govern the remaining centrally owned SOEs, while provincial governments run local SOEs. CMSC, ministries, and local governments all can appoint their staff to the boards. For SOEs with majority shares owned by government, the government ministries, and provincial governments still have the right to appoint executive staff of the companies. SOE senior officials do not typically retain their government positions, but they still retain links to the government, and may return to government service once they terminate their employment with the SOE.

SOEs do not operate on a level playing field with domestic companies and continue to benefit from preferential access to resources such as land, capital, and political largesse. However, in the 2018 PCI report, the percentage of surveyed firms that believe provincial authorities favored SOEs declined from 41 percent in 2017 to 32 percent in 2018.

In 2015, the government issued Decree 81/2015/ND-CP to require SOEs to implement strict information disclosure procedures in accordance with listed company requirements. However, because there is no clear punishment for violations, SOEs have little incentive to follow the decree. Although over 40 percent of SOEs disclose the required information, MPI confirmed the quality of reporting was insufficient to assess the SOEs’ transparency. Although there are penalties for insufficient disclosure and non-disclosure, these penalties are not significant enough to improve information disclosure.

Privatization Program

Vietnam has been working to reform the SOE sector for over 15 years. Because SOE share sales have historically only transferred a nominal interest (2 to 3 percent) to the private sector, the process of privatization (also known as equitization) has been slow. Inadequate regulations specifying equitization procedures and pressure from vested interests present the biggest obstacles. Decree 58 specified sectors targeted for equitization, including airport management and related services, mineral mining and extraction, financial service and banking, chemical manufacturing, rice wholesale, petro and oil importation, telecommunications, rubber and coffee processors, and electricity distribution. It appears the government plans to sell or partially privatize the best, most efficient SOEs first to quickly raise cash, but has been slow to address inefficiencies in the rest.

Although the government appears more committed to privatization due to fiscal budget pressures and the necessity of expanding the private sector for continued economic growth, it has yet to meet its annual SOE equitization targets. After some notable large deals (Vinamilk in 2016 and Sabeco in 2017), the government released decision 1232/2017/QD-TTg in 2017, which listed 406 additional SOEs it would divest in the period 2017-2020, along with specific target divestment percentages. The decision aimed to reduce the number of wholly owned SOEs to about 150 by 2020. However, only 12 SOEs were equitized in 2018 against a target of 85 and share proceeds totaled less than USD 1 billion and divestments USD 880 million. The MOF expects the process to speed up in 2019 with equitization and divestment proceeds of over USD 2 billion. 

Foreign investors can invest in SOEs. SOE share bidding process information can be found at https://www.hsx.vn/Modules/Auction/Web/AucInfoList?fid=271f94f836a14eb0a7d2207c05f7a39e  https://www.hnx.vn/en-gb/dau-gia/lich-dau-gia.html  , and http://www.scic.vn/english/index.php/investment.html  . SOE financial information is available on http://business.gov.vn/C percentC3 percentB4ngb percentE1 percentBB percent91Th percentC3 percentB4ngtin/Th percentC3 percentB4ngtindoanhnghi percentE1 percentBB percent87p.aspx  .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The government has issued regulations intended to protect the public from adverse business practices in relation to labor rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection. However, the enforcement of these laws is weak. The Enterprise Law allows shareholders to take court action against the management of a company and can nullify fully, or partly, a resolution of a shareholder general meeting through a court order or an arbitration decision. Companies are required to publish their corporate social responsibility activities, corporate governance work, information of related parties and transactions, and compensation of the management. Companies must also announce extraordinary circumstances, such as changes to management, dissolution, or establishment of subsidiaries, within 36 hours of the event.

Most multinational companies implement Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs that contribute to improving the business environment, and awareness of CSR programs is increasing among large domestic companies. The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) conducts CSR training and highlights corporate engagement on a dedicated website (http://www.csr-vietnam.eu/  ) in partnership with the UN. In addition, AmCham also has a CSR group that organizes events and activities to raise awareness of social issues. Non-governmental organizations collaborate with government bodies, such as the VCCI and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA), to promote business practices in Vietnam in line with international norms and standards. Discussions on ethical business standards during negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the CPTPP – in addition to the gradual introduction of CSR practices by some multinational corporations over the years – have helped to shift social expectations around business responsibilities in Vietnam.

Overall, the government has not defined responsible business conduct (RBC), nor has it established a national plan or agenda for RBC. The government has yet to establish a national contact point or ombudsman for stakeholders to get information or raise concerns about RBC. Vietnam may make additional strides in labor rights and ethical business practices in its revised Labor Code, due for discussion by the National Assembly in 2019.  

The 2005 Law on Enterprises in theory regulates corporate governance in line with OECD corporate governance principles. However, corporate governance standards are relatively weak in Vietnam, which ranks lower than Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia, according to the most recent Asia Development Bank (ADB) 2017 report on ASEAN listed companies.

The government does not have regulations encouraging companies to adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas, but many multinational companies already comply. In 2016, the Prime Minister called on the MOIT to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in order to improve the efficiency of the minerals extraction industry. However, to date, Vietnam has not agreed to do so. Vietnam remains only an observer in EITI. Decree 158/2016/ND-CP came into effect in January 2017 and provides guidelines for implementing the Mineral Law, which may improve transparency in the mining sector.

For labor rights regulations, see Section 11 on Labor Policies and Practices, and for a detailed description of regulations on worker/labor rights in Vietnam, see the Department of State’s Human Rights Report (https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/vietnam/).

Environmental Protection

Vietnam’s current legal framework for environmental protection is fragmented and often confusing, while enforcement of environmental crimes and violations is weak and ineffective.  The government has issued many legal documents regulating the environment, including the revision of the Environmental Protection Law of 2014, the Constitution of 2013, the Law on Water Resources of 2012, the Law on Fisheries of 2017, as well as hundreds of decrees and circulars that guide the implementation of these laws. While these legal documents specify civil penalties for environmental crimes, the penalties are rarely high enough to have a deterrent effect. There are virtually no criminal penalties in the law. Additionally, some industry sectors have little regulation. For example, government and industry contacts note that inspections of pollution emission testing devices rarely occur. When they do, it is often following advance notice that enables the firm being inspected to show compliance, regardless of how non-compliant its normal operations may be.  

Historically, Vietnam has prioritized economic growth over environmental protection. In 2016, after a massive fish kill gained nationwide attention, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources embarked on an ambitious plan to update Vietnam’s environmental laws and regulations.  This effort is ongoing and will likely result in newer, and moderately stronger, environmental protections.

While Vietnam’s legal framework is marginal, enforcement of environmental laws is weak and ineffective. For example, the Law on Environmental Protection requires that entities, individuals, and households that discharge waste must classify the waste for recycling and reuse. However, violations of this provision are rampant and rarely punished. The 2017 Law on Fisheries stipulates that fishing organizations and individuals must follow set standards when catching fish, specifies significant financial penalties for individuals and organizations engaged in illegal fishing, and prohibits the use of explosives for fishing. However, in practice, violations of these regulations are quite common.

Vietnam is a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and enacted new penalties in its 2015 Penal Code, which took effect on January 1, 2018. However, Vietnam rarely investigates or arrests wildlife traffickers. Although the lack of official statistics makes an official accounting impossible, according to an analysis by members of civil society groups, the number of arrests and prosecutions has actually decreased since the new stricter law went into effect.

9. Corruption

Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) determined Vietnam had taken positive steps to improve some areas of its anti-corruption legal framework and policies. However, Vietnam’s 2018 rank of 117 out of 180 in the CPI global index reflects the country’s continuing challenges. Also according to the 2018 PCI report, corruption declined, with 55 percent of enterprises reporting paying informal charges (bribes), which equaled up to 10 percent of their revenue. The CPI report recommends more sustained effort by government agencies and cooperation from businesses. Firms need to improve management controls, strengthen legal understanding and compliance, and strive to operate with integrity.

Corruption is due, in large part, to low levels of transparency, accountability, and media freedom, as well as poor remuneration for government officials and inadequate systems for holding officials accountable. Competition among agencies for control over business and investments has created overlapping jurisdictions and bureaucratic procedures that, in turn, create opportunities for corruption.

In November 2018, Vietnam’s legislature revised its 2005 anti-corruption law to strengthen asset-reporting requirements for government officials and set strict penalties for corrupt practices. However, many officials lamented the law does not provide sufficient oversight authorities to Vietnam’s legislature or government agencies to ensure its full implementation. Furthermore, the law does not recognize the role of civil society or an independent mechanism to promote government accountability and transparency.

The Government has tasked various agencies to deal with corruption, including the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption (chaired by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) General Secretary Nguyen), the Government Inspectorate, and line ministries and agencies. Formed in 2007, the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption, since February 2013, has been under the CPV Central Commission of Internal Affairs. The National Assembly provides oversight to the operations of government ministries. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have encouraged the government to establish a single independent agency with oversight and enforcement authority, and to ensure enforcement.

A new Penal Code came into effect in January 2018, which introduced a number of provisions relating to corporate criminal liability and corruption, increased the risks for businesses in the country. While the previous Vietnamese criminal code only provided for criminal liability for individuals, now corporate entities can face criminal sanctions too. The new Penal Code also criminalizes private-sector corruption—something that was absent from Vietnam’s previous anti-corruption regime.

Vietnam signed the UN Anticorruption Convention in December 2003 and ratified it in August 2009. The law does not cover family members of officials, but does cover ranking members of the Communist Party.

The government increased its scrutiny of conflict-of-interest concerns in public procurement since late 2016. To signal the government’s seriousness about reforming government procurement, the Prime Minister approved in July 2016 a 10-year master plan for procurement, including developing the national e-Government Procurement Application to promote online tendering and increase transparency and reduce corruption opportunities. In January 2019, with help from the ADB and the World Bank, the government implemented an e-bidding public procurement site, which will supplement its existing e-procurement portal.

There are laws prohibiting companies from bribing public officials. While some private companies have internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials, the government does not require companies to establish such internal codes of conduct.

Since 2016, the government has embarked on a large anti-corruption initiative. As a result, perceptions of corruption, and the burden of administrative procedures, are both declining. While high-profile arrests have grabbed the focus of the news media, there has been less attention paid to institutional changes meant to prevent corrupt activities, including greater transparency and civil-service reforms to encourage accountability.

According to the 2018 PCI, there were statistically significant declines in three core indicators of corruption: 1) the share of firms believing informal charges are common; 2) the estimated bribe payments by firms as a share of revenue; and 3) whether commissions are necessary to win government procurement contracts. Although the 2018 PCI results indicate signs of declining corruption, surveyed companies reported that it took more than a month to complete necessary paperwork to start their business and obtain certificates for technical regulatory conformity and certificates of qualification for doing conditional business lines. The report concluded that government authorities were more cautious to approve big projects due to fear of being swept up and implicated in the ongoing, widespread anti-corruption campaign.

The 2018 PCI findings are consistent with the results of UN Development Program’s 2018 annual Provincial Administrative Performance Index (PAPI) survey.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Mr. Phan Dinh Trac
Chairman, Communist Party Central Committee Internal Affairs
4 Nguyen Canh Chan
+84 0804-3557

Contact at NGO:

Ms. Nguyen Thi Kieu Vien
Executive Director, Towards Transparency
Transparency International National Contact in Vietnam
Floor 4, No 37 Lane 35, Cat Linh street, Dong Da, Hanoi, Vietnam
Phone: +84-24-37153532
Fax: +84-24-37153443
kieuvien@towardstransparency.vn  

10. Political and Security Environment

Vietnam is a unitary single-party state, and its political and security environment is largely stable. Protests and civil unrest are rare, though there are occasional demonstrations against perceived social, environmental, and labor injustices. There have been anti-China protests on multiple occasions since 2008. In May 2014, Vietnam experienced large protests against China’s movement of its Haiyang Shiyou Oil Rig 981 into Vietnam’s territorial waters. Anti-China protests resulted in at least one death and dozens of injuries among the plant’s Chinese workers; protesters separately destroyed and looted multiple foreign-owned factories.

In April 2016, after the Formosa Steel plant discharged toxic pollutants into the ocean and caused a massive fish death, the affected fishermen and residents in central Vietnam began a series of regular protests against the company and the government’s lack of response to the disaster. Protests continued into 2017 in multiple cities until security forces largely suppressed the unrest. Many activists who helped organize or document these protests were subsequently arrested and imprisoned, including influential blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka “Mother Mushroom,” who was released in 2018 and now resides in the United States), labor activist Hoang Duc Binh, and videographer Nguyen Van Hoa.

Nationwide protests erupted in June 2018 in response to the proposed Special Administrative Economic Zone Law. The protests, reportedly the largest since 1975, drew tens of thousands of Vietnamese citizens in Ho Chi Minh City and six other provinces who objected to the law’s tax and lease benefits for companies investing in three Economic Zones. Many believed Chinese investors were the primary beneficiaries of this bill, leading to widespread fears of growing Chinese investment and economic influence in Vietnam. Responding to the protests and other pushback against the law, the government ultimately decided to delay its passage indefinitely.

The protests had little effect on the operations of U.S. companies.

The government increased its anti-corruption efforts in 2016, resulting in a number of arrests and convictions of senior officials across the public and private sector. In January 2018, the party stripped former Politburo member and Ho Chi Minh Secretary Dinh La Thang of his party membership and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for mismanagement of state assets during his tenure as Chairman of state-owned PetroVietnam (PVN) between 2009 and 2011. Thang was tried with 22 other defendants for their alleged roles in corrupt practices at PVN and its subsidiaries.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

According to official government statistics, in 2018 there were 55 million people participating in the formal labor force in Vietnam out of over 72 million people aged 15 and above.  The labor force is relatively young, with 15-to-39 year olds currently accounting for about half of the total labor force. This demographic structure represents Vietnam’s best opportunity to make significant economic strides in the coming decades. Despite the strong shift towards urbanization, the majority of workers are still located in rural areas, making up over 68 percent of the total labor force.  

The official labor participation rate was over 78 percent of the total population, based on the most recent data available in 2017. The official unemployment and underemployment rates hover around 2 percent; however, this figure is likely underreported by counting people who have multiple, low-paying informal jobs, along with those with one formal job. The official unemployment rate among youth, defined as those between the ages of 15 and 24 years, was 7 percent in 2018.  Wages have grown 9 percent since 2017 to an average of USD 2,160 per year.

Despite relatively high literacy rates, enrollment, and graduation rates for primary and secondary education, less than 20 percent of the employed population have ever attended college or received vocational training or mid-term professional training. Those who complete a post-secondary degree are often unprepared with the types of skills necessary to enter a highly skilled workforce. Many Vietnamese companies report a shortage of workers with adequate skills.  While there is a shortage of educated and skilled labor, Vietnam is a labor surplus country, with a un- and under-employed labor force that serves as an abundant source of migrant labor regionally as well as globally.

Shortages or Surpluses of Specialized Labor Skills

According to World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Human Capital Index (the most recent available), Vietnam ranked 64th overall (after fellow ASEAN countries Singapore (11), Malaysia (33), and Thailand (40)). Many businesses reported it is difficult to find skilled labor in Vietnam. The government is aware of the deficiencies in higher education and vocational training, and admits the need for reform in order to increase the skills of its labor force. To this end, the Law on Vocational Education took effect in 2015, which stressed the importance of vocational training in human resource development, as well as the government’s strategy for vocation education through 2020. In addition, the national employment fund, managed by the MOLISA, will sponsor targeted vocational training programs for poor households, youth, members of the military, and entrepreneurs.  

Foreign nationals are restricted to employment in high-skilled professions, such as managers, executives, and consultants. The government relatively readily grants work-permits for high-skilled foreign workers, especially those at multinational corporations and NGOs.

Nearly 84,000 foreigners were working in Vietnam in 2017 (the most recent year available) compared to 12,600 in 2004, and the country was developing policies and methods to collect social insurance payments from these workers.  

Layoffs and Unemployment Insurance

An employer is permitted to lay off employees because of technological changes or changes in organizational structure (in cases of a merger, consolidation, or cessation of operation of one or several departments), or where the employer faces economic difficulties. If these changes lead to the termination of two or more employees, the employer, in conjunction with the local trade union, is required to form and implement a “labor usage plan.” Companies can terminate two or more employees only after consultation with the local trade union and after a 30-day notice to the provincial labor authority.

The employer must pay a job-loss allowance for a laid-off employee who had regularly worked for the employer for at least 12 full months. The job-loss allowance is equal to one month’s salary for each year of service with the employer. After layoffs, workers will receive unemployment benefits if they contributed to the unemployment fund for at least 12 months.  

There are no waivers made to labor requirements to attract foreign investment.

Collective Bargaining

The constitution affords the right of association and the right to demonstrate, but limits the exercise of these rights, including preventing workers from organizing or joining independent unions of their choice. While workers may choose whether to join a union and at which level (local or “grassroots,” provincial, or national), the law requires every union to be under the legal purview and control of the country’s only trade union confederation, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), an organization run by the CPV.

The law gives the VGCL exclusive authority to recognize unions and confers on VGCL upper-level trade unions the responsibility to establish workplace unions. The law also limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions.  Union members do not elect trade union leaders and officials; the CPV appoints them.

Chapter 5 of the Labor Code provides conditions for collective bargaining. Although collective bargaining is not a new concept in Vietnam, the quality of collective bargaining agreements (CBA) is limited. Vietnam had approximately 27,866 CBAs accounting for 68 percent of unionized enterprises, according to 2017 figures. While CBAs are weakly enforced, VGCL in recent years has collaborated with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to pilot multi-employer CBAs in some industrial zones and sectoral CBAs in the textile sector.

Labor Dispute Resolution Mechanisms

The 2012 revised Labor Code introduced a process of mediation and arbitration for labor disputes. The law allows trade unions and employer organizations to facilitate and support collective bargaining, and requires companies to establish a mechanism to enable management, and the workforce to exchange information, and to consult on subjects that affect working conditions. Regulations require conducting workplace dialogues every three months. The Labor Code stipulates that trade unions have the right and responsibility to organize and lead strikes and establishes certain substantive and procedural restrictions on strikes. Strikes that do not arise from a collective labor dispute, or do not adhere to the process outlined by law, are illegal. The law makes a distinction between “interest-based” disputes (“a dispute arising out of the request of the workers’ collective on the establishment of a new working condition … in the negotiation process between the workers’ collective and the employers”) and “rights-based” disputes (“a dispute between the workers’ collective with the employer arising out of different interpretation and implementation of provisions of labor laws, collective bargaining agreements, internal working regulations, other lawful regulations and agreements.”) In contravention of international standards, the law forbids strikes over “rights-based” disputes. This includes strikes arising out of economic and social policy measures that are not a part of a collective negotiation process, as they are both outside the law’s definition of protected “interest-based” strikes.

The Labor Code prescribes an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike over an interest-based collective dispute can occur. Before workers may hold a strike, they must submit their claims through a process involving a conciliation council (or a district-level labor conciliator where no union is present). If the two parties do not reach a resolution, unions must submit claims to a provincial arbitration council. Unions (or workers’ representatives where no union is present) have the right either to appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts, or to strike. Individual workers may take cases directly to the people’s court system, but in most cases they may do so only after conciliation has been attempted and failed.  

If a workplace trade union does not exist, the law requires that an “immediate upper-level trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize. For non-unionized workers to organize a strike, they must request that the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union,” and if non-unionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them.

The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses that serve the public or that the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, public health, and public order. “Essential services” include electricity production, post and telecommunications, maritime and air transportation, navigation, public works, and oil and gas production. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. By law, individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages. The law also grants the prime minister the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.

Strikes in Vietnam

According to VGCL, there have been 6,000 strikes in Vietnam since 1990, though most were not VGCL-led.  More than 73 percent of the 189 strikes in the first eight months of 2018 occurred at foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese companies), and nearly 40 percent occurred in the southern economic zone area in Binh Duong, Dong Nai, and Ba Ria-Vung Tau provinces and HCMC, according to the VGCL. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process, and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, actively mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. For example, in 2018 the Prime Minister had dialogues with 1,000 workers in the northern region, and with 3,000 workers in the south, and 2,000 workers in the central region during 2016-2017. In some cases of government mediation, the government imposed heavy fines on employers, especially of foreign-owned companies, that engaged in illegal practices that led to strikes.

Gaps in Compliance in Law or Practice with International Labor Standards

Vietnam has been a member of the ILO since 1992, and has ratified five of the core ILO labor conventions (Conventions 100 and 111 on discrimination, Conventions 138 and 182 on child labor, and Convention 29 on forced labor). While the constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor, Vietnam has not ratified Convention 105 dealing with forced labor as a means of political coercion and discrimination, or Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, although the government is currently taking steps toward ratification.  Under the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, however, all ILO members, including Vietnam, have pledged to respect and promote core ILO labor standards, including those regarding association, the right to organize, and collective bargaining.

Vietnam’s legal framework on child labor appears generally in accordance with international standards, however, the Labor Code allows children under age 13 to work in “specific work regulated by the MOLISA.” Since 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor has included Vietnamese garments, produced with child labor and forced labor, and bricks, produced with child labor, in violation of international standards.  Vietnamese garments are also included in a list of products produced by forced or indentured child labor under Executive Order 13126: Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor. Based on the results of Vietnam’s National Child Labor Survey, in 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor included 14 additional goods produced by child labor in Vietnam to the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor: cashews, coffee, fish, footwear, furniture, leather, pepper, rice, rubber, sugarcane, tea, textiles, timber, and tobacco.

The government has increasingly acknowledged the issue of child labor in recent years and is a participant in a five-year, USD 8 million project implemented by the ILO to enhance national capacity to reduce and prevent child labor. The government is also in the process of enhancing its policy and regulatory framework for occupational safety and health (OSH).  The OSH law, passed in June 2015, extends OSH protections to all workers, including the informal economy, and includes the establishment of an injury compensation system for workers in the informal economy, which constitutes more than 60 percent of the workforce. The ILO is assisting the government with the drafting of implementing regulations for the law and finalizing a national OSH program for 2016-2020.

In January 2018, Penal Code amendments entered into effect, criminalizing all forms of labor trafficking of adults and prescribing penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of approximately USD 860 to USD 4,300 (VND 20-100 million). The amendments also criminalized labor trafficking of children under the age of 16 and prescribed penalties of seven to 12 years imprisonment and fines of USD 2,150 to USD 8,620 (VND 50-200 million). NGOs continued to report occurrences of forced labor of men, women, and children within the country. Labor recruitment firms, most of which were affiliated with SOEs, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking international employment higher fees than the law allows, doing so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.

As part of the government’s 2016-20 National Plan of Action for Children and National Program for Child Protection, the government continued efforts to prevent child labor and specifically targeted children in rural areas, disadvantaged children, and children at risk of exposure to hazardous work conditions. The Vietnam National Child Labor Survey 2012 report (the most recent data available) categorized 1.75 million working children as “child laborers,” accounting for 9.6 percent of the national child population or 62 percent of children engaged in economic activities. Of child laborers, 40 percent were girls, nearly 85 percent lived in rural areas, and 60 percent belonged to the 15-17 age group. Some children started work as young as age 12 and nearly 55 percent did not attend school (5 percent of whom would never attend school). Agriculture was the most common sector for child laborers, accounting for 67 percent of all child labor, while 15.7 percent worked in construction/manufacturing and 16.7 percent in services. There were reports of children between ages 10 and 18, and some as young as six, producing garments under forced-labor conditions. International and domestic NGOs noted successful partnerships with provincial governments to implement national-level policies combating child labor.  

It is illegal to establish independent labor unions and therefore, no government-sanctioned domestic labor NGOs can organize workers. Independent labor activists seeking to form unions separate from the Communist Party-run VGCL or inform workers of their labor rights sometimes suffer government harassment. However, government-sanctioned local labor NGOs have supported VGCL’s efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to provide training to VGCL-affiliated union representatives on labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The ILO-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported that management interference in the activities of the trade union was one of the most significant issues in garment factories in the country.  

Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2017 Annual Report, indicated that factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours of overtime, 77 percent exceeded monthly limits (30 hours) and 72 percent exceeded annual limits (300 hours). In addition, and because of the high prevalence of Sunday work, 44 percent of factories failed to provide at least four days of rest per month to all workers.

MOLISA is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of the labor law, administers labor relations policy, and promotes job creation. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training. Inspectors may take immediate measures when they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. MOLISA acknowledged shortcomings in its labor inspection system and emphasized the number of labor inspectors countrywide, fewer than 1,000 for a country of 96 million people, was insufficient.

New Labor Related Laws or Regulations

Planned amendments to Vietnam’s Labor Code were delayed until 2019. According to current plans, the government will make public the draft Labor Code for public comment in April-May 2019 and will submit the draft to the National Assembly for discussion in October 2019. The National Assembly will likely not pass a labor law until 2020, at the earliest. Lack of consensus about increasing the retirement age (from 60 to 62 to men and from 55 to 60 for women), among other issues, has delayed the process. Although progress has been slow, recent shifts within MOLISA leadership may signal more progress and reforms on labor issues in comparison with previous years, including on challenging issues such as industrial relations.  

The CPTPP and EV FTA, if passed, may help advance labor reform in Vietnam.  In particular, the EV FTA would require Vietnam to publish a timeline for ratifying the three remaining core ILO conventions: Convention 98 (on the right to collective bargaining) in 2019; Convention 105 (abolition of forced labor) in 2020; and Convention 87 (freedom of association and protection of the right to organize) in 2023. The most important of these are Convention 98 and 87 as they would allow trade unions, currently dominated by the VGCL, to better represent workers’ interests. Even with new momentum on labor issues, enactment of legal and regulatory changes to improve working conditions in Vietnam will still take years to fully develop and implement.  

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) signed a bilateral agreement with Vietnam in 1998, and Vietnam joined the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1995.

In October 2018, OPIC became the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC) under the 2018 Build Act. The USIDFC will help support developing countries move through the transitory stage from non-market to market economies with an emphasis toward U.S. assistance and foreign policy objectives. The U.S. Congress authorized the USIDFC to make loans or loan guarantees (including in local currency) and to acquire equity or financial interests as a minority investor. It also will provide insurance or reinsurance to private-sector entities and qualifying sovereign entities. Moreover, the USIDFC will provide technical assistance, administer special projects, establish enterprise funds, issue obligations, and charge and collect service fees.

In October 2016, the then-OPIC President visited Vietnam to develop private-sector investment opportunities. In January 2017, former Secretary of State John Kerry along with OPIC presented a letter of intent to Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) to support the design and construction of the university’s main campus in HCMC, which will bolster the university’s academic programs as well as expand enrollment up to 7,000 students. In June 2017, FUV recruited students for its 2018 school year. In November 2017, the then-OPIC President presented a letter of intent to Virginia-based energy company AES to support its construction of a LNG terminal and 2,250 megawatt combined cycle power plant in Vietnam which would provide around 5 percent of the country’s power generation capacity, but the project has yet to be approved.

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) (USD $M) 2018 $236,500 2017 $223,780 https://data.worldbank.org/country/vietnam  
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 (USD $M, stock positions) 2018 $9,334 2017 $2,010 BEA data available at

https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm  

Host country’s FDI in the United States (USD $M, stock positions) 2018 N/A 2017 $73 BEA data available at

https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm  

Total inbound stock of FDI as percent host GDP 2018 15% NA NA N/A


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 Amount 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
Japan $8,598 24% N/A
South Korea $7,212 20%  
Singapore $5,071 14%  
Hong Kong $3,231 9%  
China $2,564 7%  
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

*No IMF Data Available; Vietnam’s Foreign Investment Agency under the Ministry of Planning and Investment (fia.mpi.gov.vn)

**No local data available


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total* Equity Securities** Total Debt Securities**
All Countries Amount 100% All Countries Amount 100% All Countries Amount 100%
Singapore $1,801 18% N/A N/A
British Virgin Islands $1,331 13%    
Hong Kong $1,294 13%    
South Korea $1,283 13%    
China $802 8%    

*No IMF Data Available; Vietnam’s Foreign Investment Agency under the Ministry of Planning and Investment (fia.mpi.gov.vn)
**No local data available

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy
7 Lang Ha, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
+84-24-3850-5000
InvestmentClimateVN@state.gov