China

Executive Summary

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the top global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) destination after the United States due to its large consumer base and integrated supply chains.  In 2019, China made some modest openings in the financial sector and passed key pieces of legislation, including a new Foreign Investment Law (FIL).  China remains, however, a relatively restrictive investment environment for foreign investors due to restrictions in key economic sectors.  Obstacles to investment include ownership caps and requirements to form joint venture partnerships with local Chinese firms, industrial policies such as Made in China 2025 (MIC 2025), as well as pressures on U.S. firms to transfer technology as a prerequisite to gaining market access.  These restrictions shield Chinese enterprises – especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and other enterprises deemed “national champions” – from competition with foreign companies.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2019 marked the 70th anniversary of its rule, amidst a wave of Hong Kong protests and international concerns regarding forced labor camps in Xinjiang.  Since the CCP 19th Party Congress in 2017, CCP leadership has underscored Chairman Xi Jinping’s leadership and expanded the role of the party in all facets of Chinese life:  cultural, social, military, and economic.  An increasingly assertive CCP has caused concern among the foreign business community about the ability of future foreign investors to make decisions based on commercial and profit considerations, rather than CCP political dictates.

Key investment announcements and new developments in 2019 included:

  • On March 17, 2019, the National People’s Congress passed the new FIL that effectively replaced previous laws governing foreign investment.
  • On June 30, 2019, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) jointly announced the release of China’s three “lists” to guide FDI.  Two “negative lists” identify the industries and economic sectors from which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited based on location, and the third list identifies sectors in which foreign investments are encouraged.  In 2019, some substantial openings were made in China’s financial services sector.
  • The State Council also approved the Regulation on Optimizing the Business Environment and Opinions on Further Improving the Utilization of Foreign Investment, which were intended to assuage foreign investors’ mounting concerns with the pace of economic reforms.

While Chinese pronouncements of greater market access and fair treatment of foreign investment are welcome, details and effective implementation are needed to improve the investment environment and restore investors’ confidence.  As China’s economic growth continues to slow, officially declining to 6.1% in 2019 – the slowest growth rate in nearly three decades – the CCP will need to deepen its economic reforms and implementation.  Moreover, the emergence of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Wuhan, China in December 2019, will place further strain on China’s economic growth and global supply chains.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 137 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 31 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 14 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 USD116,518 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD9,460 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

China continues to be one of the largest recipients of global FDI due to a relatively high economic growth rate and an expanding consumer base that demands diverse, high-quality products.  FDI has historically played an essential role in China’s economic development.  However, due to recent stagnant FDI growth and gaps in China’s domestic technology and labor capabilities, Chinese government officials have prioritized promoting relatively friendly FDI policies promising market access expansion and non-discriminatory, “national treatment” for foreign enterprises through general improvements to the business environment.  They also have made efforts to strengthen China’s regulatory framework to enhance broader market-based competition.

In 2019, China issued an updated nationwide “negative list” that made some modest openings to foreign investment, most notably in the financial sector, and promised future improvements to the investment climate through the implementation of China’s new FIL.  MOFCOM reported that FDI flows to China grew by 5.8 percent year-on-year in 2019, reaching USD137 billion.  In 2019, U.S. businesses expressed concern over China’s weak protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR); corruption; discriminatory and non-transparent anti-monopoly enforcement that forces foreign companies to license technology at below-market prices; excessive cyber security and personal data-related requirements; increased emphasis on the role of CCP cells in foreign enterprises, and an unreliable legal system lacking in both transparency and the rule of law.

China seeks to support inbound FDI through the “Invest in China” website, where MOFCOM publishes laws, statistics, and other relevant information about investing in China.  Further, each province has a provincial-level investment promotion agency that operates under the guidance of local-level commerce departments.  See:  MOFCOM’s Investment Promotion Website 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Entry into the Chinese market is regulated by the country’s “negative lists,” which identify the sectors in which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited, and a catalogue for encouraged foreign investment, which identifies the sectors the government encourages foreign investment to be allocated to.

  • The Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access (̈the “Nationwide Negative List”);
  • The Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access to Pilot Free Trade Zones (the “FTZ Negative List”) used in China’s 18 FTZs
  • The Industry Catalogue for Encouraged Foreign Investment (also known as the “FIC”).   The central government has used the FIC to encourage FDI inflows to key sectors – in particular semiconductors and other high-tech industries that would help China achieve MIC 2025 objectives.  The FIC is subdivided into a cross-sector nationwide catalogue and a separate catalogue for western and central regions, China’s least developed regions.

In addition to the above lists, MOFCOM and NDRC also release the annual Market Access Negative List  to guide investments.  This negative list – unlike the nationwide negative list that applies only to foreign investors – defines prohibitions and restrictions for all investors, foreign and domestic.  Launched in 2016, this negative list attempted to unify guidance on allowable investments previously found in piecemeal laws and regulations.  This list also highlights what economic sectors are only open to state-owned investors.

In restricted industries, foreign investors face equity caps or joint venture requirements to ensure control is maintained by a Chinese national and enterprise.  These requirements are often used to compel foreign investors to transfer technology in order to participate in China’s market.  Foreign companies have reported these dictates and decisions are often made behind closed doors and are thus difficult to attribute as official Chinese government policy.  Foreign investors report fearing government retaliation if they publicly raise instances of technology coercion.

Below are a few examples of industries where these sorts of investment restrictions apply:

  • Preschool, general high school, and higher education institutes require a Chinese partner.
  • Establishment of medical institutions also require a Chinese JV partner.

Examples of foreign investment sectors requiring Chinese control include:

  • Selective breeding and seed production for new varieties of wheat and corn.
  • Basic telecommunication services.
  • Radio and television listenership and viewership market research.

Examples of foreign investment equity caps include:

  • 50 percent in automobile manufacturing (except special and new energy vehicles);
  • 50 percent in value-added telecom services (except e-commerce domestic multiparty communications, storage and forwarding, call center services);
  • 50 percent in manufacturing of commercial and passenger vehicles.

The 2019 editions of the nationwide and FTZ negative lists and the FIC for foreign investment came into effect July 30, 2019.  The central government updated the Market Access Negative List in October 2019.  The 2019 foreign investment negative lists made minor modifications to some industries, reducing the number of restrictions and prohibitions from 48 to 40 in the nationwide negative list, and from 45 to 37 in China’s pilot FTZs.  Notable changes included openings in the oil and gas sector, telecommunications, and shipping of marine products.  On July 2, 2019, Premier Li Keqiang announced new openings in the financial sector, including lifting foreign equity caps for futures by January 2020, fund management by April, and securities by December.  While U.S. businesses welcomed market openings, many foreign investors remained underwhelmed and disappointed by Chinese government’s lack of ambition and refusal to provide more significant liberalization.  Foreign investors noted these announced measures occurred mainly in industries that domestic Chinese companies already dominate.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

China is not a member of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), but the OECD Council established a country program of dialogue and co-operation with China in October 1995.  The OECD completed its most recent investment policy review for China in 2008 and published an update in 2013.

China’s 2001 accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) boosted China’s economic growth and advanced its legal and governmental reforms.  The WTO completed its most recent investment trade review for China in 2018, highlighting that China remains a major destination for FDI inflows, especially in real estate, leasing and business services, and wholesale and retail trade.

Business Facilitation

In 2019, China climbed more than 40 spots in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey to 31st place out of 190 economies.  This was partly due to regulatory reforms that helped streamline some business processes, including improvements to addressing delays in construction permits and resolving insolvency.  This ranking does not account for major challenges U.S. businesses face in China like IPR violations and forced technology transfer.  Moreover, China’s ranking is based on data limited only to the business environments in Beijing and Shanghai.

Created in 2018, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) is now responsible for business registration processes.  The State Council established a new website in English, which is more user-friendly than SAMR’s website, to assist foreign investors looking to do business in China.  In December 2019, China also launched a Chinese-language nationwide government service platform on the State Council’s official website.  The platform connected 40 central government agencies with 31 provincial governments, providing information on licensing and project approvals by specific agencies.  The central government published the website under its “improving the business climate” reform agenda, claiming that the website consolidates information and offers cross-regional government online services.

Foreign companies still complain about continued challenges when setting up a business relative to their Chinese competitors.  Numerous companies offer consulting, legal, and accounting services for establishing wholly foreign-owned enterprises, partnership enterprises, joint ventures, and representative offices in China.  Investors should review their options carefully with an experienced advisor before choosing a corporate entity or investment vehicle.

Outward Investment

Since 2001, China has pursued a “going-out” investment policy.  At first, the Chinese government mainly encouraged SOEs to secure natural resources and facilitate market access for Chinese exports.  In recent years, China’s overseas investments have diversified with both state and private enterprises investing in nearly all industries and economic sectors.  While China remains a major global investor, total outbound direct investment (ODI) flows fell 8.2 percent year-on-year in 2019 to USD110.6 billion, according to MOFCOM data.

In order to suppress significant capital outflow pressure, the Chinese government created “encouraged,” “restricted,” and “prohibited” outbound investment categories in 2016 to guide Chinese investors, especially in Europe and the United States.  While the guidelines restricted Chinese outbound investment in sectors like property, hotels, cinemas, entertainment, and sports teams, they encouraged outbound investment in sectors that supported Chinese industrial policy by acquiring advanced manufacturing and high-tech assets.  Chinese firms involved in MIC 2025 targeted sectors often receive preferential government financing, subsidies, and access to an opaque network of investors to promote and provide incentives for outbound investment.  The guidance also encourages investments that promote China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, which seeks to create connectivity and cooperation agreements between China and dozens of countries via infrastructure investment, construction projects, real estate, etc.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

One of China’s WTO accession commitments was to establish an official journal dedicated to the publication of laws, regulations, and other measures pertaining to or affecting trade in goods, services, trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS), and the control of foreign exchange.  Despite mandatory 30-day public comment periods, Chinese ministries continue to post only some draft administrative regulations and departmental rules online, often with a public comment period of less than 30 days.  U.S. businesses operating in China consistently cite arbitrary legal enforcement and the lack of regulatory transparency among the top challenges of doing business in China.  Government agencies often do not make available for public comment and proceed to publish “normative documents” (opinions, circulars, notices, etc.) or other quasi-legal measures to address situations where there is no explicit law or administrative regulation in place.  When Chinese officials claim an assessment or study was made for a law, the methodology of the study and the results are not made available to the public.  As a result, foreign investors face a regulatory system rife with inconsistencies.

In China’s state-dominated economic system, the relationships are often blurred between the CCP, the Chinese government, Chinese business (state- and private-owned), and other Chinese stakeholders.  Foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs) perceive that China prioritizes political goals, industrial policies, and a desire to protect social stability at the expense of foreign investors, fairness, and the rule of law.  The World Bank Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance gave China a composite score of 1.75 out 5 points, attributing China’s relatively low score to the futility of foreign companies appealing administrative authorities’ decisions to the domestic court system; not having easily accessible and updated laws and regulations; the lack of impact assessments conducted prior to issuing new laws; and other concerns about transparency.

For accounting standards, Chinese companies use the Chinese Accounting Standards for Business Enterprises (ASBE) for all financial reporting within mainland China.  Companies listed overseas or in Hong Kong may choose to use ASBE, the International Financial Reporting Standards, or Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standards.

International Regulatory Considerations

As part of its WTO accession agreement, China agreed to notify the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of all draft technical regulations.  However, China continues to issue draft technical regulations without proper notification to the TBT Committee.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Chinese legal system borrows heavily from continental European legal systems, but with “Chinese characteristics.”  The rules governing commercial activities are found in various laws, regulations, and judicial interpretations, including China’s civil law, contract law, partnership enterprises law, security law, insurance law, enterprises bankruptcy law, labor law, and several interpretations and regulations issued by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).  While China does not have specialized commercial courts, it has created specialized courts and tribunals for the hearing of intellectual property disputes, including in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai.  In October 2018, the National People’s Congress approved the establishment of a national SPC appellate tribunal to hear civil and administrative appeals of technically complex intellectual property (IP) cases.

China’s constitution and various laws provide contradictory statements about court independence and the right of judges to exercise adjudicative power free from interference by administrative organs, public organizations, or powerful individuals.  In practice, regulators heavily influence courts, and the Chinese constitution establishes the supremacy of the “leadership of the communist party.”  U.S. companies often avoid challenging administrative decisions or bringing commercial disputes before local courts due to perceptions of futility or government retaliation.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

China’s new investment law, the FIL, was passed on March 2019 and came into force on January 1, 2020, replacing China’s previous foreign investment framework.  The FIL provides a five-year transition period for foreign enterprises established under previous foreign investment laws, after which all foreign enterprises will be subject to the same domestic laws as Chinese companies, such as the Company Law and, where applicable, the Partnership Enterprise Law.  The FIL intends to abolish the case-by-case review and approval system on market access for foreign investment and standardize the regulatory regimes for foreign investment by including the negative list management system, a foreign investment information reporting system, and a foreign investment security review system all under one document.  The FIL also seeks to address common complaints from foreign business and government by explicitly banning forced technology transfers, promising better IPR protection, and establishing a complaint mechanism for investors to report administrative abuses.  However, foreign investors complain that the FIL and its implementing regulations lack substantive guidance, providing Chinese ministries and local officials significant regulatory discretion, including the ability to retaliate against foreign companies.

In addition to the FIL, in 2019, the State Council issued other substantive guidelines and administrative regulations, including:

System for Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors (Notice 6);

  • Regulation on Optimizing the Business Environment (Order No. 722); and
  • Opinions on Further Improving the Utilization of Foreign Investment (Opinions 2019).

Other relevant legislation issued by government entities in 2019, include:

Draft legislation issued by other government entities in 2020:

  • Draft Amendments to the Anti-Monopoly Law;

In addition to central government laws and implementation guidelines, ministries and local regulators have issued over 1,000 rules and regulatory documents that directly affect foreign investments within their geographical areas.  While not comprehensive, a list of published and official Chinese laws and regulations is available at:  http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/ .

FDI Laws on Investment Approvals

Foreign investments in industries and economic sectors that are not explicitly restricted or prohibited on the foreign investment negative or market access lists do not require MOFCOM pre-approval.  However, investors have complained that in practice, investing in an industry not on the negative list does not guarantee a foreign investor “national treatment,” or treatment no less favorable than treatment accorded to a similarly-situated domestic investor.  Foreign investors must still comply with other steps and approvals like receiving land rights, business licenses, and other necessary permits.  When a foreign investment needs ratification from the NDRC or a local development and reform commission, that administrative body is in charge of assessing the project’s compliance with a panoply of Chinese laws and regulations.  In some cases, NDRC also solicits the opinions of relevant Chinese industrial regulators and consulting agencies acting on behalf of Chinese domestic firms, creating potential conflicts of interest disadvantageous to foreign firms.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Anti-Monopoly Bureau of the SAMR enforces China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) and oversees competition issues at the central and provincial levels.  The agency reviews mergers and acquisitions, and investigates cartel and other anticompetitive agreements, abuse of a dominant market position, and abuse of administrative powers by government agencies.  SAMR issues new implementation guidelines and antitrust provisions to fill in gaps in the AML, address new trends in China’s market, and help foster transparency in AML enforcement.  Generally, SAMR has sought public comment on proposed measures and guidelines, although comment periods can be less than 30 days.  In 2019, the agency put into effect provisions on abuse of market dominance, prohibition of monopoly agreements, and restraint against abuse of administrative powers to restrict competition.  In January 2020, SAMR published draft amendments to the AML for comment, which included, among other changes, stepped-up fines for AML violations and expanded factors to consider abuse of market dominance by Internet companies.  (This is the first step in a lengthy process to amend the AML.)  SAMR also oversees the Fair Competition Review System (FCRS), which requires government agencies to conduct a review prior to issuing new and revising existing laws, regulations, and guidelines to ensure such measures do not inhibit competition.

While these are seen as positive measures, foreign businesses have complained that enforcement of competition policy is uneven in practice and tends to focus on foreign companies.   Foreign companies have expressed concern that the government uses AML enforcement as an extension of China’s industrial policies, particularly for companies operating in strategic sectors.  The AML explicitly protects the lawful operations of government monopolies in industries that affect the national economy or national security.   U.S. companies have expressed concerns that SAMR consults with other Chinese agencies when reviewing M&A transactions, allowing other agencies to raise concerns, including those not related to antitrust enforcement, in order to block, delay, or force transacting parties to comply with preconditions in order to receive approval.  Foreign companies have also complained that China’s enforcement of AML facilitated forced technology transfer or licensing to local competitors.

Expropriation and Compensation

Chinese law prohibits nationalization of FIEs, except under vaguely specified “special circumstances” where there is a national security or public interest need. Chinese law requires fair compensation for an expropriated foreign investment, but does not detail the method used to calculate the value of the foreign investment.  The Department of State is not aware of any cases since 1979 in which China has expropriated a U.S. investment, although the Department has notified Congress through the annual 527 Investment Dispute Report of several cases of concern.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

China is a contracting state to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).  Chinese legislation that provides for enforcement of foreign arbitral awards related to these two Conventions includes the Arbitration Law adopted in 1994, the Civil Procedure Law adopted in 1991 (later amended in 2012), the law on Chinese-Foreign Equity Joint Ventures adopted in 1979 (amended most recently in 2001), and a number of other laws with similar provisions.  The Arbitration Law embraced many of the fundamental principles of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement  (ISDS)

Initially, China was disinclined to accept ISDS as a method to resolve investment disputes based on its suspicions of international law and international arbitration, as well as its emphasis on state sovereignty.  China’s early BITs, such as the 1982 China–Sweden BIT, only included state–state dispute settlement.  As China has become a capital exporter under its initiative of “Going Global” and infrastructure investments under the OBOR initiative, its views on ISDS have shifted to allow foreign investors with unobstructed access to international arbitration to resolve any investment dispute that cannot be amicably settled within six months.  Chinese investors did not use ISDS mechanisms until 2007, and the first known ISDS case against China was initiated in 2011 by Malaysian investors.  On July 19, 2019, China submitted its proposal on ISDS reform to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group III.  Under the proposal, China reaffirmed its commitment to ISDS as an important mechanism for resolving investor-state disputes under public international law.  However, it suggested various pathways for ISDS reform, including supporting the study of a permanent appellate body. including supporting the study of a permanent appellate body.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Chinese officials typically urge private parties to resolve commercial disputes through informal conciliation.  If formal mediation is necessary, Chinese parties and the authorities typically prefer arbitration to litigation.  Many contract disputes require arbitration by the Beijing-based China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC).  Established by the State Council in 1956 under the auspices of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), CIETAC is China’s most widely utilized arbitral body for foreign-related disputes.  Some foreign parties have obtained favorable rulings from CIETAC, while others have questioned CIETAC’s fairness and effectiveness.  Besides CIETAC, there are also provincial and municipal arbitration commissions.  A foreign party may also seek arbitration in some instances from an offshore commission.  Foreign companies often encounter challenges in enforcing arbitration decisions issued by Chinese and foreign arbitration bodies.  In these instances, foreign investors may appeal to higher courts.  The Chinese government and judicial bodies do not maintain a public record of investment disputes.  The SPC maintains an annual count of the number of cases involving foreigners but does not provide details about the cases.  Rulings in some cases are open to the public.
In 2018, the SPC established the China International Commercial Court (CICC) to adjudicate international commercial cases, especially cases related to the OBOR initiative.  The first CICC was established in Shenzhen, followed by a second court in Xi’an.  The court held its first public hearing on May 2019, involving a Chinese company suing an Italian company, and issued its first ruling on March 2020, siding with the Chinese company.  Parties to a dispute before the CICC can only be represented by Chinese law-qualified lawyers, as foreign lawyers do not have a right of audience in Chinese courts.  Unlike other international courts, foreign judges are not permitted to be part of the proceedings.  Judgments of the CICC, given it is a part of the SPC, cannot be appealed from, but are subject to possible “retrial” under the Civil Procedure Law.  Local contacts and academics note that to-date, the CICC has not reviewed any OBOR or infrastructure related cases and question the CICC’s ability to provide “equal protection” to foreign investors.

China has bilateral agreements with 27 countries on the recognition and enforcement of foreign court judgments, but not with the United States.  However, under Chinese law, local courts must prioritize China’s laws and other regulatory measures above foreign court judgments.

Bankruptcy Regulations

China introduced formal bankruptcy laws in 2007, under the Enterprise Bankruptcy Law, which applied to all companies incorporated under Chinese laws and subject to Chinese regulations.  However, courts routinely rejected applications from struggling businesses and their creditors due to the lack of implementation guidelines and concerns over social unrest.  Local government-led negotiations resolved most corporate debt disputes, using asset liquidation as the main insolvency procedure.  Many insolvent Chinese companies survived on state subsidies and loans from state-owned banks, while others defaulted on their debts with minimal payments to creditors.  After a decade of heavy borrowing, China’s growth has slowed and forced the government to make needed bankruptcy reforms.  China now has more than 90 U.S.-style specialized bankruptcy courts.  In 2019, the government added new courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.  Court-appointed administrators—law firms and accounting firms that help verify claims, organize creditors’ meetings, and list and sell assets online as authorities look to handle more cases and process them faster.  China’s SPC recorded over 19,000 liquidation and bankruptcy cases in 2019, double the number of cases in 2017.  While Chinese authorities are taking steps to address mounting corporate debt and are gradually allowing some companies to fail, companies generally avoid pursing bankruptcy because of the potential for local government interference and fear of losing control over the bankruptcy outcome.  According to experts, Chinese courts not only lack the resources and capacity to handle bankruptcy cases, but bankruptcy administrators, clerks, and judges lack relevant experience.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

To attract foreign investment, different provinces and municipalities offer preferential packages like a temporary reduction in taxes, resources and land use benefits, reduction in import or export duties, special treatment in obtaining basic infrastructure services, streamlined government approvals, research and development subsidies, and funding for initial startups.  Often, these packages stipulate that foreign investors must meet certain benchmarks for exports, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements.  The Chinese government incentivizes foreign investors to participate in initiatives like MIC 2025 that seek to transform China into an innovation-based economy.  Announced in 2015, China’s MIC 2025 roadmap has prioritized the following industries:  new-generation information technology, advanced numerical-control machine tools and robotics, aerospace equipment, maritime engineering equipment and vessels, advanced rail, new-energy vehicles, energy equipment, agricultural equipment, new materials, and biopharmaceuticals and medical equipment.  While mentions of MIC 2025 have all but disappeared from public discourse, a raft of policy announcements at the national and sub-national levels indicate China’s continued commitment to developing these sectors.  Foreign investment plays an important role in helping China move up the manufacturing value chain.  However, foreign investment remains closed off to many economic sectors that China deems sensitive due to broadly defined national or economic security concerns.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In 2013, the State Council announced the Shanghai pilot FTZ to provide open and high-standard trade and investment services to foreign companies.  China gradually scaled up its FTZ pilot program to 12 FTZs, launching an additional six FTZs in 2019.  China’s FTZs are in: Tianjin, Guangdong, Fujian, Chongqing, Hainan, Henan, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Guanxi, and Yunnan provinces.  The goal of all of China’s FTZs is to provide a trial ground for trade and investment liberalization measures and to introduce service sector reforms, especially in financial services, that China expects to eventually introduce in other parts of the domestic economy.  The FTZs promise foreign investors “national treatment” for the market access phase of an investment in industries and sectors not listed on the FTZ negative list, or on the list of industries and economic sectors from which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited.  However, the 2019 FTZ negative list lacked substantive changes, and many foreign firms have reported that in practice, the degree of liberalization in the FTZs is comparable to opportunities in other parts of China.  The stated purpose of FTZs is also to integrate these areas more closely with the OBOR initiative.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As part of China’s WTO accession agreement, the PRC government promised to revise its foreign investment laws to eliminate sections that imposed on foreign investors requirements for export performance, local content, balanced foreign exchange through trade, technology transfer, and research and development as a prerequisite to enter China’s market.  In practice, China has not completely lived up to these promises.  Some U.S. businesses report that local officials and regulators sometimes only accept investments with “voluntary” performance requirements or technology transfer that help develop certain domestic industries and support the local job market.  Provincial and municipal governments will sometimes restrict access to local markets, government procurement, and public works projects even for foreign firms that have already invested in the province or municipality.  In addition, Chinese regulators have reportedly pressured foreign firms in some sectors to disclose IP content or provide IP licenses to Chinese firms, often at below market rates.

Furthermore, China’s evolving cybersecurity and personal data protection regime includes onerous restrictions on firms that generate or process data in China, such as requirements for certain firms to store data in China.  Restrictions exist on the transfer of personal information of Chinese citizens outside of China.  These restrictions have prompted many firms to review how their networks manage data.  Foreign firms also fear that PRC laws call for the use of “secure and controllable,” “secure and trustworthy,” etc. technologies will curtail sales opportunities for foreign firms or pressure foreign companies to disclose source code and other proprietary intellectual property.  In October 2019, China adopted a Cryptography Law that includes restrictive requirements for commercial encryption products that “involve national security, the national economy and people’s lives, and public interest.”  This broad definition of commercial encryption products that must undergo a security assessment raises concerns that implementation will lead to unnecessary restrictions on foreign information and communications technology (ICT) products and services.  Further, prescriptive technology adoption requirements, often in the form of domestic standards that diverge from global norms, in effect give preference to domestic firms.  These requirements potentially jeopardize IP protection and overall competitiveness of foreign firms operating in China.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Chinese state owns all urban land, and only the state can issue long-term land leases to individuals and companies, including foreigners, subject to many restrictions.  Chinese property law stipulates that residential property rights renew automatically, while commercial and industrial grants renew if the renewal does not conflict with other public interest claims.  Several foreign investors have reported revocation of land use rights so that Chinese developers could pursue government-designated building projects.  Investors often complain about insufficient compensation in these cases.  In rural China, collectively owned land use rights are more complicated.  The registration system suffers from unclear ownership lines and disputed border claims, often at the expense of local farmers whom village leaders exclude in favor of “handshake deals” with commercial interests.  China’s Securities Law defines debtor and guarantor rights, including rights to mortgage certain types of property and other tangible assets, including long-term leases.  Chinese law does not prohibit foreigners from buying non-performing debt, but such debt must be acquired through state-owned asset management firms, and PRC officials often use bureaucratic hurdles to limit foreigners’ ability to liquidate assets.

Intellectual Property Rights

In 2019, China’s legislature promulgated multiple reforms to China’s IP protection and enforcement systems.  In January, the Guidelines on Interim and Preliminary Injunctions for Intellectual Property Disputes came into force. These SPC guidelines provide added clarity to the IP injunction process and offer additional procedural safeguards for trade secret cases.  In April, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed amendments to the Trademark Law, the Anti-Unfair Competition Law (AUCL), and the Administrative Licensing Law, among other legislation that increases the potential punitive penalty for willful infringement to up to five times the value of calculated damages.  China also amended the Administrative Licensing Law to provide administrative penalties for government officials who illegally disclose trade secrets or require the transfer of technology for the granting of administrative licenses.  Similarly, in March, China’s State Council revised several regulations that U.S. and EU enterprises and governments had criticized for discriminating against foreign technology and IP holders.  Finally, in November, the Amended Guidelines for Patent Examination came into effect.  This measure provides further procedural guidance and defines patentability requirements for stem cells and graphical user interfaces.

Despite the changes to China’s legal and regulatory IP regime, some aspects of China’s IP protection regime fall short of international best practices.  Ineffective enforcement of Chinese laws and regulations remains a significant obstacle for foreign investors trying to protect their IP, and counterfeit and pirated goods manufactured in China continue to pose a challenge.  U.S. rights holders continued to experience widespread infringement of patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets, as well as problems with competitors gaming China’s IP protection and enforcement systems.  In some sectors, Chinese law imposes requirements that U.S. firms develop their IP in China or transfer their IP to Chinese entities as a condition to accessing the Chinese market, or to obtain tax and other preferential benefits available to domestic companies.  Chinese policies can effectively require U.S. firms to localize research and development activities, making their IP much more susceptible to theft or illicit transfer.  These practices are documented in the 2019 Section 301 Report released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  The PRC also remained on the Priority Watch List in the 2020 USTR Special 301 Report, and several Chinese physical and online markets were listed in the 2019 USTR Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.  Under the recently signed U.S.-China Phase One trade agreement, China is required to make a number of structural reforms to its IP regime, which will be captured in an IP action plan.

For detailed information on China’s environment for IPR protection and enforcement, please see the following reports:

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

China’s leadership has stated that it seeks to build a modern, highly-developed, and multi-tiered capital market.  Since their founding over three decades ago, the Shanghai and Shenzhen Exchanges, combined, are ranked the second largest stock market in the world with over USD5 trillion in assets.  China’s bond market has similarly expanded significantly to become the third largest worldwide, totaling approximately USD13 trillion.  Direct investment by private equity and venture capital firms has increased significantly, but has faced setbacks due to China’s capital controls, which complicate the repatriation of returns.  In December 2019, the State Council and China’s banking and securities regulatory authorities issued a set of measures that would remove in 2020 foreign ownership caps in select segments of China’s financial sector.  Specifically, foreign investors can wholly own insurance and futures firms as of January 1, asset management companies as of April 1, and securities firms as of December 1, 2020.

China has been an IMF Article VIII member since 1996 and generally refrains from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.  However, the government has used administrative and preferential policies to encourage credit allocation towards national priorities, such as infrastructure investments.  As of 2019, over 40 sovereign entities and private sector firms, including Daimler and Standard Chartered HK, have since issued roughly USD48 billion in “Panda Bonds,” Chinese renminbi (RMB)-denominated debt issued by foreign entities in China.  China’s private sector can also access credit via bank loans, bond issuance, and wealth management and trust products.  However, the vast majority of bank credit is disbursed to state-owned firms, largely due to distortions in China’s banking sector that have incentivized lending to state-affiliated entities over their private sector counterparts.

The Monetary and Banking System

China’s monetary policy is run by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank.  The PBOC has traditionally deployed various policy tools, such as open market operations, reserve requirement ratios, benchmark rates and medium-term lending facilities, to control credit growth.  The PBOC had previously also set quotas on how much banks could lend, but abandoned the practice in 1998.  As part of its efforts to shift towards a more market-based system, the PBOC announced in 2019 that it will reform its one-year loan prime rate (LPR), which will serve as an anchor reference for Chinese lenders.  The LPR is based on the interest rate for one-year loans that 18 banks offer their best customers.  Despite these measures to move towards more market-based lending, China’s financial regulators still influence the volume and destination of Chinese bank loans through “window guidance” – unofficial directives delivered verbally – as well as through mandated lending targets for key economic groups, such as small and medium sized enterprises.

The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) oversees China’s roughly 4,000 lending institutions.  At the end of the first quarter of 2019, Chinese banks’ total assets reached RMB 276 trillion (USD40 trillion).  China’s “Big Five” – Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China, Bank of Communications, China Construction Bank, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China – dominate the sector and are largely stable, but over the past year, China has experienced regional pockets of banking stress, especially among smaller lenders.  Reflecting the level of weakness among these banks, in November 2019, the PBOC announced that about one in 10 of China’s banks received a “fail” rating following an industry-wide review.  The assessment deemed 420 firms, all rural financial institutions, “extremely risky.”  The official rate of non-performing loans among China’s banks is relatively low: below two percent as of the end of 2019.  However, analysts believe the actual figure may be significantly higher.  Bank loans continue to provide the majority of credit options (reportedly around 66 percent in 2019) for Chinese companies, although other sources of capital, such as corporate bonds, equity financing, and private equity are quickly expanding their scope, reach, and sophistication in China.  In December 2019, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic emerged in Wuhan, China.  In response, the PBOC established a variety of programs to stimulate the economy, including a re-lending scheme of USD4.28 billion and a special credit line of USD50 billion for policy banks.  In addition, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technologies established a list of companies vital to COVID-19 efforts, which would be eligible to receive additional loans and subsidies from the Ministry of Finance.

As part of a broad campaign to reduce debt and financial risk, Chinese regulators over the last several years have implemented measures to rein in the rapid growth of China’s “shadow banking” sector, which includes wealth management and trust products.  These measures have achieved positive results: the share of trust loans, entrusted loans, and undiscounted bankers’ acceptances dropped a total of seven percent in 2019 as a share of total social financing (TSF) – a broad measure of available credit in China.  TSF’s share of corporate bonds jumped from a negative 2.31 percent in 2017 to 12.7 percent in 2019.  In October 2019, the CBIRC announced that foreign owned banks will be allowed to establish wholly-owned banks and branches in China.  However, analysts noted there are often licenses and other procedures that can drag out the process in this sector, which is already dominated by local players.  Nearly all of China’s major banks have correspondent banking relationships with foreign banks, including the Bank of China, which has correspondent banking relationships with more than 1,600 institutions in 179 countries and regions.  Foreigners are eligible to open a bank account in China, but are required to present a passport and/or Chinese government issued identification.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

While the central bank’s official position is that companies with proper documentation should be able to freely conduct business, in practice, companies have reported challenges and delays in obtaining approvals for foreign currency transactions by sub-national regulatory branches.  Chinese authorities instituted strict capital control measures in 2016, when China recorded a surge in capital flight that reduced its foreign currency reserves by about USD1 trillion, stabilizing to around USD3 trillion today.  China has since announced that it will gradually reduce those controls, but market analysts expect they would be re-imposed if capital outflows accelerate again.  Chinese foreign exchange rules cap the maximum amount of RMB individuals are allowed to convert into other currencies at approximately USD50,000 each year and restrict them from directly transferring RMB abroad without prior approval from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE).  In 2017, authorities further restricted overseas currency withdrawals by banning sales of life insurance products and capping credit card withdrawals at USD5,000 per transaction.  SAFE has not reduced the USD50,000 quota, but during periods of higher than normal capital outflows, banks are reportedly instructed by SAFE to increase scrutiny over individuals’ requests for foreign currency and to require additional paperwork clarifying the intended use of the funds, with the express intent of slowing capital outflows.

China’s exchange rate regime is managed within a band that allows the currency to rise or fall by 2 percent per day from the “reference rate” set each morning.  In August 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department designated China a “currency manipulator,” given China’s large-scale interventions in the foreign exchange market.  Treasury removed this designation in January 2020.

Remittance Policies

According to China’s FIL, as of January 1, 2020, funds associated with any forms of investment, including investment, profits, capital gains, returns from asset disposal, IPR loyalties, compensation, and liquidation proceeds, may be freely converted into any world currency for remittance.  Under Chinese law, FIEs do not need pre-approval to open foreign exchange accounts and are allowed to retain income as foreign exchange or to convert it into RMB without quota requirements.  The remittance of profits and dividends by FIEs is not subject to time limitations, but FIEs need to submit a series of documents to designated banks for review and approval.  The review period is not fixed and is frequently completed within one or two working days of the submission of complete documents.  For remittance of interest and principal on private foreign debt, firms must submit an application form, a foreign debt agreement, and the notice on repayment of the principal and interest.  Banks will then check if the repayment volume is within the repayable principal.  There are no specific rules on the remittance of royalties and management fees.  In August 2018, SAFE raised the reserve requirement for foreign currency transactions from zero to 20 percent, significantly increasing the cost of foreign currency transactions.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

China officially has only one sovereign wealth fund (SWF), the China Investment Corporation (CIC), which was launched to help diversify China’s foreign exchange reserves.  Established in 2007 with USD200 billion in initial registered capital, CIC currently manages over USD940 billion in assets as of the close of 2018 and invests on a 10-year time horizon.  CIC has since evolved into three subsidiaries:

  • CIC International was established in September 2011 with a mandate to invest in and manage overseas assets.  It conducts public market equity and bond investments, hedge fund, multi-asset and real estate investments, private equity (including private credit) fund investments, co-investments, and minority investments as a financial investor.
  • CIC Capital was incorporated in January 2015 with a mandate to specialize in making direct investments to enhance CIC’s investment in long-term assets.
  • Central Huijin makes equity investments in Chinese state-owned financial institutions.

CIC publishes an annual report containing information on its structure, investments, and returns.  CIC invests in diverse sectors, including financial services, consumer products, information technology, high-end manufacturing, healthcare, energy, telecommunications, and utilities.  China also operates other funds that function in part like sovereign wealth funds, including:  China’s National Social Security Fund, with an estimated USD325 billion in assets; the China-Africa Development Fund (solely funded by the China Development Bank), with an estimated USD10 billion in assets; the SAFE Investment Company, with an estimated USD417.8 billion in assets; and China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund, established in December 2014 with USD40 billion in assets to foster investment in OBOR partner countries.  Chinese state-run funds do not report the percentage of their assets that are invested domestically.  However, Chinese state-run funds follow the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles and participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs.  The Chinese government does not have any formal policies specifying that CIC invest funds consistent with industrial policies or in government-designated projects, although CIC is expected to pursue government objectives.  CIC generally adopts a “passive” role as a portfolio investor.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

China has approximately 150,000 wholly-owned SOEs, of which 50,000 are owned by the central government, and the remainder by local or provincial governments.  SOEs, both central and local, account for 30 to 40 percent of total gross domestic product (GDP) and about 20 percent of China’s total employment.  Non-financial SOE assets totaled roughly USD30 trillion.  SOEs can be found in all sectors of the economy, from tourism to heavy industries.  In addition to wholly-owned enterprises, state funds are spread throughout the economy, such that the state may also be the majority or largest shareholder in a nominally private enterprise.  China’s leading SOEs benefit from preferential government policies aimed at developing bigger and stronger “national champions.”  SOEs enjoy favored access to essential economic inputs (land, hydrocarbons, finance, telecoms, and electricity) and exercise considerable power in markets like steel and minerals.  SOEs have long enjoyed preferential access to credit and the ability to issue publicly traded equity and debt.  A comprehensive, published list of all Chinese SOEs does not exist.

PRC officials have indicated China intends to utilize OECD guidelines to improve the professionalism and independence of SOEs, including relying on Boards of Directors that are independent from political influence.  Other recent reforms have included salary caps, limits on employee benefits, and attempts to create stock incentive programs for managers who have produced mixed results.  However, analysts believe minor reforms will be ineffective if SOE administration and government policy remain intertwined, and Chinese officials have made minimal progress in fundamentally changing the regulation and business conduct of SOEs.  SOEs continue to hold dominant shares in their respective industries, regardless of whether they are strategic, which may further restrain private investment in the economy.  Among central SOEs managed by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), senior management positions are mainly filled by senior CCP members who report directly to the CCP, and double as the company’s party secretary.  SOE executives outrank regulators in the CCP rank structure, which minimizes the effectiveness of regulators in implementing reforms.  The lack of management independence and the controlling ownership interest of the state make SOEs de facto arms of the government, subject to government direction and interference.  SOEs are rarely the defendant in legal disputes, and when they are, they almost always prevail.  U.S. companies often complain about the lack of transparency and objectivity in commercial disputes with SOEs.

Privatization Program

Since 2013, the PRC government has periodically announced reforms to SOEs that included selling SOE shares to outside investors or a mixed ownership model, in which private companies invest in SOEs and outside managers are hired.  The government has tried these approaches to improve SOE management structures, emphasize the use of financial benchmarks, and gradually infuse private capital into some sectors traditionally monopolized by SOEs like energy, telecommunications, and finance.  In practice, however, reforms have been gradual, as the PRC government has struggled to implement its SOE reform vision and often preferred to utilize a SOE consolidation approach.  Recently, Xi and other senior leaders have increasingly focused reform efforts on strengthening the role of the state as an investor or owner of capital, instead of the old SOE model in which the state was more directly involved in managing operations.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

General awareness of RBC standards (including environmental, social, and governance issues) is a relatively new concept to most Chinese companies, especially companies that exclusively operate in China’s domestic market.  Chinese laws that regulate business conduct use voluntary compliance, are often limited in scope, and are frequently cast aside when other economic priorities supersede RBC priorities.  In addition, China lacks mature and independent non-governmental organizations (NGOs), investment funds, worker unions, and other business associations that promote RBC, further contributing to the general lack of awareness in Chinese business practices.  The Foreign NGO Law remains a concern for U.S. organizations due to the restrictions on many NGO activities, including promotion of RBC and corporate social responsibility (CSR) best practices.  For U.S. investors looking to partner with a Chinese company or expand operations, finding partners that meet internationally recognized standards in areas like labor, environmental protection, worker safety, and manufacturing best practices can be a significant challenge.  However, the Chinese government has placed greater emphasis on protecting the environment and elevating sustainability as a key priority, resulting in more Chinese companies adding environmental concerns to their CSR initiatives.  As part of these efforts, Chinese ministries have signed several memoranda of understanding with international organizations such as the OECD to cooperate on RBC initiatives.  As a result, MOFCOM in 2016 launched the RBC Platform, which serves as the national contact point on RBC issues and supplies information to companies about RBC best practices in China.

9. Corruption

Since Xi’s rise to power in 2012, China has undergone an intensive and large-scale anti-corruption campaign, with investigations reaching into all sectors of the government, military, and economy.  Xi labeled endemic corruption an “existential threat” to the very survival of the CCP.  Since then, each CCP annual plenum has touched on judicial, administrative, and CCP discipline reforms needed to root out corruption.  In 2018, the CCP amended the constitution to enable the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) to become a state organ, calling the new body the National Supervisory Commission-Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (NSC-CCDI). The NSC-CCDI wields the power to investigate any public official and those involved in corrupt officials’ dealings.  From 2012 to 2019, the NSC-CCDI claimed it investigated 2.78 million cases – more than the total of the preceding 10 years.  In 2019 alone, the NSC-CCDI investigated 619,000 cases and disciplined approximately 587,000 individuals, of whom 45 were officials at or above the provincial or ministerial level.  The PRC’s overseas fugitive-hunting campaign, called “Operation Skynet,” has led to the capture of more than 7,500 fugitives suspected of corruption who were living in other countries.  The PRC did not notify host countries of these operations.  In 2019 alone, NSC-CCDI reported apprehending 2,041 alleged fugitives suspected of official crimes, including 860 corrupt officials, as well as recovering about USD797.5 million in stolen money.

Anecdotal information suggests the PRC’s anti-corruption crackdown is inconsistently and discretionarily applied, raising concerns among foreign companies in China.  For example, to fight rampant commercial corruption in the medical/pharmaceutical sector, the PRC’s health authority issued “black lists” of firms and agents involved in commercial bribery, including several foreign companies.  Anecdotal information suggests many PRC officials responsible for approving foreign investment projects, as well as some routine business transactions, delayed approvals so as not to arouse corruption suspicions, making it increasingly difficult to conduct normal commercial activity.  While central government leadership has welcomed increased public participation in reporting suspected corruption at lower levels, direct criticism of central government leadership or policies remains off-limits and is seen as an existential threat to China’s political and social stability.

China ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005 and participates in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and OECD anti-corruption initiatives.  China has not signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery, although Chinese officials have expressed interest in participating in the OECD Working Group on Bribery meetings as an observer.

Resources to Report Corruption

The following government organization receives public reports of corruption:  Anti-Corruption Reporting Center of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Ministry of Supervision, Telephone Number:  +86 10 12388.

10. Political and Security Environment

Foreign companies operating in China face a low risk of political violence.  However, protests in Hong Kong in 2019 exposed foreign investors to political risk due to Hong Kong’s role as an international hub for investment into and out of China.  The CCP also punished companies that expressed support for Hong Kong protesters — most notably, a Chinese boycott of the U.S. National Basketball Association after one team’s general manager expressed his personal view supporting the Hong Kong protesters.  In the past, the PRC government has also encouraged protests or boycotts of products from countries like the United States, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the Philippines, in retaliation for unrelated policy decisions.  Examples of politically motivated economic retaliation against foreign firms include boycott campaigns against Korean retailer Lotte in 2016 and 2017 in retaliation for the South Korean government’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to the Korean Peninsula; and the PRC’s retaliation against Canadian companies and citizens for Canada’s arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou.

PRC authorities also have broad authority to prohibit travelers from leaving China (known as an “exit ban”) and have imposed exit bans to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate government investigations.  Individuals not directly involved in legal proceedings or suspected of wrongdoing have also been subject to lengthy exit bans in order to compel family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigations.  Exit bans are often issued without notification to the foreign citizen or without clear legal recourse to appeal the exit ban decision.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

For U.S. companies operating in China, finding, developing, and retaining domestic talent at the management and skilled technical staff levels remain challenging for foreign firms.  In addition, labor costs, including salaries along with other production inputs, continue to rise.  Foreign firms continue to cite air pollution concerns as a major hurdle in attracting and retaining qualified foreign talent.  Chinese labor law does not provide for freedom of association or protect the right to strike.  The PRC has not ratified the International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, or forced labor, but it has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination.  Foreign companies complain of difficulty navigating China’s labor and social insurance laws, including local implementation guidelines. Compounding the complexity, due to ineffective enforcement of labor contract laws, Chinese domestic employers often hire local employees without contracts, putting foreign firms at a disadvantage.  Without written contracts, workers struggle to prove employment, thus losing basic protections such as severance if terminated.  Moreover, in 2018 and 2019, there were multiple U.S. government, media, and NGO reports that persons detained in internment camps in Xinjiang were subjected to forced labor in violation of international labor law and standards.  In October 2019, CBP issued a Withhold Release Order barring importation into the United States of garments produced by Hetian Taida Apparel Co., Ltd. in Xinjiang, which were determined to be produced with prison or forced labor in violation of U.S. import laws.  The Commerce Department added 28 Chinese commercial and government entities to its Entity List for their complicity in human rights abuses.

The All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the only union recognized under the law.  Establishing independent trade unions is illegal.  The law allows for “collective bargaining,” but in practice, focuses solely on collective wage negotiations.  The Trade Union Law gives the ACFTU, a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo, control over all union organizations and activities, including enterprise-level unions.  ACFTU enterprise unions require employers to pay mandatory fees, often through the local tax bureau, equaling a negotiated minimum of 0.5 percent to a standard two percent of total payroll.  While labor laws do not protect the right to strike, “spontaneous” worker protests and work stoppages regularly occur.  Official forums for mediation, arbitration, and other similar mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution often are ineffective in resolving labor disputes.  Even when an arbitration award or legal judgment is obtained, getting local authorities to enforce judgments is problematic.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S.  FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year   Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP ($M USD) 2019*   $14,380,000 2018 $13,608,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S.  FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018(**)     $109,958 2018          $116,518 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018(**)      $39,557 2018          $39,473 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total Inbound Stock as a % of GDP 2018(**) 15.9% 2018 12.1% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org.en/Pages/DIAE/
World%
 

20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx 
 

*China’s National Bureau of Statistics (converted at 6.8 RMB/USD estimate)
**China’s 2019 Yearbook (Annual Economic Data from China’s Economic Ministries:  MOFCOM, NBS, and Ministry of Finance)

Table 3:  Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $2,814,067 100% Total Outward $1,982,270 100%
China, PR: Hong Kong $1,378,383 48.96% China, PR: Hong Kong $958,904 48.37%
British Virgin Islands $302,553 10.75% Cayman Islands $237,262 11.96%
Japan $166,817 6.13% British Virgin Islands $119,658 6.03%
Singapore $115,035 4.08% United States $67,038 3.38%
Germany $78,394 2.78% Singapore $35,970 1.81%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source:  IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS)

Table 4:  Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $560,250 100% All Countries $303,4000 100% All Countries $256,849 100%
China, PR: Hong Kong $179,672 32.0% China, PR: Hong Kong $121,883 40.1% China, PR: Hong Kong $57,789 22.5%
Cayman Islands $47,917  8.5% Cayman Islands  $28,323  9.3% British Virgin Island  $38,230 14.8%
British Virgin Island $40,270  7.1% Luxembourg  $8,786  2.8% Cayman Islands  $19,594 7.6%
Luxembourg  $13,712  2.4% Japan  $7,012  2.3% Germany  $7,660 2.9%
Germany  $12,294  2.1% Ireland  $6,829  2.2% Singapore  $7,122 2.7%

14. Contact for More Information

Mayra Alvarado
Investment Officer – U.S.  Embassy Beijing Economic Section
55 Anjialou Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, P.R.  China
+86 10 8531 3000
beijinginvestmentteam@state.gov

India

Executive Summary

India’s GDP growth in 2019 declined to the slowest rate in over six years. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Monetary Fund had reduced its growth prediction for FY 2020 to 4.8 percent from a previous estimate of 6.1 percent. The slowing growth reflected a sharp decline in private sector consumption and reduced activity in manufacturing, agriculture, and construction. The stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) in India has declined a full percentage point over the last six years according to data from the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT). This mirrors a similar drop in Indian private investment during the same period.

Non-performing assets continue to hold back banks’ profits and restrict their lending, particularly in the state banking sector. The collapse of the non-bank financial company Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) in 2018 led to a credit crunch that largely continued throughout 2019 and hampered consumer lending.

Demographic increases mean India must generate over ten million new jobs every year – a challenge for the economy and policy makers. While difficult to measure, given the large size of the informal economy, several recent studies, in 2017-18 suggest India’s unemployment rate has risen significantly, perhaps event to a 40-year high.

The Government of India has announced several measures to stimulate growth, including lowering the corporate tax rate, creating lower personal income tax brackets, implementing tax exemptions for startups, establishing ambitious targets for divestment of state-owned enterprises, withdrawing a surcharge imposed on foreign portfolio investors, and providing cash infusions into public sector banks. India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), also adopted a monetary policy that was accommodative of growth, reducing interest rates by a cumulative 135 basis points throughout 2019 to 5.15 percent. However, transmission remained a problem as banks, already struggling with large volumes of non-performing assets pressuring their balance sheets, were hesitant to lend or pass on the RBI’s rate cuts to consumers.

The government actively courts foreign investment. In 2017, the government implemented moderate reforms aimed at easing investments in sectors such as single brand retail, pharmaceuticals, and private security. It also relaxed onerous rules for foreign investment in the construction sector. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures removing restrictions on FDI in multiple sectors to help spur the slowing economy. The new measures included permitting investments in coal mining and contract manufacturing through the so-called Automatic Route. India has continued to make major gains in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings in 2019, moving up 14 places to number 63 out of 190 economies evaluated. This jump follows India’s gain of 23 places in 2018 and 30 places in 2017.

Nonetheless, India remains a difficult place to do business and additional economic reforms are necessary to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth. In April 2018, the RBI, announced, without prior stakeholder consultation, that all payment system providers must store their Indian transaction data only in India. The RBI mandate to store all “data related to payments systems” only in India went into effect on October 15, 2018, despite repeated requests by industry and the U.S. officials for a delay to allow for more consultations. In July 2019, the RBI, again without prior stakeholder consultation, retroactively expanded the scope of its 2018 data localization requirement to include banks, creating potential liabilities going back to late 2018. The RBI policy overwhelmingly and disproportionately affects U.S. banks and investors, who depend on the free flow of data both to achieve economies of scale and to protect customers by providing global real-time monitoring and analysis of fraud trends and cybersecurity. U.S. payments companies have been able to implement the mandate for the most part, though at great cost and potential damage to the long-term security of their Indian customer base, which will receive fewer services and no longer benefit from global fraud detection and AML/CFT protocols. Similarly, U.S. banks have been able to comply with RBI’s expanded mandate, though incurring significant compliance costs and increased risk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

In addition to the RBI data localization directive for payments companies, the government formally introduced its draft Data Protection Bill in December 2019, which contains restrictions on all cross-border transfers of personal data in India. The Bill is currently under review by a Joint Parliamentary Committee and stipulates that personal data that are considered “critical” can only be stored in India. The Bill is based on the conclusions of a ten-person Committee of Experts, established by the Ministry of Information Technology (MeitY) in July 2017.

On December 26, 2018, India unveiled new restrictions on foreign-owned e-commerce operations without any prior notification or opportunity to submit public comments. While Indian officials argue that these restrictions were mere “clarifications” of existing policy, the new guidelines constituted a major regulatory change that created several extensive new regulatory requirements and onerous compliance procedures. The disruption to foreign investors’ businesses was exacerbated by the refusal to extend the February 1, 2019 deadline for implementation.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 80 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/
cpi2019
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 63 of 190 https://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings?region=south-asia
Global Innovation Index 2019 52 of 127 https://www.wipo.int/
global_innovation_index/en/2019/
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $44,458 https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $2009.98 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies toward Foreign Direct Investment

Changes in India’s foreign investment rules are notified in two different ways: (1) Press Notes issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) for the vast majority of sectors, and (2) legislative action for insurance, pension funds, and state-owned enterprises in the coal sector. (Note: in January 2019, the government of India changed the name of DIPP to Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT). End Note). FDI proposals in sensitive sectors will, however, require the additional approval of the Home Ministry.

The DPIIT, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is the nodal investment promotion agency, responsible for the formulation of FDI policy and the facilitation of FDI inflows. It compiles all policies related to India’s FDI regime into a single document to make it easier for investors to understand, and this consolidated policy is updated every year. The updated policy can be accessed at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-direct-investment/foreign-direct-investment-policy.  DPIIT, through the Foreign Investment Implementation Authority (FIIA), plays an active role in resolving foreign investors’ project implementation problems and disseminates information about the Indian investment climate to promote investments. The Department establishes bilateral economic cooperation agreements in the region and encourages and facilitates foreign technology collaborations with Indian companies and DPIIT oftentimes consults with ministries and stakeholders, but some relevant stakeholders report being left out of consultations.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

In most sectors, foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own businesses and engage in remunerative activities. Several sectors of the economy continue to retain equity limits for foreign capital as well as management and control restrictions, which deter investment. For example, the 2015 Insurance Act raised FDI caps from 26 percent to 49 percent, but also limits for foreign capital as well as management and control restrictions, which deter investment. For example, the 2015 Insurance Act raised FDI caps from 26 percent to 49 percent, but also mandated that insurance companies retain “Indian management and control.” Similarly, in 2016, India allowed up to 100 percent FDI in domestic airlines; however, the issue of substantial ownership and effective control (SOEC) rules which mandate majority control by Indian nationals have not yet been clarified. A list of investment caps is accessible at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-direct-investment/foreign-direct-investment-policy .

In 2017, the government implemented moderate reforms aimed at easing investments in sectors including single-brand retail, pharmaceuticals, and private security. It also relaxed onerous rules for foreign investment in the construction sector. All FDI must be reviewed under either an “Automatic Route” or “Government Route” process. The Automatic Route simply requires a foreign investor to notify the Reserve Bank of India of the investment. In contrast, investments requiring review under the Government Route must obtain the approval of the ministry with jurisdiction over the appropriate sector along with the concurrence of DPIIT. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures removing restrictions on FDI in multiple additional sectors to help spur the slowing economy. The new measures included permitting investments in coal mining and contract manufacturing through the Automatic Route. The new rules also eased restrictions on investment in single-brand retail.

Screening of FDI

Since the abolition of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board in 2017, appropriate ministries have screened FDI. FDI inflows were mostly directed towards the largest metropolitan areas – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai – and the state of Gujarat. The services sector garnered the largest percentage of FDI. Further FDI statistics available at: http://dipp.nic.in/publications/fdi-statistics. 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

2019 OECD Economic Survey of India: http://www.oecd.org/economy/india-economic-snapshot/ 

2015 WTO Trade Policy Review: https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S009-  DP.aspx?language=E&CatalogueIdList=131827,6391,16935,35446,11982&CurrentCatal  ogueIdIndex=0&FullTextHash=&HasEnglishRecord=True&HasFrenchRecord=True&H  asSpanishRecord=True 

2015-2020 Government of India Foreign Trade Policy: http://dgft.gov.in/ForeignTradePolicy 

Business Facilitation

DPIIT is responsible for formulation and implementation of promotional and developmental measures for growth of the industrial sector, keeping in view national priorities and socio- economic objectives. While individual lead ministries look after the production, distribution, development and planning aspects of specific industries allocated to them, DPIIT is responsible for the overall industrial policy. It is also responsible for facilitating and increasing the FDI flows to the country.

Invest India  is the official investment promotion and facilitation agency of the Government of India, which is managed in partnership with DPIIT, state governments, and business chambers. Invest India specialists work with investors through their investment lifecycle to provide support with market entry strategies, deep dive industry analysis, partner search, and policy advocacy as required. Businesses can register online through the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website: http://www.mca.gov.in/ . After the registration, all new investments require industrial approvals and clearances from relevant authorities, including regulatory bodies and local governments. To fast-track the approval process, especially in case of major projects, Prime Minister Modi has started the Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI initiative) – a digital, multi-modal platform to speed the government’s approval process. Per the Prime Minister’s Office as of November 2019 a total of 265 project proposals worth around $169 billion related to 17 sectors were cleared through PRAGATI. Prime Minister Modi personally monitors the process, to ensure compliance in meeting PRAGATI project deadlines. In December 2014, the Modi government also approved the formation of an Inter-Ministerial Committee, led by the DPIIT, to help track investment proposals that require inter-ministerial approvals. Business and government sources report this committee meets informally and on an ad hoc basis as they receive reports from business chambers and affected companies of stalled projects.

Outward Investment

According to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), India’s central bank, the total overseas direct investment (ODI) outflow from India till December 2019 was $18.86 billion. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Indian direct investment into the U.S. was $9.9 billion in 2017. RBI contends that the growth in magnitude and spread (in terms of geography, nature and types of business activities) of ODI from India reflects the increasing appetite and capacity of Indian investors.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

India made public a new model Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in December 2015. This followed a string of rulings against Indian firms in international arbitration. The new model BIT does not allow foreign investors to use investor-state dispute settlement methods, and instead requires foreign investors to first exhaust all local judicial and administrative remedies before entering into international arbitration. The Indian government also announced its intention to abrogate all BITs negotiated on the earlier model BIT. The government has served termination notices to roughly 58 countries, including EU countries and Australia. Currently 14 BITs are in force. The Ministry of Finance said the revised model BIT will be used for the renegotiation of existing and any future BITs and will form the investment chapter in any Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements (CECAs)/Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements (CEPAs)/Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

In September 2018, Belarus became the first country to execute a new BIT with India. The Belarus – India BIT is predominantly based on the new Model BIT. In December 2018, Taipei Cultural & Economic Centre (TECC) in India signed a BIT with India Taipei Association (ITA) in Taipei. The TECC is the representative office of the government in Taipei in India and is responsible for promoting bilateral relations between Taiwan and India. By December 2019, two BITs/ JIS have been concluded but not yet signed with Brazil and Cambodia. Several BITs and joint interpretative statements are under discussion such as with Iran, Switzerland, Morocco, Kuwait, Ukraine, UAE, San Marino, Hong Kong, Israel, Mauritius and Oman. The complete list of agreements can be found at: https://dea.gov.in/bipa. 

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

India has a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States, available at: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-trty/india.pdf 

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Some government policies are written in a way that can be discriminatory to foreign investors or favor domestic industry; for example, approval for higher FDI in the insurance sector came with a new requirement for “Indian management and control.” On most occasions the rules are framed after thorough discussions by the competent government authorities and require the approval of the cabinet and, in some cases, the Parliament as well. Policies pertaining to foreign investments are framed by DPIIT, and implementation is undertaken by lead federal ministries and sub-national counterparts.

In December 2018, India unveiled new “Guidelines” on foreign-owned e-commerce operations that imposed restrictions disproportionately affecting over $20 billion in combined investments by U.S. companies. As of February 1, 2019, these platforms may not offer exclusive discounts; sell products from companies in which they own a stake; or have any vendor who sources more than 25 percent of their retail stock from a single source. The Guidelines were issued without prior notification or opportunity to provide public comments. While Indian officials argue this was a mere “clarification” of existing policy, the new Guidelines constituted a major regulatory change that severely affected U.S. investors’ operations and business models. The refusal of Indian authorities to extend the deadline for implementation beyond just over one month, further exacerbated the undue and unnecessary disruption to U.S. investors.

The Indian Accounting Standards were issued under the supervision and control of the Accounting Standards Board, a committee under the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), and has government, academic, and professional representatives. The Indian Accounting Standards are named and numbered in the same way as the corresponding International Financial Reporting Standards. The National Advisory Committee on Accounting Standards recommends these standards to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, which all listed companies must then adopt. These can be accessed at: http://www.mca.gov.in/MinistryV2/Stand.html 

International Regulatory Considerations

India is a member of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an eight- member regional block in South Asia. India’s regulatory systems are aligned with SAARC economic agreements, visa regimes, and investment rules. Dispute resolution in India has been through tribunals, which are quasi-judicial bodies. India has been a member of the WTO since 1994, and generally notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade; however, at times there are delays in publishing the notifications. The Governments of India and the United States cooperate in areas such as standards, trade facilitation, competition, and antidumping practices.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

India adopted its legal system from English law and the basic principles of the Common Law as applied in the UK are largely prevalent in India. However, foreign companies need to make adaptations per Indian Law and the Indian business culture when negotiating and drafting contracts in India to ensure adequate protection in case of breach of contract. The Indian Judicial Structure provides for an integrated system of courts to administer both central and state laws. The legal system has a pyramidal structure, with the Supreme Court at the apex, and a High Court in each state or a group of states which covers a hierarchy of subordinate courts. Article 141 of the Constitution of India provide that a decision declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India. Apart from courts, tribunals are also vested with judicial or quasi-judicial powers by special statutes to decide controversies or disputes relating to specified areas.

Courts have maintained that the independence of the judiciary is a basic feature of the Constitution, which provides the judiciary institutional independence from the executive and legislative branches.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The government has a policy framework on FDI, which is updated every year and formally notified as the Consolidated FDI Policy (http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-direct-investment/foreign- direct-investment-policy). DPIIT makes policy pronouncements on FDI through Press Notes/Press Releases, which are notified by the RBI as amendments to the Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by Persons Resident Outside India) Regulations, 2000 (Notification No. FEMA 20/2000-RB dated May 3, 2000). These notifications are effective on the date of the issued press release, unless otherwise specified. The judiciary does not influence FDI policy measures.

The government has introduced a “Make in India” program as well as investment policies designed to promote manufacturing and attract foreign investment. “Digital India” aims to open up new avenues for the growth of the information technology sector. The “Start-up India” program created incentives to enable start-ups to commercialize and grow. The “Smart Cities” project intends to open up new avenues for industrial technological investment opportunities in select urban areas. The U.S. Government continues to urge the Government of India to foster an attractive and reliable investment climate by reducing barriers to investment and minimizing bureaucratic hurdles for businesses.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The central government has been successful in establishing independent and effective regulators in telecommunications, banking, securities, insurance, and pensions. The Competition Commission of India (CCI), India’s antitrust body, is now taking cases against mergers, cartels, and abuse of dominance, as well as conducting capacity-building programs for bureaucrats and business officials. Mergers meeting certain thresholds must be notified to the CCI for its review. Upon receipt of a complaint, or upon its own enquiry, if the CCI is of the opinion that there exists a prima facie case, it must direct its investigative arm (the Director General) to investigate. Currently the Director General is required to seek the approval of the local chief metropolitan magistrate for any search and seizure operations. The Securities and Exchange Bureau of India (SEBI) enforces corporate governance standards and is well-regarded by foreign institutional investors. The RBI, which regulates the Indian banking sector, is also held in high regard. Some Indian regulators, including SEBI and the RBI, engage with industry stakeholders through periods of public comment, but the practice is not consistent across the government.

Expropriation and Compensation

The government has taken steps to provide greater clarity in regulation. In 2016, the government successfully carried out the largest spectrum auction in the country’s history. India also has transfer pricing rules that apply to related party transactions. The government implemented the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in July 2017, which reduced the complexity of tax codes and eliminated multiple taxation policies. It also enacted the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code in 2016, which offers uniform, comprehensive insolvency legislation for all companies, partnerships and individuals (other than financial firms).

Though land is a State Government (sub-national) subject, “acquisition and requisitioning of property” is in the concurrent list, thus both the Indian Parliament and State Legislatures can make laws on this subject. Legislation approved by the Central Government is used as guidance by the State Governments. Land acquisition in India is governed by the Land Acquisition Act (2013), which entered into force in 2014, but continues to be a complicated process due to the lack of an effective legal framework. Land sales require adequate compensation, resettlement of displaced citizens, and 70% approval from landowners. The displacement of poorer citizens is politically challenging for local governments.

Dispute Settlement

India made resolving contract disputes and insolvency easier with the establishment of a modern bankruptcy regime with the enactment in 2016 and subsequent implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). Among the areas where India has improved the most in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Ranking the past three years has been under the resolving insolvency metric. The World Bank Report noted that the 2016 law has introduced the option of insolvency resolution for commercial entities as an alternative to liquidation or other mechanisms of debt enforcement, reshaping the way insolvent companies can restore their financial well-being or close down. The Code has put in place effective tools for creditors to successfully negotiate and effectuated greater chances for creditors to realize their dues. As a result, the overall recovery rate for creditors jumped from 26.5 to 71.6 cents on the dollar and the time taken for resolving insolvency also came down significantly from 4.3 years to 1.6 years. (https://www.ibbi.gov.in/uploads/publication/62a9cc46d6a96690e4c8a3c9ee3ab862.pdf 

India enacted the Arbitration and Conciliation Act in 1996, based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law model, as an attempt to align its adjudication of commercial contract dispute resolution mechanisms with most of the world. Judgments of foreign courts are enforceable under multilateral conventions, including the Geneva Convention. The government established the International Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ICADR) as an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Law and Justice to promote the settlement of domestic and international disputes through alternate dispute resolution. The World Bank has also funded ICADR to conduct training for mediators in commercial dispute settlement.

India is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). It is not unusual for Indian firms to file lawsuits in domestic courts in order to delay paying any arbitral award. Seven cases are currently pending, the oldest of which dates to 1983. India is not a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague and the Indian Law Ministry agreed in 2007 to establish a regional PCA office in New Delhi, although no progress has been made in establishing the office. The office would provide an arbitration forum to match the facilities offered at The Hague but at a lower cost.

In November 2009, the Department of Revenue’s Central Board of Direct Taxes established eight dispute resolution panels across the country to settle the transfer-pricing tax disputes of domestic and foreign companies. In 2016 the government also presented amendments to the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Act to establish specialized commercial divisions within domestic courts to settle long-pending commercial disputes.

InvestorState Dispute Settlement

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, India has been a respondent state for 25 investment dispute settlement cases, of which 11 remain pending (http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/ISDS/CountryCases/96?partyRole=2 ).

Though India is not a signatory to the ICSID Convention, current claims by foreign investors against India can be pursued through the ICSID Additional Facility Rules, the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL Model Law) rules, or through the use of ad hoc proceedings.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Since formal dispute resolution is expensive and time consuming, many businesses choose methods, including ADR, for resolving disputes. The most commonly used ADRs are arbitration and mediation. India has enacted the Arbitration and Conciliation Act based on the UNCITRAL Model Laws of Arbitration. Experts agree that the ADR techniques are extra-judicial in character and emphasize that ADR cannot displace litigation. In cases that involve constitutional or criminal law, traditional litigation remains necessary.

Dispute Resolutions Pending

An increasing backlog of cases at all levels reflects the need for reform of the dispute resolution system, whose infrastructure is characterized by an inadequate number of courts, benches and judges, inordinate delays in filling judicial vacancies, and only 14 judges per one million people. Almost 25 percent of judicial vacancies can be attributed to procedural delays.

Bankruptcy Regulations

According to the World Bank, it used to take an average of 4.3 years to recover funds from an insolvent company in India, compared to 2.6 years in Pakistan, 1.7 years in China and 1.8 years in OECD countries. The introduction and implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) in 2016 led to an overhaul of the previous framework on insolvency and paved the way for much-needed reforms. The IBC focused on creditor-driven insolvency resolution, and offers a uniform, comprehensive insolvency legislation encompassing all companies, partnerships and individuals (other than financial firms).

The law, however, does not provide for U.S. style Chapter 11 bankruptcy provisions. The government is proposing a separate framework for bankruptcy resolution in failing banks and financial sector entities. Supplementary legislation would create a new institutional framework, consisting of a regulator, insolvency professionals, information utilities, and adjudicatory mechanisms that would facilitate formal and time-bound insolvency resolution process and liquidation.

In August 2016, the Indian Parliament passed amendments to the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act, and the Debt Recovery Tribunals Act. These amendments were geared at improving the effectiveness of debt recovery laws and helping address the problem of rising bad loans for domestic and multilateral banks. It will also help banks and financial institutions recover loans more effectively, encourage the establishment of more asset reconstruction companies (ARCs) and revamp debt recovery tribunals.

4. Industrial Policies

The regulatory environment in terms of foreign investment has been eased to make it investor- friendly.  The measures taken by the Government are directed to open new sectors for foreign direct investment, increase the sectoral limit of existing sectors and simplifying other conditions of the FDI policy.  The Indian government does issue guarantees to investments but only in case of strategic industries.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The government established several foreign trade zone initiatives to encourage export-oriented production.  These include Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Export Processing Zones (EPZs), Software Technology Parks (STPs), and Export Oriented Units (EOUs).  In 2018, the Indian government announced guidelines for the establishment of the National Industrial and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs), envisaged as integrated industrial townships to be managed by a special purpose vehicle and headed by a government official.  So far, three NIMZs have been accorded final approval and 13 have been accorded in-principle approval.  In addition, eight investment regions along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DIMC) have also been 12 established as NIMZs.  SEZs are treated as foreign territory; businesses operating within SEZs are not subject to customs regulations, nor have FDI equity caps.  They also receive exemptions from industrial licensing requirements and enjoy tax holidays and other tax breaks.  EPZs are industrial parks with incentives for foreign investors in export-oriented businesses.  STPs are special zones with similar incentives for software exports. EOUs are industrial companies, established anywhere in India, that export their entire production and are granted the following: duty-free import of intermediate goods, income tax holidays, exemption from excise tax on capital goods, components, and raw materials, and a waiver on sales taxes. These initiatives are governed by separate rules and granted different benefits, details of which can be found at: http://www.sezindia.nic.in,  https://www.stpi.in/  http://www.fisme.org.in/export_schemes/DOCS/B- 1/EXPORT%20ORIENTED%20UNIT%20SCHEME.pdf and http://www.makeinindia.com/home. 

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Preferential Market Access (PMA) for government procurement has created substantial challenges for foreign firms operating in India.  State-owned “Public Sector Undertakings” and the government accord a 20 percent price preference to vendors utilizing more than 50 percent local content.  However, PMA for government procurement limits access to the most cost effective and advanced ICT products available.  In December 2014, PMA guidelines were revised and reflect the following updates:

  1. Current guidelines emphasize that the promotion of domestic manufacturing is the objective of PMA, while the original premise focused on the linkages between equipment procurement and national security.
  2. Current guidelines on PMA implementation are limited to hardware procurement only. Former guidelines were applicable to both products and services.
  3. Current guidelines widen the pool of eligible PMA bidders, to include authorized distributors, sole selling agents, authorized dealers or authorized supply houses of the domestic manufacturers of electronic products, in addition to OEMs, provided they comply with the following terms:
    1. The bidder shall furnish the authorization certificate by the domestic manufacturer for selling domestically manufactured electronic products.
    2. The bidder shall furnish the affidavit of self-certification issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency declaring that the electronic product is domestically manufactured in terms of the domestic value addition prescribed.
    3. It shall be the responsibility of the bidder to furnish other requisite documents required to be issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency as per the policy.
  4. The current guidelines establish a ceiling on fees linked with the complaint procedure. There would be a complaint fee of INR 200,000 ($3000) or one percent of the value of the Domestically Manufactured Electronic Product being procured, subject to a maximum of INR 500,000 ($7500), whichever is higher.

In January 2017, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) issued a draft notification under the PMA policy, stating a preference for domestically manufactured servers in government procurement.  A current list of PMA guidelines, notified products, and tendering templates can be found on MeitY’s website:  http://meity.gov.in/esdm/pma. 

Research and Development

The Government of India allows for 100 percent FDI in research and development through the automatic route.

Data Storage & Localization

In April 2018, the RBI, announced, without prior stakeholder consultation, that all payment system providers must store their Indian transaction data only in India. The RBI mandate went into effect on October 15, 2018, despite repeated requests by industry and the U.S. officials for a delay to allow for more consultations.  In July 2019, the RBI, again without prior stakeholder consultation, retroactively expanded the scope of its 2018 data localization requirement to include banks, creating potential liabilities going back to late 2018.  The RBI policy overwhelmingly and disproportionately affects U.S. banks and investors, who depend on the free flow of data to both achieve economies of scale and to protect customers by providing global real-time monitoring and analysis of fraud trends and cybersecurity.  U.S. payments companies have been able to implement the mandate for the most part, though at great cost and potential damage to the long-term security of their Indian customer base, which will receive fewer services and no longer benefit from global fraud detection and AML/CFT protocols.  Similarly, U.S. banks have been able to comply with RBI’s expanded mandate, though incurring significant compliance costs and increased risk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

In addition to the RBI data localization directive for payments companies and banks, the government formally introduced its draft Data Protection Bill in December 2019, which contains restrictions on all cross-border transfers of personal data in India.  The Bill is currently under review by a Joint Parliamentary Committee and stipulates that personal data that is considered “critical” can only be stored in India.  The Bill is based on the conclusions of a ten-person Committee of Experts, established by MeitY in July 2017.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Several cities, including the metropolitan cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai have grown according to a master plan registered with the central government’s Ministry of Urban Development. Property rights are generally well-enforced in such places, and district magistrates—normally senior local government officials—notify land and property registrations. Banks and financial institutions provide mortgages and liens against such registered property.

In other urban areas, and in areas where illegal settlements have been built up, titling often remains unclear. As per the Department of Land Resources, in 2008 the government launched the National Land Records Modernization Program (NLRMP) to clarify land records and provide landholders with legal titles. The program requires the government to survey an area of

the National Land Records Modernization Program (NLRMP) to clarify land records and provide landholders with legal titles. The program requires the government to survey an area of approximately 2.16 million square miles, including over 430 million rural households, 55 million urban households, and 430 million land records. Initially scheduled for completion in 2016, the program is now scheduled to conclude in 2021. Traditional land use rights, including communal rights to forests, pastures, and agricultural land, are sanctioned according to various laws, depending on the land category and community residing on it. Relevant legislation includes the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, the Tribal Rights Act, and the Tribal Land Act.

In 2016, India introduced its first regulator in the real estate sector in the form of the Real Estate Act. The Real Estate Act, 2016 aims to protect the rights and interests of consumers and promote uniformity and standardization of business practices and transactions in the real estate sector. Details are available at: http://mohua.gov.in/cms/TheRealEstateAct2016.php 

Foreign and domestic private entities are permitted to establish and own businesses in trading companies, subsidiaries, joint ventures, branch offices, project offices, and liaison offices, subject to certain sector-specific restrictions. The government does not permit foreign investment in real estate, other than company property used to conduct business and for the development of most types of new commercial and residential properties. Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) can now invest in initial public offerings (IPOs) of companies engaged in real estate. They can also participate in pre-IPO placements undertaken by such real estate companies without regard to FDI stipulations.

To establish a business, various government approvals and clearances are required, including incorporation of the company and registration under the State Sales Tax Act and Central and State Excise Acts. Businesses that intend to build facilities on land they own are also required to take the following steps: register the land; seek land use permission if the industry is located outside an industrially zoned area; obtain environmental site approval; seek authorization for electricity and financing; and obtain appropriate approvals for construction plans from the respective state and municipal authorities. Promoters must also obtain industry-specific environmental approvals in compliance with the Water and Air Pollution Control Acts. Petrochemical complexes, petroleum refineries, thermal power plants, bulk drug makers, and manufacturers of fertilizers, dyes, and paper, among others, must obtain clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The Foreign Exchange Management Regulations and the Foreign Exchange Management Act set forth the rules that allow foreign entities to own immoveable property in India and convert foreign currencies for the purposes of investing in India. These regulations can be found at: https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/Fema.aspx . Foreign investors operating under the automatic route are allowed the same rights as an Indian citizen for the purchase of immovable property in India in connection with an approved business activity.

In India, a registered sales deed does not confer title ownership and is merely a record of the sales transaction. It only confers presumptive ownership, which can still be disputed. The title is established through a chain of historical transfer documents that originate from the land’s original established owner. Accordingly, before purchasing land, buyers should examine all documents that establish title from the original owner. Many owners, particularly in urban areas, do not have access to the necessary chain of documents. This increases uncertainty and risks in land transactions.

Intellectual Property Rights

In 2018, India became a signatory to the WIPO Centralized Access to Search and Examination (CASE) and Digital Access Service (DAS) agreements.  The CASE system enables patent offices to securely share and search examination documentation related to patent applications, and DAS provides details of the types of applications managed by individual digital libraries together with any operational procedures and technical requirements.  However, the provision of Indian law prescribing criminal penalties for failure to furnish information pertaining to applications for a patent for the “same or substantially the same invention” filed in any country outside India remains in place.

Prime Minister Modi’s courtship of multinationals to invest and “Make in India” has not yet addressed longstanding hesitations over India’s lack of effective intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement.  Despite the release of the National IPR Policy and the establishment of India’s first intellectual property (IP) crime unit in Telangana in 2016, India’s IP regime continues to fall short of global best practices and standards.  U.S. engagement has not yet translated into the progress and/or actions on IPR that were anticipated under the previous U.S. administration.  Some “Notorious Markets” across the country continue to operate, while many smaller stores sell or deal with pirated content across the country. U.S. and Indian Government officials continued to engage on IPR issues.  U.S. government representatives continued to meet government officials and industry stakeholders on IPR-related matters in 2018 and 2019, including during visits to India by officials from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the U.S. Patent Trademark Office (USPTO), the U.S.  Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, and the Departments of State, Commerce, and Agriculture. India has made efforts to streamline its IP framework through administrative actions and awareness programs and is in the process of reducing its decade-long backlog of patent and trademark applications.  India also addresses IPR in its recently established Commercial Courts, Commercial Divisions, and Commercial Appellate Divisions within India’s High Courts.

U.S. and Indian Government officials continued to engage on IPR issues.  U.S. government representatives continued to meet government officials and industry stakeholders on IPR-related matters in 2018 and 2019, including during visits to India by officials from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the U.S. Patent Trademark Office (USPTO), the U.S.  Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, and the Departments of State, Commerce, and Agriculture. India has made efforts to streamline its IP framework through administrative actions and awareness programs and is in the process of reducing its decade-long backlog of patent and trademark applications.  India also addresses IPR in its recently established Commercial Courts, Commercial Divisions, and Commercial Appellate Divisions within India’s High Courts.

Although India’s copyright laws were amended in 2012, the amendments have not been fully implemented. Without an active copyright board in place to determine royalty rates for authors, weak enforcement of copyright regulations, and the widespread issue of pirated copyrighted materials are all contributing factors to why copyright law requires more emphasis on implementation.

The Delhi High Court diluted the publishing industry’s and authors’ rights and expanded the definition of fair use judgment, by allowing photocopiers to copy an entire book for educational purposes without seeking prior permission of the copyright holder.  The movie industry identified new illegal cam cording hubs of operation in Indore and Noida, and the Telangana police cracked down on two syndicates that used under-age children to illegally record movies.  After years of advocacy by industry groups, especially the Indian office of the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the GOI released a draft Cinematography Bill for comment in December 2018, which contained anti-cam cording legislation.  Industry groups welcomed this move, which included criminal and financial penalties for offenders.  The bill is now awaiting Parliamentary approval.  However, the penalties for infringement and IP theft are significantly weakened from those suggested in the initial draft legislation in 2013.

The music industry remains concerned about a Section 31D memorandum that the Department of Industry and Policy Promotion (DIPP), now DPIIT,-issued announced in September 2016 to announce that all online transmissions fall under the statutory licensing provisions of section 31D of the Copyright Act.  The memo places internet service providers on par with radio broadcasters, allowing them to provide music on their websites by paying the same royalties to copyright societies, two percent of ad revenues.  The industry argues that most of the websites have little to no ad revenue, and some may be hosted on servers outside India, which makes collection of royalties challenging.  However, in February 2017, India issued a notice to all event organizers that they would have to pay music royalties to artists when played at an event. On a more positive note, in April 2019, the Bombay High Court issued its decision in Tips Industries LTD v. Wynk Music LTD (Airtel) that statutory licensing under section 31D of the Copyright Act does not cover Internet transmissions (streaming), but rather is limited to traditional television and radio broadcasts.  The Court also stated that Section 31D was an exception to copyright and must be distinctly interpreted.   It is not clear if this judgement will move the Government of India to withdraw DPIIT’s 2016 memo. However, in 2019, the DPIIT proposed amendments to the Copyright Rules that would, in contravention to the plain statutory text, broaden the scope of the statutory licensing exception to encompass not only radio and television broadcasting, but also Internet broadcasting.

2018 was a year of great difficulty in the agriculture and biotechnology space, which has been reeling from the aftermath of a coordinated attack in 2016 and 2017 on the Monsanto Corporation’s India operations (reported in our 2016 and 2017 Special 301 submissions).  In 2017, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act (PPVFRA) removed the long-standing requirement for breeders to produce a “No-Objection-Certificate” from the patentee of a particular genetically modified (GM) trait.  The move was nearly unprecedented and removed a key preemptive tool for breeders to diligently ensure stakeholders are consulted and patentee’s innovations are not being infringed upon or used without permission.

In April 2018, the Delhi High Court judgment struck down a patent held by Monsanto in a summary judgment.  In a series of decisions on this matter, most recently in August, 2019, the Supreme Court overturned Delhi High Court Divisional Bench judgement of April 2018 and reinstated the March 2017 Single Judge decision, pointing to the Divisional Bench failing to have confined itself to the examination of the validity of the order of injunction granted by the Single Judge 2017 decision.   Issues remain complex and unsettled.  The GM Licensing Guidelines remain in draft form but could have significant and wide-ranging implications for Monsanto and many other IP holders.  Moreover, follow-on decisions and administrative legal actions could set important Indian legal precedents for stopping a patent, the role of the PVPFRA and its relationship to biological innovation, the application of administrative regulations regarding price and term of a patent, and the interplay between the Patents Act, PVPFRA, and the Biodiversity Act.  It is worth noting that in December 2015, Monsanto terminated more than 40 of its license agreements with Indian companies for nonpayment of licensing fees.  The Indian licensees subsequently challenged Monsanto’s patents in court on several grounds, including challenging the validity of the patent and efficacy of the technology.

The Government of India’s refusal to repudiate Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare’s GM licensing guidelines has already resulted in withdrawal of next-generation innovative biotechnology from the Indian marketplace and has given pause to many other companies who seek to protect their innovative products.  Other biotech-led industries are also following this development and are greatly concerned, as the action reaches beyond compulsory licensing under the Patents Act.

Indian law still does not provide any statutory protection for trade secrets. After a workshop conducted in October 2016, DIPP agreed to provide guidance to start-ups on trade secrets.  The Designs Act allows for the registration of industrial designs and affords a 15-year term of protection.

Other long-standing concerns remain. Since 2012, outstanding concerns that have not been addressed either in the IP Policy or by Government of India include; Section 3(d) of India’s Patent Act, which creates confusing criteria on “enhanced efficacy” for the patentability of pharmaceutical products;  draft biotechnology licensing regulations from the Ministry of Agriculture which are mandatory, overly prescriptive, and  severely limit the value of IPR; remaining lack of clarity on the conditions under which compulsory licensing may be allowed; lack of a copyright board; lack of a trade secrets law; lack of data exclusivity legislation; lack of an early dispute resolution mechanism for patents ; lack of a legislative framework facilitating public-private partnership in government-funded research  (along the lines of  Bayh-Dole in the United States); weak IP enforcement; and overall unwillingness to make IPR a priority within the Indian government.  All these measures across various sectors create uncertainty at best, and at worst perceptions of a hostile business environment.

In addition, the Patent Act requires patentees to regularly report on a commercial scale “the working” of their patents.  This is implemented by filing a required annual form called Form 27 on patent working.  The current requirement to file Form 27 is not only onerous and costly for patentees and ill-suited to the reality of patented technology, it also hinders any incentives to invent and advance innovation.

Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) and fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) licensing criteria and systems are another concerning area.  Discussions on FRAND licensing terms restarted in 2019 but did not include stakeholders.  Several cases are pending before the Delhi High Court surrounding the issue of royalty payments for standard essential patents.  While initial indications from Delhi High Court proceedings are encouraging, a 2016 GOI discussion paper on SEPs raised concerns related to active government involvement in setting standards and determining FRAND royalties.  Some decisions from the Competition Commission of India (CCI) have been inconsistent with the Delhi High Court, creating confusion related to the development of SEP policy and practices in India.

Another area of concern is the global blocking order against “Intermediaries”.  A Delhi High Court judge issued an interim injunction directing Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other “intermediaries” to remove – on a global basis – content uploaded to their platforms allegedly defaming the guru Baba Ramdev.  The judgment moved beyond traditional “geo-blocking,” in which take down orders are limited to specific geographic regions.  Facebook has challenged the judgment before a Division Bench.

In 2019, we observed that public notice and comment procedures on policy – including on IPR related issues – were often not followed.  Stakeholders were not properly notified of meetings with agencies to discuss concerns, including for changes to critical issues like price controls on medical devices or changes to key policies.  Moreover, Mission India remains concerned that when stakeholder input is solicited, it is often disregarded and/or ignored during the final determination of a policy.

India actively engages at multilateral negotiations, including the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council.  As a result, in April 2017, the MOHFW issued a notification that amended the manufacturing license form (Form 44), taking out any requirement to notify the regulator if the drug, for which manufacturing approval was being sought, is under patent or not.  The GOI cited their view that Form 44 provisions were outside the scope of their WTO TRIPS agreement commitments as justification for the change.  Industry contracts point to the clear benefit this change has delivered to the Indian generic pharmaceutical industry, which now has an even easier path to manufacture patented drugs for years, while IP holders are forced to discover the violation and challenge the infringement in separate courts.  These negotiations will have an impact on innovation, trade, and investment in IP-intensive products and services.

Developments Strengthening the Rights of IP Holders

Clarification of Patentability Criteriathe Delhi High Court added clarity on the matter of the patentability criterion under Section 3(k) of the India Patents Act, ruling in Ferid Allani vs UOI & Ors that there is no absolute bar on the patentability of computer programs.  Additionally, ‘technical effect’ or ‘technical contribution’ must be taken into consideration during examination when determining the patent eligibility of a computer program.

Bombay High Court Clarifies 31(D) of the Copyright Act: Ruling on “Tips Industries vs. Wynk Music,” the Bombay High Court stated that the extension of the Copyright Act, 2016’s Section 31(D) to the internet is flawed logic and unsound in law.  The court also noted that Section 31(D) is an exception to copyright and must be strictly interpreted.  It is to be seen if this judgement helps Government of India in withdrawing of DPIIT memo of 2016.

Delhi High Court Confronts Online Piracy: The Delhi High Court decided that approved site take down requests will apply to those sites with addresses specifically listed in the request as well as similar sites that operate under different addresses.  This “dynamic injunction” is meant to eliminate the need for complainants to approach courts with new requests should a banned site reappear under a new address.

The Delhi High Court in July 2019 took steps to address the “gridlock” of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB).  IPAB was established in 2003 to adjudicate appeals over patents, trademarks, copyrights, and other decisions, but lacked the necessary number of technical members to form a quorum and make judgements, resulting in a significant backlog.  To clear the backlog of cases, the court decided that until the appointments were filled, the chairman and available technical members could issue decisions despite lacking a quorum.  If no technical members were available, the IPAB chairman could consult a scientific advisor from the panel of scientific advisors appointed under Section 115 of the 1970 Patents Act.  Additionally, in October 2019, the court permitted the current IPAB chairman to serve past his term – which ended in September 2019, reinstating him until a replacement takes over.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Total market capitalization of the Indian equity market stood around $2.2 trillion as of December 31, 2019. The benchmark Standard and Poor’s (S&P) BSE (erstwhile Bombay Stock Exchange) Sensex recorded gains of about 14 percent in 2019. Nonetheless, Indian equity markets were tumultuous throughout 2019. The BSE Sensex generally gained from the beginning of the year until July 5, when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced a tax increase on foreign portfolio investment in her post-election Union Budget for the remainder for FY 2020.  The Sensex declined, erasing all previous gains for the year as the new tax led to a rapid exodus of foreign portfolio investors from the market.  The market continued to fluctuate even after the tax increase was repealed on August 23 until September 20, when the Finance Minister made a surprise announcement to slash corporate tax rates.  After that, the Sensex surged and hit a record high of 41,854 on December 20. However, even as the benchmark Sensex hit record highs, the midcap and small cap indices disappointed investors with a year of negative returns.  The Sensex’s advance was driven by a handful of stocks; two in particular Reliance Industries Ltd. and ICICI Bank Ltd. accounted for about half the gain.   Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs), pumped a net of over $14 billion into India’s equity markets in 2019, making it their highest such infusion in six years.  In 2018, FPIs pulled out $ 4.64 billion from the market.  Domestic money also continued to flow into equity markets via systematic investment plans (SIP) of mutual funds.  SIP assets under management hit an all-time high of $43.94 billion in November, according to data from the Association of Mutual Funds of India.

Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs), pumped a net of over $14 billion into India’s equity markets in 2019, making it their highest such infusion in six years.  In 2018, FPIs pulled out $ 4.64 billion from the market.  Domestic money also continued to flow into equity markets via systematic investment plans (SIP) of mutual funds.  SIP assets under management hit an all-time high of $43.94 billion in November, according to data from the Association of Mutual Funds of India.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is considered one of the most progressive and well-run of India’s regulatory bodies.  It regulates India’s securities markets, including enforcement activities, and is India’s direct counterpart to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  SEBI oversees three national exchanges: the BSE Ltd. (formerly the Bombay Stock Exchange), the National Stock Exchange (NSE), and the Metropolitan Stock Exchange.  SEBI also regulates the three national commodity exchanges: the Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX), the National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Limited, and the National Multi-Commodity Exchange.

Foreign venture capital investors (FVCIs) must register with SEBI to invest in Indian firms.  They can also set up domestic asset management companies to manage funds.  All such investments are allowed under the automatic route, subject to SEBI and RBI regulations, and to FDI policy.  FVCIs can invest in many sectors, including software, information technology, pharmaceuticals and drugs, biotechnology, nanotechnology, biofuels, agriculture, and infrastructure.  Companies incorporated outside India can raise capital in India’s capital markets through the issuance of Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs) based on SEBI guidelines.  Standard Chartered Bank, a British bank which was the first foreign entity to list in India in June 2010, remains the only foreign firm to have issued IDRs.

Companies incorporated outside India can raise capital in India’s capital markets through the issuance of Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs) based on SEBI guidelines.  Standard Chartered Bank, a British bank which was the first foreign entity to list in India in June 2010, remains the only foreign firm to have issued IDRs.  External commercial borrowing (ECB), or direct lending to Indian entities by foreign institutions, is allowed if it conforms to parameters such as minimum maturity, permitted and non-permitted end-uses, maximum all-in-cost ceiling as prescribed by the RBI, funds are used for outward FDI, or for domestic investment in industry, infrastructure, hotels, hospitals, software, self-help groups or microfinance activities, or to buy shares in the disinvestment of public sector entities: https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=47736.

Total external commercial borrowings through both the approval and automatic route increased 61.45 percent year-on-year to $50.15 billion as of December 2019, according to the Reserve Bank of India’s data.

The RBI has taken a number of steps in the past few years to bring the activities of the offshore Indian rupee market in Non Deliverable Forwards (NDF) onshore, in order to deepen domestic markets, enhance downstream benefits, and generally obviate the need for an NDF market.  FPIs with access to currency futures or the exchange-traded currency options market can hedge onshore currency risks in India and may directly trade in corporate bonds. In October 2019, the RBI allowed banks to freely offer foreign exchange quotes to non-resident Indians at all times and said trading on rupee derivatives would be allowed and settled in foreign currencies in the International Financial Services Centers (IFSCs).  This was based on the recommendations of the task force on offshore rupee markets to examine and recommend appropriate policy measures to ensure the stability of the external value of the Rupee (https://m.rbi.org.in/Scripts/PublicationReportDetails.aspx?UrlPage=&ID=937).    The International Financial Services Centre at Gujarat International Financial Tec-City (GIFT City) in Gujarat is being developed to compete with global financial hubs.  The BSE was the first to start operations there, in January 2016.  The NSE and domestic banks including Yes Bank, Federal Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, IDBI Bank, State Bank of India, and IndusInd Bank have started IFSC banking units in GIFT city.  Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of America started operations in GIFT City in 2019.

The International Financial Services Centre at Gujarat International Financial Tec-City (GIFT City) in Gujarat is being developed to compete with global financial hubs.  The BSE was the first to start operations there, in January 2016.  The NSE and domestic banks including Yes Bank, Federal Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, IDBI Bank, State Bank of India, and IndusInd Bank have started IFSC banking units in GIFT city.  Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of America started operations in GIFT City in 2019.

Money and Banking System

The public sector remains predominant in the banking sector, with public sector banks (PSBs) accounting for about 66 percent of total banking sector assets. Although most large PSBs are listed on exchanges, the government’s stakes in these banks often exceeds the 51 percent legal minimum. Aside from the large number of state-owned banks, directed lending and mandatory holdings of government paper are key facets of the banking sector. The RBI requires commercial banks and foreign banks with more than 20 branches to allocate 40 percent of their loans to priority sectors which include agriculture, small and medium enterprises, export-oriented companies, and social infrastructure. Additionally, all banks are required to invest 18.25 percent of their net demand and time liabilities in government securities. The RBI plans to reduce this by 25 basis points every quarter until the investment requirement reaches 18 percent of their net demand and time liabilities.

PSBs currently face two significant hurdles: capital constraints and poor asset quality. As of September 2019, gross non-performing loans represented 9.3 percent of total loans in the banking system, with the public sector banks having an even larger share at 12.7 percent of their loan portfolio. The PSBs’ asset quality deterioration in recent years is driven by their exposure to a broad range of industrial sectors including infrastructure, metals and mining, textiles, and aviation. With the new bankruptcy law (IBC) in place, banks are making progress in non-performing asset recognition and resolution. As of December 2019, the resolution processes have been approved in 190 cases Lengthy legal challenges have posed the greatest obstacle, as time spent on litigation was not counted against the 270 day deadline.

In July 2019, Parliament amended the IBC to require final resolution within 330 days including litigation time. To address asset quality challenges faced by public sector banks, the government injected $30 billion into public sector banks in recent years. The capitalization largely aimed to address the capital inadequacy of public sector banks and marginally provide for growth capital. Following the recapitalization, public sector banks’ total capital adequacy ratio (CRAR) improved to 13.5 percent in September 2019 from 12.2 in March 2019. In 2019, the Indian authorities also announced a consolidation plan entailing a merger of 10 public sector banks into 4, thereby reducing the total number of public sector banks from 18 to 12.

Women in the Financial Sector

Women in India receive a smaller portion of financial support relative to men, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. In 2015, the Modi government started the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Ltd. (MUDRA), which supports the development of micro-enterprises. The initiative encourages women’s participation and offers collateral-free loans of around $15,000. The Acting Finance Minister Piyush Goyal while delivering the 2019 budget speech mentioned that 70 percent of the beneficiaries of MUDRA initiative are women. Under the MUDRA initiative, 155.6 million loans have been disbursed amounting to $103 billion. Following the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) 2017, government agency the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), launched a Women’s Entrepreneurship Platform, https://wep.gov.in/, a single window information hub which provides information on a range of issues including access to finance, marketing, existing government programs, incubators, public and private initiatives, and mentoring. About 5,000 members are currently registered and using the services of the portal said a NITI Aayog officer who has an oversight of the project.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The RBI, under the Liberalized Remittance Scheme, allows individuals to remit up to $250,000 per fiscal year (April-March) out of the country for permitted current account transactions (private visit, gift/donation, going abroad on employment, emigration, maintenance of close relatives abroad, business trip, medical treatment abroad, studies abroad) and certain capital account transactions (opening of foreign currency account abroad with a bank, purchase of property abroad, making investments abroad, setting up Wholly Owned Subsidiaries and Joint Ventures outside of India, extending loans). The INR is fully convertible only in current account transactions, as regulated under the Foreign Exchange Management Act regulations of 2000 (https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/Fema.aspx ).

Foreign exchange withdrawal is prohibited for remittance of lottery winnings; income from racing, riding or any other hobby; purchase of lottery tickets, banned or proscribed magazines; football pools and sweepstakes; payment of commission on exports made towards equity investment in Joint Ventures or Wholly Owned Subsidiaries of Indian companies abroad; and remittance of interest income on funds held in a Non-Resident Special Rupee Scheme Account (https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_ViewMasDirections.aspx?id=10193#sdi ). Furthermore, the following transactions require the approval of the Central Government: cultural tours; remittance of hiring charges for transponders for television channels under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and Internet Service Providers under the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology; remittance of prize money and sponsorship of sports activity abroad if the amount involved exceeds $100,000; advertisement in foreign print media for purposes other than promotion of tourism, foreign investments and international bidding (over $10,000) by a state government and its public sector undertakings (PSUs); and multi-modal transport operators paying remittances to their agents abroad. RBI approval is required for acquiring foreign currency above certain limits for specific purposes including remittances for: maintenance of close relatives abroad; any consultancy services; funds exceeding 5 percent of investment brought into India or USD $100,000, whichever is higher, by an entity in India by way of reimbursement of pre-incorporation expenses.

Capital account transactions are open to foreign investors, though subject to various clearances. NRI investment in real estate, remittance of proceeds from the sale of assets, and remittance of proceeds from the sale of shares may be subject to approval by the RBI or FIPB.

FIIs may transfer funds from INR to foreign currency accounts and back at market exchange rates. They may also repatriate capital, capital gains, dividends, interest income, and compensation from the sale of rights offerings without RBI approval. The RBI also authorizes automatic approval to Indian industry for payments associated with foreign collaboration agreements, royalties, and lump sum fees for technology transfer, and payments for the use of trademarks and brand names. Royalties and lump sum payments are taxed at 10 percent.

The RBI has periodically released guidelines to all banks, financial institutions, NBFCs, and payment system providers regarding Know Your Customer (KYC) and reporting requirements under Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)/Common Reporting Standards (CRS). The government’s July 7, 2015 notification (https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/content/pdfs/CKYCR2611215_AN.pdf ) amended the Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Rules, 2005, (Rules), for setting up of the Central KYC Records Registry (CKYCR)—a registry to receive, store, safeguard and retrieve the KYC records in digital form of clients.

Remittance Policies

Remittances are permitted on all investments and profits earned by foreign companies in India once taxes have been paid. Nonetheless, certain sectors are subject to special conditions, including construction, development projects, and defense, wherein the foreign investment is subject to a lock-in period. Profits and dividend remittances as current account transactions are permitted without RBI approval following payment of a dividend distribution tax.

Foreign banks may remit profits and surpluses to their headquarters, subject to compliance with the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. Banks are permitted to offer foreign currency-INR swaps without limits for the purpose of hedging customers’ foreign currency liabilities. They may also offer forward coverage to non-resident entities on FDI deployed since 1993.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The FY 2016 the Indian government established the National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), touted as India’s first sovereign wealth fund to promote investments in the infrastructure sector. The government agreed to contribute $3 billion to the fund, while an additional $3 billion will be raised from the private sector primarily from sovereign wealth funds, multilateral agencies, endowment funds, pension funds, insurers, and foreign central banks. So far, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Australian Super, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Temasek, Axis Bank, HDFC Group, ICICI Bank and Kotak Mahindra Life Insurance have committed investments into the NIIF Master Fund, alongside Government of India. NIIF Master Fund now has $2.1 billion in commitments with a focus on core infrastructure sectors including transportation, energy and urban infrastructure.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The government owns or controls interests in key sectors with significant economic impact, including infrastructure, oil, gas, mining, and manufacturing. The Department of Public Enterprises (http://dpe.gov.in ), controls and formulates all the policies pertaining to SOEs, and is headed by a minister to whom the senior management reports. The Comptroller and Auditor General audits the SOEs. The government has taken a number of steps to improve the performance of SOEs, also called the Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), including improvements to corporate governance. Reforms carried out in the 1990s focused on liberalization and deregulation of most sectors and disinvestment of government shares. These and other steps to strengthen CPSE boards and enhance transparency evolved into a more comprehensive governance approach, culminating in the Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-Owned Enterprises issued in 2007 and their mandatory implementation beginning in 2010. Governance reforms gained prominence for several reasons: the important role that CPSEs continue to play in the Indian economy; increased pressure on CPSEs to improve their competitiveness as a result of exposure to competition and hard budget constraints; and new listings of CPSEs on capital markets.

According to the Public Enterprise Survey 2018-19 as of March 2019 there were 348 central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) with a total investment of $234 billion, of which 248 are operating CPSEs. The report puts the number of profit-making CPSEs at 178, while 70 CPSEs were incurring losses. The government tried to unsuccessfully privatize the state-run loss- incurring airline Air India.

Foreign investments are allowed in the CPSEs in all sectors. The Master List of CPSEs can be accessed at http://www.bsepsu.com/list-cpse.asp.  While the CPSEs face the same tax burden as the private sector, on issues like procurement of land they receive streamlined licensing that private sector enterprises do not.

Privatization Program

Despite the financial upside to disinvestment in loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the government has not generally privatized its assets as they have led to job losses in the past, and therefore engender political risks. Instead, the government has adopted a gradual disinvestment policy that dilutes government stakes in public enterprises without sacrificing control. Such disinvestment has been undertaken both as fiscal support and as a means of improving the efficiency of SOEs.

In recent years, however the government has begun to look to disinvestment proceeds as a major source of revenue to finance its fiscal deficit. For the first time in seven years, the government met its disinvestment target in fiscal year 2017-18, generating $15.38 billion against a target of $11.15 billion. For FY 2020, the government increased the disinvestment target of $12.3 billion but managed to generate only $2.5 billion till December 2019 The Government of India’s plan to sell state-owned carrier Air India could not happen in FY 2020. The Indian Government constituted inter-ministerial panel recommended 100 percent stake sale in Air India to make it more lucrative as against a 76 percent stake sale last year. Government did say that they have received some good bids, but the process might go to a back burner because of the COVID19 pandemic and its resulting impact on the economy.

Foreign institutional investors can participate in these disinvestment programs subject to these limits: 24 percent of the paid-up capital of the Indian company and 10 percent for non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin. The limit is 20 percent of the paid-up capital in the case of public sector banks. There is no bidding process. The shares of the SOEs being disinvested are sold in the open market. Detailed policy procedures relating to disinvestment in India can be accessed at: https://dipam.gov.in/disinvestment-policy 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Among Indian companies there is a general awareness of standards for responsible business conduct. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) administers the Companies Act of 2013 and is responsible for regulating the corporate sector in accordance with the law. The MCA is also responsible for protecting the interests of consumers by ensuring competitive markets.

The Companies Act of 2013 also established the framework for India’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) laws. While the CSR obligations are mandated by law, non-government organizations (NGOs) in India also track CSR activities provide recommendations in some cases for effective use of CSR funds. MCA released the National Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct, 2018 (NGRBC) on March 13, 2019 (an improvement over the existing National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental & Economic Responsibilities of Business, 2011), as a means to nudge businesses to contribute towards wider development goals while seeking to maximize their profits. The NGRBC is dovetailed with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs).

A CRISIL study reported that cumulative spending on CSR since it was mandated is more than $ 7 billion (Rs.50,000 crores) including $ 4.85 billion (Rs. 34,000 crores) by listed companies and nearly $ 2.7 billion (Rs.19,000 crores) by unlisted ones. The study further noted that overall, 1,913 companies met the government’s eligibility criteria but 667 of them could not spend for various reasons. About 153 companies spent 3 percent or more as against the mandated 2 percent of profits. In terms of spending, energy companies were front runners to spend $ 322 million (Rs. 2,253 crore) or 23 percent of the overall spending followed by manufacturing, financial services and information technology services. The preferred spending heads were education, skill development, healthcare, and sanitation and preferred areas being National Capital region, Karnataka and Maharashtra. The study however noted that there could be shrink both in terms of number of companies and their total spend after the Companies (Amendment) Act 2017 where the eligibility criteria is now based on financials of the “immediately preceding financial year” rather than the earlier stipulation of “any three preceding “immediately preceding financial year” rather than the earlier stipulation of “any three preceding financial years.”

India does not adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. There are provisions to promote responsible business conduct throughout the supply chain.

India is not a member of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) nor is it a member of Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

9. Corruption

India is a signatory to the United Nation’s Conventions Against Corruption and is a member of the G20 Working Group against corruption. India showed marginal improvement and scored 41 out of 100 in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index, with a ranking of 78 out of the 180 countries surveyed (as compared to a score of 40 out of 100 and ranked 81 in 2017).

Corruption is addressed by the following laws: the Companies Act, 2013; the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002; the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; the Code of Criminal Procedures, 1973; the Indian Contract Act, 1872; and the Indian Penal Code of 1860. Anti- corruption laws amended since 2004 have granted additional powers to vigilance departments in government ministries at the central and state levels. The amendments also elevated the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to be a statutory body. In addition, the Comptroller and Auditor General is charged with performing audits on public-private-partnership contracts in the infrastructure sector on the basis of allegations of revenue loss to the exchequer.

In November 2016, the Modi government ordered that INR 1000 and 500 notes, comprising approximately 86 percent of cash in circulation, be demonetized to curb “black money,” corruption, and the financing of terrorism. An August 2018 RBI report stated 99 percent of demonetized cash was deposited in legitimate bank accounts, leading analysts to question if the exercise enabled criminals to launder money into the banking system. Digital transactions increased due to demonetization, as mobile banking inclusion jumped from 40 percent to 60 percent of the populace. India is investigating 1.8 million bank accounts and 200 individuals associated with unusual deposits during demonetization, and banks’ suspicious transaction reports quadrupled to 473,000 in 2016. On August 7, SEBI directed stock exchanges to restrict trading and audit 162 suspected shell companies on the basis of large cash deposits during demonetization.

The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act of 2016 entered into effect in November 2016, and strengthened the legal and administrative procedures of the Benami Transactions Act 1988, which was ultimately never notified. (Note: A benami property is held by one person, but paid for by another, often with illicit funds.) Analysts expect the government to issue a roadmap in 2017-2018 to begin implementing the Act. In May 2017, the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 came into effect. The Act will regulate India’s real estate sector, which is notorious for its corruption and lack of transparency.

In November 2016, India and Switzerland signed a joint declaration to enter into an Agreement on the Exchange of Information (AEOI) to automatically share financial information on accounts held by Indian residents, beginning in 2018. India also amended its Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Singapore, Cyprus, and Mauritius in 2016 to prevent income tax evasion. The move follows the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015, which replaced the Income Tax (IT) Act of 1961 regarding the taxation of foreign income. The new Act penalizes the concealment of foreign income, as well as provides criminal liability for foreign income tax evasion.

In February 2014, the government enacted the Whistleblower Act, intended to protect anti- corruption activists, but it has yet to be implemented. Experts believe that the prosecution of corruption has been effective only among the lower levels of the bureaucracy; senior bureaucrats have generally been spared. Businesses consistently cite corruption as a significant obstacle to FDI in India and identify government procurement as a process particularly vulnerable to corruption. To make the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014 more effective, the government proposed an amendment bill in 2015. This bill is still pending with the Upper House of Parliament; however anti-corruption activists have expressed concern that the bill will dilute the Act by creating exemptions for state authorities, allowing them to stay out of reach of whistleblowers.

The Companies Act of 2013 established rules related to corruption in the private sector by mandating mechanisms for the protection of whistle blowers, industry codes of conduct, and the appointment of independent directors to company boards. As yet, the government has established no monitoring mechanism, and it is unclear the extent to which these protections have been instituted. No legislation focuses particularly on the protection of NGOs working on corruption issues, though the Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2011, may afford some protection once it has been fully implemented.

In 2013, Parliament enacted the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, which created a national anti- corruption ombudsman and requires states to create state-level ombudsmen within one year of the law’s passage. Till December 2018, the government had not appointed an ombudsman. (Note: An ombudsman was finally appointed in March 2019.)

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

India is a signatory to the United Nations Conventions against Corruption and is a member of the G20 Working Group against Corruption. India is not party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

Matt Ingeneri
Economic Growth Unit Chief U.S. Embassy New Delhi Shantipath, Chanakyapuri New Delhi
+91 11 2419 8000 ingeneripm@state.gov

Ashutosh Kumar Mishra
Executive Director
Transparency International, India
Lajpat Bhawan, Room no.4
Lajpat Nagar,
New Delhi – 110024 +91 11 2646 0826
info@transparencyindia.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Prime Minister Modi’s BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government won a decisive mandate in the May 2019 elections, winning a larger majority in the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) than in 2014. The new government’s first 100 days of its second term were marked by the removal of special constitutional status from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) The government’s decision to remove J&K autonomy was preceded by a heavy paramilitary build-up in the State, arrests of local opposition leaders, and cutting of mobile phone and Internet services. Internet connections have since been largely opened, but with continued severe limitations on data download speeds to the extent that everyday activities of Kashmiris often take hours or need to be completed outside the region.

A number of areas of India suffered from terrorist attacks by separatists, including Jammu and Kashmir and some states in India’s northeast.

In December 2019, the government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which promises fast-tracked citizenship to applicants from six minority religious groups from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, but does not offer a similar privilege to Muslims from these countries. The new law sparked widespread protests that sometimes-included violence by demonstrators, government supporters, and security services.

Travelers to India are invited to visit the U.S. Department of State travel advisory website at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/india.html for the latest information and travel resources.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Although there are more than 20 million unionized workers in India, unions still represent less than 5 percent of the total work force. Most of these unions are linked to political parties. Unions are typically strong in state-owned enterprises. A majority of the unionized work force can be found in the railroads, port & dock, banking and insurance sectors. According to provisional figures form the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE), over 1.74 million workdays were lost to strikes and lockouts during 2018. Labor unrest occurs throughout India, though the reasons and affected sectors vary widely. A majority of the labor problems are the result of workplace disagreements over pay, working conditions, and union representation.

India’s labor regulations are very stringent and complex, and over time have limited the growth of the formal manufacturing sector. In an effort to reduce the number of labor related statutes, the Indian parliament passed the Code on Wages legislation in 2019. This Code combines four previously existing statutes- The Payment of Wages Act, the Minimum Wages Act, the Payment of Bonus Act, and the Equal Renumeration Act- into one code to simplify compliance procedures for employers. Minimum industrial wages vary by state, ranging from about $2.20 per day for unskilled laborers to over $9.30 per day for skilled production workers.  Retrenchment, closure, and layoffs are governed by the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947, which requires prior government permission to lay off workers or close businesses employing more than 100 people, although some states including Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra have increased the threshold to 300 people. RBI approval is also required for foreign banks to close branches.  Permission is generally difficult to obtain, which has resulted in the increasing use of contract workers (i.e. non- permanent employees) to circumvent the law.  Private firms successfully downsize through voluntary retirement schemes.

Since the current government assumed office in 2014, much of the movement on labor laws has taken place at the state level, particularly in Rajasthan, where the government has passed major amendments to allow for quicker hiring, firing, laying off, and shutting down of businesses. The Ministry of Labor and Employment launched a web portal in 2014 to assist companies in filing a single online report on compliance with 16 labor-related laws. The government has also drafted a Code on Industrial Relations that is currently being reviewed by a parliamentary committee. India’s major labor unions have opposed labor reforms, arguing that they compromise workers’ safety and job security.

In March 2017, the Maternity Benefits Act was amended to increase the paid maternity leave for women from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.  The amendment also makes it mandatory for all industrial establishments employing 50 or more workers to have a creche for babies to enable nursing mothers to feed the child up to 4 times in a day.

In August 2016, the Child Labor Act was amended establishing a minimum age of 14 years for work and 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work. In December 2016, the government promulgated legislation enabling employers to pay worker salaries through checks or e-payment in addition to the prevailing practice of cash payment.

There are no reliable unemployment statistics for India due to the informal nature of most employment. A 2019 report from India’s National Statistics Commission claimed that the official unemployment rate in India rose to 6.1 percent in 2018, a 45-year high. In contrast, the unemployment rate was only 2.2 percent the last time when the commission conducted this survey in 2012. The government acknowledges a shortage of skilled labor in high-growth sectors of the economy, including information technology and manufacturing. The current government has established a Ministry of Skill Development and has embarked on a national program to increase skilled labor.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The United States and India signed an Investment Incentive Agreement in 1987. This agreement covered the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and its successor agency, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). DFC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, launched in January 1, 2020, to incorporate OPIC’s programs as well as the Direct Credit Authority of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since 1974, DFC (under its predecessor agency, OPIC) has provided support to over 200 projects in India in the form of loans, investment funds, and political risk insurance.

As of March 2020, DFC’s current outstanding portfolio in India comprises more than $1.7 billion, across 50 projects. These commitments are concentrated in utilities, financial services (including microfinance), and impact investments that include agribusiness and healthcare. 13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 2019 $2.92 trillion 2018 $2.791 trillion https://data.worldbank.org/
country/india
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (stock positions) 2019 $28.34*billion 2019 $45.9 billion https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (stock positions) 2015 $9.2*billion 2018 $5.0 billion https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 15.1% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

*The Indian government source for GDP is: https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/economicsurvey/doc/Statistical-Appendix-in-English.pdf  The Indian government source for FDI statistics is: http://dipp.nic.in/publications/fdi-statistics  and the figure is the cumulative FDI from April 2000 to December 2017. The DIPP figures include equity inflows, reinvested earnings and “other capital,” and are not directly comparable with the BEA data. Outward FDI data has been sourced from: http://ficci.in/study-  page.asp?spid=20933&deskid=54531  

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 456,911 100% Total Outward N/A 100%
Mauritius 141,925 31% N/A N/A N/A
Singapore 94,651 21% N/A N/A N/A
Japan 33,081 7% N/A N/A N/A
Netherlands 30,884 7% N/A N/A N/A
United States 28,349 6% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Note: Outward Direct InvestmentAccording to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) of the Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the outward FDI from India in equity, loan and guaranteed issue stood at US$ 12.59 billion in FY2018-19.
Source: Inward FDI DIPP, Ministry of Commerce and Industry
Outward Investments (July 2018-December 2018) RBI

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 3,374 100% All Countries 2,010 100% All Countries 1,723 100%
United States 2218 59% United States 614 31% United States 1604 93%
China, P.R. Mainland 605 16% China, P.R. Mainland 605 30% Brazil 51 3%
Luxembourg 317 8% Luxembourg 317 16% Mauritius 27 2%
Mauritius 144 4% Mauritius 117 6% France 20 1%
Indonesia 63 2% Indonesia 63 3% United Kingdom 19 1%

14. Contact for More Information

Matt Ingeneri
Economic Growth Unit Chief
U.S. Embassy New Delhi
Shantipath, Chanakyapuri New Delhi +91 11 2419 8000
+91 11 2419 8000
IngeneriPM@state. gov

Japan

Executive Summary

Japan is the world’s third largest economy, the United States’ fourth largest trading partner,

and was the third largest contributor to U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2018.  The Japanese government actively welcomes and solicits foreign investment and has set ambitious goals for increasing inbound FDI.  Despite Japan’s wealth, high level of development, and general acceptance of foreign investment, inbound FDI stocks, as a share of GDP, are the lowest in the OECD.

Japan’s legal and regulatory climate is highly supportive of investors in many respects.  Courts are independent, but attorney-client privilege does not exist in civil, criminal or administrative matters.  There is no right to have counsel present during criminal or administrative interviews. The country’s regulatory system is improving transparency and developing new regulations in line with international norms.  Capital markets are deep and broadly available to foreign investors.  Japan maintains strong protections for intellectual property rights with generally robust enforcement.  The country remains a large, wealthy, and sophisticated market with world-class corporations, research facilities, and technologies.  Nearly all foreign exchange transactions, including transfers of profits, dividends, royalties, repatriation of capital, and repayment of principal, are freely permitted.  The sectors that have historically attracted the largest foreign direct investment in Japan are electrical machinery, finance, and insurance.

On the other hand, foreign investors in the Japanese market continue to face numerous challenges.  A traditional aversion towards mergers and acquisitions within corporate Japan has inhibited foreign investment, and weak corporate governance has led to low returns on equity and cash hoarding among Japanese firms, although business practices are improving in both areas.  Investors and business owners must also grapple with inflexible labor laws and a highly regimented labor recruitment system that can significantly increase the cost and difficulty of managing human resources.  The Japanese government has recognized many of these challenges and is pursuing initiatives to improve investment conditions.

Levels of corruption in Japan are low, but deep relationships between firms and suppliers may limit competition in certain sectors and inhibit the entry of foreign firms into local markets.

Future changes in Japan’s investment climate are largely contingent on the success of structural reforms to the Japanese economy. Efforts to strengthen corporate governance and increase female and senior citizen labor force participation have the potential to improve Japan’s economic performance.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 18 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 29 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 15 of 127 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2017 USD 129,064  https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 41,310 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Direct inward investment into Japan by foreign investors has been open and free since the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act (the Forex Act) was amended in 1998.  In general, the only requirement for foreign investors making investments in Japan is to submit an ex post facto report to the relevant ministries. The Act was amended in 2019, updating Japan’s foreign investment review regime.  The legislation becomes effective in May 2020 and lowers the ownership threshold for pre-approval notification to the government for foreign investors to 1 percent from 10 percent in industries that could pose risks to national security.  There are waivers for certain categories of investors.

The Japanese Government explicitly promotes inward FDI and has established formal programs to attract it.  In 2013, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced its intention to double Japan’s inward FDI stock to JPY 35 trillion (USD 318 billion) by 2020 and reiterated that commitment in its revised Japan Revitalization Strategy issued in August 2016.  At the end of 2018, Japan’s inward FDI stock was JPY 30.7 trillion (USD 285 billion), 6.2 percent increase over the previous year. The Abe Administration’s interest in attracting FDI is one component of the government’s strategy to reform and revitalize the Japanese economy, which continues to face the long-term challenges of low growth, an aging population, and a shrinking workforce.

The government’s “FDI Promotion Council,” comprised of government ministers and private sector advisors, releases recommendations on improving Japan’s FDI environment.  In a May 2018 report  ( http://www.invest-japan.go.jp/documents/pdf/support_program_en.pdf ), the council decided to launch the Support Program for Regional Foreign Direct Investment in Japan, recommending that local governments formulate a plan to attract foreign companies to their regions.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) are the lead agencies responsible for assisting foreign firms wishing to invest in Japan.  METI and JETRO have together created a “one-stop shop” for foreign investors, providing a single Tokyo location—with language assistance—where those seeking to establish a company in Japan can process the necessary paperwork (details are available at http://www.jetro.go.jp/en/invest/ibsc/ ).  Prefectural and city governments also have active programs to attract foreign investors, but they lack many of the financial tools U.S. states and municipalities use to attract investment.

Foreign investors seeking a presence in the Japanese market or seeking to acquire a Japanese firm through corporate takeovers may face additional challenges, many of which relate more to prevailing business practices rather than to government regulations, though it depends on the sector.  These include an insular and consensual business culture that has traditionally been resistant to unsolicited mergers and acquisitions (M&A), especially when initiated by non-Japanese entities; a lack of independent directors on many company boards (even though this is changing); exclusive supplier networks and alliances between business groups that can restrict competition from foreign firms and domestic newcomers; cultural and linguistic challenges; and labor practices that tend to inhibit labor mobility.  Business leaders have communicated to the Embassy that regulatory and governmental barriers are more likely to exist in mature, heavily regulated sectors than in new industries.

The Japanese Government established an “Investment Advisor Assignment System” in April 2016 in which a State Minister acts as an advisor to select foreign companies with “important” investments in Japan.  The system aims to facilitate consultation between the Japanese Government and foreign firms.  Of the nine companies participating in this initiative, seven are from the United States.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private enterprises have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.  Japan has gradually eliminated most formal restrictions governing FDI.  One remaining restriction limits foreign ownership in Japan’s former land-line monopoly telephone operator, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), to 33 percent.  Japan’s Radio Law and separate Broadcasting Law also limit foreign investment in broadcasters to 20 percent, or 33 percent for broadcasters categorized as “facility-supplying.”  Foreign ownership of Japanese companies invested in terrestrial broadcasters will be counted against these limits.  These limits do not apply to communication satellite facility owners, program suppliers or cable television operators.

The Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act governs investment in sectors deemed to have national security or economic stability implications.  If a foreign investor wants to acquire over one percent of the shares of a listed company in certain designated sectors, it must provide prior notification and obtain approval from the Ministry of Finance and the ministry that regulates the specific industry.  Designated sectors include weapons manufacturers, nuclear power, agriculture, aerospace, forestry, petroleum, electric/gas/water utilities, telecommunications, and leather manufacturing.  There are waivers for certain categories of investors.

U.S. investors, relative to other foreign investors, are not disadvantaged or singled out by any ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted its most recent review of Japan’s trade policies in March 2017 (available at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp451_e.htm ).

The OECD released its biennial Japan economic survey results on April 15, 2019 (available at http://www.oecd.org/japan/economic-survey-japan.htm ).

Business Facilitation

The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is Japan’s investment promotion and facilitation agency.  JETRO operates six Invest Japan Business Support Centers (IBSCs) across Japan that provide consultation services on Japanese incorporation types, business registration, human resources, office establishment, and visa/residency issues.  Through its website (https://www.jetro.go.jp/en/invest/setting_up/ ), the organization provides English-language information on Japanese business registration, visas, taxes, recruiting, labor regulations, and trademark/design systems and procedures in Japan.  While registration of corporate names and addresses can be completed online, most business registration procedures must be completed in person.  In addition, corporate seals and articles of incorporation of newly established companies must be verified by a notary.

According to the 2020 World Bank “Doing Business” Report, it takes eleven days to establish a local limited liability company in Japan.  JETRO reports that establishing a branch office of a foreign company requires one month, while setting up a subsidiary company takes two months.  While requirements vary according to the type of incorporation, a typical business must register with the Legal Affairs Bureau (Ministry of Justice), the Labor Standards Inspection Office (Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare), the Japan Pension Service, the district Public Employment Security Office, and the district tax bureau.  JETRO operates a one-stop business support center in Tokyo so that foreign companies can complete all necessary legal and administrative procedures in one location. In 2017, JETRO launched an online business registration system that allows businesses to register company documents  but cannot be used for the registration of immigration documentation.

No laws exist to explicitly prevent discrimination against women and minorities regarding registering and establishing a business.  Neither special assistance nor mechanisms exist to aid women or underrepresented minorities.

Outward Investment

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) provides a variety of support to Japanese foreign direct investment.  Most support comes in the form of “overseas investment loans,” which can be provided to Japanese companies (investors), overseas Japanese affiliates (including joint ventures), and foreign governments in support of projects with Japanese content, typically infrastructure projects.  JBIC often seeks to support outward FDI projects that aim to develop or secure overseas resources that are of strategic importance to Japan, for example, construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to facilitate sales to Japan.  More information is available at https://www.jbic.go.jp/en/index.html .

Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) supports outward investment by providing exporters and investors insurance that protects them against risks and uncertainty in foreign countries that is not covered by private-sector insurers.

Japan also employs specialized agencies and public private partnerships to target outward investment in specific sectors.  For example, the Fund Corporation for the Overseas Development of Japan’s Information and Communications Technology and Postal Services (JICT) supports overseas investment in global telecommunications, broadcasting, and postal businesses.

Similarly, the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development (JOIN) is a government-funded corporation to invest and participate in transport and urban development projects that involve Japanese companies.  The fund specializes in overseas infrastructure investment projects such as bullet trains, airports, and green city projects with Japanese companies, banks, institutions (i.e., JICA, JBIC, NEXI), and governments.

Finally, the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) is a Japanese government entity administered by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy under METI.  JOGMEC provides equity capital and liability guarantees to Japanese companies for oil and natural gas exploration and production projects.

Japan places no restrictions on outbound investment.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The 1953 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation gives national treatment and most favored nation treatment to U.S. investments in Japan.

As of April 2020, Japan had concluded 34 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) (Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Egypt, Hong Kong SAR, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Kuwait, Laos,  Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Oman, and Kenya).  In addition, Japan has a trilateral investment agreement with China and South Korea.  Japan also has 16 economic partnership agreements (EPA) that include investment chapters (Singapore, ASEAN, Mexico, Malaysia, Philippines, Chile, Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Switzerland, Vietnam, India, Peru, Australia and Mongolia).

On February 1, 2019, Japan – European Union  Economic Partnership Agreement entered into force, which includes provisions related to investment.  The text of the agreement is available online (http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1684&title=EU-Japan-Economic-Partnership-Agreement-texts-of-the-agreement ).

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) went into effect on December 30, 2018.  This agreement includes an investment chapter.  The United States is not a signatory of this agreement.

The United States and Japan have a double taxation treaty, which allows Japan to tax the business profits of a U.S. resident only to the extent that those profits are attributable to a permanent establishment in Japan.  It also provides measures to mitigate double taxation.  This permanent establishment provision, combined with Japan’s corporate tax rate that nears 30 percent, serves to encourage foreign and investment funds to keep their trading and investment operations offshore.

In January 2013, the United States and Japan signed a revision to the bilateral income tax treaty, to bring it into closer conformity with the current tax treaty policies of the United States and Japan.  The revision went into effect in August 2019 after ratification by the U.S Congress.

Japan has concluded 76 double taxation treaties that cover 136 countries and jurisdictions, as of March 1, 2020.  More information is available from the Ministry of Finance: http://www.mof.go.jp/english/tax_policy/tax_conventions/international_182.htm .

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Japan operates a highly centralized regulatory system in which national-level ministries and government organs play a dominant role.  Regulators are generally sophisticated and there is little evidence of explicit discrimination against foreign firms.  Most draft regulations and impact assessments are released for public comment before implementation and are accessible through a unified portal (http://www.e-gov.go.jp/ ).  Law, regulations, and administrative procedures are generally available online in Japanese along with regular publication in an official gazette.  The Japanese government also actively maintains a body of unofficial English translations of some Japanese laws (http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/ ).

Some members of the foreign business community in Japan continue to express concern that Japanese regulators do not seek sufficient formal input from industry stakeholders, instead relying on informal connections between regulators and domestic firms to arrive at regulatory decisions.  This may have the effect of disadvantaging foreign firms which lack the benefit of deep relationships with local regulators.  The United States has encouraged the Japanese government to improve public notice and comment procedures, to ensure consistency and transparency in rule-making, and to give fair consideration to comments received.  The National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), contains a description of Japan’s regulatory regime as it affects foreign exporters and investors.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JISC), administered by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), plays a central role in maintaining Japan Industrial Standards (JIS).  JISC aims to align JIS with international standards.  According to JISC, as of December 31, 2017, 54 percent of Japan’s standards were harmonized with their international counterparts.  Nonetheless, Japan maintains a large number of Japan-specific standards that can complicate efforts to introduce new products to the country.  Japan is a member of the WTO and notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of proposed regulations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Japan is primarily a civil law country based on codified law.  The Constitution and the five major legal codes (Civil, Civil Procedure, Commercial, Criminal, and Criminal Procedure) form the legal basis of the system.  Japan has a fully independent judiciary and a consistently applied body of commercial law.  An Intellectual Property High Court was established in 2005 to expedite trial proceedings in IP cases.  Foreign judgments are recognized and enforced by Japanese courts under certain conditions.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Major laws affecting foreign direct investment (FDI) into Japan include the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act, the Companies Act, and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act.  The Japanese government actively encourages FDI into Japan and has sought over the past decades to ease legal and administrative burdens on foreign investors, including with major reforms to the Companies Act in 2005 and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act in 2008.  The Japanese government amended the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act in 2019.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) holds sole responsibility for enforcing Japanese competition and anti-trust law, although public prosecutors may file criminal charges related to a JFTC finding.  In fiscal year 2018, the JFTC opened investigations against 143 suspected Antimonopoly Act (AMA) violations and completed 120 investigations.  During this same time period, the JFTC issued eight cease and desist orders and issued a total of 261.1 million yen (USD 2.4 million) surcharge payment orders to 18 companies.  In 2019, an amendment to the AMA passed the Diet which granted the JFTC discretion to incentivize cooperation with investigations and adjust surcharges according to the nature and extent of the violation.

The JFTC also reviews proposed “business combinations” (i.e. mergers, acquisitions, increased shareholdings, etc.) to ensure that transactions do not “substantially […] restrain competition in any particular field of trade.” In December 2019, amended merger guidelines and policies were put into force to “deal with business combinations in the digital market.”  Data is given consideration as a competitive asset under these new guidelines along with the network effects characteristic of digital businesses.  The JFTC has expanded authority to review merger cases, including “Non- Notifiable Cases”, when the transaction value is more than JPY40 billion (USD 370 million) and is expected to affect domestic consumers. Further, the amended policies suggest that parties consult with the JFTC voluntarily when the transaction value exceeds JPY40 billion and when one or more of the following factors is met:

(i) When an acquired company has an office in Japan and/or conducts research and development in Japan;

(ii) When an acquired company conducts sales activities targeting domestic consumers, such as developing marketing materials (website, brochures, etc.) in the Japanese language; or

(iii) When the total domestic sales of an acquired company exceed JPY100 million (USD 920,000)

Expropriation and Compensation

Since 1945, the Japanese government has not expropriated any enterprises, and the expropriation or nationalization of foreign investments in Japan is highly unlikely.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Japan has been a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) since 1967 and is also a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).

Enforcement of arbitral awards in Japan are provided for in Japan’s Arbitration Law.  Enforcement in other contracting states is also possible.  The Supreme Court of Japan has denied the enforceability of awards for punitive damages, however.  The Arbitration Law provides that an arbitral award (irrespective of whether or not the seat of arbitration is in Japan) has the same effect as a final and binding judgment.  The Arbitration Law does not distinguish awards rendered in contracting states of the New York Convention and in non-contracting states.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

There have been no major bilateral investment disputes in the past ten years.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Japan Commercial Arbitration Association (JCAA) is the sole permanent commercial arbitral institution in Japan.  Japan’s Arbitration Law is based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law “Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration” (UNCITRAL Model Law).  Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards.

A wide range of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) organization also exists in Japan.  The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has responsibility for regulating and accrediting ADR groups.  A Japanese-language list of accredited organizations is available on the MOJ website: http://www.moj.go.jp/KANBOU/ADR/index.html .

Bankruptcy Regulations

The World Bank 2019 “Doing Business” Report ranked Japan first worldwide for resolving insolvency.  An insolvent company in Japan can face liquidation under the Bankruptcy Act or take one of four roads to reorganization: the Civil Rehabilitation Law; the Corporate Reorganization Law; corporate reorganization under the Commercial Code; or an out-of-court creditor agreement.  The Civil Rehabilitation Law focuses on corporate restructuring in contrast to liquidation, provides stronger protection of debtor assets prior to the start of restructuring procedures, eases requirements for initiating restructuring procedures, simplifies and rationalizes procedures for the examination and determination of liabilities, and improves procedures for approval of rehabilitation plans.

Out-of-court settlements in Japan tend to save time and expense but can lack transparency.  In practice, because 100 percent creditor consensus is required for out-of-court settlements and courts can sanction a reorganization plan with only a majority of creditors’ approval, the last stage of an out-of-court settlement is often a request for a judicial seal of approval.

There are three domestic credit reporting/ credit-monitoring agencies in Japan. They are not government-run.  They are: Japan Credit Information Reference Center Corp. (JICC; https://www.jicc.co.jp/english/index.html ; member companies deal in consumer loans, finance, and credit); Credit Information Center (CIC; https://www.cic.co.jp/en/index.html ; member companies deal in credit cards and credit); and Japan Bankers Association (JBA; https://www.zenginkyo.or.jp/pcic/ ; member companies deal in banking and bank-issued credit cards).  Credit card companies, such as Japan Credit Bureau (JCB), and large banks, such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), also maintain independent databases to monitor and assess credit.

Per Japan’s Banking Act, data and scores from credit reports and credit monitoring databases must be used solely by financial institutions for financial lending purposes.  This information is provided to credit card holders themselves through services provided by credit reporting/credit monitoring agencies.   Increasingly, however, to get around the law real estate companies partner with a “credit guarantee association” and encourage or effectively require tenants to use its services.  According to a 2017 report from the Japan Property Management Association (JPMA), roughly 80 percent of renters in Japan used such a service.  While financial institutions can share data to the databases and receive credit reports by joining the membership of a credit monitoring agency, the agencies themselves, as well as credit card companies and large banks, generally do not necessarily share data with each other.  As such, consumer credit information is generally underutilized and vertically siloed.

A government-run database, the Juminhyo or the “citizen documentation database,” is used for voter registration; confirmation of eligibility for national health insurance, national social security, and child allowances; and checks and registrations related to scholarships, welfare protection, stamp seals (signatures), and immunizations.  The database is strictly confidential, government-controlled, and not shared with third parties or private companies.

For the credit rating of businesses, there are at least seven credit rating agencies (CRAs) in Japan that perform such services, including Moody’s Japan, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Japan, Tokyo Shoko Research, and Teikoku Databank.  See Section 9 for more information on business vetting in Japan.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) maintains an English-language list of national and local investment incentives available to foreign investors on their website: https://www.jetro.go.jp/en/invest/incentive_programs/ .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Japan no longer has free-trade zones or free ports.  Customs authorities allow the bonding of warehousing and processing facilities adjacent to ports on a case-by-case basis.

The National Strategic Special Zones Advisory Council chaired by the Prime Minister has established a total of ten National Strategic Special Zones (NSSZ) to implement selected deregulation measures intended to attract new investment and boost regional growth.  Under the NSSZ framework, designated regions request regulatory exceptions from the central government in support of specific strategic goals defined in each zone’s “master plan,” which focuses on a potential growth area such as labor, education, technology, agriculture, or healthcare.  Any exceptions approved by the central government can be implemented by other NSSZs in addition to the requesting zone.   A revision that would add “advanced data technologies” as one of targeted growth areas for NSSZs is pending Diet approval as of May 1, 2020.   Foreign-owned businesses receive equal treatment in the NSSZs; some measures aim specifically to ease customs and immigration restrictions for foreign investors, such as the “Startup Visa” adopted by the Fukuoka NSSZ.

The Japanese government has also sought to encourage investment in the Tohoku (northeast) region, which was devastated by the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear “triple disaster” of March 11, 2011.  Areas affected by the disaster have been included in a “Special Zone for Reconstruction” that features eased regulatory burdens, tax incentives, and financial support to encourage heightened participation in the region’s economic recovery.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Japan does not maintain performance requirements or requirements for local management participation or local control in joint ventures.

Japan has no general restrictions on data storage.  On January 1, 2020, the U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement went into effect and specifically prohibits data localization measures that restrict where data can be stored and processed.  These rules are extended to financial service suppliers, in circumstances where a financial regulator has the access to data needed to fulfill its regulatory and supervisory mandate.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Secured interests in real property are recognized and enforced.  Mortgages are a standard lien on real property and must be recorded to be enforceable.  Japan has a reliable recording system.  Property can be rented or leased but no sub-lease is legal without the owner’s consent. In the World Bank 2019 “Doing Business” Report, Japan ranks 29 out of 189 economies in the category of Ease of Registering Property. There are bureaucratic steps and fees associated with purchasing improved real property in Japan, even when it is already registered and has a clear title.  The required documentation for property purchases can be burdensome.  Additionally, it is common practice in Japan for property appraisal values to be lower than the actual sale value, increasing the deposit required of the purchaser, as the bank will provide financing only up to the appraisal value.

The Japanese Government is unsure of the titleholders to 4.1 million hectares of land in Japan, roughly 20 percent of all land and an area equivalent in size to the island of Kyushu.  According to a think tank expert on land use, 25 percent of all the land in Japan is registered to people who are no longer alive or otherwise unreachable.  In 2015, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism (MLIT) found that, of 400 randomly selected tracts of land, 46 percent was registered more than 30 years ago and 20 percent was registered more than 50 years ago.  A similar survey by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) found that 20 percent of farmland had a deceased owner and had not been re-registered. The government appointed a group of experts to study the matter, and the Unknown Land Owners Problem Study Group announced the results in a midterm report on June 26, 2017 and in a final report on December 13, 2017 (http://www.kok.or.jp/project/fumei.html ).  It estimated that by 2040 the amount of land without titleholders will increase to 7.2 million hectares.  There are a number of reasons beyond the administrative difficulties of a title transfer as to why land lacks a clear title holder.  They include:  population decline, especially in rural areas; the difficulty of locating heirs, particularly if there are multiple heirs or if the deceased had no children; and the cost of reregistering land under a new name due to tax costs.  Virtually all the large banks, as well as some other private companies, offer loans to purchase property in Japan.

Intellectual Property Rights

Japan maintains a comprehensive and sophisticated intellectual property (IP) regime recognized as among the strongest in the world. In 2020, Japan advanced to sixth place out of 53 countries evaluated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the strength of IP environments as measured by 50 unique indicators.  The government has operated a dedicated “Intellectual Property High Court” to adjudicate IP-related cases since 2005, providing judges with enhanced access to technical experts and the ability to specialize in intellectual property law.  However, weaknesses remain in some areas of Japan’s IP regime, notably in the transparency and predictability of its system for pricing on patented pharmaceuticals.  The discriminatory effect of healthcare reimbursement pricing measures implemented by the GOJ continues to raise serious concerns about the ability of both small and large U.S. pharmaceutical companies, as owners of IP, to have full and fair opportunity to use and profit from their IP in the Japanese market.  More generally, the weak deterrent effect of Japan’s relatively modest penalties for IP infringement remains a cause for concern.

The GOJ has also taken notable steps in recent years to improve protection of trade secrets.  Revisions to the Unfair Competition Prevention Act (UCPA) went into effect July 2019 which classifies the improper acquisition, disclosure, and use of specified protected data as an act of unfair competition, offering civil and criminal remedies to stakeholders. The revisions also extend the scope of unfair competition to include attempts to circumvent technological restriction measures.  Post is not aware of any significant threat to U.S. corporations of trade secret theft by Japanese state-sponsored or corporate-sponsored groups.

Japan has taken a leading role in promoting the expansion of IP rights in recent regional trade agreements.  As part of its 2018 accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Japan passed several substantive amendments to its copyright law, including measures which extended the term of copyright protection and strengthen technological protections.  The Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which went into effect February 1, 2019, includes a substantial IP chapter, as well as inclusion of many additional geographic indications.

Japan’s Customs and Tariff Bureau publishes a yearly report on goods seizures, available online in English (http://www.customs.go.jp/mizugiwa/chiteki/pages/g_001_e.htm ).  Japan seized 13.5 billion yen (USD 124 million) of goods in 2018, an increase of 19.5 percent over 2017.  China is the largest source of seized goods in Japan, accounting for 87 percent of all seizure cases and 80 percent of all seized goods by value.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Japan maintains no formal restrictions on inward portfolio investment except for certain provisions covering national security.  Foreign capital plays an important role in Japan’s financial markets, with foreign investors comprising the majority of trading shares in the country’s stock market.  Historically, many company managers and directors have resisted the actions of activist shareholders, especially foreign private equity funds, potentially limiting the attractiveness of Japan’s equity market to large-scale foreign portfolio investment, although there are signs of change.  Some firms have taken steps to facilitate the exercise of shareholder rights by foreign investors, including the use of electronic proxy voting.  The Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) maintains an Electronic Voting Platform for Foreign and Institutional Investors.  All holdings of TSE-listed stocks are required to transfer paper stock certificates into electronic form.

The Japan Exchange Group (JPX) operates Japan’s two largest stock exchanges – in Tokyo and Osaka – with cash equity trading consolidated on the TSE since July 2013 and derivatives trading consolidated on the Osaka Exchange since March 2014.

In January 2014, the TSE and Nikkei launched the JPX Nikkei 400 Index.  The index puts a premium on company performance, particularly return on equity.  Companies included are determined by such factors as three-year average returns on equity, three-year accumulated operating profits and market capitalization, along with others such as the number of external board members.  Inclusion in the index has become an unofficial “seal of approval” in corporate Japan, and many companies have taken steps, including undertaking share buybacks, to improve their ROE.  The Bank of Japan has purchased JPX-Nikkei 400 ETFs as part of its monetary operations, and Japan’s massive Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) has also invested in JPX-Nikkei 400 ETFs, putting an additional premium on membership in the index.

Japan does not restrict financial flows, and accepts obligations under IMF Article VIII.

Credit is available via multiple instruments, both public and private, although access by foreigners often depends upon visa status and the type of investment.

Money and Banking System

Banking services are easily accessible throughout Japan; it is home to many of the world’s largest private commercial banks as well as an extensive network of regional and local banks.  Most major international commercial banks are also present in Japan, and other quasi-governmental and non-governmental entities, such as the postal service and cooperative industry associations, also offer banking services.  For example, the Japan Agriculture Union offers services through its bank (Norinchukin Bank) to members of the organization.  Japan’s financial sector is generally acknowledged to be sound and resilient, with good capitalization and with a declining ratio of non-performing loans.  While still healthy, most banks have experienced pressure on interest margins and profitability as a result of an extended period of low interest rates capped by the Bank of Japan’s introduction of a negative interest rate policy in 2016.

The country’s three largest private commercial banks, often collectively referred to as the “megabanks,” are Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, Mizuho Financial, and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial.  Collectively, they hold assets approaching USD 7 trillion.  Japan’s second largest bank by assets – with more than USD 2 trillion – is Japan Post Bank, a financial subsidiary of the Japan Post Group that is still majority state-owned, 56.9 percent as of September 2019.  Japan Post Bank offers services via 24,367 Japan Post office branches, at which Japan Post Bank services can be conducted, as well as Japan Post’s network of 29,800 ATMs nationwide.

A large number of foreign banks operate in Japan offering both banking and other financial services.  Like their domestic counterparts, foreign banks are regulated by the Japan Financial Services Agency.  According to the IMF, there have been no observations of reduced or lost correspondent banking relationships in Japan.  There are 438 correspondent banking relationships available to the country’s central bank (main banks: 123; trust banks: 13; foreign banks: 50; credit unions: 248; other: 4).

Foreigners wishing to establish bank accounts must show a passport, visa, and foreigner residence card; temporary visitors may not open bank accounts in Japan.  Other requirements (e.g., evidence of utility registration and payment, Japanese-style signature seal, etc.) may vary according to institution.  Language may be a barrier to obtaining services at some institutions; foreigners who do not speak Japanese should research in advance which banks are more likely to offer bilingual services.

In 2017 Japan accounted for approximately half of the world’s trades of Bitcoin, the most prevalent blockchain currency (digital decentralized cryptographic currency).  Japanese regulators are encouraging “open banking” interactions between financial institutions and third-party developers of financial technology applications through application programming interfaces (“APIs”) when customers “opt-in” to share their information.  The government has set a target to have 80 banks adopt API standards by 2020.  Many of the largest banks are participating in various proofs of concept using blockchain technology.  While commercial banks have not yet formally adopted blockchain-powered systems for fund settlement, they are actively exploring options, and the largest banks have announced intentions to produce their own virtual currencies at some point.  The Bank of Japan is researching blockchain and its applications for national accounts, and established a “Fintech Center” to lead this effort.  The main banking regulator, the Japan Financial Services Agency (FSA) also encourages innovation with financial technologies, including sponsoring an annual conference on “fintech” in Japan.  In April 2017, amendments to the Act on Settlements of Funds went into effect, permitting the use of virtual currencies as a form of payment in Japan, but virtual currency is still not considered legal tender (e.g., commercial vendors may opt to accept virtual currencies for transactional payments, though virtual currency cannot be used as payment for taxes owed to the government).  The law also requires the registration of virtual currency exchange businesses.  There are currently 22-registered virtual currency exchanges in Japan.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

Generally, all foreign exchange transactions to and from Japan—including transfers of profits and dividends, interest, royalties and fees, repatriation of capital, and repayment of principal—are freely permitted.  Japan maintains an ex-post facto notification system for foreign exchange transactions that prohibits specified transactions, including certain foreign direct investments (e.g., from countries under international sanctions) or others that are listed in the appendix of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act.

Japan has a floating exchange rate and has not intervened in the foreign exchange markets since November 2011, and has joined statements of the G-7 and G-20 affirming that countries would not target exchange rates for competitive purposes.

Remittance Policies

Investment remittances are freely permitted.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Japan does not operate a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Japan has privatized most former state-owned enterprises (SOEs).  Under the Postal Privatization Law, privatization of Japan Post group started in October 2007 by turning the public corporation into stock companies.  The stock sale of the Japan Post Holdings Co. and its two financial subsidiaries, Japan Post Insurance (JPI) and Japan Post Bank (JPB), began in November 2015 with an IPO that sold 11 percent of available shares in each of the three entities.  The postal service subsidiary, Japan Post Co., remains a wholly owned subsidiary of JPH.  The Japanese government conducted an additional public offering of stock in September 2017, reducing the government ownership in the holding company to approximately 57 percent.  There were no additional offerings of the stock in the bank but in their insurance subsidiary which took place in April 2019:  JPH currently owns 88.99 percent of the banking subsidiary and 64.48 percent of the insurance subsidiary.  Follow-on sales of shares in the three companies will take place over time, as the Postal Privatization Law requires the government to sell a majority share (up to two-thirds of all shares) in JPH, and JPH to sell all shares of JPB and JPI, as soon as possible.  The government planned to implement the third sale of its JPH share holdings in 2019 but did not do so on the back of sluggish share performance.

These offerings mark the final stage of Japan Post privatization begun under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi almost a decade ago, and respond to long-standing criticism from commercial banks and insurers—both foreign and Japanese—that their government-owned Japan Post rivals have an unfair advantage.

While there has been significant progress since 2013 with regard to private suppliers’ access to the postal insurance network, the U.S. government has continued to raise concerns about the preferential treatment given to Japan Post and some quasi-governmental entities compared to private sector competitors and the impact of these advantages on the ability of private companies to compete on a level playing field.  A full description of U.S. government concerns with regard to the insurance sector, and efforts to address these concerns, is available in the United States Trade Representative’s National Trade Estimate (NTE) report for Japan.

Privatization Program

In sectors previously dominated by state-owned enterprises but now privatized, such as transportation, telecommunications, and package delivery, U.S. businesses report that Japanese firms sometimes receive favorable treatment in the form of improved market access and government cooperation.

Deregulation of Japan’s power sector took a step forward in April 2016 with the full liberalization of the retail sector.  This has led to increased competition from new entrants in the retail electricity market.  While the generation and transmission of electricity remain in the hands of the legacy power utilities, new electricity retailers reached a 16 per cent market share of the total volume of electricity sold as of September 2019.  Japan expects to implement the third phase of its power sector reforms in April 2020 by “unbundling” legacy monopolies and legally separating the transmission and distribution businesses from the vertically integrated power utility companies.

American energy companies have reported increased opportunities in this sector, but the legacy power utilities still have an unfair advantage over the regulatory regime, market, and infrastructure.  For example, while a wholesale market allows new retailers to buy electricity for sale to customers, legacy utilities, which control most of the generation, sell very little power into that market.  This limits the supply of electricity that new retailers can sell to consumers  Also, as the large power utilities still control transmission and distribution lines, new entrants in power generation are not be able to compete due to limited access to power grids.

More information on the power sector from the Japanese Government can be obtained at:

http://www.enecho.meti.go.jp/en/category/electricity_and_gas/electric/electricity_liberalization/what/ 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Japanese corporate governance has often been criticized for failing to sufficiently prioritize shareholder interests, due in part due to a lack of independent corporate directors and to cross-shareholding agreement among firms.  The Abe government has made corporate governance reform a core element of its economic agenda with the goal to reinvigorate Japan’s business sector by encouraging a stronger focus by management on earnings and shareholder value.

Progress has been made through efforts by the Financial Services Agency (FSA) and Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) to introduce non-binding reforms through changes to Japan’s Companies Act in 2014 and to adopt of a Corporate Governance Code (CSR) by in 2015.  Together with the Stewardship Code for institutional investors launched by the FSA in 2014, these initiatives encourage companies to put cash stockpiles to better use by increasing investment, raising dividends, and taking on more risk to boost Japan’s growth.  Positive results of these efforts are evidenced by rising shareholder returns, unwinding of cross-shareholdings, and creasing numbers of independent board members.  According to a TSE survey conducted in December 2018, 85.3 percent of companies had a compliance rate of 90 percent, out of the 66 principles of the new code.  As of May 2019,  93.6 percent of TSE listed firms  have one  or more independent directors, according to TSE’s White Paper on Corporate Governance.  In December 2019, the Diet approved a revision of the Companies Act, which will enable companies to provide documents for shareholders’ meetings electronically.  Listed companies will be obligated to have at least one outside director. The bill will go into force no later than June 11, 2021.

Awareness of corporate social responsibility among both producers and consumers in Japan is high, and foreign and local enterprises generally follow accepted CSR principles.  Business organizations also actively promote CSR.  Japan encourages adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas.

9. Corruption

Japan’s penal code covers crimes of official corruption, and an individual convicted under these statutes is, depending on the nature of the crime, subject to prison sentences and possible fines.  With respect to corporate officers who accept bribes, Japanese law also provides for company directors to be subject to fines and/or imprisonment, and some judgments have been rendered against company directors.

The direct exchange of cash for favors from government officials in Japan is extremely rare.  However, the web of close relationships between Japanese companies, politicians, government organizations, and universities has been criticized for fostering an inwardly “cooperative”—or insular—business climate that is conducive to the awarding of contracts, positions, etc. within a tight circle of local players.  This phenomenon manifests itself most frequently and seriously in Japan through the rigging of bids on government public works projects.  However, instances of bid rigging appear to have decreased over the past decade.  Alleged bid rigging between construction companies was discovered on the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka maglev high-speed rail project in 2017, and the case is currently being prosecuted.

Japan’s Act on Elimination and Prevention of Involvement in Bid-Rigging authorizes the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) to demand that central and local government commissioning agencies take corrective measures to prevent continued complicity of officials in bid rigging activities and to report such measures to the JFTC.  The Act also contains provisions concerning disciplinary action against officials participating in bid rigging and compensation for overcharges when the officials caused damage to the government due to willful or grave negligence.  Nevertheless, questions remain as to whether the Act’s disciplinary provisions are strong enough to ensure officials involved in illegal bid rigging are held accountable.

Japan has ratified the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, which bans bribing foreign government officials.  However, there are continuing concerns over the effectiveness of Japan’s anti-bribery enforcement efforts, particularly the very small number of cases prosecuted by Japanese authorities compared to other OECD members.

For vetting potential local investment partners, companies may review credit reports on foreign companies which are available from many private-sector sources, including, in the United States, Dun & Bradstreet and Graydon International.  Additionally, a company may inquire about the International Company Profile (ICP), which is a background report on a specific foreign company that is prepared by commercial officers of the U.S. Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo.

Resources to Report Corruption

Businesses or individuals may contact the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC), with contact details at:  http://www.jftc.go.jp/en/about_jftc/contact_us.html .

10. Political and Security Environment

Political violence is rare in Japan.  Acts of political violence involving U.S. business interests are virtually unknown.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Japan currently faces one of the tightest labor markets in decades, in part due to demographic decline, with a shortage of workers in sectors such as information services, hospitality, construction, transportation, maintenance, and security.  The unemployment rate as of March 2020 is 2.5 percent.  Traditionally, Japanese workers have been classified as either regular or non-regular employees.  Companies recruit regular employees directly from schools or universities and provide an employment contract with no fixed duration, effectively guaranteeing them lifetime employment.  Non-regular employees are hired for a fixed period.  Companies have increasingly relied on non-regular workers to fill short-term labor requirements and to reduce labor costs.

Major employers and labor unions engage in collective bargaining in  nearly every industry..  Though union members today make up 17 percent of the labor force, it is a decline from 25 percent in 1990.  The government provides benefits for workers laid off for economic reasons through a national employment insurance program.  Some National Strategic Special Zones allow for special employment of foreign workers in certain fields, but those and all other foreign workers are still subject to the same national labor laws and standards as Japanese workers.  Japan has comprehensive labor dispute resolution mechanisms, including labor tribunals, mediation, and civil lawsuits.  A Labor Standards Bureau oversees the enforcement of labor standards through a national network of Labor Bureaus and Labor Standards Inspection Offices.

The number of foreign workers is rising, but at just over 1.66 million as of October 2019, they still represent a fraction of Japan’s 69 million-worker labor force.  The Japanese government has made changes to labor and immigration laws to facilitate the entry of larger numbers of skilled foreign workers in selected sectors.  A revision to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law in December 2018, implemented in April 2019, created the “Specified Skilled” worker program designed specifically for lower-skilled foreign workers. The law created two new visa categories.  Category 1 grants five-year residency to low-skilled workers who fulfill certain education and Japanese language criteria.  Category 2 is for highly skilled workers, granting them long-term residency and a path to long-term employment.

The Japanese government also operates the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP).  Originally intended as a skills-transfer program for workers from developing countries, TITP is used to address immediate labor shortages in specific sectors, such as construction, agriculture, and nursing.  As noted previously, the 2018 Immigration Control Law revision enabled TITPs, with at least three years of experience, to qualify to apply for the Category 1 status of the Specified Skilled worker program without any exams.

To address the labor shortage resulting from population decline and a rapidly aging society, Japan’s government has pursued measures to increase participation and retention of older workers and women in the labor force.  A law that went into force in April 2013 requires companies to introduce employment systems allowing employees reaching retirement age (generally set at 60) to continue working until 65.  Since 2013, the government has committed to increasing women’s economic participation.  The Women’s Empowerment Law passed in 2015 requires large companies to disclose statistics about the hiring and promotion of women, and to adopt action plans to improve the numbers.

In May 2019, a package law which revised the Women’s Empowerment Law, expanded the reporting requirements to SMEs that employ at least 101 persons (to begin April 2022) and increasing the number of disclosure items for larger companies (to begin June 2020).  The package law also included several labor law revisions requiring companies to take preventive measures for power and sexual harassment in the workplace.

In June 2018, the Diet passed the Workstyle Reform package.  The three key provisions are:  (1) the “white collar exemption” which eliminates overtime for a small number of highly paid professionals; (2) a formal overtime cap of 100 hours/month or 720 hours/year, with imprisonment and/or fines for violators; and (3) new “equal-pay-for-equal-work” principles to reduce gaps between regular and non-regular employees.

Japan has ratified 49 International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions (including six of the eight fundamental Conventions).  As part of its agreement in principle on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) Japan agreed to adopt the fundamental labor rights stated in the ILO Declaration including freedom of association and the recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced labor and employment discrimination, and the abolition of child labor.  CPTPP entered into force in December 30, 2018.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) insurance and finance programs are not available in Japan.  However, U.S. companies seeking to invest in other foreign countries with Japanese partners may have access to DFC programs and benefit from cooperative memorandums that the DFC has signed with Japanese Government entities to fund projects in third countries.

Japan is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).  Japan’s capital subscription to MIGA is the second largest, after the United States.

Other foreign governments have very limited involvement in Japan’s domestic infrastructure development, and most financing and insurance is managed domestically.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (M USD) 2017 USD 4,955,654 2017 USD 4,859,950 World Bank
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source** USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2017 USD 59,695 2017 USD 129,064 BEA
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD, stock positions) 2017 USD 490,608 2017 USD 476,878 BEA
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 5.2% 2017 4.17% OECD

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

*2017 Nominal GDP data from “Annual Report on National Accounts for 2017”, Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet Office, Japanese Government.  January 25, 2018. (Note: uses exchange rate of 110.0 Yen to 1 U.S. Dollar and Calendar Year Data)

The discrepancy between Japan’s accounting of U.S. FDI into Japan and U.S. accounting of that FDI can be attributed to methodological differences, specifically with regard to indirect investors, profits generated from reinvested earnings, and differing standards for which companies must report FDI.

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (IMF CDIS, 2017)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 202,441 100% Total Outward 1,497,525 100%
United States 50,033 24.7% United States 479,995 32%
France 30,108 14.9% United Kingdom 151,634 10.1%
Netherlands 26,642 13.2% China 117,568 7.9%
Singapore 17,831 8.8% Netherland 114,317 7.6%
United Kingdom 13,734 6.8% Australia 68,042 4.5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (IMF CPIS, June 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 2,435,531 100% All Countries 1,578,257 100% All Countries 893,493 100%
United States 1,095,979 45.0% United States 862,284 54.6% United States 233,695 26.2%
United Kingdom 179,273 7.4% United Kingdom 126,848 8.0% France 113,093 12.7%
Luxembourg 158,063 6.5% Luxembourg 113,881 7.2% Hong Kong 58,509 6.5%
France 142,979 5.9% Ireland 79,597 5.0% United Kingdom 52,425 5.9%
Ireland 115,650 4.7% Cayman Islands 45,090 2.9% Luxembourg 44,182 4.9%
  Portfolio Investment Liabilities (IMF CPIS, June 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 2,754,252 100% All Countries 1,856,556 100% All Countries 1,466,360 100%
United States 918,352 33.3% United States 932,010 50.2% United States 309,668 21.1%
United Kingdom 327,174 11.9% United Kingdom 252,465 13.6% Belgium 202,066 13.8%
Luxembourg 282,413 10.3% Luxembourg 101,212 5.5% Luxembourg 175,561 12.0%
Belgium 136,695 5.0% Belgium 64,898 3.5% China Mainland 129,378 8.8%
France 134,562 4.9% Canada 59,856 3.2%  United Kingdom 102,592 7.0%

14. Contact for More Information

Michael Daschbach
Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Tokyo
1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420
Japan
+81 03-3224-5035

Macau

Executive Summary

Macau became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on December 20, 1999. Macau’s status since reverting to Chinese sovereignty is defined in the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration (1987) and the Basic Law. Under the concept of “one country, two systems” articulated in these documents, Macau enjoys a high degree of autonomy in economic matters, and its economic system is to remain unchanged for 50 years following the 1999 reversion to Chinese sovereignty. The Government of Macau (GOM) maintains a transparent, non-discriminatory, and free-market economy. The GOM is committed to maintaining an investor-friendly environment.

In 2002, the GOM ended a long-standing gaming monopoly, awarding two gaming concessions and one sub-concession to consortia with U.S. interests. This opening encouraged substantial U.S. investment in casinos and hotels and has spurred rapid economic growth.

Macau is today the biggest gaming center in the world, having surpassed Las Vegas in terms of gambling revenue. U.S. investment over the past decade is estimated to exceed USD 23.8 billion. In addition to gaming, Macau hopes to position itself as a regional center for incentive travel, conventions, and tourism, though to date it has experienced limited success in diversifying its economy. In 2007, business leaders founded the American Chamber of Commerce of Macau.

Macau also seeks to become a “commercial and trade cooperation service platform” between mainland China and Portuguese-speaking countries. The GOM has various policies to promote these efforts and to create business opportunities for domestic and foreign investors.

In September 2016, the GOM announced its first Five-Year Development Plan (2016-2020). Highlights include establishing a trade cooperation service platform between mainland China and Portuguese-speaking countries, improving the structure of industries, increasing the quality of life, protecting the environment, and strengthening government efficiency.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index N/A x of 175 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report N/A x of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index N/A x of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2016 USD 2,541 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 79,110 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Under the concept of “one country, two systems,” Macau enjoys a high degree of autonomy in economic matters, and its economic system is to remain unchanged until at least 2049. The GOM maintains a transparent, non-discriminatory, and free-market economy. Macau has separate membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) from that of mainland China.

There are no restrictions placed on foreign investment in Macau as there are no special rules governing foreign investment. Both overseas and domestic firms register under the same set and are subject to the same regulations on business, such as the Commercial Code (Decree 40/99/M).

Macau is heavily dependent on the gaming sector and tourism. The GOM aims to diversify Macau’s economy by attracting foreign investment and is committed to maintaining an investor-friendly environment. Corporate taxes are low, with a tax rate of 12 percent for companies whose net profits exceed MOP 300,000 (USD 37,500). For net profits less than USD 37,500, the tax ranges from three percent to 12 percent. The top personal tax rate is 12 percent. The tax rate of casino concessionaries is 35 percent on gross gaming revenue, plus a four percent contribution for culture, infrastructure, tourism, and a social security fund.

In 2002, the GOM ended a long-standing gaming monopoly, awarding two gaming concessions to consortia with U.S. interests. This opening has encouraged substantial U.S. investment in casinos and hotels and has spurred rapid economic growth. Macau is attempting to position itself to be a regional center for incentive travel, conventions, and tourism. In March 2019, the GOM extended for two years the gaming licenses of SJM (a locally-owned company) and MGM China (a joint venture with investment from U.S.-owned MGM Resorts International that holds a sub-concession from SJM), that were set to expire in 2020. The concessions of all six of Macau’s gambling concessionaires and sub-concessionaires are now set to expire in 2022. The GOM is currently drafting a bill to guide the gaming concession retendering process.

The Macau Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM) is the GOM agency responsible for promoting trade and investment activities. IPIM provides one-stop services, including notary service, for business registration, and it applies legal and administrative procedures to all local and foreign individuals or organizations interested in setting up a company in Macau.

Macau maintains an ongoing dialogue with investors through various business networks and platforms, such as the IPIM, the Macau Chamber of Commerce, AmCham Macau, and the Macau Association of Banks.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign firms and individuals are free to establish companies, branches, and representative offices without discrimination or undue regulation in Macau. There are no restrictions on the ownership of such establishments. Company directors are not required to be citizens of, or resident in, Macau, except for the following three professional services which impose residency requirements:

Education – an individual applying to establish a school must have a Certificate of Identity or have the right to reside in Macau. The principal of a school must be a Macau resident.

Newspapers and magazines – applicants must first apply for business registration and register with the Government Information Bureau as an organization or an individual. The publisher of a newspaper or magazine must be a Macau resident or have the right to reside in Macau.

Legal services – lawyers from foreign jurisdictions who seek to practice Macau law must first obtain residency in Macau. Foreign lawyers must also pass an examination before they can register with the Lawyer’s Association, a self-regulatory body. The examination is given in Chinese or Portuguese. After passing the examination, foreign lawyers are required to serve an 18-month internship before they are able to practice law in Macau.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Macau last conducted the WTO Trade Policy Review in May 2013. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/g281_e.pdf

Business Facilitation

Macau provides a favorable business and investment environment for enterprises and investors. The IPIM helps foreign investors in registering a company and liaising with the involved agencies for entry into the Macau market. The business registration process takes less than 10 working days. http://www.ipim.gov.mo/en/services/one-stop-service/handle-company-registration-procedures/ .

Outward Investment

Macau, as a free market economy, does not promote or incentivize outward investment, nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. Hong Kong and mainland China were the top two destinations for Macau’s outward investments in 2018.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The GOM has transparent policies and laws that establish clear rules and do not unnecessarily impede investment. The basic elements of a competition policy are set out in Macau’s Commercial Code.

The GOM will normally conduct a three-month public consultation when amending or making legislation, including investment laws, and will prepare a draft bill based on the results of the public consultation. The lawmakers will discuss the draft bill before putting it to a final vote. All the processes are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Public comments received by the GOM are not made available online to the public. The draft bills are made available at the Legislative Assembly’s website http://www.al.gov.mo/zh/, while this website http://www.io.gov.mo/ links to the GOM’s Printing Bureau, which publishes laws, rules, and procedures.

Macau’s anti-corruption agency the Commission Against Corruption (known by its Portuguese acronym CCAC) carries out ombudsman functions to safeguard rights, freedoms, and legitimate interests of individuals and to ensure the impartiality and efficiency of public administration.

Macau’s law on the budgetary framework (Decree 15/2017) aims to reinforce monitoring of public finances and to enhance transparency in the preparation and execution of the fiscal budget.

International Regulatory Considerations

Macau is a member of WTO and adopts international norms. The GOM notified all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Macau, as a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), has achieved a 100 percent rate of implementation commitments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Under “one country, two systems”, Macau maintains Continental European law as the foundation of its legal system, which is based on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. Macau has a written commercial law and contract law. The Commercial Code is a comprehensive source of commercial law, while the Civil Code serves as a fundamental source of contractual law. Courts in Macau include the Court of Final Appeal, Intermediate Courts, and Primary Courts. There is also an Administrative Court, which has jurisdiction over administrative and tax cases. These provide an effective means for enforcing property and contractual rights. At present, the Court of Final Appeal has three judges; the Intermediate Courts have nine judges; and the Primary Courts have 31 judges. The Public Prosecutions Office has 38 prosecutors.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Macau’s legal system is based on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. Foreign and domestic companies register under the same rules and are subject to the same set of commercial and bankruptcy laws (Decree 40/99/M).

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Macau has no agency that reviews transactions for competition-related concerns, nor a competition law. The Commercial Code (Law No. 16/2009) contains basic elements of a competition policy with regard to commercial practices that can distort the proper functioning of markets. While the GOM has stated that existing provisions are adequate and appropriate given the scale and scope of local economy, it announced in March 2019 that it was studying a fair competition law that would protect against monopolies and price-fixing. The GOM has since not disclosed the progress of the study.

Expropriation and Compensation

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any direct or indirect actions to expropriate. Legal expropriations of private property may occur if it is in the public interest. In such cases, the GOM will exchange the private property with an equivalent public property based on the fair market value and conditions of the former. The exchange of property is in accordance with established principles of international law. There is no remunerative compensation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Both the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) apply to Macau. The Law on International Commercial Arbitration (Decree 55/98/M) provides for enforcement of awards under the 1958 New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The U.S. Consulate General is aware of one previous investment dispute involving U.S. or other foreign investors or contractors and the GOM. In March 2010, a low-cost airline carrier was reportedly forced to cancel flight services because of a credit dispute with its fuel provider, triggering events which led to the airline’s de-licensing. Macau courts declared the airline bankrupt in September 2010. The airline’s major shareholder, a U.S. private investment company, filed a case in the Macau courts seeking a judgment as to whether a GOM administrative act led to the airline’s demise. The Court of Second Instance held hearings in May and June 2012. In November 2013, the Court of Second Instance rejected the appeal. Private investment disputes are normally handled in the courts or via private negotiation. Alternatively, disputes may be referred to the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center or the World Trade Center Macau Arbitration Center.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Macau has an arbitration law (Decree 55/98/M), which adopts the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law for international commercial arbitration. The GOM accepts international arbitration of investment disputes between itself and investors. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards.

Macau established the World Trade Center Macau Arbitration Center in June 1998. The objective of the Center is to promote the resolution of disputes through arbitration and conciliation, providing the disputing parties with alternative resolutions other than judicial litigation.

Foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters may be enforced in Macau. The enforcement of foreign judgments is stipulated in Articles 1199 and 1200 of the Civil Procedure Code. A foreign court decision will be recognized and enforced in Macau, provided that it qualifies as a final decision supported by authentic documentation and that its enforcement will not breach Macau’s public policy.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Commercial and bankruptcy laws are written under the Macau Commercial Code, the Civil Procedure Code, and the Penal Code. Bankruptcy proceedings can be invoked by an application from the bankrupt business, by petition of the creditor, or by the Public Prosecutor. There are four methods used to prevent the occurrence of bankruptcy: the creditors meeting, the audit of the company’s assets, the amicable settlement, and the creditor agreement. According to Articles 615-618 of the Civil Code and Article 351-353 of the Civil Procedure Code, a creditor who has a justified fear of losing the guarantee of his credits may request seizure of the assets of the debtor. Bankruptcy offenses are subject to criminal liability.

There is no credit bureau or other credit monitoring authority serving Macau’s market.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

To attract foreign investment, the GOM offers investment incentives to investors on a national treatment basis. These incentives are contained in Decrees 23/98/M and 49/85/M and are provided so long as companies can prove they are doing one of the following: promoting economic diversification, contributing to the promotion of exports to new unrestricted markets, promoting added value within their activity’s value chain, or contributing to technical modernization. There is no requirement that Macau residents own shares. These incentives are categorized as fiscal incentives, financial incentives, and export diversification incentives.

Fiscal incentives include full or partial exemption from profit/corporate tax, industrial tax, property tax, stamp duty for transfer of properties, and consumption tax. The tax incentives are consistent with the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures, as they are neither export subsidies nor import substitution subsidies as defined in the WTO Agreement. In 2019, the GOM put forward an enhanced tax deduction for research and development (R&D) expenditure incurred for innovation and technology projects by companies whose registered capital reached USD 125,000, or whose average taxable profits reached USD 62,500 per year in three consecutive years. The tax deduction amounts to 300 percent for the first USD 375,000 of qualifying R&D expenditure and 200 percent for the remaining amount, subject to a limit of USD 1.9 million in total). In addition, income received from Portuguese speaking countries is exempt from the corporate tax, provided such income has been subject to tax in its place of origin.

Two new laws to encourage financial leasing activities in Macau became effective in April 2019. Under the new regime, the minimum capital requirement of a financial leasing company is reduced from USD 3.75 million to USD 1.25 million. In addition, the acquisition by the financial leasing company of a property exclusively for its sole use has an exemption of up to USD 62,500 from a stamp duty.

Financial incentives include government-funded interest subsidies. Export diversification incentives include subsidies given to companies and trade associations attending trade promotion activities organized by IPIM. Only companies registered with Macau Economic Services (MES) may receive subsidies for costs such as space rental or audio-visual material production. Macau also provides other subsidies for the installation of anti-pollution equipment.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Macau is a free port; however, there are four types of dutiable commodities: liquors, tobacco, vehicles, and petrol (gasoline). Licenses must be obtained from the MES prior to importation of these commodities.

In order to promote the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions) and logistics industries in Macau, the GOM has accepted the ATA Carnet (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission), an international customs document providing an efficient method for the temporary import and re-export of goods that eases the way for foreign exhibitions and businesses.

The latest CEPA addition established principles of trade facilitation, including simplifying customs procedures, enhancing transparency, and strengthening cooperation.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Macau does not follow a forced localization policy in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology.

There are no requirements by the GOM for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance (i.e., backdoors into hardware and software or turning over keys for encryption).

According to the Personal Data Protection Act (Decree 8/2005), if there is transfer of personal data to a destination outside Macau, the opinion of the Office for Personal Data Protection — the regulatory authority responsible for supervising and enforcing the Act — must be sought to confirm if such destination ensures an adequate level of protection.

In December 2019, Macau’s Cybersecurity Law came into force. With this law, public and private network operators in certain industries have to meet obligations, including providing real-time access to select network data to Macau authorities, with the stated aim of protecting the information network and computer systems. For example, network operators must register and verify the identity of users before providing telecommunication services. The new law creates new investment and operational costs for affected businesses, and has raised some privacy and surveillance concerns.

One major U.S. cloud computing company reported that Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau had refused permission for potential clients in the gaming sector to export personal data-to-data centers located outside of Macau.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Private ownership of property is enshrined in the Basic Law. There are no restrictions on foreign property ownership. Macau has a sound banking mortgage system, which is under the supervision of the Macau Monetary Authority (MMA). There are only a small number of freehold property interests in the older part of Macau.

According to the Cartography and Cadaster Bureau, 21 percent of land parcels in Macau do not have clear title, for unknown reasons. Industry observers commented that no one knows whether these land parcels will be privately or publicly owned in the future.

The Land Law (Decree 10/2013) stipulates that provisional land concessions cannot be renewed upon their expiration if their leaseholders fail to finish developing the respective plots of land within a maximum concession period of 25 years. The leaseholders will not only be prohibited from renewing the undeveloped concessions – regardless of who or what caused the non-development – but also have no right to be indemnified or compensated.

Intellectual Property Rights

Macau is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Macau is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 Report. Macau has acceded to the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Patents and trademarks are registered under Decree 97/99/M. Macau’s copyright laws are compatible with the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, and government offices are required to use only licensed software. The GOM devotes considerable attention to intellectual property rights enforcement and coordinates with copyright holders. Source Identification Codes are stamped on all optical discs produced in Macau. The MES uses an expedited prosecution arrangement to speed up punishment of accused retailers of pirated products. The copyright protection law has been extended to cover online privacy. Copyright infringement for trade or business purposes is subject to a fine or maximum imprisonment of four years.

Macau Customs maintains an enforcement department to investigate incidents of intellectual property (IP) theft. Macau Customs works closely with mainland Chinese authorities, foreign customs agencies, and the World Customs Organization to share best practices to address criminal organizations engaging in IP theft. In 2019, Macau Customs seized a total of 3,849 pieces of counterfeit goods, including 3,329 garments, 7 leather products, and 513 electronic appliances. In 2019, the MES filed a total of 15,391 applications for trademark registrations.

In 2019, the MES filed a total of 15,391 applications for trademark registrations.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Macau allows free flows of financial resources. Foreign investors can obtain credit in the local financial market. The GOM is stepping up its efforts to develop finance leasing businesses and exploring opportunities to establish a system for trade credit insurance in order to take a greater role in promoting cooperation between companies from Portuguese-speaking countries.

Since 2010, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) has provided cross-border settlement of funds for Macau residents and institutions involved in transactions for RMB bonds issued in Hong Kong. Macau residents and institutions can purchase or sell, through Macau RMB participating banks, RMB bonds issued in Hong Kong and Macau. The Macau RMB Real Time Gross Settlements (RMB RTGS) System came into operation in March 2016 to provide real-time settlement services for RMB remittances and interbank transfer of RMB funds. The RMB RTGS System is intended to improve risk management and clearing efficiency of RMB funds and foster Macau’s development into an RMB clearing platform for trade settlement between China and Portuguese-speaking countries. In December 2019, the PBoC canceled an existing quota of RMB 20,000 exchanged in Macau for each individual transaction.

Macau has no stock market, but Macau companies can seek a listing in Hong Kong’s stock market. Macau and Hong Kong financial regulatory authorities cooperate on issues of mutual concern. Under the Macau Insurance Ordinance, the MMA authorizes and monitors insurance companies. There are 11 life insurance companies and 13 non-life insurance companies in Macau. Total gross premium income from insurance services amounted to USD 2.7 billion in the third quarter of 2019.

In October 2018, the Legislative Assembly took steps to tackle cross-border tax evasion. Offshore institutions in Macau, including credit institutions, insurers, underwriters, and offshore trust management companies, will be abolished by the end of 2020. Decree 9/2012, in effect since October 2012, stipulates that banks must compensate depositors up to a maximum of MOP 500,000 (USD 62,500) in case of a bank failure. To finance the deposit protection scheme, the GOM has injected MOP 150 million (USD 18.75 million) into the deposit protection fund, with banks paying an annual contribution of 0.05 percent of the amount of protected deposits held.

Money and Banking System

The MMA functions as a de facto central bank. It is responsible for maintaining the stability of Macau’s financial system and for managing its currency reserves and foreign assets. At present, there are thirty-one financial institutions in Macau, including 12 local banks and 19 branches of banks incorporated outside Macau. There is also a finance company with restrictive banking activities, two financial leasing companies and a non-bank credit institution dedicated to the issuance and management of electronic money stored value card services. In addition, there are 11 moneychangers, two cash remittance companies, two financial intermediaries, six exchange counters, and one representative office of a financial institution. The BoC and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) are the two largest banks in Macau, with total assets of USD 79.8 billion and USD 33.9 billion, respectively. Banks with capital originally from mainland China and Portugal had a combined market share of about 86 percent of total deposits in the banking system at the end of 2016. Total deposits amounted to USD 83.8 billion by the end of 2019. In the fourth quarter of 2019, banks in Macau maintained a capital adequacy ratio of 14.2 percent, well above the minimum eight percent recommended by the Bank for International Settlements. Accounting systems in Macau are consistent with international norms.

The MMA prohibits the city’s financial institutions, banks and payment services from providing services to businesses issuing virtual currencies or tokens.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Profits and other funds associated with an investment, including investment capital, earnings, loan repayments, lease payments, and capital gains, can be freely converted and remitted. The domestic currency, Macau Official Pataca (MOP), is pegged to the Hong Kong Dollar at 1.03 and indirectly to the U.S. Dollar at an exchange rate of approximately MOP 7.99 = USD 1. The MMA is committed to exchange rate stability through maintenance of the peg to the Hong Kong Dollar.

Although Macau imposes no restrictions on capital flows or foreign exchange operations, exporters are required to convert 40 percent of foreign currency earnings into MOP. This legal requirement does not apply to tourism services.

Remittance Policies

There are no recent changes to or plans to change investment remittance policies. Macau does not restrict the remittance of profits and dividends derived from investment, nor does it require reporting on cross-border remittances. Foreign investors can bring capital into Macau and remit it freely.

A Memorandum of Understanding on AML actions between MMA and PBoC, increased information exchanges between the two parties, as well as cooperation on onsite inspections of casino operations. Furthermore, Macau’s terrorist asset-freezing law, which is based on United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions, requires travelers entering or leaving with cash or other negotiable monetary instruments valued at MOP 120,000 (USD 15,000) or more to sign a declaration form and submit it to the Macau Customs Service.

In December 2019, the PBoC increased a daily limit set on the amount of RMB-denominated funds sent by Macau residents to personal accounts held in mainland China from RMB 50,000 to RMB 80,000.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggested in July 2014 that the GOM invest its large fiscal reserves through a fund modeled on sovereign wealth funds to protect the city’s economy from economic downturns. In November 2015, the GOM decided to establish such a fund, called the MSAR Investment and Development Fund (MIDF), through a substantial allocation from the city’s ample fiscal reserves. However, the GOM in 2019 withdrew a draft bill that proposed the use of USD 7.5 billion to seed the MIDF over public concerns about the government’s supervisory capability. The MMA said it will conduct a consultation in mid-2020 to help the public better understand the regulations and operations of the fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Macau does not have state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Several economic sectors – including cable television, telecommunications, electricity, and airport/port management, are run by private companies under concession contracts from the GOM. The GOM holds a small percentage of shares (ranging from one to 10 percent) in these government-affiliated enterprises. The government set out in its Commercial Code the basic elements of a competition policy with regard to commercial practices that can distort the proper functioning of markets. Court cases related to anti-competitive behavior remain rare.

Privatization Program

The GOM has given no indication in recent years that it has plans for a privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The six gaming concessionaires that dominate Macau’s economy pay four percent of gross gaming revenues to the government to fund cultural and social programs in the SAR. Several operators also directly fund gaming addiction rehabilitation programs. Some government-affiliated entities maintain active corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. For example, Companhia de Electricidade de Macau, an electric utility, provides educational programs and repair services free-of-charge to underprivileged residents. One of the nine aspects that the GOM will consider for the renewal of gaming licenses is casino operators’ CSR performance. In November 2019, the Business Awards of Macau presented the Gold Award to Galaxy Entertainment Group for its corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Macau is not a member of the OECD, and hence, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are not applicable to Macau companies.

9. Corruption

Mainland China extended in February 2006 the United Nations Convention Against Corruption to Macau. Macau has laws to combat corruption by public officials and the private sector. Anti-corruption laws are applied in a non-discriminatory manner and effectively enforced. One provision stipulates that anyone who offers a bribe to foreign public officials (including officials from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan) and officials of public international organizations in exchange for a trade deal could receive a jail term of up to three years or fines.

The CCAC is a member of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities and a member of the Anti-Corruption Action Plan for Asia and the Pacific. The CCAC’s guidelines on prevention and repression of corruption in the private sector and a booklet Corruption Prevention Tips for Private Companies provide rules of conduct that private companies must observe. In January 2019, the GOM completed a public consultation on public procurement in order to create a legal framework through which the GOM will seek to promote an efficient and transparent regime. The GOM expected that a draft bill will be ready in the second half of 2020.

Resources to Report Corruption

CHAN Tsz King, Commissioner
Commission Against Corruption
105, Avenida Xian Xing Hai, 17/F, Centro Golden Dragon, Macau
+853- 2832-6300
ccac@ccac.org.mo

10. Political and Security Environment

Macau is politically stable. The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any incidents in recent years involving politically motivated damage to projects or installations.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Macau’s unemployment rate in January 2020 was 1.7 percent. Foreign businesses cite a constant shortage of skilled workers – a result of the past decade’s boom in entertainment facilities – as a top constraint on their operations and future expansion. The government is studying proposals to resolve the human resources problem. For example, Macau has labor importation schemes for unskilled and skilled workers who cannot be recruited locally. However, both local and foreign casino operators in Macau are required by law to employ only Macau residents as croupiers. Taxi and bus drivers must also be local residents. There is no such restriction imposed on any other sector of the economy.

Macau does not have any policies that waive labor laws in order to attract or retain investment. The rights for workers to form trade unions and to strike are both enshrined in the Basic Law, but there are no laws in Macau that specifically deal with those rights. The law does not provide that workers can collectively bargain, and while workers have the right to strike, there is no specific protection in the law from retribution if workers exercise this right. Labor unions are independent of the government and employers, by law and in practice.

According to the Labor Relations Law, a female worker cannot be dismissed, except with just cause (e.g., willful disobedience to orders given by superiors, or violation of regulations on occupational hygiene and safety), during her pregnancy or within three months of giving birth. In practice, either the employer or the employee may rescind the labor contract with or without just cause. In general, any circumstance that makes it impossible to continue the labor relation can constitute just cause for rescission of the contract. If the employer terminates the contract with the worker without just cause, the employer must pay the employee severance pay. In addition, Macau’s social security system, which is regulated by Decree 84/89/M, provides local workers with economic aid when they are old, unemployed, or sick.

Workers who believe they were dismissed unlawfully can bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the Labor Affairs Bureau. Even without formal collective bargaining rights, companies often negotiate with unions, although the government may act as an intermediary. There is no indication that past disputes or appeals were subject to lengthy delays.

The Labor Relations Law does not contain provisions regarding collective bargaining, which is not common at the company or industry level.

The GOM has put measures in place to replace some foreign workers with Macau residents. Macau has a law imposing criminal penalties for employers of illegal migrants and preventing foreign workers from changing employers in Macau. The government has used the proceeds of a tax on the import of temporary workers for retraining local unemployed people.

Effective September 1 2019, the statutory minimum hourly wage rate increased from USD 3.8 to USD 4.0. The Legislative Assembly is discussing a draft bill on mandating across-the-board minimum wages.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Overseas Private Investment Corporation coverage is not available in Macau.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $55,040 2018 $55,084 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or internationalSource of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $398 N/A N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2017 $51 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 67% 2018 53% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data: Macau Statistics and Census Service

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 34,911 100% Total Outward 2,930 100%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong 9,800 28% China, P.R.: Mainland 1,631 56%
British Virgin Islands 9,123 26% China, P.R.: Hong Kong 1,141 39%
China, P.R.: Mainland 6,241 18% Cayman Islands 74 3%
Cayman Islands 6,078 17% British Virgin Islands 70 2%
Portugal 1,134 3% Cyprus 0 0%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 11,324,581 100% All Countries 7,929,155 100% All Countries 3,395,426 100%
Cayman Islands 1,686,670 15% Cayman Islands 1,234,954 16% Canada 505,494 15%
United Kingdom 1,346,345 12% United Kingdom 929,469 12% Cayman Islands 451,716 13%
Japan 1,003,988 9% Japan 775,570 10% United Kingdom 416,876 12%
Canada 975,929 9% Canada 470,435 6% C Japan 228,418 7%
France 558,074 5% Switzerland 442,195 6% Netherlands, The 184,339 5%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong
26 Garden Road, Central
Hong Kong SAR, PRC
+852-2841-2489
information_resource_center_hk@yahoo.com

South Korea

Executive Summary

The Republic of Korea (ROK) is an attractive investment destination for foreign investors due to its political stability, public safety, world-class logistics and information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, highly-educated and skilled workforce, and dynamic private sector.  Following market liberalization measures in the 1990s, foreign portfolio investment has grown steadily, exceeding 37 percent of the Korea Composite Stock Price Index’s (KOSPI) total market capitalization as of March 2020.  The services sector offers new and promising opportunities for the next wave of foreign direct investment (FDI).  However, studies conducted by the Korean International Trade Association and others have shown that the ROK underperforms in attracting FDI relative to the size and sophistication of its economy due to its burdensome regulatory environment.

Korea’s FDI shortfall is due in part to its complicated, opaque, and country-unique regulatory framework.  The ROK’s manufacturing model is being overtaken by low-cost producers, most notably China, which threatens the country’s ability to maintain competitiveness.  This is especially critical with the advent of disruptive technologies such as fifth generation (5G) mobile communications that enable smart manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, and the Internet of Things – innovative technologies that could be hampered by restrictive regulations which do not comport with global standards.  The ROK government (ROKG) has taken some steps to address this over the last decade, notably with the establishment of a Foreign Investment Ombudsman to address concerns of foreign investors.  In 2019, the ROKG created a “regulatory sandbox” program to spur creation of new products in the financial services, energy, and tech sectors.  Industry observers recommend additional process steps to improve the investment climate, including conducting Regulatory Impact Analyses and soliciting substantive feedback from a broad range of stakeholders, including foreign investors.

The revised U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) entered into force January 1, 2019, and continues to allow U.S. investors broad access to the ROK market.  Types of investment protected under KORUS include equity, debt, concessions, and intellectual property rights.  With a few exceptions, U.S. investors are treated the same as ROK investors (and third-country investors) in the establishment, acquisition, and operation of investments in the ROK.  Investors may elect to bring claims against the government for alleged investment breaches under a transparent international arbitration mechanism.  The U.S. government continues to work closely with the ROKG to ensure full implementation of KORUS investment provisions, especially in regard to the right to mount an adequate defense in competition proceedings.

The ROK was the second global hotspot after China for the global COVID-19 pandemic, with the nation’s first case discovered on January 20, 2020 and daily new cases topping 900 by the end of February.  The ROKG responded aggressively and immediately, employing its so-called “TRUST” strategy, prioritizing transparency, robust screening and quarantine, unique but universally applicable testing, and strict control and treatment.  The success of this approach allowed Korea to cut daily new cases down to single digits by late April without an economic shutdown.  The ROKG was also aggressive in pursuing economic stimulus, devoting more than USD 100 billion to such efforts in the first quarter of 2020.  As a result, the Korean domestic economy fared better than most of its OECD peers in the early part of the year.  The risk of a COVID resurgence still looms, and external shocks also pose a significant threat to Korea’s export-oriented economy looking forward.  If the ROKG succeeds in augmenting its stimulus spending with regulatory reform efforts under discussion in spring of 2020, the nation’s investment climate could well benefit in the long run.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 39 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2019
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 5 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 11 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $41,532 https://www.selectusa.gov/servlet/
servlet.FileDownload?file=015t0000000LKNs
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $30,600 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

The ROK government’s approach toward FDI is positive, and senior policymakers recognize the value of foreign investment.  In a March 2019 meeting, President Moon Jae-in equated the foreign business community’s success “with the Korean economy’s progress.”  The current administration has offered incentives to attract foreign companies bringing needed technology and investment in its ongoing efforts to improve the ROK domestic manufacturing supply base.  Foreign investors in the ROK still face numerous hurdles, however, including insufficient regulatory transparency, inconsistent interpretation of regulations, unanticipated regulatory revisions, underdeveloped corporate governance structures, an inflexible labor framework, burdensome Korea-unique consumer protection measures, and market domination by large conglomerates, known as chaebol.

The 1998 Foreign Investment Promotion Act (FIPA) is the basic law pertaining to foreign investment in the ROK.  FIPA and related regulations categorize business activities as open, conditionally or partly restricted, or closed to foreign investment.  FIPA features include:

  • Simplified procedures, including those for FDI notification and registration;
  • Expanded tax incentives for high-technology investments;
  • Reduced rental fees and lengthened lease durations for government land (including local government land);
  • Increased central government support for local FDI incentives;
  • Establishment of “Invest KOREA,” a one-stop investment promotion center within the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) to assist foreign investors; and
  • Establishment of a Foreign Investment Ombudsman to assist foreign investors.

The ROK National Assembly website provides a list of laws pertaining to foreigners, including FIPA, in English (http://korea.assembly.go.kr/res/low_03_list.jsp?boardid=1000000037 ).

The Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) actively facilitates foreign investment through its Invest Korea office (on the web at http://m.investkorea.org/m/index.do).  For investments exceeding 100 million won (about USD 88,000), KOTRA assists in establishing a domestically-incorporated foreign-invested company.  KOTRA and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) organize a yearly Foreign Investment Week to attract investment to South Korea.  In March 2019, ROK President Moon Jae-in hosted AMCHAM Korea and more than 60 foreign businesses and associations at the Blue House and pledged that Korea would continue to welcome and incentivize foreign investment.  During 2019, ROKG leaders like Trade Minister Yoo Myung Hee, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, and former Financial Services Commission Chairman Choi Jong-ku  also met with AMCHAM Korea to promote FDI.  KOTRA also recruits FDI by participating in overseas events such as the March 2019 “South by Southwest Festival” in Austin, Texas, to attract U.S. startups and investors.  The ROK’s key official responsible for FDI promotion and retention is the Foreign Investment Ombudsman.  The position is commissioned by the President and heads a grievance resolution body that: collects and analyzes information concerning problems foreign firms experience; requests cooperation from and recommends implementation of reforms to relevant administrative agencies; proposes new policies to improve the foreign investment promotion system; and carries out other necessary tasks to assist investor companies.  More information on the Ombudsman can be found at http://ombudsman.kotra.or.kr/eng/index.do .

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own business enterprises and engage in almost all forms of remunerative activity.  The number of industrial sectors open to foreign investors is well above the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average, according to MOTIE.  However, restrictions on foreign ownership remain for 30 industrial sectors, including three that are closed to foreign investment (see below).  Under the KORUS FTA, South Korea treats U.S. companies like domestic entities in select sectors, including broadcasting and telecommunications.  Relevant ministries must approve investments in conditionally or partially restricted sectors.  Most applications are processed within five days; cases that require consultation with more than one ministry can take 25 days or longer.  The ROK’s procurement processes comply with the World Trade Organization (WTO) Government Procurement Agreement, but some implementation problems remain.

The following is a list of restricted sectors for foreign investment.  Figures in parentheses generally denote the Korean Industrial Classification Code, while those for the air transport industries are based on the Civil Aeronautics Laws:

Completely Closed

  •  Nuclear power generation (35111)
  •  Radio broadcasting (60100)
  •  Television broadcasting (60210)

Restricted Sectors (no more than 25 percent foreign equity)

  •  News agency activities (63910)

Restricted Sectors (less than 30 percent foreign equity)

  • Newspaper publication, daily (58121)  (Note: Other newspapers with the same industry code 58121 are restricted to less than 50 percent foreign equity)

Restricted Sectors (no more than 30 percent foreign equity)

  • Hydroelectric power generation (35112)
  • Thermal power generation (35113)
  • Solar power generation (35114)
  • Other power generation (35119)

Restricted Sectors (no more than 49 percent foreign equity)

  • Newspaper publication, non-daily (58121)  (Note: Daily newspapers with the same industry code 58121 are restricted to less than 30 percent foreign equity)
  • Program distribution (60221)
  • Cable networks (60222)
  • Satellite and other broadcasting (60229)
  • Wired telephone and other telecommunications (61210)
  • Mobile telephone and other telecommunications (61220)
  • Other telecommunications (61299)

Restricted Sectors (no more than 50 percent foreign equity)

  • Farming of beef cattle (01212)
  • Transmission/distribution of electricity (35120)
  • Wholesale of meat (46313)
  • Coastal water passenger transport (50121)
  • Coastal water freight transport (50122)
  • International air transport (51)
  • Domestic air transport (51)
  • Small air transport (51)
  • Publishing of magazines and periodicals (58122)

Open but Regulated under Relevant Laws

  • Growing of cereal crops and other food crops, except rice and barley (01110)
  • Other inorganic chemistry production, except fuel for nuclear power generation (20129)
  • Other nonferrous metals refining, smelting, and alloying (24219)
  • Domestic commercial banking, except special banking area (64121)
  • Radioactive waste collection, transportation, and disposal, except radioactive waste management (38240)

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The WTO conducted its seventh Trade Policy Review of the ROK in October 2016.  The Review does not contain any explicit policy recommendations.  It can be found at https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S009-DP.aspx?language=E&CatalogueIdList=233680,233681,230967,230984,94925,104614,89233,66927,82162,84639&CurrentCatalogueIdIndex=1&FullTextHash=&HasEnglishRecord=True&HasFrenchRecord=True&HasSpanishRecord=True .  The ROK has not undergone investment policy reviews or received policy recommendations from the OECD or United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) within the past three years.

Business Facilitation

Registering a business remains a complex process that varies according to the type of business being established and requires interaction with KOTRA, court registries, and tax offices.  Foreign corporations can enter the market by establishing a local corporation, local branch, or liaison office.  The establishment of local corporations by a foreign individual or corporation is regulated by FIPA and the Commercial Act; the latter recognizes five types of companies, of which stock companies with multiple shareholders are the most common.  Although registration can be filed online, there is no centralized online location to complete the process.  For small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-enterprises, the online business registration process takes approximately three to four days and is completed through Korean language websites.  Registrations can be completed via the Smart Biz website, https://www.startbiz.go.kr/.  The UN’s Global Enterprise Registration (GER), which evaluates whether a country’s online registration process is clear and complete, awarded Smart Biz 2.5 of 10 possible points and suggested improvements in registering limited liability companies.  The Invest Korea information portal received 2 of 10 points.  The mandate of the Korea Commission for Corporate Partnership (http://www.winwingrowth.or.kr/ ) and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (http://www.mogef.go.kr/ ) includes creating a better business environment for minorities and women, but the agencies do not offer any direct support program for those groups.  Some local governments provide guaranteed bank loans for women or the disabled, but a lack of data on those programs makes the impact difficult to measure.

Outward Investment

The ROK does not have any restrictions on outward investment.  While Korea’s globally competitive firms complete their investment procedures in-house, the ROK has several offices to assist small business and middle-market firms.

  • KOTRA has an Outbound Investment Support Office that provides counseling to ROK firms and holds regular investment information sessions.
  • The ASEAN-Korea Centre, which is primarily ROKG-funded, provides counseling and matchmaking support to Korean SMEs interested in investing in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
  • The Defense Acquisition Program Administration in 2019 opened an office to advise Korean SME defense firms on exporting unrestricted defense articles.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The ROK has 16 FTAs encompassing trade with 58 countries, including the United States, and 91 bilateral investment treaties as of February 2020.  The ROK signed additional FTAs in 2019 with the U.K., Israel, and Indonesia, although the FTAs are not yet ratified.  The ROK neared agreement with 14 other Asian countries on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with a goal to signing RCEP in 2020.  Ongoing FTA negotiations include a ROK-China-Japan trilateral FTA, and bilateral FTAs with Ecuador, Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur), Philippines, Russia, and Malaysia.  Negotiations are also in progress to expand the ROK-China FTA services and investment chapter and to enhance existing FTAs with ASEAN, India, and Chile.  The ROK also agreed to begin FTA negotiations with the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Peru, Columbia and Chile) and the Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan).

As of April 2020, the ROK had signed bilateral tax agreements with 93 countries.  The ROK National Tax Service has a special unit dedicated to processing Advance Pricing Agreement and Mutual Agreement Procedure requests from North America, Europe, and Australia, as timely processing of these requests has historically been a frequent subject of disputes.  The U.S.-ROK bilateral income tax treaty entered into force in 1979.  A complete list of countries and economies with which South Korea has concluded bilateral investment protection agreements, such as BITs and FTAs with investment chapters, is available at http://www.mofa.go.kr/www/wpge/m_3834/contents.do  and http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA .

notice for an additional USD 17.6 million from regional tax authorities in Seoul.  The assessments were mainly fines and penalties for allegedly failing to issue value-added tax (VAT) invoices and report certain transactions from 2011-2014.  WFS disputes that any VAT was due on the transactions at issue, or that its subsidiary should be required to be a local VAT-registered entity.  WFS’s appeal through the ROK tax administrative appeal process is ongoing.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

ROK regulatory transparency has improved in recent years, due in part to Korea’s membership in the WTO and negotiated FTAs.  However, the foreign business community continues to face numerous Korea-unique rules and regulations.  Approximately 80 percent of regulations are introduced and passed by the National Assembly without a regulatory impact assessment (RIA) due to a loophole that requires only regulations written by ministries to undergo RIAs.  While these regulations may have well-intended social aims, such as consumer protection or the promotion of SMEs, they often have unintended consequences for the economy by creating new trade barriers that disadvantage foreign companies.  Laws and regulations are often framed in general terms and are subject to differing interpretations by government officials, who rotate frequently.  Written guidelines are often issued by ministries to advise implementation of regulations, yet these non-legally binding guidelines provide a strong basis for legal interpretation in ROK courts.  Regulatory authorities often issue oral or internal guidelines or other legally enforceable dictates that prove burdensome and difficult to follow for foreign firms.  Intermittent ROKG deregulation plans intended to eliminate the use of oral guidelines or subject them to the same level of regulatory review as written regulations have not led to concrete changes.  Despite KORUS FTA provisions designed to address these issues, they remain persistent and prominent.

The ROK constitution allows both the legislative and executive branches to introduce bills.  The legal norm is for regulations to be introduced in the form of an act.  Subordinate statutes (presidential decree, ministerial decree, and administrative rules) largely govern matters promulgated by acts and are drafted by ministries.  Acts and their subordinate regulations can all be relevant for foreign businesses.  Administrative agencies shape policies and draft bills on matters under their respective jurisdictions.  Drafting ministries are required to clearly set policy goals and complete RIAs.  When a ministry drafts a regulation, it is required to consult with other relevant ministries before it releases the regulation for public comment.  The constitution also allows local governments to exercise self-rule legislative power to draft ordinances and rules within the scope of federal acts and subordinate statutes.  The enactment of acts and their subordinate statutes, ranging from the drafting of bills to their promulgation, must follow formal ROK legislative procedures in accordance with the Regulation on Legislative Process enacted by the Ministry of Legislation.  Since 2011, all publicly listed companies have been required to follow International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS, or K-IFRS in South Korea).  The Korea Accounting Standards Board facilitates ROK government endorsement and adoption of IFRS and sets accounting standards for companies not subject to IFRS.  According to the Administrative Procedures Act, proposed laws and regulations (acts, presidential decrees, or ministerial decrees) must seek public comments at least 40 days prior to their promulgation.  Regulations are sometimes promulgated with only the minimum required comment period, and with minimal consultation with industry.

Regulatory changes originating from legislation proposed by members of the National Assembly are not subject to public comment periods.  As a result, 80 percent of all new regulations are written and passed through the National Assembly without rigorous quality control and solicitation of public comments.  The Korean language text of draft acts and regulations accompanied by executive summaries are published online in the Official Gazette and simultaneously posted on the websites of relevant ministries and the National Assembly.  This is required under the ROK’s public notification process that includes a 40-day comment period.  Foreign firms’ analyses and responses are often delayed because of the need to translate complex documentation.  The Ministry of Government Legislation reviews whether laws and regulations conform to the constitution and monitors government adherence to the Regulation on Legislative Process.  All laws and regulations also undergo review by the Regulatory Reform Committee to minimize government intervention in the economy and to abolish all economic regulations that fall short of international standards or hamper national competitiveness.

In January 2019, Korea introduced a “regulatory sandbox” program intended to reduce the regulatory burden on companies that seek to test innovative ideas, products, and services.  The program is managed by either MOTIE, the Ministry of Science and ICT, or the Financial Services Commission, depending on the business sector in which a particular proposal falls.  The program is open to Korean companies and to any foreign company with a Korean branch office.  Websites and applications are only offered in Korean.  Despite its limited nature, the initiative is a welcome effort by regulators to spur innovation.

The ROKG enforces regulations through penalties (either fines or criminal charges) in the case of violations of the law.  The government’s enforcement actions can be challenged through an appeal process or administrative litigation.  The CEOs of local branches can be held legally responsible for all actions of their company and at times have been arrested and charged for their companies’ infractions.  Foreign CEOs have cited this as a significant burden to their business operations in Korea.

Business regulation in the ROK often lacks empirical cost-benefit analysis or impact assessment on the basis of scientific and data-driven assessment because regulations are finalized without sufficient stakeholder consultation or passed by the National Assembly without a regulatory impact assessment.  When ministries draft regulations, they must submit their RIA to the Regulatory Reform Committee for its determination on whether the regulation restricts rights or imposes excessive duties.  These RIAs are usually not publicly available for comment, and comments received by regulators are not made public.  The ROK’s public finances and debt obligations are generally transparent, with some lingering concerns related to state-owned enterprise debt.

International Regulatory Considerations

Though not part of any regional economic bloc (pending finalization of and accession to RCEP), the ROK has revised various local regulations to implement commitments under international treaties and agreements including FTAs.  Treaties duly concluded and promulgated in accordance with the Constitution and the generally recognized rules of international law are accorded the same standing as domestic laws.  ROK officials consistently express a desire to harmonize standards with global norms by benchmarking the United States and the EU.  The U.S., U.K., and Australian governments exchange regulatory reform best practices with the ROKG to encourage ROK regulators to incorporate more regulatory analytics, increase transparency, and improve compliance with international standards; however, Korea-unique rules and regulations continue to pose difficulties for foreign companies operating in the ROK.  The ROK is a member of the WTO and notifies the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of all draft technical regulations.  The ROK is also a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  The ROK amended the ministerial decree of the Customs Act in 2015, creating a committee charged with implementation of the TFA.  The ROK is a global leader in terms of modernized and streamlined procedures for the transportation and customs clearance of goods.  Industry sources report the Korea Customs Service enforces rules of origin issues largely in compliance with free trade agreements.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The ROK legal system is based on civil law.  Subdivisions within the district and high courts govern commercial activities and bankruptcies and enforce property and contractual rights with monetary judgments, usually levied in the domestic currency.  The ROK has a written commercial law, while matters regarding contracts are covered by the Civil Act.  There are only three specialized courts in the ROK: the patent, family, and administrative courts.  In civil cases, courts deal with disputes surrounding the rights of property or legal relations.  The ROK court system is independent and not subject to government interference in cases that may affect foreign investors.  Foreign court judgments are not enforceable in the ROK.  Rulings by district courts can be appealed to higher courts and the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Laws and regulations enacted within the past year include:

  • In January 2019, the government amended the premium pricing policy for global innovative drugs following discussions that took place as part of the negotiations that led to revisions in the KORUS FTA. However, the policy’s criteria are extremely narrow, and industry expressed concern the new policy will have little impact on improving the reimbursement value of global innovative drugs.
  • In March 2019, the National Assembly enacted a Low Emission Vehicle (LEV)/Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which would require a certain percentage of a manufacturer’s Korean fleet to be composed of low- and zero-emission vehicles. In April 2020, Korea issued a draft implementing regulation that removed concerns by U.S. automobile manufacturers that the parameters of the LEZ/ZEV mandate may constitute a non-tariff barrier to trade.
  • In July 2019, a ban on workplace harassment took effect following an amendment of the Labor Standards Act. Under the law, if retaliatory or discriminatory measures are taken against victims or those who report abusive conduct, CEOs could face a maximum three-year jail term and a fine of up to USD 25,000.  The law does not stipulate the punishment for the perpetrator of the bullying, however, and is ambiguous about what constitutes workplace bullying.
  • In December 2019, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced a ministerial decree on Facility Standards for Distance Learning. Although the Ministry of Interior and Safety (MOIS) had amended its guidelines to allow educational institutions to use global public cloud services, the MOE decree requires global providers to obtain a Korea-unique Cloud Security Certificate.  This undermines competition between global and domestic companies.
  • In January 2020, the National Assembly passed the “Data 3 Act” (consisting of amendments to the Personal Information Protection Act of 2011, the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection of 2001, and the Credit Information Use and Protection Act of 2008). Industry welcomed the updates, which alleviate regulatory hurdles and allow for new uses of data in the healthcare, financial services, and ICT industries.  The amendments clarified the criteria for assessing anonymous information, develop the concept of pseudonymization, and strengthen personal information processor responsibilities.

Key pending/proposed laws and regulations as of April 2020 include:

  • On August 30, 2019, the Ministry of Science and ICT announced plans to increase the value limitation on the sale of insurance products by the state-run Korea Post, which could disadvantage global insurance companies.
  • There is no single website for investment-relevant laws and regulations. However, more information is available at the following websites: https://www.better.go.kr/ , https://www.fsc.go.kr/ , and http://motie.go.kr/ .

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act (KFTC Act) authorizes the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) to review and regulate competition-related and consumer safety matters.

KFTC has a broad mandate that includes promoting competition, strengthening consumers’ rights, creating a competitive environment for SMEs, and restraining the concentration of economic power.  In addition to its authority to conduct investigations, including authority to review corporate and financial restructuring, KFTC can levy sizeable administrative fines for violations of the laws it enforces as well as for failure to cooperate with investigators.  Decisions by KFTC are appealable to the Korean court system.  As part of KORUS implementation, KFTC instituted a consent decree process in 2014, which it continues to refine.

A number of U.S. firms have raised concerns that KFTC has targeted foreign companies with aggressive enforcement efforts. U.S. firms also expressed concerns that KFTC’s procedures and practices do not comply with Korea’s obligations under KORUS because they interfere with the ability of companies to adequately defend themselves during investigatory proceedings and hearings. The United States has continued to have extensive discussions with Korea regarding the right of companies to reasonably access and rebut evidence upon which the KFTC determination may be made.  This matter was the subject of the first ever formal consultations under the KORUS Competition chapter in July 2019.

In December 2018, Korea’s government proposed a significant amendment to the Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade; revisions passed the National Assembly on April 29, 2020.

Expropriation and Compensation

The ROK follows generally accepted principles of international law with respect to expropriation.  ROK law protects foreign-invested enterprise property from expropriation or requisition.  Private property can be expropriated for a public purpose – like developing new cities, building new industrial complexes, or constructing roads – and claimants are afforded due process.  Property owners are entitled to prompt compensation at fair market value.  There have been many cases of private property expropriation in the ROK for public reasons and these were conducted in a non-discriminatory manner and claimants were compensated at or above fair market value; Embassy Seoul is not aware of any cases alleging a lack of due process.  The ROKG allotted USD 20 billion in its 2019 budget for land expropriation, a 38 percent increase from the previous year.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The ROK acceded to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1967, and the New York Arbitration Convention in 1973.  There are no specific domestic laws providing for enforcement; however, South Korean courts have made rulings based on the ROK’s membership in the conventions.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The ROK is a member of the International Commercial Arbitration Association and the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.  ROK courts may ultimately be called upon to enforce an arbitrated settlement.  When drafting contracts, it may be useful to provide for arbitration by a neutral body such as the International Commercial Arbitration Association.  U.S. companies should seek local expert legal counsel when drawing up any type of contract with a South Korean entity.  The United States has a bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with the ROK that contains general provisions pertaining to business relations and investment.  The KORUS FTA contains strong, enforceable investment provisions that went into force in March 2012.  There have been several prominent investment disputes involving foreign investors in Korea in recent years.  In November 2012, U.S.-based Lone Star Funds, a worldwide private equity firm, brought an investor-state dispute lawsuit against the South Korean government with the ICSID in Washington under the investment chapter of the KORUS FTA, and this case is still pending.  The private equity firm blamed the ROK government for sharp declines in stock prices, claiming that it delayed the acquisition of the Korea Exchange Bank without cause.  The ICSID was expected to make a ruling in 2017, but the ruling has been repeatedly postponed.  Foreign court judgments, with the exception of foreign arbitral rulings that meet certain conditions, are not enforceable in the ROK.  There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.  An arbitration panel under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) made a USD 68 million ruling against the ROKG in June 2018 in an investor-state dispute settlement filed by Entekhab, owned by Iranian investor Mohammad Reza Dayyani.  In July 2018, an American individual investor filed an investor-state dispute (ISD) lawsuit against the ROKG, claiming that the government had violated the KORUS FTA in expropriating her land.  The case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds in September 2019.  Also in July 2018, U.S. activist fund Elliott Associates submitted a notice of arbitration over an ISD pertaining to the KORUS FTA.  Elliott Associates claimed they had suffered at least USD 770 million in financial losses due to the merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries, stating the ROKG illicitly intervened by mobilizing the National Pension Service as a large shareholder in the process of approving the merger in 2015.  In September 2018, Mason Capital Management, another American investor, filed for arbitration seeking USD 200 million in compensation for losses incurred from the same controversial merger.  Both cases are pending before an UNCITRAL tribunal.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Although commercial disputes can be adjudicated in a civil court, foreign businesses find this method impractical.  Proceedings are conducted in Korean, often without adequate interpretation.  ROK law prohibits foreign lawyers who have not passed the Korean Bar Examination from representing clients in South Korean courts.  Civil procedures common in the United States, such as pretrial discovery, do not exist in the ROK.  During litigation of a dispute, foreigners may be barred from leaving the country until a decision is reached.  Legal proceedings are expensive and time-consuming, and lawsuits often are contemplated only as a last resort, signaling the end of a business relationship.  ROK law governs commercial activities and bankruptcies, with the judiciary serving as the means to enforce property and contractual rights, usually through monetary judgments levied in the domestic currency.  The ROK has specialized courts, including family courts and administrative courts, as well as courts specifically dealing with patents and other intellectual property rights issues.  Commercial disputes may also be taken to the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board (KCAB).  The Korean Arbitration Act and its implementing rules outline the following sequential steps in the arbitration process: 1) parties may request the KCAB to act as an informal intermediary to a settlement; 2) if informal arbitration is unsuccessful, either or both parties may request formal arbitration, in which the KCAB appoints a mediator to conduct conciliatory talks for 30 days; and 3) if formal arbitration is unsuccessful, an arbitration panel consisting of one to three arbitrators would be assigned to decide the case.  If one party is not resident in the ROK, either may request an arbitrator from a neutral country.  If foreign arbitral awards or foreign court rulings meet the requirements of the Civil Procedure Act’s Article 217, then those are enforceable by local courts.  Embassy Seoul is not aware of statistics involving state-owned enterprise investment dispute court rulings.  Gale International (GI), a U.S. real estate development company, has had an ongoing investment dispute with Korean conglomerate POSCO since 2015.  GI claims it is owed USD 350 million and has filed criminal complaints in a Seoul court against POSCO alleging misappropriation of funds and approving documents with the GI seal without authorization.  The case is still pending, and GI has closed its office in the ROK.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Debtor Rehabilitation and Bankruptcy Act (DRBA) stipulates that bankruptcy is a court-managed liquidation procedure where both domestic and foreign entities are afforded equal treatment.  The procedure commences after a filing by a debtor, creditor, or a group of creditors and determination by the court that a company is bankrupt.  The court designates a Custodial Committee to take an accounting of the debtor’s assets, claims, and contracts.  Creditors may be granted voting rights in the creditors’ group, as identified by the Custodial Committee.  Shareholders and contract holders may retain their rights and responsibilities based on shareholdings and contract terms.  The World Bank ranked ROK policies and mechanisms to address insolvency 11th among 187 economies in its 2020 Doing Business report.  Debtors may be subject to arrest once a bankruptcy petition has been filed, even if the debtor has not been declared bankrupt.  Individuals found guilty of negligent or false bankruptcy are subject to criminal penalties.  Under the revised DRBA enacted in March 2017, Korea established the Seoul Bankruptcy Court (SBC) with nationwide jurisdiction to hear major bankruptcy or rehabilitation cases and to provide more effective, specialized, and consistent guidance in bankruptcy proceedings.  Any Korean company with debt equal to or above KRW 50 billion KRW (about USD 41 million) and 300 or more creditors may file for bankruptcy rehabilitation with the SBC.  Thirteen local district courts continue to oversee smaller bankruptcy cases in areas outside Seoul.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The ROK government provides the following general incentives for foreign investors:

  • Cash incentives for qualified foreign investments in free trade zones, foreign investment zones, free economic zones, industrial complexes, and similar facilities;
  • Tax and cash incentives for the creation and expansion of workplaces for high-tech business plants and research and development centers;
  • Reduced rent for land and site preparation for foreign investors;
  • Grants for establishment of convenience facilities for foreigners;
  • Reduced rent for state or public property;
  • Preferential financial support for investing in major infrastructure projects;
  • Incentives for investments that would increase ROK-based production of materials, parts, and equipment in six critical industrial sectors: semiconductors, displays, automobiles, electronics, machinery, and chemicals; and
  • Support from the Seoul Metropolitan government, separate from the central government, for SMEs, high-technology businesses, and the biomedical industry.

The ROKG does not issue guarantees or jointly finance foreign direct investment projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF) administers tax and other incentives to stimulate advanced technology transfer and investment in high-technology services.  There are three types of special areas for foreign investment (i.e., Free Economic Zones, Free Investment Zones, and Tariff Free Zones), where favorable tax incentives and other support for investors are available.  The ROK aims to attract more foreign investment by promoting its seven Free Economic Zones: Incheon (near Incheon airport); Busan/Jinhae (in South Gyeongsang Province); Gwangyang Bay (in South Gyeongsang Province); Yellow Sea (in South Chungcheong Province); Daegu/Gyeongbuk (in North Gyeongsang Province); East Sea (in Donghae and Gangneung); and Chungbuk (in North Chungcheong Province).  Additional information is available at http://www.fez.go.kr/global/en/index.do .  There are also 26 Foreign Investment Zones designated by local governments to accommodate industrial sites for foreign investors.  Special considerations for foreign investors vary among these options.  In addition, there are four foreign-exclusive industrial complexes in Gyeonggi Province designed to provide inexpensive land, with the national and local governments providing assistance for leasing or selling in the sites at discounted rates.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no local employment requirements in the ROK.  Anyone who is planning to work during his or her stay in the ROK is required by law to apply for a visa.  Sponsoring employers often file the work permit and visa applications, and companies are required to confirm that a candidate of foreign nationality has a valid work permit prior to making a job offer.  Once an expat’s work permit has been approved, the Ministry of Justice will issue a Certificate of Confirmation of Visa Issuance (CCVI).  This certificate must then be submitted with the relevant visa application forms to the South Korean embassy or consulate in the applicant’s country of residence.  Work visas are usually valid for one year, and work visa issuance generally takes two to four weeks.  Changing a tourist visa to a work visa is not possible within the ROK; a work visa must be applied for at a ROK embassy or consulate.  Sectors such as public administration, national defense, and diplomacy are subject to certain restrictions imposed by the ROK government, but there are no government-imposed conditions or restrictions on investing in the ROK in most sectors.  The conditions to invest in the ROK are elaborated in the FIPA.  Foreign companies are not required to use domestic content or technology, nor are they required to turn over source code or provide access for surveillance to ROK authorities.  The ROK government, however, is implementing policies to foster the domestic software industry, which sometimes creates obstacles for foreign companies pursuing public procurement projects.  The ROK ceased imposing performance requirements on new foreign investment in 1989 and eliminated all pre-existing performance requirements in 1992.  There are no performance requirements regarding local content, local jobs, R&D activity, or domestic shares in the company’s capital.  There are no legal requirements for foreign information technology (IT) providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption.  However, source code could potentially be required as part of common criteria certification administered by the IT Security Certification Center.  In January 2016, the ROK government announced guidelines stating that common criteria certification is a requirement for cloud computing services to be provided to ROK government agencies or public institutions.  ROK data privacy law has various requirements for companies that collect, use, transfer, outsource, or process personal information.  This law applies uniformly to both domestic and foreign companies that process personal information in the ROK.  The law imposes strict restrictions on transferring personal information outside of the country.  If a data controller intends to transfer the personal information of end-users outside of the ROK, it is required to obtain each end-user’s consent.  In the case of overseas transfer of personal information for the purpose of IT outsourcing, the data controller may forgo obtaining each individual’s consent if the data controller discloses in its privacy policy: (i) the purpose of overseas transfer; (ii) the transferees of personal information; and (iii) other certain items about overseas transfer.  There are similar requirements for a data controller to transfer the personal information of end-users to a third party within the ROK.  To transfer the personal information of end-users to a third party, a data controller must obtain each end-user’s consent.  In addition, regulations prohibit financial companies in the ROK from transferring customers’ personal information and related financial transaction data overseas.  As such, this financial transaction data cannot be outsourced to overseas IT vendors, and financial companies in the ROK must store customers’ financial transaction data in the ROK.  The Financial Services Commission sets Korea’s financial policies, and directs the Financial Supervisory Service in the enforcement of those policies.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are enforced under the Civil Act.  Mortgages and liens exist, and the ROK’s recording system is reliable. The Alien Land Acquisition Act (amended in 1998) extends to non-resident foreigners and foreign corporations the same rights as Koreans in land purchase and use.  The Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) Act supports indirect investments in real estate and restructuring of corporations.  The REIT Act allows investors to invest funds through an asset management company and in real property such as office buildings, business parks, shopping malls, hotels, and serviced apartments.  Property interests are enforced, and there is a reliable system for registering mortgages and liens, managed by the courts.  Legally-purchased property cannot revert to other owners, but squatters may have very limited rights in special situations, such as a right to cultivation of unoccupied land.

Intellectual Property Rights

Four ROK ministries share primary responsibility for protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR): the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST); the Korea Copyright Protection Agency (KCOPA); the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO); and the Korea Customs Service (KCS).  Since being removed from USTR’sSpecial 301 Watch List in 2009, the ROK has become a regional leader in terms of legal framework and enforcement for IPR.  Some industry sources have reported a loss of momentum in preventing the sale of physical counterfeit goods, but online markets are the subject of robust enforcement efforts.

Industry sources have expressed overall satisfaction with the ROK legal framework, calling Korea a “model Asian nation” for IPR protection.  In July 2019, an amendment to the Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act entered into force with the following broad effects: reduced requirements for secrecy on the part of information owners; broadened scope of what constitutes “theft;” and increased statutory punishments for trade secret theft.  KIPO suspended 7,662 online transactions on the year, up from 6,181 cases in 2018; and closed 340 illegal online shopping malls in 2019, up from 225 in 2018.  KIPO also introduced a new system in April 2019 that rewards private citizens for reporting counterfeit goods for sale online.  KCS handled 273 border enforcement cases for goods worth an estimated USD 600 million in 2019, annual increases of 56 percent and 26 percent, respectively.  Trademark enforcement accounted for 89 percent of these cases, which were mostly for counterfeit watches, apparel and other consumer goods.  KCS focused its enforcement efforts on online overseas direct purchases.  KCS also promoted IPR protection by posting public service announcements on public transportation and via social media.

Some industry sources have expressed concern that the ROK’s low prosecution-to-indictment ratio in IPR violation cases, light sentencing standards, and low punitive damage assessments are insufficient to deter lucrative infringement activity.  Although MCST Judicial Police recommended 762 IPR cases for legal action to the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) in 2019, a 13 percent increase on the previous year, the total number of people indicted by the SPO for Copyright Act violations dropped from 18,392 in 2018 to 15,831 in 2019.  ROKG officials ascribed these divergent trends to the high threshold for prosecutors to take on an IPR case.

Stakeholders continue to express concern about Korea’s pharmaceutical reimbursement policy, specifically that it is not conducted in a fair, transparent, and nondiscriminatory manner that fully recognizes the value of innovation.

The ROK was not listed in the 2020 Special 301 Report, nor were any ROK-based phsyical or online markets included in the 2019 Notorious Markets List.  For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local intellectual property offices, please see World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Korea Exchange (KRX) is comprised of a stock exchange, futures market, and stock market following a 2005 merger of the Korea Stock Exchange, Korea Futures Exchange, and Korean Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (KOSDAQ) stock market.  It is tracked by the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) and has an effective regulatory system that encourages portfolio investment.  There is sufficient liquidity in the market to enter and exit sizeable positions.  In 2019, over 2,000 companies were listed with a combined market capitalization of USD 1.4 trillion.  The ROK government uses various incentives, such as tax breaks, to facilitate the free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets.  The ROK does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions, in accordance with the general obligations of member states under International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII.  Credit is allocated on market terms.  The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments, but non-resident foreigners are unable to borrow money in South Korean won, although they can issue bonds in local currency.  Foreign portfolio investors enjoy open access to the ROK stock market.  Aggregate foreign investment ceilings were abolished in 1998, and foreign investors owned 37.6 percent of benchmark KOSPI stocks and 10.1 percent of the KOSDAQ at the end of 2019.  Foreign portfolio investment decreased slightly over the past year, reflecting slowing global growth.

Money and Banking System

Financial sector reforms enacted to increase transparency and promote investor confidence are often cited as one reason for the ROK’s rapid rebound from the 2008 global financial crisis.  These reforms aimed to increase transparency and investor confidence and generally purge the sector of moral hazard.  Since 1998, the ROK government has recapitalized its banks and non-bank financial institutions, closed or merged weak financial institutions, resolved many non-performing assets, introduced internationally-accepted risk assessment methods and accounting standards for banks, forced depositors and investors to assume appropriate levels of risk, and taken steps to help end the policy-directed lending of the past.  These reforms addressed the weak supervision and poor lending practices in the South Korean banking system that helped cause and exacerbate the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.  The ROK banking sector is healthy overall, with a low non-performing loan ratio of 0.77 percent at the end of 2019, dropping 0.2 percent from the prior year.  Korean commercial banks held more than USD 3.3 trillion in total assets at the end of 2019.  Foreign commercial banks or branches can establish local operations, which would be subject to oversight by ROK financial regulators.  The ROK has not lost any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years, nor are any relationships in jeopardy.  There are no restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account in Korea.  The Bank of Korea (BOK) is the central bank.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

In categories open to investment, foreign exchange banks must be notified in advance of applications for foreign investment.  All ROK banks, including branches of foreign banks, are permitted to deal in foreign exchange.  In effect, these notifications are pro forma, and approval can be processed within three hours.  Applications may be denied only on specific grounds, including national security, public order and morals, international security obligations, and health and environmental concerns.  Exceptions to the advance notification approval system exist for project categories subject to joint-venture requirements and certain projects in the distribution sector.  According to the Foreign Exchange Transaction Act (FETA), transactions that could harm international peace or public order, such as money laundering and gambling, require additional monitoring or screening.  Three specific types of transactions are restricted:

  • Non-residents are not permitted to buy won-denominated hedge funds, including forward currency contracts;
  • The Financial Services Commission will not permit foreign currency borrowing by “non-viable” domestic firms; and
  • The ROK government will monitor and ensure that South Korean firms that have extended credit to foreign borrowers collect their debts. The ROK government has retained the authority to re-impose restrictions in the case of severe economic or financial emergency.

Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into any world currency.  However, there might be some cost or technical problems in case of conversion into lesser used currencies, due to the relatively small foreign exchange market in the country.  In 2019, 69.4 percent of spot transactions in the market were between the U.S. dollar and Korean won, while daily transaction (spot and future) was equal to USD 55.8 billion, up 0.5 percent from the previous year.  Exchange rates are generally determined by the market.  The U.S. Department of the Treasury assessed that ROK authorities historically had intervened on both sides of the currency market, with a net impact that resisted won appreciation as demonstrated by a sustained rise in reserves and net forward position.  In its January 2020 semiannual report to Congress, Treasury assessed that in 2018 and the first half of 2019, ROKG authorities on balance intervened to support the won through small net sales of foreign exchange.  Treasury welcomed the ROK’s commitment to increased transparency, while recommending that Korean authorities limit currency intervention to exceptional circumstances.  The BOK’s most recent intervention report, released in March 2020 and covering 4Q 2019, showed zero net intervention.

Remittance Policies

The right to remit profits is granted at the time of original investment approval.  Banks control the now pro forma approval process for FETA-defined open sectors.  For conditionally or partially restricted investments (as defined by the FETA), the relevant ministry must provide approval for both investment and remittance.  When foreign investment royalties or other payments are proposed as part of a technology licensing agreement, the agreement and the projected stream of royalties must be approved by either a bank or MOEF.  Approval is virtually automatic.  An investor wishing to enact a remittance must present an audited financial statement to a bank to substantiate the payment.  The ROK routinely permits the repatriation of funds but reserves the right to limit capital outflows in exceptional circumstances, such as situations when uncontrolled outflows might harm the balance of payments, cause excessive fluctuations in interest or exchange rates, or threaten the stability of domestic financial markets.  To withdraw capital, a stock valuation report issued by a recognized securities company or the ROK appraisal board also must be presented.  Foreign companies seeking to remit funds from investments in restricted sectors must first seek ministerial and bank approval, after demonstrating the legal source of the funds and proving that relevant taxes have been paid.  There are no time limitations on remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Korea Investment Corporation (KIC) is a wholly government-owned sovereign wealth fund established in July 2005 under the KIC Act.  KIC’s steering committee is comprised of KIC’s Chief Executive Officer, the Minister of Economy and Finance, the Bank of Korea (BOK) Governor, and six private sector members appointed by the ROK President.  KIC is on the Public Institutions Management Act (PIMA) list.  It is mandated to manage assets entrusted by the ROK government and central bank and generally adopts a passive role as a portfolio investor.  Its assets under management stood at USD 131.6 billion at the end of 2018.  KIC is required by law to publish an annual report, submit its books to the steering committee for review, and follow all domestic accounting standards and rules.  It follows the Santiago Principles and participates in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds.  The KIC does not invest in domestic assets, aside from a one-time USD 23 million investment into a domestic real estate fund in January 2015.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Many ROK state-owned enterprises (SOEs) continue to exert significant control over segments of the economy.  There are 36 SOEs active in the energy, real estate, and infrastructure (railroad, highway construction) sectors.  The legal system has traditionally ensured a role for SOEs as sectoral leaders, but in recent years, the ROK has sought to attract more private participation in the real estate and construction sectors.  SOEs are generally subject to the same regulations and tax policies as private sector competitors and do not have preferential access to government contracts, resources, or financing.  The ROK is party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement; a list of SOEs subject to WTO government procurement provisions is available in annex three of the ROK’s agreement.  The state-owned Korea Land and Housing Corporation is given preference in developing state-owned real estate projects, notably housing.  The court system functions independently from the government and gives equal treatment to SOEs and private enterprises.  The ROK government does not provide official market share data for SOEs.  It requires each entity to disclose financial statements, the number of employees, and average compensation figures.  The PIMA gives authority to MOEF to administer control of many SOEs, mainly focusing on administrative and human resource management.  However, there is no singular government entity that exercises ownership rights over SOEs.  SOEs subject to PIMA are required to report to a line minister; the President or line ministers appoint CEOs or directors, often from among senior government officials.  SOEs are explicitly obligated to consult with government officials on their budget, compensation, and key management decisions (e.g., pricing policy for energy and public utilities).  For other issues, the government officials informally require the SOEs to either consult with them before making decisions or report ex post facto.  Market analysts generally regard SOEs as a part of the government or entities fully guaranteed by the government, with some exceptions: SOEs listed on local security markets, such as the Industrial Bank of Korea and Korea Electric Power Corporation, are regarded as semi-private firms.  The ROK adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and reports significant changes in the regulatory framework for SOEs to the OECD.  A list of South Korean SOEs is available on this Korean-language website: http://www.alio.go.kr/home.html .  The ROK government officially does not give any non-market based advantage to SOEs competing in the domestic market.  Although the state-owned Korea Development Bank does appear to enjoy lower financing costs because of the government’s guarantee, it does not  have a major effect on U.S. retail banks operating in Korea.

Privatization Program

Privatization of government-owned assets historically faced protests by labor unions and professional associations and a lack of interested buyers in some sectors.  No state-owned enterprises were privatized between 2002 and November 2016.  In December 2016, the ROK sold part of its stake in Woori Bank, recouping USD 2.07 billion, and plans to sell its remaining 21.4 percent stake at an undetermined future date.  Given the current administration’s pro-labor stance, most analysts do not expect significant movement with regard to privatization in the near future.  Foreign investors may participate in privatization programs if they comply with ownership restrictions stipulated for the 30 industrial sectors indicated in this report, Section 1: Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment.  These programs have a public bidding process that is clear, non-discriminatory, and transparent.  The authority in charge or a delegated private lead manager provides the relevant information.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Awareness of the economic and social value of responsible business conduct and corporate social responsibility (CSR) continues to grow in the ROK.  The Korea Corporate Governance Service, founded in 2002 by entities including the Korea Exchange and the Korea Listed Companies Association, encourages companies to voluntarily improve their corporate governance practices.  Since 2011, its annual assessments have included guidelines and CSR reviews including of corporate environmental responsibility.  The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) Network Korea, established in 2007, actively promotes corporate involvement in the UN Public Private Partnership for Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030.  UNGC is focused on human rights, anti-corruption, labor standards, and the environment, with 231 ROK companies listed as UNGC members as of April 2020.  Government-supported subsidies and tax reductions for social enterprises have contributed to an increase in the number of organizations tackling social issues related to unemployment, the environment, and low-income populations.  The ROKG promotes the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises online, via seminars, and by publishing and distributing promotional materials.  To enhance implementation, the ROKG established a National Action Plan overseen by the Ministry of Justice’s International Human Rights Division, established a National Contact Point (NCP), and designated the Korea Commercial Arbitration Board (KCAB) as the NCP Secretariat.  The KCAB handled 393 cases in 2018 with a total claim amount over USD 670 million.

The National Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL), the Korea Consumer Agency, and the Ministry of Environment impartially enforce ROK laws in the fields of human rights, labor, consumer protection, and the environment.  Shareholders are protected by laws such as the Act on an External Audit of Corporations under the jurisdiction of the Financial Services Commission, the Act on Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade under the jurisdiction of the KFTC, and the Commercial Act under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice.  The Commercial Act is currently under revision to better represent minority shareholders and enhance the value of shareholders.  Other organizations involved in responsible business conduct include the ROK office of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, the Korea Human Rights Foundation, and the Korean House for International Society.  The Korea Sustainability Investing Forum (KOSIF) was established in 2007 and is dedicated to promoting and expanding socially responsible investment and CSR.  Through regular fora, seminars, and publications, KOSIF provides educational opportunities, conducts research to establish a culture of socially responsible investment in the ROK, and supports relevant legislative processes.  It actively engages with National Assembly members and stakeholders to influence decision-making processes.

The ROK does not maintain regulations to prevent conflict minerals from entering supply chains; however, MOTIE supports companies’ voluntary adherence to OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas.  ROK companies are often obligated to follow the conflict-free regulations of economies to which they export goods.  The Korea International Trade Association and private-sector firms provide consulting services to companies seeking to comply with conflict-free regulations.  The ROK is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, but has a mining industry and has participated in the Kimberly Process since 2012.  The ROK government is taking measures to guarantee transparency through the Mining Act, Overseas Resources Development Business Act, other relevant laws on taxation, environment, labor, and anti-bribery, and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

9. Corruption

In an effort to combat corruption, the ROK has introduced systematic measures to prevent the illegal accumulation of wealth by civil servants.  The 1983 Public Service Ethics Act requires high-ranking officials to disclose personal assets, financial transactions, and gifts received during their term of office.  The Act on Anti-Corruption and the Establishment and Operation of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (previously called the Anti-Corruption Act) concerns reporting of corruption allegations, protection of whistleblowers, institutional improvement, and training and public awareness to prevent corruption, as well as establishing national anti-corruption initiatives through the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC).  Implementation is behind schedule, according to Transparency International, which ranked the ROK 37 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2019 Corruption Perception Index with a score of 59 out of 100 (with 100 being the best score).  The Department of State’s 2019 ROK Human Rights Report highlighted allegations of corruption levied against former Minister of Justice Cho Kuk in October 2019.  He resigned 35 days after his appointment amid allegations that he and his family used his previous positions unfairly and, in some cases, fraudulently to gain academic benefits for his daughter and inappropriate returns on financial investments.  Public concern about government corruption reached an apex between 2016 and 2017, when local press began exposing the link between then-President Park Geun-hye and her friend and adviser Choi Soon-sil.  Choi was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in jail on charges of fraud, coercion, and abuse of power and President Park was impeached by a 234-56 vote in the National Assembly in December 2016.  Following her removal from office, a presidential by-election was held on May 9, 2017, bringing President Moon Jae-in into office.  Former President Park was found guilty of multiple counts of abuse of power, bribery, and coercion and sentenced to 24 years in prison on April 6, 2018.  Separately, on October 5, 2018, Park’s predecessor, former President Lee Myung-bak was sentenced to 11 months’ imprisonment for graft, embezzlement, and abuse of power, including accepting bribes from a major consumer electronics conglomerate in return for a presidential pardon for its chairman.  Political corruption at the highest levels of elected office have occurred despite efforts by the ROK legislature to pass and enact anti-corruption laws such as the Act on Prohibition of Illegal Requests and Bribes, also known as the Kim Young-ran Act, in March 2015.  The anti-corruption law came into effect on September 28, 2016, and institutes strict limits on the value of gifts that can be given to public officials, lawmakers, reporters, and private school teachers.  It also extends to the spouses of officials.  The Act on the Protection of Public Interest Whistleblowers is designed to protect whistleblowers in the private sector and equally extends to reports on foreign bribery, with a reporting center operated by the ACRC.

In 2014, the Sewol ferry disaster that resulted in the deaths of 304 passengers, most of them school children on a field trip, brought to public attention collusion between government regulators and regulated industries.  Investigators determined that companies associated with the vessel had used insider knowledge and government contacts to skirt legal requirements by hiring recently retired government officials.  In response, the ROK government tightened regulations around hiring of former government officials.  This reform expanded the sectors restricted from employing former government officials, extended the employment ban from two to three years, and increased scrutiny of retired officials employed in fields associated with their former duties.  The Public Service Ethics Commission, between May 2017 and February 2019, approved approximately 85 percent, or 1,335, of the requests made by former political appointees and former government officials to accept government-affiliated or private sector positions, according to local press.  Most companies maintain an internal audit function to prevent and detect corruption.  Government agencies responsible for combating government corruption include the Board of Audit and Inspection, which monitors government expenditures, and the Public Service Ethics Committee, which monitors civil servants’ financial disclosures and their financial activities.  The ACRC focuses on preventing corruption by assessing the transparency of public institutions, protecting and rewarding whistleblowers, training public officials, raising public awareness, and improving policies and systems.  In reporting cases of corruption to government authorities, nongovernment organizations and civil society groups are protected by the Act on the Prevention of Corruption and the Establishment and Management of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, as well as the Protection of Public Interest Reporters Act.  Individuals reporting cases of corruption to the ACRC must provide their full name and other personally identifiable information (PII) to make the submission.  However, in April 2018, the law was updated to allow would-be filers to report cases through one’s attorney without disclosing PII to the courts.  Violations of these legal protections can result in fines or prison sentences.  U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI.  The ROK ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2008.  It is also a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Anti-Corruption and Transparency Working Group.  The Financial Intelligence Unit has cooperated fully with U.S. and UN efforts to shut down sources of terrorist financing.  Transparency International has maintained a national chapter in the ROK since 1999.

Resources to Report Corruption

Government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission
Government Complex-Sejong, 20, Doum 5-ro
Sejong-si, 339-012
Tel: +82-44-200-7151
Fax: +82-44-200-7916
Email: acrc@korea.kr
http://www.acrc.go.kr/en/index.do 

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Corruption Network in Korea (aka Transparency International Korea)
#1006 Pierson Building, 42, Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-761
Tel: +82-2-717-6211
Fax: +82-2-717-6210
Email: ti@ti.or.kr
http://www.transparency-korea.org/ 

10. Political and Security Environment

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the ROK continue to have a tense relationship despite rapprochement efforts in 2018, and the two Koreas maintain one of the world’s most heavily-fortified borders.  The United States has had a security alliance with the ROK since 1953, with nearly 28,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in the ROK.  The presence of U.S. forces has allowed the Korean Peninsula to maintain general peace and stability since 1953 and enabled the ROK to grow into a modern, prosperous democracy boasting one of the largest and most dynamic economies in the world.  In addition, both the ROK and U.S. governments are attempting to engage with the DPRK in dialogue in an effort to resolve tensions and to realize the complete denuclearization of North Korea.  The two Koreas committed in the April 27, 2018, inter-Korean summit to reduce military tensions on the border and to work toward a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.  Likewise, the United States and DPRK agreed in the June 12, 2018, Singapore Summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim to work toward the transformation of U.S.-DPRK relations, joint efforts to build a lasting a stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the recovery and repatriation of POW/MIA remains from the Korean War.

The ROK’s relations with Japan deteriorated significantly in 2019 due primarily to the government of Japan’s strong reaction against the ROK Supreme Court’s 2018 decisions directing Japanese companies to compensate South Koreans subjected to forced labor during World War II – including the court-directed seizure of defendant company assets – as well as the ROK’s objection to Japan’s subsequent tightening of exports controls against the ROK in 2019.  This prompted consumer boycotts in the ROK against Japanese goods, causing a significant drop in local sales for certain products, including beer and automobiles, as well as at certain Japan-origin retail chains.

The ROK does not have a history of political violence directed against foreign investors.  There have not been reports of politically-motivated threats of damage to foreign-invested projects or foreign-related installations of any sort, nor of any incidents that might be interpreted as having targeted foreign investments.  Labor violence unrelated to the issue of foreign ownership, however, has occurred in foreign-owned facilities in the past.  There have also been protests in the past directed at U.S. economic, political, and military interests (e.g. beef imports in 2008 or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense deployment in 2017 and 2018).  The ROK is a modern democracy with active public political participation, and well-organized political demonstrations are common.  For example, large-scale rallies were a regular occurrence throughout former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment in 2016 and 2017.  The protests were largely peaceful and orderly.  The presidential by-election and transition that followed Park’s impeachment also proceeded smoothly and without incident.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Upon taking office in May 2017, President Moon Jae-in declared himself the “Jobs President,” and his administration has introduced a number of employment-related reforms since.  In an attempt to reduce the ROK’s notoriously long working hours, the Moon administration introduced a mandatory 52-hour workweek regulation in July 2018.  Domestic and foreign companies, however, expressed concern that the measure added further rigidity to the ROK’s already inflexible labor market.  According to Statistics Korea (http://kostat.go.kr/portal/eng/index.action ), there were approximately 28 million economically active people in the ROK as of February 2020, with an employment rate (OECD standard) of approximately 60 percent.  The overall unemployment rate of 4.1 percent in February 2020 was less than half the 9 percent unemployment rate of youth aged 15-29. The country has two major national labor federations.  As of March 2020, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) had 933,000 members, and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) had 968,000 members.  KCTU and FKTU are affiliated with the International Trade Union Confederation.  Most of FKTU’s constituent unions maintain affiliations with international union federations.

The minimum wage is reviewed annually.  Labor and business set the minimum wage for 2019 at KRW 8,350 (approximately USD 7.35 per hour), a 10.9 percent increase from 2018.  The Labor Standards Act was revised in 2018 to reduce maximum working hours to 52 per week.  According to Statistics Korea, non-regular workers received 54.6 percent of the wages of regular workers in 2019.  Non-regular workers received KRW 1.73 million per month (about USD 1,484) while regular workers received KRW 3.17 million (about USD 2,714).

For regular, full-time employees, the law provides employment insurance, national medical insurance, industrial accident compensation insurance, and participation in the national pension system through employers or employer subsidies.  Non-regular workers, such as temporary and contracted employees, are not guaranteed the same collection of benefits.  Regarding severance pay for regular workers, ROK law does not distinguish between the firing of an employee versus the laying off of an employee for economic reasons.  Employers’ reliance on non-regular workers is partially explained by the costs that may be associated with dismissing regular full-time employees and the savings from not offering benefits like insurance to non-regular workers.  There are no government policies requiring the hiring of ROK nationals.  In 2004, the ROK implemented a “guest worker” program known as the Employment Permit System (EPS) to help protect the rights of foreign workers.  The EPS allows employers to legally employ a certain number of foreign workers from 16 countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam, with which the ROK maintains bilateral labor agreements.  In 2015, the ROK increased its annual quota to 55,000 migrant workers.  At the end of 2019, approximately 213,374 foreigners were working under the EPS in the manufacturing, construction, agriculture, livestock, service, and fishery industries.

Legally, unions operate with autonomy from the government and employers, although national labor federations, comprised of various industry-specific unions, receive annual government subsidies.  The ratio of organized labor to the entire population of wage earners at the end of 2018 was 11.8 percent.  ROK trade union participation is lower than the latest-available OECD average of 16 percent in 2016.  More information is available at http://stats.oecd.org/ .  Labor organizations can organize in export processing zones (EPZs), but foreign companies operating in EPZs are exempt from some labor regulations.  Exemptions include provisions that mandate paid leave, require companies with more than 50 people to recruit persons with disabilities for at least two percent of their workforce, encourage companies to reserve three percent of their workforce for workers over 55 years of age, and restrict large companies from participating in certain business categories.  Foreign companies operating in Free Economic Zones have greater flexibility in employing “non-regular” workers in a wider range of sectors for extended contractual periods.  ROK law provides workers with the right to associate freely and allows public servants and private workers to organize unions.  The Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act provides for the right to collective bargaining and collective action, and allows workers to exercise these rights in practice.

The National Labor Relations Commission is the primary government body responsible for labor dispute resolution.  It provides arbitration and mediation services in response to dispute resolution requests submitted by employees, employers, or both parties.  Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor also have certain legal authorities to participate in dispute settlement related to violations of labor rights.  The Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service handles labor disputes resulting from industrial accidents or disasters.  In June 2018, the ROK President established the “Economic, Social, and Labor Council” that serves as an advisory group on economic and labor issues.  The Act on the Protection of Fixed-Term and Part-Time Workers prohibits discrimination against non-regular workers and requires that non-regular workers employed longer than two years be converted to permanent status.  The two-year rule went into effect on July 1, 2009.  Both the labor and business sectors have complained that the two-year conversion law forced many businesses to limit the contract terms of non-regular workers to two years and incur additional costs with the entry of new labor every two years.  More information can be found in the Department of State’s Report on Human Rights Practices for 2019: https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/south-korea/

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

U.S. investments in the ROK are eligible for insurance programs sponsored by the U.S. Development Finance Corporation (formerly the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC).  The DFC has not guaranteed any U.S. investments in the ROK since 1998, when OPIC reinstated coverage it had suspended in 1991 due to concerns about worker rights.  Coverage issued prior to 1991 is still in force.  The United States and the ROK signed an investment incentive agreement on July 30, 1998.  The ROK has been a member of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency since 1987.  In the second quarter of 2018, Korean firm ARK Impact Asset Management and OPIC embarked on a joint investment in the Mumbai Slum Redevelopment Project.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 1,720,454 2018 $1,619,424 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/korea-rep
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $35,933  2018 $41,532 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $105,272 2018 $57,263 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 13.0% 2018 14.3% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

*ROK Sources: GDP – http://ecos.bok.or.kr/  (as of March 2019); inbound FDI – http://www.motie.go.kr ; (as of January 2019) outbound FDI – http://www.koreaexim.go.kr  (as of March 2019) portfolio investment – http://www.fss.or.kr  (as of January 2019)

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $224,416 100% Total Outward $453,621 100%
United States $35,933 16% United States $105,272 23%
Japan $33,859 15% China, P.R.(Mainland) $64,900 14%
Netherlands $27,984 13% China, P.R.(Hong Kong) $26,477 6%
United Kingdom $15,128 7% Vietnam $20,579 5%
Singapore $14,959 7% Australia $14,654 3%
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $566,319 100% All Countries $462,961 100% All Countries $103,358 100%
United States $206,440 36% United States $198,268 43% China $21,879 21%
United Kingdom $44,004 8% United Kingdom $37,803 8% Swiss $17,748 17%
Luxembourg $35,698 6% Luxembourg $29,031 6% Singapore $10,131 10%
Singapore $35,465 6% Singapore $25,334 5% United States $8,172 8%
China $31,022 5% Ireland $16,970 4% Luxembourg $6,667 6%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section, U.S. Embassy Seoul
188 Sejong-daero, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea, 110-710
Tel: +82 2-397-4114