Albania is an upper middle-income country with a gross domestic product (GDP) of USD 16.77 billion (2021 IMF estimate) and a population of approximately 2.9 million people.
In 2020, the economy contracted by 4 percent in the height of COVID-19 and in 2021 re-bounded with a growth rate of 8.7 percent. The increase was fueled by construction, easing of pandemic related restrictions, recovery of tourism sector, increase in the real estate sector, record domestic electricity production, and continued budgetary, monetary, and fiscal policy support, including IMF and EU pandemic and earthquake related support. The initial growth projection for 2022 was 4.1 percent, despite uncertainties related to the pandemic, elevated fiscal deficits and public debt, and external and internal inflationary pressures. However, uncertainties due to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, surging energy prices, and inflationary pressures, coupled with limited room for fiscal maneuvering due to high public debt that exceeded 80 percent at the end of 2021, present challenges to the Albanian economy.
Albania joined NATO in 2009 and has been a member of WTO since 2000. The country signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union in 2006, received the status of the EU candidate country in 2014, and began accession negotiations with the EU in July 2022.
Albania’s legal framework is in line with international standards in protecting and encouraging foreign investments and does not discriminate against foreign investors. The Law on Foreign Investments of 1993 outlines specific protections for foreign investors and allows 100 percent foreign ownership of companies in all but a few sectors. The U.S.-Albanian Bilateral Investment Treaty, which entered into force in 1998, ensures that U.S. investors receive national treatment and most-favored-nation treatment. Albania and the United States signed a Memorandum of Economic Cooperation in October 2020 with an aim of increasing trade and investment between the two countries. Since the signing multiple U.S. companies have signed agreements for major projects in the country.
As a developing country, Albania offers large untapped potential for foreign investments across many sectors including energy, tourism, healthcare, agriculture, oil and mining, and information and communications technology (ICT). In the last decade, Albania has been able to attract greater levels of foreign direct investment (FDI). According to the UNCTAD data, during 2010-2020, the flow of FDI has averaged USD 1.1 billion and stock FDI at the end of 2020 reached USD 10 billion or triple the amount of 2010. According to preliminary data of the Bank of Albania the FDI flow in 2021 is expected to reach USD 1 billion. Investments are concentrated in extractive industries and processing, real estate, the energy sector, banking and insurance, and information and communication technology. Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, Italy, Turkey, Austria, Bulgaria, and France are the largest sources of FDI. The stock FDI from United States accounts for a small, but rapidly growing share. At the end of Q3 2021, the United States stock FDI in Albania reached USD168 million, up from USD 99 million at the end of 2020, nearly a 70 percent increase.
Despite a sound legal framework, foreign investors perceive Albania as a difficult place to do business. They cite endemic corruption, including in the judiciary and public procurements, unfair competition, informal economy, frequent changes of the fiscal legislation, and poor enforcement of contracts as continuing challenges for investment and business in Albania. Reports of corruption in government procurement are commonplace. The continued use of public private partnership (PPP) contracts has reduced opportunities for competition, including by foreign investors, in infrastructure and other sectors. Poor cost-benefit analyses and a lack of technical expertise in drafting and monitoring PPP contracts are ongoing concerns. U.S. investors are challenged by corruption and the perpetuation of informal business practices. Several U.S. investors have faced contentious commercial disputes with both public and private entities, including some that went to international arbitration. In 2019 and 2020, a U.S. company’s attempted investment was allegedly thwarted by several judicial decisions and questionable actions of stakeholders involved in a dispute over the investment. The case is now in international arbitration.
Property rights continue to be a challenge in Albania because clear title is difficult to obtain. There have been instances of individuals allegedly manipulating the court system to obtain illegal land titles. Overlapping property titles is a serious and common issue. The compensation process for land confiscated by the former communist regime continues to be cumbersome, inefficient, and inadequate. Nevertheless, parliament passed a law on registering property claims on April 16, 2020, which will provide some relief for title holders.
In an attempt to limit opportunities for corruption, the GoA embarked on a comprehensive reform to digitalize all public services. As of March 2021, 1,200 services or 95 percent of all public services to citizens and businesses were available online through the E-Albania Portal. However, Albania continues to score poorly on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. In 2021, Albania declined to 110th out of 180 countries, a fall of six places from 2020. Albania continues to rank low in the Global Innovation Index, ranking 84 out of 132 countries.
To address endemic corruption, the GOA passed sweeping constitutional amendments to reform the country’s judicial system and improve the rule of law in 2016. The implementation of judicial reform is underway, heavily supported by the United States and the EU, including the vetting of judges and prosecutors for unexplained wealth. More than half the judges and prosecutors who have undergone vetting have been dismissed for unexplained wealth or ties to organized crime. The EU expects Albania to show progress on prosecuting judges and prosecutors whose vetting revealed possible criminal conduct. The implementation of judicial reform is ongoing, and its completion is expected to improve the investment climate in the country. The Albanian parliament voted overwhelmingly and unopposed to extend this vetting mandate in February 2022.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Albanian government leaders have acknowledged that private sector development and increased levels of foreign investment are critical to supporting sustainable economic development. Albania maintains a liberal foreign investment regime designed to attract FDI. The Law on Foreign Investment outlines specific protections for foreign investors and allows 100 percent foreign ownership of companies, except in the areas of domestic and international air passenger transport and television broadcasting. Albanian legislation does not distinguish between domestic and foreign investments.
The Law on Strategic Investments approved in 2015 offers incentives and fast-track administrative procedures, depending on the size of the investment and number of jobs created, to both foreign and domestic investors who apply before December 31, 2023.
The Albanian Investment Development Agency (AIDA) is the entity responsible for promoting foreign investments in Albania. Potential U.S. investors in Albania should contact AIDA to learn more about services AIDA offers to foreign investors ( http://aida.gov.al/ ). The Law on Strategic Investments stipulates that AIDA, as the Secretariat of the Strategic Investment Council, serves as a one-stop-shop for foreign investors, from filing the application form to granting the status of strategic investment/investor. Despite supporting legislation, very few foreign investors have benefited from the “Strategic Investor” status, and almost all projects have been granted to domestic companies operating in the tourism sector.
Foreign and domestic investors have equal rights of ownership of local companies, based on the principle of “national treatment.” There are only a few exemptions regarding ownership restrictions:
Domestic and international air passenger transport: foreign interest in airline companies is limited to 49 percent ownership by investors outside the Common European Aviation Zone, for both domestic and international air transportation.
Audio and audio-visual broadcasting: An entity, foreign or domestic, that has a national audio or audio-visual broadcasting license cannot hold more than 20 percent of shares in another audio or audio-visual broadcasting company. Additional restrictions apply to the regional or local audio and audio-visual licenses.
Agriculture: No foreign individual or foreign incorporated company may purchase agricultural land, though land may be leased for up to 99 years. However, if the company registers in Albania, this limitation on agricultural land does not apply.
Albania currently lacks an investment-review mechanism for inbound FDI. However, in 2017, the government introduced a new provision in the Petroleum Law, which allows the government to reject a petroleum-sharing agreement or the sale of shares in a petroleum-sharing agreement to any prospective investor due to national security concerns.
Albanian law permits private ownership and establishment of enterprises and property. To operate in certain sectors, licenses are required but foreign investors do not require additional permission or authorization beyond that required of domestic investors. Commercial property may be purchased, but only if the proposed investment is worth three times the price of the land. There are no restrictions on the purchase of private residential property. Foreigners can acquire concession rights on natural resources and resources of the common interest, as defined by the Law on Concessions and Public Private Partnerships.
Foreign and domestic investors have numerous options available for organizing business operations in Albania. The 2008 Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies and Law Establishing the National Business Center (NBC) allow for the following legal types of business entities to be established through the NBC: sole proprietorship; unlimited partnership; limited partnership; limited liability company; joint stock company; branches and representative offices; and joint ventures.
The National Business Center (NBC) serves as a one-stop shop for business registration. All required procedures and documents are published online http://www.qkb.gov.al/information-on-procedure/business-registration/ . Registration may be done in person or online via the e-Albania portal. Many companies choose to complete the registration process in person, as the online portal requires an authentication process and electronic signature and is only available in the Albanian language. When a business registers in the NBC it is also automatically registered with the Tax Office, Labor Inspectorate, Customs, and the respective municipality. According to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, it takes 4.5 days and five procedures to register a business in Albania.
Albania neither promotes nor incentivizes outward investment, nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
3. Legal Regime
Albania’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems have improved in recent years, but there are still many serious challenges. Endemic corruption, uneven enforcement of legislation, cumbersome bureaucracy, distortion of competition, and a lack of transparency all hinder the business community.
Albanian legislation includes rules on disclosure requirements, formation, maintenance, and alteration of firms’ capitalization structures, mergers and divisions, takeover bids, shareholders’ rights, and corporate governance principles. The Competition Authority ( http://caa.gov.al ) is an independent agency tasked with ensuring fair and efficient competition in the market. However, business groups have raised concerns about unfair competition and monopolies, rating the issue as one of the most concerning items damaging the business climate.
The Law on Accounting and Financial Statements includes reporting provisions related to international financial reporting standards (IFRS) for large companies, and national financial reporting standards for small and medium enterprises. Albania meets minimum standards on fiscal transparency, and debt obligations are published by the Ministry of Finance and Economy. Albania’s budgets are publicly available, substantially complete, and reliable.
In August 2020, Albania approved the law for the establishment of the register of the Ultimate Beneficiary Owners. The law aims to ensure transparency on the ultimate beneficiary owners, who directly and indirectly own more than 25 percent of shares, voting rights, or ownership interests in all entities registered to do business in Albania, and was adopted following the recommendations of MONEYVAL.
The rulemaking process in Albania meets the minimum requirements of transparency. Ministries and regulatory agencies develop forward regulatory plans that include changes or proposals intended to be adopted within a set timeframe. The law on notification and public consultation requires the GoA to publish draft laws and regulations for public consultation or notification and sets clear timeframes for these processes. Such draft laws and regulations are published at the following page: http://www.konsultimipublik.gov.al/ . The business community frequently complains that final versions of laws and regulations fail to address their comments and concerns and that comment periods are frequently not respected.
The Albania Assembly (www.parlament.al) publishes a list of both proposed and adopted legislation. All laws, by-laws, regulations, decisions by the Council of Ministers (the government), decrees, and any other regulatory acts are published at the National Publication Center at the following site: https://qbz.gov.al/
Independent agencies and bodies, including but not limited to, the Energy Regulatory Entity (ERE), Agency for Electronic and Postal Communication (AKEP), Financial Supervising Authority (FSA), Bank of Albania, Competition Authority (CA), National Agency of Natural Resources (NARN), and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), oversee transparency and competition in specific sectors.
Albania acceded to the WTO in 2000 and the country notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of all draft technical regulations.
Albania signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in 2006. The EU agreed to open accession talks on March 25, 2020, and the country is awaiting to hold the first Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC), which would mark the official opening of accession talks. Albania has long been involved in the gradual process of legislation approximation with the EU acquis. This process is expected to accelerate with the opening of accession negotiations.
The Albanian legal system is a civil law system. The Albanian constitution provides for the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial branches, thereby supporting the independence of the judiciary. The Civil Procedure Code, enacted in 1996, governs civil procedures in Albania. The civil court system consists of district courts, appellate courts, and the High Court (the supreme court). The district courts are organized in specialized sections according to the subject of the claim, including civil, family, and commercial disputes.
The administrative courts of first instance, the Administrative Court of Appeal, and the Administrative College of the High Court adjudicate administrative disputes. The Constitutional Court, reviews cases related to the constitutionality of legislation and, in limited instances, protects and enforces the constitutional rights of citizens and legal entities.
Parties may appeal the judgment of the first-instance courts within 15 days of a decision, while appellate court judgments must be appealed to the High Court within 30 days. A lawsuit against an administrative action is submitted to the administrative court within 45 days from notification and the law stipulates short procedural timeframes, enabling faster adjudication of administrative disputes.
Investors in Albania are entitled to judicial protection of legal rights related to their investments. Foreign investors have the right to submit disputes to an Albanian court. In addition, parties to a dispute may agree to arbitration. Many foreign investors complain that endemic judicial corruption and inefficient court procedures undermine judicial protection in Albania and seek international arbitration to resolve disputes. It is beneficial to U.S. investors to include binding international arbitration clauses in any agreements with Albanian counterparts. Albania is a signatory to the New York Arbitration Convention and foreign arbitration awards are typically recognized by Albania. However, the government initially refused to recognize an injunction from a foreign arbitration court in one high-profile case in 2016. The Albanian Civil Procedure Code outlines provisions regarding domestic and international commercial arbitration.
Albania does not have a specific commercial code but has a series of relevant commercial laws, including the Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies Law, Bankruptcy Law, Public Private Partnership and Concession Law, Competition Law, Foreign Investment Law, Environmental Law, Law on Corporate and Municipal Bonds, Transport Law, Maritime Code, Secured Transactions Law, Employment Law, Taxation Procedures Law, Banking Law, Insurance and Reinsurance Law, Concessions Law, Mining Law, Energy Law, Water Resources Law, Waste Management Law, Excise Law, Oil and Gas Law, Gambling Law, Telecommunications Law, and Value-Added Law.
There is no one-stop-shop that lists all legislation, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. However, foreign investors should visit the Albania Investment Development Agency webpage ( www.aida.gov.al ), which offers broad information for foreign investors.
Major laws pertaining to foreign investments include:
Law on Foreign Investments
Law on Strategic Investments: Defines procedures and rules to be observed by government authorities when reviewing, approving, and supporting strategic domestic and foreign investments in Albania
Law on Foreigners
Law on Concessions and Public Private Partnerships: Establishes the framework for promoting and facilitating the implementation of privately financed concessionary projects
Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies: Outlines general guidelines on the activities of companies and the legal structure under which they may operate
Law on Cross-Border Mergers: Determines rules on mergers when one of the companies involved in the process is a foreign company
Law on Protection of Competition: Stipulates provisions for the protection of competition, and the concentration of commercial companies; and
Law on Collective Investment Undertakings: Regulates conditions and criteria for the establishment, constitution, and operation of collective investment undertakings and of management companies.
The Law on Foreign Investments seeks to create a hospitable legal climate for foreign investors and stipulates the following:
No prior government authorization is needed for an initial investment.
Foreign investments may not be expropriated or nationalized directly or indirectly, except for designated special cases, in the interest of public use and as defined by law.
Foreign investors enjoy the right to expatriate all funds and contributions in kind from their investments.
Foreign investors receive most favored nation treatment according to international agreements and Albanian law.
There are limited exceptions to this liberal investment regime, most of which apply to the purchase of real estate. Agricultural land cannot be purchased by foreigners and foreign entities but may be leased for up to 99 years. Investors can buy agricultural land if registered as a commercial entity in Albania. Commercial property may be purchased, but only if the proposed investment is worth three times the price of the land. There are no restrictions on the purchase of private residential property.
To boost investments in strategic sectors, the government approved a new law on strategic investments in May 2015. Under the new law, a “strategic investment” may benefit from either “assisted procedure” or “special procedure” assistance from the government to help navigate the permitting and regulatory process. Despite supporting legislation, very few foreign investors have benefited from the “Strategic Investor” status, and almost all projects have been granted to domestic companies operating in the tourism sector.
Authorities responsible for mergers, change of control, and transfer of shares include the Albanian Competition Authority ACA: http://www.caa.gov.al/laws/list/category/1/page/1 , which monitors the implementation of the competition law and approves mergers and acquisitions when required by the law; and the Albanian Financial Supervisory Authority FSA: http://www.amf.gov.al/ligje.asp , which regulates and supervises the securities market and approves the transfer of shares and change of control of companies operating in this sector.
Albania’s tax system does not distinguish between foreign and domestic investors. Informality in the economy, which may be as large as 40 percent of the total economy, presents challenges for tax administration.
Visa requirements to obtain residence or work permits are straightforward and do not pose an undue burden on potential investors. Generally, U.S. passport holders are entitled to a one year stay in Albania without a residence permit, a special provision the GoA reaffirmed in March 2022. The government approved a new Law on Foreigners in July 2021, which partially aligns the domestic legislation, including that on migration, with the EU Directives. The new law introduces a single application procedure for permits in general. For investors there is a special permit called “Unique Investor Permit.” Foreign investors are issued a 2-year unique investor permit if they invest in Albania and meet certain criteria, including a quota ratio of one to five, of foreign and Albanian workers. In addition, same ratio should be preserved in the Board of Directors and other leading and supervisory structures of the company. Salaries of the Albanian workers should match the average of last year for equivalent positions. The permit can be renewed for an additional three years and after that the investor is eligible to receive a permanent permit provided that they fulfil the criteria outlined above and prove that the company is properly registers, has paid taxes and is not incurring losses. The Council of Ministers approves the annual quota of foreign workers following a needs assessment by sector and profession. However, work permits for staff that occupy key positions, among other categories, can be issued outside the annual quota.
Foreign investors can obtain the single permit by the immigration authorities following the initial approval for employment from the National Agency for Employment and Skills https://www.akpa.gov.al/. U.S. citizens along with EU, Western Balkans, and Schengen-country citizens are exempt from this requirement. In addition, U.S., EU, and Kosovo citizens when applying for residency permit for the first time, have a term of 5 years. The new law also introduced the National Electronic Register for Foreigners (NERF), which is a state database on foreigners, who enter or intend to enter Albania, with purpose of staying, transiting, working, or studying in Albania. NERF will register data on foreign nationals, who have an entry visa, stay, or transit in the Republic of Albania, have a temporary or permanent residence permit, and have a have a unique permit (residence and employment) in Albania.
The Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies sets guidelines on the activities of companies and the legal structure under which they may operate. The government adopted the law in 2008 to conform Albanian legislation to the EU’s Acquis Communitaire. The most common type of organization for foreign investors is a limited liability company.
The Law on Public Private Partnerships and Concessions establishes the framework for promoting and facilitating the implementation of privately financed concessionary projects. According to the law, concession projects may be identified by central or local governments or through third party unsolicited proposals. To limit opportunities for corruption, the 2019 amendments prohibited unsolicited bids, beginning in July 2019, on all sectors except for works or services in ports, airports, generation and distribution of electricity, energy for heating, and production and distribution of natural gas. In addition, the 2019 amendments removed the zero to 10 percent bonus points for unsolicited proposals, which gave companies submitting unsolicited bids a competitive advantage over other contenders. Instead, if the party submitting the unsolicited proposal does not win the bid, it will be compensated by the winning company for the cost of the feasibility study, which in no case shall exceed 1 percent of the total cost of the project.
The Albanian Competition Authority http://www.caa.gov.al/?lng=en is the agency that reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. The Law on Protection of Competition governs incoming foreign investment whether through mergers, acquisitions, takeovers, or green-field investments, irrespective of industry or sector. In the case of share transfers in insurance, banking and non-banking financial industries, the Financial Supervisory Authority ( http://amf.gov.al/ ) and the Bank of Albania https://www.bankofalbania.org/ may require additional regulatory approvals. Transactions between parties outside Albania, including foreign-to-foreign transactions, are covered by the competition law, which states that its provisions apply to all activities, domestic or foreign, that directly or indirectly affect the Albanian market. Parties can appeal the decision of the CA to the Tirana First Instance Court within 30 days of receiving the notification. The appeal does not suspend the enforcement of the decision that authorize concentrations and the temporary measures.
The Albanian constitution guarantees the right of private property. According to Article 41, expropriation or limitation on the exercise of a property right can occur only if it serves the public interest and with fair compensation. During the post-communist period, expropriation has been limited to land for public interest, mainly infrastructure projects such as roads, energy infrastructure, water works, airports, and other facilities. Compensation has generally been reported as being below market value and owners have complained that the compensation process is slow, and unfair. Civil courts are responsible for resolving such complaints.
Changes in government can also affect foreign investments. Following the 2013 elections and peaceful transition of power, the new government revoked, or renegotiated numerous concession agreements, licenses, and contracts signed by the previous government with both domestic and international investors. This practice has occurred in other years as well.
There are many ongoing disputes regarding property confiscated during the communist regime. Identifying ownership is a longstanding problem in Albania that makes restitution for expropriated properties difficult. The restitution and compensation process started in 1993 but has been slow and marred by corruption. Many U.S. citizens of Albanian origin have been in engaged in long-running restitution disputes. Court cases go on for years without a final decision, causing many to refer their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France. A significant number of applications are pending for consideration before the ECHR. Even after settlement in Strasbourg, enforcement remains slow.
To address the situation, the GOA approved new property compensation legislation in 2018 that aims to resolve pending claims for restitution and compensation. The 2018 law reduces the burden on the state budget by changing the cash compensation formula. The legislation presents three methods of compensation for confiscation claims: restitution; compensation of property with similarly valued land in a different location; or financial compensation. It also set a ten-year timeframe for completion of the process. In February 2020, the Albanian parliament approved a law “On the Finalization of the Transitory Process of Property Deeds in the Republic of Albania,” which aims to finalize land allocation and privatization processes contained in 14 various laws issued between 1991 and 2018.
The GOA has generally not engaged in expropriation actions against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives. There have been limited cases in which the government has revoked licenses, specifically in the mining and energy sectors, based on contract violation claims.
The Law on Strategic Investments, approved in 2015, empowers the government to expropriate private property for the development of private projects deemed special strategic projects. Despite the provision that the government would act when parties fail to reach an agreement, the clause is a source of controversy because it entitles the government to expropriate private property in the interest of another private party. The expropriation procedures are consistent with the law on the expropriation, and the cost for expropriation would be incurred by the strategic investor. The provision has yet to be exercised.
Albania maintains adequate bankruptcy legislation, though corrupt and inefficient bankruptcy court proceedings make it difficult for companies to reorganize or discharge debts through bankruptcy.
A 2016 law on bankruptcy aimed to close loopholes in the insolvency regime, decrease unnecessary market exit procedures, reduce fraud, and ease collateral recovery procedures. The Bankruptcy Law governs the reorganization or liquidation of insolvent businesses. It sets out non-discriminatory and mandatory rules for the repayment of the obligations by a debtor in a bankruptcy procedure. The law establishes statutory time limits for insolvency procedures, professional qualifications for insolvency administrators, and an Agency of Insolvency Supervision to regulate the profession of insolvency administrators.
Debtors and creditors can initiate a bankruptcy procedure and can file for either liquidation or reorganization. Bankruptcy proceedings may be invoked when the debtor is unable to pay the obligations at the maturity date or the value of its liabilities exceeds the value of the assets.
According to the provisions of the Bankruptcy Law, the initiation of bankruptcy proceedings suspends the enforcement of claims by all creditors against the debtor subject to bankruptcy. Creditors of all categories must submit their claims to the bankruptcy administrator. The Bankruptcy Law provides specific treatment for different categories, including secured creditors, preferred creditors, unsecured creditors, and final creditors whose claims would be paid after all other creditors were satisfied. The claims of the secured creditors are to be satisfied by the assets of the debtor, which secure such claims under security agreements. The claims of the unsecured creditors are to be paid out of the bankruptcy estate, excluding the assets used for payment of the secured creditors, following the priority ranking as outlined in the Albanian Civil Code.
Pursuant to the provisions of the Bankruptcy Law, creditors have the right to establish a creditors committee. The creditors committee is appointed by the Commercial Section Courts before the first meeting of the creditor assembly. The creditors committee represents the secured creditors, preferred creditors, and the unsecured creditors. The committee has the right (a) to support and supervise the activities of the insolvency administrator; (b) to request and receive information about the insolvency proceedings; (c) to inspect the books and records; and (d) to order an examination of the revenues and cash balances.
If the creditors and administrator agree that reorganization is the company’s best option, the bankruptcy administrator prepares a reorganization plan and submits it to the court for authorizing implementation.
According to the insolvency procedures, only creditors whose rights are affected by the proposed reorganization plan enjoy the right to vote, and the dissenting creditors in reorganization receive at least as much as what they would have obtained in a liquidation. Creditors are divided into classes for the purposes of voting on the reorganization plan and each class votes separately. Creditors of the same class are treated equally. The insolvency framework allows for the continuation of contracts supplying essential goods and services to the debtor, the rejection by the debtor of overly burdensome contracts, the avoidance of preferential or undervalued transactions, and the possibility of the debtor obtaining credit after commencement of insolvency proceedings. No priority is assigned to post-commencement over secured creditors. Post-commencement credit is assigned over ordinary unsecured creditors.
The creditor has the right to object to decisions accepting or rejecting creditors’ claims and to request information from the insolvency representative. The selection and appointment of insolvency representative does not require the approval of the creditor. In addition, the sale of substantial assets of the debtor does not require the approval of the creditor. According to the law on bankruptcy, foreign creditors have the same rights as domestic creditors with respect to the commencement of, and participation in, a bankruptcy proceeding. The claim is valued as of the date the insolvency proceeding is opened. Claims expressed in foreign currency are converted into Albanian currency according to the official exchange rate applicable to the place of payment at the time of the opening of the proceeding.
The Albanian Criminal Code contains several criminal offenses in bankruptcy, including (i) whether the bankruptcy was provoked intentionally; (ii) concealment of bankruptcy status; (iii) concealment of assets after bankruptcy; and (iv) failure to comply with the obligations arising under bankruptcy proceeding.
According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Albania ranked 39th out of 190 countries in the insolvency index. A referenced analysis of resolving insolvency can be found at the following link:
The Albanian Investment Development Agency (AIDA; www.aida.gov.al) is the best source to find incentives offered across a variety of sectors. Aside from the incentives listed below, individual parties may negotiate additional incentives directly with AIDA, the Ministry of Finance and Economy, or other ministries, depending on the sector.
To boost investments in strategic sectors, the GoA approved a Law on Strategic Investments in May 2015 that outlines the criteria, rules, and procedures that state authorities employ when approving a strategic investment. The GoA has extended the deadline to apply to qualify as a strategic investment to December 2023. A strategic investment is defined as an investment of public interest based on several criteria, including the size of the investment, implementation time, productivity and value added, creation of jobs, sectoral economic priorities, and regional and local economic development. The law does not discriminate between foreign and domestic investors.
The following sectors are defined as strategic sectors: mining and energy, transport, electronic communication infrastructure, urban waste industry, tourism, agriculture (large farms) and fishing, economic zones, and development priority areas. Investments in strategic sectors may obtain assisted procedure and special procedure, based on the level of investment, which varies from EUR one million to EUR 100 million, depending on the sector and other criteria stipulated in the law.
In the assisted procedure, public administration agencies coordinate, assist, and supervise the entire administrative process for investment approval and makes state-owned property needed for the investment available to the investor. Under the special procedure, the investor also enjoys state support for the expropriation of private property and the ratification of the contract by parliament.
The law and bylaws that entered into force on January 1, 2016, established the Strategic Investments Committee (SIC), a commission in charge of approving strategic investments. The Committee is headed by the prime minister and members include ministers covering the respective strategic sectors, the state advocate, and relevant ministers whose portfolios are affected by the strategic investment. AIDA serves as the Secretariat of SIC and oversees providing administrative support to investors. The SIC grants the status of assisted procedure and special procedure for strategic investments and investors based on the size of investments and other criteria defined in the law.
Major Incentives Albania Offers:
Energy and Mining, Transport, Electronic Communication Infrastructure, and Urban Waste Industry: Investments greater than EUR 30 million enjoy the status of assisted procedure, while investments of EUR 50 million or more enjoy special procedure status.
The government offers power purchasing agreements (PPA) for 15 years for electricity produced from hydroelectric plants with an installed capacity of less than 15 megawatts. The government also offers feed-in-premium tariff for solar installations with installed capacity of less than two megawatts and for wind installation of less than three megawatts. Exemption from custom duties and VAT is available for the manufacturing or the mounting of solar panel systems for hot water production.
Certain machinery and equipment imported for the construction of hydropower plants are VAT exempt. The government supports the construction of small wind and photovoltaic parks with an installed capacity of less than three megawatts and two megawatts, respectively, by offering feed-in-premium tariffs for 15 years. The Energy Regulatory Authority (ERE; http://www.ere.gov.al/ ) conducts an annual review of the feed-in-premium tariffs for wind and photovoltaic parks. The ERE also conducts an annual review of the feed-in-tariffs for small hydroelectric plants with an installed capacity of less than 15 megawatts. Imports of machinery and equipment for investments of greater than EUR 400,000 for small wind and solar parks with an installed capacity of less than three megawatts and two megawatts, respectively, enjoy a VAT exemption. Imports of hot water solar panels for household and industrial use are also VAT exempt.
Tourism and Agritourism: Investments of five million euro or more enjoy the status of assisted procedure, while investments greater than EUR 50 million enjoy the status of special procedure. In 2018, the GoA introduced new incentives to promote the tourism sector. International hotel brands that invest at least USD 8 million for a four-star hotel and USD 15 million for a five-star hotel are exempt from property taxes for 10 years, pay no profit taxes, and pay a VAT of 6 percent for any service on their hotels or resorts. For all other hotels and resorts, the GoA reduced the VAT on accommodation from 20 percent to 6 percent. Profit taxes for agritourism ventures were reduced to 5 percent from 15 percent previously, while VAT for accommodation is now 6 percent, down from 20 percent. Five star hotels and agritourism facilities are exempt from the tax on impact on infrastructure while both four and five start hotels are exempt from tax on buildings.
Agriculture (Large Agricultural Farms) and Fishing: Investments greater than EUR three million that create at least 50 new jobs enjoy the status of assisted procedure, while investments greater than EUR 50 million enjoy the status of special procedure. In addition, the GoA offers a wide range of incentives and subsidies for investments in the agriculture sector. The funds are a direct contribution from the state budget and the EU Instrument of Pre-Accession for Rural Development Fund (IPARD.) IPARD funds allocated for the period 2018-2020 totaled EUR 71 million. The program is managed by the Agricultural and Rural Development Agency ( http://azhbr.gov.al/ ). Agricultural inputs, agricultural machinery, and veterinary services are exempt from VAT. The government offers other subsidies to agricultural farms and wholesale trade companies that export agricultural products.
Some incentives offered in the agriculture sector include: Zero VAT for agricultural machineries and for 27 fishing industry items including ships, nets, electronic equipment, refrigerators, ship engines, etc. Zero tariff for the registration and compulsory vaccination of livestock. Zero tax for the purchase of diesel from fishing vessels (0 excise, 0 fuel tax, 0 carbon tax.) A reduction of profit tax up to 5 percent for Agricultural Cooperative Societies and 10 percent VAT for supply of agricultural inputs including chemical fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, and seedlings. In addition, those investing in agriculture sector can rent agriculture land from 10 to 99 years.
Development Priority Areas: Investments greater than EUR one million that create at least 150 new jobs enjoy the status of assisted procedure. Investments greater than EUR 10 million that create at least 600 new jobs enjoy the status of special procedure.
Foreign Tax Credit: Albania applies foreign tax credit rights even in cases where no double taxation treaty exists with the country in which the tax is paid. If a double taxation treaty is in force, double taxation is avoided either through an exemption or by granting tax credits up to the amount of the applicable Albanian corporate income tax rate (currently 15 percent).
In 2019, the GoA reduced the dividend tax from 15 percent to 8 percent.
Corporate Income Tax Exemption: Film studios and cinematographic productions, licensed and funded by the National Cinematographic Center, are exempt from corporate income tax.
Loss Carry Forward for Corporate Income Tax Purposes: Fiscal losses can be carried forward for three consecutive years (the first losses are used first). However, the losses may not be carried forward if more than 50 percent of direct or indirect ownership of the share capital or voting rights of the taxpayer is transferred (changed) during the tax year.
Lease of Public Property: The GoA can lease public property of more than 500 square meters or grant a concession for the symbolic price of one euro if the properties will be used for manufacturing activities with an investment exceeding EUR 10 million, or for inward processing activities. The GoA can also lease public property or grant a concession for the symbolic price of one euro for investments of more than EUR two million for activities that address certain social and economic issues, as well as activities related to sports, culture, tourism, and cultural heritage. Criteria and terms are decided on an individual basis by the Council of Ministers.
Incentives for the Manufacturing Sector and ICT: The GoA reduced the profit tax from 15 percent to 5 percent for software development companies and the automotive industry. Manufacturing activities are exempt from 20 percent VAT on imports of machinery and equipment. The government offers a one-euro symbolic rent for government-owned property (land and buildings) for investments exceeding USD 2.7 million that create a minimum of 50 jobs. No VAT is charged for products processed for re-exports. Employers are exempt from paying social security tax for one year for all new employees. The GoA pays the first four months of salaries for new employees and offers various financing incentives for job training.
The manufacturing sector obtains VAT refunds immediately in the case of zero risk exporters, within 30 days if the taxpayer is an exporter, and within 60 days in the case of other taxpayers.
Apparel and footwear producers are exempt from 20 percent VAT on raw materials if the finished product is exported. In 2011, the GoA also removed customs tariffs for imported apparel and raw materials in the textile and shoe industries (e.g., leather used for clothes, cotton, viscose, velvet, sewing accessories, and similar items).
Technological and Development Areas (TEDA): The Law on Economic Development Areas provides fiscal and administrative incentives for companies that invest in this sector and for firms that establish a presence in these areas. Major incentives include: Developers and users benefit from a 50 percent deduction of profit tax for five years, exemption from the infrastructure impact tax, and exemption from real estate tax for five years. A full list of incentives can be found at: TEDA (aida.gov.al)
Albania has no functional duty-free import zones or free trade zones, although legislation exists for their creation. The May 2015 amendments to the Law on the Establishment and Operation of Technological and Development Areas (TEDAs) created the legal framework to establish TEDAs, defining the incentives for developers investing in the development of these zones and companies operating within the zones.
The Albanian government has granted the status of the Technological and Development Areas to TEDA Spitalle (49.1 ha), Koplik (61 ha) and Kashar (35 ha) (Tirana) but none has been developed to date.
There are no performance requirements for foreign investors or minimum requirements for domestic content in goods or technology. Investment incentives are equally available to foreign and domestic investors. Investments in certain sectors require a license or authorization and procedures are similar for foreign and domestic investors.
Visa, residence, and work permit requirements are straightforward and generally do not pose an undue burden on potential investors.
The government approved a new Law on Foreigners in June 2021, which partially aligns the domestic legislation, including that on migration, with the EU Directives. The new law introduces a single application procedure for permits. For investors there is a special permit called “Unique Investor Permit.” Foreign investors are issued a 2-year unique investor permit if they invest in Albania and meet certain criteria, including a quota ratio of one to five of foreign and Albanian workers. In addition, same ratio should be preserved in the Board of Directors and other leading and supervisory structures of the company. Salaries of the Albanian workers should match the average of last year for equivalent positions. The permit can be renewed for an additional three years and after that the investor is eligible to receive a permanent permit provided that they fulfil the criteria outlined above and prove that the company is properly registered, has paid taxes and is not incurring losses. The U.S. citizens when applying for the first time receives a five-year permit. Foreign investors can obtain the single permit by the immigration authorities following the initial approval for employment from the National Agency for Employment and Skills ( https://www.akpa.gov.al/https://www.akpa.gov.al/.) U.S. citizens along with EU, Western Balkans, and Schengen-country citizens are exempt from this requirement. In addition, U.S., EU, and Kosovo citizens when applying for residency permit for the first time, have a term of 5 years. The new law also introduced the National Electronic Register for Foreigners (NERF), which is a state database on foreigners, who enter or intend to enter Albania, with purpose of staying, transiting, working, or studying in Albania. NERF will register data on foreign nationals, who have an entry visa, stay, or transit in the Republic of Albania, have a temporary or permanent residence permit, and have a have a unique permit (residence and employment) in Albania.
The Council of Ministers approved an annual quota of foreign workers following a needs assessment by sector and profession. However, work permits for staff that occupy key positions, among other categories, can be issued outside the annual quota.
Albanian legislation regulating the functioning of the National Agency of Information (AKSHI) requires that every company contracted by the government to develop a computer system provide the source code and all related technical documents of the system. In addition, every government system and its data must be hosted at the government datacenter maintained by AKSHI.
There are no legal restrictions to transferring business-related data abroad, except for a few cases that need prior consent. There are more stringent requirements for personal data. Albania has comprehensive legislation for the protection of personal data: the Law on the Protection of Personal Data, including by-laws, as well as the 1981 Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, and the Additional Protocol to the Convention regarding Supervisory Authorities and Trans-border Flows of Personal Data, ratified by Albania in 2004. The authority in charge of the protection of personal data is the Information and Data Protection Commissionerhttps://www.idp.al/?lang=en .
Based on Albanian legislation, international transfers of personal data in countries deemed to have an adequate level of protection are not restricted. However, companies must notify the Commissioner in advance of any processing of personal data and any intention to transfer data to third countries. This applies to companies in foreign jurisdictions that operate in Albania using any means located within the country. To transfer data to third countries that do not have an adequate protection level, companies need prior authorization from the Commissioner. There are exemptions to this policy for certain data categories defined by the Commissioner as well as when certain conditions are met. Countries with an adequate protection level include EU member states, European Economic Area countries, members of the 1981 Convention and related protocol, and all countries approved by the European Commission.
Many foreign companies operating in Albania that process sensitive data opt to keep their data in Albania.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Individuals and investors face significant challenges with protection and enforcement of property rights. Despite some improvements, procedures remain cumbersome, and registrants have complained of corruption during the process. Over the last three decades, the GoA has drafted and passed much, though not all, of its property legislation in a piecemeal and uncoordinated way. However, the GoA is working to complete the process for registration and compensation of properties, and the law on the finalization of transitional ownership processes adopted in March 2020, specifically aims to consolidate property rights by finalizing land allocation and privatization processes contained in 14 various laws issued between 1991 and 2018. According to the European Commission Report 2021 on Albania, progress on property rights should be made on further first registration of properties and transitional ownership processes, in a transparent and inclusive manner. The GoA aims to fully digitize property documents within 2023, however, the poor state of the data is a risk for title security and a constraint to investment. To streamline the property management process, the GoA established in April 2019 the State Cadaster Agency (ASHK), which merged different agencies responsible for property registration, compensation, and legalization, including the Immovable Property Registration Office (IPRO), the Agency of Inventory and Transfer of Public Properties (AITPP), and the Agency for the Legalization and Urbanization of Informal Areas (ALUIZNI).
The property registration system has improved thanks to international donor assistance, but the process has moved forward very slowly as Albania has yet to complete the initial registration of property titles in the country. In total, about 3.54 million properties were registered as part of the initial registration process. In December 2021, GoA launched a two-year project which aims to complete the digitization of the about 2.3 million remaining properties however plot records for many of these properties are still only in paper form and often in poor and outdated condition. Approximately half a million properties have still not been registered for the first time, which includes the southern coastal area. In 2020, the State Cadaster Agency initiated the process of first registration for eight zones in the Himara municipality area that holds significant potential for the tourism industry.
The Agency for the Treatment of Property (ATP) continued assessing requests and distributing funds for compensation of properties. In 2021, it distributed around USD 9.5 million from the financial fund and an area of around 100 hectares from the land fund.
Albania has registered an estimated 440,000 illegal structures, built without permits, and illicit construction continues to be a major impediment to securing property titles. A process that aims to legalize or eliminate such structures started in 2006 but is not complete. Around 200,000 legalization permits were issued through the end of 2020. The fluid situation has led to clashes between squatters, owners of allegedly illegal buildings, and the Albanian State Police including during the demolition of these structures to make way for public infrastructure projects.
According to the 2020 World Bank’s “Doing Business Report,” Albania performed poorly in the property registration category, ranking 98th out of 190 countries. It took an average of 19 days and five procedures to register property, and the associated costs could reach 8.9 percent of the total property value. The civil court system manages property rights disputes, but verdicts can take years, authorities often fail to enforce court decisions, and corruption concerns persist within the judiciary.
Albania is not included on the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List. That said, intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement and theft are common due to weak legal structures and poor enforcement. Counterfeit goods are present in some local markets and shopping malls, including software, garments, machines, and cigarettes. Albanian law protects copyrights, patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and geographical indications, but enforcement of these laws remains weak. Regulators are ineffective at collecting fines and prosecutors rarely press charges for IPR theft. U.S. companies should consult an experienced IPR attorney and avoid potential risks by establishing solid commercial relationships and drafting strong contracts. According to the 2021 International Property Right Index published by Property Right Alliance, Albania ranks 98th out of 129 countries evaluated, registering an improvement compared to the previous year when ranked 112th. It ranked 79th in the subcategory of copyright protection and 23rd in trademark protection.
Amendments to the Albanian Industrial Property Law, introducing new provisions regarding trade secrets and trademarks entered into force in August 2021. The most significant change is the transposition of Directive (EU) 2016/943 on the protection of undisclosed know-how and business information (trade secrets) against their unlawful acquisition, use and disclosure. Trade secrets were previously regulated by the Law on Entrepreneurs and Companies, and Labor Code, and their subject matter was defined in broader terms. Now, under the amended IP law, a trade secret is defined as undisclosed expert knowledge, experience or business information that is not generally known or easily accessible, that has a certain market value, and for which sufficient measures have been taken to keep it a secret. In 2019, the Criminal Code was amended to include harsher punishments of up to three years in prison for IPR infringement.
In the areas of copyright, patent, and trademarks, the two main bodies responsible are the Copyright Directorate at the Ministry of Culture and the General Directorate of Industrial Property (GDIP), which is in charge of registering, administering, and promoting IPR. Other institutions responsible for IPR enforcement include the Copyright Division of the State Inspectorate for Market Surveillance (SIMS), the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA), the General Directorate for Customs, the Tax Inspectorate, the Prosecutor’s Office, the State Police, and the courts. In 2018, the National Council of Copyrights was established as a specialized body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the law and certifying the methodology for establishing the tariffs. Two other important bodies in the protection and administration of IPR are the agencies for the Collective Administration (AAK) and the Copyrights Department within the Ministry of Culture. Four different AAKs have merged in 2017 to provide service into a sole window for the administration of IPR.
The 2021 amendments to the IP law also define the role and duties of the State Inspectorate for Market Surveillance (SIMS), the main responsibility of which is to ensure the safety of non-food consumer products by instigating internal market inspections. The SIMS, established in 2016, is responsible for inspecting, controlling, and enforcing copyright and other related rights. Despite some improvements, actual law enforcement on copyrights continues to be problematic and copyright violations are persistent. The number of copyright violation cases brought to court remains low. While official figures are not available this year, Customs does usually report the quantity of counterfeit goods destroyed annually. In cases of seizures, the rights holder has the burden of proof and so must first inspect the goods to determine if they are infringing. The rights holder is also responsible for the storage and destruction of the counterfeit goods.
Cigarettes are traditionally the most common counterfeited product seized by Customs. According to the EU 2021 report on Albania, the high number of counterfeit products in the country remains a cause for concern. Last year the customs administration suspended the release of more than 23,000 products suspected of infringing IPR.
The GDIP is responsible for registering and administering patents, commercial trademarks and service marks, industrial designs, and geographical indications. In 2020, the number of applications for registration of trademarks continued to rise, amounting to 1,164 national applications and 2,936 international applications. As for patents, 897 patent applications were filed at the GDIP in 2020, of which 12 were national patent applications with Albanian national applicants, and 885 patent applications were patents issued by the European Patent Office seeking protection in Albania.
Albania is party to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Patent Law Treaty, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, and is a member of the European Patent Organization. The government became party to the London Agreement on the Implementation of Article 65 of the European Convention for Patents in 2013. In 2018, Parliament approved the Law 34/2018 on Albania’s adherence to the Vienna Agreement for the International Classification of the Figurative Elements of Marks as well as the agreements of Lisbon and Locarno on international classification and protection of industrial designs. In June 2019, Albania joined the Geneva Act of WIPO’s Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications.
The government has adopted policies to promote the free flow of financial resources and foreign investment in Albania. The Law on “Strategic Investments” is based on the principles of equal treatment, non-discrimination, and protection of foreign investments. Foreign investors have the right to expatriate all funds and contributions of their investment. In accordance with IMF Article VIII, the government and Central Bank do not impose any restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions. Despite Albania’s shallow foreign exchange market, banks enjoy enough liquidity to support sizeable positions. Portfolio investments continue to be a challenge because they remain limited mostly to company shares, government bonds, and real estate as the Tirana stock market remains non-operational
In recent years, the constant reduction of non-performing loans has allowed commercial banks to loosen lending standards and increase overall lending especially as the economy has recovering from the severe COVID-19 economic disruption in 2020. Non-performing loans (NPL) at the end of 2021 dropped to 5.65 percent compared to 8.1 percent one year ago. Overall lending has steadily increased since 2019 and at the end of 2021 reached about USD 6 billion marking a 10 percent increase compared to 2020. The credit market is competitive, but interest rates in domestic currency can be high. Most mortgage and commercial loans are denominated in euros because rate differentials between local and foreign currency average 1.5 percent. Commercial banks operating in Albania have improved the quality and quantity of services they provide, including a large variety of credit instruments, traditional lines of credit, and bank drafts, etc.
In the absence of an effective stock market, the country’s banking sector is the main channel for business financing. The sector is sound, profitable, and well capitalized. The Bank of Albania, the country’s Central Bank, is responsible for the licensing and supervision of the banking sector in Albania. The banking sector is 100 percent privately owned and its total assets have steadily increased over the years reaching USD 17 billion at the end of 2021 mostly based on customers deposits. The banking sector has continued the consolidation process as the number of banks decreased from 16 in 2018 to 11 at the end of 2021 when the Greek Alpha Bank was purchased by OTP Bank. As of December 2021, the Turkish National Commercial Bank (BKT) was the largest bank in the market with 26 percent market share, followed by Albanian Credins Bank with 15.8 percent, and Austrian Raiffeisen Bank third with 15.3 percent. The American Investment Bank is the only bank with U.S. shareholders and ranks sixth with 5.5 percent percent of the banking sector’s total assets.
The number of bank outlets has also decreased over the recent years also due to the consolidation. In December 2021, Albania had 417 bank outlets, down from 446 from 2019 and the peak of 552 in 2016. Capital adequacy, at 18 percent in December 2021, remains above Basel requirements and indicates sufficient assets. At the end of 2021, the return on assets increased to 1.42 percent compared to 1.2 percent one year ago. As part of its strategy to stimulate business activity, the Bank of Albania has adopted a plan to ease monetary policy by continuing to persistently keep low interest rates. However, due to the recent inflationary pressure in March 2021, Bank of Albania increased the base interest rate to 1 percent, up from a historical low rate of 0.5 percent which was in place since June 2018.
Many of the banks operating in Albania are subsidiaries of foreign banks. Only three banks have an ownership structure whose majority shareholders are Albanian. However, the share of total assets of the banks with majority Albanian shareholders has increased because of the sector’s ongoing consolidation. There are no restrictions for foreigners who wish to establish a bank account. They are not required to prove residency status. However, U.S. citizens must complete a form allowing for the disclosure of their banking data to the IRS as required under the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.
Parliament approved a law in October 2019 to establish the Albanian Investment Corporation (AIC). The law entered in force in January 2020. The AIC would develop, manage, and administer state-owned property and assets, invest across all sectors by mobilizing state owned and private domestic and foreign capital, and promote economic and social development by investing in line with government-approved development policies.
The GoA plans to transfer state-owned assets, including state-owned land, to the AIC and provide initial capital to launch the corporation. In December 2021, the GoA transferred to the AIC close to USD 20 million. There is no publicly available information about the activities of the AIC for 2020 or 2021.
Algeria’s state enterprise-dominated economy is challenging for U.S. businesses, but multiple sectors offer opportunities for long-term growth. The government is prioritizing investment in agriculture, information and communications technology, mining, hydrocarbons (both upstream and downstream), renewable energy, and healthcare.
Following his December 2019 election, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune launched a series of political reforms, which led to the adoption of a new constitution in December 2020 and the election of a new parliament in June 2021. Tebboune has declared his intention to focus on economic issues in 2022 and beyond.
In 2020, the government eliminated the so-called “51/49” restriction that required majority Algerian ownership of all new businesses, though it retained the requirement for “strategic sectors,” identified as energy, mining, defense, transportation infrastructure, and pharmaceuticals manufacturing (with the exception of innovative products). In the 2021 Finance Law, the government reinstated the 51/49 ownership requirement for any company importing items into Algeria with an intent to resell. The government passed a new hydrocarbons law in 2019, improving fiscal terms and contract flexibility in order to attract new international investors. The new law encourages major international oil companies to sign memorandums of understanding with the national hydrocarbons company, Sonatrach. Though the 43 regulatory texts enacting the legislation have not been formally finalized, the government is using the new law as the basis for negotiating new contracts with international oil companies. In recent years, the Algerian government took several steps, including establishing a standalone ministry dedicated to the pharmaceutical industry and issuing regulations to resolve several long-standing issues, to improve market access for U.S. pharmaceutical companies. The government is in the process of drafting and finalizing a new investment law. Algeria has established ambitious renewable energy adoption targets to reduce carbon emissions and reduce domestic consumption of natural gas.
Algeria’s economy is driven by hydrocarbons production, which historically accounts for 95 percent of export revenues and approximately 40 percent of government income. Following the significant drop in oil prices at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the government cut budgeted expenditures by 50 percent and significantly reduced investment in the energy sector. The implementation of broad-based import reductions coupled with a recovery in hydrocarbon prices in 2021 led to Algeria’s first trade surplus since 2014. Though successive government budgets have boosted state spending, Algeria continues to run a persistent budget deficit, which is projected to reach 20 percent of GDP in 2022. Despite a significant reduction in revenues, the historically debt-averse government continues to resist seeking foreign financing, preferring to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) to boost employment and replace imports with local production. Traditionally, Algeria has pursued protectionist policies to encourage the development of local industries. The import substitution policies it employs tend to generate regulatory uncertainty, supply shortages, increased prices, and a limited selection for consumer goods. The government depreciated the Algerian dinar approximately 5% in 2021 after a 10% depreciation in 2020 to conserve its foreign exchange reserves, contributing to significant food inflation.
The government has taken measures to minimize the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including delaying tax payments for small businesses, extending credit and restructuring loan payments, and decreasing banks’ reserve requirements. Though the government has lifted domestic COVID_19 related confinement measures, continued restrictions on international flight volumes complicate travel to Algeria for international investors.
Economic operators deal with a range of challenges, including complicated customs procedures, cumbersome bureaucracy, difficulties in monetary transfers, and price competition from international rivals particularly the People’s Republic of China, France, and Turkey. International firms operating in Algeria complain that laws and regulations are constantly shifting and applied unevenly, raising commercial risk for foreign investors. An ongoing anti-corruption campaign has increased weariness regarding large-scale investment projects and put a chill on bureaucratic decision making. Business contracts are subject to changing interpretation and revision of regulations, which has proved challenging to U.S. and international firms. Other drawbacks include limited regional integration, which hampers opportunities to rely on international supply chains.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
The Algerian economy is challenging yet potentially highly rewarding. While the Algerian government publicly welcomes FDI, a difficult business climate, an inconsistent regulatory environment, and sometimes contradictory government policies complicate foreign investment. There are business opportunities in nearly every sector, including agribusiness, consumer goods, conventional and renewable energy, healthcare, mining, pharmaceuticals, power, recycling, telecommunications, and transportation.
The urgency for Algeria to diversify its economy away from reliance on hydrocarbons has increased amid low and fluctuating oil prices since mid-2014, a youth population bulge, and increased domestic consumption of energy resources. The government reiterated its intention to diversify in its August 2020 plan to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. The government has sought to reduce the country’s persistent trade deficit through import substitution policies, currency depreciation, and import tariffs as it attempts to preserve rapidly diminishing foreign exchange reserves. On January 29, 2019, the government implemented tariffs, known as DAPs, between 30-200 percent on over 1,000 goods it assessed were destined for direct sale to consumers. In January 2022, the Ministry of Commerce said it would expand the number of items subject to DAPs to 2,600; it has yet to publish the new list of affected goods. Companies that set up local manufacturing operations can receive permission to import materials the government would not otherwise approve for import if the importer can show materials will be used in local production. Certain regulations explicitly favor local firms at the expense of foreign competitors, and frequent, unpredictable changes to business regulations have added to the uncertainty in the market.
There are two main agencies responsible for attracting foreign investment, the National Agency of Investment Development (ANDI) and the National Agency for the Valorization of Hydrocarbons (ALNAFT).
ANDI is the primary Algerian government agency tasked with recruiting and retaining foreign investment. ANDI runs branches in Algeria’s 58 states (wilayas) which are tasked with facilitating business registration, tax payments, and other administrative procedures for both domestic and foreign investors. U.S. companies report that the agency is understaffed and ineffective. Its “one-stop shops” only operate out of physical offices and do not maintain dialogue with investors after they have initiated an investment. The agency’s effectiveness is undercut by its lack of decision-making authority, particularly for industrial projects, which is exercised by the Ministry of Industry in general, the Minister of Industry specifically, and in many cases the Prime Minister. While the government operates an ombudsman’s office (Mediateur de la Republique), the office’s activities are not explicitly targeted toward investment retention.
ALNAFT is charged with attracting foreign investment to Algeria’s upstream oil and gas sector. In addition to organizing events marketing upstream opportunities to potential investors, the agency maintains a paid-access digital database with extensive technical information about Algeria’s hydrocarbons resources.
Establishing a presence in Algeria can take any of four basic forms: 1) a liaison office with no local partner requirement and no authority to perform commercial operations, 2) a branch office to execute a specific contract, with no obligation to have a local partner, allowing the parent company to conduct commercial activity (considered a resident Algerian entity without full legal authority), 3) a local company with 51 percent of capital held by a local company or shareholders, or 4) a foreign investor with up to 100% ownership in non-strategic sectors. A business can be incorporated as a joint stock company (JSC), a limited liability company (LLC), a limited partnership (LP), a limited partnership with shares (LPS), or an undeclared partnership. Groups and consortia are also used by foreign companies when partnering with other foreign companies or with local firms.
Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity. However, the 51/49 rule requires majority Algerian ownership in all projects involving foreign investments in the “strategic sectors” of energy, mining, defense, transportation infrastructure, and pharmaceuticals (with the exception of innovative products), as well as for importers of goods for resale in Algeria.
The 51/49 investment rule poses challenges for investors. For example, the requirement hampers market access for foreign small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as they often do not have the human resources or financial capital to navigate complex legal and regulatory requirements. Large companies can find creative ways to work within the law, sometimes with the cooperation of local authorities who are more flexible with large investments that promise significant job creation and technology and equipment transfers. SMEs usually do not receive this same consideration. There are also allegations that Algerian partners sometimes refuse to invest the required funds in the company’s business, require non-contract funds to win contracts, and send unqualified workers to job sites. Manufacturers are also concerned about intellectual property rights (IPR), as foreign companies do not want to surrender control of their designs and patents. Several U.S. companies have reported they have policies that preclude them from investing overseas without maintaining a majority share, out of concerns for both IPR and financial control of the local venture, which thus prevent them from establishing businesses in Algeria.
Algerian government officials defended the 51/49 requirement as necessary to prevent capital flight, protect Algerian businesses, and provide foreign businesses with local expertise. For sectors where the requirement remains, officials contend a range of tailored measures can mitigate the effect of the 51/49 rule and allow the minority foreign shareholder to exercise other means of control. Some foreign investors use multiple local partners in the same venture, effectively reducing ownership of each individual local partner to enable the foreign partner to own the largest share.
The Algerian government does not officially screen FDI, though Algerian state enterprises have a “right of first refusal” on transfers of foreign holdings to foreign shareholders in identified strategic industries. Companies must notify the Council for State Participation (CPE) of these transfers. In addition, initial foreign investments remain subject to approvals from a host of ministries that cover the proposed project, most often the Ministries of Commerce, Health, Pharmaceutical Industry, Energy and Mines, Telecommunications and Post, and Industry. U.S. companies have reported that certain high-profile industrial proposals, such as for automotive assembly, are subject to informal approval by the Prime Minister. In 2017, the government instituted an Investments Review Council chaired by the Prime Minister for the purpose of “following up” on investments; in practice, the establishment of the council means FDI proposals are subject to additional government scrutiny. According to the 2016 Investment Law, projects registered through the ANDI deemed to have special interest for the national economy or high employment generating potential may be eligible for extensive investment advantages. For any project over 5 billion dinars (approximately USD 35 million) to benefit from these advantages, it must be approved by the Prime Minister-chaired National Investments Council (CNI). The CNI previously met regularly, though it is not clear how the agenda of projects considered at each meeting is determined. Critics allege the CNI is a non-transparent mechanism which could be subject to capture by vested interests. In 2020 the operations of the CNI and the CPE were temporarily suspended pending review by the former Ministry of Industry, and in November 2021 the Prime Minister reported that almost 2,500 projects are awaiting approval from the council once it resumes activities.
Algeria has not conducted an investment policy review through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the World Trade Organization (WTO). The last investment policy review by a third party was conducted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 2003 and published in 2004. Civil society organizations have not provided reviews of investment policy-related concerns.
Algeria offers an online information portal dedicated to business creation, www.jecreemonentreprise.dz, though the business registration website www.cnrc.org.dz is under maintenance and has been for more than two years. The Ministry of Commerce is currently developing a new electronic portal at https://cnrcinfo.cnrc.dz/qui-somme-nous/ . The websites provide information about several business registration steps applicable for registering certain kinds of businesses. Entrepreneurs report that additional information about requirements or regulation updates for business registration are available only in person at the various offices involved in the creation and registration process. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also recently established an Information Bureau for the Promotion of Investments and Exports (BIPIE) to support Algerian diplomats working on economic issues abroad, as well as provide local points of contact for Algerian companies operating overseas.
Algeria does not restrict domestic investors from investing overseas, though the process for accessing foreign currency for such investments is heavily regulated. The exchange of Algerian dinars outside of Algerian territory is illegal, as is the carrying abroad of more than 10,000 dinars in cash at a time (approximately USD 72; see section 7 for more details on currency exchange restrictions).
Algeria’s National Agency to Promote External Trade (ALGEX), housed in the Ministry of Commerce, is the agency responsible for supporting Algerian businesses outside the hydrocarbons sector that want to export abroad. ALGEX controls a special promotion fund to promote exports, but the funds can only be accessed for limited purposes. For example, funds might be provided to pay for construction of a booth at a trade fair, but travel costs associated with getting to the fair – which can be expensive for overseas shows – would not be covered. The Algerian Company of Insurance and Guarantees to Exporters (CAGEX), also housed under the Ministry of Commerce, provides insurance to exporters. In 2003, Algeria established a National Consultative Council for Promotion of Exports (CCNCPE) that is supposed to meet annually. Algerian exporters claim difficulties working with ALGEX including long delays in obtaining support funds, and the lack of ALGEX offices overseas despite a 2003 law for their creation. The Bank of Algeria’s 2002 Money and Credit law allows Algerians to request the conversion of dinars to foreign currency in order to finance their export activities, but exporters must repatriate an equivalent amount to any funds spent abroad, for example money spent on marketing or other business costs incurred.
3. Legal Regime
The national government manages all regulatory processes. Legal and regulatory procedures, as written, are considered consistent with international norms, although the decision-making process is at times opaque.
Algeria implemented the Financial Accounting System (FAS) in 2010. Though legislation does not make explicit references, FAS appears to be based on International Accounting Standards Board and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Operators generally find accounting standards follow international norms, though they note that some particularly complex processes in IFRS have detailed explanations and instructions but are explained relatively briefly in FAS.
There is no mechanism for public comment on draft laws, regulations, or regulatory procedures. Copies of draft laws are generally not made publicly accessible before enactment, although the Ministry of Finance published drafts of the 2021 and 2022 Finance Laws in advance of consideration by Parliament. Government officials often give testimony to Parliament on draft legislation, and that testimony typically receives press coverage. Occasionally, copies of bills are leaked to the media. All laws and some regulations are published in the Official Gazette (www.joradp.dz ) in Arabic and French, but the database has only limited online search features and no summaries are published. Secondary legislation and/or administrative acts (known as “circulaires” or “directives”) often provide important details on how to implement laws and procedures. Administrative acts are generally written at the ministry level and not made public, though may be available if requested in person at a particular agency or ministry. Public tenders are often accompanied by a book of specifications only provided upon payment. The government does not specifically promote or require companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure.
In some cases, authority over a matter may rest among multiple ministries, which may impose additional bureaucratic steps and the likelihood of either inaction or the issuance of conflicting regulations. The development of regulations occurs largely away from public view; internal discussions at or between ministries are not usually made public. In some instances, the only public interaction on regulations development is a press release from the official state press service at the conclusion of the process; in other cases, a press release is issued earlier. Regulatory enforcement mechanisms and agencies exist at some ministries, but they are usually understaffed, and enforcement remains weak.
The National Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CNESE) studies the effects of Algerian government policies and regulations in economic, social, and environmental spheres. CNESE provides feedback on proposed legislation, but neither the feedback nor legislation are necessarily made public.
Information on external debt obligations up to fiscal year 2019 is publicly available online via the Central Bank’s quarterly statistical bulletin. The statistical bulletin describes external debt and not public debt, but the Ministry of Finance’s budget execution summaries reflect amalgamated debt totals. The Ministry of Finance is planning to create an electronic, consolidated database of internal and external debt information, and in 2019 published additional public debt information on its website. A 2017 amendment to the 2003 law on currency and credit covering non-conventional financing authorizes the Central Bank to purchase bonds directly from the Treasury for a period of up to five years. The Ministry of Finance indicated this would include purchasing debt from state enterprises, allowing the Central Bank to transfer money to the treasury, which would then provide the cash to, for example, state owned enterprises in exchange for their debt. In September 2019, the Prime Minister announced Algeria would no longer use non-conventional financing, although the Ministry of Finance stressed the program remains available until 2022. In 2021, the non-profit Cercle d’Action et de Réflexion pour l’Entreprise (CARE) launched an online dashboard compiling key economic figures published by various ministries within the Algerian government.
Algeria is not a member of any regional economic bloc or of the WTO. The structure of Algerian regulations largely follows European – specifically French – standards.
Algeria’s legal system is based on the French civil law tradition. The commercial law was established in 1975 and most recently updated in 2007 ( www.joradp.dz/TRV/FCom.pdf). The judiciary is nominally independent from the executive branch, but U.S. companies have reported allegations of political pressure exerted on the courts by the executive. Organizations representing lawyers and judges have protested during the past year against alleged executive branch interference in judicial independence. Regulation enforcement actions are adjudicated in the national courts system and are appealable. Algeria has a system of administrative tribunals for adjudicating disputes with the government, distinct from the courts that handle civil disputes and criminal cases. Decisions made under treaties or conventions to which Algeria is a signatory are binding and enforceable under Algerian law.
The 51/49 investment rule requires a majority Algerian ownership in “strategic sectors” as prescribed in the 2020 Complementary Finance Law (see section 2), as well as for importers of goods available for resale domestically as prescribed in the 2021 Finance Law. There are few other laws restricting foreign investment. In practice, the many regulatory and bureaucratic requirements for business operations provide officials avenues to informally advance political or protectionist policies. The investment law enacted in 2016 charged ANDI with creating four new branches to assist with business establishment and the management of investment incentives. ANDI’s website (www.andi.dz/index.php/en/investir-en-algerie ) lists the relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. Much of the information lacks detail – particularly for the new incentives elaborated in the 2016 investments law – and refers prospective investors to ANDI’s physical “one-stop shops” located throughout the country.
There is an ongoing effort by the customs service, under the Ministry of Finance, to establish a new digital platform featuring one-stop shops for importers and exporters to streamline bureaucratic processes. The Ministry announced the service would begin in 2021, but the Ministry of Industry clarified in February 2022 that the one-stop shop would be set up with the approval of the new investment law.
The National Competition Council (www.conseil-concurrence.dz/) is responsible for reviewing both domestic and foreign competition-related concerns. Established in late 2013, it is housed under the Ministry of Commerce. Once the economic concentration of an enterprise exceeds 40 percent of a market’s sales or purchases, the Competition Council is authorized to investigate, though a 2008 directive from the Ministry of Commerce exempted economic operators working for “national economic progress” from this review.
The Algerian state can expropriate property under limited circumstances, with the state required to pay “just and equitable” compensation to the property owners. Expropriation of property is extremely rare, with no reported cases within the last 10 years. In late 2018, however, a government measure required farmers to comply with a new regulation altering the concession contracts of their land in a way that would cede more control to the government. Those who refused to switch contract type by December 31, 2018, lost the right to their land.
Algeria’s bankruptcy system is underdeveloped. While bankruptcy per se is not criminalized, management decisions (such as company spending, investment decisions, and even procedural mistakes) can be subject to criminal penalties including fines and incarceration, so decisions that lead to bankruptcy could be punishable under Algerian criminal law. However, bankruptcy cases rarely proceed to a full dissolution of assets. The Algerian government generally props up public companies on the verge of bankruptcy via cash infusions from the public banking system. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, debtors and creditors may file for both liquidation and reorganization.
Since the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in early 2019, the courts have given the government authority to put several companies in receivership and have appointed temporary heads to direct them following the arrests of their CEOs as part of a broad anti-corruption drive. The government has since nationalized some of the companies following the conviction of the owners.
4. Industrial Policies
While the government previously required 51 percent Algerian ownership of all investments, the 2020 budget law restricted this requirement to the energy, mining, defense, transportation infrastructure, and pharmaceuticals manufacturing sectors, and the 2021 budget law extended the requirement to importers of goods for resale in Algeria.
Any incentive offered by the Algerian government is generally available to any company, though there are multiple tiers of “common, additional, and exceptional” incentives under the 2016 investments law (www.joradp.dz/FTP/jo-francais/2016/F2016046.pdf). “Common” incentives available to all investors include exemption from customs duties for all imported production inputs, exemption from value-added tax (VAT) for all imported goods and services that enter directly into the implementation of the investment project, a 90 percent reduction of tenancy fees during construction, and a 10-year exemption on real estate taxes. Investors also benefit from a three-year exemption on corporate and professional activity taxes and a 50 percent reduction for three years on tenancy fees after construction is completed. Additional incentives are available for investments made outside of Algeria’s coastal regions, to include the reduction of tenancy fees to a symbolic one dinar (USD .01) per square meter of land for 10 years in the High Plateau region and 15 years in the south of Algeria, plus a 50 percent reduction thereafter. The law also charges the state to cover, in part or in full, the necessary infrastructure works for the realization of the investment. “Exceptional” incentives apply for investments “of special interest to the national economy,” including the extension of the common tax incentives to 10 years. The sectors of “special interest” have not yet been publicly specified. An investment must receive the approval of the National Investments Council in order to qualify for the exceptional incentives. There are no specific investment incentives for investors from underrepresented groups.
Regulations passed in a March 2017 executive decree exclude approximately 150 economic activities from eligibility for the incentives (www.joradp.dz/FTP/jo-francais/2017/F2017016.pdf). The list of excluded investments is concentrated on the services sector but also includes manufacturing for some products. All investments in sales, whether retail or wholesale, and imports business are ineligible.
The 2016 investments law also provided state guarantees for the transfer of incoming investment capital and outgoing profits. Pre-existing incentives established by other laws and regulations also include favorable loan rates well below inflation from public banks for qualified investments.
The government does not issue guarantees for private investments, or jointly financed foreign direct investment projects. In practice, however, the government is disinclined to allow companies that employ significant numbers of Algerians – whether private or public – to fail and may take on fiscal responsibilities to ensure continued employment for workers. President Tebboune’s administration also indicated more flexibility in considering alternative financing methods for future projects, which might include joint financing. The government does not offer specific incentives for clean energy investments, although the government announced in February 2022 that companies bidding on solar energy tenders would not be subject to the 51/49 investment rule.
Algeria does not have any foreign trade zones or free ports.
The Algerian government does not officially mandate local employment, but companies usually must provide extensive justification to various levels of the government as to why an expatriate worker is needed. Any person or legal entity employing a foreign citizen is required to notify the Ministry of Labor. Some businesses have reported instances of the government pressuring foreign companies operating in Algeria, particularly in the hydrocarbons sector, to limit the number of expatriate middle and senior managers so that Algerians can be hired for these positions. Contacts at multinational companies have alleged this pressure is applied via visa applications for expatriate workers, or via specific restrictions applicable to expatriate employees that are not applicable to Algerian employees. U.S. companies in the hydrocarbons industry have reported that, when granted, expatriate work permits are usually valid for no longer than six months and are delivered up to three months late, requiring firms to apply perpetually for renewals. Government-imposed restrictions on routine international travel since March 2020 in response to COVID-19 initially caused difficulties for foreign companies attempting to rotate their expatriate staff into and out of Algeria, though the situation has improved since June 2021.
In 2017, the Algerian government began instituting forced localization in the auto sector. New regulations governing the sector issued in September 2020 would require companies producing or assembling cars in the country to achieve a local integration rate of at least 30 percent within the first year of operation, rising to 50 percent by the company’s fifth year of operation, however, the regulations remain under government review and have not gone into effect. Since 2014, the government has required car dealers to invest in industrial or “semi-industrial” activities as a condition for doing business in Algeria. Dealers seeking to import new vehicles must obtain an import license from the Ministry of Commerce. Since January 2017, the Ministry has not issued any licenses, and the process of assigning new import quotas to qualified importers under the new 2020 specifications are on hold pending review by the government. As the Algerian government further restricts imports, localization requirements are expected to broaden to other manufacturing industries over the next several years. For example, specifications released in 2020 governing consumer appliance manufacturing mandate local content thresholds, and a tender launched in December 2021 for 1000MWs of solar projects mandated local content thresholds.
Information technology providers are not required to turn over source codes or encryption keys, but all hardware and software imported to Algeria must be approved by the Agency for Regulation of Post and Electronic Communications (ARPCE), under the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications. In practice, the Algerian government requires public sector entities to store data on servers within the country.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Secured interests in property are generally recognized and enforceable, but court proceedings can be lengthy and results unpredictable. All property not clearly titled to private owners remains under government ownership. As a result, the government controls most real property in Algeria, and instances of unclear titling have resulted in conflicting claims of ownership, which has made purchasing and financing real estate difficult. Several business contacts have reported significant difficulty in obtaining land from the government to develop new industrial activities; the state prefers to lease land for 33-year terms, renewable twice, rather than sell outright. The procedures and criteria for awarding land contracts are opaque.
Property sales are subject to registration at the tax inspection and publication office at the Mortgage Register Center and are part of the public record of that agency. All property contracts must go through a notary.
Patent and trademark protection in Algeria remains covered by a series of ordinances dating from 2003 and 2005, and representatives of U.S. companies operating in Algeria reported that these laws were satisfactory in terms of both the scope of what they cover and the penalties they mandate for violations. A 2015 government decree increased coordination between the National Office of Copyrights and Related Rights (ONDA), the National Institute for Industrial Property (INAPI), and law enforcement to pursue patent and trademark infringements. An Algerian court ruled in favor of a U.S. pharmaceutical company in late 2020 in the first case of alleged patent infringement by a local producer pursued in the courts by a U.S. company.
ONDA, under the Ministry of Culture, and INAPI, under the Ministry of Industry, are the two entities within the Algerian government that protect IPR. ONDA covers literary and artistic copyrights as well as digital software rights, while INAPI oversees the registration and protection of industrial trademarks and patents. Despite strengthened efforts at ONDA, INAPI, and the General Directorate for Customs (under the Ministry of Finance), which have seen local production of pirated or counterfeit goods nearly disappear since 2011, imported counterfeit goods are prevalent and easily obtained. Algerian law enforcement agencies annually confiscate hundreds of thousands of counterfeit items, including clothing, cosmetics, sports items, foodstuffs, automotive spare parts, and home appliances. The government is currently drafting new legislation on counterfeiting and intellectual property to improve enforcement and interagency coordination.
Algeria is listed on the Watch List of USTR’s 2022 Special 301 Report (https://ustr.gov/issue-areas/intellectual-property/Special-301)for, among other reason, ineffective enforcement efforts against trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy.
Resources for Intellectual Property Rights Holders:
Intellectual Property Attaché for the Middle East & North Africa
U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi | U.S. Department of Commerce U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
Tel: +965 2259 1455 Peter.Mehravari@trade.gov
For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .
6. Financial Sector
The Algiers Stock Exchange has five stocks listed – each at no more than 35 percent equity. There is a small and medium enterprise exchange with one listed company. The exchange has a total market capitalization representing less than 0.1 percent of Algeria’s GDP. Daily trading volume on the exchange averages around USD 2,000. Despite the lack of tangible activity, the market is regulated by an independent oversight commission that enforces compliance requirements on listed companies and traders.
Government officials have previously expressed their desire to reach a capitalization of USD 7.8 billion and enlist up to 50 new companies. Attempts to list additional companies have been stymied by a lack both of public awareness and appetite for portfolio investment, as well as by private and public companies’ unpreparedness to satisfy due diligence requirements that would attract investors. Proposed privatizations of state-owned companies have also been opposed by the public. Algerian society generally prefers material investment vehicles for savings, namely cash. Public banks, which dominate the banking sector (see below), are required to purchase government securities when offered, meaning they have little leftover liquidity to make other investments. Foreign portfolio investment is prohibited – the purchase of any investment product in Algeria, whether a government or corporate bond or equity stock, is limited to Algerian residents only.
The banking sector is roughly 85 percent public and 15 percent private as measured by value of assets held and is regulated by an independent central bank. Publicly available data from private institutions and U.S. Federal Reserve Economic Data show estimated total assets in the commercial banking sector in 2017 were roughly 13.9 trillion dinars (USD 116.7 billion) against 9.2 trillion dinars (USD 77.2 billion) in liabilities. In response to liquidity concerns caused by the oil price decline and COVID-19 crisis, the bank progressively decreased the reserve requirement from 12 percent to 3 percent between March and September 2020.
The IMF and Bank of Algeria have noted moderate growth in non-performing assets since 2015, currently estimated between 12 and 13 percent of total assets. The quality of service in public banks is generally considered low as generations of public banking executives and workers trained to operate in a statist economy lack familiarity with modern banking practices. Most transactions are materialized (non-electronic). Many areas of the country suffer from a dearth of branches, leaving large amounts of the population without access to banking services. ATMs are not widespread, especially outside the major cities, and few accept foreign bankcards. Outside of major hotels with international clientele, hardly any retail establishments accept credit cards. Algerian banks do issue debit cards, but the system is distinct from any international payment system. The Minister of Commerce has announced multiple plans to require businesses to use electronic payments for all commercial and service transactions, though the most recent government deadline for all stores to deploy electronic payment terminals by the end of 2021 was indefinitely delayed. In addition, analysts estimate that between one-third and one-half of the money supply circulates in the informal economy.
Foreigners can open foreign currency accounts without restriction, but proof of a work permit or residency is required to open an account in Algerian dinars. Foreign banks are permitted to establish operations in the country, but they must be legally distinct entities from their overseas home offices.
In 2015, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) removed Algeria from its Public Statement, and in 2016 it removed Algeria from the “gray list.” The FATF recognized Algeria’s significant progress and the improvement in its anti-money laundering/counter terrorist financing (AML/CFT) regime. The FATF also indicated Algeria has substantially addressed its action plan since strategic deficiencies were identified in 2011.
Algeria’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF) is the “Fonds de Regulation des Recettes (FRR).” The Finance Ministry’s website shows the fund decreased from 4408.2 billion dinars (USD 37.36 billion) in 2014 to 784.5 billion dinars (USD 6.65 billion) in 2016. The data has not been updated since 2016. Algerian media reported the FRR was spent down to zero as of February 2017. Algeria is not known to have participated in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs.
Andorra is an independent principality with a population of about 79,000 and area of 181 square miles situated between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains. It uses the euro as its national currency. Andorra is a popular tourist destination visited by over 8 million people each year (pre-pandemic) who are drawn by outdoor activities like hiking and cycling in the summer and skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, as well as by its duty-free shopping of luxury products. Andorra’s economy is based on an interdependent network of trade, commerce, and tourism, which represent nearly 60% of the economy, followed by the financial sector. Andorra has also become a wealthy international commercial center because of its integrated banking sector and low taxes. As part of its effort to modernize its economy, Andorra has opened to foreign investment and engaged in other reforms, including advancing tax initiatives. Andorra is actively seeking to attract foreign investment and to become a center for entrepreneurs, talent, innovation, and knowledge.
The Andorran economy is undergoing a process of digitalization and diversification that accelerated due to the impact pandemic-related border closures had on its dominant tourist sector. In 2006, the Government began sweeping economic reforms. The Parliament approved three main regulations to complement the first phase of economic openness: the law of Companies (October 2007), the Law of Business Accounting (December 2007), and the Law of Foreign Investment (April 2008 and June 2012). From 2011 to 2017, the Parliament approved direct taxes in the form of a corporate tax, tax on economic activities, tax on income of non-residents, tax on capital gains, and personal income tax. Andorra joined the IMF in October 2020, providing it access to additional resources for managing its economy. Also, as part of the post-pandemic economic recovery plan, Andorra passed Horizon 23, a comprehensive roadmap backed by 80 million euros of public funds to accelerate economic diversification into sectors like fintech, sports tech, esports, and biotech. These regulations aim to establish a transparent, modern, and internationally comparable regulatory framework.
These reforms aim to attract investment and businesses that have the potential to boost Andorra’s economic development and diversification. Prior to 2008, Andorra limited foreign investment, worried that large foreign firms would have an oversized impact on its small economy. For example, previous regulations allowed non-citizens with less than 20 years residence in Andorra to own no more than 33 percent of a company. While foreigners may now own 100 percent of a trading enterprise or a holding company, the Government must approve the establishment of any private enterprise. The approval can take up to one month, which can be rejected if the proposal is found to negatively impact the environment, the public order, or the general interests of the principality.
Andorra is a microstate that accounts for .001 percent of global emissions and has demonstrated its ambition to the fight against climate change by establishing a national strategy that commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by a minimum of 37 percent by 2030 and pursuing carbon neutrality by 2050. In addition to implementing an energy transition law, Andorra approved the Green Fund and a hydrocarbon tax to promote climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives.
Andorra’s per capita income is above the European average and above the level of its neighbors. The country has developed a sophisticated infrastructure including a one-of-a-kind micro-fiber-optic network for the entire country that provides universal access for all households and companies. Andorra’s retail tradition is well known around Europe, thanks to more than 1,400 shops, the quality of their products, and competitive prices. Products taken out of the Principality are tax-free up to certain limits; the purchaser must declare those that exceed the allowance.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Data not available
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Andorra has established an open framework for foreign investments, allowing non-residents to create companies in the country, open businesses, and invest in all kinds of assets.
The Foreign Investment Law came into force in July 2012, completely opening the economy to foreign investors. Since then, foreigners, whether resident or not, may own up to 100 percent of any Andorra-based company. The law also liberalizes restrictions on foreign professionals seeking to work in Andorra. Previously, a foreigner could only begin to practice in Andorra after twenty years of residency. Under the current regulations, any Andorran legal resident from a country that has a reciprocal standard can work in Andorra, although special working permits are required for specific professions.
The government of Andorra created Andorra Business (https://www.andorrabusiness.com), Andorra’s economic development and promotion office, to provide counseling services to both Andorran companies looking to grow and foreign investors wanting to start new businesses in Andorra. Andorra Business’ mission is to increase competitiveness, innovation, and the sustainability of the economy.
Andorra Business’ five key objectives are:
Promoting key sectors for the diversification of the economy.
Being a motor in the improvement of the public sector and microeconomic environment.
Attracting and supporting both foreign and local investment in key sectors.
Providing support to Andorran businesses to be more competitive on a National and International scale.
Creating favorable conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship, in both the public and private sectors, to create an environment for testing new innovations at the country level.
The Andorran Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Services of Andorra (https://www.ccis.ad/) aims to promote and strengthen Andorra’s financial and business activity as well as provide services to foreign companies. The Chamber’s activities include organizing a census of commercial, industrial, and service activities; the protection of the general interests of commerce, industry, and services; promoting fair competition; and issuing certificates of origin and other commercial documents.
The Andorran Business Confederation (CEA) provides support to national companies to navigate within Andorra’s new legal, labor, and fiscal framework and facilitates companies’ international expansion projects. CEA also works to foster international investment into the country through its Iwand project, which provides information about Andorra’s economic and fiscal environment (www.cea.ad).
The Andorran legal framework has also adapted to international standards. The most relevant laws passed by Parliament to accompany the economic openness include the law of Companies (October 2007), the Law of Business Accounting (December 2007), and the Law of Foreign Investment (April 2008 and June 2012).
The OECD removed Andorra from its “tax haven list” in 2009 after the country signed the Paris Declaration, formally committing to sharing fiscal information outlined by the agreement. With the approval of the Law 19/2016, of November the 30th, on automatic exchange of information on tax matters, Andorra will exchange financial information with signatories of the “Common Reporting Standard” (CRS), developed by the G20 and approved by the OECD Council in July 2014.
From 2011 to 2019, the Parliament approved direct corporate, non-resident, capital gains, and personal income taxes. At 10 percent, well below the European average, Andorra’s corporate tax is more competitive than rates in neighboring Spain or France.
While foreigners may own 100 percent of a trading enterprise or a holding company, the Government must approve the establishment of any private enterprise. The approval can take up to one month and can be rejected if the proposal is found to negatively impact the environment, the public order, or the general interests of the principality.
On June 2021, the IMF released a report detailing Andorra’s macro-economic trends and investment climate. In the past five years the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization (WTO), or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have not conducted an investment policy review. The government of Andorra, in responding to the economic downturn of COVID, released Horizon 23, an economic recovery roadmap to increase investment competitiveness
In the past five years, civil society organizations have not provided reviews of investment policy-related concerns.
Andorra established Andorra Business, a public/private agency, made up of several ministries, government agencies, associations, and organizations from the private sector. It aims to increase competitiveness, innovation, and sustainability. It provides counseling services to Andorran companies and potential foreign investors to facilitate investment and economic diversification.
Andorran regulations allow for two types of commercial companies: Limited Liability Company (Societat de Responsabilitat Limitada – SL), which has a minimum capital requirement of 3,000 euros; and Joint Stock Company (Societat Anonima – SA) which is normally required for multiple shareholders and has a minimum capital requirement of 60,000 euros.
The business establishment procedures and for share acquisitions or transfers are quite similar to those of other countries, requiring the filling of a simple application form, with the additional unique condition of the presentation of any prior investment authorization received in the country. This same procedure is applicable for incorporation, establishment, extension, branching, or other form of business expansion. Once the company is registered, the foreign investment is established, and the investor is required to deposit the share capital with an Andorran banking entity and proceed to public deed of incorporation before a notary.
The Government’s Andorra Business programs provide grants, counseling, and online resourced to small and medium size companies to foster competitiveness and facilitate internationalization.
The Andorran Chamber of Commerce (www.ccis.ad) helps companies search for business opportunities abroad and organizes, with the government, trade missions to explore international business exchanges.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Andorra has bilateral agreements with France (2003), Spain (2003), and Portugal (2007). No bilateral investment treaty exists between Andorra and the United States.
Andorra has signed Tax Information Exchange agreements for the exchange of fiscal information with 24 countries. All those agreements have been ratified and are in force.
In 2014, Andorra became the 48th signatory to the OECD Declaration on Automatic Exchange of Information in Tax Matters, which commits countries to end bank secrecy for tax evasion purposes. Andorra is a member of the OECD’s Inclusive Framework base erosion profit shifting (BEPS). Additionally, Andorra ratified the Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent Base Erosion and Profit Shifting, which came into effect January 1, 2022. Andorra signed a Non-Double Taxation agreement with France, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Malta, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, San Marino, and Hungary and is currently negotiating other such agreements.
3. Legal Regime
Andorra set out transparent policies and laws, which have significantly liberalized all economic sectors in Andorra. New foreign-owned businesses must be approved by the government and the process can take up to a month. Andorra is committed to a transparent process. Andorra has begun to relax labor and immigration standards; previously, foreign professionals had to establish 20 years of residency before being eligible to own 100 percent of their business in Andorra. This restriction has been lifted for nationals coming from countries that have reciprocal standards for Andorran citizens.
Following approval of the new Accounting Law in 2007, individuals carrying out business or professional activities, trading companies, and legal persons or entities with a profit purpose must file financial statements with the administration.
Although not a member of the European Union (EU), Andorra is a member of the European Customs Union and is subject to all EU free trade regulations and arrangements regarding industrial products. Concerning agriculture, the EU allows duty free importation of products originating in Andorra.
Andorra is negotiating a new association agreement with the European Union alongside Monaco and San Marino that will allow Andorrans to establish themselves in Europe and Andorran companies will be able to trade in the EU market.
Andorra holds observer status at the WTO, although it took steps in the past for full membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Andorra became the 190th member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in October 2020.
Andorra has a mixed legal system of civil and customary law with the influence of canon law. The judiciary is independent from the executive branch. The Supreme Court consists of a court president and eight judges, organized into civil, criminal, and administrative chambers. Four magistrates make up the Constitutional Court. The Tribunal of Judges and the Tribunal of the Courts are lower courts. Regulations and enforcement actions can be appealed in the national court system.
The Law on Foreign Investment (10/2012) entered into force in 2012, opening the country’s economy by removing the sectorial restrictions stipulated in the prior legislation. In this way, Andorra has positioned itself on equal terms with neighboring economies, enabling it to become more competitive for new sectors and enterprises. On March 2022, Andorra approved a sanctions package in line with EU sanctions against designated Russian and Belarusian individuals and entities.
Andorra Business is responsible for economic promotion and provides information on relevant laws, rules, procedures to set up a business in Andorra, as well as reporting requirements to investors. The organization also provides other services to facilitate foreign and local investments in strategic sectors.
The Law on Effective Competence and Consumer Protection (13/2013) protects investors against unfair practices. The Ministry of Economy is responsible for administering anti-trust laws and reviews transactions for both domestic and international competition-related concerns.
The Law of Expropriation (1993) allows the Government to expropriate private property for public purposes in accordance with international norms, including appropriate compensation. We know of no incidents of expropriation involving the U.S. entities in Andorra.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Andorra became a party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in September 2015, requiring Andorran courts to enforce financial awards. Andorra is not a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Andorran legislation establishes mechanisms to resolve disputes if they arise and its judicial system is transparent. The constitution guarantees an independent judiciary branch, overseen by a High Council of Justice. The prosecution system allows for successive appeals to higher courts. The European Court of Justice is the ultimate arbiter of unsettled appeals.
Contractual disputes between U.S. individuals or companies and Andorran entities are rare, but when they arise are handled appropriately. There have been no reported cases of U.S. investment disputes.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Parties to a dispute can also resolve disputes contractually through arbitration. The Arbitration Court of the Principality of Andorra (TAPA) was established in July 2020 by the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services and the Andorran Bar Association in accordance with Law 16/2018. The main goal of this institution is to mediate both national and international business disputes to reach a fair settlement for both parties without having to go to court.
Andorra’s bankruptcy decree dates to 1969. Other laws from 2008 and 2014 complement the initial text and further protect workers’ rights to fair salaries and sets up mechanisms to monitor the implementation of judicial resolutions. Additionally, Law 8/2015 outlines urgent measures allowing Government intervention of the banking sector in a crisis.
4. Industrial Policies
Andorra has been known for its favorable tax regime, which investors have used to promote products such as tobacco, alcohol, jewelry, cosmetics, and dairy. In recent years, Andorra has reached agreements with neighboring countries to limit and regulate duty-free sales with a view towards promoting economic integration, though smuggling continues to be an issue. Andorra is a member of the European Customs Union and therefore has no tariffs on EU-manufactured goods.
Andorra is actively seeking to attract foreign investment and to become a center for entrepreneurs, talent, innovation, and knowledge. For example, Grifols, a large Spanish pharmaceutical multinational, announced that they will establish a new immunology research hub in Andorra.
Andorra Business provides grants for small and medium-sized companies to foster competitiveness and facilitate their internationalization. The ActuaTech Foundation was created in 2015, in collaboration with the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with the aim of employing Andorra’s unique economy as a “living lab” to promote innovation at the country level. Andorra, thanks to its size, recent liberalizing legislation, relative affluence, and its eight million visitors per year, offers ideal conditions to test this technology (https://ari.ad/en).
In May 2021, three of the country´s research and innovation entities merged to become a single public body: Andorra Research + Innovation, integrated by the Andorran Studies Institute, Andorra´s Sustainability Observatory, and Actua Innovation. This public entity seeks to generate knowledge, provide solutions for sustainable development, and contribute to the diversification of the Andorran economy.
Although not a full member of the European Union (EU), Andorra, as a member of the European Customs Union, is subject to all EU free trade regulations and arrangements regarding industrial products. Moreover, the EU allows duty free importations of products acquired by visitors in Andorra in the framework of the franchises covered in the Customs Union Agreement (1990). Concerning agriculture, the EU allows duty free importation of products originating in Andorra. No free trade zones exist in the country.
All employees wishing to work in Andorra must have work permits issued by annual quotas established by the Andorran government.
Both domestic and foreign private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises. While foreigners may now own 100 percent of a trading enterprise or a holding company, the Government must approve the establishment of any private enterprise. For a foreign resident, the process for obtaining permissions takes up to one month and is automatically approved if there are no objections. An application can be rejected if the proposal is found to negatively impact the environment, the public order, or the general interests of the principality. As soon as the foreign investor receives authorization to invest in the country, national laws are applicable just like any other national investor.
Andorra does not follow a “forced localization” policy.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The constitution guarantees the right to private ownership for citizens and residents. Both domestic and foreign private entities now have the right to establish and own business enterprises.
Andorran law protects property rights with enforcement carried out at the administrative and judicial levels. Foreign investments for the purchase of property are possible in Andorra, subject to prior authorization. There is a four percent asset-transfer tax.
Secured property loans are available through the Andorran banking sector. The Andorran Financial Authority (AFA) oversees the banking sector, including mortgages (https://www.afa.ad/en).
Andorra joined the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 1994 and is party to the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention, as well as the Rome Convention since 2004. Andorra is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) but holds observer status. The country’s intellectual property rights (IPR) regime is not in compliance with the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Protection of IPR in Andorra is weak. The legal framework includes the Trademarks Act of May 1, 1995, the Law 26/2014 on Patents of October 30 the Law on Authors’ and Neighboring Rights of June 1999, and Law 23/2011, of December 29, 2011, on the Creation of the Society of Collective Management of Copyright and Neighboring Rights.
In 2012, the Society for the Administration of Authors’ Rights (SDADV) was created to manage the economic rights, neighboring rights, and the interests of copyright holders. Right holders can choose whether to participate in this voluntary collective arrangement though in some cases, the collective arrangement system is compulsory.
Businesses seeking to register a trademark or patent should contact the Andorran Trademarks Office and Patents Office.
Trademarks and Patents Office of the Principality of AndorraMinistry of EconomyEdifici Administratiu del Prat del RullCami de la Grau s/nAD 500 Andorra La VellaTel. (376) 875 600Email: email@example.com http://www.ompa.ad/
Andorra is not listed in the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report nor included in the Notorious Markets List.
The Andorran financial sector is efficient and is one of the main pillars of the Andorran economy, representing 20 percent of the country’s GDP and over 5 percent of the workforce.
Created in 1989, and redefined with more responsibilities in 2003, the Andorran Financial Authority (AFA; www.afa.ad) is the supervisory and regulatory body of the Andorran
financial system and the insurance sector. The AFA is a public entity with its own legal status, functionally independent from the Government. AFA has the power to carry out all necessary actions to ensure the correct development of its supervision and control functions, disciplinary and punitive powers, treasury and public debt management services, financial agency, international relations, advice, and studies.
The Andorran Financial Intelligence Unit (UIFAND) was created in 2000 as an independent organ to deal with the tasks of promoting and coordinating measures to combat money laundering, terror financing, and the proliferation of weapons (www.uifand.ad).
The State Agency for the Resolution of Banking Institutions (AREB) is a public-legal institution created by Law 8/2015 to take urgent measures to introduce mechanisms for the recovery and resolution of banking institutions (www.areb.ad).
Andorra adopted the use of the Euro in 2002 and in 2011 signed a Monetary Agreement with the EU making the Euro the official currency. Since July 1, 2013, Andorra has had the right to mint Euro coins.
The Andorra banking system is sound and considered the most important part of the financial sector. It represents 20 percent of the country’s GDP. The Andorran banks offer a variety of services at market rates. The main lines of business in the banking sector are retail banking, private banking, and asset management and insurance. The country also has a sizeable and growing market for portfolio investments. The country does not have a central bank. The sector is regulated and supervised by the Andorran Financial Authority (AFA).
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service has certified all the Andorran banks as qualified intermediaries.
Founded in 1960, the Association of Andorran Banks (ABA; https://www.andorranbanking.ad/) represents Andorran banks. Among its tasks are representing and defending interests of its members, watching over the development and competitiveness of Andorran banking at national and international levels, improving sector technical standards, cooperation with public administrations, and promoting professional training, particularly dealing with money laundering prevention. At present, all five Andorran banking groups are ABA members, totaling an estimated 51.7 billion Euros in combined assets for 2021.
Andorra adopted the Euro in 2002 and in 2011 signed a Monetary Agreement with the EU making the Euro the official currency. Since 2013, Andorra has the authority to mint Euro coins.
There are no limits or restrictions on remittances provided that they correspond to a company’s official earning records.
Andorra has no Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).
The Angolan economy emerged from five straight years of recession with slight GDP growth of 0.7 percent in 2021, thanks primarily to growth in the non-oil sector. The government forecasts more substantial growth of 2.4 percent in 2022. The oil and gas sector remains the key source of government revenue despite declining oil production and the government should benefit from higher than budgeted oil prices in 2022. The growth in non-oil sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, transportation will be bolstered by increased demand from the lifting of COVID restrictions in late 2021 and early 2022.
The Angolan government has maintained a reform agenda since the 2017 election of President Joao Lourenço. His administration has adopted measures to improve the business environment and make Angola more attractive for investment. Angola completed the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility in December 2021, demonstrating an ability to commit to and carry out difficult fiscal and macroeconomic reforms, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The government received three credit rating upgrades between September 2021 and early 2022.
In addition to the Privatization Program (PROPRIV), revision of the Private Investment Law, and updated Public Procurement law, the government has taken steps to recover misappropriated state assets – the Attorney General’s Office claims just under $13 billion since 2018 – and to uproot corruption. Through the Private Investment and Export Promotion Agency (AIPEX), Angola seeks to connect foreign investors with opportunities across the private sector, with PROPRIV, and a wide range of available state-owned enterprises and other assets. The public procurement process has also become more transparent. Angola plans to present its candidacy to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2022 to increase transparency in the oil, gas, and mineral resource sectors.
Despite the government’s efforts to address corruption, its prevalence remains a key issue of concern for investors. Angola’s infrastructure requires substantial improvement; which the government is seeking to address by attracting investment public-private partnerships to improve and manage of ports, railroads, and key energy infrastructure. The justice system and other administrative processes remains bureaucratic and time-consuming. Unemployment (32.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021) and inflation (which reached 27 percent in 2021) remain high. There is limited technical training, English-speaking skills are generally low. Skilled labor levels are also low, though the government has attempted to address the issue through training and apprenticeship programs.
Overall FDI increased by $2.59 billion in 2020, the last full year of reporting, from 2019.
The government has committed to reaching 70 percent installed renewable energy by 2025 and has recognized the risks of climate change for Angola. To reach its renewable energy goal, the government has signed deals with U.S. companies on the installation of solar and hydro capacity worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Angola is actively seeking FDI to diversify capital inflows, boost economic growth, and diversify the country’s economy. Angola has maintained its privatization program (PROPRIV), started in 2019, despite the difficulty attracting investment during the COVID-19 pandemic. PROPRIV offers investment opportunities for foreign investment in state-owned enterprises and other publicly owned assets as the government seeks to liquidate its stake in assets across sectors such as transportation, telecommunications, and banking. Angola has also modernized its tendering process to make it more transparent. Despite the increased openness and concerted effort to attract foreign investors, Angola passed local content regulations for the oil sector in October 2020 restricting the concept of “national company” to companies fully owned by Angolan citizens, as opposed to a companies with at least 51 percent ownership by Angolan entities. The regulation has three regimes determining the types of services that must be contracted with local entities and which can be contracted with foreign entities. The local content regulations apply to all companies providing goods and services to oil sector as well as oil companies.
Angola’s trade and investment promotion agency AIPEX provides an online investment window platform for investors to register their investment proposals. AIPEX and the Institute of State Assets and Shares work together on roadshows to promote PROPRIV for foreign investors. AIPEX is also responsible for providing institutional support and monitoring investment project execution.
Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own business enterprises with limitations on foreign entities holding the majority stake in companies in specific sectors. The 2018 Private Investment Law (PIL) establishes the general principles of private investment in Angola for domestic and foreign investors and applies to private investments of any value. Under the PIL, the acquisition of shares of an Angolan entity by a foreign investor is deemed to be a private investment operation. If the investor wishes to transfer funds abroad, the private investment project must be properly registered and executed, and appropriate taxes must be paid before transferring.
Majority foreign shareholding restrictions persist in specific industries such as the oil and gas sector (49 percent cap) and the maritime sector, specifically for shipping, due to their significance in the Angolan economy. Mining rights are granted to private investors by the national diamond company ENDIAMA. The PIL lifted restrictions on having Angolan partners for several strategic sectors such as he telecommunications, hospitality and tourism, transportation and logistics, and information technology.
At the government’s request, the last Investment Policy Review (IPR) of Angola’s business and economic environments was completed in 2019 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The full report and policy recommendations are accessible at UNCTAD TPR. The WTO’s last IPR was more than five years ago; OECD has never conducted an IPR of Angola.
There are no recent policy recommendations by civil society organizations based on reviews of investment policy related concerns.
Presidential Decree No 167/20, of June 15, 2020, created the “Single Investment Window” (JanelaÚnica de Investimento, or JUI), which is aimed at simplifying the contact between the investor and all the public entities involved in the approval of foreign investment projects.
To incorporate a company, investors must obtain a certificate of availability of the corporate name from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights; deposit share capital and show proof of deposit to a notary; submit a draft incorporation deed, articles of association, and shareholder documents. The company must then register with the Commercial Registrar to register the company’s incorporation in the Angola’s Official Gazette (Diário da República).
Angola is also negotiating with the EU on a Sustainable Investment Facilitation Agreement, the EU’s first bilateral agreement on investment facilitation. The sides have had two rounds of negotiations in June and December 2021. The agreement intends to simplify procedures and encourage e-governance and public-private dialogue, while diversifying Angola’s economy and helping small and medium sized enterprises invest. Its goal is to support Angola’s ability to attract and retain investment by improving the investment climate for foreign and local investors.
The Angolan government does not promote or incentivize outward investment, nor does it restrict Angolans from investing abroad. Investors are free to invest in any foreign jurisdiction.
Domestic investors often prefer to invest in Portuguese-speaking countries, with few investing in neighboring countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The bulk of investment is in real estate, fashion, fashion accessories, and domestic goods.
Due to foreign exchange constraints, there has been very limited investment abroad by domestic investors.
3. Legal Regime
Angola’s regulatory system is complex, vague, and inconsistently enforced. In many sectors, no effective regulatory system exists due to a lack of institutional and human capacity. The banking system is slowly beginning to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). SOEs are still far from practicing IFRS. The public does not participate in draft bills or regulations formulation, nor does a public online location exist where the public can access this information for comment or hold government representatives accountable for their actions. The Angolan Communications Institute (INACOM) is the regulatory authority for the telecommunications sector and regulates prices for telecommunications services such as mobile telephone, internet, and TV services, particularly in sectors without much competition. Revised energy-sector licensing regulations have permitted some purchase power agreements (PPA) participation.
Overall, Angola’s regulatory system does not conform to other international regulatory systems.
Angola became a member of the WTO in 1996. However, it is not party to the Plurilateral Agreements on Government Procurement, or the Trade in Civil Aircraft Agreement and it has not yet notified the WTO of its state-trading enterprises under Article XVII of the GATT. A government procurement management framework introduced in late 2010 stipulates a preference for goods produced in Angola and/or services provided by Angolan or Angola-based suppliers. Technical Barriers to Trade regimes are not coordinated. Angola conducts distinct bilateral negotiations with seven of the nine full members of the Community of Portuguese Language countries (CPLP), Cuba, and Russia and extends trade preferences to China due to previously negotiated credit facilitation terms, while attempting to encourage and protect local content.
Regulatory reviews are based on scientific, or data driven assessments or baseline surveys. Evaluations are based on data, but not made available for public comment.
The state reserves the right to have the final say in all regulatory matters and relies on sectorial regulatory bodies for supervision of institutional regulatory matters concerning investment. The Economic Commission of the Council of Ministers oversees investment regulations that affect the country’s economy including the ministries in charge. Other major regulatory bodies responsible for getting deals through include:
The National Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels Agency (ANPG) is the government regulatory and oversight body responsible for regulating oil exploration and production activities. On February 6, 2019, the parastatal oil company Sonangol launched ANPG through Presidential decree 49/19. The ANPG is the national concessionaire of hydrocarbons in Angola, authorized to conduct, execute, and ensure oil, gas, and biofuel operations run smoothly, a role previously held by state owned Sonangol. The ANPG must also ensure adherence to international standards and establish relationships with other international agencies and sector relevant organizations.
The Regulatory Institute of Electricity and Water Services (IRSEA) is the regulatory authority for renewable energies and enforcing powers of the electricity regulatory authority. Revised energy-sector licensing regulations have improved legal protection for investors to attract more private investment in electrical infrastructure, such as dams and hydro distribution stations.
The Angolan Communications Institute (INACOM) is the regulatory authority for the telecommunications sector including for prices for telecommunications services.
As of October 1, 2019, a 14 percent VAT regime came into force, replacing the existing 10 percent Consumption Tax. For The General Tax Administration (AGT) oversees tax operations and ensures taxpayer compliance. The new VAT tax regime aimed to boost domestic production and consumption and reduce the incidence of compound tax for businesses unable to recover the consumption tax. The government introduced a temporary reduction of the VAT in October 2021 for key items in the basic basket of goods to 7 percent. The temporary measure should run at least through 2022. Corporate taxpayers can be reimbursed for the VAT on the purchase of good and services, including imports.
There are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations, and the government does not allow the public to engage in the formulation of legislation or to comment on draft bills. Procurement laws and regulations are unclear, little publicized, and not consistently enforced. Oversight mechanisms are weak, and no audits are required or performed to ensure internal controls are in place or administrative procedures are followed. Inefficient bureaucracy and possible corruption frequently lead to payment delays for goods delivered, resulting in an increase in the price the government must pay.
No regulatory reform enforcement mechanisms have been implemented since the last ICS report. The Diário da República (the Federal Register equivalent) publishes official regulatory action.
The Ministry of Finance’s Debt Management Unit has a portal with quarterly public debt reports, debt strategy, annual debt plan, bond reports, and other publications in Portuguese and in English for the quarterly reports and the debt plan, though it does not have regular reporting on contingent liabilities.
Regionally, Angola is a member of SADC and ECCAS, though it is not a member of SADC’s Free Trade Area or of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) the customs union associated with ECCAS. New regulations are generally developed in line with regulatory provisions set by AfCTA, SADC, and ECCAS. Standards for each organization can be found at their respective websites: AfCTA: https://au.int/en/cfta; SADC: SADC Standards and Quality Infrastructure; ECCAS: https://ceeac-eccas.org/en/#presentation
Angola is a WTO member but does not notify all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) regimes are not coordinated and often trade regulations are passed and implemented without the due oversight of the WTO.
Angola’s legal system follows civil law tradition and is heavily influenced by Portuguese law, though customary law often prevailed in rural areas. Legislation is the primary source of law. Precedent is accepted but not binding as it is in common-law countries. The Angolan Constitution is at the top of the hierarchy of legislation and establishes the general principle of separation of powers between the judicial, executive, and legislative power. Primary judicial authority in Angola is vested in its courts, which have institutional weaknesses that include lack of independence from political influence in the decision-making process at times.
The Angolan justice system is slow, arduous, and often partial. Legal fees are high, and most businesses avoid taking commercial disputes to court in the country. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020survey ranked Angola 186 out of 190 countries on contract enforcement, and estimated that commercial contract enforcement, measured by time elapsed between filing a complaint and receiving restitution, takes an average of 1,296 days, at an average cost of 44.4 percent of the claim.
Angola has commercial legislation that governs all contracts and commercial activities but no specialized court. On August 5, 2020, the Economic Council of Ministers approved the opening of the Court for Litigation on Commercial, Intellectual, and Industrial Property Matters, at the Luanda First Instance Court. With the introduction of this commercial court, the GRA hopes the business environment and trust in public institutions will improve. Prior to this arrangement, trade disputes were resolved by judges in the Courts of Common Pleas. The commercial legislation provides that before going to court, investors can challenge the decision under the terms of the administrative procedural rules, either through a complaint (to the entity responsible for the decision) or through an appeal (to the next level above the entity responsible for the decision). In the new system, investors will be able, in general, to appeal to civil and administrative courts. Investors exercising their right to appeal, however, should expect decisions to take months, or even years, in the case of court decisions.
Angola enacted a new Criminal Code and a new Criminal Procedure Code which entered into force on February 9, 2021, to better align the legal framework with internationally accepted principles and standards, with an emphasis on white-collar crimes and corruption. The legal reforms extend criminal liability for corruption offenses and other crimes to legal entities; provide for private sector corruption offenses to face similar fines and imprisonment to the punishments applicable to the public sector, and modernize and broaden the list of criminal offenses against the financial system. The legal system lacks resources and independence, limiting the effectiveness of the reforms.
There is a general right of appeal to the Court of First Instance against decisions from the primary courts. To enforce judgments/orders, a party must commence executive proceedings with the civil court. The main methods of enforcing judgments are:
Execution orders (to pay a sum of money by selling the debtor’s assets).
Seizure of assets from the party and
Provision of information on the whereabouts of assets.
The Civil Procedure Code also provides for ordinary and extraordinary appeals. Ordinary appeals consist of first appeals, review appeals, interlocutory appeals, and full court appeals, while extraordinary appeals consist of further appeals and third-party interventions. Generally, an appeal does not operate as a stay of the decision of the lower court unless expressly provided for as much in the Civil Procedure Code.
Angola’s legal system is becoming more favorable to FDI and has generally not allowed FDI in specific sectors such as military and security, activities of the Central Bank, and key infrastructure port and airport infrastructure. Under PROPRIV the government has encouraged FDI in ports and airports through management and operation tenders. Investment values exceeding $10 million require an investment contract that needs to be authorized by the Council of Ministers and signed by the President.
AIPEX, Angola’s investment and export promotion agency, maintains the JanelaÚnica do Investimento(Single Investment Window), which serves as Angola’s one-stop-shop for investment.
Mergers and acquisitions, including those which take place through the sale of state-owned assets, are reviewed by the Instituteof Asset Management and State Holdings (IGAPE) and competition related concerns receive oversight by the Competition Regulatory Authority (the “CRA”) which is also responsible for prosecuting offenses. Competition is also regulated by the Competition Act of 2018, which prohibits cartels and monopolistic behavior. A leniency regime was added in September 2020 to reduce fines for the first party to come forward under specific conditions.
CRA decisions are subject to appeal, though Angola does not have special courts of jurisdiction to deal with competition matters.
Angola’s Competition Act creates a formal merger control regime. Mergers are subject to prior notification to the CRA, and they must meet certain specified requirements. The thresholds requiring prior notification are the following:
the creation, acquisition, or reinforcement of a market share which is equal to or higher than 50 percent in the domestic market or a substantial part of it; or
the parties involved in the concentration exceeded a combined turnover in Angola of 3.5 billion Kwanzas in the preceding financial year; or
the creation, acquisition, or reinforcement of a market share which is equal to or higher than 30 percent, but less than 50 percent in the relevant domestic market or a substantial part of it, if two or more of the undertakings achieved more than 450 million Kwanzas individual turnover in the preceding financial year.
Mergers must not hamper competition and must be consistent with public interest considerations such as:
a particular economic sector or region.
the relevant employment levels.
the ability of small or historically disadvantaged enterprises to become competitive; or
the capability of the industry in Angola to compete internationally.
Under the revised Law of Expropriations by Public Utility (LEUP), which came into force in October 2021, real property and any associated rights can be expropriated for specific public purposes listed in the LEUP in exchange for fair and prompt compensation to be calculated pursuant to the act. Only property strictly indispensable to achieve the relevant public purpose can be expropriated. The LEUP does not apply to compulsory eviction, nationalization, confiscation, easements, re-homing, civil requisition, expropriation for private purpose, temporary occupation of buildings, destruction for public purpose and revocation of concessions. Save for the urgent expropriation instances specifically set forth in the act, the LEUP enshrines the primacy of acquisition through private-law mechanisms, providing for a negotiation process between the expropriating entity – national or local government – and the relevant citizen or private-law entity.
Despite the reforms, expropriation without compensation remains a common practice with idle or underdeveloped areas frequently reverting to the state with little or no compensation to the claimants who paid for the land, who in most cases allege unfair treatment and at times lack of due process.
Angola’s Law on Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency went into force on May 10, 2021, representing the first amendment to bankruptcy legislation since 1961. The law regulates the legal regime of extrajudicial and judicial recovery of the assets of natural and legal persons in economic distress or imminent insolvency, provided recovery is viable and the legal regime of insolvency proceedings of natural and legal persons. The law permits the conservation of national and foreign investment since investors know they have a legal remedy that has as its purpose the preservation of the company.
4. Industrial Policies
The Private Investment Law (PIL) of 2021 included amendments allowing for negotiation of tax incentives between state and potential investors. The PIL also eliminated the investment value and the value required to qualify for incentives in foreign and local investments, previously set at USD 1,000,000 and USD 500,000 respectively. It also eliminates the requirement for foreign investors to establish a partnership with an Angolan entity with at least a 35 percent stake in the capital structure of investments in the electricity and water, tourism, transport and logistics, construction, media, telecommunications, and IT sectors. Investors can determine their own capital structure in those sectors under the current law.
Angola does not yet have a legislation which offers incentives to green investment.
The PIL restructures the country into three economic development zones (zones A through C) determined by political and socio-economic factors, up from two as per the 2015 investment law. For Zone A, investors have a three-year moratorium on taxes reduced between 25- 50 percent of the tax levied on the distribution of profits and dividends. For Zone B, it is between three to six years with a 50 to 60 percent tax reduction, and for Zone C between six to eight years with a tax reduction between 60-70 percent of the tax levied on distribution of profits and dividends.
The Free Trade Zones Law (FTZL) passed October 12, 2020. The FTZL establishes benefits to be offered to investors by the Angolan Government in exchange for meeting specific monetary, job creation, or other investment requirements on a per contract basis. Investors are granted use of the Free Zone for 25 years and can receive industrial tax and VAT benefits, customs rights, as well as land and capital benefits for investing in a Free Zone. Investments made in Free Zones must consider environmental protection interests.
Investors are allowed to carry out industrial activities, agriculture, technology activities, as well as commercial and service activities. It is possible to carry out other activities which are not specified by the FTZL, provided that such activities target an international market and relevant authorities authorize the activities. Industrial activities should use Angolan raw materials and be focused on exports).
The GRA follows “forced localization” in the oil and gas sector where foreign investors in the sector must use domestic goods and tertiary services as stipulated in decree 271/20 of October 20, 2020. The Local Content Law covers all companies providing goods and services to oil sector, as well as the oil companies themselves. Commercial relations for the oil and gas sector continue to be divided into an “Exclusivity Regime”, “Preference Regime”, and a “Competitive Regime. Under the Exclusivity Regime, oil and gas companies must contract wholly owned Angolan commercial companies. Under the Preference Regime, the contracted company must be incorporated in Angola, and under the Competitive Regime, there is contractual freedom in sourcing the company. The specific goods and services falling under the Exclusivity and Preference regimes must be listed by the National Oil, Gas and Biofuels Agency (ANPG) – the national concessionaire – annually. In addition, all companies operating in any segment of the petroleum-sector value chain are required to present an Annual Local Content Plan to the ANPG.
Local content regulations offer guidelines that are only loosely enforced, and companies lack clarity on how to satisfy the Angolan government’s requirements. While the lack of enforcement may make it easier for foreign companies to comply with local content regulations, the lack of specificity challenges their business planning. For example, it is difficult for companies to compare their competitive position against each other when competing for lucrative concessions and licenses from the government, as local content is sometimes considered during competition for government tenders. Legal guidance to get the guarantees for investors under the PIL is strongly encouraged.
Regulations around data storage, management, and encryption are still at nascent stages. The Institute for Communications of Angola (INACOM) oversees and regulates data in liaison with the Ministry of Telecommunications. The President of Angola passed Decree No. 214/16 on October 10, 2016, establishing the organizational framework of the data protection authority. The Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology (‘MTTI’) announced, on October 9, 2019, that the National Database Protection Agency (APD) had become operational. The APD issued the first license to a private credit agency in February and collaborates with other governments and private sector entities to train Angolan public officials on data protection.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Property rights enforcement remains difficult, given that the Land Law (Lei de Terras de Angola) has not been revised since its approval in December 2004 and two-thirds of Angolans are directly dependent on land property rights due to their work in agriculture. Normalization of land ownership in Angola persists with problems such as difficulties in completing land claims, land grabbing, lack of reliable government records, and unresolved status of traditional land tenure. Among other provisions, the Land Law includes a formal mechanism for transforming traditional land property rights into legal land property rights (clean titles), since a transparent system of land property rights enforcement did not exist before the civil war ended in 2002.
Foreigners are permitted to hold land in Angola through acquisition or lease under the 2004 Land Law. The Land Law sets out requirements for all potential landholders to acquire land, with the main distinctions for foreign entities being the type of identification (passport) a foreign citizen must produce.
Mortgages exist but can be difficult to obtain.
According to the Land Law, the State may transfer or constitute, for the benefit of Angolan natural or legal persons, a multiplicity of land rights on land forming part of its private domain. Although, it is possible to transfer ownership over some categories of land, the transfer of State land almost never implies the transfer of its ownership, but only the formation of minor land rights with leasehold being the most common form. The recipient of private property rights from the State can only transfer those rights with the consent of the local authority and after a period of five years of effective use of the land. Weak land tenure legislation and lack of secure legal guarantees (clean titles) are the reasons given by most commercial banks for their greater than 80 percent refusal rate for loans since land is used as collateral. Foreign real-estate developers therefore seek out public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements with State actors who can provide protection against land disputes and financial risks involved in projects that require significant cash outlays to get started.
Registering parcels of land over 10,000 hectares must be approved by the Council of Ministers. Registering property takes 190 days on average, ranking 167 out of 173 according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 survey, with fees averaging three percent of property value. Owners must wait five years after purchasing before reselling land. There are no written regulations setting out guidelines defining different forms of land occupation, including commercial use, traditional communal use, leasing, and private use. Over the years, the government has given out large parcels of land to individuals to support the development of commercial agriculture. However, this process has largely proceeded in an unsystematic way and does not follow any formal rule change on land tenure by the State.
Before obtaining proof of title nationwide, an Angolan citizen or an Angolan legal entity must also obtain the Real or Leasing Rights (“Usufruct”) of the Land from the Institute of Planning and Urban Management of Luanda (IPGUL), an often-time-consuming procedure that can take up to a year or more. However, if a company already owns the land, it must secure a land property title deed from the Real Estate Registry in Luanda. The local registry – if the property is not in the capital – then produces an updated property certificate (certidão predial) with the complete description of the property including owner(s) information and any charges, liens, and/or encumbrances pending on the property. The complex administration of property laws and regulations that govern land ownership and transfer of real property as well as its tedious registration process may reduce investor appetite for real estate investments in Angola. Dispatch no. 174/11 of March 11, 2011, mandates the total fees for the property certificate include stamp duty (calculated according to the Law on Stamp Duty); justice fees (calculated according to the Law on Justice Fees); fees to justice officers (according to the set contributions for the Justice budget); along with notary and other fees. The total fee is also dependent on the current value of the fiscal correction unit (UCF), set at 88 kwanzas.
Domestic enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights can be difficult due to lack of resources and competing priorities, but the National Authority of Economic Inspection and Food Safety (ANIESA) was able to identify and break up a network of businesses selling counterfeit cosmetic products in early 2021. Authorities traced the source of the products to DRC, highlighting concerns about lack of border measures to intercept counterfeits. The Angolan Government signed an agreement with Portugal in October 2021 to jointly combat counterfeit medicines. In December 2021, ANIESA suspended the operations of three factories (located in Viana, Kikuxi, and Benfica) for producing counterfeit Havaianas-branded sandals. Trademark registration is mandatory to be granted rights over a mark. Angolan trademarks are valid for 10 years from the filing date and renewable for further periods of 10 years.
The Instituto Angolano de Propriedade Intelectual (IAPI) is the governmental body within the Ministry of Industry & Commerce charged with implementing patent and trademark law. The Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Environment oversees copyright law.
Regarding patents, additional fees are due for each claim after the 15th. Additionally, the request for the anticipation or postponement of the publication of a patent is now provided by the new applicable fees.
Angola is not listed in United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 report nor the notorious market report.
Foreign portfolio investment is still new in Angola, but the government is seeking to increase it. The National Bank of Angola (BNA) abolished the licensing previously required to import capital from foreign investors allocated to the private sector and export income associated with such investments. This measure compliments the need to improve the capture of FDI and portfolio investment and it is in line with the privatization program for public companies (PROPRIV) announced through Presidential Decree No. 250/19 of August 5, 2019, which encourages foreign companies to purchase state-owned assets the government is liquidating. BNA has also stopped requiring a license to export capital resulting from the sale of investments in securities traded on a regulated market and the sale of any investment, in which the buyer is also not – foreign exchange resident, pursuant to Notice No. 15/2019. The BNA is increasingly removing restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.
Angola’s Debt and Securities Stock Exchange (BODIVA), planned to be privatized by 2022, trades an equivalent in local currency (kwanzas) of USD 2 billion a year. In view of policies adopted by the institution, BODIVA predicts an increase in the volume of trades. The stock exchange has 23 commercial banks and two brokerages as members, which operate mainly in government denominated Treasury Bonds. BODIVA allows the trading of different types of financial instruments through an electronic auction platform to investors with rules (self-regulation), systems (platforms), and procedures that assure market fairness and integrity to facilitate portfolio investment. The Capital Markets Commission, the regulator, is updating its own supervisory framework while looking to provide new services and attract more individual investors to the capital markets. Presently, only local commercial banks can list on the nascent stock exchange. According to the Capital Markets Commissioner, portfolio investment by individuals only represents 16 percent of BODIVA’s equity.
Through the ongoing privatization program, the government announced in February its intent to sell 30 percent of the stocks it has invested in BODIVA by the end of 2022, with plans to sell the rest in phases in 2023 and 2024.
Credit is partially allocated on market terms. Since the revision of the PIL in 2021, domestic credit is accessible to foreign investors and companies that are majority foreign held (this was previously only possible after implementation of the investment project). For Angolan investors, credit access remains limited. In 2020, however the BNA directed commercial banks to increase the minimum amount of subsidized credit that they must make available to borrowers 2 percent of their assets to 2.5 percent by the end of 2020 to accelerate the diversification of domestic production. The private sector has access to a variety of conventional credit instruments provided by commercial banks.
Forty-seven percent of Angola’s income-earners utilize banking services, with 80 percent being from the urban areas. Angola is over-banked for the size of its economy. Although four banks have been closed since 2018, 26 banks still operate in Angola. The banking market remains marked by concentration and limited financial inclusion. The top six banks control nearly 80 percent of sector assets, loans and deposits, but the rest of the sector includes many banks with minimal scale and weak franchises. The total number of customers in the six largest banks is 9.9 million. Angola’s largest bank Banco Angolano de Investimentos has an asset value of approximately USD 5.5 billion.
Angola has a central banking system. The banking sector largely depends on monetary policies established by Angola’s central bank, the National Bank of Angola (BNA). Thanks to the ongoing IMF economic and financial reform agenda, the BNA is adopting international best practices and slowly becoming more autonomous. On February 13, 2021, President Joao Lourenco issued a decree granting autonomy to the BNA in line with IMF recommendations. Since that time, the bank has made decision on monetary, financial, credit, and foreign exchange policies without political influence, while also maintaining its oversight, regulatory, and supervisory role of the institutions in the financial system. The reforms taken under the Lourenco administration have lessened the political influence over the BNA and allowed it to more freely adopt strategies to build resilience from external shocks on the economy. As Angola’s economy depends heavily on oil to fuel its economy, so does the banking sector. The BNA periodically monitors minimum capital requirements for all banks and orders the closure of non-compliant banks.
Credit availability is limited and often supports government-supported programs. The GRA obliges banks to grant credit more liberally in the economy, notably by implementing a Credit Support Program (PAC). For instance, the BNA first issued a notice obliging Angolan commercial banks to grant credit to national production equivalent at a minimum to 2.5 percent of their net assets in 2020 and extended the notice through the end of 2022. Although the RECREDIT Agency purchased non-performing loans (NPLs) of the state’s parastatal BPC bank, NPLs remain high at 23 percent, a decrease of 9 percent since 2017.
The country has not lost any additional correspondent banking relationships since 2015. At the time of issuing this report no correspondent banking relationships were in jeopardy. The Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group is evaluating Angola’s anti-money laundering regime. A positive result could lead private foreign banking institutions to reestablish correspondent banking relationships. Most transactions go via third party correspondent banking services in Portugal banks, a costly option for all commercial banks.
Foreign banking institutions are allowed to operate in Angola and are subject to BNA oversight.
The Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund (FSDEA) was established in 2012 with $5 billion USD in support from the petroleum sector. The fund was established in accordance with international governance standards and best practices as outlined in the Santiago Principles. As of March 2021, the FSDEA reported $2.97 billion USD. Angola is a full member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds
Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). According to Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) statistics, Antigua and Barbuda’s 2021 estimated gross domestic product (GDP) was $1.47 billion (3.97 billion Eastern Caribbean dollars). This represents an approximate 5.3 percent growth from 2020. The ECCB forecasts 2022 growth at 4.7 percent.
Unanticipated spending on pandemic response measures, coupled with sharp declines in government revenues, forced the government to increase borrowing in 2020. As of December 2021, Antigua and Barbuda reported total public sector debt of $1.3 billion representing 89 percent of GDP. Unlike other Eastern Caribbean (EC) countries, Antigua and Barbuda did not have the resources to significantly increase spending on social support payments to vulnerable populations. Following several years of operating losses, the government became the sole source of financing for regional airline Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) in mid-2020. Based in Antigua and Barbuda, LIAT was heavily overstaffed and therefore a major employer, but is now under the supervision of a bankruptcy trustee.
Antigua and Barbuda ranks 113th out of 190 countries rated in the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report. The scores remain relatively unchanged from the 2019 report, though some improvements in the ease of starting a business were highlighted.
Through the Antigua and Barbuda Investment Authority (ABIA), the government encourages foreign direct investment, particularly in industries that create jobs and earn foreign exchange. The ABIA facilitates and supports foreign direct investment in the country and maintains an open dialogue with current and potential investors. All potential investors are afforded the same level of business facilitation services.
While the government welcomes all foreign direct investment, tourism and related services, manufacturing, agriculture and fisheries, information and communication technologies, business process outsourcing, financial services, health and wellness services, creative industries, education, yachting and marine services, real estate, and renewable energy have been identified by the government as priority investment areas.
There are no limits on foreign control of investment and ownership in Antigua and Barbuda. Foreign investors may hold up to 100 percent of an investment.
Antigua and Barbuda’s legal system is based on British common law. There is currently an unresolved dispute regarding the alleged expropriation of an American-owned property. For this reason, the U.S. government recommends continued caution when investing in real estate in Antigua and Barbuda.
In 2017, the government signed an intergovernmental agreement in observance of the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), making it mandatory for banks in Antigua and Barbuda to report the banking information of U.S. citizens.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda encourages foreign direct investment, particularly in industries that create jobs, enhance economic activity, earn foreign currency, and have a positive impact on its citizens. Diversification of the economy remains a priority.
Through the ABIA, the government facilitates and supports foreign direct investment in the country and maintains an open dialogue with current and potential investors. All potential investors are afforded the same level of business facilitation services. ABIA offers complementary support services to investors exploring business opportunities, including facilitation of incentives and concessions, project monitoring, and general assistance. The government launched an additional website in early 2021 to serve as a “business hub for potential investors,” http://antiguabarbuda.com.
While the government welcomes all foreign direct investment, it has identified tourism and related services, manufacturing, agriculture and fisheries, information and communication technologies, business process outsourcing, financial services, health and wellness services, creative industries, education, yachting and marine services, real estate, and renewable energy as priority investment areas. Uncertainty about the trajectory of economic recovery of the tourism, commercial aviation, and cruise industries impacts the potential for projects in those sectors.
Local laws do not place any limits on foreign control of investment and ownership in Antigua and Barbuda. Foreign investors may hold up to 100 percent of an investment. Local and foreign entrepreneurs need approximately 40 days from start to finish to transfer the title on a piece of property. In 1995, the government established a permanent residency program to encourage high-net-worth individuals to establish residency in Antigua and Barbuda for up to three years. As residents, their income is free of local taxation. In 2020, the government established the Nomad Digital Residence Visa program in which eligible remote workers can apply for a two-year special resident authorization. Under this program, the visa holders are also exempt from paying local income taxes. These programs are separate from the Citizenship by Investment program.
The ABIA evaluates all foreign direct investment proposals applying for government incentives and provides intelligence, business facilitation, and investment promotion to establish and expand profitable business enterprises. The ABIA also advises the government on issues that are important to the private sector and potential investors to increase the international competitiveness of the local economy.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda treats foreign and local investors equally with respect to the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, and sale or other disposition of investments in its territory.
The OECS, of which Antigua and Barbuda is a member, has not conducted a World Trade Organization (WTO) trade policy review since 2014. There have also not been any investment policy reviews by civil society organizations in the past five years.
Established in 2006, the ABIA facilitates foreign direct investment in priority sectors and advises the government on the formation and implementation of policies and programs to attract investment. The ABIA provides business support services and market intelligence to all investors. It also offers an online guide that is useful for navigating the laws, rules, procedures, and registration requirements for foreign investors. The guide is available at https://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/antiguabarbuda.
All potential investors applying for government incentives must submit their proposals for review by the ABIA to ensure the project is consistent with national interests and provides economic benefits to the country.
To register a business. the general practice is to retain a local attorney who prepares all the relevant incorporation documents. A business must register with the Intellectual Property and Commercial Office, the Inland Revenue Department, the Medical Benefits Scheme, the Social Security Scheme, and the Board of Education.
The Antigua and Barbuda Science Innovation Park (ABSIP) launched in 2019 to support and create business startup opportunities that will generate sustainable business enterprises. ABSIP provides business incubation and financing, access to business financing, branding, training, partnership establishment, and other services. ABSIP’s website is http://absip.gov.ag .
The Prime Minister’s Entrepreneurial Development Programme (EDP) supports the creation of micro and small businesses with the intent of increasing the Antiguan and Barbudan ownership share of the country’s economy. Priority sectors in which EDP grants loans are agriculture and agro-processing, manufacturing, information technology, e-business, and tourism.
Although the government of Antigua and Barbuda prioritizes investment return as a key component of its overall economic strategy, there are no formal mechanisms in place to achieve this. To sustain future economic growth, Antigua and Barbuda’s economy depends on significant foreign direct investment.
Local laws do not place any restrictions on domestic investors seeking to do business abroad. Local companies in Antigua and Barbuda are actively encouraged to take advantage of export opportunities specifically related to the country’s membership in the OECS Economic Union and the Caribbean Community Single Market and Economy (CSME).
3. Legal Regime
The government of Antigua and Barbuda publishes laws, regulations, administrative practices, and procedures of general application and judicial decisions that affect or pertain to investments or investors in the country. Where the government establishes policies that affect or pertain to investments or investors that are not expressed in laws and regulation or by other means, the national government has committed to make them publicly available.
Rulemaking and regulatory authority lie with the bicameral parliament of the government of Antigua and Barbuda. The House of Representatives has 19 members, 17 of whom are elected for a five-year term in single-seat constituencies, one of whom is an ex-officio member, and one of whom is Speaker. The Senate has 17 appointed members.
Respective line ministries develop relevant national laws and regulations, which are then drafted by the Ministry of Legal Affairs. Laws relating to the ABIA and the Citizenship by Investment program are the main laws relevant to foreign direct investment. This website contains the full text of laws already in force, as well as those Parliament is currently considering.
While some draft bills are not subject to public consideration, input from stakeholder groups may be considered. The government encourages stakeholder organizations to support and contribute to the legal development process by participating in technical committees and providing comments on drafts.
Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. The International Financial Accounting Standards, which stem from the General Accepted Accounting Principles, govern the accounting profession.
The constitution provides for the independent Office of the Ombudsman to guard against abuses of power by government officials. The Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints about acts or omissions by government officials that violate the rights of members of the public.
The ABIA has primary responsibility for investment supervision, and the Ministry of Finance, Corporate Governance and Public-Private Partnerships monitors investments to collect information for national statistics and reporting purposes. The ABIA can revoke an issued Investment Certificate if the holder fails to comply with certain stipulations detailed in the Investment Authority Act and its regulations.
Antigua and Barbuda’s membership in regional organizations, particularly the OECS and its Economic Union, commits the state to implement all appropriate measures to fulfill its various treaty obligations. The eight member states and territories of the ECCU tend to enact laws uniformly, though minor differences in implementation may exist. The enforcement mechanisms of these regulations include penalties and other sanctions.
The February 2022 Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) Mutual Evaluation assessment found Antigua and Barbuda to be largely compliant.
The ECCB is the supervisory authority over financial institutions in Antigua and Barbuda registered under the Banking Act of 2015.
As a member of the OECS and the ECCU, Antigua and Barbuda subscribes to principles and policies outlined in the Revised Treaty of Basseterre. The relationship between national and regional systems is such that each participating member state is expected to coordinate and adopt, where possible, common national policies aimed at the progressive harmonization of relevant policies and systems across the region. Thus, Antigua and Barbuda is obligated to implement regionally developed regulations such as legislation passed under the authority of the OECS, unless it seeks specific concessions to do otherwise.
As a member of the WTO, Antigua and Barbuda is a signatory to the WTO Agreement on the Technical Barriers to Trade and is obligated to notify the Committee of any draft new and updated technical regulations. The Antigua and Barbuda Bureau of Standards is a statutory body that prepares and promulgates standards in relation to goods, services, processes, and practices. Antigua and Barbuda ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in 2017. The TFA is intended to improve the speed and efficiency of border procedures, facilitate trade costs reduction, and enhance participation in the global value chain. Antigua and Barbuda has implemented a number of TFA requirements, but it has also missed two implementation deadlines.
Antigua and Barbuda bases its legal system on the British common law system. The Attorney General, the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, junior judges, and magistrates administer justice. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court Act establishes the Supreme Court of Judicature, which consists of the High Court and the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. The High Court hears criminal and civil matters and rules on constitutional law issues. Parties may appeal first to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, an itinerant court that hears appeals from all OECS members. The final appellate authority is the Judicial Committee of the UK Privy Council.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has original jurisdiction to interpret and apply the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. Antigua and Barbuda is only subject to the original jurisdiction of the CCJ.
As a member of the WTO, Antigua and Barbuda is a party to the WTO Dispute Settlement Panel and Appellate Body which resolves disputes over WTO agreements. Courts of appropriate jurisdiction in both countries resolve private disputes. Antigua and Barbuda brought a case before the WTO against the United States concerning the cross-border supply of online gambling and betting services. The WTO ruled in favor of Antigua and Barbuda, but agreement on settlement terms remains outstanding.
The ABIA may grant concessions as specified in the Investment Authority Act Amended 2019. These concessions are listed on Antigua and Barbuda’s iGuide website. Investors must apply to ABIA to take advantage of these incentives.
Under the Citizenship by Investment program, foreign individuals can obtain citizenship in accordance with the Citizenship by Investment Act of 2013, which grants citizenship (without voting rights) to qualified investors. Applicants are required to undergo a due diligence process before citizenship can be granted. The minimum contribution for investors under the program is $100,000 (270,225 Eastern Caribbean dollars) to the National Development Fund for a family of up to four people and $125,000 (337,818 Eastern Caribbean dollars) for a family of five, with additional contributions of $15,000 (40,538 Eastern Caribbean dollars) per person for up to four additional family members. Individual applicants can also qualify for the program by buying real estate valued at $400,000 (1,081,020 Eastern Caribbean dollars) or more or making a business investment of $1.5 million (4,053,825 Eastern Caribbean dollars). Alternatively, at least two applicants can propose to make a joint investment in an approved business with a total investment of at least $5 million (13.5 million Eastern Caribbean dollars). Each investor must contribute at least $400,000 (1,081,020 Eastern Caribbean dollars) to the joint investment. Citizenship by investment investors must own real estate for a minimum of five years before selling it. A fourth option involves a contribution of $150,000 (405,383 Eastern Caribbean dollars) to the University of the West Indies (UWI) Fund for a family of six people, which entitles one member of the family to a one-year tuition-only scholarship at UWI’s Five Islands campus. All applicants must also pay relevant government and due diligence fees, and provide a full medical certificate, police certificate, and evidence of the source of funds.
Chapter 8 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas outlines the competition policy applicable to CARICOM states. Member states are required to establish and maintain a national competition authority for implementing the rules of competition. CARICOM established a Caribbean Competition Commission (CCC) to rule on complaints of anti-competitive cross-border business conduct. CARICOM competition policy addresses anti-competitive business conduct such as collusion between enterprises, decisions by associations of enterprises, and concerted practices by enterprises that have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction, or distortion of competition within the Community, and actions by which an enterprise abuses its dominant position within the Community. Antigua and Barbuda does not have any legislation regulating competition. The OECS agreed to establish a regional competition body to handle competition matters within its single market. The draft OECS bill has been submitted to the Ministry of Legal Affairs for review.
According to the Investment Authority Act of 2006, investments in Antigua and Barbuda will not be nationalized, expropriated, or subject to indirect measures having an equivalent effect, except as necessary for the public good, in accordance with the due process of law, on a non-discriminatory basis, and accompanied by prompt, adequate, and effective compensation. Compensation in such cases is the fair market value of the expropriated investment immediately before the expropriation or the impending expropriation became public knowledge, whichever is earlier. Compensation includes interest from the date of dispossession of the expropriated property until the date of payment and is required to be paid without delay.
There is an unresolved dispute regarding the 2007 expropriation of an American-owned property. Following the expropriation, the owners initiated legal action to enforce their rights under Antigua and Barbuda’s Land Acquisition Act. A 2014 Privy Council court decision ordered the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to pay the former property owners $39.8 million in compensation. The government has only paid approximately $20 million as of June 2021, and the property owners have continued to pursue multiple legal remedies to compel the government to pay the outstanding balance. Antigua and Barbuda appealed a 2018 court decision in favor of the claimants; legal proceedings are ongoing. The government has not made any additional payments to the claimants since 2015. The claimants continue to pursue recourse in other jurisdictions and in Antigua and Barbuda, with the latest legal filings in 2020. The outstanding debt is currently $19.1 million with daily accruing interest. Because of Antigua and Barbuda’s failure to fully compensate the owners as required by its own laws, the U.S. government recommends continued caution when investing in real estate or any other venture in Antigua and Barbuda.
Under the Bankruptcy Act (1975), Antigua and Barbuda has a bankruptcy framework that grants certain rights to debtors and creditors. The full text of the legislation can be found on the government’s website.
4. Industrial Policies
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda granted certain concessions specified in the Investment Authority Act Amended 2019. These concessions provide exemption or reduction on various taxes and fees, including corporate income tax, withholding tax, stamp duty on land transfers, and import duties on vehicles and construction materials. The length and/or scale of concession is based on company and investment size. These incentives cover capital investment in agriculture, fisheries, agribusiness, business process outsourcing, energy, health and wellness, manufacturing, creative, financial services, information and communications technology, and tourism sectors. Investors must apply to the ABIA to take advantage of these incentives. Investments in healthcare, tourism, infrastructure development, renewable energy, education, and other projects considered important for economic development may receive incentives and/or concessions determined by the ABIA and Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda if they are over $55.6 million (150.26 million Eastern Caribbean dollars) in size.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has been proactively pursuing public-private partnerships through the National Asset Management Company (NAMCO). NAMCO is a wholly owned government entity that holds the government’s stake in joint ventures and manages the investment proceeds that accrue.
The government established the Antigua and Barbuda Free Trade and Processing Zone (Free Zone) in 1994. A commission, acting as a private enterprise, administers the Free Zone. The Free Zone is part of a government initiative to diversify the economy. The commission is mandated to attract investment in priority areas.
As a member of the WTO, Antigua and Barbuda is party to the Agreement to the Trade Related Investment Measures. While there are no formal performance requirements, the government encourages investments that will create jobs and increase exports and foreign exchange earnings. There are no requirements for participation either by nationals or by the government in foreign investment projects. There is no requirement that enterprises must purchase a fixed percentage of goods or technology from local sources, but the government encourages local sourcing. Foreign investors receive the same treatment as citizens. There are no requirements for foreign information technology providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance (for example, backdoors into hardware and software or keys for encryption).
5. Protection of Property Rights
The government owns 55 percent of Antigua’s land, and the remaining 45 percent is privately owned. The Lands Division in the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs is the custodian of Crown lands on behalf of the government.
Historically, the residents of Barbuda owned all land on Barbuda communally, however the recent appropriation of land for new development projects has resulted in legal challenges to this system. In the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Irma, the government attempted to introduce a private property system by amending and repealing the Barbuda Land Act and replacing it with the Crown Land Regulation Act, which would allow private ownership of land in Barbuda by non-Barbudans. Barbudan representatives have filed a legal challenge to the constitutionality of this legislation in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. Therefore, the Crown Land Regulation Act has not yet taken effect.
Citizens and non-citizens can lease or buy land on the island of Antigua from the government or the private sector. Land sold to non-citizens is subject to the Non-Citizen Land Holding Regulation Act, which requires buyers to obtain a license to purchase land. Buyers are advised to consult with a local attorney. All land titles and purchases must be registered at the Land Registry.
The Town and Country Planning office of the Development Control Authority designates land use areas, including for commercial, agricultural, industrial, or tourism use. The government’s Free Trade and Processing Zone manages land and facilities which are geared towards attracting foreign direct investment in export sectors.
Because Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the ECCU, lending institutions in Antigua and Barbuda generally follow the guidelines published by the ECCB. However, the lack of capital market depth in the sub-region makes the use of securitization difficult.
Antigua and Barbuda has an extensive legislative framework supporting the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), however, enforcement efforts are inconsistent. Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It is a signatory to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks, and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literacy and Artistic Works.
Article 66 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the CSME commits all 15 members to implement stronger intellectual property protection and enforcement. The CARIFORUM-EU EPA contains the most detailed obligations regarding intellectual property in any trade agreement to which Antigua and Barbuda is a party. The EPA recognizes the protection and enforcement of IPR. Article 139 of the EPA requires parties to “ensure an adequate and effective implementation of the international treaties dealing with intellectual property to which they are parties, and of the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS).” As a member of the WTO, Antigua and Barbuda recognizes the WTO TRIPS Agreement.
The Comptroller of Customs leads enforcement and prevention efforts against counterfeit goods, which include detention, seizure, and forfeiture. The Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda has extensive powers of search and seizure in the investigation of alleged infringements and has the power to confiscate suspected infringing copies.
Antigua and Barbuda is not included in the United States Trade Representative 2022 Special 301 Report or the 2021 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.
As a member of the ECCU, Antigua and Barbuda is also a member of the Eastern Caribbean Stock Exchange (ECSE) and the Regional Government Securities Market. The ECSE is a regional securities market established by the ECCB and licensed under the Securities Act of 2001, a uniform regional body of legislation governing securities market activities. As of March 2021, there were 164 securities listed on the ECSE, comprising 140 sovereign debt instruments, 13 equities, and 11 corporate debt securities. Market capitalization stood at $703 million (1.9 billion Eastern Caribbean dollars), representing a 6.9 percent increase from 2020. Antigua and Barbuda is open to portfolio investment.
Antigua and Barbuda accepted the obligations of Article VIII of the International Monetary Fund Agreement Sections 2, 3, and 4, and maintains an exchange system free of restrictions on making international payments and transfers. The government normally does not grant foreign tax credits except in cases where taxes are paid in a Commonwealth country that grants similar relief for Antigua and Barbuda taxes, or where an applicable tax treaty provides a credit. The private sector has access to credit on the local market through loans, purchases of non-equity services, and trade credits, as well as other accounts receivable that establish a claim for repayment.
Antigua and Barbuda is a signatory to the 1983 agreement establishing the ECCB. The ECCB controls Antigua and Barbuda’s currency and regulates its domestic banks.
The Banking Act (2015) is a harmonized piece of legislation across the ECCU member states. The ECCB and the Ministers of Finance of member states jointly carry out banking supervision under the act. The Minsters of Finance usually act in consultation with the ECCB with respect to those areas of responsibility within the Minister of Finance’s portfolio.
Domestic and foreign banks can establish operations in Antigua and Barbuda. The Banking Act requires all commercial banks and other institutions to be licensed. The ECCB regulates financial institutions. As part of supervision, licensed financial institutions are required to submit monthly, quarterly, and annual performance reports to the ECCB. In its latest annual report, the ECCB listed the commercial banking sector as stable. Assessments including effects of the pandemic are not yet available. Assets of commercial banks totaled $2.07 billion (5.6 billion Eastern Caribbean dollars) at the end of December 2019 and remained relatively consistent during the previous year. The reserve requirement for commercial banks was 6 percent of deposit liabilities.
Antigua and Barbuda is well-served by bank and non-bank financial institutions. There are minimal alternative financial services offered. Some people still participate in informal community group lending, but the practice is declining.
The Caribbean region has witnessed a withdrawal of correspondent banking services by U.S., Canadian, and European banks due to risk management concerns. CARICOM remains committed to engaging with key stakeholders on the issue and appointed a Committee of Ministers of Finance on Correspondent Banking to continue to monitor the issue.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Digital Assets Business Bill 2020 created a comprehensive regulatory framework for digital asset businesses, clients, and customers. The bill states that all digital asset businesses in the country must obtain a license for issuing, selling, or redeeming virtual coins, operating as a payment service or electronic exchange, providing custodial wallet services, among other activities. The government aspires to develop Antigua and Barbuda into a regional center for blockchain and cryptocurrency. At the end of 2020, over 40 major businesses accepted bitcoin cash.
Bitt, a Barbadian company, developed digital currency DCash in partnership with the ECCB. The first successful DCash retail central bank digital currency (CDBC) consumer-to-merchant transaction took place in Grenada in February 2021 following a multi-year development process. The CBB and the FSC established a regulatory sandbox in 2018 where financial technology entities can do live testing of their products and services. This allowed regulators to gain a better understanding of the product or service and to determine what, if any, regulation is necessary to protect consumers. Bitt completed its participation and formally exited the sandbox in 2019. Bitt launched DCash in Antigua and Barbuda in March 2021. In January 2022, the platform experienced a system interruption, and its operation was suspended. The platform regained full functionality at the end of March 2022 following system upgrades.
Neither the government of Antigua and Barbuda nor the ECCB, of which Antigua and Barbuda is a member, maintains a sovereign wealth fund.
Argentina presents investment and trade opportunities, particularly in agriculture, energy, health, infrastructure, information technology, and mining. However, economic uncertainty, interventionist policies, high inflation, and persistent economic stagnation have prevented the country from maximizing its potential. The economy fell into recession in 2018, the same year then-President Mauricio Macri signed a three-year $57 billion Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). President Alberto Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s (CFK) took office on December 10, 2019, and reversed fiscal austerity measures, suspended the IMF program, and declared public debt levels unsustainable.
In September 2020, Argentina restructured $100 billion in foreign and locally issued sovereign debt owed to international and local private creditors. Together, these transactions provide short-term financial relief by clearing principal payments until 2024. Unable to access international capital markets, the government relied on Central Bank money printing to finance the deficit, further fueling inflation. Although Argentina’s economy rebounded 10.3 percent in 2021, offsetting a 10 percent decline in 2020, the economy remains below pre-recession levels. In 2021, the Argentine peso (official rate) depreciated 17 percent, inflation reached 50.9 percent, and the poverty rate reached 37.3 percent.
Even as the pandemic receded and economic activity rebounded, the government cited increased poverty and high inflation as reasons to continue, and even expand, price controls, capital controls, and foreign trade controls. Agricultural and food exports such as beef, soy, and flour were frequent targets for government intervention. Beginning in May 2021, the government introduced bans and other limits on beef exports to address increasing domestic prices. However, the government also implemented incentives for exporters and investors in other industries. It eliminated export taxes for specific businesses and industries, including small and medium sized enterprises; auto and automotive parts exports over 2020 volumes; and information technology service exports from companies enrolled in the knowledge-based economy promotion regime. There were also investment promotion incentives in key export sectors such as agriculture, forestry, hydrocarbons, manufacturing, and mining.
The high cost of capital affected the level of investments in developing renewable energy projects, despite the potential for both wind and solar power. In an effort to expand production of oil and natural gas, the current administration provides benefits to the fossil fuel industry that impact the cost-competitiveness of renewable energy technologies. The government has encouraged the use of biofuels and electric vehicles. A proposed Law for the Promotion of Sustainable Mobility includes incentives and 20-year timelines to promote the use of technologies with less environmental impact in transportation.
After the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Argentina in March 2020, the country imposed a strict nationwide quarantine that became one of the longest in the world. Argentina reopened its borders to tourists and non-residents on November 21, 2021. Hotel and lodging, travel and tourism, and entertainment activities have reopened, although many businesses went bankrupt during the shutdown. Most of the pandemic-related economic relief measures were phased out during 2021.
Both domestic and foreign companies frequently point to a high and unpredictable tax burden and rigid labor laws as obstacles to further investment in Argentina. In 2021, Argentina ranked 73 out of 132 countries evaluated in the Global Innovation Index, which is an indicator of a country’s ability to innovate, based on the premise that innovation is a driver of a nation’s economic growth and prosperity. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Argentina ranked 96 out of 180 countries in 2021, dropping 18 places compared to 2020.
As a Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) member, Argentina signed a free trade and investment agreement with the European Union (EU) in June 2019. Argentina has not yet ratified the agreement. During 2021 there was little progress on trade negotiations with South Korea, Singapore, and Canada. Argentina ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on January 22, 2018. Argentina and the United States continue to expand bilateral commercial and economic cooperation to improve and facilitate public-private ties and communication on trade, investment, energy, and infrastructure issues, including market access and intellectual property rights. More than 265 U.S. companies operate in Argentina, and the United States continues to be the top investor in Argentina with more than USD $8.7 billion (stock) of foreign direct investment as of 2020.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
The Government of Argentina identified its top economic priorities for 2022 as reaching an agreement with the IMF to renegotiate the 2018 Stand-By Arrangement, controlling inflation, and continuing the post-pandemic economic recovery. When the Fernandez administration took office in late 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship became the lead governmental entity for investment promotion. The Fernandez administration does not have a formal business roundtable or other dialogue established with international investors, although it does engage frequently with domestic and international companies.
Market regulations such as capital controls, trade restrictions, and price controls enhance economic distortion that hinders the investment climate in the country.
Foreign and domestic investors generally compete under the same conditions in Argentina. However, foreign investment is restricted in specific sectors such as aviation and media. Foreign ownership of rural productive lands, bodies of water, and areas along borders is also restricted.
Argentina has a National Investment and Trade Promotion Agency that provides information and consultation services to investors and traders on economic and financial conditions, investment opportunities, and Argentine laws and regulations. The agency also helps small and medium- sized companies (SMEs) export their products, provides matchmaking services, and organizes roadshows and trade delegations. Upon the change of administration, the government placed the Agency under the direction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to improve coordination between the Agency and Argentina´s foreign policy. The Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion of the MFA works as a liaison between the Agency and provincial governments and regional organizations. The new administration also created the National Directorate for Investment Promotion under the Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion, making the Directorate responsible for promoting Argentina as an investment destination. The Directorate´s mission also includes determining priority sectors and projects and helping Argentine companies expand internationally and/or attract international investment.
The agency’s web portal provides information on available services (https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/). The 23 provinces and the City of Buenos Aires also have their own provincial investment and trade promotion offices.
Foreign and domestic commercial entities in Argentina are regulated by the Commercial Partnerships Law (Law 19,550), the Argentina Civil and Commercial Code, and rules issued by the regulatory agencies. Foreign private entities can establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity in nearly all sectors.
Full foreign equity ownership of Argentine businesses is not restricted, for the most part, with exceptions in the air transportation and media industries. The share of foreign capital in companies that provide commercial passenger transportation within the Argentine territory is limited to 49 percent per the Aeronautic Code Law 17,285. The company must be incorporated according to Argentine law and domiciled in Buenos Aires. In the media sector, Law 25,750 limits foreign ownership in television, radio, newspapers, journals, magazines, and publishing companies to 30 percent.
Law 26,737 (Regime for Protection of National Domain over Ownership, Possession or Tenure of Rural Land) establishes that a foreigner cannot own land that allows for the extension of existing bodies of water or that are located near a Border Security Zone. In February 2012, the government issued Decree 274/2012 further restricting foreign land ownership to a maximum of 30 percent of national land and 15 percent of productive land. Foreign individuals or foreign company ownership is limited to 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) in the most productive farming areas. In June 2016, the Government of Argentina issued Decree 820 easing the requirements for foreign land ownership by changing the percentage that defines foreign ownership of a person or company, raising it from25 percent to 51 percent of the social capital of a legal entity. Waivers are not available.
Argentina does not maintain an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment. U.S. investors are not at a disadvantage to other foreign investors or singled out for discriminatory treatment.
Argentina was last subject to an investment policy review by the OECD in 1997 and the fifth trade policy review by the WTO in September 2021 (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp512_e.htm). The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has not done an investment policy review of Argentina.
In 2019, stemming from the country’s deteriorating financial and economic situation, the Argentine government re-imposed capital controls on businesses and consumers, limiting their access to foreign exchange. The government continued to update and increase both capital controls and taxes on imports and exports throughout 2021, generating continued uncertainty in the business climate.
With the stated aim of keeping inflation under control and avoiding production shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government increased market interventions in 2020, creating further market distortions that may deter investment. During 2021, bans and other limits on beef exports were introduced to address rising domestic prices. Argentina currently has s a consumer goods price control program, “PreciosCuidados,” a voluntary program established in 2014.The Argentine Congress also passed the Shelves Law (No. 27,545), which regulates the supply, display, and distribution of products on supermarket shelves and virtual stores. Key articles of the Law are still pending implementing regulations. Private companies expressed concern over the final regulatory framework of the Law, which could affect their production, distribution, and marketing business models.
In August 2020, the government issued an edict freezing prices for telecommunication services (mobile and land), cable and satellite TV, and internet services until December 2020, later extending the measure into 2021. Some telecommunication companies appealed through the courts and were granted protection from the edict. The health sector was also subject to limits on price increases. In February 2021, the Secretary of Trade took administrative action against major consumer firms and food producers for purportedly causing supermarket shortages by withholding production and limiting distribution. Companies are currently contesting this decision. In March 2021, the Secretary of Domestic Trade issued Resolution 237/2021 establishing a national registry to monitor the production levels, distribution, and sales of private companies. If companies fail to comply, they could be subject to fines or closure. Tighter import controls imposed by the Fernandez administration have affected the business plans of private companies that need imported inputs for production. The private sector noted increased discretion on the part of trade authorities responsible for both approving import licenses and obtaining access to the foreign exchange market to pay for imports.
The Ministry of Production eased bureaucratic hurdles for foreign trade through the creation of a Single Window for Foreign Trade (“VUCE” for its Spanish acronym) in 2016. The VUCE centralizes the administration of all required paperwork for the import, export, and transit of goods (e.g., certificates, permits, licenses, and other authorizations and documents). The Argentine government has not fully implemented the VUCE for use across the country.
Argentina subjects imports to automatic or non-automatic licenses that are managed through the Comprehensive Import Monitoring System (SIMI, or Sistema Integral de Monitoreo de Importaciones), established in December 2015 by the National Tax Agency (AFIP by its Spanish acronym) through Resolutions 5/2015 and 3823/2015. The SIMI system requires importers to submit detailed information electronically about goods to be imported into Argentina. Once the information is submitted, the relevant Argentine government agencies can review the application through the VUCE and make any observations or request additional information. The list of products subject to non-automatic licensing has been modified several times since the beginning of the SIMI system. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government reclassified goods needed to combat the health emergency previously subject to non-automatic import licenses to automatic import licenses. During 2021, the number of non-automatic import licenses did not significantly change, although obtaining dollars from the Argentine Central Bank to pay for imports was often difficult for importers. Approximately 1,500 tariff lines are currently subject to non-automatic licenses.
The Argentine Congress approved an Entrepreneurs’ Law in March 2017, which allows for the creation of a simplified joint-stock company (SAS, or Sociedad por Acciones Simplificada) online within 24 hours of registration. However, in March 2020, the Fernandez administration annulled the 24-hour registration system. Industry groups said this hindered the entrepreneurship ecosystem by revoking one of the pillars of the Entrepreneurs’ Law.
Foreign investors seeking to set up business operations in Argentina follow the same procedures as domestic entities without prior approval and under the same conditions as local investors. To open a local branch of a foreign company in Argentina, the parent company must be legally registered in Argentina. Argentine law requires at least two equity holders, with the minority equity holder maintaining at least a five percent interest. In addition to the procedures required of a domestic company, a foreign company establishing itself in Argentina must legalize the parent company’s documents, register the incoming foreign capital with the Argentine Central Bank, and obtain a trading license.
A company must register its name with the Office of Corporations (IGJ, or Inspección General de Justicia). The IGJ website describes the registration process, and some portions can be completed online (https://www.argentina.gob.ar/justicia/igj/guia-de-tramites). Once the IGJ registers the company, the company must request that the College of Public Notaries submit the company’s accounting books to be certified with the IGJ. The company’s legal representative must obtain a tax identification number from AFIP, register for social security, and obtain blank receipts from another agency. Companies can register with AFIP online at www.afip.gob.ar or by submitting the sworn affidavit form No. 885 to AFIP.
The enterprise must also provide workers’ compensation insurance for its employees through the Workers’ Compensation Agency (ART, or Aseguradora de Riesgos del Trabajo). The company must register and certify its accounting of wages and salaries with the Secretariat of Labor, within the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security.
The National Directorate for Investment Promotion under the Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion at the MFA assists Argentine companies in expanding their business overseas, in coordination with the National Investment and Trade Promotion Agency. Argentina does not have any restrictions regarding domestic entities investing overseas, nor does it incentivize outward investment.
3. Legal Regime
The Secretary of Strategic Affairs under the Cabinet is in charge of transparency policies and the digitalization of bureaucratic processes as of December 2019.
Argentine government authorities and a number of quasi-independent regulatory entities can issue regulations and norms within their mandates. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations. Rulemaking has traditionally been a top-down process in Argentina, unlike in the United States where industry organizations often lead in the development of standards and technical regulations. The Constitution establishes a procedure that allows for citizens to draft or propose legislation, which is subject to Congressional and Executive approval before being passed into law.
Ministries, regulatory agencies, and Congress are not obligated to provide a list of anticipated regulatory changes or proposals, share draft regulations with the public, or establish a timeline for public comment. They are also not required to conduct impact assessments of the proposed legislation and regulations.
All final texts of laws, regulations, resolutions, dispositions, and administrative decisions must be published in the Official Gazette (https://www.boletinoficial.gob.ar), as well as in the newspapers and the websites of the Ministries and agencies. These texts can also be accessed through the official website Infoleg (http://www.infoleg.gob.ar/), overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Interested stakeholders can pursue judicial review of regulatory decisions.
In September 2016, Argentina enacted a Right to Access Public Information Law (27,275) that mandates all three governmental branches (legislative, judicial, and executive), political parties, universities, and unions that receive public funding are to provide non-classified information at the request of any citizen. The law also created the Agency for the Right to Access Public Information to oversee compliance.
During 2017, the government introduced new procurement standards including electronic procurement, formalization of procedures for costing-out projects, and transparent processes to renegotiate debts to suppliers. The government also introduced OECD recommendations on corporate governance for state-owned enterprises to promote transparency and accountability during the procurement process. The regulation may be viewed at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=306769.
In April 2018, Argentina passed the Business Criminal Responsibility Law (27,041) through Decree 277. The decree establishes an Anti-Corruption Office in charge of outlining and monitoring the transparency policies with which companies must comply to be eligible for public procurement.
The Argentine government has sought to increase public consultation in the rulemaking process; however, public consultation is non-binding and has been done in an ad-hoc fashion. In 2017, the Government of Argentina issued a series of legal instruments that seek to promote the use of tools to improve the quality of the regulatory framework. Amongst them, Decree 891/2017 for Good Practices in Simplification establishes a series of tools to improve the rulemaking process. The decree introduces tools on ex-ante and ex-post evaluation of regulation, stakeholder engagement, and administrative simplification, amongst others. Nevertheless, no formal oversight mechanism has been established to supervise the use of these tools across the line of ministries and government agencies, which make implementation difficult and severely limit the potential to adopt a whole-of-government approach to regulatory policy, according to a 2019 OECD publication on Regulatory Policy in Argentina.
Some ministries and agencies developed their own processes for public consultation by publishing drafts on their websites, directly distributing the draft to interested stakeholders for feedback, or holding public hearings.
The Argentine government also made an effort to improve citizens’ understanding of the budget, through the citizen’s budget “Presupuesto Ciudadano” website: https://www.economia.gob.ar/onp/presupuesto_ciudadano/seccion6.php. The initiative aligns with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) and UN Resolution 67/218 on promoting transparency, participation, and accountability in fiscal policy.
Argentina requires public companies to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Argentina is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures.
The government of Argentina does not promote or require environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures to facilitate transparency and/or help investors and consumers distinguish between high and low-quality investments.
Argentina is a founding member of MERCOSUR and has been a member of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI for Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración) since 1980. Once any of the decision-making bodies within MERCOSUR agrees to apply a certain regulation, each of the member countries must incorporate it into its legislation according to its own legislative procedures. Once a regulation is incorporated in a MERCOSUR member’s legislation, the country must notify MERCOSUR headquarters.
Argentina has been a member of the WTO since 1995, and it ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in January 2018. Argentina notifies technical regulations, but not proposed drafts, to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Argentina submitted itself to an OECD regulatory policy review in March 2018, which was released in March 2019. The Fernandez administration has not actively pursued OECD accession. Argentina participates in all 23 OECD committees.
Additionally, the Argentine Institute for Standards and Certifications (IRAM) is a member of international and regional standards bodies including the International Standardization Organization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the Pan-American Commission on Technical Standards (COPAM), the MERCOSUR Association of Standardization (AMN), the International Certification Network (i-Qnet), the System of Conformity Assessment for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components (IECEE), and the Global Good Agricultural Practice network (GLOBALG.A.P.).
Argentina follows a Civil Law system. In 2014, the Argentine government passed a new Civil and Commercial Code that has been in effect since August 2015. The Civil and Commercial Code provides regulations for civil and commercial liability, including ownership of real and intangible property claims. The current judicial process is lengthy and suffers from significant backlogs. In the Argentine legal system, appeals may be brought from many rulings of the lower courts, including evidentiary decisions, not just final orders, which significantly slows all aspects of the system. The Justice Ministry reported in December 2018 that the expanded use of oral processes had reduced the duration of 68 percent of all civil matters to less than two years.
According to the Argentine constitution, the judiciary is a separate and equal branch of government. In practice, there are continuous instances of political interference in the judicial process. Companies have complained that courts lack transparency and reliability, and that the Argentine government has used the judicial system to pressure the private sector. Media revelations of judicial impropriety and corruption feed public perception and undermine confidence in the judiciary.
Many foreign investors prefer to rely on private or international arbitration when those options are available. Claims regarding labor practices are processed through a labor court, regulated by Law 18,345 and its subsequent amendments, and implementing regulations by Decree 106/98. Contracts often include clauses designating specific judicial or arbitral recourse for dispute settlement.
According to the Foreign Direct Investment Law 21,382 and Decree 1853/93, foreign investors may invest in Argentina without prior governmental approval, under the same conditions as investors domiciled within the country. Foreign investors are free to enter into mergers, acquisitions, greenfield investments, or joint ventures. Foreign firms may also participate in publicly financed research and development programs on a national treatment basis. Incoming foreign currency must be identified by the participating bank to the Central Bank of Argentina (www.bcra.gob.ar).
The National Commission for the Defense of Competition and the Secretariat of Domestic Trade, both within the Ministry of Productive Development, have enforcement authority of the Competition Law (Law 25,156). The law aims to promote a culture of competition in all sectors of the national economy. In May 2018, the Argentine Congress approved a new Defense of Competition Law (Law 27,442), which would have, among other things, established an independent competition agency and tribunal. The new law incorporates anti-competitive conduct regulations and a leniency program to facilitate cartel investigation. The full text of the law can be viewed at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=310241. The Government of Argentina, however, has thus far not taken steps to establish the independent agency or tribunal. In February 2021, a bill introducing amendments to the Defense of Competition Law was passed by the Senate and is currently under study in the Lower House. The main changes are related to the removal of the “Clemency Program,” which encourages public reports of collusive and cartel activities, and the elimination of public hearings to appoint members of the Competition Office. The private sector has expressed concern over this bill, stating these changes are contrary to transparency standards embodied in the Law.
In September 2014, Argentina amended the 1974 National Supply Law to expand the ability of the government to regulate private enterprises by setting minimum and maximum prices and profit margins for goods and services at any stage of economic activity. Private companies may be subject to fines and temporary closure if the government determines they are not complying with the law. Although the law is still in effect, the U.S. Government has not received any reports of it being applied since December 2015. However, the Fernandez administration has expressed its potential use when resisted compliance with price control programs, even if the program was supposed to be voluntary.
In March 2020, the Government of Argentina enacted the Supermarket Shelves Law (Law 27,545) that states that any single manufacturer and its associated brands cannot occupy more than 30 percent of a retailer’s shelf space devoted to any one product category. The law’s proponents claim it will allow more space for domestic SME-produced products, encourage competition, and reduce shortages. U.S. companies have expressed concern over the pending regulations, seeking clarification about issues such as whether display space percentages would be considered per brand or per production company, as it could potentially affect a company’s production, distribution, and marketing business model.
Section 17 of the Argentine Constitution affirms the right of private property and states that any expropriation must be authorized by law and compensation must be provided. The United States-Argentina BIT states that investments shall not be expropriated or nationalized except for public purposes upon prompt payment of the fair market value in compensation.
Argentina has a history of expropriations under previous administrations. The most recent expropriation occurred in March 2015 when the Argentine Congress approved the nationalization of the train and railway system. A number of companies that were privatized during the 1990s under the Menem administration were renationalized under the Kirchner administrations. Additionally, in October 2008, Argentina nationalized its private pension funds, which amounted to approximately one-third of total GDP and transferred the funds to the government social security agency.
In May 2012, the Fernandez de Kirchner administration nationalized oil and gas company Repsol-YPF. Most of the litigation between the Government of Argentina and Repsol was settled in 2016. An American hedge fund still holds a claim against YPF and is in litigation in U.S. courts.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Argentina is signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards, which the country ratified in 1989. Argentina is also a party to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention since 1994.
There is neither specific domestic legislation providing for enforcement under the 1958 New York Convention nor legislation for the enforcement of awards under the ICSID Convention. Companies that seek recourse through Argentine courts may not simultaneously pursue recourse through international arbitration.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The Argentine government officially accepts the principle of international arbitration. The United States-Argentina BIT includes a chapter on Investor-State Dispute Settlement for U.S. investors.
In the past ten years, Argentina has been brought before the ICSID in 7 cases involving U.S. or other foreign investors. Argentina currently has seven pending arbitration cases, three of them filed against it by U.S. investors. For more information on the cases brought by U.S. claimants against Argentina, go to: https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/Pages/cases/AdvancedSearch.aspx#.
Local courts cannot enforce arbitral awards issued against the government based on the public policy clause. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.
Argentina is a member of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).
Argentina is also a party to several bilateral and multilateral treaties and conventions for the enforcement and recognition of foreign judgments, which provide requirements for the enforcement of foreign judgments in Argentina, including:
Treaty of International Procedural Law, approved in the South American Congress of Private International Law held in Montevideo in 1898, ratified by Argentina by law No. 3,192.
Treaty of International Procedural Law, approved in the South American Congress of Private International Law held in Montevideo in 1939-1940, ratified by Dec. Ley 7771/56 (1956).
Panama Convention of 1975, CIDIP I: Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, adopted within the Private International Law Conferences – Organization of American States, ratified by law No. 24,322 (1995).
Montevideo Convention of 1979, CIDIP II: Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitral Awards, adopted within the Private International Law Conferences – Organization of American States, ratified by law No. 22,921 (1983).
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms can be stipulated in contracts. Argentina also has ADR mechanisms available such as the Center for Mediation and Arbitrage (CEMARC) of the Argentine Chamber of Trade. More information can be found at: http://www.intracen.org.
Argentina does not have a specific law governing arbitration, but it has adopted a mediation law (Law 24.573/1995), which makes mediation mandatory prior to litigation. Some arbitration provisions are scattered throughout the Civil Code, the National Code of Civil and Commercial Procedure, the Commercial Code, and three other laws. The following methods of concluding an arbitration agreement are non-binding under Argentine law: electronic communication, fax, oral agreement, and conduct on the part of one party. Generally, all commercial matters are subject to arbitration. There are no legal restrictions on the identity and professional qualifications of arbitrators. Parties must be represented in arbitration proceedings in Argentina by attorneys who are licensed to practice locally. The grounds for annulment of arbitration awards are limited to substantial procedural violations, an ultra petita award (award outside the scope of the arbitration agreement), an award rendered after the agreed-upon time limit, and a public order violation that is not yet settled by jurisprudence when related to the merits of the award. On average, it takes around 21 weeks to enforce an arbitration award rendered in Argentina, from filing an application to a writ of execution attaching assets (assuming there is no appeal). It takes roughly 18 weeks to enforce a foreign award. The requirements for the enforcement of foreign judgments are set out in section 517 of the National Procedural Code.
No information is available as to whether the domestic courts frequently rule in cases in favor of state-owned enterprises (SOE) when SOEs are party to a dispute.
Under the law, debtors are generally able to begin insolvency proceedings when they are no longer able to pay their debts as they mature. Debtors may file for both liquidation and reorganization. Creditors may file for insolvency of the debtor for liquidation only. The insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for the selection or appointment of the insolvency representative or for the sale of substantial assets of the debtor. The insolvency framework does not provide rights to the creditor to request information from the insolvency representative, but the creditor has the right to object to decisions by the debtor to accept or reject creditors’ claims. Bankruptcy is not criminalized; however, convictions for fraudulent bankruptcy can carry two to six years of prison time.
Financial institutions regulated by the Central Bank of Argentina (BCRA) publish monthly outstanding credit balances of their debtors; the BCRA National Center of Debtors (Central de Deudores) compiles and publishes this information. The database is available for use of financial institutions that comply with legal requirements concerning protection of personal data. The credit monitoring system only includes negative information, and the information remains on file through the person’s life. At least one local NGO that makes microcredit loans is working to make the payment history of these loans publicly accessible for the purpose of demonstrating credit history, including positive information, for those without access to bank accounts and who are outside of the Central Bank’s system. Equifax, which operates under the local name “Veraz” (or “truthfully”), also provides credit information to financial institutions and other clients, such as telecommunications service providers and other retailers that operate monthly billing or credit/layaway programs.
4. Industrial Policies
Government incentives do not make any distinction between foreign and domestic investors.
The Argentine government offers a number of investment promotion programs at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels to attract investment to specific economic sectors such as capital assets and infrastructure, innovation and technological development, and energy, with no discrimination between national or foreign-owned enterprises. Some of the investment promotion programs require investments within a specific region or locality, industry, or economic activity. Some programs offer refunds on Value-Added Tax (VAT) or other tax incentives for local production of capital goods. The Investment and International Trade Promotion Agency provides cost-free assessment and information to investors to facilitate operations in the country. Argentina’s investment promotion programs and regimes can be found at: https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/es/inversores, https://www.investargentina.org.ar/, and https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion.
The National Fund for the Development of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises provides low- cost credit to small and medium-sized enterprises for investment projects, labor, capital, and energy efficiency improvement with no distinction between national or foreign-owned enterprises. More information can be found at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/financiamiento
The Ministry of Productive Development supports employment training programs that are frequently free to the participants and do not differentiate based on nationality.
Argentina has two types of tax-exempt trading areas: Free Trade Zones (FTZ), which are located throughout the country, and the more comprehensive Special Customs Area (SCA), which covers all of Tierra del Fuego Province and is scheduled to expire at the end of 2023.
Argentine law defines a FTZ as a territory outside the “general customs area” (GCA, i.e., the rest of Argentina) where neither the inflows nor outflows of exported final merchandise are subject to tariffs, non-tariff barriers, or other taxes on goods. Goods produced within a FTZ generally cannot be shipped to the GCA unless they are capital goods not produced in the rest of the country. The labor, sanitary, ecological, safety, criminal, and financial regulations within FTZs are the same as those that prevail in the GCA. Foreign firms receive national treatment in FTZs.
Merchandise shipped from the GCA to a FTZ may receive export incentive benefits, if applicable, only after the goods are exported from the FTZ to a third country destination. Merchandise shipped from the GCA to a FTZ and later exported to another country is not exempt from export taxes. Any value added in a FTZ or re-export from a FTZ is exempt from export taxes. For more information on FTZ in Argentina see: http://www.afip.gob.ar/zonasFrancas/.
Products manufactured in the SCA may enter the GCA free from taxes or tariffs. In addition, the government may enact special regulations that exempt products shipped through the SCA (but not manufactured therein) from all forms of taxation except excise taxes. The SCA program provides benefits for established companies that meet specific production and employment objectives.
The Argentine national government does not have local employment mandates, nor does it apply such schemes to senior management or boards of directors. However, certain provincial governments do require employers to hire a certain percentage of their workforce from the provincial population. There are no excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees. Under Argentine law, conditions to invest are equal for national and foreign investors. As of March 2018, citizens of MERCOSUR countries can obtain legal residence within five months and at little cost, which grants permission to work. Argentina suspended its method for expediting this process in early 2018.
Argentina has local content requirements for specific sectors. Requirements are applicable to domestic and foreign investors equally. Argentine law establishes a national preference for local industry for most government procurement if the domestic supplier’s tender is no more than five to seven percent higher than the foreign tender. The amount by which the domestic bid may exceed a foreign bid depends on the size of the domestic company making the bid. In May 2018, Argentina issued Law 27,437, giving additional priority to Argentine small and medium-sized enterprises and, separately, requiring that foreign companies that win a tender must subcontract domestic companies to cover 20 percent of the value of the work. The preference applies to procurement by all government agencies, public utilities, and concessionaires. There is similar legislation at the sub-national (provincial) level.
In November 2016, the government passed a public-private partnership (PPP) law (27,328) that regulates public-private contracts. The law lowered regulatory barriers to foreign investment in public infrastructure projects with the aim of attracting more foreign direct investment. Several projects under the PPP initiative have been canceled or put on hold due to an ongoing investigation on corruption in public works projects during the last administration. The PPP law contains a “Buy Argentina” clause that mandates at least 33 percent local content for every public project.
Argentina is not a signatory to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), but it became an observer to the GPA in February 1997.
In July 2016, the Ministry of Production and Labor and the Ministry of Energy and Mining issued Joint Resolutions 123 and 313, which allow companies to obtain tax benefits on purchases of solar or wind energy equipment for use in investment projects that incorporate at least 60 percent local content in their electromechanical installations. In cases where local supply is insufficient to reach the 60 percent threshold, the threshold can be reduced to 30 percent. The resolutions also provide tax exemptions for imports of capital and intermediate goods that are not locally produced for use in the investment projects.
In 2016, Argentina passed law 27,263, implemented by Resolution 599-E/2016, which provides tax credits to automotive manufacturers for the purchase of locally produced automotive parts and accessories incorporated into specific types of vehicles. The tax credits range from 4 percent to 15 percent of the value of the purchased parts. The list of vehicle types included in the regime can be found here: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/260000-264999/263955/norma.htm. In 2018, Argentina issued Resolution 28/2018, simplifying the procedure for obtaining the tax credits. The resolution also establishes that if the national content drops below the minimum required by the resolution because of relative price changes due to exchange rate fluctuations, automotive manufacturers will not be considered non-compliant with the regime. However, the resolution sets forth that tax benefits will be suspended for the quarter when the drop was registered.
The Media Law, enacted in 2009 and amended in 2015, requires companies to produce advertising and publicity materials locally or to include 60 percent local content. The Media Law also establishes a 70 percent local production content requirement for companies with radio licenses. Additionally, the Media Law requires that 50 percent of the news and 30 percent of the music that is broadcast on the radio be of Argentine origin. In the case of private television operators, at least 60 percent of broadcast content must be of Argentine origin. Of that 60 percent, 30 percent must be local news and 10 to 30 percent must be local independent content.
Argentina establishes percentages of local content in the production process for manufacturers of mobile and cellular radio communication equipment operating in Tierra del Fuego province. Resolution 66/2018 maintains the local content requirement for products such as technical manuals, packaging, and labeling. The percentage of local content required ranges from 10 percent to 100 percent depending on the process or item. In cases where local supply is insufficient to meet local content requirements, companies may apply for an exemption that is subject to review every six months. A detailed description of local content percentage requirements can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do;jsessionid=0CA1B74C2D7EC353E66F1CC6CFD8B41D?id=255494.
There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption, nor does the government prevent companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country’s territory.
Argentina does not have forced localization of content in technology or requirements of data storage in country.
There is no discrimination between domestic and foreign investors in investment incentives. There are no performance requirements. A complete guide of incentives for investors in Argentina can be found at: https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/es/inversores.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Secured interests in property, including mortgages, are recognized in Argentina. Such interests can be easily and effectively registered. They also can be readily bought and sold. Argentina manages a national registry of real estate ownership (Registro de la Propiedad Inmueble) at http://www.dnrpi.jus.gov.ar/. No data is available on the percent of all land that does not have clear title. There are no specific regulations regarding land lease and acquisition of residential and commercial real estate by foreign investors. Law 26,737 (Regime for Protection of National Domain over Ownership, Possession or Tenure of Rural Land) establishes the restrictions of foreign ownership on rural and productive lands, including water bodies. Foreign ownership is also restricted on land located near borders.
Legal claims may be brought to evict persons unlawfully occupying real property, even if the property is unoccupied by the lawful owner. However, these legal proceedings can be quite lengthy, and until the legal proceedings are complete, evicting squatters is problematic. The title and actual conditions of real property interests under consideration should be carefully reviewed before acquisition.
Argentine Law 26.160 prevents the eviction and confiscation of land traditionally occupied by indigenous communities in Argentina or encumbered with an indigenous land claim. Indigenous land claims can be found in the land registry. Enforcement is carried out by the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs, under the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.
The Government of Argentina adheres to some treaties and international agreements on intellectual property (IP) and belongs to the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Trade Organization. The Argentine Congress ratified the Uruguay Round agreements, including the provisions on intellectual property, in Law 24425 in 1995.
The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR)’s 2021 Special 301 Report listed Argentina on the Priority Watch List. Trading partners on the Priority Watch List present the most significant concerns regarding inadequate or ineffective IP protection or enforcement or actions that otherwise limit market access for persons relying on IP protection. For a complete version of the 2021 Report, see: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2020_Special_301_Report.pdf.
Argentina continues to present long-standing and well-known challenges to intellectual property (IP)-intensive industries, including those from the United States. A key deficiency in the legal framework for patents is the unduly broad limitations on patent eligible subject matter. Pursuant to a highly problematic 2012 Joint Resolution establishing guidelines for the examination of patents, Argentina rejects patent applications for categories of pharmaceutical inventions that are eligible for patentability in other jurisdictions, including in the United States. Additionally, to be patentable, Argentina requires that processes for the manufacture of active compounds disclosed in a specification be reproducible and applicable on an industrial scale. Stakeholders assert that Resolution 283/2015, introduced in September 2015, also limits the ability to patent biotechnological innovations based on living matter and natural substances. These measures have interfered with the ability of companies investing in Argentina to protect their IP and may be inconsistent with international norms.
Another ongoing challenge to the innovative agricultural chemical and pharmaceutical sectors is inadequate protection against the unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for products in those sectors. Argentina made progress on eliminating the patent application backlog, however, this did not include the backlog for pharmaceutical or biotechnology innovations. The number of patent examiners remains insufficient with retention and recruitment hampered by low public sector salaries. Argentina did not extend the Patent Prosecution Highway signed between the National Institute of Industrial Property’s (INPI) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which expired in March 2020.
Enforcement of IP rights in Argentina continues to be a challenge, and stakeholders report widespread unfair competition from sellers of counterfeit and pirated goods and services. La Salada in Buenos Aires remains the largest counterfeit market in Latin America and is cited in USTR’s 2021 Review of Notorious Markets for Piracy and Counterfeiting. Argentine police generally do not take ex officio actions, prosecutions can stall and languish in excessive formalities, and, when a criminal case does reach final judgment, criminal infringers rarely receive deterrent sentences. Hard goods counterfeiting and optical disc piracy are widespread, and online piracy continues to grow due to nearly nonexistent criminal enforcement against such piracy. As a result, IP enforcement online in Argentina consists mainly of right holders trying to convince Argentine internet service providers to agree to take down specific infringing works, as well as attempting to seek injunctions in civil cases, both of which can be time-consuming and ineffective. Rights holders also cite widespread use of unlicensed software by Argentine private enterprises and the government.
Argentina made limited progress in IP protection and enforcement in a year marked by high inflation, sovereign debt negotiations with the IMF, and political conflicts within the ruling coalition. The pressing economic situation led to an increase of counterfeit products sales in informal markets once the confinement measures enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic were relaxed in the second semester of 2020. Online sales of counterfeit products, especially apparel and footwear spiked amidst the pandemic. The Argentine Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises noted an increase of national production of counterfeit sportswear, while sales of counterfeit luxury goods such as handbags decreased. Flight and border crossing restrictions applied during the COVID-19 health emergency prevented purchases of counterfeit products from China, Paraguay, and Bolivia, but were removed by November 2021.
INPI began accepting electronic filing of patent, trademark, and industrial designs applications in 2018. During 2020, the agency successfully transitioned to an all-electronic filing system. Argentina continued to improve procedures for trademarks, with INPI reducing the time for a trademark opposition from an average of 3.5 years to one year. On trademarks, the law provides for a fast-track option that reduces the time to register a trademark to four months.
Argentina formally created the Federal Committee to Fight Against Contraband, Falsification of Trademarks, and Designations, formalizing the work on trademark counterfeiting under the National Anti-Piracy Initiative launched in 2017. In November 2020, Argentina and the United States held a virtual bilateral meeting under the Innovation and Creativity Forum for Economic Development, part of the U.S.-Argentina Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, to continue discussions and collaboration on IP topics of mutual interest. The United States intends to monitor all the outstanding issues for progress and urges Argentina to continue its efforts to create a more attractive environment for investment and innovation.
The Argentine Constitution sets as a general principle that foreign investors have the same status and the same rights as local investors. Foreign investors have free access to domestic and international financing.
After a three-year recession (2018-2020), the economy rebounded with 10.3 percent growth in 2021. However, the government did not ease the capital controls introduced in September 2019 to slow the outflow of dollars. Central Bank capital controls prohibiting transfers and payments are likely in conflict with IMF Article VIII. The government has maintained trade restrictions, price controls, distortive taxes, and high spending. Unable to access international capital markets (despite restructuring private debt in 2020) and with a shallow domestic market, the government relied on Central Bank money printing to finance the deficit. The excessive liquidity resulted in high inflation (50.9 percent in 2021) and deteriorating social conditions, with the poverty rate exceeding 40 percent.
In August 2020, the government of Argentina formally notified the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its intent to renegotiate $45 billion due to the Fund from the 2018 Stand-By Arrangement. On March 3, 2022, IMF Staff and Argentine authorities reached a staff-level agreement on the economic and financial policies required for an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) Arrangement. In broad terms, the key objectives of the new EFF include a reduction in the fiscal deficit and monetary financing, tackling inflation, and the accumulation of foreign reserves. The IMF Executive Board approved the EFF on March 25, after the Argentine National Congress approved the measure.
The Argentine Securities and Exchange Commission (CNV or Comisión Nacional de Valores) is the federal agency that regulates securities markets offerings. Securities and accounting standards are transparent and consistent with international norms. Foreign investors have access to a variety of options on the local market to obtain credit. Nevertheless, the domestic credit market is small – credit is 11 percent of GDP. Private sector credit gained some momentum in 2021, driven by the reopening of the economy after the pandemic and government support measures such as subsidized credit lines for businesses. Nevertheless, the stock of credit shrank in real terms as the nominal credit growth increased by 41 percent in 2021, below the inflation rate of 50.7 percent. The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the organization responsible for the operation of Argentina’s primary stock exchange, located in Buenos Aires city. The most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the MERVAL (Mercado de Valores).
U.S. banks, securities firms, and investment funds are well-represented in Argentina and are dynamic players in local capital markets. In 2003, the government began requiring foreign banks to disclose to the public the nature and extent to which their foreign parent banks guarantee their branches or subsidiaries in Argentina.
Argentina has a relatively sound banking sector based on diversified revenues, well-contained operating costs, and a high liquidity level. Argentina’s banking sector has been resilient in the face of a multi-year economic recession (2018-2020). Limited financial intermediation combined with high inflation and interventionist interest rate regulations (mainly for small businesses) dented bank profitability in 2021. Banks compensated for this by controlling expenses and increasing digitalization of the sector. Non-performing private sector loans constitute 4.4 percent of banks’ portfolios. During 2021, financial entities maintained adequate solvency indicators. The banking sector is well positioned due to macro and micro-prudential policies introduced since 2002 that have helped to reduce asset-liability mismatches. The sector is highly liquid and its exposure to the public sector is modest, while its provisions for bad debts are adequate.
Private banks have total assets of approximately ARS 8.4 trillion (USD $83.3 billion). Total financial system assets are approximately ARS 13.7 trillion (USD $135.7 billion). The Central Bank of Argentina acts as the country’s financial agent and is the main regulatory body for the banking system.
Foreign banks and branches can establish operations in Argentina. They are subject to the same regulation as local banks. Argentina’s Central Bank has many correspondent banking relationships, none of which are known to have been lost in the past three years.
In November 2020, the Central Bank launched a new payment system, “Transfers 3.0,” seeking to reduce the use of cash. This system will boost digital payments and further financial inclusion in Argentina, expanding the reach of instant transfers to build an open and universal digital payment ecosystem. The government has expressed support for the process of digitization of payments to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and safeguard financial stability.
The Central Bank has enacted a resolution recognizing cryptocurrencies and requiring that they comply with local banking and tax laws. No implementing regulations have been adopted. Block chain developers report that several companies in the financial services sector are exploring or considering using block chain-based programs externally and are using some such programs internally.
Beginning in September 2019, the Argentine government and Central Bank issued a series of decrees and norms to extend or amend the government’s ability to regulate and restrict access to foreign exchange markets.
As of October 2019, the Central Bank (Notice A6815) limits cash withdrawals made abroad with local debit cards to foreign currency bank accounts owned by the client in Argentina. Pursuant to Notice A6823, cash advances made abroad using local credit cards are limited to a maximum of USD $50 per transaction.
As of September 2020, and pursuant to Notice A7106, Argentine individuals must limit purchases of foreign currency (or of goods and services denominated in foreign currency) to no more than USD $200 per month on a rolling monthly basis. Individuals must receive Central Bank approval to purchase foreign currency in excess of the $200 quota. Purchases of goods and services abroad with credit and debit cards issued by Argentine banks count against the USD $200 per month quota. Although no limit on credit or debit card purchases is imposed, if monthly expenditures surpass the USD $200 limit, the card owner will be prevented from purchasing foreign currency in Argentina for the number of months needed to cover the amount of excess spending. Also, the regulation prohibits individuals who receive government assistance and high-ranking federal government officials from purchasing foreign exchange.
Pursuant to Public Emergency Law 27,541, issued December 23, 2019, all dollar purchases and individual expenses incurred abroad, in person or online, including international online purchases from Argentina, paid with credit or with debit cards will be subject to a 30 percent tax. Pursuant to AFIP Resolution 4815 a 35 percent withholding tax in advance of the payment of income and/or wealth tax is also applied.
Non-Argentine residents are required to obtain prior Central Bank approval to purchase more than USD $100 per month, except for certain bilateral or international organizations, institutions and agencies, diplomatic representation, and foreign tribunals.
Companies and individuals need to obtain prior clearance from the Central Bank before transferring funds abroad. In the case of individuals, if transfers are made from their own foreign currency accounts in Argentina to their own accounts abroad, they do not need to obtain Central Bank approval.
Per Notice A6869 issued by the Central Bank in January 2020, companies will be able to repatriate dividends without Central Bank authorization equivalent to a maximum of 30 percent of new foreign direct investment made by the company in the country. To promote foreign direct investment the Central Bank announced in October 2020 (Notice A7123) that it will allow free access to the official foreign exchange market to repatriate investments as long as the capital contribution was transferred and sold in Argentine Pesos through the foreign exchange market as of October 2, 2020, and the repatriation takes place at least two years after the transfer and settlement of those funds.
Exporters of goods are required to transfer the proceeds from exports to Argentina and settle in pesos in the foreign currency market. Exporters must settle according to the following terms: exporters with affiliates (irrespective of the type of good exported) and exporters of certain goods (including cereals, seeds, minerals, and precious metals, among others) must convert their foreign currency proceeds to pesos within 15 days (or 30 days for some products) after the issuance of the permit for shipment; other exporters have 180 days to settle in pesos. Despite these deadlines, exporters must transfer the funds to Argentina and settle in pesos within five business days from the actual collection of funds. Argentine residents are required to transfer to Argentina and settle in pesos the proceeds from services exports rendered to non-Argentine residents that are paid in foreign currency either in Argentina or abroad, within five business days from collection of funds.
Payment of imports of goods and services from third parties and affiliates require Central Bank approval if the company needs to purchase foreign currency. Since May 2020, the Central Bank requires importers to submit an affidavit stating that the total amount of payments associated with the import of goods made during the year (including the payment that is being requested). The total amount of payments for importation of goods should also include the payments for amortizations of lines of credit and/or commercial guarantees.
In September 2020, the Central Bank limited companies’ ability to purchase foreign currency to cancel any external financial debt (including other intercompany debt) and dollar denominated local securities offerings. Companies were granted access to foreign currency for up to 40 percent of the principal amount coming due from October 15, 2020, to December 31, 2020. For the remaining 60 percent of the debt, companies had to file a refinancing plan with the Central Bank. In February 2021, the Central Bank extended the regulation through 2021, and in March 2022 extended it again to include maturities through December 31, 2022. Indebtedness with international organizations or their associated agencies or guaranteed by them and indebtedness granted by official credit agencies or guaranteed by them are exempted from this restriction.
The Central Bank (Notice A7001) prohibited access to the foreign exchange market to pay for external indebtedness, imports of goods and services, and saving purposes for individuals and companies that have made sales of securities with settlement in foreign currency or transfers of these to foreign depositary entities within the last 90 days. They also should not make any of these transactions for the following 90 days.
Pre-cancellation of debt coming due abroad in more than three business days requires Central Bank approval to purchase dollars.
Per Resolution 36,162 of October 2011, locally registered insurance companies are mandated to maintain all investments and cash equivalents in the country. The Central Bank limits banks’ dollar-denominated asset holdings to 5 percent of their net worth.
In December 2021, the Central Bank presented its monetary, financial, lending, and foreign exchange program. On monetary policy, the Central Bank committed to I) manage liquidity to prevent any imbalances that may directly or indirectly affect the disinflation process; II) set the path of the policy interest rate to obtain positive real returns on investments in domestic currency and preserve monetary and foreign exchange stability; and III) contribute to the development of the capital market and adjust minimum reserve requirements to strengthen the channel of monetary policy transmission. On foreign exchange, the Central Bank will maintain the gradual crawling peg of the exchange rate consistent with the pace of inflation. With the goal of strengthening international reserves, the Central Bank will manage capital control regulations to ensure monetary and foreign exchange stability. The credit policy objectives include encouraging financial intermediation and promoting the growth of the peso credit market to boost lending to micro, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and to the sectors most affected by the pandemic.
In response to the economic crisis in Argentina, the government introduced capital controls in September 2019 and tightened them in 2020. Under these restrictions, companies in Argentina (including local affiliates of foreign parent companies) must obtain prior approval from the Central Bank to access the foreign exchange market to purchase foreign currency and to transfer funds abroad for the payment of dividends and profits. In January 2020, the Central Bank amended the regime for the payment of dividends abroad to non-residents. The new regime allows companies to access the foreign exchange market to transfer profits and dividends abroad without prior authorization of the Central Bank, provided the following conditions are met:
(1) Profits and dividends are to be declared in closed and audited financial statements.
(2) The dividends in foreign currency should not exceed the dividends determined by the shareholders’ meeting in local currency.
(3) The total amount of dividends to be transferred cannot exceed 30 percent of the amount of new capital contributions made by non-residents into local companies since January 2020.
(4) The resident entity must be in compliance with filing the Central Bank Survey of External Assets and Liabilities.
The Argentine government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.
Over the past several years, Armenia has received consistently respectable rankings in international indices that review country business environments and investment climates. Projects representing significant U.S. investment are present in Armenia, most notably ContourGlobal’s Vorotan Hydroelectric Cascade and Lydian’s efforts to develop a major gold mine. U.S. investors in the banking, energy, pharmaceutical, information technology, and mining sectors, among others, have entered or acquired assets in Armenia. Armenia presents a variety of opportunities for investors, and the country’s legal framework and government policy aim to attract investment, but the investment climate is not without challenges. Obstacles include Armenia’s small market size, relative geographic isolation due to closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, weaknesses in the rule of law and judiciary, and a legacy of corruption. Net foreign direct investment inflows are low. Armenia had commenced a robust recovery from a deep 2020 recession prior to the introduction of new sanctions against Russia. GDP growth reached five percent in 2021 and had been expected to continue to grow in 2022 by at least five percent. As a result of the war and sanctions imposed on Russia, Armenia’s 2022 GDP growth forecast is now just above one percent.
In May 2015, Armenia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States. This agreement established a United States-Armenia Council on Trade and Investment to discuss bilateral trade and investment and related issues. Since 2015, Armenia has been a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, a customs union that brings Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia into a single integrated market. In November 2017, Armenia signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the European Union, which aimed in part to improve Armenia’s investment climate and business environment.
Armenia imposes few restrictions on foreign control and rights to private ownership and establishment. There are no restrictions on the rights of foreign nationals to acquire, establish, or dispose of business interests in Armenia. Business registration procedures are generally straightforward. According to foreign companies, otherwise sound regulations, policies, and laws are sometimes undermined by problems such as the lack of independence, capacity, or professionalism in key institutions, most critically the judiciary. Armenia does not limit the conversion and transfer of money or the repatriation of capital and earnings. The banking system in Armenia is sound and well-regulated, but investors note that the financial sector is not highly developed. The U.S.-Armenia Bilateral Investment Treaty provides U.S. investors with a variety of protections. Although Armenian legislation offers protection for intellectual property rights, enforcement efforts and recourse through the courts are in need of improvement.
Armenia experienced a dramatic change of government in 2018, when a democratically elected leader came to power on an anti-corruption platform after street protests toppled the old regime. Following the 2020 NK hostilities, in June 2021, the incumbent retained power in snap parliamentary election that met most international democracy standards. The government continues to push forth with economic and anti-corruption reforms that have improved the business climate. Overall, the competitive environment in Armenia is improving, but several businesses have reported that broader reforms across judicial, tax, customs, health, education, military, and law enforcement institutions will be necessary to shore up these gains.
Despite improvements in some areas that raise Armenia’s attractiveness as an investment destination, investors claim that numerous issues remain and must be addressed to ensure a transparent, fair, and predictable business climate. A number of investors have raised concerns about the quality of dialogue between the private sector and government. Investors have also flagged issues regarding government officials’ ability to resolve problems they face in an expeditious manner. An investment dispute in the country’s mining sector has attracted significant international attention and remains outstanding after several years.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
The government of Armenia officially welcomes foreign investment. The Ministry of Economy is the main government body responsible for the development of investment policy in Armenia. Armenia has achieved respectable rankings on some global indices measuring the country’s business climate. Armenia’s investment and trade policy is relatively open; foreign companies are entitled by law to the same treatment as Armenian companies. Armenia has strong human capital and a well-educated population, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, leading to significant investment in the high-tech and information technology sectors. Many international companies have established branches or subsidiaries in Armenia to take advantage of the country’s pool of qualified specialists and position within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). However, many businesses have identified challenges with Armenia’s investment climate in terms of the country’s small market (with a population of less than three million), limited consumer buying power, relative geographic isolation due to closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, and concerns related to weaknesses in the rule of law.
Following a peaceful revolution in 2018 fueled in large measure by popular frustration with endemic corruption, Armenia’s government launched a high-profile anti-corruption campaign. The fight against corruption needs to be institutionalized in the long term, especially in critical areas such as the judiciary, tax and customs operations, and health, education, military, and law enforcement sectors. Foreign investors remain concerned about the rule of law, equal treatment, and ethical conduct by government officials. U.S companies have reported that the investment climate is tainted by a failure to enforce intellectual property rights. There have been concerns regarding the lack of an independent and strong judiciary, which undermines the government’s assurances of equal treatment and transparency and reduces access to effective recourse in instances of investment or commercial disputes. Representatives of U.S. entities have raised concerns about the quality of stakeholder consultation by the government with the private sector and government responsiveness in addressing concerns among the business community.
Government officials have publicly responded to private sector concerns about perceptions of slow movement in the government bureaucracy as a function of needing to guard against corruption-related risks. The Armenian National Interests Fund and Investment Support Center (Enterprise Armenia) are responsible for attracting and facilitating foreign direct investment.
There are generally very few restrictions on foreign ownership or control of commercial enterprises. There are some restrictions on foreign ownership within the media and commercial aviation sectors. Local incorporation is required to obtain a license for the provision of auditing services.
The Armenian government does not maintain investment screening mechanisms in general, and for foreign direct investment, in particular. Government approval is required to take advantage of certain tax and customs privileges, and foreign investors are subject to the same requirements as domestic investors where regulatory approvals may be involved.
An Armenian ecological NGO recently published an article claiming that many mines in Armenia do not have corporate social responsibility obligations, which are required by law. However, it was unclear from the article if the mines in question were still actively operating.
Link to conflicts listed on Environmental Justice Atlas, under “basic data,” select country: https://ejatlas.org/
In 2019, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published its first investment policy review for Armenia. The World Trade Organization (WTO) published a Trade Policy Review for Armenia in 2018.
Companies can register electronically here. This single window service was launched in 2011 and allows individual entrepreneurs and companies to complete name reservation, business registration, and tax identification processes all at once. The application can be completed in one day. An electronic signature is needed in order to be able to register online. Foreign citizens can obtain an e-signature and more detailed information from the e-signature portal. In 2019, the government launched an e-regulations platform that provides a step-by-step guide for business and investment procedures. The platform is available at https://armenia.eregulations.org/. According to the latest estimates, it takes four days to complete the company registration process in Armenia.
The Armenian government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
3. Legal Regime
The Armenian government increasingly makes efforts to uses transparent policies and laws to foster competition. Some contacts have reported that over the last few years the Armenian government has pursued a more consistent execution of these laws and policies in an effort to improve market competition and remove informal barriers to market entry, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises. Armenia’s legislation on the protection of competition has been improved with clarifications regarding key concepts. There have been some procedural improvements for delivering conclusions and notifications of potential anti-competitive behavior via electronic means. However, companies regard the efforts of the State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC) alone as insufficient to ensure a level playing field. They indicate that improvements in other state institutions and authorities that support competition, like the courts, tax and customs, public procurement, and law enforcement, are necessary. Numerous studies observe a continuing lack of contestability in local markets, many of which are dominated by a few incumbents. Banking supervision is relatively well developed and largely consistent with the Basel Core Principles. The Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) is the primary regulator of the financial sector and exercises oversight over banking, securities, insurance, and pensions. Armenia has adopted IFRS as the accounting standard for enterprises. Data on Armenia’s public finances and debt obligations are broadly transparent, and the Ministry of Finance publishes periodic reports that are available online.
Safety and health requirements, many of them holdovers from the Soviet period, generally do not impede investment activities. Nevertheless, investors consider bureaucratic procedures to be sometimes burdensome, and discretionary decisions by individual officials may present opportunities for petty corruption. A unified online platform for publishing draft legislation was launched in March 2017. Proposed legislation is available for the public to view. Registered users can submit feedback and see a summary of comments on draft legislation. However, the time period devoted to public comments is often regarded as insufficient to solicit substantive feedback. The results of consultations have not been reported by the government in the past. The government maintains other portals, including http://www.e-gov.am and http://www.arlis.am, that make legislation and regulations available to the public. The governmental https://www.aipa.am/en/ portal is a comprehensive platform for a range of services including registering intellectual property, opening a company, or applying for a construction permit. It also provides links to key regulatory institutions and laws and regulations. The government does not require environmental and social disclosures to help investors and consumers distinguish between high- and low-quality investments. Some regulations that affect Armenia are developed within the Eurasian Economic Commission, the executive body for the EAEU.
Armenia is a member of the EAEU and adheres to relevant technical regulations. Armenia’s entry into CEPA will lead it to pursue harmonization efforts with the EU on a range of laws, regulations, and policies relevant to economic affairs. Armenia is also a member of the WTO, and the Armenian government notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Armenia is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement and has already sent category “A”, “B,” and “C” notifications to the WTO.
Armenia has a hybrid legal system that includes elements of both civil and common law. Although Armenia is developing an international commercial code, the laws regarding commercial and contractual matters are currently set forth in the civil code. Thus, because Armenia lacks a commercial court, all disputes involving contracts, ownership of property, or other commercial matters are resolved by litigants in courts of general jurisdiction, which handle both civil and criminal cases. Judges that handle civil matters may be overwhelmed by the volume of cases before them and are frequently seen by the public as corrupt. Despite the ability of courts to use the precedential authority of the Court of Cassation and the European Court of Human Rights, many judges who specialize in civil cases do not do so, increasing the unpredictability of court decisions in the eyes of investors.
Businesses tend to perceive that many Armenian courts suffer from low levels of efficiency, independence, and professionalism, which drives a need to strengthen the judiciary. Very often in proceedings when additional forensic expertise is requested, the court may suspend a case until the forensic opinion is received, a process that can take several months. Businesses have noted that many judges at courts of general jurisdiction may be reluctant to make decisions without getting advice from higher court judges. Thus, the public opinion is that decisions may be influenced by factors other than the law and merits of individual cases. In general, the government honors judgments from both arbitration proceedings and Armenian national courts.
Due to the nature and complexity of commercial and contractual issues and the caseload of judges who specialize in civil cases, many matters involving investment or commercial disputes take months or years to work their way through the courts. In addition, businesses have complained of the inefficiencies and institutional corruption of the courts. Even though the Armenian constitution provides investors the tools to enforce awards and their property rights, investors claim that there is little predictability in what a court may do.
Basic legal provisions covering foreign investment are specified in the 1994 Law on Foreign Investment. Foreign companies are entitled by law to the same treatment as Armenian companies. A Law on Public-Private Partnership (PPP), adopted in 2019, establishes a framework for the government to attract investment for projects focused on infrastructure. In 2021, the Law on PPP has been amended to introduce clear criteria for PPP project selection by the Government, as well as enabled investors to apply to the government with PPP project proposals.
The Investment Support Center (Enterprise Armenia) is Armenia’s national authority for investment and export promotion. It provides information to foreign investors on Armenia’s business climate, investment opportunities, and legislation; supports investor visits; and serves as a liaison for government institutions. More information is available via the Investment Support Center’s website.
SCPEC reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. Relevant laws, regulations, commission decisions, and more information can be found on SCPEC’s website. Concentrations, including mergers, acquisitions of shares or assets, amalgamations, and incorporations, are subject to ex ante control by SCPEC in accordance with the law. Whenever a concentration gives rise to concerns about harm to competition, including the creation or strengthening of a dominant position, SCPEC can prohibit such a transaction or impose certain remedies. Armenia’s Law on Protection of Economic Competition has been amended several times in recent years to bring Armenia’s competition framework into alignment with EAEU and CEPA requirements. The law was changed in 2020 to improve SCPEC’s capabilities to investigate anti-competitive behavior, in collaboration with Armenia’s investigative bodies, whereas before SCPEC had to rely primarily on document studies and request information from other state bodies.
Amendments to the competition law made in 2021 strengthened SCPEC’s preventive measures by allowing private sector representatives to obtain SCPEC’s advisory opinion on market concentration risks prior to a planned transaction or activity (formerly available only to state bodies). The most recent changes to competition law also defined the order to conduct sectoral market studies to identify potential competition violations and enlarged the scope of market transactions that can be assessed as market concentrations.
Under Armenian law, foreign investment cannot be confiscated or expropriated except in extreme cases of natural or state emergency upon obtaining an order from a domestic court. According to the Armenian constitution, equivalent compensation is owed prior to expropriation.
According to the Law on Bankruptcy adopted in 2006, creditors and equity and contract holders (including foreign entities) have the right to participate and defend their interests in bankruptcy cases. Armenia decided with the passage of a new Judicial Code in 2018 to adopt a new, specialized bankruptcy court, which began operations in 2019. Creditors have the right to access all materials relevant to cases, submit claims to court, participate in meetings of creditors, and nominate candidates to administer cases. Monetary judgments are usually made in local currency. The Armenian Criminal Code defines penalties for false and deliberate bankruptcy, concealment of property or other assets of the bankrupt party, or other illegal activities during the bankruptcy process. UNCTAD observes that Armenia’s framework for bankruptcy procedures needs improvement, adding that insolvency cases are expensive and almost always result in liquidation. Armenia amended its bankruptcy law in December 2019 to reduce the cost of bankruptcy proceedings. In addition, premiums have been set for bankruptcy managers for submitting financial recovery plans, as well as for the recovery of a bankrupt person, with the aim of raising rates of financial recovery. In 2020, the debt threshold to launch bankruptcy proceedings was raised to grant companies a greater ability to pay off debts rather than having their assets frozen.
4. Industrial Policies
Armenia offers incentives for exporters (e.g., no export duty, VAT refund on goods and services exported) and foreign investors (e.g., income tax holidays, the ability to carry forward losses indefinitely, VAT deferral, and exemptions from customs duties for investment projects). Starting in 2018, the Armenian government began exempting imports of capital investment-related goods from VAT payments at the border. In 2015, the Armenian government began exempting from customs duties investment-related imports of equipment and raw materials from non-EAEU member countries. VAT and customs duties exemptions are implemented by government decisions made on a case-by-case basis. Also, in accordance with the Law on Foreign Investment, several ad hoc incentives may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis for investments that are targeted at certain sectors of the economy or are of strategic interest. As part of its response to COVID-19, the government launched several economic response and social support measures in 2020, some of them, including several support programs in the agriculture sector, are still active in 2022. In May 2022, the government had initiated changes in energy regulations to allow multiple usage points for solar panel installations. The Law on Licensing was amended in 2021 to simplify the licensing requirements for foreign companies to engage in 13 types of business activities in Armenia, including security/encashment and postal services, railroad and taxi services, urban development and engineering, and technical supervision of construction.
In 2011, Armenia adopted a Law on Free Economic Zones (FEZ), amended in 2018, and developed several key regulations to attract foreign investments into FEZs: exemptions from VAT, profit tax, customs duties, and property tax. The Alliance FEZ was opened in 2013 to focus on high-tech industries, including information and communication technologies, electronics, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, architecture and engineering, industrial design, and alternative energy. In 2014, the government expanded operations in the Alliance FEZ to include industrial production. In 2015, the Meridian FEZ, focused on jewelry production, watchmaking, and diamond cutting, opened in Yerevan. The Meghri FEZ, located on Armenia’s border with Iran, opened in 2017. A new FEZ, located in Hrazdan, opened in late 2018 and is focused on the high-tech and information technology sectors. Armenia has signaled an interest in developing logistics hubs, including one in Gyumri, to facilitate goods trade.
There are no performance requirements for investment in terms of mandating local employment. The processes for obtaining visas, residence, or work permits are straightforward. There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest.
Armenia does not follow any policy that would force foreign investors to use domestic content in goods and technology. There are no requirements for foreign information technology providers to turn over source code or provide keys for encryption. There are no requirements to store data within the country.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Armenian law protects secured interests in property, both personal and real. Armenian law provides a basic framework for secured lending, collateral, and pledges and provides a mechanism to support modern lending practices and title registration. According to Armenia’s constitution, foreign citizens are prohibited from owning land, though they may take out long-term leases.
Armenia has a strong legislative and regulatory framework to protect intellectual property rights (IPR). Domestic legislation, including the 2006 Law on Copyright and Related Rights, provides for the protection of copyright with respect to literary, scientific, and artistic works (including computer programs and databases), patents and other rights of invention, industrial design, know-how, trade secrets, trademarks, and service marks. The Intellectual Property Agency (IPA) in the Ministry of Economy is responsible for granting patents and overseeing other IPR-related matters. The collective management organization ARMAUTHOR manages authors’ economic rights. Trademarks and patents require state registration by the IPA, but copyright does not. There is no special trade secret law in Armenia, but the protection of trade secrets is covered by Armenia’s Civil Code. Formal registration is straightforward, the database of registered IPR is public, and applications to register IPR are published online for two months for comment by third parties. Armenia’s legislation has been harmonized with the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). In 2005, Armenia created an IPR Enforcement Unit in the Organized Crime Department of the Armenian Police, which acts only based on complaints from right holders and does not exercise ex-officio powers.
Despite the existence of relevant legislation and executive government structures, the concept of IPR remains unrecognized by a large part of the local population. The onus for IPR complaints rests with the offended party. Law enforcement assert that the majority of cases are settled through out-of-court proceedings. While the Armenian government has made some progress on IPR issues, strengthening enforcement mechanisms remains necessary. UNCTAD reports that low awareness and poor monitoring of IPR violations harm the business climate.
A new Law on Copyright has been drafted and submitted for government’s approval. It includes provisions from new international agreements (Marrakesh and Beijing Treaties). A new Law on Patents and Law on Industrial Design entered into force in July 2021. The new Law on Patents strengthens the requirement for substantive examination before rights registration and introduces the concept of a short-term patent. The new Law on Industrial Design includes some procedural changes, including publishing applications for industrial designs and objects during the state registration process.
Armenia is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.
6. Financial Sector
The banking system in Armenia is sound and well-regulated, but the financial sector is not highly developed, according to investors. Banking sector assets account for over 80 percent of total financial sector assets. Financial intermediation tends to be poor. Nearly all banks require collateral located in Armenia, and large collateral requirements often prevent potential borrowers from entering the market. U.S. businesses have noted that this creates a significant barrier for small- and medium-sized enterprises and start-up companies.
The Armenian government welcomes foreign portfolio investment and there is a supporting system and legal framework in place. Armenia’s securities market is not well developed and has only minimal trading activity through the Armenia Securities Exchange, though efforts to grow capital markets are underway. Liquidity sufficient for the entry and exit of sizeable positions is often difficult to achieve due to the small size of the Armenian market. The Armenian government hopes that as a result of pension reforms in 2014, which brought two international asset managers to Armenia, capital markets will play a more prominent role in the country’s financial sector. Armenia adheres to its IMF Article VIII commitments by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors are able to access credit locally.
Since 2020, the banking sector has withstood the twin shocks created by COVID-19 and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Indicators of financial soundness, including capital adequacy and non-performing loan ratios, have remained broadly strong. The sector is well capitalized and liquid. Non-performing loans have ticked upward slightly from rates of around five percent of all loans. Dollarization, historically high for deposits and lending, has been falling in recent years. Seventeen commercial banks operate in Armenia. In 2021, all commercial banks in Armenia generated net profits and all had a positive return on average equity (the financial ratio that measures the performance of a bank based on its average shareholders’ equity outstanding). Total bank assets in Armenia at the end of 2021 were $14 billion; Armenia’s 2021 GDP was approximately $13.6 billion. As such, the ratio of banks’ total assets to GDP – approximately one-to-one – is average compared to peer countries. Concentration of banks’ assets is considered to be very low, with the three largest banks holding less than fifty percent of total banking sector assets. Market share of the largest five banks was 56 percent in 2021. Overall, Armenia’s banking sector is viewed by international financial institutions (IFIs) as relatively healthy.
The minimum capital requirement for banks is 30 billion AMD (around $59 million). There are no restrictions on foreigners to open bank accounts. Residents and foreign nationals can hold foreign currency accounts and import, export, and exchange foreign currency relatively freely in accordance with the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control. Foreign banks may establish a subsidiary, branch, or representative office, and subsidiaries of foreign banks are allowed to provide the same types of services as domestically owned banks.
The CBA is responsible for the regulation and supervision of the financial sector. The authority and responsibilities of the CBA are established under the Law on the Central Bank of Armenia. Numerous other articles of legislation and supporting regulations provide for financial sector oversight and supervision.
Armenia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.
Australia is generally welcoming to foreign investment, which is widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth and productivity. The United States is by far the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) for Australia. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the stock of U.S. FDI totaled USD 170 billion in January 2020. The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force in 2005, establishes higher thresholds for screening U.S. investment for most classes of direct investment. While welcoming toward FDI, Australia does apply a “national interest” test to qualifying investment through its Foreign Investment Review Board screening process.
Various changes to Australia’s foreign investment rules, primarily aimed at strengthening national security, have been made in recent years. This continued in 2020 with the passage of the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, which broadens the classes of foreign investments that require screening, with a particular focus on defense and national security supply chains. All foreign investments in these industries now require screening, regardless of their value or national origin. The Foreign Investment Reform legislation commenced in January 2021. Despite the increased focus on foreign investment screening, the rejection rate for proposed investments has remained low and there have been no cases of investment from the United States having been rejected in recent years, although some U.S. companies have reported greater scrutiny of their investments in Australia.
In response to a perceived lack of fairness, the Australian government has tightened anti-tax avoidance legislation targeting multi-national corporations with operations in multiple tax jurisdictions. While some laws have been complementary to international efforts to address tax avoidance schemes and the use of low-tax countries or tax havens, Australia has also gone further than the international community in some areas.
Australia has increased funding for clean technology projects and both local and international companies can apply for grants to implement emission-saving equipment to their operations. Australia adopted a net-zero emissions target at the national level in November 2021 although made no change to its short-term goal of a 26-28 percent emission reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels. Australia’s eight states and territories have adopted both net-zero targets and a range of interim emission reduction targets set above the federal target. Various state incentive schemes may also be available to U.S. investors.
The Australian government is strongly focused on economic recovery from the COVID-driven recession Australia experienced in 2020, the country’s first in three decades. In addition to direct stimulus and business investment incentives, it has announced investment attraction incentives across a range of priority industries, including food and beverage manufacturing, medical products, clean energy, defense, space, and critical minerals processing. U.S. involvement and investment in these fields is welcomed.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Australia is generally welcoming to foreign direct investment (FDI), with foreign investment widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth. Other than certain required review and approval procedures for designated types of foreign investment described below, there are no laws that discriminate against foreign investors.
A number of investment promotion agencies operate in Australia. The Australian Trade Commission (often referred to as Austrade) is the Commonwealth Government’s national “gateway” agency to support investment into Australia. Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to promote, attract, and facilitate FDI, supports Australian companies to grow their business in international markets, and delivers advice to the Australian Government on its trade, tourism, international education and training, and investment policy agendas. Austrade operates through a number of international offices, with U.S. offices primarily focused on attracting foreign direct investment into Australia and promoting the Australian education sector in the United States. Austrade in the United States operates from offices in Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. In addition, state and territory investment promotion agencies also support international investment at the state level and in key sectors.
Within Australia, foreign and domestic private entities may establish and own business enterprises and may engage in all forms of remunerative activity in accordance with national legislative and regulatory practices. See Section 4: Legal Regime – Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment below for information on Australia’s investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment.
Other than the screening process described in Section 4, there are few limits or restrictions on foreign investment in Australia. Foreign purchases of agricultural land greater than AUD 15 million (USD 11 million) are subject to screening. This threshold applies to the cumulative value of agricultural land owned by the foreign investor, including the proposed purchase. However, the agricultural land screening threshold does not affect investments made under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). The current threshold is AUD 1.25 billion (USD 925 million) for U.S. non-government investors. Investments made by U.S. non-government investors are subject to inclusion on the foreign ownership register of agricultural land and to Australian Tax Office (ATO) information gathering activities on new foreign investment.
The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), which advises Australia’s Treasurer, may impose conditions when approving foreign investments. These conditions can be diverse and may include: retention of a minimum proportion of Australian directors; certain requirements on business activities, such as the requirement not to divest certain assets; and certain taxation requirements. Such conditions are in keeping with Australia’s policy of ensuring foreign investments are in the national interest.
Australia has not conducted an investment policy review in the last three years through either the OECD or UNCTAD system. The WTO reviewed Australia’s trade policies and practices in 2019, and the final report can be found at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp496_e.htm.
The Australian Trade Commission compiles an annual “Why Australia Benchmark Report” that presents comparative data on investing in Australia in the areas of Growth, Innovation, Talent, Location, and Business. The report also compares Australia’s investment credentials with other countries and provides a general snapshot on Australia’s investment climate. The 2021 Benchmark Report can be found at: http://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Resources/Benchmark-Report.
Australia’s private sector frequently provides policy recommendations to the government, including as part of annual federal budget reviews and ad hoc policy reviews. In 2021 the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia published a report titled “The Opportunity is Now: Attracting U.S. Investors to Australia,” which provides a range of recommendations to government relating to Australia’s investment screening and general investment environment. The report is available via the following link: https://www.pwc.com.au/amcham-pwc-opportunity-is-now.html
Business registration in Australia is relatively straightforward and is facilitated through a number of government websites. The government’s business.gov.au website provides an online resource and is intended as a “whole-of-government” service providing essential information on planning, starting, and growing a business. Foreign entities intending to conduct business in Australia as a foreign company must be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). As Australia’s corporate, markets, and financial services regulator, ASIC’s website provides information and guides on starting and managing a business or company in the country.
In registering a business, individuals and entities are required to register as a company with ASIC, which then gives the company an Australian Company Number, registers the company, and issues a Certificate of Registration. According to the World Bank “Starting a Business” indicator, registering a business in Australia takes two days, and Australia ranks 7th globally on this indicator.
Australia generally looks positively towards outward investment as a way to grow its economy. There are no restrictions on investing abroad. Austrade, Export Finance Australia (EFA), and various other government agencies offer assistance to Australian businesses looking to invest abroad, and some sector-specific export and investment programs exist. The United States is the top destination, by far, for Australian investment overseas.
3. Legal Regime
The Australian Government utilizes transparent policies and effective laws to foster national competition and is consultative in its policy making process. The government generally allows for public comment of draft legislation and publishes legislation once it enters into force. Details of the Australian government’s approach to regulation and regulatory impact analysis can be found on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website: https://www.pmc.gov.au/regulation
Regulations drafted by Australian Government agencies must be accompanied by a Regulation Impact Statement when submitted to the final decision maker (which may be the Cabinet, a Minister, or another decision maker appointed by legislation.) All Regulation Impact Statements must first be approved by the Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) which sits within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, prior to being provided to the relevant decision maker. They are required to demonstrate the need for regulation, the alternative options available (including non-regulatory options), feedback from stakeholders, and a full cost-benefit analysis. Regulations are subsequently required to be reviewed periodically. All Regulation Impact Statements, second reading speeches, explanatory memoranda, and associated legislation are made publicly available on Government websites. Australia’s state and territory governments have similar processes when making new regulations.
The Australian Government has tended to prefer self-regulatory options where industry can demonstrate that the size of the risks are manageable and that there are mechanisms for industry to agree on, and comply with, self-regulatory options that will resolve the identified problem. This manifests in various ways across industries, including voluntary codes of conduct and similar agreements between industry players.
The Australian Government has recognized the impost of regulations and has undertaken a range of initiatives to reduce red tape. This has included specific red tape reduction targets for government agencies and various deregulatory groups within government agencies. In 2019, the Australian Government established a Deregulation Taskforce within its Treasury Department, stating its goal was to “drive improvements to the design, administration and effectiveness of the stock of government regulation to ensure it is fit for purpose.” The taskforce’s work is ongoing.
Australian accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international standards. Accounting standards are formulated by the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB), an Australian Government agency under the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001. Under that Act, the statutory functions of the AASB are to develop a conceptual framework for the purpose of evaluating proposed standards; make accounting standards under section 334 of the Corporations Act 2001, and advance and promote the main objects of Part 12 of the ASIC Act, which include reducing the cost of capital, enabling Australian entities to compete effectively overseas and maintaining investor confidence in the Australian economy. The Australian Government conducts regular reviews of proposed measures and legislative changes and holds public hearings into such matters.
Australian government financing arrangements are transparent and well governed. Legislation governing the type of financial arrangements the government and its agencies may enter into is publicly available and adhered to. Updates on the Government’s financial position are regularly posted on the Department of Finance and Treasury websites. Issuance of government debt is managed by the Australian Office of Financial Management, which holds regular tenders for the sale of government debt and the outcomes of these tenders are publicly available. The Australian Government also publishes and adheres to strict procurement guidelines. Australia formally joined the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement in 2019.
Environmental Social Governance (ESG) reporting is not currently mandated for companies in Australia. However, companies are required to disclose any information that shareholders may deem relevant in assessing the performance of value of the company and this may include ESG components. Companies are also increasingly disclosing ESG aspects of their operations in response to shareholder demands and in order to secure an advantage over competitors. Further, financial services companies are required to disclose their exposure to climate risk as part of their standard risk disclosures (see further detail here: https://asic.gov.au/about-asic/news-centre/speeches/corporate-governance-update-climate-change-risk-and-disclosure/)
Australia is a member of the WTO, G20, OECD, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and became the first Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Dialogue Partner in 1974. While not a regional economic block, Australia’s free trade agreement with New Zealand provides for a high level of integration between the two economies with the ultimate goal of a single economic market. Details of Australia’s involvement in these international organizations can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website: https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/organisations/Pages/wto-g20-oecd-apec
The Australian legal system is firmly grounded on the principles of equal treatment before the law, procedural fairness, judicial precedent, and the independence of the judiciary. Strong safeguards exist to ensure that people are not treated arbitrarily or unfairly by governments or officials. Property and contractual rights are enforced through the Australian court system, which is based on English Common Law. Australia’s judicial system is fully independent and separate from the executive branch of government.
Foreign investment in Australia is regulated by the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 and Australia’s Foreign Investment Policy. The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) is a non-statutory body, comprising independent board members advised by a division within the Treasury Department, established to advise the Treasurer on Australia’s foreign investment policy and its administration. The FIRB screens potential foreign investments in Australia above threshold values, and based on advice from the FIRB the Treasurer may deny or place conditions on the approval of particular investments above that threshold on national interest grounds. In January 2021 new legislation, the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, took effect. This legislation tightened Australia’s investment screening rules by introducing the concept of a “national security business” and “national security land,” the acquisition of which trigger a FIRB review. Further details on national security considerations, including the definitions of national security businesses, are available on the FIRB website: https://firb.gov.au/guidance-resources/guidance-notes/gn8.
The Australian Government applies a “national interest” consideration in reviewing foreign investment applications. “National interest” covers a broader set of considerations than national security alone and may include tax or competition implications of an investment. Further information on foreign investment screening, including screening thresholds for certain sectors and countries, can be found at FIRB’s website: https://firb.gov.au/. Under the AUSFTA agreement, all U.S. greenfield investments are exempt from FIRB screening.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) enforces the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and a range of additional legislation, promotes competition, and fair trading, and regulates national infrastructure for the benefit of all Australians. The ACCC plays a key role in assessing mergers to determine whether they will lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any market. The ACCC also engages in consumer protection enforcement and has, in recent years, been given expanded responsibilities to monitor energy assets, the national gas market, and digital industries.
Private property can be expropriated for public purposes in accordance with Australia’s constitution and established principles of international law. Property owners are entitled to compensation based on “just terms” for expropriated property. There is little history of expropriation in Australia.
Bankruptcy is a legal status conferred under the Bankruptcy Act 1966 and operates in all of Australia’s states and territories. Only individuals can be made bankrupt, not businesses or companies. Where there is a partnership or person trading under a business name, it is the individual or individuals who make up that firm that are made bankrupt. Companies cannot become bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act though similar provisions (called “administration and winding up”) exist under the Corporations Act 2001. Bankruptcy is not a criminal offense in Australia.
Creditor rights are established under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, the Corporations Act 2001, and the more recent Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016. The latter legislation commenced in two tranches over 2017 and aims to increase the efficiency of insolvency administrations, improve communications between parties, increase the corporate regulator’s oversight of the insolvency market, and “improve overall consumer confidence in the professionalism and competence of insolvency practitioners.” Under the combined legislation, creditors have the right to: request information during the administration process; give direction to a liquidator or trustee; appoint a liquidator to review the current appointee’s remuneration; and remove a liquidator and appoint a replacement.
The Australian parliament passed the Corporations Amendment (Corporation Insolvency Reforms) Act 2020 in December 2020. The legislation is a response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and is designed to both assist viable businesses remain solvent and simplify the liquidation process for insolvent businesses. The new insolvency process under this legislation came into effect in January 2021.
Australia ranks 20th globally on the World Bank’s Doing Business Report “resolving insolvency” measure.
4. Industrial Policies
The Commonwealth Government and state and territory governments provide a range of measures to assist investors with setting up and running a business and undertaking investment. Types of assistance available vary by location, industry, and the nature of the business activity. Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to attracting FDI and is intended to serve as the national point-of-contact for investment inquiries. State and territory governments similarly offer a suite of financial and non-financial incentives.
The Commonwealth Government also provides incentives for companies engaging in research and development (R&D) and delivers a tax offset for expenditure on eligible R&D activities undertaken during the year. R&D activities conducted overseas are also eligible under certain circumstances, and the program is jointly administered by government’s AusIndustry program and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The Australian Government typically does not offer guarantees on, or jointly finance projects with, foreign investors.
The Australian government announced a new USD 1.1 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Strategy is primarily grants-based and provides funding to businesses to commercialize ideas and scale-up production in six target industries: resources technology and critical minerals processing; food and beverage; medical products; clean energy; defense; and space industry. Further details of the Strategy can be found on the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources’ website:
The Australian government provides a range of incentives for business investments in clean energy technologies, administered by the Clean Energy Regulator within the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and funded through the Emission Reduction Fund. Details on the Fund and how to apply are available on the Department’s website via the following link: https://www.industry.gov.au/policies-and-initiatives/emissions-reduction-fund. The government also encourages voluntary investment in emission reduction, including through certifying carbon reductions resulting from business investments as part of the Climate Active initiative: https://www.industry.gov.au/regulations-and-standards/climate-active.
Australia does not have any free trade zones or free ports.
As a general rule, foreign firms establishing themselves in Australia are not subject to local employment or forced localization requirements, performance requirements and incentives, including to senior management and board of directors. Proprietary companies must have at least one director resident in Australia, while public companies are required to have a minimum of two resident directors. See Section 12 below for further information on rules pertaining to the hiring of foreign labor.
Under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015, telecommunications service providers are required to: retain and secure, for two years, telecommunications data (not including content); protect retained data through encryption; and prevent unauthorized interference and access. The Bill limits the range of agencies allowed to access telecommunications data and stored communications, and establishes a “journalist information warrants regime.” Australia’s Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act prohibits the transfer of health data out of Australia in some situations.
Australia has a strong framework for the protection of intellectual property (IP), including software source code. Foreign providers are not required to provide source code to the government in exchange for operating in Australia. In February 2021, the Australian parliament passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021, which among other things requires designated digital platforms to notify media companies of significant changes to their algorithms with at least 14-days’ notice of such changes. However, technology companies are not required to provide source code for algorithms, or any other such IP, to the government for any purpose.
Companies are generally not restricted in terms of how they store or transmit data within their operations. The exception to this is the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act (2012) which does require that certain personal health information is stored in Australia. The Privacy Act (1988) and associated legislation place restrictions on the communication of personal information between and within entities. The requirements placed on international companies, and the transmission of data outside of Australia, are not treated differently under this legislation. The Australian Attorney-General’s Department is the responsible agency for most legislation relating to data and storage requirements.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Strong legal frameworks protect property rights in Australia and operate to police corruption. Mortgages are commercially available, and foreigners are allowed to buy real property subject to certain registration and approval requirements. Property lending may be securitized, and Australia has one of the most highly developed securitization sectors in the world. Beyond the private sector property market, securitization products are being developed to assist local and state government financing. Australia has no legislation specifically relating to securitization, although issuers are governed by a range of other financial sector legislation and disclosure requirements.
Australia generally provides strong intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement through legislation that, among other things, criminalizes copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting. Australia is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 report or on USTR’s Notorious Markets report.
Enforcement of counterfeit goods is overseen by the Australian Department of Home Affairs through the Notice of Objection Scheme, which allows the Australian Border Force to seize goods suspected of being counterfeit. Penalties for sale or importation of counterfeit goods include fines and up to five years imprisonment.
IP Australia is the responsible agency for administering Australia’s responsibilities and treaties under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Australia is a member of a range of international treaties developed through WIPO. Australia does not have specific legislation relating to trade secrets, however common law governs information protected through such means as confidentiality agreements or other means of illegally obtaining confidential or proprietary information.
Australia was an active participant in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations and signed ACTA in October 2011. It has not yet ratified the agreement. ACTA would establish an international framework to assist Parties in their efforts to effectively combat the infringement of intellectual property rights, in particular the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy.
Under the AUSFTA, Australia must notify the holder of a pharmaceutical patent of a request for marketing approval by a third party for a product claimed by that patent. U.S. and Australian pharmaceutical companies have raised concerns that unnecessary delays in this notification process restrict their options for action against third parties that would infringe their patents if granted marketing approval by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). In March 2020 the government recommended changes to the notification process whereby generic product owners must notify the patent holder of an intent to market a new product at the point they lodge an application for evaluation with the TGA. These changes have not been legislated at the time of writing.
The Australian Government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment with no restrictions on inward flows of debt or equity. Indeed, access to foreign capital markets is crucial to the Australian economy given its relatively small domestic savings. Australian capital markets are generally efficient and able to provide financing options to businesses. While the Australian equity market is one of the largest and most liquid in the world, non-financial firms face a number of barriers in accessing the corporate bond market. Large firms are more likely to use public equity, and smaller firms are more likely to use retained earnings and debt from banks and intermediaries. Australia’s corporate bond market is relatively small, driving many Australian companies to issue debt instruments in the U.S. market. Foreign investors are able to obtain credit from domestic institutions on market terms. Australia’s stock market is the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).
Australia’s banking system is robust, highly evolved, and international in focus. Bank profitability is strong and has been supported by further improvements in asset performance. Total assets of Australian banks at the end of 2020 was USD4.2 trillion and the sector has delivered an annual average return on equity of around 10 percent (only falling to six percent in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, before rebounding to 11 percent in 2021).
According to Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the ratio of non-performing assets to total loans was approximately one percent at the end of 2021, having remained at around that level for the last five years after falling from highs of nearly two percent following the Global Financial Crisis. The RBA is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the stability of the financial sector, while the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) monitors individual institutions. The RBA is also responsible for monitoring and regulating payments systems in Australia.
Foreign banks are allowed to operate as a branch or a subsidiary in Australia. Australia has generally taken an open approach to allowing foreign companies to operate in the financial sector, largely to ensure sufficient competition in an otherwise small domestic market.
Australia’s main sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, is a financial asset investment fund owned by the Australian Government. The Fund’s objective is to enhance the ability of future Australian Governments to discharge unfunded superannuation (pension) liabilities. As a founding member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IFSWF), the Future Fund’s structure, governance, and investment approach is in full alignment with the Generally Accepted Principles and Practices for Sovereign Wealth Funds (the “Santiago principles”).
The Future Fund’s investment mandate is to achieve a long-term return of at least inflation plus 4-5 percent per annum. As of December 2021, the Fund’s portfolio consists of: 23 percent global equities, 8 percent Australian equities, 25 percent private equity (including 8 percent in infrastructure and 7 percent in property), and the remaining 37 percent in debt, cash, and alternative investments.
In addition to the Future Fund, the Australian Government manages five other specific-purpose funds: the DisabilityCare Australia Fund; the Medical Research Future Fund; the Emergency Response Fund; the Future Drought Fund; and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund. In total, these five funds have assets of AUD 50 billion (USD 37 billion), while the main Future Fund has assets of AUD 204 billion (USD 150 billion) as of December 31, 2021.
Austria has a well-developed market economy that welcomes foreign direct investment, particularly in technology and R&D. The country benefits from a skilled labor force, and a high standard of living, with its capital, Vienna, consistently placing at the top of global quality-of-life rankings.
With more than 50 percent of its GDP derived from exports, Austria’s economy is closely tied to other EU economies, especially that of Germany, its largest trading partner. The United States is one of Austria’s top two-way trading partners, ranking fifth in overall trade according to provisional data from 2021. The economy features a large service sector and an advanced industrial sector specialized in high-quality component parts, especially for vehicles. The agricultural sector is small but highly developed.
The COVID-19 crisis deeply affected Austria’s economy, contributing to a GDP decrease of 6.7% in 2020 with the unemployment rate increasing to a peak of 5.4% at the end of 2020. Austria’s economy rebounded with 4.5% GDP growth in 2021 and unemployment lower than before the onset of the pandemic, but forecasters recently lowered expectations to 3.8% growth for 2022 due to instability stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, Austria is experiencing a record number of vacancies, largely stemming from a shortage of skilled labor.
The country’s location between Western European industrialized nations and growth markets in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe (CESEE) has led to a high degree of economic, social, and political integration with fellow European Union (EU) member states and the CESEE.
Some 220 U.S. companies have investments in Austria, represented by around 300 subsidiaries, and many have expanded their original investment over time. U.S. Foreign Direct Investment into Austria totaled approximately EUR 11.6 billion (USD 13.7 billion) in 2020, according to the Austrian National Bank, and U.S. companies support over 16,500 jobs in Austria. Austria offers a stable and attractive climate for foreign investors.
The most positive aspects of Austria’s investment climate include:
Relatively high political stability;
Harmonious labor-management relations and low incidence of labor unrest;
Highly skilled workforce;
High levels of productivity and international competitiveness;
Excellent quality of life for employees and high-quality health, telecommunications, and energy infrastructure.
Negative aspects of Austria’s investment climate include:
A high overall tax burden;
A large public sector and a complex regulatory system with extensive bureaucracy;
Low-to-moderate innovation dynamics;
Low levels of digitalization;
Low levels of private venture capital.
Key sectors that have historically attracted significant investment in Austria:
ICT and Electronics;
Key issues to watch:
Due to a strong reliance on Russian natural gas and the third-highest banking exposure to Russia among EU Member States, Austria could be one of the hardest countries hit by sanctions against Russia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions are expected to cause a 0.4-0.5% decrease in Austria’s GDP. However, the impact is likely to be greater if natural gas supplies are disrupted. Austria relies on Russian imports for approximately 80% of its natural gas demand.
At the same time, Austria’s export-oriented economy makes it particularly sensitive to events affecting trade, which could include potential setbacks in the pandemic, particularly during the winter months. The tourism sector, which, together with hotels and restaurants, accounts for 15 percent of the country’s GDP is still struggling, currently operating at two-thirds of its pre-crisis output levels. Many companies are also struggling to find skilled labor, which is hindering the economy from reaching its full output potential.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
The Austrian government welcomes foreign direct investment, particularly when such investments have the potential to create new jobs, support advanced technology fields, promote capital-intensive industries, and enhance links to research and development.
There are limited restrictions on foreign investment. American investors have not complained of discriminatory laws against foreign investors. Austria’s investment screening law, which requires government approval of transactions leading to 10 percent or more foreign ownership in sensitive sectors, has resulted in an increase in the number of investments screened, from less than three per year, to 50 completed screenings from July 2020 to July 2021, the first full year law has been in effect. The majority of these screenings (31 in total) were for U.S.-based investments. Please see the “Laws and Regulations on Foreign Investment” section below for further details on the law and its applications.
The corporate tax rate, a 25 percent flat tax, is above the EU average. The government is planning to reduce it to 24 percent in 2023 and 23 percent in 2024. U.S. citizens and investors have occasionally reported that it is difficult to establish and maintain banking services since the U.S.-Austria Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) Agreement went into force in 2014, as some Austrian banks have been reluctant to take on this reporting burden.
Potential investors should also be aware of Austria’s lengthy environmental impact assessments in their investment decision-making. Some sectors also suffer from heavy regulation that may affect certain investments. For example, the requirement that over 50 percent of energy providers must be publicly owned places a potential cap on investments in the energy sector. Strict liability and co-existence regulations in the agriculture sector restrict research and virtually outlaw the cultivation, marketing, or distribution of biotechnology crops. The mining and transportation sectors are also heavily regulated.
Austria’s national investment promotion organization, the Austrian Business Agency (ABA), is a useful first point of contact for foreign companies interested in establishing operations in Austria. It provides comprehensive information about Austria as a business location, identifies suitable sites for greenfield investments, and consults in setting up a company. ABA provides its services free of charge.
The Austrian Economic Chamber (WKO) and the American Chamber of Commerce in Austria (Amcham) are also good resources for foreign investors. Both conduct annual polls of their members to measure their satisfaction with the business climate, thus providing early warning to the government of problems identified by investors.
There is no principal limitation on establishing and owning a business in Austria. A local managing director must be appointed to any newly established enterprise. For non-EU citizens to establish and own a business, the Austrian Foreigner’s Law mandates a residence permit that includes the right to run a business. Many Austrian trades are regulated, and the right to run a business in regulated trade sectors is only granted when certain preconditions are met, such as certificates of competence, and recognition of foreign education.
There are limited restrictions on foreign ownership of private businesses. Austria’s investment screening law, requires an investment screening process to review potential foreign acquisitions of 25 percent or more of a company essential to the country’s infrastructure, lowering the threshold to 10 percent for sensitive sectors (see the “Laws and Regulations on Foreign Investment” section below for further details). In April 2019, the EU Regulation on establishing a framework for the screening of foreign direct investments into the Union entered into force. It creates a cooperation mechanism through which EU countries and the European Commission will exchange information and raise concerns related to specific investments which could potentially threaten the security of EU countries.
The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) commented on Austria’s strengthened investment screening law following implementation in 2020, that the two-month screening process takes too long and places an undue administrative burden on companies. The AmCham advocated for expedited screenings for proposed investments with no clear threat to national security. Business interest groups, such as the Austrian Economic Chamber and the Federation of Austrian Industries also commented during the legislation’s draft and review process that the strengthened screening measures would impose an undue administrative burden on businesses, the definition of sectors requiring screening was too wide, and the updated legislation would reduce the attractiveness of Austria as an investment location.
Austria generally ranked in the top 30 countries in the world in the past World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” reports, but starting a business takes time. The average time to set up a company is 21 days, while the average time in OECD high income countries is 9.2 days.
To register a new company or open a subsidiary in Austria, a company must first be listed on the Austrian Companies Register at a local court. The next step is to seek confirmation of registration from the Austrian Economic Chamber (WKO) establishing that the company is really a new business. The investor must then notarize the “declaration of establishment,” deposit a minimum capital requirement with an Austrian bank, register with the tax office, register with the district trade authority, register employees for social security, and register with the municipality where the business will be located. Finally, membership in the WKO is mandatory for all businesses in Austria.
For sole proprietorships, it is possible under certain conditions to use an online registration process via government websites in German to either found or register a company: https://www.usp.gv.at/Portal.Node/usp/public/content/gruendung/egruendung/269403.html, or www.gisa.gv.at/online-gewerbeanmeldung. It is advisable to seek information from ABA or the WKO before applying to register a firm.
The website of the ABA contains further details and contact information and is intended to serve as a first point of contact for foreign investors in Austria: https://investinaustria.at/en/starting-business/.
The Austrian government encourages outward investment. Advantage Austria, the “Austrian Foreign Trade Service,” is a special section of the WKO that promotes Austrian exports and also supports Austrian companies establishing an overseas presence. Advantage Austria operates five offices in the United States (Washington D.C., New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco). Overall, it has about 100 trade offices in 70 countries across the world, reflecting Austria’s strong export focus and the important role the WKO plays. (https://www.wko.at/service/aussenwirtschaft/aussenwirtschaftscenter.html#heading_aussenwirtschaftscenter) The Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs and the WKO run a joint program called “Go International,” providing services to Austrian companies that are considering investing for the first time in foreign countries. The program provides grants for market access costs and provides “soft subsidies,” such as counseling, legal advice, and marketing support.
3. Legal Regime
Austria’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. The government does not provide assistance in distinguishing between high- and low-quality investments, leaving this up to the market.
Federal ministries generally publish draft laws and regulations, including investment laws, for public comment prior to their adoption by Austria’s cabinet and/or Parliament. Relevant stakeholders such as the “Social Partners” (Economic Chamber, Agricultural Chamber, Labor Chamber, and Trade Union Association), the Federation of Industries, and research institutions are invited to provide comments and suggestions on draft laws and regulations, directly online, which may be taken into account before adoption of laws. These comments are publicly available. Austria’s nine provinces can also adopt laws relevant to investments; their review processes are generally less extensive, but local laws are less important for investments than federal laws. The judicial system is independent from the executive branch, helping ensure the government follows administrative processes. The government is required to follow administrative processes and its compliance is monitored by the courts, primarily the Court of Auditors. Individuals can file proceedings against the government in Austria’s courts, if the government did not act in accordance with the law. Similarly, the public prosecution service can file cases against the government.
Draft legislation by ministries (“Ministerialentwürfe”) and resulting government draft laws and parliamentary initiatives (“Regierungsvorlagen und Gesetzesinitiativen”) can be accessed through the website of the Austrian Parliament: https://www.parlament.gv.at/PAKT/ (all in German). The parliament also publishes a history of all law-making processes. All final Austrian laws can be accessed through a government database, partly in English: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/defaultEn.aspx.
The effectiveness of regulations is not reviewed as a regular process, only on an as-needed basis. Austrian regulations governing accounting provide U.S. investors with internationally standardized financial information. In line with EU regulations, listed companies must prepare their consolidated financial statements according to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IAS/IFRS) system.
Public finances are transparent and easily accessible, through the Finance Ministry’s website, Austria’s Central Bank, and various economic research institutes. Overall, Austria has no legal restrictions, formally or informally, that discriminate against foreign investors.
Austria is a member of the EU. As such, its laws must comply with EU legislation and the country is therefore subject to European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction. Austria is a member of the WTO and largely follows WTO requirements. Austria has ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) but has not taken specific actions to implement it.
The Austrian legal system is based on Roman law. The constitution establishes a hierarchy, according to which each legislative act (law, regulation, decision, and fines) must have its legal basis in a higher legislative instrument. The full text of each legislative act is available online for reference. All final Austrian laws can be accessed through a government database, partly in English: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/defaultEn.aspx.
Commercial matters fall within the competence of ordinary regional courts except in Vienna, which has a specialized Commercial Court. The Commercial Court also has nationwide competence for trademark, design, model, and patent matters. There is no special treatment of foreign investors, and the executive branch does not interfere in judicial matters.
The legal system provides an effective means for protecting property and contractual rights of nationals and foreigners. Sensitive cases must be reported to the Ministry of Justice, which can issue instructions for addressing them. Austria’s civil courts enforce property and contractual rights and do not discriminate against foreign investors. Austria allows for court decisions to be appealed, first to a Regional Court and in the last instance, to the Supreme Court.
Austria has restrictions on investments in industries designated as critical infrastructure, technology, resources, and industries with access to sensitive information and involved in freedom and plurality of the media. The government must approve any foreign acquisition of a 25 percent or higher stake in any companies that generally fall within these areas. The threshold is 10 percent for sensitive sectors, defined as military goods and technology, operators of critical energy or digital infrastructure and water, system operators charged with guarding Austria’s data sovereignty and R&D in medicine and pharmaceutical products. Additional screenings are required when an investor in the above categories plans to increase the stake above the thresholds of 25 percent or 50 percent. The investment screening review period generally takes 2 months. The number of filed applications has increased significantly since the law was implemented, from three per year to 50 completed screenings in the first 12 months after the updated investment screening law went into effect (from July 2020 to July 2021). None of the completed screenings were rejected, and two were approved with amendments to safeguard domestic supply of the product/service in question.
There is no discrimination against foreign investors, but businesses are required to follow numerous local regulations. Although there is no requirement for participation by Austrian citizens in ownership or management of a foreign firm, at least one manager must meet Austrian residency and other legal requirements. Expatriates may deduct certain expenses (costs associated with moving, maintaining a double residence, education of children) from Austrian-earned income.
The “Law to Support Investments in Municipalities” (published in the Federal Law Gazette, 74/2017, available online in German only on the federal legal information system www.ris.bka.gv.at), allows federal funding of up to 25 percent of the total investment amount of a project to “modernize” a municipality. The Austrian Business Agency serves as a central contact point for companies looking to invest in Austria. It does not serve as a one-stop-shop but can help answer any questions potential investors may have (https://investinaustria.at/en/).
Austria’s Antitrust Act (ATA) is in line with European Union antitrust regulations, which take precedence over national regulations in cases concerning Austria and other EU member states. The Austrian Antitrust Act prohibits cartels, anticompetitive practices, and the abuse of a dominant market position. The independent Federal Competition Authority (FCA) and the Federal Antitrust Prosecutor (FAP) are responsible for administering antitrust laws. The FCA can conduct investigations and request information from firms. The FAP is subject to instructions issued by the Justice Ministry and can bring actions before Austria’s Cartel Court. Additionally, the Commission on Competition may issue expert opinions on competition policy and give recommendations on notified mergers. The most recent amendment to the ATA was in 2017. This amendment facilitated enforcing private damage claims, strengthened merger control, and enabled appeals against verdicts from the Cartel Court.
Companies must inform the FCA of mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Special M&A regulations apply to media enterprises, such as a lower threshold above which the ATA applies, and the requirement that media diversity must be maintained. A cartel court is competent to rule on referrals from the FCA or the FCP. For violations of antitrust regulations, the cartel court can impose fines of up to the equivalent of 10 percent of a company’s annual worldwide sales. The independent energy regulator E-Control separately examines antitrust concerns in the energy sector but must also submit cases to the cartel court.
Austria’s Takeover Law applies to friendly and hostile takeovers of corporations headquartered in Austria and listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange. The law protects investors against unfair practices, since any shareholder obtaining a controlling stake in a corporation (30 percent or more in direct or indirect control of a company’s voting shares) must offer to buy out smaller shareholders at a defined fair market price. The law also includes provisions for shareholders who passively obtain a controlling stake in a company. The law prohibits defensive action to frustrate bids. The Shareholder Exclusion Act allows a primary shareholder with at least 90 percent of capital stock to force out minority shareholders. An independent takeover commission at the Vienna Stock Exchange oversees compliance with these laws. Austrian courts have also held that shareholders owe a duty of loyalty to each other and must consider the interests of fellow shareholders in good faith.
According to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Austrian Civil Code, property ownership is guaranteed in Austria. Expropriation of private property in Austria is rare and may be undertaken by federal or provincial government authorities only based on special legal authorization “in the public interest” in such instances as land use planning, and infrastructure project preparations. The government can initiate such a procedure only in the absence of any other alternatives for satisfying the public interest; when the action is exclusively in the public interest; and when the owner receives just compensation. For example, in 2017-18, the government expropriated Hitler’s birth house in order to prevent it from becoming a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis, paying the former owner EUR 1.5 million (USD 1.8 million) in compensation. The expropriation process is non-discriminatory toward foreigners, including U.S. firms. There is no indication that further expropriations will take place in the foreseeable future.
The Austrian Insolvency Act contains provisions for business reorganization and bankruptcy proceedings. Reorganization requires a restructuring plan and the debtor to be able to cover costs or advance some of the costs up to a maximum of EUR 4,000 (USD 4,720). The plan must offer creditors at least 20 percent of what is owed, payable within two years of the date the debtor’s obligation is determined. The plan must be approved by a majority of all creditors and a majority of creditors holding at least 50 percent of all claims.
If the restructuring plan is not accepted, a bankruptcy proceeding is begun. Bankruptcy proceedings take place in court upon application of the debtor or a creditor; the court appoints a receiver for winding down the business and distributing proceeds to the creditors. Bankruptcy is not criminalized, provided the affected person performed all his documentation and reporting obligations on time and in accordance with the law.
Austria’s major commercial association for the protection of creditors in cases of bankruptcy is the “KSV 1870 Group”, www.ksv.at, which also carries out credit assessments of all companies located in Austria. Other European-wide credit bureaus, particularly “CRIF” and “Bisnode”, also monitor the Austrian market.
4. Industrial Policies
Financial incentives and business subsidies provided by Austrian federal, state, and local governments to promote investments are equally available to domestic and foreign investors and include tax incentives, preferential loans, loan guarantees, and grants. Most incentives are targeted to investments that meet specified criteria, including job-creation and promotion of education, use of cutting-edge technology, improving regional infrastructure, strengthening SMEs, promoting research and development, supporting environmental protection, increasing renewable energy production, and promoting startups. Under these conditions, the EU ban on state aid would not apply.
Austria’s Wirtschaftsservice (AWS) is the governmental institution that provides most federal government financial incentives for businesses. Information on targeted investment incentives is available at https://www.aws.at/en/. More detailed information on investment incentives and promotion in English language is also available on the ABA website (see chapter 1) at http://investinaustria.at/en/.
The AWS also focuses on promoting investments, particularly for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs), providing guarantees of up to EUR 25 million (USD 29.5 million) over 5 to 10 years for investments in Austria. Companies can also profit from growing their already existing investments, resulting in a 10 to 15 percent additional grant for this expansion.
Various government agencies in Austria offer incentives for research and development (R&D) activities, including grants of up to 14 percent of investors’ total research expenditures. The incentives are also available for foreign-owned enterprises. The agencies providing incentives include: The Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) (https://www.ffg.at/en); the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), which is the country’s central body for the promotion of basic research (https://www.fwf.ac.at/en/); and AWS (above).
Austria’s 2022 tax reform, as of January 2023, foresees a new 10-15 percent (eco-) investment tax allowance for purchasing new commodities or business assets that have a life span of at least four years and/or have an ecological impact on the business of the company (which the government will further define by ordinance before this aspect of the tax reform enters into force).
In 2022, Austria plans to fund investments in the life sciences sector with up to EUR 29 million (USD 34 million), particularly for production of pharmaceuticals such as penicillin.
A law to expand the production of renewable energy provides for investment subsidies and subsidies to sell renewable energy on the market for investors installing new wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower plants, which entered into force in February 2022. The subsidies are subject to installed capacities and environmental conditions.
If investors want to employ foreign workers from outside the EU in Austria, they need to apply for a work permit with the immigration authority in one of the Austrian provinces. The Austrian Labor Service (AMS) then certifies whether there is no comparable person in the pool of registered unemployed persons in Austria, which is a prerequisite for employing non-EU workers. This does not apply to senior management positions, researchers, highly qualified personnel, and a limited set of other categories.
Austria offers several non-immigrant business visa classifications, including intra-company transfers/rotational workers, and employees on temporary duty. Recruitment of long-term, overseas specialists or those with managerial duties is governed by a points-based immigration scheme to attract skilled workers and specialists in individual sectors (points are available for qualification, education, age, and language skills). This Red-White-Red card (RWR) model allows firms to react flexibly to rising demand for talent in different occupations. It is available to highly qualified individuals, qualified specialists/craftsmen in certain understaffed professions (qualified labor and registered nurse jobs), and key personnel/professionals. Applicants must have an offer of employment to apply for the RWR. Highly qualified individuals holding U.S. citizenship may apply locally in Austria or opt to find a potential employer from abroad and have the company apply in Austria on their behalf.
Austrian immigration law requires those applying for residency permits in some categories to take German language courses and exams. There is a specific visa category under the RWR model for independent key specialists and founders of start-up enterprises to support Austria’s push to expand its innovation economy.
A less bureaucratic alternative is the EU Blue Card, which entitles applicants to a fixed-term residency of 24 months, and employment is tied to a specific employer. However, there is a threshold of a gross annual income of at least one and a half times the average gross annual income for full-time employees (in 2021: at least EUR 66,563 (USD 78,544); annual salary plus special payments).
While there is no requirement for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption, EU and Austrian data protection stipulations apply. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as adopted by Austria in 2018, places restrictions on companies’ ability to store and use customer data. It also requires specific user consent for companies to send out promotional materials (previously, implied consent was sufficient). Transmission of customer or business-related data is therefore subject to EU GDPR regulations. Austria’s Data Protection Authority is in charge of enforcing all GDPR-related matters, which include GDPR rules on data storage.
In January 2022, the Austrian Data Protection Authority ruled that the website netdoktor.at violated EU GDPR rules for its use of Google Analytics. The Data Protection Authority found that using Google Analytics violated the GDPR in two key ways: 1) the transfer of personalized data to third countries that do not have stricter than or equal data protection rights as the EU is not allowed under the EU GDPR; and 2) users do not have the opportunity to willfully consent to the transfer. The data privacy organization noyb, which brought the case forward, filed over 100 similar cases across the EU. Similar rulings across EU countries are expected to follow over the course of the year.
The Austrian government may impose performance requirements when foreign investors seek financial or other assistance from the government, although there are no performance requirements to apply for tax incentives. There is no requirement that Austrian nationals hold shares in foreign investments or for technology transfer, and no requirement for foreign investors to use domestic content in the production of goods or technology.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The Austrian legal system protects secured interests in property. For any real estate agreement to be effective, owners must register with the land registry. Mortgages and liens must also be registered. As a rule, property for sale must be unencumbered. In case of rededication of land, approval of the land transfer commission or the office of the state governor is required. The land registry is a reliable system for recording interests in property, and access to the registry is public.
Non-EU/EEA citizens need authorization from administrative authorities of the respective Austrian province to acquire land. Provincial regulations vary, but in general there must be a public (economic, social, cultural) interest for the acquisition to be authorized. Often, the applicant must guarantee that he does not want to build a vacation home on the land in order to receive the required authorization.
Austria has a strong legal structure to protect intellectual property rights, including patent and trademark laws, a law protecting industrial designs and models, and a copyright law. Austria is a party to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and several international property conventions. Austria also participates in the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) program with the USPTO (started in 2014), which allows filing of streamlined applications for inventions determined to be patentable in other participating countries.
Austria’s Copyright Act conforms to EU directives on intellectual property rights. It grants authors exclusive rights to publish, distribute, copy, adapt, translate, and broadcast their work. The law also regulates copyrights of digital media (restrictions on private copies), works on the Internet, protection of computer programs, and related damage compensation. Infringement proceedings, however, can be time-consuming and costly. Austria implemented the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (2019/790) by adopting an amendment to the Austrian Copyright Act in December 2021, with the Austrian music and film industry lauding it as “modern, balanced, and taking into account the interests of the related business sector.”
Following a High Court decision from 2014, Austrian Internet providers must prevent access to illegal music and streaming platforms once they are made aware of a copyright violation. They must also block workaround websites from these platforms. In 2020 they registered 27,000 reports of illegal content.
Austria also has a law against trade in counterfeit articles in place (amended 2020, streamlining the customs authorities in charge of tracking violations). In 2020 (latest available report), Austrian customs authorities confiscated pirated goods worth EUR 24 million (USD 28.3 million), which was a 50 percent increase from the previous year.
Austria is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 or notorious markets reports, but its trade secrets regime has historically been a concern for some U.S. businesses. Austrian and U.S. companies have voiced specific concerns about both the scope of protection and the difficulty of adjudicating breaches. Following years of steady U.S. government advocacy, and because Austria was required to implement the 2016 EU Directive on Trade Secrets, the country improved its trade secrets regime in the Law Against Unfair Competition (entered into force in February 2019) to address these concerns. The most relevant change in the law is a requirement for safeguarding the confidentiality of trade secrets (and other business confidential information) in court procedures. The new law also defines injunctive relief and claims for damages in case of breach of trade secrets. The 2020 government program includes a plan to further toughen prosecution of violation of trade secrets that have an impact on Austria as a business location and to tackle industrial espionage, but no specific actions to implement the plan have been taken yet.
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
Austria has sophisticated financial markets that allow foreign investors access without restrictions. The government welcomes foreign portfolio investment. The Austrian National Bank (OeNB) regulates portfolio investments effectively.
Austria has a national stock exchange that currently includes 64 companies on its regulated market and several others on its multilateral trading facility (MTF). The Austrian Traded Index (ATX) is a price index consisting of the 20 largest stocks on the market and forms the most important index of Austria’s stock market. The size of the companies listed on the ATX is roughly equivalent to those listed on the MDAX in Germany. The market capitalization of Austrian listed companies is small compared to the country’s western European counterparts, accounting for 31 percent of Austria’s GDP, compared to 59 percent in Germany or 194 percent in the United States.
Unlike the other market segments in the stock exchange, the Direct Market and Direct Market Plus segments, targeted at SMEs and young, developing companies, are subject only to the Vienna Stock Exchange’s general terms of business, not more stringent EU regulations. These segments have lower reporting requirements but also greater risk for investors, as prices are more likely to fluctuate, due to the respective companies’ low level of market capitalization and lower trading volumes.
Austria has robust financing for product markets, but the free flow of resources into factor markets (capital, raw materials) could be improved. Overall, financing is primarily available through banks and government-sponsored funding organizations with very little private venture capital available. The Austrian government is aware of this issue but has taken few tangible steps to improve the availability of private venture capital.
Austria is fully compliant with IMF Article VIII, all financial instruments are available, and there are no restrictions on payments. Credit is available to foreign investors at market-determined rates.
Austria has one of the most fragmented banking networks in Europe with more than 3,800 branch offices registered in 2021. The banking system is highly developed, with worldwide correspondent banks and representative offices and branches in the United States and other major financial centers. Large Austrian banks also have extensive networks in Central and Southeast European (CESEE) countries and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Total assets of the banking sector amounted to EUR 1.0 trillion (USD 1.2 trillion) in 2020 (approximately 2.5 times the country’s GDP). Approximately EUR 460 billion (USD 543 billion) of banking sector assets are held by Austria’s two largest banks, Erste Group and Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI). The Austrian banking sector is considered one of the most stable in the world. Austria’s banking sector is managed and overseen by the Austrian National Bank (OeNB) and the Financial Market Authority (FMA). Four Austrian banks with assets in excess of EUR 30 billion (USD 34 billion) are subject to the Eurozone’s Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), as is Sberbank Europe AG, a Russian bank subsidiary headquartered in Austria (which was declared insolvent in March 2022, and its operations are now being wound down in a bankruptcy proceeding), and Addiko Bank AG due to their significant cross-border assets, as well as Volksbank Wien AG, due to its importance for the economy. All other Austrian banks continue to be subject to the country’s dual-oversight banking supervisory system with roles for the OeNB and the FMA, both of which are also responsible for policing irregularities on the stock exchange and for supervising insurance companies, securities markets, and pension funds. Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in the country with no legal restrictions that place them at a disadvantage compared to local banks.
Due to U.S. government financial reporting requirements, Austrian banks are very cautious in committing the time and expense required to accept U.S. clients and U.S. investors without established U.S. corporate headquarters.
Austria has no sovereign wealth funds.
The overall investment climate in Azerbaijan continues to improve, although significant challenges remain. Azerbaijan’s government has sought to attract foreign investment, undertake reforms to diversify its economy, and stimulate private sector-led growth. The Azerbaijani economy, however, remains heavily dependent on oil and gas output, which account for roughly 88 percent of export revenue and over half of the state budget. The economy of Azerbaijan grew 5.6% year-on-year in 2021, compared to a 4.3% contraction in the previous year. Both oil and gas (1.7%) and the non-oil and gas (7.2%) sectors of the economy expanded as the economy continued to recover from the pandemic. While the oil and gas sector has historically attracted the largest share of foreign investment, the Azerbaijani government has targeted four non-oil sectors to diversify the economy: agriculture, tourism, information and communications technology (ICT), and transportation/logistics. Measures taken in recent years to improve the business climate and reform the overall economy include eliminating redundant business license categories, empowering the popular “Azerbaijan Service and Assessment Network (ASAN)” government service centers with licensing authority, simplifying customs procedures, suspending certain business inspections, and reforming the tax regime.
Community spread of COVID-19 is occurring in Azerbaijan, and COVID-19 infections are present in all regions the country. The special quarantine regime was extended until May 1, 2022, according to a February 2022 decision by Azerbaijan’s Cabinet of Ministers. Masks are no longer required in outdoor spaces but remain obligatory indoors. In 2021, Azerbaijan allocated AZN 800.8 million (USD 471 million) from the state budget to support COVID-19 mitigation measures, including vaccine purchases, bonus payments to healthcare workers, and the operation of modular hospitals.
Despite substantial efforts to open the business environment, progress remains slow on structural reforms required to create a diversified and competitive private sector, and corruption remains a major challenge for firms operating in Azerbaijan. A small group of government-connected holding companies dominates the economy, intellectual property rights enforcement is improving but remains insufficient, and judicial transparency is lacking.
Under Azerbaijani law, foreign investments enjoy complete and unreserved legal protection and may not be nationalized or appropriated, except under specific circumstances. Private entities may freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises. Foreign citizens, organizations, and enterprises may lease, but not own, land. Azerbaijan’s government has not shown any pattern of discriminating against U.S. persons or entities through illegal expropriation. The Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the United States and Azerbaijan provides U.S. investors with recourse to settle investment disputes using the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). The average time needed to resolve international business disputes through domestic courts or alternative dispute resolution varies widely.
Following the release in November of a tripartite ceasefire declaration by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, which brought an end to the fall 2020 intensive fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Azerbaijani government is seeking new investments in the territories around Nagorno-Karabakh that were previously under the control of Armenian-backed separatists. Azerbaijan’s 2022 budget includes an allocation of AZN 2.2 billion (USD 1.3 billion) for the restoration and reconstruction of these territories. These funds will be reportedly used to restore road infrastructure, electricity, gas, water, communications infrastructure, and the education and healthcare sectors, along with the restoration of cultural and historical monuments. The government is also pursuing green energy projects in this region. Reconstruction is expected to continue over the coming years, along with continued special budget allocations provided for rebuilding and resettling these territories. Demining these territories as part of reconstruction efforts remains a priority of the Azerbaijani government.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
The Azerbaijani government actively seeks foreign direct investment. Flows of foreign direct investment to Azerbaijan have risen steadily in recent years, primarily in the energy sector. Foreign investment in the government’s priority sectors for economic diversification (agriculture, transportation, tourism, and ICT) has thus far been limited.
Foreign investments enjoy complete and unreserved legal protection under the Law on the Protection of Foreign Investment, the Law on Investment Activity, and guarantees contained within international agreements and treaties. In accordance with these laws, Azerbaijan will treat foreign investors, including foreign partners in joint ventures, in a manner no less favorable than the treatment accorded to national investors. Azerbaijan’s Law on the Protection of Foreign Investments protects foreign investors against nationalization and requisition, except under specific circumstances. The Azerbaijani government has not shown any pattern of discriminating against U.S. persons or entities through illegal expropriation.
Azerbaijan’s primary body responsible for investment promotion is the Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Agency (AzPromo). AzPromo is a joint public-private initiative, established by the Ministry of Economy and Industry in 2003 to foster the country’s economic development and diversification by attracting foreign investment into the non-oil sector and stimulating non-oil exports. A January 2018 decree called for new legislation, which has not yet been introduced, to ensure Azerbaijan conforms to international standards to protect foreign investor rights. The Azerbaijani government meets regularly with the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) to solicit the input from the business community, particularly as part of AmCham’s biennial white paper process. In June 2021, AmCham Azerbaijan organized a press conference for publicly presenting subsequent publication of its White Paper on observations and recommendations for improving Azerbaijan’s business climate. The 2021 White Paper covered issues in several fields, including taxation, customs procedures, finance, and information and communications technology.
Foreigners are allowed to register business entities by opening a fully owned subsidiary, acquiring shares of an existing company, or by creating a joint venture with a local partner. Foreign companies are also permitted to operate in Azerbaijan without creating a local legal entity by registering a representative or branch office with the tax authorities.
Foreigners are not permitted to own land in Azerbaijan but are permitted to lease land and own real estate. Under Azerbaijani laws, the state must retain a controlling stake in companies operating in the mining, oil and gas, satellite communication, and military arms sectors, limiting foreign or domestic private ownership to a 49 percent share of companies in these industries. Foreign ownership in the media sector is also strictly limited. Furthermore, a special license to conduct business is required for foreign or domestic companies operating in telecommunications, sea and air transportation, insurance, and other regulated industries. Azerbaijan does not screen inbound foreign investment, and U.S. investors are not specifically disadvantaged by any existing control mechanisms.
Azerbaijan has not conducted an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) investment policy review, a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) investment policy review, or a WTO Trade Policy Review.
Azerbaijani law requires all companies operating in the country to register with the tax authorities. Without formal registration, a company may not maintain a bank account or clear goods through customs. Registration takes approximately three days for commercial organizations. Companies may e-register at http://taxes.gov.az.
Azerbaijan does not actively promote or incentivize outward investment, though Azerbaijani entities, particularly the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) and the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ), have invested in various countries, including the United States. SOFAZ investment is typically limited to real estate, precious metals, and low-yield government securities. SOCAR has invested heavily in oil and gas infrastructure and petrochemicals processing in Turkey and Georgia, as well as gas pipeline networks in Greece, Albania, and Italy as part of the Southern Gas Corridor that transports Azerbaijani gas to European markets. The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing overseas.
3. Legal Regime
Azerbaijan’s central government is the primary source of regulations relevant to foreign businesses. Azerbaijan’s regulatory system has improved in recent years, although enforcement is inconsistent, and decision-making remains opaque. Private sector associations do not play a significant role in regulatory processes. The draft legislation process typically does not include public consultations and draft legislation text is rarely made available for public comment. The government has in some cases engaged business organizations, such as AmCham, and consulting firms on various draft laws. The website of Azerbaijan’s National Parliament, http://meclis.gov.az/ lists all the country’s laws, but only in the Azerbaijani language.
Legal entities in Azerbaijan must adhere to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). These are only obligatory for large companies. Medium-sized companies can choose between reporting based on IFRS or IFRS-SME standards, which are specially designed for large and medium enterprises. Small and micro enterprises can choose between reporting based on IFRS, IFRS-SME, or simplified accounting procedures established by the Finance Ministry.
Several U.S. companies with operations and investments in Azerbaijan previously reported they had been subjected to repeated tax audits, requests for prepayment of taxes, and court-imposed fines for violations of the tax code. These allegations have markedly decreased since 2017.
On October 19, 2015, Azerbaijan suspended inspections of entrepreneurs for two years, but inspections still may occur if a complaint is lodged. This suspension was subsequently extended through January 1, 2023. Medicine quality and safety, taxes, customs, financial markets, food safety, fire safety, construction and safe usage of hazardous facilities, radioactive substances, and mining fields are not subject to this suspension order and are inspected for quality and safety.
The government has also simplified its licensing regime. All licenses are now issued with indefinite validity through ASAN service centers and must be issued within 10 days of application. The Economy Ministry also reduced the number of activities requiring a license from 60 to 32.
Azerbaijan has held observer status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1997 but has not made significant progress toward joining the WTO for the past several years. A working party on Azerbaijan’s succession to the WTO was established on July 16, 1997 and Azerbaijan began negotiations with WTO members in 2004. The WTO Secretariat reports Azerbaijan is less than a quarter of the way to full membership. In 2016, Azerbaijan imposed higher tariffs on a number of imported goods, including agricultural products, to promote domestic production and reduce imports. In February 2020, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev made public remarks outlining Azerbaijan’s “cautious” approach to the WTO, saying that “the time [had] not come” for Azerbaijan’s membership. Currently, Azerbaijan is negotiating bilateral market access with 19 economies.
Azerbaijan’s legal system is based on civil law. Disputes or disagreements arising between foreign investors and enterprises with foreign investment, Azerbaijani state bodies and/or enterprises, and other Azerbaijani legal entities, are to be settled in the Azerbaijani court system or, upon agreement between the parties, in a court of arbitration, including international arbitration bodies. The judiciary consists of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the appellate courts of the Republic of Azerbaijan, trial courts, and other specialized courts. Trial court judgments may be appealed in appellate courts and the judgments of appellate courts can be appealed in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. Under the Civil Procedure Code of Azerbaijan, appellate court judgments are published within three days of issuance or within ten days in exceptional circumstances. The Constitutional Court has the authority to review laws and court judgments for compliance with the constitution.
Businesses report problems with the reliability and independence of judicial processes in Azerbaijan. While the government promotes foreign investment and the law guarantees national treatment, in practice investment disputes can arise when a foreign investor or trader’s success threatens well-connected or favored local interests.
Foreign investment in Azerbaijan is regulated by a number of international treaties and agreements, as well as domestic legislation. These include the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the United States and Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan-European Commission Cooperation Agreement, the Law on Protection of Foreign Investment, the Law on Investment Activity, the Law on Investment Funds, the Law on Privatization of State Property, the Second Program for Privatization of State Property, and sector-specific legislation. Azerbaijani law permits foreign direct investment in any activity in which a national investor may also invest, unless otherwise prohibited (see “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment” for further information).