Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines is committed to improving its overall investment climate. Sovereign credit ratings remain at investment grade based on the country’s sound macroeconomic fundamentals. Foreign direct investment (FDI), however, still remains relatively low when compared to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) figures; the Philippines ranks sixth out of ten ASEAN countries for total FDI in 2020. FDI declined by almost 25 percent in 2020 to USD 6.5 billion from USD 8.7 billion in 2019, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (the Philippine’s Central Bank), mainly due to the disruptive impact of the pandemic on global supply chains and weak business outlook that affected investors’ decisions. The majority of FDI investments included manufacturing, real estate, and financial/insurance activities. (https://www.bsp.gov.ph/SitePages/MediaAndResearch/MediaDisp.aspx?ItemId=5704)
Foreign ownership limitations in many sectors of the economy constrain investments. Poor infrastructure, high power costs, slow broadband connections, regulatory inconsistencies, and corruption are major disincentives to investment. The Philippines’ complex, slow, and sometimes corrupt judicial system inhibits the timely and fair resolution of commercial disputes. Traffic in major cities and congestion in the ports remain a regular cost of business. Recently passed tax reform legislation (Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises — CREATE) will reduce the corporate income tax from ASEAN’s highest rate of 30 percent to 25 percent in 2020 and eventually to 20 percent by 2025. CREATE could be positive for business investment, although some foreign investors have concerns about the performance-based and time-bound nature of the incentives scheme adopted in the measure.
The Philippines continues to address investment constraints. In late 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte updated the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which enumerates investment areas where foreign ownership or investment is banned or limited. The latest FINL allows 40 percent foreign participation in construction and repair of locally funded public works, up from 25 percent. The FINL, however, is limited in scope since it cannot change prior laws relating to foreign investments, such as Constitutional provisions which bar investment in mass media, utilities, and natural resource extraction.
There are currently several pending pieces of legislation, such as amendments to the Public Service Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Foreign Investment Act, all of which would have a large impact on investment within the country. The Public Service Act would provide a clearer definition of “public utility” companies, in which foreign investment is limited to 40 percent according to the 1987 Constitution. This amendment would lift foreign ownership restrictions in key areas such as telecommunications and energy, leaving restrictions only on distribution and transmission of electricity, and maintenance of waterworks and sewerage systems. The Retail Trade Liberalization Act aims to boost foreign direct investment in the retail sector by changing capital thresholds to reduce the minimum investment per store requirement for foreign-owned retail trade businesses from USD 830,000 to USD 200,000. It also would reduce the quantity of locally manufactured products foreign-owned stores are required to carry. The Foreign Investment Act would ease restrictions on foreigners practicing their professions in the Philippines and give them better access to investment areas that are currently reserved primarily for Philippine nationals, particularly in sectors within education, technology, and retail.
While the Philippine bureaucracy can be slow and opaque in its processes, the business environment is notably better within the special economic zones, particularly those available for export businesses operated by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), known for its regulatory transparency, no red-tape policy, and one-stop shop services for investors. Finally, the Philippines plans to spend more than USD 82.6 billion through 2022 to upgrade its infrastructure with the Administration’s aggressive Build, Build, Build program; many projects are already underway.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Philippines seeks foreign investment to generate employment, promote economic development, and contribute to inclusive and sustained growth. The Board of Investments (BOI) and Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) are the country’s lead investment promotion agencies (IPAs). They provide incentives and special investment packages to investors. Noteworthy advantages of the Philippine investment landscape include free trade zones, including economic zones, and a large, educated, English-speaking, and relatively low-cost Filipino workforce. Philippine law treats foreign investors the same as their domestic counterparts, except in sectors reserved for Filipinos by the Philippine Constitution and the Foreign Investment Act (see details under Limits on Foreign Control section). Additional information regarding investment policies and incentives are available on the BOI (http://boi.gov.ph) and PEZA (http://www.peza.gov.ph) websites.
Restrictions on foreign ownership, inadequate public investment in infrastructure, and lack of transparency in procurement tenders hinder foreign investment. The Philippines’ regulatory regime remains ambiguous in many sectors of the economy, and corruption is a significant problem. Large, family-owned conglomerates, including San Miguel, Ayala, Aboitiz Equity Ventures, and SM Investments, dominate the economic landscape, crowding out other smaller businesses.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreigners are prohibited from fully owning land under the 1987 Constitution, although the 1993 Investors’ Lease Act allows foreign investors to lease a contiguous parcel of up to 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) for a maximum of 75 years. Dual citizens are permitted to own land.
The 1991 Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing every two years of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted. The latest FINL was released in October 2018 and will be updated once the Strategic Investment Priorities Plan (SIPP) is drafted. The FINL bans foreign ownership/participation in the following investment activities: mass media (except recording and internet businesses); small-scale mining; private security agencies; utilization of marine resources; cockpits; manufacturing of firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices; and manufacturing and distribution of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons, and anti-personnel mines. With the exception of the practices of law, radiologic and x-ray technology, and marine deck and marine engine officers, other laws and regulations on professions allow foreigners to practice in the Philippines if their country permits reciprocity for Philippine citizens, these include medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, accountancy, architecture, engineering, criminology, teaching, chemistry, environmental planning, geology, forestry, interior design, landscape architecture, and customs brokerage. In practice, however, language exams, onerous registration processes, and other barriers prevent this from taking place.
The Philippines limits foreign ownership to 40 percent in the manufacturing of explosives, firearms, and military hardware; private radio communication networks; natural resource exploration, development, and utilization (with exceptions); educational institutions (with some exceptions); operation and management of public utilities; operation of commercial deep sea fishing vessels; Philippine government procurement contracts (40 percent for supply of goods and commodities); contracts for the construction and repair of locally funded public works (with some exceptions); ownership of private lands; and rice and corn production and processing (with some exceptions). Other areas that carry varying foreign ownership ceilings include the following: private employee recruitment firms (25 percent) and advertising agencies (30 percent).
Retail trade enterprises with capital of less than USD 2.5 million, or less than USD 250,000, for retailers of luxury goods, are reserved for Filipinos. The Philippines allows up to full foreign ownership of insurance adjustment, lending, financing, or investment companies; however, foreign investors are prohibited from owning stock in such enterprises, unless the investor’s home country affords the same reciprocal rights to Filipino investors.
Foreign banks are allowed to establish branches or own up to 100 percent of the voting stock of locally incorporated subsidiaries if they can meet certain requirements. However, a foreign bank cannot open more than six branches in the Philippines. A minimum of 60 percent of the total assets of the Philippine banking system should, at all times, remain controlled by majority Philippine-owned banks. Ownership caps apply to foreign non-bank investors, whose aggregate share should not exceed 40 percent of the total voting stock in a domestic commercial bank and 60 percent of the voting stock in a thrift/rural bank.
Business registration in the Philippines is cumbersome due to multiple agencies involved in the process. It takes an average of 33 days to start a business in Quezon City in Metro Manila, according to the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report. The Duterte Administrations’ landmark law, Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018 sought to address the issues through the amendment of the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 (https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2018/05/28/republic-act-no-11032/). It legislates standardized deadlines for government transactions, a single business application form, a one-stop-shop, automation of business permits processing, a zero-contact policy, and a central business databank. Implementing rules and regulations for the Act was signed in 2019 (http://arta.gov.ph/pages/IRR.html). It created an Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) under the Office of the President that oversees national policy on anti-red tape issues and implements reforms to improve competitiveness rankings. It also monitors compliance of agencies and issue notices to erring and non-compliant government employees and officials. ARTA is governed by a council that includes the Secretaries of Trade and Industry, Finance, Interior and Local Governments, and Information and Communications Technology. The Department of Trade and Industry serves as interim Secretariat for ARTA. Since this landmark legislation, the Philippines jumped 29 notches in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranking 95th from its previous 124th rank with the ARTA pushing for the full adoption of an online application system as an efficient alternative to on-site application procedures, issue online permits, and use e-signatures in the processing of government transactions.
The Revised Corporation Code, a business-friendly amendment that encourages entrepreneurship, improves the ease of business and promotes good corporate governance. This new law amends part of the four-decade-old Corporation Code and allows for existing and future companies to hold a perpetual status of incorporation, compared to the previous 50-year term limit which required renewal. More importantly, the amendments allow for the formation of one-person corporations, providing more flexibility to conduct business; the old code required all incorporation to have at least five stockholders and provided less protection from liabilities.
There are no restrictions on outward portfolio investments for Philippine residents, defined to include non-Filipino citizens who have been residing in the country for at least one year; foreign-controlled entities organized under Philippine laws; and branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates of foreign enterprises organized under foreign laws operating in the country. However, outward investments funded by foreign exchange purchases above USD 60 million or its equivalent per investor per year, require prior notification to the Central Bank.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
The Philippines has neither a bilateral investment nor a free trade agreement with the United States, but it utilizes the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP – https://ustr.gov/issue-areas/trade-development/preference-programs/generalized-system-preference-gsp), which is yet to be renewed. The only bilateral free trade agreement the Philippines has is with Japan. The Philippines has signed bilateral investment agreements with 37 countries or entities: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Kuwait, Mongolia, Myanmar, Netherlands, Pakistan, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.
The Philippines is party to ASEAN regional trade agreements, including an investment chapter with trading partners Australia and New Zealand, Republic of Korea, India, Japan, and China. It also has an investment agreement with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland under the Philippines-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Free Trade Agreement. On November 15, the Philippines along with 14 other Asia-Pacific countries, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement. The agreement will be implemented after a ratification process, which could take up to two years.
The Philippines has a tax treaty with United States to avoid double taxation and provide procedures for resolving interpretative disputes and tax enforcement in both countries. The treaty encourages bilateral trade and investment by allowing the exchange of capital, goods, and services under clearly defined tax rules and, in some cases, preferential tax rates or tax exemptions.
U.S. recipients of royalty income qualify for preferential tax rates (currently 10 percent) under the most favored nation clause of the United States-Philippines tax treaty. A preferential tax treaty rate of 15 percent applies to dividends and interest income from bona fide loans; and 10 percent on interest income from government bonds. The Philippine Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that securing a tax treaty relief ruling from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is not a legal requirement to qualify for preferential treatment and tax treaty rates; however, based on experience, tax experts generally still advise filing a tax treaty relief application to avoid potential challenges or controversies. Despite efforts to streamline processes, taxpayers find documentation requirements for tax treaty relief applications burdensome. The volume of tax treaty relief applications has resulted in processing delays, with most applications reportedly pending for over a year. Inconsistent taxation rulings are also a concern.
Given the recent updates on tax rulings, the BIR rules and regulations for tax accounting are yet to be fully harmonized with the Philippine Financial Reporting Standards. The BIR requires taxpayers to maintain records in case of further audits of financial statements and income tax returns. Additional information regarding BIR regulations is available on the BIR website (https://www.bir.gov.ph/).
The Philippines and United States signed a reciprocal Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) in July 2015 for automatic exchange of information between tax authorities to implement the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA). The bilateral agreement has yet to enter into force pending completion of domestic legal remedies to overcome stringent bank secrecy restrictions to the disclosure/sharing of information.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Proposed Philippine laws must undergo public comment and review. Government agencies are required to craft implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) through public consultation meetings within the government and with private sector representatives after laws are passed. New regulations must be published in newspapers or in the government’s official gazette, available online, before taking effect (https://www.gov.ph/). The 2016 Executive Order on Freedom of Information (FOI) mandates full public disclosure and transparency of government operations, with certain exceptions. The public may request copies of official records through the FOI website (https://www.foi.gov.ph/). Government offices in the Executive Branch are expected to come up with their respective agencies’ implementation guidelines. The order is criticized for its long list of exceptions, rendering the policy less effective.
Stakeholders report regulatory enforcement in the Philippines is generally weak, inconsistent, and unpredictable. Many U.S. investors describe business registration, customs, immigration, and visa procedures as burdensome and frustrating. Regulatory agencies are generally not statutorily independent but are attached to cabinet departments or the Office of the President and, therefore, are subject to political pressure. Issues in the judicial system also affect regulatory enforcement.
The Philippines continues to fulfill required regulatory reforms under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The Philippines officially joined live operations of the ASEAN Single Window (ASW) on December 30, 2019. The country’s National Single Window (NSW) now issues an electronic Certificate of Origin via the TRADENET.gov.ph platform, and the NSW is connected to the ASW, allowing for customs efficiencies and better transparency.
The Philippines passed the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act in 2016, which enables the country to largely comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation. However, the various implementing rules and regulations to execute specific provisions have not been completed by the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs as of April 2020.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Philippines has a mixed legal system of civil, common, Islamic, and customary laws, along with commercial and contractual laws.
The Philippine judicial system is a separate and largely independent branch of the government, made up of the Supreme Court and lower courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court and sole constitutional body. More information is available on the court’s website (http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/). The lower courts consist of: (a) trial courts with limited jurisdictions (i.e., Municipal Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, etc.); (b) Regional Trial Courts (RTCs); (c) Shari’ah District Courts (Muslim courts); and (d) Court of Appeals (appellate courts). Special courts include the “Sandiganbayan” (anti-graft court for public officials) and the Court of Tax Appeals. Several RTCs have been designated as Special Commercial Courts (SCC) to hear intellectual property (IP) cases, with four SCCs authorized to issue writs of search and seizure on IP violations, enforceable nationwide. In addition, nearly any case can be appealed to appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, increasing caseloads and further clogging the judicial system.
Foreign investors describe the inefficiency and uncertainty of the judicial system as a significant disincentive to investment. Many investors decline to file dispute cases in court because of slow and complex litigation processes and corruption among some personnel. The courts are not considered impartial or fair. Stakeholders also report an inexperienced judiciary when confronted with complex issues such as technology, science, and intellectual property cases. The Philippines ranked 152nd out of 190 economies, and 18th among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of enforcing contracts.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB) is the ultimate governing body that oversees the administration and grant of tax incentives by investments promotions agencies (IPAs). It also determines the target performance metrics used as conditions to avail of tax incentives and reviews, approve, and cancels incentives for investments above USD 20 million as endorsed by IPAs. The BOI regulates and promotes investment into the Philippines that caters to the domestic market. The Strategic Investment Priorities Plan (SIPP), identified by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and administered by the BOI, identifies preferred economic activities approved by the President. Government agencies are encouraged to adopt policies and implement programs consistent with the SIPP.
The Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL) that outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted. The FINL consists of two parts: Part A details sectors in which foreign equity participation is restricted by the Philippine Constitution or laws; and Part B lists areas in which foreign ownership is limited for reasons of national security, defense, public health, morals, and/or the protection of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
The 1995 Special Economic Zone Act allows PEZAs to regulate and promote investments in export-oriented manufacturing and service facilities inside special economic zones, including grants of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.
Further information about investing in the Philippines is available at BOI website (http://boi.gov.ph/) and PEZA website (http://www.peza.gov.ph).
Competition and Antitrust Laws
The 2015 Philippine competition law established the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), an independent body mandated to resolve complaints on issues such as price fixing and bid rigging, to stop mergers that would restrict competition. More information is available on PCC website (http://phcc.gov.ph/#content). The Department of Justice (https://www.doj.gov.ph/) prosecutes criminal offenses involving violations of competition laws.
Expropriation and Compensation
Philippine law allows expropriation of private property for public use or in the interest of national welfare or defense in return for fair market value compensation. In the event of expropriation, foreign investors have the right to receive compensation in the currency in which the investment was originally made and to remit it at the equivalent exchange rate. However, the process of agreeing on a mutually acceptable price can be protracted in Philippine courts. No recent cases of expropriation involve U.S. companies in the Philippines.
The 2016 Right-of-Way Act facilitates acquisition of right-of-way sites for national government infrastructure projects and outlines procedures in providing “just compensation” to owners of expropriated real properties to expedite implementation of government infrastructure programs.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
The Philippines is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and has adopted the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, or the New York Convention.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The Philippines is signatory to various bilateral investment treaties that recognize international arbitration of investment disputes. Since 2002, the Philippines has been respondent to five investment dispute cases filed before the ICSID. Details of cases involving the Philippines are available on the ICSID website (https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/).
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Investment disputes can take years to resolve due to systemic problems in Philippine courts. Lack of resources, understaffing, and corruption make the already complex court processes protracted and expensive. Several laws on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms (i.e., arbitration, mediation, negotiation, and conciliation) were approved to decongest clogged court dockets. Public-Private Partnership (PPP) infrastructure contracts are required to include ADR provisions to make resolving disputes less expensive and time-consuming.
A separate action must be filed for foreign judgments to be recognized or enforced under Philippine law. Philippine law does not recognize or enforce foreign judgments that run counter to existing laws, particularly those relating to public order, public policy, and good customary practices. Foreign arbitral awards are enforceable upon application in writing to the regional trial court with jurisdiction. The petition may be filed any time after receipt of the award.
The 2010 Philippine bankruptcy and insolvency law provides a predictable framework for rehabilitation and liquidation of distressed companies, although an examination of some reported cases suggests uneven implementation. Rehabilitation may be initiated by debtors or creditors under court-supervised, pre-negotiated, or out-of-court proceedings. The law sets conditions for voluntary (debtor-initiated) and involuntary (creditor-initiated) liquidation. It also recognizes cross-border insolvency proceedings in accordance with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, allowing courts to recognize proceedings in a foreign jurisdiction involving a foreign entity with assets in the Philippines. Regional trial courts designated by the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over insolvency and bankruptcy cases. The Philippines ranked 65th out of 190 economies, and ninth among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of resolving insolvency and bankruptcy cases.
4. Industrial Policies
The Philippines’ Investment Priorities Plan (IPP) enumerates investment activities entitled to incentives facilitated by BOI, such as an income tax holiday. Non-fiscal incentives include the following: employment of foreign nationals, simplified customs procedures, duty exemption on imported capital equipment and spare parts, importation of consigned equipment, and operation of a bonded manufacturing warehouse.
The 2017 IPP provides incentives to the following activities: manufacturing (e.g., agro-processing, modular housing components, machinery, and equipment); agriculture, fishery, and forestry; integrated circuit design, creative industries, and knowledge-based services (e.g., IT-Business Process Management services for the domestic market, repair/maintenance of aircraft, telecommunications, etc.); healthcare (e.g., hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers); mass housing; infrastructure and logistics (e.g., airports, seaports, and PPP projects); energy (development of energy sources, power generation plants, and ancillary services); innovation drivers (e.g,. fabrication laboratories); and environment (e.g., climate change-related projects). Further details of the 2017 IPP are available on the BOI website (http://boi.gov.ph/). The BOI was tasked to update the investment priorities and formulate a Strategic Investment Priorities Plan to replace the IPP in light of the planned amendments in the tax incentive scheme of the Philippines under the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CREATE).
In the current set-up, BOI-registered enterprises that locate in less-developed areas are entitled to pioneer incentives and can deduct 100 percent of the cost of necessary infrastructure work and labor expenses from taxable income. Pioneer status can be granted to enterprises producing new products or using new methods, goods deemed highly essential to the country’s agricultural self-sufficiency program, or goods utilizing non-conventional fuel sources. Furthermore, an enterprise with more than 40 percent foreign equity that exports at least 70 percent of its production may be entitled to incentives even if the activity is not listed in the IPP. Export-oriented firms with at least 50 percent of revenues derived from exports may register for additional incentives under the 1994 Export Development Act.
Multinational entities that establish regional warehouses for the supply of spare parts, manufactured components, or raw materials for foreign markets also enjoy incentives on imports that are re-exported, including exemption from customs duties, internal revenue taxes, and local taxes. The first package of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law which took effect January 1, 2018, removed the 15 percent special tax rate on gross income of employees of multinational enterprises’ regional headquarters (RHQ) and regional operating headquarters (ROHQ) located in the Philippines. RHQ and ROHQ employees are now subjected to regular income tax rates, usually at higher and less competitive rates.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Export-related businesses enjoy preferential tax treatment when located in export processing zones, free trade zones, and certain industrial estates, collectively known as economic zones, or ecozones. Businesses located in ecozones are considered outside customs territory and are allowed to import capital equipment and raw material free of customs duties, taxes, and other import restrictions. Goods imported into ecozones may be stored, repacked, mixed, or otherwise manipulated without being subject to import duties and are exempt from the Bureau of Customs’ Selective Pre-shipment Advance Classification Scheme. While some ecozones are designated as both export processing zones and free trade zones, individual businesses within them are only permitted to receive incentives under a single category.
Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA)
PEZA operates 379 ecozones, primarily in manufacturing, IT, tourism, medical tourism, logistics/warehousing, and agro-industrial sectors. PEZA manages four government-owned export-processing zones (Mactan, Baguio, Cavite, and Pampanga) and administers incentives to enterprises in other privately owned and operated ecozones. Any person, partnership, corporation, or business organization, regardless of nationality, control and/or ownership, may register as an export, IT, tourism, medical tourism, or agro-industrial enterprise with PEZA, provided the enterprise physically locates its activity inside any of the ecozones. PEZA administrators have earned a reputation for maintaining a clear and predictable investment environment within the zones of their authority (http://www.peza.gov.ph/index.php/economic-zones/list-of-economic-zones/operating-economic-zones).
Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA)
The ecozones located inside former U.S. military bases were established under the 1992 Bases Conversion and Development Act. The BCDA (http://www.bcda.gov.ph/) operates Clark Freeport Zone (Angeles City, Pampanga), John Hay Special Economic Zone (Baguio), Poro Point Freeport Zone (La Union), and Bataan Technology Park (Morong, Bataan). The SBMA operates the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (Subic Bay, Zambales). Clark and Subic have their own international airports, power plants, telecommunications networks, housing complexes, and tourist facilities. These ecozones offer comparable incentives to PEZA. Enterprises already receiving incentives under the BCDA law are disqualified to receive incentives and benefits offered by other laws.
The Phividec Industrial Estate (Misamis Oriental Province, Mindanao) is governed by Phividec Industrial Authority (PIA) (http://www.piamo.gov.ph/), a government-owned and controlled corporation. Other ecozones are Zamboanga City Economic Zone and Freeport (Zamboanga City, Mindanao) (http://www.zfa.gov.ph/), Cagayan Special Economic Zone (CEZA) and Freeport (Santa Ana, Cagayan Province) (http://ceza.gov.ph/), and Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) (Mariveles, Bataan). CEZA grants gaming licenses in addition to offering export incentives. The Regional Economic Zone Authority (Cotabato City, Mindanao) (https://reza.bangsamoro.gov.ph/) has been operated by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The FAB is operated by the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB) (https://afab.gov.ph/). The incentives available to investors in these zones are similar to PEZA but administered independently.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The BOI imposes a higher export performance requirement on foreign-owned enterprises (70 percent of production) than on Philippine-owned companies (50 percent of production) when providing incentives under SIPP.
Companies registered with BOI and PEZA may employ foreign nationals in supervisory, technical, or advisory positions for five years from date of registration (possibly extendable upon request). Top positions and elective officers of majority foreign-owned BOI-registered enterprises (such as president, general manager, and treasurer, or their equivalents) are exempt from employment term limitation. Foreigners intending to work locally must secure an Alien Employment Permit from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), renewable every year with the duration of employment (which in no case shall exceed five years). The BOI and PEZA facilitate special investor’s resident visas with multiple entry privileges and extend visa facilitation assistance to foreign nationals, their spouses, and dependents.
The 2006 Biofuels Act establishes local content requirements for diesel and gasoline. Regarding diesel, only locally produced biodiesel is permitted. For gasoline, all local ethanol must be bought off the market before imports are allowed to meet the blend requirement, and the local ethanol production may only be sourced from locally-produced sugar/molasses feedstock.
The Philippines does not impose restrictions on cross-border data transfers. Sensitive personal information is protected under the 2012 Data Privacy Act, which provides penalties for unauthorized processing and improper disposal of data even if processed outside the Philippines.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The Philippines recognizes and protects property rights, but the enforcement of laws is weak and fragmented. The Land Registration Authority and the Register of Deeds (http://www.lra.gov.ph/), which facilitate the registration and transfer of property titles, are responsible for land administration, with more information available on their websites. Property registration processes are tedious and costly. Multiple agencies are involved in property administration, which results in overlapping procedures for land valuation and titling processes. Record management is weak due to a lack of funds and trained personnel. Corruption is also prevalent among land administration personnel and the court system is slow to resolve land disputes. The Philippines ranked 120th out of 190 economies in terms of ease of property registration in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report.
Intellectual Property Rights
The Philippines is not listed on the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Watch List. The country has a generally robust intellectual property rights (IPR) regime in place, although enforcement is irregular and inconsistent. The total estimated value of counterfeit goods reported seized in 2020 was USD180 million, lower than 2019’s USD 460 million. The closure of commercial establishments and a strict three-month lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic,impacted enforcement activities. The sale of imported counterfeit goods in local markets has visibly decreased, though the amount of counterfeit goods sold online has dramatically increased due to the shift of most businesses to online activities.
The Intellectual Property (IP) Code provides a legal framework for IPR protection, particularly in key areas of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) is the implementing agency of the IP Code, with more information available on its website (https://www.ipophil.gov.ph/). The Philippines generally has strong patent and trademark laws. IPOPHL’s IP Enforcement Office (IEO) reviews IPR-related complaints and visits establishments reportedly engaged in IPR-related violations. However, weak border protection, corruption, limited enforcement capacity by the government, and lack of clear procedures continue to weaken enforcement. In addition, IP owners still must assume most enforcement and storage costs when counterfeit goods are seized.
Enforcement actions are often not followed by successful prosecutions. The slow and capricious judicial system keeps most IP owners from pursuing cases in court. IP infringement is not considered a major crime in the Philippines and takes a lower priority in court proceedings, especially as the courts become more crowded out with criminal cases deemed more serious, which receive higher priority. Many IP owners opt for out-of-court settlements (such as ADR) rather than filing a lawsuit that may take years to resolve in the unpredictable Philippine courts.
The IPOPHL has jurisdiction to resolve certain disputes concerning alleged infringement and licensing through its Arbitration and Mediation Center.
The Philippines welcomes the entry of foreign portfolio investments, including local and foreign-issued equities listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE). Investments in certain publicly listed companies are subject to foreign ownership restrictions specified in the Constitution and other laws. Non-residents are allowed to issue bonds/notes or similar instruments in the domestic market with prior approval from the Central Bank; in certain cases, they may also obtain financing in Philippine pesos from authorized agent banks without prior Central Bank approval.
Although growing, the PSE (with 271 listed firms as of end-2020) lags behind many of its neighbors in size, product offerings, and trading activity. Efforts are underway to deepen the equity market, including introduction of new instruments (e.g., real investment trusts) and plans to amend listing rules for small and medium enterprises (SME). The securities market is growing, and while it remains dominated by government bills and bonds, corporate issuances continue to expand due to the favorable interest rate environment and recent regulatory reforms. Hostile takeovers are uncommon because most companies’ shares are not publicly listed and controlling interest tends to remain with a small group of parties. Cross-ownership and interlocking directorates among listed companies also decrease the likelihood of hostile takeovers.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP/Central Bank) does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions in accordance to the country’s acceptance of International Monetary Fund Article VIII obligations of September 1995. Purchase of foreign currencies for trade and non-trade obligations and/or remittances requires submission of a foreign exchange purchase application form if the foreign exchange is sourced from banks and/or their subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations falls within specified thresholds (currently USD 500,000 for individuals and USD 1 million for corporates/other entities). Purchases above the thresholds are also subject to the submission of minimum documentary requirements but do not require prior Central Bank approval. Meanwhile, a person may freely bring in or carryout foreign currencies up to USD 10,000; more than this threshold requires submission of a foreign currency declaration form.
Credit is generally granted on market terms and foreign investors are able to obtain credit from the liquid domestic market. However, some laws require financial institutions to set aside loans for preferred sectors such as agriculture, agrarian reform, and MSMEs. Notwithstanding, bank loans to these sectors remain constrained; for example, lending to MSMEs only amount to 5.9 percent of the total banking system loans despite comprising 99 percent of domestic firms. The government has implemented measures to promote lending to preferred sectors at competitive rates, including the establishment of a centralized credit information system and enactment of the 2018 Personal Property Security Law allowing the use of non-traditional collaterals (e.g., movable assets like machinery and equipment and inventories). The government also established the Philippine Guarantee Corporation in 2018 to expand development financing by extending credit guarantees to priority sectors, including MSMEs.
Money and Banking System
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP/Central Bank) is a highly respected institution that oversees a stable banking system. The Central Bank has pursued regulatory reforms promoting good governance and aligning risk management regulations with international standards. Capital adequacy ratios are well above the eight percent international standard and the Central Bank’s 10 percent regulatory requirement. The non-performing loan ratio was at 3.7 percent as of end-2020, and there is ample liquidity in the system, with the liquid assets-to-deposits ratio estimated at about 53 percent. Commercial banks constitute more than 93 percent of the total assets of the Philippine banking industry. As of September 2020, the five largest commercial banks represented 60 percent of the total resources of the commercial banking sector. The banking system was liberalized in 2014, allowing the full control of domestic lenders by non-residents and lifting the limits to the number of foreign banks that can operate in the country, subject to central bank prudential regulations. Twenty-six of the 46 commercial banks operating in the country are foreign branches and subsidiaries, including three U.S. banks (Citibank, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase). Citibank has the largest presence among the foreign bank branches and currently ranks 12th overall in terms of assets. Despite the adequate number of operational banks, 31 percent of cities and municipalities in the Philippines were still without banking presence as of end-2019 and 4.6 percent were without any financial access point. The level of bank account penetration – the percentage of adults with a formal transaction account – stands at 34.5 percent, nearly halfway to the central bank goal of 70 percent by 2023.
Foreign residents and non-residents may open foreign and local currency bank accounts. Although non-residents may open local currency deposit accounts, they are limited to the funding sources specified under Central Bank regulations. Should non-residents decide to convert to foreign currency their local deposits, sales of foreign currencies are limited up to the local currency balance. Non-residents’ foreign currency accounts cannot be funded from foreign exchange purchases from banks and banks’ subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank) has actively pursued reforms since the 1990s to liberalize and simplify foreign exchange regulations. As a general rule, the Central Bank allows residents and non-residents to purchase foreign exchange from banks, banks’ subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations, and other non-bank entities operating as foreign exchange dealers and/or money changers and remittance agents to fund legitimate foreign exchange obligations, subject to provision of information and/or supporting documents on underlying obligations. No mandatory foreign exchange surrender requirement is imposed on exporters, overseas workers’ incomes, or other foreign currency earners; these foreign exchange receipts may be sold for pesos or retained in foreign exchange in local and/or offshore accounts. The Central Bank follows a market-determined exchange rate policy, with scope for intervention to smooth excessive foreign exchange volatility.
Foreign exchange policies do not require approval of inward foreign direct and portfolio investments unless the investor will purchase foreign currency from banks to convert its local currency proceeds or earnings for repatriation or remittance. Registration of foreign investments with the Central Bank or custodian banks is generally optional. Duly registered foreign investments are entitled to full and immediate repatriation of capital and remittance of dividends, profits, and earnings. The Central Bank particularly requires foreign exchange for divestment purposes to be directly remitted to the account of non-resident investor on the date of purchase, with limited exemptions. To repatriate capital from investments that did not fully materialize, non-resident investors can exchange excess local currencies provided at least 50 percent of inwardly remitted foreign exchange have been invested onshore, except for certain conditions.
As a general policy, government-guaranteed private sector foreign loans/borrowings (including those in the form of notes, bonds, and similar instruments) require prior Central Bank approval. Although there are exceptions, private sector loan agreements should also be registered with the Central Bank if serviced through the purchase of foreign exchange from the banking system.
The Philippines strengthened its Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) on January 29, 2021. The amended law expands covered entities and empowers the Anti-Terrorism Council to designate covered persons.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Philippines does not presently have sovereign wealth funds.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises, known in the Philippines as government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC), are predominantly in the finance, power, transport, infrastructure, communications, land and water resources, social services, housing, and support services sectors. There were 133 operational and functioning GOCCs as of end-2020; a list is available on the Governance Commission for GOCC [GCG] website (https://gcg.gov.ph). The government corporate sector has a combined asset of USD 300 billion and liability of USD 210 billion (or net assets/equity worth about USD 9 billion) as of end-2019. Its total income increased by 3.3 percent to USD 33 billion during the year, while total expense rose by 0.6 percent to USD 24 billion; these result in a profit of USD 9 billion. GOCCs are required to remit at least 50 percent of their annual net earnings (e.g., cash, stock, or property dividends) to the national government.
Private and state-owned enterprises generally compete equally. The Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) is the only agency, with limited exceptions, allowed to provide coverage for the government’s insurance risks and interests, including those in build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects and privatized government corporations. Since the national government acts as the main guarantor of loans, stakeholders report GOCCs often have an advantage in obtaining financing from government financial institutions and private banks. Most GOCCs are not statutorily independent, thus could potentially be subject to political interference.
OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs
The Philippines is not an OECD member country. The 2011 GOCC Governance Act addresses problems experienced by GOCCs, including poor financial performance, weak governance structures, and unauthorized allowances. The law allows unrestricted access to GOCC account books and requires strict compliance with accounting and financial disclosure standards; establishes the power to privatize, abolish, or restructure GOCCs without legislative action; and sets performance standards and limits on compensation and allowances. The GCG formulates and implements GOCC policies. GOCC board members are limited to one-year term and subject to reappointment based on a performance rating set by GCG, with final approval by the Philippine President.
The Philippine Government’s privatization program is managed by the Privatization Management Office (PMO) under the Department of Finance (DOF). The privatization of government assets undergoes a public bidding process. Apart from restrictions stipulated in FINL, no regulations discriminate against foreign buyers and the bidding process appears to be transparent. Additional information is available on the PMO website (http://www.pmo.gov.ph/index.htm).
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) is regularly practiced in the Philippines, although no domestic laws require it. The Philippine Tax Code provides RBC-related incentives to corporations, such as tax exemptions and deductions. Various non-government organizations and business associations also promote RBC. The Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) is the largest corporate-led social development foundation involved in advocating corporate citizenship practice in the Philippines. U.S. companies report strong and favorable responses to RBC programs among employees and within local communities.
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
The Philippines is not an OECD member country. The Philippine government strongly supports RBC practices among the business community but has not yet endorsed the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to stakeholders.
Corruption is a pervasive and long-standing problem in both the public and private sectors. The country’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index declined to the 115th spot (out of 180), its worst score in eight years. Philippine efforts to control corruption appears stagnant since 2012. The ranking was also dragged by the government’s poor response to COVID-19, having been characterized as abusive enforcement of and major violations of human rights and media freedom, according to Transparency International. Various organizations, including the World Economic Forum, have cited corruption among the top problematic factors for doing business in the Philippines. The Bureau of Customs is still considered to be one of the most corrupt agencies in the country.
The Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 outlines strategies to reduce corruption by streamlining government transactions, modernizing regulatory processes, and establishing mechanisms for citizens to report complaints. A front line desk in the Office of the President, the Presidential Complaint Center, or PCC (https://op-proper.gov.ph/contact-us/), receives and acts on corruption complaints from the general public. The PCC can be reached through its complaint hotline, text services (SMS), and social media sites.
The Philippine Revised Penal Code, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the Code of Ethical Conduct for Public Officials all aim to combat corruption and related anti-competitive business practices. The Office of the Ombudsman investigates and prosecutes cases of alleged graft and corruption involving public officials, with more information available on its website. Cases against high-ranking officials are brought before a special anti-corruption court, the Sandiganbayan, while cases against low-ranking officials are filed before regional trial courts.
The Office of the President can directly investigate and hear administrative cases involving presidential appointees in the executive branch and government-owned and controlled corporations. Soliciting, accepting, and/or offering/giving a bribe are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment, a fine, and/or disqualification from public office or business dealings with the government. Government anti-corruption agencies routinely investigate public officials, but convictions by courts are limited, often appealed, and can be overturned. Recent positive steps include the creation of an investors’ desk at the Ombudsman’s Office, and corporate governance reforms of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery
The Philippines ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003. It is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
Office of the Ombudsman
Ombudsman Building, Agham Road, North Triangle
Diliman, Quezon City
Hotline: (+632) 8926.2662
Telephone: (+632) 8479.7300
Email/Website: email@example.com / http://www.ombudsman.gov.ph/
Terrorist groups and criminal gangs operate around the country. The Department of State publishes a consular information sheet and advises all Americans living in or visiting the Philippines to review the information periodically. A travel advisory is in place for those U.S. citizens contemplating travel to the Philippines.
Terrorist groups, including the ISIS-Philippines affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Maute Group, Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP) and elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), periodically attack civilian targets, kidnap civilians – including foreigners – for ransom, and engage in armed attacks against government security forces. These groups have mostly carried out their activities in the western and central regions of Mindanao, including the Sulu Archipelago and Sulu Sea. Groups affiliated with ISIS-Philippines continued efforts to recover from battlefield losses, recruiting and training new members, and staging suicide bombings and attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and small arms that targeted security forces and civilians.
In 2017, ISIS-affiliated groups in Mindanao occupied and held siege to Marawi City for five months, prompting President Duterte to declare martial law over the entire Mindanao region – approximately one-third of the country’s territory. After granting multiple extensions of over two and a half years, Congress, with support from the government, allowed martial law to lapse on December 31, 2019. In expressing its support for the decision, the military cited improvement in the security climate in Mindanao, but also noted that Proclamation 55, a national state of emergency declaration, remained in effect and would be used as necessary.
The Philippines’ most significant human rights problems were killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes, security forces, and insurgents; cases of apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process; official corruption; shrinking civic spaces; and a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators. In 2020, the Philippines has seen a number of arrests and killings of human rights defenders and members of the media.
President Duterte’s administration continued its nationwide campaign against illegal drugs, led primarily by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), which continues to receive worldwide attention for its harsh tactics. In 2020, the government also renewed focus on anti-terrorism with a particular emphasis against communist insurgents. In addition to Philippine military and police actions against the insurgents, the Philippine government also pressured a number of political groups and activists – accusing them of links to the NPA, often without evidence. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, signed into law on July 3, intends to prevent, prohibit, and penalize terrorism in the country, although critics question whether law enforcement and prosecutors might be able to use the law to punish political opponents and endanger human rights.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Managers of U.S. companies in the Philippines report that local labor costs are relatively low and workers are highly motivated, with generally strong English language skills. As of October 2020, the Philippine labor force reached 44 million workers, with an employment rate of 91.3 percent and an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent. These figures include employment in the informal sector and do not capture the substantial rates of underemployment in the country. Youths between the ages of 15 and 24 made up over 19 percent of the unemployed. More than half of all employment was in the services sector, with 57.2 percent. Agriculture and industry sectors constitute 24.5 percent and 18.3 percent, respectively.
Compensation packages in the Philippines tend to be comparable with those in neighboring countries. Regional Wage and Productivity Boards meet periodically in each of the country’s 16 administrative regions to determine minimum wages. The non-agricultural daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is approximately USD 10, although some private sector workers receive less. Most regions set their minimum wage significantly lower than Metro Manila. Violation of minimum wage standards is common, especially non-payment of social security contributions, bonuses, and overtime. Philippine law also provides for a comprehensive set of occupational safety and health standards. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has responsibility for safety inspection, but a shortage of inspectors has made enforcement difficult.
The Philippines Constitution enshrines the right of workers to form and join trade unions. The trend among firms using temporary contract labor to lower employment costs continues despite government efforts to regulate the practice. The DOLE Secretary has the authority to end strikes and mandate a settlement between parties in cases involving national interest. DOLE amended its rules concerning disputes in 2013, specifying industries vital to national interest: hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC). Economic zones often offer on-site labor centers to assist investors with recruitment. Although labor laws apply equally to economic zones, unions have noted some difficulty organizing inside the zones.
The Philippines is signatory to all International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions but has faced challenges with enforcement. Unions allege that companies or local officials use illegal tactics to prevent workers from organizing. The quasi-judicial National Labor Relations Commission reviews allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities. Meanwhile, the NTIPC monitors the application of international labor standards.
Reports of forced labor in the Philippines continue, particularly in connection with human trafficking in the commercial sex, domestic service, agriculture, and fishing industries, as well as online sexual exploitation of children.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance and Development Finance Programs
The U.S. International Development Finance Corp. (DFC) provides debt financing, partial credit guarantees, political risk insurance, grants, equity investment, and private equity capital to support U.S. investors and their investments. It does so under a bilateral agreement with the Philippines. DFC can provide debt financing, in the form of direct loans and loan guarantees, of up to USD 1 billion per project for business investments, preferably with U.S. private sector participation, covering sectors as diverse as tourism, transportation, manufacturing, franchising, power, infrastructure, and others. DFC political risk insurance for currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and political violence for U.S. and other investments including equity, loans and loan guarantees, technical assistance, leases, and consigned inventory or equipment is also available for business investments in the Philippines. Grants are available for projects that are already reasonably developed but need additional, limited funding and specific work – for example technical, environment and social, or legal – in order to be bankable and eligible for DFC financing or insurance. In all cases, DFC support is available only where sufficient or appropriate investment support is unavailable from local or other private sector financial institutions. In addition, DFC supports fifteen private equity funds that are eligible to invest in projects within the Philippines.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source*
USG or international statistical source
USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($B USD)
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data, as of end-2019
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment
Outward Direct Investment
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
The Philippine Central Bank does not publish or post inward and outward FDI stock broken down by country. Total stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that the Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB). As of the third quarter of 2020, inward direct investment (i.e. liabilities) is USD 95 billion, while outward direct investment (i.e., assets) is USD 61 billion.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets, as of end-2019
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Debt Securities
British Virgin Islands
The Philippine Central Bank disaggregates data into equity and debt securities but does not publish or post the stock of portfolio investments assets broken down by country. Total foreign portfolio investment stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB). As of third quarter 2020, outward portfolio investment (i.e., assets) was USD 30.9 billion, of which USD 3.9 billion was in equity investments and USD 27 billion was in debt securities.
Thailand is an upper middle-income country with a half-trillion-dollar economy, pro-investment policies, and well-developed infrastructure. General Prayut Chan-o-cha was elected by Parliament as Prime Minister on June 5, 2019. Thailand celebrated the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn May 4-6, 2019, formally returning a King to the Head of State of Thailand’s constitutional monarchy. Despite some political uncertainty, Thailand continues to encourage foreign direct investment as a means of promoting economic development, employment, and technology transfer. In recent decades, Thailand has been a major destination for foreign direct investment, and hundreds of U.S. companies have invested in Thailand successfully. Thailand continues to encourage investment from all countries and seeks to avoid dependence on any one country as a source of investment.
The Foreign Business Act (FBA) of 1999 governs most investment activity by non-Thai nationals. Many U.S. businesses also enjoy investment benefits through the U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, signed in 1833 and updated in 1966. The Treaty allows U.S. citizens and U.S. majority-owned businesses incorporated in the United States or Thailand to maintain a majority shareholding or to wholly own a company, branch office, or representative office located in Thailand, and engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies (national treatment). The Treaty exempts such U.S.-owned businesses from most FBA restrictions on foreign investment, although the Treaty excludes some types of businesses. Notwithstanding their Treaty rights, many U.S. investors choose to form joint ventures with Thai partners who hold a majority stake in the company, leveraging their partner’s knowledge of the Thai economy and local regulations.
The Thai government maintains a regulatory framework that broadly encourages investment. Some investors have nonetheless expressed views that the framework is overly restrictive, with a lack of consistency and transparency in rulemaking and interpretation of law and regulations.
The Board of Investment (BOI), Thailand’s principal investment promotion authority, acts as a primary conduit for investors. BOI offers businesses assistance in navigating Thai regulations and provides investment incentives to qualified domestic and foreign investors through straightforward application procedures. Investment incentives include both tax and non-tax privileges.
The government passed laws on cybersecurity and personal data protection in 2019; as of April 2021, they are still in the process of drafting implementing regulations. The government unveiled in January 2021 a Made In Thailand initiative that will set aside 60 percent of state projects for locally made products.
Gratuity payments to civil servants responsible for regulatory oversight and enforcement remain a common practice, though some government agencies enforce strict “gift” bans. Firms that refuse to make such payments can be placed at a competitive disadvantage to other firms that do engage in such practices. The government launched its Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development plan in 2017. The EEC is a part of the “Thailand 4.0” economic development strategy introduced in 2016. Many planned infrastructure projects, including a high-speed train linking three airports, U-Tapao Airport commercialization, and Laem Chabang Port expansion, could provide opportunities for investments and sales of U.S. goods and services. In support of its “Thailand 4.0” strategy, the government offers incentives for investments in twelve targeted industries: next-generation automotive vehicles; intelligent electronics; advanced agriculture and biotechnology; food processing; tourism; advanced robotics and automation; digital technology; integrated aviation; medical hub and total healthcare services; biofuels/biochemical; defense manufacturing; and human resource development.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Americans planning to invest in Thailand are advised to obtain qualified legal advice. Thai business regulations are governed predominantly by criminal, not civil, law. Foreigners are rarely jailed for improper business activities, yet violations of business regulations can carry heavy criminal penalties. Thailand has an independent judiciary and government authorities are generally not permitted to interfere in the court system once a case is in process.
Thailand continues to generally welcome investment from all countries and seeks to avoid dependence on any one country as a source of investment. However, the FBA prescribes a wide range of business that may not be conducted by foreigners without additional licenses or exemptions. The term “foreigner” includes Thai-registered companies in which half or more of the capital is held by non-Thai individuals and foreign-registered companies. Although the FBA prohibits majority foreign ownership in many sectors, U.S. investors registered under the United States-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations (AER) are exempt. Nevertheless, the AER’s privileges do not extend to U.S. investments in the following areas: communications; transportation; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; the exploitation of land or other natural resources; domestic trade in indigenous agricultural products; and the practice of professions reserved for Thai nationals.
The Board of Investment (BOI) assists Thai and foreign investors to establish and conduct businesses in targeted economic sectors by offering both tax and non-tax incentives. In recent years Thailand has taken steps to reform its business regulations and has improved processes and reduced time required to start a business from 29 days to 6 days. Thailand has steadily improved its ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report in the last several years and now occupies the 21st position out of 190 countries in the 2019 ranking, trailing only Singapore (2) and Malaysia (12) in the ASEAN bloc. Thai officials routinely make themselves available to investors through discussions with foreign chambers of commerce.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Various Thai laws set forth foreign-ownership restrictions in certain sectors. These restrictions primarily concern services such as banking, insurance, and telecommunications. The FBA details the types of business activities reserved for Thai nationals. Foreign investment in those businesses must comprise less than 50 percent of share capital, unless specially permitted or otherwise exempt.
The following three lists detail FBA-restricted businesses for foreigners.
List 1. This contains activities non-nationals are prohibited from engaging in, including: newspaper and radio broadcasting stations and businesses; agricultural businesses; forestry and timber processing from a natural forest; fishery in Thai territorial waters and specific economic zones; extraction of Thai medicinal herbs; trading and auctioning of antique objects or objects of historical value from Thailand; making or casting of Buddha images and monk alms bowls; and land trading.
List 2. This contains activities related to national safety or security, arts and culture, traditional industries, folk handicrafts, natural resources, and the environment. Restrictions apply to the production, distribution and maintenance of firearms and armaments; domestic transportation by land, water, and air; trading of Thai antiques or art objects; mining, including rock blasting and rock crushing; and timber processing for production of furniture and utensils. A foreign majority-owned company can engage in List 2 activities if Thai nationals or legal persons hold not less than 40 percent of the total shares and the number of Thai directors is not less than two-fifths of the total number of directors. Foreign companies also require prior approval and a license from the Council of Ministers (Cabinet).
List 3. Restricted businesses in this list include accounting, legal, architectural, and engineering services; retail and wholesale; advertising businesses; hotels; guided touring; selling food and beverages; and other service-sector businesses. A foreign company can engage in List 3 activities if a majority of the limited company’s shares are held by Thai nationals. Any company with a majority of foreign shareholders (more than 50 percent) cannot engage in List 3 activities unless it receives an exception from the Ministry of Commerce under its Foreign Business License (FBL) application.
Aside from these general categories, Thailand does not maintain a national security screening mechanism for investment, and investors can receive additional incentives/privileges if they invest in priority areas, such as high-technology industries. Investors should contact the Board of Investment [https://www.boi.go.th/index.php?page=index] for the latest information on specific investment incentives.
The U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations allows approved businesses to engage in FBA restricted businesses detailed above in Lists 1, 2, and 3. However, the Treaty does not exempt U.S. investments from restrictions applicable to: owning land; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; inland communications & transportation; exploitation of land and other natural resources; and domestic trade in agricultural products.
To operate restricted businesses as defined by the FBA’s List 2 and 3, non-Thai entities must obtain a foreign business license. These licenses are approved by the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) and/or Director-General of the MOC’s Department of Business Development, depending on the business category.
Every year, the MOC reviews business categories on the three FBA lists. Businesses no longer subject to restrictions include regional office services and contractual services provided to government bodies and state-owned enterprises. In an effort to further reduce obstacles to foreign investment, four business types under List 3, otherwise supervised by specific acts, were removed from the restricted list in 2019 and 2020. Those businesses include telecommunication services for license type 1 (telecommunication business operator without its own network for services); financial centers; aviation/aircraft maintenance; and software development.
The U.S. Commercial Service, U.S. Embassy Bangkok is responsible for issuing a certification letter to confirm that a U.S. company is qualified to apply for benefits under the Treaty of Amity. The applicant must first obtain documents verifying that the company has been registered in compliance with Thai law. Upon receipt of the required documents, the U.S. Commercial Service office will then certify to the Foreign Administration Division, Department of Business Development, Ministry of Commerce (MOC) that the applicant is seeking to register an American-owned and managed company or that the applicant is an American citizen and is therefore entitled to national treatment under the provisions of the Treaty. For more information on how to apply for benefits under the Treaty of Amity, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The MOC’s Department of Business Development (DBD) is generally responsible for business registration. Registration can be performed online or manually. Registration documentation must be submitted in the Thai language. Many foreign entities hire a local law firm or consulting firm to handle their applications. Firms engaging in production activities also must register with the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.
A company is required to have registered capital of two million Thai baht per foreign employee in order to obtain work permits. Additionally, foreign companies may have no more than 20% foreign employees on staff. Companies that have obtained special BOI investment incentives may be exempted from this requirement. Foreign employees must enter the country on a non-immigrant visa and then submit work permit applications directly to the Department of Labor. Application processing takes approximately one week. For more information on Thailand visas, please refer to http://www.mfa.go.th/main/en/services/4908/15388-Non-Immigrant-Visa- percent22B percent22-for-Business-and.html.
In February 2018, the Thai government launched a Smart Visa program for investors in targeted industries and foreigners with expertise in specialized technologies. Under this program, foreigners can be granted a maximum four-year visa to work in Thailand without having to obtain a work permit or re-entry permit. Other relaxed immigration rules include having visa holders report to the Bureau of Immigration just once per year (instead of every 90 days) and providing the visa holder’s spouse and children many of the same privileges as the primary visa holder. More information is available online at https://smart-visa.boi.go.th/home_detail/general_information.php and by telephone at +662-209-1100 ext. 1109-1110.
In 2020, Thai companies continued to expand and invest overseas despite the pandemic. These investments primarily target neighboring ASEAN countries, China, the United States, and Europe. A relatively strong domestic currency, rising cash holdings, and subdued domestic growth prospects are helping to drive outward investment. The baht depreciated over 4 percent against the dollar in Q1 2021. Faced with the effects of the pandemic, the government may prioritize domestic investment to stimulate the economy.
Previously, food, ago-industry, energy, and chemical sectors accounted for the main share of outward flows. Purchasing shares, developing partnerships, and making acquisitions help Thai investors acquire technologies for parent companies and expand supply chains in international markets. Thai corporate laws allow outbound investments to be made by an independent affiliate (foreign company), a branch of a Thai legal entity, or by any Thai company in the case of financial investments abroad. BOI and the MOC’s Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) share responsibility for promoting outward investment. BOI focuses on outward investment in ASEAN (especially Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam) and emerging economies. DITP covers smaller markets.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
The 1966 U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations allows U.S. citizens and U.S. majority-owned businesses to engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies (national treatment). The Treaty exempts qualified companies from most of the foreign investment restrictions imposed by Thailand’s Foreign Business Act (FBA). As described above, the Treaty does not exempt U.S. investments from restrictions applicable to owning land; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; inland communications & transportation; exploitation of land and other natural resources; and domestic trade in agricultural products.
In October 2002, the United States and Thailand signed a bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). The TIFA established a regular government-to-government forum to discuss bilateral trade and investment issues. These have included intellectual property rights, customs, market-access barriers, and other areas of mutual concern.
Thailand has bilateral investment treaties with Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Netherlands, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation (signed, not in force), Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan (signed, not in force), Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe (signed, not in force).
Thailand has free trade agreements (FTAs) with Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Peru, Chili, and Hong Kong. As of 2020, Thailand is pursuing FTA discussions with the European Union, Turkey, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. Thailand belongs to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional free-trade and economic bloc comprising a total population of 600 million. ASEAN has free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Korea, and Hong Kong. ASEAN also has a comprehensive economic partnership with Japan and is pursuing FTA discussions with the EU, Pakistan, and Canada.
Thailand’s Parliament approved ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free-trade bloc of 15 Indo-Pacific nations expected to take effect in 2021. Thailand has expressed interest in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force on December 30, 2018. In April 2020, however, Thailand shelved plans to negotiate near-term accession in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In February 2021 Thailand’s International Economic Policy Committee announced it will review the findings of a nine-month internal study on the costs and benefits of CPTPP membership.
Thailand and the United States concluded a bilateral tax treaty in 1996. The United States and Thailand signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2016. The IGA will enter into force once all steps have been completed by both sides for ratification.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Generally, Thai regulations are readily available to the public. Foreign investors have, on occasion, expressed frustration that draft regulations are not made public until they are finalized. Comments that stakeholders submit on draft regulations are not always taken into consideration. Non-governmental organizations report; however, the Thai government actively consults them on policy, especially in the health sector and on intellectual property issues. In other areas, such as digital and cybersecurity laws, the Thai government has taken stakeholders’ comments into account and amended draft laws accordingly.
U.S. businesses have repeatedly expressed concerns about Thailand’s customs regime. Complaints center on lack of transparency, the significant discretionary authority exercised by Customs Department officials, and a system of giving rewards to officials and non-officials for seized goods based on a percentage of their sales price. Specifically, the U.S. government and private sector have expressed concern about inconsistent application of Thailand’s transaction valuation methodology and the Customs Department’s repeated use of arbitrary values. Thailand’s latest Customs Act, which entered into force on November 13, 2017, is a moderate step forward. The Act removed the Customs Department Director General’s discretion to increase the customs value of imports. I t also reduced the percentage of remuneration awarded to officials and non-officials from 55 percent to 40 percent of the sale price of seized goods (or of the fine amount) with an overall limit of five million baht (USD160,000). While a welcome development, reduction of this remuneration is insufficient to remove the personal incentives given Customs officials to seize goods nor to address the conflicts of interest the system entails. Thai Customs is expected to announce new revisions to the Customs Act in 2021.
Consistent and predictable enforcement of government regulations remains problematic. In 2017, the Thai government launched a “regulatory guillotine” initiative to cut down on red tape, licenses, and permits. The policy focused on reducing and amending outdated regulations in order to improve Thailand’s ranking on the World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” report. The regulatory guillotine project has helped improve Thailand’s ranking and, although making slow progress, is still underway.
Gratuity payments to civil servants responsible for regulatory oversight and enforcement remain a common practice despite stringent gift bans at some government agencies. Firms that refuse to make such payments can be placed at a competitive disadvantage to other firms that do engage in such practices.
The Royal Thai Government Gazette (www.ratchakitcha.soc.go.th) is Thailand’s public journal of the country’s centralized online location of laws, as well as regulation notifications.
International Regulatory Considerations
Thailand is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and notifies most draft technical regulations to the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Committee. However, Thailand does not always follow WTO and other international standard-setting norms or guidance but prefers to set its own standards in many cases. In October 2015, the country ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, which came into effect in February 2017.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Thailand’s legal system is primarily based on the civil law system with a strong common law influence. Thailand has an independent judiciary that is generally effective in enforcing property and contractual rights. Most commercial and contractual disputes are generally governed by the Civil and Commercial Codes. The legal process is slow in practice and monetary compensation is based on actual damage that resulted directly from the wrongful act. Decisions of foreign courts are not accepted or enforceable in Thai courts.
There are three levels to the judicial system in Thailand: The Court of First Instance, which handles most matters at inception; the Court of Appeals; and the Supreme Court. There are also specialized courts, such as the Labor Court, Family Court, Tax Court, the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, and the Bankruptcy Court.
The Specialized Appeal Court handles appeals from specialized courts. The Supreme Court has discretion whether to take a case that has been decided by the Specialized Appeal Court. If the Supreme Court decides not to take up a case, the Specialized Appeal Court decision stands.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Foreign Business Act or FBA (described in detail above) governs most investment activity by non-Thai nationals. Other key laws governing foreign investment are the Alien Employment Act (1978) and the Investment Promotion Act (1977). However, as explained above, many U.S. businesses enjoy investment benefits through the U.S.-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations (often referred to as the ‘Treaty of Amity’), which was established to promote friendly relations between the two nations. Pursuant to the Treaty, American nationals are entitled to certain exceptions to the FBA restrictions.
Pertaining to the services sector, the 2008 Financial Institutions Business Act unified the legal framework and strengthened the Bank of Thailand’s (the country’s central bank) supervisory and enforcement powers. The Act allows the Bank of Thailand to raise foreign ownership limits for existing local banks from 25 percent to 49 percent on a case-by-case basis. The Minister of Finance can authorize foreign ownership exceeding 49 percent if recommended by the central bank. Details are available at https://www.bot.or.th/English/AboutBOT/LawsAndRegulations/SiteAssets/Law_E24_Institution_Sep2011.pdf.
Apart from acquiring shares of existing (traditional) local banks, foreign banks can enter the Thai banking system by obtaining new licenses. The Ministry of Finance issues such licenses, following a consultation process with the Bank of Thailand. The Thai central bank is currently studying new licenses for digital-only banks, a tool meant to enhance financial inclusion and keep pace with consumer needs in the digital age. Digital-only banks can operate at a lower cost and offer different services than traditional banks.
The 2008 Life Insurance Act and the 2008 Non-Life Insurance Act apply a 25 percent cap on foreign ownership of insurance companies. Foreign boards of directors’ membership is also limited to 25 percent. However, in January 2016 the Office of the Insurance Commission (OIC), the primary insurance industry regulator, notified that Thai life or non-life insurance companies wishing to exceed these limits may apply to the OIC for approval. Any foreign national wishing to hold more than 10 percent of the voting shares in an insurance company must seek OIC approval. With approval, a foreign national can acquire up to 49 percent of the voting shares. Finally, the Finance Minister, with OIC’s positive recommendation, has discretion to permit greater than 49 percent foreign ownership and/or a majority of foreign directors, when the operation of the insurance company may cause loss to insured parties or to the public. OIC launched an insurtech sandbox in 2017 to allow industry to test new products. While OIC has not issued a new insurance license in the past 20 years, OIC is now contemplating issuing new virtual licenses for entrants wishing to sell insurance digitally without an intermediary, and digital licenses for existing insurers wishing to switch to digital sales only. Full details have not yet been announced.
The Board of Investment offers qualified investors several benefits and provides information to facilitate a smoother investment process in Thailand. Information on the BOI’s “One Start One Stop” investment center can be found at http://osos.boi.go.th. A physical office is located on the 18th floor of Chamchuri Square on Rama 4/Phayathai Road in Bangkok.
Competition and Antitrust Laws
Thailand updated the Trade Competition Act on October 5, 2017. The updated Act covers all business activities, except state-owned enterprises exempted by law or cabinet resolution; specific activities related to national security, public benefit, common interest and public utility; cooperatives, agricultural and cooperative groups; government agencies; and other enterprises exempted by the law. The Act broadens the definition of a business operator to include affiliates and group companies, and broadens the liability of directors and management, subjecting them to criminal and administrative sanctions if their actions (or omissions) resulted in violations. The Act also provides details about penalties in cases involving administrative court or criminal court actions. The amended Act has been noted as an improvement over the prior legislation and a step towards Thailand’s adoption of international standards in this area.
The Office of Trade Competition Commission (OTCC) is an independent agency and the main enforcer of the Trade Competition Act B.E. 2560 (2018). The OTCC is comprised of seven members nominated by a selection committee and endorsed by the Cabinet. The Commission has the following responsibilities: advises the government on issuance of relevant regulations; ensures fair and free trade practices; investigates cases and complaints of unfair trade; and pursues criminal and disciplinary actions against those found guilty of unfair trade practices stipulated in the law. The law focuses on the following areas: unlawful exercise of market dominance; mergers or collusion that could lead to monopoly; unfair competition and restricting competition; and unfair trade practices. In November 2020, OTCC approved conglomerate Charoen Pokphand’s (CP Group) USD 10 billion acquisition of retail giant Tesco Lotus. Academics and consumer groups claim this merger would allow CP Group to hold more than 80 percent market share of Thailand’s wholesale and retail sector in some provinces, which would be non-compliant with the Trade Competition Act that aims to prevent any operator from holding more than 50 percent of the market share in any sector.
The Thai government, through the Central Commission on Price of Goods and Services, has the legal authority to control prices or set de facto price ceilings for selected goods and services, including staple agricultural products and feed ingredients (such as, pork, cooking oil, wheat flour, feed wheat, distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGs), and feed quality barley), liquefied petroleum gas, medicines, and sound recordings. In February 2020, the government added surgical masks, polypropylene (spunbond) for surgical mask production, alcohol for hand sanitizer, and wastepaper or recycled paper to the price-controlled products list. The controlled list is reviewed at least annually, but the price-control review mechanisms are non-transparent. In practice, Thailand’s government influences prices in the local market through its control of state monopoly suppliers of products and services, such as in the petroleum, oil, and gas industry sectors.
Expropriation and Compensation
Thai laws provide guarantees regarding protection from expropriation without compensation and non-discrimination for some, but not all, investors. Thailand’s Constitution provides protection from expropriation without fair compensation and requires the government to pass a specific, tailored expropriation law if the expropriation is required for the purpose of public utilities, national defense, acquisition of national resources, or for other public interests. The Investment Promotion Act also guarantees the government shall not nationalize the operations and assets of BOI-promoted investors.
The Expropriation of Immovable Property Act (EIP), most recently amended in 2019, applies to all property owners, whether foreign or domestic nationals. The Act provides a framework and clear procedures for expropriation; sets forth detailed provision and measures for compensation of landowners, lessees and other persons that may be affected by an expropriation; and recognizes the right to appeal decisions to Thai courts. The 2019 EIP requires the government to return land that was expropriated but has not been used back to the original property owners. However, the EIP and Investment Promotion Act do not protect against indirect expropriation and do not distinguish between compensable and non-compensable forms of indirect expropriation.
Thailand has a well-established system for land rights that is generally upheld in practice, but the legislation governing land tenure still significantly restricts foreigners’ rights to acquire land.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Thailand is a signatory to the New York Convention, which means that investors can enforce arbitral awards in any other signatory country. Thailand signed the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes in 1985 but has not ratified it. Therefore, most foreign investors covered under Thailand’s treaties with investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions that are limited to ICSID arbitration have not been able to bring ISDS claims against Thailand under these treaties.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Thailand is party to bilateral investment treaties with 46 nations. Two treaties – with the Netherlands and United States (Treaty of Amity) – do not include binding dispute resolution provisions. This means that investors covered under these treaties are unable to pursue international arbitration proceedings against the Thai government without first obtaining the government’s consent. There have been two notable cases of investor-state disputes in the last fifteen years, neither of which involved U.S. companies. The first case involved a concession agreement for a construction project filed under the Germany-Thailand bilateral investment treaty. In the second case, Thailand is engaged in a dispute over the government’s invocation of special powers to shut down a gold mine in early 2017.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Thailand’s Arbitration Act of 2002, modeled in part after the UNCITRAL Model Law, governs domestic and international arbitration proceedings. The Act states that “in cases where an arbitral award was made in a foreign country, the award shall be enforced by the competent court only if it is subject to an international convention, treaty, or agreement to which Thailand is a party.” Any arbitral award between parties subject to the New York Convention should thus be enforced. The following organizations provide arbitration services in Thailand: the Thai Arbitration Institute of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Office; Office of the Judiciary; and the Office of the Arbitration Tribunal of the Board of Trade of Thailand. In addition, the semi-public Thai Arbitration Center offers mediation and arbitration for civil and commercial disputes. An amendment to the Arbitration Act that allows foreign arbitrators to take part in cases involving foreign parties came into force on April 15, 2019. Under very limited circumstances, a court can set aside an arbitration award.
Thailand’s bankruptcy law is modeled after that of the United States. The law authorizes restructuring proceedings that require trained judges who specialize in bankruptcy matters to preside. According to the law, bankruptcy is defined as a state in which courts permit the distribution of assets belonging to a debtor among the creditors within the parameters of the law. Thailand’s bankruptcy law allows for corporate restructuring similar to U.S. Chapter 11 and does not criminalize bankruptcy. The law also distinguishes between secured and unsecured claims, with the former prioritized. While bankruptcy is under consideration, creditors can request the following ex parte applications from the Bankruptcy Court: an examination by the receiver of all the debtor’s assets and/or that the debtor attend questioning on the existence of assets; a requirement that the debtor provide satisfactory security to the court; and immediate seizure of the debtor’s assets and/or evidence in order to prevent the loss or destruction of such items.
The law stipulates that all applications for repayment must be made within one month after the Bankruptcy Court publishes the appointment of an official receiver. If a creditor eligible for repayment does not apply within this period, the creditor forfeits his/her right to receive payment or the court may cancel the order to reorganize the business. If any person opposes a filing, the receiver shall investigate the matter and approve, partially approve, or dismiss the application. Any objections to the orders issued by the receiver may be filed with the court within 14 days after learning of the issued order.
Within bankruptcy proceedings, it is also possible to undertake a “composition” in order to avoid a long and protracted process. A composition takes place when a debtor expresses in writing a desire to settle his/her debts, either partially or in any other manner, within seven days of submitting an explanation of matters related to the bankruptcy or during a time period prescribed by the receiver. After the proposal for a composition has been submitted, the receiver calls for a meeting among creditors to consider whether or not to accept the proposal. If the proposal is accepted, the court will approve the composition in order to legally execute the proposal; however, it will only do so if the proposal includes clear provisions for the repayment of debts. Despite these laws, some U.S. businesses complain that Thailand’s bankruptcy courts in practice can slow legislative processes to the detriment of outside firms seeking to acquire assets liquidated in bankruptcy processes.
The National Credit Bureau of Thailand (NCB) provides the financial services industry with information on consumers and businesses. The NCB is required to provide the financial services sector with payment history information from utility companies, retailers and merchants, and trade creditors.
4. Industrial Policies
The Board of Investment:
The Board of Investment offers investment incentives to qualified domestic and foreign investors. To upgrade the country’s technological capacity, the BOI presently gives more weight to applications in high-tech, innovative, and sustainable industries. These include digital technology, “smart agriculture” and biotechnology, aviation and logistics, automation and robotics, medical and wellness tourism, and other high-value services.
The most significant privileges offered by the BOI for promoted projects include: corporate income tax exemptions; tariff reductions or exemptions on imports of machinery used in the investment; tariff-free treatment on imported raw materials used in production for export.
corporate income tax exemptions; tariff reductions or exemptions on imports of machinery used in the investment; tariff-free treatment on imported raw materials used in production for export.
permission to own land; permission to bring foreign experts; and visa and work permit facilitation.
Investment projects with a significant R&D, innovation, or human resource development component may be eligible for additional grants and incentives. Moreover, grants are provided to support targeted technology development under the Competitive Enhancement Act. BOI offers a one-stop service to expedite multiple business processes for investors.
For additional information, contact the Office of Board of Investment on 555 Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900 and telephone at +662-553-8111 or website at www.boi.go.th.
Office of the Eastern Economic Corridor:
Thailand’s flagship investment zone, the “Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC),” spans the provinces of Chachoengsao, Chonburi, and Rayong (5,129 square miles). The EEC leverages the developed infrastructure networks of the adjacent Eastern Seaboard industrial area, Thailand’s primary investment destination for more than 30 years. The Thai government foresees the EEC as a primary investment and infrastructure hub in ASEAN and a gateway to east and south Asia. Among the EEC development projects are smart cities; an innovation district (EECi); a digital park (EECd); an aerotropolis (EEC-A); a medical hub (EECmd); and other state-of-the-art facilities. The EEC is targeting twelve key industries:
Advanced agriculture and biotechnology
Advance robotics and automation
Integrated aviation industry
Medical hub and total healthcare services
Biofuels and biochemicals
Human resource development
The EEC Act authorized investment incentives and privileges. Investors can obtain long-term land leases of 99 years (with an initial lease of up to 50 years and a renewal of up to 49 years). The EEC Act shortens the public-private partnership approval process to approximately nine months.
The BOI works in cooperation with the EEC Office. BOI offers corporate income tax exemptions of up to 13 years for strategic projects in the EEC area. Foreign executives and experts who work in targeted industries in the EEC are subject to a maximum personal income tax rate of 17 percent.
For additional information, contact the Eastern Economic Corridor Office at 25th floor, CAT Tower, 72 Soi Wat Maungkhae, Charoenkrung Road, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, telephone at +662-033-8000 and website at: https://eng.eeco.or.th/en.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT), a state-enterprise under the Ministry of Industry, develops suitable locations to accommodate industrial properties. IEAT has an established network of industrial estates in Thailand, including Laem Chabang Industrial Estate in Chonburi Province and Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong Province in Thailand’s eastern seaboard region, a common location for foreign-owned factories due to its proximity to seaport facilities and Bangkok. Foreign-owned firms generally have the same investment opportunities in the industrial zones as Thai entities. While the IEAT Act requires that in the case of foreign-owned firms, the IEAT Committee must consider and approve the amount of space/land bought or leased in industrial estates, in practice, there is no record of disapproval for requested land. Private developers are heavily involved in the development of these estates.
The IEAT currently operates 14 estates, plus 45 more in conjunction with the private sector, in 16 provinces nationwide. Private-sector developers independently operate over 50 industrial estates, most of which have received promotion privileges from the Board of Investment. Amata Industrial Estate and WHA Industrial Development are Thailand’s leading private industrial estate developers. Most major foreign manufacturing investors, including U.S. manufacturers, are located in these two companies’ industrial estates and in the eastern seaboard region.
The IEAT has established 12 special IEAT “free trade zones” reserved for industries manufacturing exclusively for export. Businesses may import raw materials into, and export finished products from, these zones free of duty (including value added tax). These zones are located within industrial estates and many have customs facilities to speed processing. The free trade zones are located in Chonburi, Lampun, Pichit, Songkhla, Samut Prakarn, Bangkok (at Lad Krabang), Ayuddhya, and Chachoengsao. In addition to these zones, factory owners may apply for permission to establish a bonded warehouse within their premises to which raw materials, used exclusively in the production of products for export, may be imported duty-free.
The Thai government also established Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in ten provinces bordering neighboring countries: Tak, Nong Khai, Mukdahan, Sa Kaeo, Trad, Narathiwat, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Phanom, Songkhla, and Kanchanaburi. Business sectors and industries that can benefit from tax and non-tax incentives offered in the SEZs include logistics; warehouses near border areas; distribution; services; labor-intensive factories; and manufacturers using raw materials from neighboring countries. These SEZs support Thai government goals for closer economic ties with neighboring countries and allow investors to tap into abundant migrant labor; however, these SEZs have proven less attractive to overseas investors due to their remote locations far from Bangkok and other major cities.
In 2019, Thai Customs implemented three measures to improve trade and customs processing efficiency: Pre-Arrival Processing (PAP); an “e-Bill Payment” electronic payment system; and an e-Customs system that waives the use of paper customs declaration copies. The measures comply with the World Trade Organizations (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), adopted in February 2016, which requires WTO members to adopt procedures for pre-arrival processing for imports and to authorize electronic submission of customs documents, where appropriate. The measures have also improved Thailand’s ranking in the World Bank’s “Doing Business: Trading Across Borders 2020” index.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The Thai government does not have specific laws or policies regarding performance or data localization requirements. Foreign investors are not required to use domestic content in goods or technology, but the Thai government has encouraged such an approach through domestic preferences in government procurement proceedings. In March 2021, Thailand announced the “Made in Thailand” initiative, which will direct government agencies to procure at least 60 percent of their goods from local producers.
There are currently no requirements for foreign IT providers to localize their data, turn over source code, or provide access to surveillance. However, the Thai government in 2019 passed new laws and regulations on cybersecurity and personal data protection that have raised concerns about Thai authorities’ broad power to potentially demand confidential and sensitive information. IT operators and analysts have expressed concern with private companies’ legal protections, ability to appeal, or ability to limit such access. IT providers have expressed concern that the new laws might place unreasonable burdens on them and have introduced new uncertainties in the technology sector. As of April 2021, the government is still in the process of considering and implementing regulations to enforce laws on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection. Thailand has implemented a requirement that all debit transactions processed by a domestic debit card network must use a proprietary chip.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Property rights are guaranteed by the Constitution. While the government provides fair compensation in instances of expropriation, Thai policy generally does not permit foreigners to own land. There have been instances, however, of granting such permission to foreigners under certain laws or ministerial regulations for residential, business, or religious purposes. Foreign ownership of condominiums and buildings is permitted under certain laws. Foreigners can freely lease land. Relevant articles of the Civil and Commercial Codes do not distinguish between foreign and Thai nationals in the exercise of lease rights. Secured interests in property, such as mortgage and pledge, are recognized and enforced. Unoccupied property legally owned by foreigners or Thais may be subject to adverse possession by squatters who stay on that property for at least 10 years.
Intellectual Property Rights
Thailand remained on the Special 301 Watch List in 2020 although its single physical market listed in the Notorious Markets Report dropped off in 2020. USTR highlights Thailand’s absence of accession to major international IP treaties, the unauthorized activities of collective management organizations, online piracy from streaming devices and applications, the use of unauthorized software in the public and private sectors, and a continued backlog in pharmaceutical patent applications as the main challenges confronting the country’s protection of intellectual property rights.
The National Committee on Intellectual Property Policy sets Thailand’s overall Intellectual Property (IP) policy. The National Committee is chaired by the Prime Minister with two Deputy Prime Ministers as vice chairs while 18 heads of government agencies serve as committee members. In 2017, this Committee approved a 20-year IP Roadmap to reform the country’s IP system. The Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) is responsible for IP-related administration, including registration and recording of IP rights and coordination of IP enforcement activities. DIP also acts as the secretary of the National Committee on Intellectual Property Policy.
Thailand has a robust legal and enforcement regime for IP rights. Thailand is a member of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Thailand’s patent regime generally provides protection for most new inventions. The process of patent examination through issuance of patents is slow, taking on average six to eight years. The patenting process may take longer for certain technology sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Thailand protects trademarks, traditional marks, and sound marks. As a member of the “Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks” (Madrid Protocol), Thailand allows trademark owners to apply for trademark registrations in Thailand directly at DIP or through international applications under the Madrid Protocol. DIP historically takes 10 to 14 months to register a trademark. As Thailand is a member of the “Berne Convention,” copyright works are protected automatically. However, copyright owners may record their works with DIP to establish proof of ownership. Thailand joined the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled in January 2019. Thailand’s Geographical Indications (GI) Act has been in force since April 2004. Thailand protects GIs, which identify goods by their specific geographical origins. The geographical origins identified by a GI must be directly attributable to the reputation, qualities, or characteristics of the good. In Thailand, a registered trademark does not prevent a similar geographical name to be registered as a GI.
As of March 2021, Thailand remained in the process of amending its Patent Act to streamline the patent registration process, to reduce patent backlog and pendency, and to help prepare for accession to the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs. Furthermore, Thailand has increased the number of examiners to reduce the patent backlog. Thailand is also amending its Copyright Act to prepare for accession to the WIPO Internet Treaties. To address the use of unlicensed software in the public sector, Thailand adopted guidelines in November 2020 on the government acquisition of legitimate software. DIP recently adopted a new system of voluntary registration of copyright (collective management) agents to curb illegal activities of rogue agents. To register, an agent must meet certain qualifications and undergo prescribed training. The roster of registered agents along with associated licensed copyrights is available on the DIP website. Thailand also organized an MOU in January 2021 between internet platforms, DIP, and rightsholders, to streamline the process of removing IP-infringing and counterfeit goods from the country’s most popular online marketplaces.
Thailand maintains a database on seizures of counterfeit goods that is updated monthly (https://www.ipthailand.go.th/en/statistics). In 2020, the Royal Thai Police conducted 1,685 raids and seized 330,607 items, the Department of Special Investigation conducted four raids on trademark violations resulting in 512,621 items being seized, and the Customs Department had 1,541 seizures that stopped 52,517,596 IP-infringing items from entering Thailand.
Thailand’s Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court (CIPIT) is the court of first instance that has the jurisdiction over both civil and criminal intellectual property cases and the appeals from DIP administrative decisions. The Court of Appeal for Specialized Cases hears appeals from the CIPIT.
The Thai government maintains a regulatory framework that broadly encourages and facilitates portfolio investment. The Stock Exchange of Thailand, the country’s national stock market, was established under the Securities Exchange of Thailand Act B.E. 2535 in 1992. There is sufficient liquidity in the markets to allow investors to enter and exit sizeable positions. Government policies generally do not restrict the free flow of financial resources to support product and factor markets. The Bank of Thailand, the country’s central bank, has respected IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.
Credit is generally allocated on market terms rather than by “direct lending.” Foreign investors are not restricted from borrowing on the local market. In theory, the private sector has access to a wide variety of credit instruments, ranging from fixed term lending to overdraft protection to bills of exchange and bonds. However, the private debt market is not well developed. Most corporate financing, whether for short-term working capital needs, trade financing, or project financing, requires borrowing from commercial banks or other financial institutions.
Money and Banking System
Thailand’s banking sector, with 15 domestic commercial banks, is sound and well-capitalized. As of December 2020, the non-performing loan rate was low (around 3.25 percent industry wide), and banks were well prepared to handle a forecast rise in the NPL rate in 2021 due to the pandemic. The ratio of capital funds/risk-weighted assets (capital adequacy) was high (20.1 percent). Thailand’s largest commercial bank is Bangkok Bank, with assets totaling USD 100 billion as of December 2020. The combined assets of the five largest commercial banks totaled USD 492.6 billion, or 70.82 percent of the total assets of the Thai banking system, at the end of 2020.
In general, Thai commercial banks provide the following services: accepting deposits from the public; granting credit; buying and selling foreign currencies; and buying and selling bills of exchange (including discounting or re-discounting, accepting, and guaranteeing bills of exchange). Commercial banks also provide credit guarantees, payment, remittance and financial instruments for risk management. Such instruments include interest-rate derivatives and foreign-exchange derivatives. Additional business to support capital market development, such as debt and equity instruments, is allowed. A commercial bank may also provide other services, such as bank assurance and e-banking.
Thailand’s central bank is the Bank of Thailand (BOT), which is headed by a Governor appointed for a five-year term. The BOT serves the following functions: prints and issues banknotes and other security documents; promotes monetary stability and formulates monetary policies; manages the BOT’s assets; provides banking facilities to the government; acts as the registrar of government bonds; provides banking facilities for financial institutions; establishes or supports the payment system; supervises financial institutions manages the country’s foreign exchange rate under the foreign exchange system; and determines the makeup of assets in the foreign exchange reserve.
Apart from the 15 domestic commercial banks, there are currently 11 registered foreign bank branches, including three American banks (Citibank, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase), and four foreign bank subsidiaries operating in Thailand. To set up a bank branch or a subsidiary in Thailand, a foreign commercial bank must obtain approval from the Ministry of Finance and the BOT. Foreign commercial bank branches are limited to three service points (branches/ATMs) and foreign commercial bank subsidiaries are limited to 40 service points (branches and off-premise ATMs) per subsidiary. Newly established foreign bank branches are required to have minimum capital funds of 125 million baht (USD 3.99 million at 2020 average exchange rates) invested in government or state enterprise securities, or directly deposited with the Bank of Thailand. The number of expatriate management personnel is limited to six people at full branches, although Thai authorities frequently grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
Non-residents can open and maintain foreign currency accounts without deposit and withdrawal ceilings. Non-residents can also open and maintain Thai baht accounts; however, in an effort to curb the strong baht, the Bank of Thailand capped non-resident Thai deposits to 200 million baht across all domestic bank accounts. However, in January 2021, the Bank of Thailand began allowing non-resident companies greater flexibility to conduct baht transactions with domestic financial institutions under the non-resident qualified company scheme. Participating non-financial firms which trade and invest directly in Thailand are allowed to manage currency risks related to the baht without having to provide proof of underlying baht holdings for each transaction. This will allow firms to manage baht liquidity more flexibly without being subject to the end-of-day outstanding limit of 200 million baht for non-resident accounts. Withdrawals are freely permitted. Since mid-2017, the BOT has allowed commercial banks and payment service providers to introduce new financial services technologies under its “Regulatory Sandbox” guidelines. Recently introduced technologies under this scheme include standardized QR codes for payments, blockchain funds transfers, electronic letters of guarantee, and biometrics.
Thailand’s alternative financial services include cooperatives, micro-saving groups, the state village funds, and informal money lenders. The latter provide basic but expensive financial services to households, mostly in rural areas. These alternative financial services, with the exception of informal money lenders, are regulated by the government.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
There are no limitations placed on foreign investors for converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with an investment; however, supporting documentation is required. Any person who brings Thai baht currency or foreign currency in or out of Thailand in an aggregate amount exceeding USD 15,000 or the equivalent must declare the currency at a Customs checkpoint. Investment funds are allowed to be freely converted into any currency.
The exchange rate is generally determined by market fundamentals but is carefully scrutinized by the BOT under a managed float system. During periods of excessive capital inflows/outflows (i.e., exchange rate speculation), the central bank has stepped in to prevent extreme movements in the currency and to reduce the duration and extent of the exchange rate’s deviation from a targeted equilibrium.
Thailand imposes no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue for direct and portfolio investments. There are no time limitations on remittances.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Thailand does not have a sovereign wealth fund and the Bank of Thailand is not pursuing the creation of such a fund. However, the International Monetary Fund has urged Thailand to create a sovereign wealth fund due to its large accumulated foreign exchange reserves. As of December 2020, Thailand had the world’s 13th largest foreign exchange reserves at USD 258.1 billion.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Thailand’s 52 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have total assets of USD 523.5 billion and a combined gross income of USD 159.3 billion (end of 2019 figures, latest available). In 2020, they employed 249,400 people, or 0.65 percent of the Thai labor force. Thailand’s SOEs operate primarily in-service delivery, in particular in the energy, telecommunications, transportation, and financial sectors. More information about SOEs is available at the website of the State Enterprise Policy Office (SEPO) under the Ministry of Finance at www.sepo.go.th .
A 15-member State Enterprises Policy Commission, or “superboard,” oversees operations of the country’s 52 SOEs. In May 2019, the Development of Supervision and Management of State-Owned Enterprise Act B.E. 2562 (2019) went into effect. The law aims to reform SOEs and ensure transparent management decisions. The Thai government generally defines SOEs as special agencies established by law for a particular purpose that are 100 percent owned by the government (through the Ministry of Finance as a primary shareholder). The government recognizes a second category of “limited liability companies/public companies” in which the government owns 50 percent or more of the shares. Of the 52 total SOEs, 42 are wholly owned and 10 are majority-owned. Three are publicly listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand: Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited, PTT Public Company Limited, and MCOT Public Company Limited. By regulation, at least one-third of SOE boards must be comprised of independent directors.
Private enterprises can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives in most sectors, but there are some exceptions, such as fixed-line operations in the telecommunications sector.
While SEPO officials aspire to adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs no level playing field exists between SOEs and private sector enterprises, which are often disadvantaged in competing with Thai SOEs for contracts.
Generally, SOE senior management reports directly to a line minister and to SEPO. Corporate board seats are typically allocated to senior government officials or politically affiliated individuals.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The Thai government has committed to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). Thailand has two national plans for responsible business conduct. The 4th National Human Rights Plan (2019-2022) sets a framework on human rights for government agencies, the private sector, and civil society to reduce the incidence of human rights violations.
In October 2019 Thailand’s Cabinet adopted the country’s first National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP on BHR), based on UNGP. The NAP aims to prevent adverse effects of business operations on human rights. The plan identifies four priority areas: 1) labor; 2) community, land, natural resources, and environment; 3) human rights defenders; and 4) cross border investment and multinational enterprises. The Department of Rights and Liberties Protection at the Ministry of Justice is the lead agency. The Global Compact Network of Thailand opened a Business and Human Right Academy in 2020 to raise awareness in the private sector.
There are several local NGOs that promote and monitor responsible business conduct. Most such NGOs operate without hindrance, though a few have experienced intimidation as a result of their work. International NGOs continue to call on the Thai government and Thai companies to act more responsibly with respect to human and labor rights.
Thailand has not ratified the Montreux Document on Private Military and Service Companies.
In March 2020 the Thai Labor Minister signed an MOU with 13 private industry associations for prevention and elimination of child labor and forced labor in sectors including shrimp-farming, sugarcane, fisheries, and garments – all sectors identified as high risk in the U.S. Department of Labor’s TDA report.
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Thailand 104th out of 180 countries with a score of 36 out of 100 in 2020 (zero is highly corrupt). According to some studies, bribery and corruption are still problematic. Despite increased usage of electronic systems, government officers still wield discretion in the granting of licenses and other government approvals, which creates opportunities for corruption. U.S. executives with experience in Thailand often advise new-to-market companies that it is far easier to avoid corrupt transactions from the beginning than to stop such practices once a company has been identified as willing to operate in this fashion. American firms that comply with the strict guidelines of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) are able to compete successfully in Thailand. U.S. businesses say that publicly affirming the need to comply with the FCPA helps to shield their companies from pressure to pay bribes.
Thailand has a legal framework and a range of institutions to counter corruption. The Organic Law to Counter Corruption criminalizes corrupt practices of public officials and corporations, including active and passive bribery of public officials. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to political parties.
Thai procurement regulations prohibit collusion amongst bidders. If an examination confirms allegations or suspicions of collusion among bidders, the names of those applicants must be removed from the list of competitors.
Thailand adopted its first national government procurement law in December 2016. Based on UNCITRAL model laws and the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement, the law applies to all government agencies, local authorities, and state-owned enterprises, and aims to improve transparency. Officials who violate the law are subject to 1-10 years imprisonment and/or a fine from Thai baht 20,000 (approximately USD 615) to Thai baht 200,000 (approximately USD 6,150).
Since 2010, the Thai Institute of Directors has built an anti-corruption coalition of Thailand’s largest businesses. Coalition members sign a Collective Action Against Corruption Declaration and pledge to take tangible, measurable steps to reduce corruption-related risks identified by third party certification. The Center for International Private Enterprise equipped the Thai Institute of Directors and its coalition partners with an array of tools for training and collective action.
Established in 2011, the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT) aims to encourage the government to create laws to combat corruption. ACT has 54 member organizations drawn from the private, public, and academic sectors. Their signature program is the “Integrity Pact,” run in cooperation with the Comptroller General Department of the Ministry of Finance, and based on a tool promoted by Transparency International. The program forbids bribes from signatory members in bidding for government contacts and assigns independent ACT observers to monitor public infrastructure projects for signs of collusion. Member agencies and companies must adhere to strict transparency rules by disclosing and making easily available to the public all relevant bidding information, such as the terms of reference and the cost of the project.
Thailand is a party to the UN Anti-Corruption Convention, but not the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Thailand’s Witness Protection Act offers protection (to include police protection) to witnesses, including NGO employees, who are eligible for special protection measures in anti-corruption cases.
Resources to Report Corruption
International Affairs Strategy Specialist
Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission
361 Nonthaburi Road, Thasaai District, Amphur Muang Nonthaburi 11000, Thailand
Tel: +662-528-4800 Email: TACC@nacc.go.th
Dr. Mana Nimitmongkol
Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT)
44 Srijulsup Tower, 16th floor, Phatumwan, Bangkok 10330
10. Political and Security Environment
Periodic street protests against the government occurred throughout 2020, though they were generally peaceful and did not result in property damage.
Violence related to an ongoing ethno-nationalist insurgency in Thailand’s southernmost provinces has claimed more than 7,000 lives since 2004. Although the number of deaths and violent incidents has decreased year-over-year, efforts to end the insurgency have so far been unsuccessful. The government is currently engaged in preliminary talks with the leading insurgent group. Almost all attacks have occurred in the three southernmost provinces of the country.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
In 2020, 39.45 million people were in Thailand’s formal labor pool, comprising 59.6 percent of the total population. Thailand’s official unemployment rates stood at 1.5 percent at the end of 2020, significantly more than 1.0 percent the previous year. Unemployment among youth (15-24 years old) is around 5.4 percent, while the rate is only 1.1 percent for adults over 25 years old. Well over half the labor force (53.7 percent) earns income in the informal sector, including through self-employment and family labor, which limits their access to social welfare programs. The National Statistical Office show COVID-19 negatively affected the labor force’s working hours; many people although still employed, work less hours and receive less pay.
The Thai government is actively seeking to address shortages of both skilled and unskilled workers through education reform and various worker-training incentive programs. Low birth rates, an aging population, and a skills mismatch, are exacerbating labor shortages in many sectors. Despite provision of 15 years of free universal education, Thailand continues to suffer from a skills mismatch that impedes innovation and economic growth. Thailand has a shortage of high-skill workers such as researchers, engineers, and managers, as well as technicians and vocational workers.
Regional income inequality and labor shortages, particularly in labor-intensive manufacturing, construction, hospitality, and service sectors, have attracted millions of migrant workers, mostly from neighboring Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. In 2019, the International Organization for Migration estimated Thailand hosted 4.9 million migrant workers, or 10 percent of country’s labor force. Nearly 200,000 workers returned to their home countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although an increasing number of migrant laborers are documented, many continue to work illegally. At the end of 2020, approximately 2.5 million migrant workers had registered with the Ministry of Labor.
Employers may dismiss workers provided the employer pays severance. Where an employer temporarily suspends business, in part or in whole, the employer must pay the employee at least 75 percent of his or her daily wages throughout the suspension period.
Among wage and salary workers, 3.4 percent are unionized and only 34 out of 77 provinces have labor unions. Thai law allows private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their choosing without prior authorization, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes, although these rights come with some restrictions. Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Migrants can join unions organized and led by Thai citizens.
In 2020, the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare issued a ministerial regulation on occupational safety, health and working environment for diving work; the regulation sets a minimum age of 18. The Department is in the process of drafting a regulation on fishery worker protection. Additional information on migrant workers issues and rights can be found in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, as well as the Labor Rights chapter of the U.S. Human Rights report.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source*
USG or international statistical source
USG or International
Source of Data: BEA; IMF;
Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)