Turkmenistan is slightly larger than the state of California but is sparsely inhabited, with abundant hydrocarbon resources, particularly natural gas. Turkmenistan’s economy depends heavily on the production and export of natural gas, oil, petrochemicals and, to a lesser degree, cotton, wheat, and textiles. The economy entered a deep recession following the late 2014 collapse in global energy prices. The COVID-19 pandemic put downward pressure on all Central Asian energy exporters in 2020 and further weakened the Turkmen economy. Endemic corruption, a weak commercial regulatory regime, and strict currency controls compromise the investment climate and discourage FDI. Turkmenistan is currently considered high risk for U.S. foreign direct investment. It does, however, offer numerous opportunities for the export of U.S. goods and services in certain sectors, including energy, food processing, agriculture, financial services, and IT services. The government recently announced a major digitalization effort for various sectors including banking and governmental operations.
Official figures from the government of Turkmenistan show that the country’s GDP at the official exchange rate was $45.25 billion in 2019 and $40.76 billion in 2018. The black-market exchange rate for dollars, which averaged over 5 times the official rate in 2019-2020, suggests the true GDP numbers are much lower. An official number for 2020 GDP was not yet available, though the government reported GDP growth of 5.4 percent in 2019. GDP growth in 2018 was reported as 6.2 percent. Most economic indicators released by the government are widely seen as unreliable.
The government has not taken serious measures to incentivize foreign direct investment outside the petroleum industry and there is no significant U.S. FDI in Turkmenistan. Most U.S. commercial activity in Turkmenistan is related to exports. Some companies, such as General Electric, Boeing, and John Deere, have established themselves as key suppliers of industrial equipment in certain sectors, but their business operations are largely limited to sales to the Turkmen government. Government delays in payment to foreign companies have occurred and some firms require upfront payment prior to delivery of goods.
A lack of established rule of law, an opaque regulatory framework, and rampant corruption remain serious problems in Turkmenistan. Contracts are often awarded to companies with close ties to the President’s family. The government strictly controls foreign exchange flows and limits on currency conversion make it difficult to repatriate profits or make payments to foreign suppliers. The official exchange rate is pegged at 3.5 manat (TMT)/dollar. Starting in 2015, the black-market value of the manat has steadily fallen against the dollar. In 2020 the average black market exchange rate was 22 TMT/dollar.
Although Turkmenistan regularly amends its laws to meet international standards, the country often fails to implement or consistently enforce investment-related legislation. There are no meaningful legal protections against government expropriation of assets and there is no independent judiciary. There have been reports in recent years of officials associated with the family of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov seizing local companies. There have also been reports that local Turkmen business owners have been jailed using security-related laws as a pretext to reopen the business under new ownership.
Key issues to watch: developments in the financial sector, including the TMT/USD black market exchange rate and the severity of restrictions on currency conversion, will determine to some extent the health of the investment climate. The impact of COVID-19 on Central Asian economies remains to be seen. Forecasts from major international financial institutions estimate a contraction in 2020 of 1.7-2.1 percent in Central Asia, followed by positive but subdued growth in 2021 and 2022. Fundamental shifts in post-COVID-19 natural gas markets could add additional pressure on Turkmenistan’s hydrocarbon-dependent economy.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||165 of 180||https://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||N/A||https://www.doingbusiness.org/
|Global Innovation Index||2020||N/A||https://www.wipo.int/global_innovation
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2020||N/A||https://apps.bea.gov/international/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2020||N/A||https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment
Turkmenistan regularly announces its desire to attract more foreign investment, but tight state control of the economy, the government’s inability to meet its financial obligations, a lack of transparency, and a restrictive visa regime have created a difficult foreign investment climate.
Historically, the most promising areas for investment are in the energy, agricultural, financial services, and construction sectors and the government often touts foreign loans as investment. However, a number of foreign companies have been forced out of the market in recent years due to their inability to convert local manat into hard currency and non-payment of invoices by the government. Decisions to allow foreign investment are often politically driven; companies offering more “friendly” terms are generally more successful in winning tenders and signing contracts. The tender process is opaque and not all tenders are publicly announced.
State owned enterprises dominate Turkmenistan’s key industries. The Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (UIE), however, has asserted that the private sector share of the economy reached 70 percent during 2020, but there are no independent estimates to verify this claim. The hydrocarbon sector, estimated to be as much as 35 percent of GDP, remains largely state controlled. The top economic priorities for the government include increasing domestic production as part of its drive toward import substitution and self-sufficiency in food production. The economy’s health remains reliant on natural gas exports.
The government selectively chooses its investment partners and establishing a strong relationship with a government official is often essential to achieving commercial success. Officials may “seek rents” for permitting or assisting foreign investors to enter the local market. Some foreign investors have found success working through foreign business representatives who are able to leverage their personal relationships with senior leaders to advance their business interests.
Turkmenistan has accepted financing from international financial institutions (IFIs) since its independence in 1991. In 2009, the government reportedly accepted a $4 billion loan from the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) to develop Galkynysh, the world’s second largest natural gas field, as well as several significantly smaller loans from the Chinese Export-Import Bank for transportation- and communication-related projects. In 2011, Turkmenistan secured a second $4.1 billion loan from CDB to further develop the Galkynysh field. In October 2016, the government announced that the Islamic Development Bank would provide a $710 million loan to finance the Turkmenistan segment of TAPI. If successful, the project would have a transformative impact on the region, but adequate financing remains an open question. The project is currently estimated to cost $8-10 billion.
Screening of FDI
Foreign companies with approved government contracts and wishing to operate in Turkmenistan generally receive government support and do not face problems or significant delays when registering their operations in Turkmenistan. Under Turkmen law, all local and foreign entities operating in Turkmenistan are required to register with the Registration Department under the Ministry of Finance and Economy. Before the registration is granted, however, an inter-ministerial commission that includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Agency for Protection from Economic Risks, law enforcement agencies, and industry-specific ministries must approve it.
Foreign companies without approved government contracts that seek to establish a legal entity in Turkmenistan must go through a lengthy and cumbersome registration process involving the inter-ministerial commission mentioned above. The commission evaluates foreign companies based on their financial standing, work experience, reputation, and perceived political and legal risks. The inter-ministerial commission does not give a reason when denying the registration of a legal entity.
In order to participate in a government tender, companies are not required to be registered in Turkmenistan. However, a company interested in participating in the tender process must submit all the tender documents to the respective ministry or agency in person. Many foreign companies with no presence in Turkmenistan provide a limited power of attorney to local representatives who then submit tender documents on the company’s behalf. A list of required documents for screening is usually provided by the state agency announcing the tender.
Before the contract can be signed, the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange, the Central Bank, the Supreme Control Chamber, and the Cabinet of Ministers must approve the agreement. The approval process is not transparent and is often politically driven. There is no legal guarantee that the information provided by companies to the government will be kept confidential.
While Turkmenistan does not have a specific law that governs competition, Article 17 (Development of Competition and Antimonopoly Activities) of the Law on State Support to Small and Medium Enterprises seeks to promote fair competition in the country.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There are no legal limits on foreign ownership or control of companies. In practice, however, the government has only allowed foreign ownership and foreign direct investment in the energy sector. The law permits foreigners to establish and own businesses and generally engage in business activities, but revenue repatriation is very challenging as currency conversion remains difficult. The nature of government-awarded contracts may vary in terms of the requirements for ownership of local enterprises. All contractors operating in Turkmenistan for a period of at least 183 days a year must register with the Tax Department of the Ministry of Finance and Economy (formerly the Main State Tax Service). National accounting and international financial reporting standards apply to foreign investors. In the energy sector, Turkmenistan precludes foreign investors from investing in the exploration and production of its onshore gas resources. All land in Turkmenistan is government owned. The State Migration Service of Turkmenistan requires that citizens of Turkmenistan make up 90 percent of the workforce of foreign-owned companies. (This policy does not apply to foreign-owned oil and gas companies, which are subject to a more lenient policy requiring only 30 percent of the workforce to be Turkmen citizens, with the expectation that expats will also gradually be replaced by local experts through training programs).
Moreover, there are several ways for the government to discriminate against investors, including excessive and arbitrary tax examinations, arbitrary license extension denials, and customs clearance and visa issuance obstacles. In most cases, the government has insisted on maintaining a majority interest in any joint venture (JV). Foreign investors have been reluctant to enter JVs controlled by the government, mainly because of differing business cultures and conflicting management styles. Although there is no specific legislation requiring foreign investors to receive government approval to divest, in practice they are expected to coordinate such actions with the government. The court system is subject to government interference.
Private entities in Turkmenistan have the right to establish and own business enterprises. The 2000 Law on Enterprises defines the legal forms of state and private businesses (state enterprises, sole proprietorships, cooperatives, partnerships, corporations, and enterprises of non-government organizations). The law allows foreign companies to establish subsidiaries, though the government does not currently register subsidiaries. The Civil Code of Turkmenistan and the Law on Enterprises govern the operation of representative and branch offices. Enterprises must be registered with the Registration Department of the Ministry of Finance and Economy. The 2008 Law on the Licensing of Certain Types of Activities (last amended in November 2015) lists 44 activities that require government licenses. The Law on Enterprises and the Law on Joint Stock Societies allow acquisitions and mergers. Turkmenistan’s legislation is not clear, however, about acquisitions and mergers involving foreign parties, nor does it have specific provisions for the disposition of interests in business enterprises, both solely domestic and those with foreign participation. Governmental approval is necessary for acquisitions and mergers of enterprises with state shares.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The government has not undergone an investment policy review by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or World Trade Organization (WTO) trade policy review. In July 2020, Turkmenistan became an observer to the WTO. The WTO grants observer status for five years and observer governments are expected to take a decision on accession within that period of time.
Laws/Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Incoming foreign investment is regulated by the Law on Foreign Investment (last amended in 2008), the Law on Investments (last amended in 1993), and the Law on Joint Stock Societies (1999), which pertains to start-up corporations, acquisitions, mergers, and takeovers. Foreign investment activities are affected by bilateral or multilateral investment treaties, the Law on Enterprises (2000), the Law on Business Activities (last amended in 2008), and the Land Code (2004). Foreign investment in the energy sector is subject to the 2008 Petroleum Law (also known as the Law on Hydrocarbon Resources, which was amended in 2011 and 2012). The Tax Code provides the legal framework for the taxation of foreign investment. The Civil Code (2000) defines what constitutes a legal entity in Turkmenistan. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Center in Ashgabat maintains a database of Turkmenistan’s laws, presidential decrees and resolutions at http://www.turkmenlegaldatabase.info . This information is also available on the Ministry of Justice of Turkmenistan’s website at: https://minjust.gov.tm/ .
Turkmenistan has introduced measures to promote economic reform, including a law to combat money laundering and terrorism financing and a presidential decree that mandates the use of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). In January 2010, Turkmenistan established a Financial Intelligence Unit under the Ministry of Finance to strengthen its anti-money laundering (AML) efforts and its ability to combat terrorism financing (CFT).
Most foreign investment is governed by project-specific presidential decrees, which can grant privileges not provided by legislation. Legally, there are no limits on the foreign ownership of companies. In practice, however, the government has allowed fully owned foreign operations only in the energy sector. Some companies take the presidential decree as a sovereign guarantee.
In 2007, Turkmenistan created the Awaza (Avaza) Tourist Zone (ATZ) to promote tourism and the development of its Caspian Sea coast. It granted some tax incentives to those willing to invest in the construction of hotels and recreational facilities. However, the country’s visa regime is rigid, making an increase in foreign tourism unlikely in the near term. In addition, as of August 2017, Turkmenistan charges a $2 daily fee for foreigners traveling to Turkmenistan, as well as foreigners residing in Turkmenistan if they travel within the country. Information on these programs is not publicly available. While development of tourism is perpetually on the government’s agenda, the concept is largely one of organized tour operators seeking letters of invitation for clients who travel as a group, often to archeological and cultural heritage sites.
Turkmenistan does not have a business registration website for use by domestic or foreign companies. Depending on the type of business activity a foreign company seeks in Turkmenistan, registration with the local statistics office, the Agency for Protection from Economic Risks, the Registration and Tax Departments under the Ministry of Finance and Economy, and the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange could all be required. Business registration usually takes about six months and often depends on personal connections in various government offices. The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index has no data for Turkmenistan.
Development and implementation of public policies to attract foreign investment, investment coordination, and assistance to foreign investors are carried out by the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan. The Agency for Protection from Economic Risks under the Ministry of Finance and Economy makes decisions on providing any investment-related services to potential foreign investors based on criteria such as the financial status of the investor.
Turkmenistan’s Law on State Support to Small and Medium Enterprises (adopted in August 2009) defines small- and medium-sized enterprises as follows: in industry, power generation, construction, and gas and water supply sectors, small enterprises are defined as those with up to 50 employees and medium enterprises are those with up to 200 employees; in all other sectors small enterprises are those with up to 25 employees and medium enterprises are those with up to 100 people.
However, the benefits of the Law on State Support to Small and Medium Enterprises do not apply to: 1) state-owned enterprises; 2) enterprises with foreign investment carrying out banking or insurance activities; and 3) activities related to gambling and gaming for money.
As in many countries, business-related activities, particularly any large-scale contracts for goods or services, benefits from face-to-face contact. Foreigners wishing to visit Turkmenistan usually request a letter of invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to travel to the country; permission also must be received from the government to meet with state ministries, agencies, and enterprises. It can also be possible to conduct business with the government by hiring a local agent. The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat can assist U.S. companies interested in identifying potential local partners and requesting a letter of invitation, which allows a traveler to board a plane for Turkmenistan and to request a visa on arrival at the airport. Turkmenistan closed its borders to international commercial air travel in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic (domestic flights are still available). It is unclear when scheduled international commercial flights will resume. Foreign embassies and some foreign companies routinely arrange charter flights into and out of the country. However, these flights are not permitted to land at Ashgabat International Airport and instead must land and take off from Turkmenabat Airport, roughly 400 miles from Ashgabat. Private citizens are currently subject to quarantine upon entry, which may vary based on whether the traveler can show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. All travelers should refer to travel.state.gov for the most up-to-date information on travel restrictions and quarantine measures.
The government of Turkmenistan does not promote or incentivize outward investment and there is no investment promotion agency. The existing policies are aimed at reducing imports and promoting exports. According to unofficial reports, individual entrepreneurs have been known to invest in real estate abroad, namely in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Those entrepreneurs who invest abroad tend not to disclose such information, fearing possible retribution from the government.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
According to UNCTAD, Turkmenistan has signed bilateral investment agreements with 28 countries, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium, China, Egypt, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Pakistan, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan. In 2009, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the EU-Turkmenistan Interim Trade Agreement, reasoning that economic and trade engagement with the country would stimulate political reforms in Turkmenistan.
The United States government considers the Convention with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Matters of Taxation, which entered into force in 1976, to still be in effect between the United States and Turkmenistan. There is no bilateral investment treaty between Turkmenistan and the United States.
Turkmenistan is one of the former Soviet Republics which are now covered by the 1973 income tax treaty with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The government does not use transparent policies to foster competition and foreign investment. Laws have frequent references to bylaws that are not publicly available. Most bylaws are passed in the form of presidential decrees. Such decrees are not categorized by subject, which makes it difficult to find relevant cross references. Personal relations with government officials can play a decisive role in determining how and when government regulations are applied. There is no information available on whether the government conducts any market studies or quantitative analysis of the impact of regulations. Regulations often appear to follow the government’s “try-and-see approach” to addressing issues.
Some U.S. firms, including Boeing, General Electric, and John Deere, have established themselves as key suppliers in some sectors, but their business operations are largely limited to sales of industrial equipment to the Turkmen government. Some companies require upfront payment prior to delivery of goods. Government delays in payment to foreign companies and restrictions on converting earnings into hard currency are major contributors to the country’s challenging investment climate. Moreover, arbitrary audits and investigations by several government bodies are common in relation to both foreign and local companies.
Bureaucratic procedures are confusing and cumbersome. The government does not generally provide informational support to investors, and officials use this lack of information to their personal benefit. As a result, foreign companies may spend months conducting due diligence in Turkmenistan. A serious impediment to foreign investment is the lack of knowledge of internationally recognized business practices, as well as the limited number of fluent English speakers in Turkmenistan. English-language material on legislation is scarce, and there are very few business consultants to assist investors. Proposed laws and regulations are not generally published in draft form for public comment.
There are no standards-setting consortia or organizations besides the Main State Standards Service. There is no independent body for filing complaints. Financial disclosure requirements are neither transparent nor consistent with international norms. Government enterprises are not required to publicize financial statements, even to foreign partners. Financial audits are often conducted by local auditors, not internationally recognized firms.
The legal framework contained in the Law on Petroleum (2008) was a partial step toward creating a more transparent policy in the energy sector. Turkmenistan’s banks completed the transition to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). State-owned agencies began the transition to IFRS in 2012 and fully transitioned to National Financing Reporting Standards (NFRS) in January 2014, which is reportedly in accordance with IFRS. While IFRS may improve accounting standards by bringing them into compliance with international standards, they have no discernible impact on Turkmenistan’s fiscal transparency since fiscal data remains inaccessible to the public. There is no publicly available information regarding the budget’s conformity with IFRS. There is no public consultation process on draft bills and there are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations. Public finances and debt obligations are not transparent.
International Regulatory Considerations
Turkmenistan pursues a policy of neutrality (acknowledged by the United Nations in 1995) and generally does not join regional blocs. In drafting laws and regulations, the government usually includes a clause that states international agreements and laws will prevail in the case of a conflict between local and international legislation. Turkmenistan is not a member of Eurasian Economic Union. In July 2020, Turkmenistan became an observer to the WTO.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Turkmenistan is a civil law country in terms of the nature of the legal system and many laws have been codified in an effort to transition from Soviet laws. The parliament adopts around 50 laws per year without involving the public. Most contracts negotiated with the government have an arbitration clause. The Embassy strongly advises U.S. companies to include an arbitration clause identifying a dispute resolution venue outside Turkmenistan. There have been commercial disputes involving U.S. and other foreign investors or contractors in Turkmenistan, though not all disputes were filed with arbitration courts. Investment and commercial disputes involving Turkmenistan have three common themes: nonpayment of debts, non-delivery of goods or services, and contract renegotiations. The government may claim the provider did not meet the terms of a contract as justification for nonpayment. Several disputes have centered on the government’s unwillingness to pay in freely convertible currency as contractually required. In cases where government entities have not delivered goods or services, the government has often ignored demands for delivery. Finally, a change in leadership in the government agency that signed the original contract routinely triggers the government’s desire to re-evaluate the entire contract, including profit distribution, management responsibilities, and payment schedules. The judicial branch is independent of the executive on paper only and is largely influenced by the executive branch. In February 2015, President Berdimuhamedov signed an updated law entitled “On the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Turkmenistan” (first adopted in 1993). The new law redefined the legal and economic framework for the activities of the Chamber, defined the state support measures, and created a new body for international commercial arbitration under the Chamber’s purview. This body can consider disputes arising from contractual and other civil-legal relations in foreign trade and other forms of international economic relations, if at least one of the parties to the dispute is located outside of Turkmenistan. The enforcement of the decisions of commercial arbitration outside of Turkmenistan may be denied in Turkmenistan under certain conditions listed under Article 47 of the Law of Turkmenistan “On Commercial Arbitration” adopted in 2014 and in force as of 2016. According to the law, the parties in dispute can appeal the arbitration decision only to the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan and nowhere abroad. The government of Turkmenistan recognizes foreign court judgements on a case-by-case basis.
In February 2015, President Berdimuhamedov signed an updated law entitled “On the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Turkmenistan” (first adopted in 1993). The new law redefined the legal and economic framework for the activities of the Chamber, defined the state support measures, and created a new body for international commercial arbitration under the Chamber’s purview. This body can consider disputes arising from contractual and other civil-legal relations in foreign trade and other forms of international economic relations, if at least one of the parties to the dispute is located outside of Turkmenistan. The enforcement of the decisions of commercial arbitration outside of Turkmenistan may be denied in Turkmenistan under certain conditions listed under Article 47 of the Law of Turkmenistan “On Commercial Arbitration” adopted in 2014 and in force as of 2016. According to the law, the parties in dispute can appeal the arbitration decision only to the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan and nowhere abroad. The government of Turkmenistan recognizes foreign court judgements on a case-by-case basis. • According to the 2008 Law on Foreign Investment, all foreign and domestic companies and foreign investments must be registered at the Ministry of Finance and Economy.
• According to the 2008 Law on Foreign Investment, all foreign and domestic companies and foreign investments must be registered at the Ministry of Finance and Economy. • The Petroleum Law of 2008 (last amended in 2012) regulates offshore and onshore petroleum operations in Turkmenistan, including petroleum licensing, taxation, accounting, and other rights and obligations of state agencies and foreign partners. The Petroleum Law supersedes all other legislation pertaining to petroleum activities, including the Tax Code.
• The Petroleum Law of 2008 (last amended in 2012) regulates offshore and onshore petroleum operations in Turkmenistan, including petroleum licensing, taxation, accounting, and other rights and obligations of state agencies and foreign partners. The Petroleum Law supersedes all other legislation pertaining to petroleum activities, including the Tax Code. • According to the Land Code (last amended February 2017), foreign companies or individuals are permitted to lease land for non-agricultural purposes, but only the Cabinet of Ministers has the authority to grant the lease. Foreign companies may own structures and buildings.
• According to the Land Code (last amended February 2017), foreign companies or individuals are permitted to lease land for non-agricultural purposes, but only the Cabinet of Ministers has the authority to grant the lease. Foreign companies may own structures and buildings. • Turkmenistan adopted a Bankruptcy Law in 1993. Other laws affecting foreign investors include the Law on Investments (last amended in 1993), the Law on Joint Stock Societies (1999), the Law on Enterprises (2000), the Law on Business Activities (last amended in 1993), the Civil Code enforced since 2000, and the 1993 Law on Property.
• Turkmenistan adopted a Bankruptcy Law in 1993. Other laws affecting foreign investors include the Law on Investments (last amended in 1993), the Law on Joint Stock Societies (1999), the Law on Enterprises (2000), the Law on Business Activities (last amended in 1993), the Civil Code enforced since 2000, and the 1993 Law on Property.
Turkmenistan requires that import/export transactions and investment projects be registered at the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange (SCRME) and the Ministry of Finance and Economy. The procedure applies not only to contracts and agreements signed at SCRME, but also to contracts signed between third parties. SCRME is state-owned and is the only exchange in the country. The contract registration procedure includes an assessment of “price justification,” and while SCRME does not directly dictate pricing, it does generally set a ceiling for imports and a minimum price for exports. Import transactions must be registered before goods are delivered to Turkmenistan. The government generally favors long-term investment projects that do not require regular hard currency purchases of raw materials from foreign markets.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Under Turkmenistan’s law, all local and foreign entities operating in Turkmenistan are required to register with the Registration Department under the Ministry of Finance and Economy. Before the registration is granted, however, an inter-ministerial commission that includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Agency for Protection from Economic Risks, law enforcement agencies, and industry-specific ministries must approve it. There is no “one-stop-shop” website for investment that provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.
Foreign companies without approved government contracts that seek to establish a legal entity in Turkmenistan must go through a lengthy and cumbersome registration process involving the inter-ministerial commission mentioned above. The commission evaluates foreign companies based on their financial standing, work experience, reputation, and perceived political and legal risks.
In order to participate in a government tender, companies are not required to be registered in Turkmenistan. However, a company interested in participating in a tender process must submit all the tender documents to the respective ministry or agency in person. Many foreign companies with no presence in Turkmenistan provide a limited power of attorney to local representatives who then submit tender documents on their behalf. A list of required documents for screening is usually provided by the state agency announcing the tender. Before the contract can be signed, the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange, the Central Bank, the Supreme Control Chamber, and the Cabinet of Ministers must approve the agreement. The approval process is not transparent and is often politically driven. There is no legal guarantee that the information provided by companies to the government of Turkmenistan will be kept confidential.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
There is no publicly available information on which agencies review transactions for competition-related concerns. The government does not publish information on any competition cases. While Turkmenistan does not have a specific law that governs competition, Article 17 (Development of Competition and Antimonopoly Activities) of the Law on State Support to Small and Medium Enterprises seeks to promote fair competition in the country.
Expropriation and Compensation
Three cases raise expropriation concerns for foreign businesses investing in Turkmenistan. In December 2016, the government expropriated the largest (and only foreign owned) grocery store in Ashgabat, Yimpaş (Yimpash) shopping and business center, without compensation or other legal remedy. In April 2017, the Turkish Hospital in Ashgabat was expropriated without compensation. In September 2017, Russian cell phone service provider MTS suspended its operations after the state-owned Turkmen Telecom cut the company off from the network over an alleged expired license. In each case the companies involved had valid licenses or leases.
Turkmenistan’s legislation does not provide for private ownership of land. The government has a history of arbitrarily expropriating the property of local businesses and individuals.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Turkmenistan is a Party to the 1995 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID), but it is not a member of the 1958 Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). The commercial law enforcement system includes the Arbitration Court of Turkmenistan, which tries 13 categories of both pre-contractual and post-contractual disputes, including taxation, legal foundations, and bankruptcy issues. The court does not interfere in an enterprise’s economic relations, but reviews disputes upon the request of either party involved. Appeals to decisions of the Arbitration Court can be filed at the Arbitration Committee of the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Although Turkmenistan has adopted a number of laws designed to regulate foreign investment, the laws have not been consistently or effectively implemented. The government does not always distinguish between foreign investment and loans from foreign financial institutions. The Law on Foreign Investment, as amended in 2008, is the primary legal instrument defining the principles of investment. A foreign investor is defined in the law as an entity owning a minimum of 20 percent of a company’s assets.
There are several examples, as recently as 2017, of Western companies being unable to enforce contracts or prevail in state-level formal procedures in investment disputes. In some instances, the government bluntly refused to pay awards to the companies despite a court decision that required it to do so. In others, the government disputes the amount owed, which has made any collection efforts by the companies futile.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Turkmenistan does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) or Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with an investment chapter with the United States.
There are no alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in Turkmenistan as a means for settling disputes between two private parties. The government’s dispute settlement clause in contracts generally does not allow for arbitration in a venue outside the country. However, the government is sometimes willing to codify the right to international arbitration in contracts with foreign companies. We urge U.S. companies to include an international arbitration clause in their contracts, as political considerations still influence local courts.
Several foreign companies have pursued international arbitration against the Turkmen government through the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. In 2020, Turkish construction firm Setta Insaat Taahhüt initiated an ICSID claim against the Turkmen government for $27 million over the state’s alleged expropriation of several projects. In 2018, German company Unionmatex registered a $43.5 million ICSID claims against the Turkmen government alleging non-payment of invoices and expropriation of company assets by the state. Also in 2018, Turkish company SECE Insaat brought a similar ICSID claim against Turkmenistan for unjustified termination of contracts and non-payment of invoices.
The commercial law enforcement system includes the Arbitration Court of Turkmenistan, which tries 13 categories of disputes, both pre-contractual and post-contractual, including taxation, legal foundations, and bankruptcy issues. The court does not interfere in an enterprise’s economic relations, but reviews disputes upon the request of either party involved. Appeals to decisions of the Arbitration Court can be filed at the Arbitration Committee of the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan adopted a Bankruptcy Law in 1993 (last amended March 2016), which protects certain rights of creditors, such as the satisfaction of creditors’ claims in case of the debtor’s inability or unwillingness to make payments. The law allows for criminal liability for intentional actions resulting in bankruptcy. The law does not specify the currency in which the monetary judgments are made. Turkmenistan’s economy is not ranked by the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report.
4. Industrial Policies
According to the Law on Foreign Investments, foreign investors, especially those operating in the free economic zones, may enjoy some incentives and privileges, including license and tax exemptions, reduced registration and certification fees, land leasing rights, and extended visa validity. However, the law is inconsistently implemented and enforced.
Foreign investors are more disadvantaged because they face higher tax rates than most local companies. The value-added tax rate (VAT) is 15 percent, an income tax of eight percent is applied to JVs, and an income tax of 20 percent is applied to wholly owned foreign companies and state-owned enterprises. Dividends are taxed at 15 percent. The personal income tax rate is 10 percent. Under the Simplified Tax System of Turkmenistan, most individual entrepreneurs pay a flat two percent income tax.
The president has issued special decrees granting exemptions from taxation and other privileges to specific investors while they recoup their initial investments. The assets and property of foreign investors should be insured with the State Insurance Company of Turkmenistan pursuant to Article 53 of the 2008 Petroleum Law (if applicable) and Article 3 of the 1995 Insurance Law. National accounting and financial reporting requirements apply to foreign investors. All contractors operating in Turkmenistan for a period of at least 183 days a year must register at the Main State Tax Service. As of January 2017, 90 percent of the workforce of a company owned by a foreign investor must be composed of citizens of Turkmenistan.
Petroleum Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) holders are regulated by the 2008 Petroleum Law. They are subject to a 20 percent income tax and royalties up to 15 percent, depending on the level of production. The social welfare tax, which is 20 percent of the total local staff payroll, is paid by foreign investors and their subcontractors. PSA holders’ employees and their subcontractors pay a personal income tax of 10 percent. Subcontractors of PSA holders can bring their equipment into the country only for the duration of a valid contract. There is no specific legislation that regulates the operations of oil and gas subcontractors.
Turkmenistan currently lists 49 import and 20 export goods and materials that are subject to customs duties. The goods and materials on these lists are subject to a 0.2 percent customs fee payment and a charge of TMT 20 ($5.70) for every hour a Customs official spends inspecting the imported goods. The Customs Service maintains a list of goods subject to customs duty payment. State enterprises often receive preferential treatment; for example, wool carpets produced at state factories are exempt from customs duties. In contrast, private carpet producers pay $20 per square meter in customs duties to export a carpet. Foreign investors are required to adhere to the sanitary and environmental standards of Turkmenistan and should produce products of equal or higher quality than prescribed in national standards.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Law on Free Economic Zones was enacted in October 2017. The law guarantees the rights of businesses, both foreign and domestic, to operate in free economic zones (FEZs) without profit ceilings. The law forbids the nationalization of enterprises operating in the zones and discrimination against foreign investors. The law does not list any FEZs currently in Turkmenistan. Previously there were ten FEZs, but these zones were not successful in drawing increased economic activity, to some extent because the government interfered in the business decisions of firms located in the zones and did not provide financing for FEZ infrastructure.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The Government of Turkmenistan does not follow forced localization policies and does not officially require foreign investors to use domestic content in goods and technology. Some foreign companies working in the construction sector on government contracts reported that the government required them to use locally produced cement for their projects. However, this seems to be more of an exception than a rule. The only internet provider is state-owned telecommunications company Turkmen Telekom and service can be unreliable in some areas, particularly outside Ashgabat. Access to the internet is heavily restricted and the government blocks most VPN services. Some U.S. companies have reported difficulty doing business in-country due to the severe internet restrictions and inability to access many websites. The government does not require foreign IT providers to turn over source code or encryption keys. We are not aware of any rules that require foreign companies to maintain a certain amount of data storage in Turkmenistan.
5. Protection of Property Rights
All land is owned by the government. Individuals and entities may own property on the land. The 1993 Law on Property (last amended November 2015) defines the following types of property owners: private, state, non-government organizations, cooperative, joint venture, foreign states, legal entities and citizens, international organizations, and mixed private and state. Some dwellings have been privatized, allowing Turkmenistan’s citizens to rent and sell apartments and houses. The Law on Privatization of State Housing came into force in January 2014. The October 2007 amendments to the Land Code (last amended February 2017) provide land leases for up to 40 years for hotels and recreational facilities in National Tourist Zones. Land and facilities subsequently built on the plot must be transferred to the state after the expiration of the contract. According to the Law on Foreign Investment, foreign investments in Turkmenistan are not subject to nationalization and requisition; foreign properties may be confiscated only following a court decision. However, this law has not been respected in practice.
Banks provide preferential mortgage loans (at an annual interest rate of 1% for up to 30 years, including a five-year grace period) for the purchase of a new residence. Only government employees qualify for such concessional loans. In addition, government entities often pay 50% of the price of the new residence for their employees. Until mid-2015, banks also provided regular mortgage loans (with an annual interest rate of 7-8% for up to 10 years) for housing in locations other than so-called “elite” apartments. Liens are not common in Turkmenistan, in part because the 30-year mortgage payment dates have not expired for most of the apartments bought after the country’s independence in 1991.
Intellectual Property Rights
While the legal structure to protect IP is strong, enforcement is weak. IP infringement and theft are common. The government has enacted laws designed to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) domestically, but these laws are either arbitrarily implemented or not implemented at all. Turkmenistan has been on the United States government’s Special 301 Watch List since 2000. Turkmenistan is not, however, listed in USTR’s notorious market report.
The Law on Foreign Investment guarantees the protection of intellectual property of foreign investors, including literary, artistic, and scientific works; software; databases; patents; and other copyrighted items. The 1993 Most Favored Nation Agreement between the United States and Turkmenistan also provides for favorable treatment of copyrighted materials.
The following table presents the major international IPR treaties that Turkmenistan has signed:
|Treaty||Instrument||Entered into Force|
|Marrakesh VIP Treaty||Accession: October 15, 2020||January 15, 2021|
|Rome Convention||Accession: August 31, 2020||November 30, 2020|
|Berne Convention||Accession: February 29, 2016||May 29, 2016|
|Hague Agreement||Accession: December 16, 2015||March 16, 2016|
|Nairobi Treaty||Accession: December 16, 2015||January 16, 2016|
|Locarno Agreement||Accession: March 7, 2006||June 7, 2006|
|Nice Agreement||Accession: March 7, 2006||June 7, 2006|
|Madrid Protocol||Accession: June 28, 1999||September 28, 1999|
|Paris Convention||Declaration of Continued Application: March 1, 1995||December 25, 1991|
|Patent Cooperation Treaty||Declaration of Continued Application: March 1, 1995||December 25, 1991|
|Strasbourg Agreement||Accession: March 7, 2006||March 7, 2007|
|Vienna Agreement||Accession: March 7, 2006||June 7, 2006|
|WIPO Convention||Declaration of Continued Application: March 1, 1995||December 25, 1991|
Turkmenistan has not signed the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) 1996 Copyright Treaty, the 1996 WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (collectively known as the WIPO Internet treaties), or the 2000 Patent Law Treaty. In August 2015, Turkmenistan adopted an Action Plan for the Development of an Intellectual Property System in Turkmenistan for 2015-2020, and the plan includes a section on the role of IPR in attracting foreign investment into the country. The government reportedly completed a 2021-2025 Action Plan for IPR, but copies of the text or information about the plan have not been released.
In August 2020, Turkmenistan acceded to the 1961 WIPO Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms, and Broadcasting Organizations. In October 2020, Turkmenistan acceded to the 2013 WIPO Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. The State Agency for Intellectual Property reported that Turkmenistan had intended to accede the 2000 WIPO Patent Law Treaty in 2020, but as of April 2021 the country had not yet done so.
Turkmenistan has also joined the Eurasian Patent Organization, created for CIS countries as part of WIPO. The Copyright Law was enacted in 2000 as part of Turkmenistan’s Civil Code. This law defines copyrighted products and the rights of owners of the copyrighted products and provides for their legal protection. In January 2012, the law was amended to include additional IPR-related provisions, including exclusive rights (absolute title), licensing agreements, and the collective management of ownership rights. There is a Patent Department in the Ministry of Finance and Economy which issues patents on intellectual property but does not enforce copyright laws.
In November 2014, the government enacted a new Law on Publishing that establishes the legal basis for oversight of publishers, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers of printed materials. The law states that illegal reproduction of printed materials and other violations of intellectual property rights of the publisher will carry monetary penalties and allow for full recovery of losses incurred, including lost income. Article 153 of the Criminal Code details the criminal penalties for IPR-related violations. Counterfeit goods constitute a significant share of most consumer goods including imported textile products, footwear, and electronics. There is no publicly available information or estimate on any seizure, storage, or destruction of counterfeit goods. Most software in use is unlicensed, including in many government ministries.
The government has not committed to purchasing licensed software.
For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .
6. Financial Sector
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) dominate Turkmenistan’s economy and control the lion’s share of the country’s industrial production, especially in onshore hydrocarbon production, transportation, refining, electricity generation and distribution, chemicals, transportation, and construction material production. Education, healthcare, and media enterprises are, with some rare exceptions, also state owned and tightly controlled. SOEs are also to varying degrees involved in agriculture, food processing, textiles, communications, construction, trade, and services. Although SOEs are often inefficient, the government considers them strategically important. While there are some small-scale private enterprises in Turkmenistan, the government continues to exert significant influence most economic sectors. There are no mechanisms to ensure transparency or accountability in the business decisions or operations of SOEs. There is no publicly available information on the total assets of SOEs, total net income of SOEs, the number of people employed by SOEs and the expenses these SOEs allocate to research and development (R&D). There is no published list of SOEs. Turkmenistan is not a party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the WTO. SOEs are not uniformly subject to the same tax burden as their private sector competitors.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The government implements various policies and regulations that it states promote socially responsible business conduct (RBC), though there is no point of contact or ombudsperson for stakeholders to raise concerns about RBC. In the past, foreign companies operating in Turkmenistan were not required to implement social projects. Social welfare activities connected with doing business in Turkmenistan generally take the form of financial sponsorship of cultural or athletic events, providing academic scholarships to Turkmen students, or the construction of small-scale facilities, such as medical clinics, to benefit the locality around a company’s facilities. Some large foreign firms have felt pressured to make significant contributions to government construction projects. There are no independent NGOs, investment funds, worker organizations/unions, or business associations promoting or monitoring RBC.
In March 2013, Turkmenistan introduced mandatory environmental insurance for all types of enterprises and organizations (with the exception of government-financed entities) carrying out activities that are potentially hazardous to the environment. This insurance program was adopted to raise environmental awareness and hold industries and businesses accountable for violating environmental laws and regulations. The mandatory environmental insurance regulation includes a list of hazardous work and facilities subject to such insurance. The insurance is also required foreign legal entities, their branch offices, and entrepreneurs. The State Committee for Environmental Protection and Land Resources conducts ecological inspections for companies’ compliance with regulations.
Turkmenistan is not a participant in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) . It is not clear if the government of Turkmenistan follows the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Trafficking in Persons Report;
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities and;
- North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory
Department of Labor
There is no single specifically designated government agency responsible for combating corruption. In June 2017, Turkmenistan set up the State Service for Combating Economic Crimes (SSCEC) to investigate officials and state-owned enterprises on corruption charges. The SSCEC, which reports to the Minister of Internal Affairs, does not appear to be an independent and objective investigative body. There is no independent corruption watchdog organization.
Anti-corruption laws are not generally enforced, and rampant corruption remains a problem. Formally, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (including the police), the Ministry of National Security, and the General Prosecutor’s Office are responsible for combating corruption. President Berdimuhamedov has publicly stated that corruption will not be tolerated. In 2020, Transparency International ranked Turkmenistan 165 among 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index. Foreign firms have identified widespread government corruption, including in the form of bribe seeking, as an obstacle to investment and business development throughout all economic sectors and regions. It is most pervasive in the areas of government procurement, the awarding of licenses, and customs. In March 2014, the parliament adopted the Law on Combating Corruption to help identify and prosecute cases of corruption. The law prohibits government officials from accepting gifts (in person or through an intermediary) from foreign states, international organizations, and political parties. It also severely limits the ability of government officials to travel on business at the expense of foreign entities. Notwithstanding the 2014 law, corruption remains rampant. There are no NGOs involved in monitoring or investigating corruption. Certain government officials, including traffic police, are known to ask for bribes.
10. Political and Security Environment
Turkmenistan’s political system has remained stable since Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov became president in February 2007 and, with the exception of a reported coup attempt in 2002, there is no history of politically motivated violence. There have been no recorded examples of damage to projects or installations.
The government does not permit political opposition and maintains a tight grip on all politically sensitive issues, in part by requiring all organizations to register their activities. The Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Internal Affairs actively monitor locals and foreigners. The country’s parliament passed a Law on Political Parties in January 2012 that defines the legal grounds for the establishment of political parties, including their rights and obligations. In August 2012, under the directive of President Berdimuhamedov, Turkmenistan created a second political party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. This pro-government party, created from the membership of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, has a platform nearly identical to the President’s Democratic Party. The same is true for the Agrarian Party, which was created in September 2014 in an effort to move Turkmenistan towards a multi-party system. Organized crime is rare, and authorities have effectively rooted out organized crime groups and syndicates. Turkmenistan does not publish crime statistics or information about crime.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Labor issues are governed by the Labor Code of Turkmenistan (last amended in July 2009), the Social Welfare code, and a number of regulations approved by presidential resolutions. Turkmenistan joined the International Labor Organization in 1993. Unemployment and underemployment are major societal issues, particularly among Turkmenistan’s youth and in rural communities. Unofficial estimates of unemployment range from 10 to 50 percent. Due to a severe shortage of jobs and low salaries in the country, anecdotal evidence indicates that growing numbers of young Turkmen have emigrated or are emigrating to other countries, including Turkey, Russia, and other former Soviet republics. In order to stop outward migration, the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan on numerous occasions has arbitrarily denied exit to citizens at the airport and border points. In February 2016, President Berdimuhamedov signed a decree “On Matters of Registration of the Individuals Arriving in Ashgabat for Employment Purposes,” making it more difficult for residents from other regions to seek employment in the capital city, Ashgabat. The decree introduces a work permit system by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, which may issue work permits for a maximum of one year. Ashgabat residents are given priority over non-residents for job openings in the city. The government has also introduced a requirement that 90 percent of any firm’s workforce be Turkmen citizens. The government continues to be the largest employer in the country. The Law on Child Labor (2004) prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16 and makes employment in hazardous and harmful labor illegal for any individual under the age of 18.
The National Center of Trade Unions of Turkmenistan, the successor to the Soviet-era system of government-controlled trade unions, is the only trade union association allowed in the country. Due to low oil prices, the government has taken steps to reduce expenses by laying off some public sector employees. There have been many reports of ministries not meeting payroll requirements for staff. Article 294 of the Labor Code of Turkmenistan states that the courts handle employer-employee labor disputes. Article 368 states that disputes arising out of collective bargaining and collective agreements can be investigated by commissions on labor disputes, trade unions of enterprises, and the court system. Although the Labor Code allows for collective bargaining, in practice it is not used and the courts do not perform the labor dispute resolution function they are assigned.
The official workday in Turkmenistan is eight hours, with the standard work week consisting of 40 hours over five days. The 2009 Labor Code reconfirmed a 40-hour work week, protected workers’ rights by promoting the role of trade unions, guaranteed job security by restricting short-term contracts, and extended the duration of annual leave from 24 calendar days to 30 calendar days. In practice, however, government and many private sector employees are required to work 10 hours per day and/or a sixth day without compensation. Health and safety regulations exist but are not commonly enforced. Foreigners with government permission to reside in Turkmenistan may work and are subject to the same labor regulations as citizens unless otherwise specified by law.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Government data on many economic indicators, including foreign direct investment, are generally unavailable or unreliable. According to various independent analysts, however, most foreign investment is directed toward the country’s oil and gas sector. Turkmenistan has a natural gas production sharing agreement (PSA) for the Bagtyyarlyk contractual territory with the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the only foreign firm Turkmenistan has allowed into onshore gas production. In the oil sector there are two onshore PSAs: the Nebitdag contractual territory operated by Italy’s ENI, and the Hazar project operated jointly by the Turkmennebit state oil concern and Mitro International of Austria. In addition, there are five PSAs for offshore operations: Block I operated by Petronas of Malaysia, Block II (Cheleken Contractual Territory) operated by Dragon Oil (UAE), Block III operated by Buried Hill (UK), Blocks 19 and 20 operated by ENI (Italy), and Block 21 operated by Areti (Russian-owned, headquartered in Switzerland).
|Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or International
Source of Data: BEA;
|Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in billions||2019||$45.25||2019||$45.5|| http://unctadstat.
|Foreign Direct Investment||Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or international
Source of data:
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||N/A||N/A||**||BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/
|Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)||N/A||N/A||**||BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/
|Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP||N/A||N/A||**||UNCTAD data available at http://unctadstat.
* Source for Host Country Data: 2020 Statistical Yearbook of Turkmenistan, State Committee of Statistics of Turkmenistan
** Statistics not available. Amount is either zero or is grouped with other countries under in the source data.
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
UNCTAD has limited data on FDI for Turkmenistan: http://unctadstat.unctad.org/countryprofile/generalprofile/en-gb/795/index.html
Data not available.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.
14. Contact for More Information
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