Bosnia and Herzegovina

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Bosnia and Herzegovina struggles to attract foreign investment. Complex labor and pension laws, the lack of a single economic space, and inadequate judicial and regulatory protections deter investment. Under the BiH constitution, established through the Dayton Accords that ended the 1990s war, Bosnia and Herzegovina (henceforth “the state”) is comprised of two “entities,” the Federation of BiH (the Federation) and the Republika Srpska (RS). A third, smaller area, the Brčko District, operates under a special status. The Federation includes ten cantons, each with its own government and responsibilities. There are also 143 municipalities in BiH: 63 in the RS and 80 in the Federation. As a result, BiH has a multi-tiered legal and regulatory framework that can be duplicative and contradictory, and is not conducive to attracting foreign investors.

Employers bear a heavy burden toward governments. They must contribute 69 percent on top of wages in the Federation and 52 percent in the RS to the health, unemployment, and pension systems. The labor and pension laws are also deterrents to investment, though both are being reformed to decrease burdens on employers. While corporate income taxes in the two entities and Brčko District are now harmonized at 10 percent, entity business registration requirements are not harmonized. The RS has its own registration requirements, which apply to the entire entity. Each of the Federation’s ten cantons has different business regulations and administrative procedures affecting companies. Simplifying and streamlining this framework is essential to improving the investment climate. EU reforms target changes that should improve the investment climate by clarifying and simplifying regulation and procedures while decreasing fees faced by businesses at the entity, canton, and municipal levels — but lack of political will has stalled even the most basic of reforms.

Generally, BiH’s legal framework does not discriminate against foreign investors. However, given the high level of corruption, foreign investors can be at a significant disadvantage in relation to entrenched local companies as well as some foreign investors, such as the People’s Republic of China, especially those with formal or informal backing by BiH’s various levels of government.

The Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA) is a state-level organization mandated by the Council of Ministers to facilitate and support FDI ( www.fipa.gov.ba ). FIPA provides data, analysis, and advice on the business and investment climate to foreign investors. All FIPA services are free of charge.

BiH does not maintain an ongoing, formal dialogue with foreign investors. Sporadically, high-ranking government officials give media statements inviting foreign investments in the energy, transportation, and agriculture industries; however, the announcements are rarely supported by tangible, commercially-viable investment opportunities.

According to the Law on the Policy of FDI, foreign investors are entitled to invest in any sector of the economy in the same form and under the same conditions as those defined for local residents. Exceptions include the defense industry and some areas of publishing and media where foreign ownership is restricted to 49 percent; and electric power transmission, which is closed to foreign investment. In practice, additional sectors are dominated by government monopolies (such as airport operation), or characterized by oligopolistic market structures (such as telecommunications and electricity generation), making it difficult for foreign investors to engage. There have been no significant privatizations of government-owned enterprises in the past few years.

In the past three years, the BiH government has not conducted an investment policy review through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); the World Trade Organization (WTO); or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Establishing a business in BiH can be an extremely burdensome and time-consuming process for investors. The World Bank estimates there are an average of 13 procedures (actual number depends on the type of business), taking a total of 81 days, to register a new business in the capital city of Sarajevo. Registration in BiH can sometimes be expedited if companies retain a local lawyer to follow up at each step of the process. The RS established a one-stop shop for business registration in the entity. On paper, this dramatically reduced the time required to register a business in the RS, bringing the government-reported time to register a company down to an average of 7 to 14 days. Some businesses, however, report that in practice it can take significantly longer.

The entity, cantonal, and municipal levels of government each establish their own laws and regulations on business operations, creating redundant and inconsistent procedures that facilitate corruption. It is often difficult to understand all the laws and rules that might apply to certain business activities, given overlapping jurisdictions and the lack of a central information source. It is therefore critical that foreign investors obtain local assistance and advice. Investors in the Federation may register their business as a branch in the RS and vice versa.

The most common U.S. business presence found in BiH are representative offices. A representative office is not considered to be a legal entity and its activities are limited to market research, contract or investment preparations, technical cooperation, and similar business facilitation activities. The BiH Law on Foreign Trade Policy governs the establishment of a representative office. To open a representative office, a company must register with the Registry of Representative Offices, maintained by the BiH Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Affairs (MoFTER), and the appropriate entity’s ministry of trade.

Additional English-language information on the business registration process can be found at:

BiH Ministry of Foreign Trade & Economic Relations (MoFTER):
Ph: +387-33-220-093
www.mvteo.gov.ba 

BiH Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA):
Ph: + 387 33 278 080
www.fipa.gov.ba 

Republika Srpska Company Registration Website:
http://www.investsrpska.net 

The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. There are no programs to promote or incentivize outward investment.

Investment Climate Statements
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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future